Nutrition and Alzheimer’s

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Alzheimer’s disease and dementia affect 1 in 11 Canadians over the age of 65. Read on to learn about some common questions related to nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease.

What is dementia? What is Alzheimer’s?

Dementia is a disease that affects the brain.  This usually ends up causing a loss of brain function by damaging thinking and memory skills. 

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.  The risk for Alzheimer’s increases as a person gets older, especially if there is family history of the disease. However, Alzheimer’s is not part of the normal aging process.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s include loss of memory and difficulty with judgement and reasoning.  It can also affect one’s mood, behaviour and the ability to communicate.  This makes day-to-day living more difficult, and people with Alzheimer’s will often need the support from another person to help with their daily activities.

Alzheimer’s gets worse with time and is an irreversible disease.  Currently, research is being done to help understand the causes of this disease so that better treatment options are available to prevent symptoms from getting worse.

Do supplements prevent or slow down dementia?

No. There have been many research studies that have looked at how supplements can protect people from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. For example, Vitamin E and C supplements have been researched for their role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease.  However, it has not been shown for sure that taking supplements of these vitamins will prevent Alzheimer’s. 

Not enough research has been done to show that B vitamin supplements can improve cognitive function in people who already have dementia. These supplements will not improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s once it has already started. 

Supplements are not recommended in preventing or slowing down dementia.  However, for healthy people who may not be getting enough of some nutrients, they may benefit from taking supplements.  Speak with your doctor or health professional before you take any vitamin or mineral supplements. 

Does aluminum cause Alzheimer’s?

Aluminum is naturally found in some foods like tea, coffee, grains and additives in processed foods.  It is also found in our utensils, cookware and food packaging.  However, our bodies absorb very little aluminum from these sources. To help keep us safe, Health Canada monitors the amount of aluminum in our food supply.

Some scientists believe that there may be a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s, especially in some elderly. More research is needed before recommendations can be made.

Can drinking alcohol reduce the risk of dementia?

Some scientists suggest that alcohol may help reduce the risk of dementia.  However, there are more risks from drinking alcohol than benefits. Drinking alcohol is not recommended as a way to reduce the risk of dementia.

If you do drink alcohol, drink in moderation. The Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recommend limiting alcohol to no more than 2 standard drinks on any one occasion, up to 9 standard drinks per week for women, and 14 standard drinks per week for men.

Can omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of dementia?

Maybe. Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of dementia.  This fatty acid helps reduce the risk for cardiovascular (heart) disease.  This is important because cardiovascular disease can increase the risk of dementia.  However, scientists still don’t know enough to recommend omega-3’s as a way to reduce dementia. 

Enjoy omega-3’s fatty acids from fatty fish once or more per week to improve overall health and well-being, and to keep your brain healthy.  Even better, follow Health Canada’s recommendation and have fatty fish twice each week.  Examples of good choices are: salmon, anchovies, mackerel, sardines, halibut and whitefish.

It is not recommended that omega-3 fatty acid supplements be used to prevent dementia.

Bottom Line

The risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease increases as we get older.  Scientists are looking at how we can prevent or slow down dementia or Alzheimer’s. What can you do?  Enjoy fatty fish more often and drink alcohol in moderation.  If you would like to take vitamin supplements, speak to your healthcare provider first. Most importantly, enjoying a variety of foods regularly and keeping your brain and body active are the best ways to keep your brain healthy.

You may also be interested in:

Nutri-eSCREEN™ a nutrition screening tool for seniors. 

Last Update – January 30, 2019

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