Are we helpless victims destined to be demented in our later years, or do we have some margin of control over our own futures? The Washington Post news article "Genetic testing ID's risks of Alzheimer's disease," published Aug. 18 in The Californian, contains two statements that are counterproductive in the effort to inform the public about this disease.
The opening sentence of the article says, "Alzheimer's disease can't be prevented or cured." Then, the article concludes with this: "'The things we know that really impact the disease are related to lifestyle,' says George Perry, dean and professor of biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. 'Be mentally and physically active, eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. These reduce the risk of developing the disease by at least half.'"
In light of these contradictory statements, let's look at some research studies. In the 2006 book "Healthy at 100," author John Robbins references a 2004 study in which "Dr. Miia Kivipelto of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden told an international conference on Alzheimer's disease in Philadelphia of his 21-year study. The study found that people 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."
In the 2004 book "The China Study," based on a study The New York Times called the "Grand Prix of epidemiology" in 1990, author T. Colin Campbell says that cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes share some of the same risk factors. He concurs with Kivipelto that high blood pressure and high cholesterol are two of these risk factors, "Both of which, of course, can be controlled by diet," Campbell confirms. He goes on to state, "A third risk factor is the amount of those nasty free radicals, which wreak havoc on brain function in our later years. Because free radical damage is so important to the process of cognitive dysfunction and dementia, researchers believe that consuming dietary antioxidants can shield our brains from this damage, as in other diseases. Animal-based foods lack antioxidant shields and tend to activate free radical production and cell damage, while plant-based foods, with their abundant antioxidants, tend to prevent such damage."
More experts weigh in:
* Ron Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Center: "Studies suggest that we can maintain a healthy brain and perhaps reduce our risk for Alzheimer's disease by living a healthful lifestyle, in particular staying socially involved, remaining mentally active, improving our diets and exercising."
* The Alzheimer's Association: "Some of the strongest current evidence links brain health to heart health. Your brain is nourished by one of your body's richest networks of blood vessels. Every heartbeat pumps about 20 to 25 percent of your blood to your head, where brain cells use at least 20 percent of the food and oxygen your blood carries."
* Esther Heerema, MSW, of About.com, in an article reviewed by board-certified physicians and certified health professionals from leading institutions: "If our cholesterol is in a healthy range, we're less at risk for events like a stroke that could trigger vascular dementia. Exercise gets the blood flowing through our bodies and brains. Being physically healthy doesn't eliminate the possibility of Alzheimer's or another dementia developing, but a healthy body does decrease the risk."
Based on these studies, on expert opinions and on the last paragraph of the Washington Post article, I say ignore the first damning sentence stating that Alzheimer's disease can't be prevented.
Instead, lace up your walking shoes, eat lots of fruits and veggies, reduce consumption of animal-based foods, and be assured that you will dramatically increase your chances of living to a ripe old age, fully alive, fully mentally functional, and just as feisty as you are now. Live life. Love life. You are in charge of your own destiny.
Patsy Ouellette of Bakersfield is an eighth-grade English teacher at Norris Middle School. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.