Mon Jul 19, 2004
By Jon Hurdle
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Losing weight, eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising your brain and body sounds like a formula to prevent heart disease, but it is also a way to prevent Alzheimer's, researchers said on Monday.
Midlife obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure appear to affect the brain as well as the heart, they said.
"There are a variety of lifestyle factors that people can engage in that will reduce their risk of cognitive decline," said Dr. Marilyn Albert, chair of the Alzheimer's Association's medical and scientific council.
"The brain is much more plastic than we thought," Albert added in an interview.
"It has more capacity to renew and regenerate. ... We have to tell people that they need to think about their cognitive health in a way that they typically thought about their physical health."
Early is better, she added. "The pathology of Alzheimer's disease develops over 10 years, possibly longer. People should start as early in life as possible."
Several studies presented to a meeting sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association in Philadelphia this week support the contention.
A study in Finland of 1,500 elderly people found that those who were obese in middle age were twice as likely to develop dementia when they got old as those who were of normal weight. For those who also had high cholesterol and high blood pressure in middle age, the risk of dementia was six times higher than those who were not affected.
Another study, of 13,000 women, found that those who ate vegetables such as iceberg lettuce, spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in middle age preserved more of their cognitive abilities as they entered their 70s than women who ate few vegetables.
"Women with the highest average intake of those vegetables appear to experience less cognitive decline," Dr. Jae Hee Kang of Harvard Medical School, told a news conference.
Another study suggested that leisure activities that combine social, mental and physical activity are the most likely to prevent dementia.
Each activity is less important than all of them together, said Laura Fratiglioni of Sweden's Karolinska Institute.
Mental activities such as reading books, doing crossword puzzles or playing bingo can help to prevent mental decline, Albert said. "It should be anything that will push people to encounter something that isn't routine."
An estimated 4.5 million Americans currently have Alzheimer's, and that number is expected to balloon as high as 16 million by 2050 as the baby boom generation ages.