Dear Pharmacist: Recently I saw a major network news program about researchers looking for drugs to prevent Alzheimer's. The doctors interviewed held out so little hope, and it really upset me that they didn't suggest diet and exercise. Both my parents had dementia. I'm scared of it happening to me. -A.F., Chicago
More than 5 million Americans have the disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association, and that number is expected to triple in the coming years. The doctors were certainly right that at present there isn't a single drug on the market that can hold Alzheimer's at bay. But shame on them for not mentioning that there's a whole host of things you can do to protect yourself.
Please put curcumin, the active ingredient of the common spice turmeric, at the top of your list of Alzheimer's preventives. Seriously. Researchers have published 1,000 scientific studies on the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. A recent Japanese study showed symptom improvement in those persons who supplemented with turmeric capsules for one year. Two participants who had severe cases were even able to recognize family members by the study's conclusion.
In 2008, researchers in India published a paper reviewing the major research done on curcumin as a treatment for Alzheimer's. They noted that curcumin apparently has the ability to help macrophages, a component of the immune system, clear away an abnormality called amyloid plaques from the brain. They concluded, " ... based on the main findings above, curcumin will lead to a promising treatment for Alzheimer's."
What they're saying is that, in time, someone will turn it into a drug. Then it will take years to study the new drug on animals and people before it's brought to market for a hefty price.
But the take home point is that turmeric and curcumin supplements are readily available, affordable and worth a try. Since supplements are hard to absorb, you can eat the spice. It's popular in curry dishes. Sprinkle it on everything like I do because it's good for heart disease, arthritis and breast health.
Other foods you should add to your shopping list are colorful fruits and vegetables, with a special emphasis on blue and purple, which indicate the presence of anthocyanins, a pigment scientists are looking at as a possible Alzheimer's preventive. In fact, I suggest eating blueberries several times a week. Other memory boosting supplements include citicoline, phosphatidylcholine and Acetyl L-carnitine.
What else can you do? There's a tight association with memory loss and damage from popular foods, so I often recommend either a Paleo diet plan or Doug Kaufmann's "Phase One" diet. You can read about the dangers of gluten in "Grain Brain" by Dr. David Perlmutter. I would absolutely include at least two teaspoons of organic coconut oil in your diet each day. Get plenty of exercise to turn on life-extension genes and increase production of memory molecules. I'm glad to hear your mind and emotional health are a priority, as none of us should take them for granted.