What is dementia?
Dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes characterized by memory loss, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. According to Age Concern UK, mild cognitive impairment affects between 5% and 20% of people over the age of 65, although often not significantly enough to affect their ability to live independently(1). However, regardless of its severity, the regular ‘senior moments’ associated with such cognitive decline can be both debilitating and embarrassing.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia
The Alzheimer’s Society states there are currently 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK with this set to rise to over 1 million by 2025, and 2 million by 2051. The WHO estimates that 47 million people worldwide are living with some sort of dementia and predict that this will rise to around 75 million by 2030 and 132 million by 2050. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative condition responsible for two out of three cases of significant cognitive decline (2).
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s
The first noticeable signs of Alzheimer’s are  typically forgetfulness and confusion, but this can escalate to dramatic mood swings, inability to follow instructions and language disturbances as the disease progresses. Alzheimer’s is initially a physical disease that affects the brain, reducing the effectiveness of neuronal connections, eventually leading to the permanent loss of brain tissue. This results in such severe cognitive impairment that most sufferers become completely incapacitated, unable to recognise the faces of loved ones or to carry out the very simplest of tasks.
Is reversal of cognitive decline possible?
Many people think that losing your cognitive abilities is an inevitable part of growing old, however, there are many changes you can make to prevent cognitive decline from taking over your later years.
A recent, ground-breaking study by Dr Dale Bredesen, employed a combination of a behavioural approach and functional medicine to treat 10 patients with early stage Alzheimer’s disease(3). The programmes included a low-carb, gluten-free diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, wild fish, B12 and other vitamin mineral supplementation, probiotics and coconut oil.
It includes a regular fasting programme, various de-stressing interventions, including meditation and yoga, plus melatonin, the sleep hormone, to ensure good sleep.
Findings of the study
After 6 months, 9 out of the 10 participants experienced a significant improvement in cognitive function, to the extent that six of the volunteers were able to return to their jobs, having given up work when their symptoms first began (3,4).
What can you do to try to reduce cognitive decline?
At any age, but particularly as we get older, food can exert a hugely positive influence on brain function. Research has revealed that people who regularly eat fish (5), fruit, vegetables and little dairy or red meat experience a much slower rate of memory loss than those who do not follow these guidelines.
No fewer than 13 different studies have revealed that a Mediterranean diet can be linked to slowing the rate of cognitive decline, and slower onset of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (6). There is also evidence to suggest that a Mediterranean diet helps to reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol, both of which have been linked to an increased risk of dementia, memory loss and other cognitive problems (7).
Foods to eat
Dr Dean Sherzai and Dr Ayesha Sherzai, co-authors of The Alzheimer’s Solution, recommend these foods to protect your brain from cognitive problems:
* Sweet potatoes
* Extra virgin olive oil
* Leafy green vegetables
* Spices (especially turmeric, cinnamon, saffron)
* Tea (green tea, mint, lemon balm)
Foods to avoid:
* Trans fats (crisps, biscuits, margarine)
* Processed meat (bacon, sausages, smoked hams)
* Sugar (pastries, sweets, biscuits, cakes)
* Sugary drinks
* Excessive alcohol
With these studies in mind, the Reset Your Gut programme has specific vegetarian and/or vegan options available as well as meat options with lots of vegetables included which are all recommended for lowering the risk of cognitive decline.
1. Rodda J, Fryer T. What is mild cognitive impairment (MCI)? London: Alzheimer’s Society; 2015. Available from: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/download/downloads/id/1773/factsheet_what_is_mild_cognitive_impairment_mci.pdf.
2. What is Alzheimer’s? [Internet]. Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. [cited 2020Jun26]. Available from: https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers
3. Bredesen DE. Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic program. Aging. 2014Sep;6(9):707–17. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25324467/
4. Bredesen DE, Amos EC, Canick J, Ackerley M, Raji C, Fiala M, et al. Reversal of Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer’s Disease . Aging (Albany NY). 2016Jun;8(6):1250–8. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27294343/
5. Scarmeas N, Luchsinger JA, Schupf N, Brickman AM. Physical Activity, Diet, and Risk of Alzheimer Disease. JAMA. 2009Aug12;302(6):627–37. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19671904/
6. Widmer RJ, Flammer AJ, Lerman LO, Lerman A. The Mediterranean Diet, its Components, and Cardiovascular Disease. The American Journal of Medicine. 2015Mar;128(3):229–38.
Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25447615/
7. Sherzai D, Sherzai A. The Alzheimer’s solution: a revolutionary guide to how you can prevent and reverse memory loss. London, England: Simon & Schuster; 2017.