Alzheimer's disease continues to be a topic of concern and interest in the realms of healthcare, specialized press, and related foundations, and for good reason. It is now considered the most common neurodegenerative disease, with alarming statistics. However, for every family, this disease carries a name, a lived experience, and suffering. Whether influenced by environmental or hereditary factors, medical treatments, or dietary habits, are there factors that can help prevent Alzheimer's disease?
In UK alone, there are approximately 225,000 new cases reported each year, with a projection for 2020 nearing three million people directly or indirectly affected, including over a million patients. These numbers represent individuals facing a different daily life, the fear of disappointment, guilt, and sometimes at a young age. The exact causes of Alzheimer's disease onset have not been identified to date. They involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Science offers a glimmer of hope with new studies, and an increasing number of doctors agree that a healthy lifestyle and certain dietary habits could counterbalance risks and prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease.
In UK, around 20,000 to 30,000 individuals are affected by early-onset Alzheimer's. Less known to the general public, this particularly distressing form of the disease occurs before the age of 60 and often has a catastrophic impact on the affected person's professional and social life. It typically requires psychological support and specific assistance. Those affected quickly experience work-related difficulties, reduced efficiency, and other noticeable problems within their social circle. However, a diagnosis can sometimes be delayed due to depressive symptoms that mask the presence of the disease. It is crucial to seek medical advice as soon as possible for optimal support and symptom management.
According to various studies conducted to date, Alzheimer's disease appears to result more from a combination of different environmental, factual, and genetic factors than from a single cause.
Hereditary forms of the disease are very rare, accounting for less than 1% of cases, and are primarily highlighted when it occurs at an early age, i.e., before the age of 60. Currently, three different genes responsible for these hereditary forms are known. An anomaly in one of these three genes from either parent is sufficient to trigger the disease, which will inevitably develop before the age of 65. However, carrying one of these genes does not necessarily mean that the individual will develop the disease. It represents a predisposition, meaning a higher risk factor for certain individuals.
Studies on Alzheimer's disease worldwide have identified seven risk factors that could account for nearly half of Alzheimer's disease cases. In order of influence, these factors include low educational level, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, depression, high blood pressure, and, to a lesser extent, obesity and diabetes. Additionally, a recent study confirmed that living in areas with high air pollution increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.
By directly addressing these risk factors, it may be possible to protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease. In other words, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, engaging in regular mental and physical activity, and adhering to a balanced diet are imperative.
The disease is characterized by two types of neuron lesions that are already present before the onset of symptoms: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary degeneration. These two lesions correspond to protein aggregates that form as part of the normal aging process. However, in Alzheimer's-type dementia, these proteins accumulate in much larger quantities.
According to many doctors, a Mediterranean diet rich in fish, fruits, and vegetables significantly reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and is also highly beneficial for the heart. The consumption of fatty fish and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables can be very effective against the excess of free radicals that cause neuron death.
Among the numerous studies conducted on this topic, some researchers have been able to demonstrate that participants with a high genetic predisposition to developing Alzheimer's disease who adopted a "favorable" lifestyle had a 32% lower risk of developing dementia, regardless of the cause, compared to those with an "unfavorable" lifestyle.
It's important to note that current medical treatments for Alzheimer's disease primarily address symptoms rather than the causes of the disease. However, some studies have shown a protective effect of long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Therefore, doctors' recommendations regarding our dietary habits and lifestyle are once again in the spotlight. Balanced menus, varied and healthy meals, as well as regular physical activity, can protect us from a multitude of known or yet-to-be-discovered ailments and dysfunctions.
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