La Méridienne, painting by Vincent Van Gogh

To Prevent Dementia, Stay Active and Forget the Jellyfish

The prospect of losing your mental edge is scary enough to make people open their wallets for scams. The Luminosity brain training scam earned its marketers a $50-million judgment for false advertising. Right now, FTC is going after scammers selling a jellyfish supplement to keep your brain sharp. But we don’t need the scams to prevent dementia. Science says that we can help keep our brains sharp just by staying physically active.

The World Health Organization is out with new guidance this week, telling us that dementia is not inevitable with age. And the best bets for preventing it are exercise and healthy dietary habits. Potions and puzzles? Don’t waste your money.

The Best Bargain: Physical Activity

Staying physically active has got to be the best bargain going. Taking extra steps every day won’t cost you a penny. In fact, if those steps save you a trip in your car, they’re saving you money. Even light activity can help.

In contrast, dietary supplements and brain games are a waste of money. The WHO concluded that no evidence suggests a benefit from either of these options.

The Full Range for Effective Prevention

The WHO report is an exhaustive compilation and a very demanding read. It’s a systematic evidence review of all options for preventing dementia. Physical activity comes out at the top of the list. Healthy dietary habits and tobacco cessation are near the top as well. Limiting alcohol and staying engaged socially are also helpful. And of course, care for chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity is helpful.

There’s plenty of good news here. Simply taking care of yourself is a good way to take care of your brain. Plenty of exercise and a healthy diet make a good start. And they’re relative bargains. Preventive care to keep blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and obesity under control fills out the picture. No need for scammy puzzles and pills.

Click here for the WHO report, here, here and here for further perspective.

La Méridienne, painting by Vincent Van Gogh

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May 15, 2019

One Response to “To Prevent Dementia, Stay Active and Forget the Jellyfish”

  1. May 15, 2019 at 8:00 am, David Brown said:

    Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem affecting around 50 million people globally.

    The report says that “committing to a Mediterranean diet (simple plant-based cooking, little meat and a heavy emphasis on olive oil) could help.”

    Below are excerpts from a Review entitled “Arachidonic acid in Alzheimer’s disease”.

    “All the recent clinical trials against Alzheimer’s disease (AD) failed to evidence any efficiency against the sporadic or late onset cases. A better understanding of AD mechanisms is required to open new therapeutic or preventive strategies.”

    “Lipids are important actors in AD as shown by the numerous works devoted to the putative neuroprotective role of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6 ω-3), the main polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) in brain. By contrast, the role of arachidonic acid (ARA, C20:4 ω-6) was less extensively studied, despite the fact that it is the second PUFA in the brain… Eicosanoids formed from free ARA are key mediators in neuroinflammation. Free ARA contributes to AD progression through various mechanisms. Through its conversion into pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, it participates to neuroinflammation. ARA is directly involved in synaptic functions as a retrograde messenger and a regulator of neuromediator exocytosis. Finally, some works also indicate that ARA might have some influence on tau phosphorylation and polymerization. All these data shows that ARA has pleiotropic effects in AD and might be an interesting target in the fight against this complex disease.”

    “ARA is provided by diet, directly from animal products and indirectly from the conversion of linoleic acid found in the vegetable oils. Linoleic acid and ARA amounts increased in the last 40 years period in the western diets. Therefore the influence of dietary ARA on the occurrence of AD is an important issue for the prevention of the disease. Unfortunately, only two studies were performed on transgenic AD murine model to measure the impact of dietary ARA on the pathological process and found opposite results on Aβ production and deposition. Therefore, additional studies are necessary to clarify the dietary ARA impact in AD and to identify the underlying mechanisms, keeping in mind the perspective of nutrition-based preventive strategies of AD.”

    Characteristic of the Mediterranean style diet is a reduction in meat (arachidonic acid) intake, a decrease in linoleic acid (seed oil) intake, and an increase in oleic acid (olive oil) intake. Excerpt from an article entitled “The inverse association between relative abundances of oleic acid and arachidonic acid is related to alpha -linolenic acid”.

    It is widely accepted that oleic acid (OA, 18:1 n9), and oleic acid rich foods such as olive oil may have many beneficial health effects. Among such effects are improved insulin sensitivity, and endothelium-dependent flow-mediated vasodilatation, lowering of LDL cholesterol and an increase in HDL cholesterol. If lipids in LDL are enriched in oleic acid, the particles will be less liable to be oxidized, a property that is of significance for the normal metabolism of LDL. Furthermore, intake of oleic acid seems to be associated with reduced blood pressure. Thus, many of the effects of oleic acid may serve to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Additionally, the fatty acid may have anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory effects.

    Clearly, the powers that be need to pay more attention to arachidonic acid research.