National Alzheimers Disease Institute


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Alzheimer’s Disease

Protecting the Brain: Why Lifestyle, Diet, and Avoiding Toxins Matter

Brain Protection from Alzheimer’s Requires:

Antioxidants from Fruits & Vegetables

Additional Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Foods

Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbal Extracts

Minimize Toxic and Infectious Exposures

Low Sugar, High Fiber Diet

Omega 3, Mono- and Poly-unsaturated Oils

Assure Routine Exercise, Adequate Sleep, & Social Contact

Avoid Smoking, Address Obesity, & Improve High Blood Pressure


Antioxidants from Fruits & Vegetables

Polyphenols are antioxidant chemical compounds within fruits and vegetables, composed of two groups:

  • Flavonoids
    • Anthocyanins: black raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, apples, peaches, plums, carrots, asparagus, red onions
    • Flavonols: various fruits (orange, strawberries, apples) and vegetables (broccoli, turnip greens, onions) (Catechins: tea)
    • Flavanols: apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, green beans
    • Proanthocyanidins: berries, wine, chocolate, apples, pears, vegetable and bean soups
    • Flavones: thyme; parsley, lemon, orange, grapefruit, carrot, celery
    • Flavanones: grapefruit, lemon, orange, lime, tangerine, tomato
    • Isoflavones: soy, green beans, legumes
  • Non-flavonoids
    • Phenolic acids: some apples, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, coffee, tea, olive
    • Lignans: bananas, cantaloupes, oranges, napa cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, lentils
    • Silbenes (Resveratrol: red-purple grapes, red wine, blueberries)

    Fruits and vegetables are rated by the USDA by their ORAC number (antioxidant capacity for a 100 gram or 3.5 ounce serving). These numbers do not include other useful phytonutrients that will be in the particular fruit or vegetable. Whether a particular polyphenol will absorb well is a different matter. Also notice that different antioxidants function in different parts of the body. Eating a lot of one particular high-ORAC food (such as strawberry) will not help you as much as eating a variety of foods that will work in different areas of the body. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables that do not duplicate the same type of polyphenol (antioxidant).

    Examples of ORAC numbers for fruits and vegetables (per 3.5 ounce serving):

    Carrots (raw)     697

    Broccoli (raw)   1510

    Spinach (raw)   1513

    Kale                  1770

    Apples              2200 to 4300

    Raisins              3406

    Cherries (raw)   3747

    Strawberries      4302

    Hazelnuts          9645

    From the results of test-tube, animal, and human studies of polyphenols, scientists have demonstrated polyphenols’ neuroprotective (brain structure and function) properties. Large clinical trials among patients with early-to-late dementia (including Alzheimer’s Disease) to confirm that polyphenols can protect their brains from further neuronal damage or reverse existing damage are needed.

    These clinical trials will require a carefully planned methodology, using the latest and most-sophisticated technology and data-gathering tools. Determining polyphenol levels in foods is complicated by the very large number of polyphenols found in fruits, vegetables, and liquids (juices, etc.), and by the even larger number of metabolites (breakdown products).  Determining a particular polyphenol’s beneficial effects on a human’s health depends on its rate of absorption; on its chemical structure, which will affect its bioavailability; and on the difficulty in accurately estimating the consumer’s average daily intake as well as the difficulty in measuring the consumer’s actions in preparing and eating the food, both of which affect absorption, bioavailability, and the polyphenol’s ease of crossing the blood-brain barrier.

    Additional Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Foods

    A 2017 JAMA study listed foods linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes from not eating enough healthy foods or eating too many processed foods. (Recall that toxic triggers for developing Alzheimer’s Disease, like aluminum, are linked to insulin resistance and “diabetes of the brain.”) Government-based research recommendations: Be sure to eat nuts and seeds, twenty-five ounces a week; omega-3 fats, eight ounces fatty seafood (or vegetarian source) a week; fruits, three daily; vegetables, 2 cups cooked or 4 cups raw daily; and whole grains, two to three servings daily. Do not eat processed meat (bologna, bacon, hot dogs) or sugary drinks; more than one serving red meat a week; more than one teaspoon salt (including salty foods) a day.

    In 2017 the online medical journal Frontiers in Nutrition published Khanna et al’s comprehensive review of dietary foods that minimize inflammation and thus manage rheumatoid arthritis. (This will help any medical condition triggered by inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s Disease). The authors state, “We believe that an ideal meal can include raw or moderately cooked vegetables (lots of greens, legumes), with addition of spices like turmeric and ginger, seasonal fruits, probiotic yogurt; all of which are good sources of natural antioxidants and deliver anti-inflammatory effects. The patient should avoid any processed food, high salt, oils, butter, sugar, and animal products. Dietary supplements like vitamin D, cod liver, and multivitamins can also help in managing RA.”

    Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbal Extracts

    Until large-scale, well-designed, well-executed clinical studies of the neuroprotective properties of polyphenols from foods and supplements are completed, it is wise to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and to supplement with critical vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols. This is based on existing research: since factory-farmed foods, and even “organic” foods, vary in the amount of toxic (oxidizing) pesticides and herbicides that can be used in their production (a result of a political compromise by the USDA and a matter of definition of  the term “organic” rather than its scientific justification); since “factory farming” has supplanted small-scale farms over the last few decades and thus has depleted most essential minerals from the soil (and thus the foods grown); and since even most “organic” farming fails to replace the soil minerals, the necessity for supplementing key vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (polyphenols) is clear.

    Basic daily supplements for everybody. Always work with clinician practicing functional, complementary, alternative medicine who is familiar with vitamins and herbs:

    • Complete Multi-vitamin-mineral capsules (with alpha-lipoic acid) that are reasonably priced (there are numerous other equally good brands):  Life Extension Foundation’s (LEF) two-per-day capsules (No iron), and Now Foods’ Liquid Multi Gels (Contains iron).
    • Omega-3 Oils include (among many others): Life Extension Foundation’s Mega EPA/DHA, Now Foods’ Super Omega EPA, Now Foods’ enteric-coated Ultra Omega-3, or Now Foods’ vegetarian-source High Lignan Flax Seed Oil.
    • Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) capsules, containing between 2,000 and 5,000 units. This dose is the usual, forever dose needed to maintain a level of between 80 and 100 on blood tests. Most people are below 40 and require 10,000 units daily for a few months before cutting back on the dose. This requires working with a doctor who will order repeat Vitamin D3 levels to adjust the dose, and then test the level once a year after the usual, maintenance dose is established.
    • Vitamin C complex (buffered with Calcium and/or Magnesium and containing bioflavonoids) is usually required if daily fruit and vegetable consumption is low (most people). Any heating beyond low heat for short time periods will destroy the vitamin C content of the greens or vegetables. Extra vitamin C is helpful for many medical conditions. Do not take plain ascorbic acid (needs to include buffers). Work with a knowledgeable clinician (since most doctors and nurses are not trained for this). Take 1000 mg or more daily.

    Additional antioxidant supplements for those with above-average risk for Alzheimer’s Disease:

    • Vitamin E complex, containing mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols (among several others): Life Extension Foundation’s Gamma E Mixed Tocopherols and Tocotrienols.
    • Ginkgo biloba standardized extract (24%) (works in the brain and cardiovascular system): 60 to 120 mg twice a day depending on medical condition. Now Foods, Life Extension Foundation, and many other brands.
    • Curcumin (comes from turmeric spice and needs to be standardized to 95% total curcuminoids complex and formulated to absorb well. Works in the colon.): Life Extension Foundation’s Super-Bio Curcumin 400 mg capsule daily (or more if clinician indicates). There are many similar formulas available from other brands.
    • Other antioxidants, vitamins, and herbal extracts may be recommended by a knowledgeable clinician, and often these require lab tests. For example, liver enzyme elevation may require the antioxidants silymarin or alpha-lipoic acid.

    Minimize Toxic and Infectious Exposures

    Chronic environmental exposures to toxins trigger dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. There are many environmental “triggers” that interact with a person’s genetic background, including exposure to metals like Aluminum, mercury, and iron; blood levels of many common, and even, banned pesticides like DDT, which is found in the blood of 80% of people; dietary imbalances causing vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant deficiencies; hormone and growth factor imbalances, often caused by consumption of or exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides and herbicides; inflammation from chronic, recurrent, or hidden bacterial, viral, and parasitic (think Lyme) infections.

    Any of these “triggers” by itself can set-off and then reinforce a biochemical chain reaction over long periods of time, which then creates the conditions that result in dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. If these triggers persist long enough, they create inflammation in the brain and nervous system that can overwhelm the healthiest person and lead to AD. But they are particularly troublesome for people who inherited the ApoE4 allele, which is an expression of the ApoE gene that increases the risk for AD. Thus, environmental exposures and genetics can interact to raise the risk of AD, although everyone is susceptible to dementia if enough triggers continue over long periods of time.

    A particularly common toxin that is hard to avoid is phthalate. Phthalates are chemical hormone disrupters that affect infants’ and children’s brains and boys’ genitals. These chemicals are added to plastics that eventually contact fat-containing foods (containers and wrappers), or are handled frequently, such as toys, baby bottles, store thermal paper receipts, and other products. Small, constant doses of phthalate can cause inflammation, learning disabilities, and chronic disease in everyone.

    Isaacson’s rat study, published in the Journal of Brain Research in 1998, found in that a low dose aluminum fluoride exposure (in distilled water) produced brain pathologies that resemble dementia and also severe kidney damage. (Note that the highly toxic chemical fluoride, based on falsified data, is routinely added to public water supplies, and that aluminum frequently is used to treat public water.)

    There is some evidence that aluminum, in genetically susceptible people, may cause multiple sclerosis (MS). Recently, scientists at England’s Keele University identified the first confirmed job-related exposure to aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease. Earlier, they had found a strong link between relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) and aluminum. A study by Norway researchers showed that people regularly taking antacids have heavy aluminum exposure, and that antacids are linked to Alzheimer’s Disease. (Note that virtually all antacids contain aluminum. Britain requires a warning label on antacids, but the US does not.)

    The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine associate professor Kris McGrath, MD reviewed research that he believes shows a link between antiperspirants and both breast cancer and prostate cancer. He thinks the introduction of aluminum salt-based antiperspirants in 1902 contributed to the upward trend in new cases of breast and prostate cancers. These two cancers are directly related to hormone problems, which Dr. McGrath says are caused by aluminum and other toxins. Instead of antiperspirants, scientists recommend using deodorant (normally has no aluminum, but read the label). People can make their own deodorant by mixing a teaspoon of baking soda into warm water to make a thin (milky looking) paste, and then applying this paste to their armpit. Another natural, safe deodorant uses three ingredients: coconut oil, tea tree oil, and lavender oil. Warm a tablespoon of organic coconut oil, and then stir in a few drops each of the two oils. Refrigerate about an hour until solid, and then apply a tiny bit to armpits.

    Low Sugar, High Fiber Diet

    According to recent research, inflammation from toxins, infections, aluminum, and other causes may lead to “Diabetes of the Brain,” which we have named “Alzheimer’s Disease.” The most recent evidence indicates that AD results from these chronic environmental triggers eventually leading to a type of inflammation that is being called “Type III Diabetes,” or “Diabetes of the Brain.” The inflammation from these triggers results in the body’s improper processing of sugar, which then causes the build-up of the usually “protective” bran plaques that normally are repaired and removed during adequate sleep each night. Unfortunately, imbalance in blood sugar causes “insulin resistance,” which then blocks the normal nightly repair and removal of plaque. The accumulating plaque, over time, causes the unintended destruction of brain cells and brain function: dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

    The Alzheimer’s Solution by Ayesha Sherzai, MD and Dean Sherzai, MD, Co-Directors of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai, describes a lifelong eating strategy that decreases a person’s chance of having Alzheimer’s Disease. It gives an eating plan that minimizes ingestion of the simple sugars in foods that lead to poor blood sugar control and eventually to insulin resistance.

    The book includes the details of what a person needs to eat, and not to eat, over a lifetime to decrease the risk of AD.

    The basic dietary principles to boost the brain include:

    • Eliminating simple sugars
    • Eating whole fruits
    • Filling half the plate with “low-glycemic” vegetables (the glycemic index is a measure of how fast a vegetable or fruit converts to sugar); filling the other half of the plate with good proteins and whole grains
    • Replacing one serving of meat (if eating meat) with a half-cup of beans (like pinto or kidney) and one cup of a whole grain (like quinoa, oats, or barley)
    • Eating the Indian spice turmeric (or take capsules of its extract curcumin)
    • Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut to increase beneficial gut probiotics (which communicate with the brain), or routinely take a capsule of high-count (25 billion or more per capsule) probiotics mixture (usually refrigerated)

    Omega 3, Mono- and Poly-unsaturated Oils

    The Sherzai’s, other researchers, and most functional-alternative medicine clinicians recommend: a good source of omega-3 fatty acids (from krill, fish oil, or vegetarian sources); healthy oils such as authentic extra virgin olive oil (California or certified authentic), coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, almond oil, and a few others; a variety of raw or minimally processed nuts and sunflower seeds (eating sunflower seeds provides a good source of poly-unsaturated oils, minerals, and vitamins).

    Assure Routine Exercise, Adequate Sleep, & Social Contact

    Other recent research shows that: aerobic exercise makes new brain cells; inadequate sleep, poor ability to handle stress, and social isolation can increase the risk for dementia and AD.

    Avoid Smoking, Address Obesity, & Correct High Blood Pressure

    Smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure are triggers that contribute to brain inflammation that can lead to AD.