Action and Antioxidants to help avoid Alzheimer’s

Our improved understanding of how to maintain normal brain health is providing tantalizing clues about what may prevent or reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD), according to Marilyn Albert, PhD, a leading authority on risk factors and AD.

“The normal aging of the brain is very different from what happens in AD,” she says. Changes in brain chemistry that alter the way that neurons communicate are likely responsible for the memory problems associated with normal aging, according to Dr Albert. “The memory loss and other cognitive changes in AD, however, are the result of profound neuronal loss in the parts of the brain critical for memory. These areas are the first affected by AD, although the destruction of nerve cells continues to progress throughout all areas of the brain.”

Researchers from three national institutes will now analyze data from past studies and look at ongoing studies for clues on maintaining brain health and avoiding AD.

“We are already learning that there may be ways of maintaining general brain health that can be safely recommended to everyone,” said Dr Albert.

For instance, reducing oxidative stress, increased physical and mental activity and reducing stress may all improve general brain health. Whether they have an impact on the formation of plaques and tangles, the hallmarks of AD, is still unknown. “Vitamin E, an antioxidant, has already been tested and shown to somewhat reduce AD symptoms. Increased mental activity may achieve a protective effect by increasing the connections between nerve cells,” said Dr Albert. “We know that vitamin E is relatively safe and physicians can feel comfortable recommending it. And, of course, there just doesn’t seem to be any downside to increased mental and physical activity.”

American Medical Association, Jan 15, 2004