Dr. Doni explains how lifestyle and environment can cause oxidative stress and lead to Alzheimer’s, and gives practical tips to minimize your risk of getting it.
Part 4 of Dr. Doni’s Series on Oxidative Stress
Last week, I started out by getting you up to speed on Alzheimer’s disease—what is and isn’t known about the disease and how to stop it. I pointed to research showing that Alzheimer’s develops over years of exposure to stress, inflammation, toxins, high blood sugar levels, and the oxidative stress they produce. So that means that our best way to prevent Alzheimer’s is to understand the two key risk factors for oxidative stress, diet and environment, and some changes you can make to reduce your exposure to them.
Diet, Oxidative Stress, and Alzheimer’s
Two weeks ago, I talked about the connection between blood sugar and oxidative stress. In diabetes, eating too much sugar and carbohydrates changes the way your cells respond to insulin and wears out the pancreas. It can also change the way your brain cells respond to insulin (insulin resistance), causing an increase in oxidative stress that damages the brain cells and increases both plaques and tangles in the brain (to read more about these, go to the previous article in this series).
In fact, high blood sugar is such a major contributor to Alzheimer’s disease that researchers are going so far as to call it “Type 3 Diabetes.”1 They don’t completely understand exactly how the damage occurs, but they do know that there is an increase in amyloid plaques in patients who have insulin resistance. Essentially, insulin resistance prevents glucose from getting into the nerve cells; this “starves” the brain cells and causes an increased production of amyloid protein in nerve cells.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
- Decrease Your Sugar Intake. The best thing you can do is to decrease your intake of sugar (and other ‘hidden’ sources of sugar such as high fructose corn syrup). Watch for sugar in the ingredients of every product you eat or drink, and change products if you see it on the list. Keep the amount of sugar you eat each day under 25 grams—or even 15 grams, especially if you have insulin resistance. To learn more about the dangers of sugar and how to reduce it, you might like to watch this video podcast I recorded with my friend, Dr. Trevor Cates.
- Eat Fewer Carbs. Carbohydrates are found in cereals, breads, muffins, cakes, rice, pasta and potatoes, and I recommend you decrease the amount you have of these per serving so you eat no more than your insulin can manage. Instead, it is better to choose vegetables and fruits because the relative nutrient to carb ratio is more advantageous. You’ll get more anti-oxidants from fruits and veggies and less carbs to stress your cells.
- Eat More Protein and Healthy Fat. Choose to eat proteins and healthy fats with your veggies. These can be a healthy balance of plant-based and animal-sourced fats and proteins. Olive oil, coconut oil, and foods that contain good fats, such as avocado, grass-fed beef, wild Alaskan salmon and nuts (pecans and macadamia nuts) are all great options.There are even studies to suggest that a diet that is very low in carbs and very high in fat (referred to as a Ketogenic Diet) can help reverse Alzheimer’s.2 It is important to work with a practitioner to help you with this type of extreme diet, but worth considering based on the research.
- Exercise. Regular exercise—especially muscle strengthening exercise—helps to improve insulin function and has been shown to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.3 I suggest starting with just 5 to 10 minutes each day of simply strength-building exercises such as squats, bicep curls, push-ups and abdominal crunches. You may want to work with a personal trainer to get you started with a plan that you can follow. If you have my book, The Stress Remedy, you’ll find my sample workout plans in Chapter 8.
Other Food Hazards: Pesticides and Gluten
Another dietary risk is exposure to toxins in our food, such as from pesticides in non-organic foods. Studies are showing that pesticides are a major cause of oxidative stress and put you at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s.4 This is because pesticides and other ingredients in processed foods (colors, preservatives, and stabilizers) must be detoxified by the liver, and when the liver is overwhelmed by a multitude of toxins and nutrient deficiencies, the liver can’t keep up and the toxins are left to damage cells and mitochondria, leading to oxidative stress and hormone imbalances (endocrine disruption). So it’s worth avoiding pesticides as much as you can.
Gluten—the protein in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley—is not well digested by humans. It is known to cause Leaky Gut and trigger an inflammatory response that can travel throughout the body, including the nervous system.5 Gluten is directly associated with neuro-degeneration (damage to your brain).
Diet and Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
- Avoid Gluten. You will find lots of tips and support for avoiding gluten throughout my website, including this post I originally created for GlutenFreeQuest and as a major component of the Hamptons Cleanse, 21-day program.
- Go Organic! Buy organic foods whenever possible and, if you grow your own, don’t use chemical pesticides in your garden.The Environmental Working Group has identified the vegetables and fruits that are the least contaminated with pesticides (the Clean 15), so one option is to choose them especially if you don’t have access to organic produce. They also have a list of the foods that are most contaminated (the Dirty Dozen) and that you should always get organic.You might also consider joining a cooperative or community supported agriculture (known as CSAs) that shares produce from a local farm. You can often find one near you by searching online or by asking at local farmer’s markets.
Environmental Risks, Oxidative Stress, and Alzheimer’s
Is Your HOUSE Putting You at Risk?
What could be more pervasive than invisible toxins inside your home? It turns out that indoor pollution is one of the greatest toxic exposures for all of us. And toxic exposures lead to oxidative stress to the brain. The simplest way to think about it is that toxins get into our bodies as we breathe and through our skin when we apply personal care products, and not only stop our cells doing what they normally do, but also damage them so they are not able to return to healthy function.
Even though toxins are tiny and invisible, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist or don’t add up to trouble. Research shows that toxins accumulate in our bodies over years and are found in higher levels in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The toxins get into our cells, damage mitochondria (the energy production centers of every cell), disrupt metabolic pathways, and increase oxidative stress which ends up permanently damaging our nerve cells.6
Common sources of toxins in your home include:
- Carpets, glues (for example, those used to hold cabinets and carpets in place), particle board (in furniture and cabinets), memory foam pillows/mattresses, and paints and solvents (chemicals).
- Pesticides and insecticides that are used to kill bugs in the house or yard (such as fleas), and then come inside on your shoes.
- Flame retardants (known as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs) used to treat curtains, mattresses, and furniture
- Chlorine in the water supply which is released when heated, such as in the dish-washer or shower.
- Parabens in pharmaceuticals, shampoos, soaps, lotions and cosmetics.
- Pthalates in plastics (like shower curtains and plastic wrap), toys, wallpaper, pharmaceuticals, shampoos, soaps and cosmetics.
- Fumes from the wood-burning stoves, oil, and natural gas that we use to heat our homes is also a potential source of oxidative stress.
- Molds from water-damaged areas on walls, ceilings, and/or carpets.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
- Regular Maintenance. Be sure to have your furnace, boiler, and venting system checked regularly to ensure you are not being exposed to low levels of carbon monoxide.
- Use a HEPA air filter in your home and bedroom, such as from IQAir or AlenCorp.
- Non-Toxic Floor Coverings. Have carpets replaced with non-toxic flooring such as wood, bamboo, or cork.
- Consider What You Bring Into Your Home. Avoid the use of plastics, memory foam, pesticides, flame retardants and, chemical cleaning products in your home. When replacing furniture, looks for flame-retardant-free options, such as from Eklahome.com.
- Filter Your Water. Get a water filter that filters chlorine from the water supply used by your shower, bath and, ideally, your whole house. There are many on the market—one of the top options is from aquasana.com.
- Consider What You Burn In Your Home. Avoid the use of candles, cigarettes, or wood-burning fireplaces in your home.
- Have a ‘No Shoes in the House’ Policy. Remove your shoes when entering your home so that you don’t bring toxins in from outside.
- Go Green! Use non-toxic soaps, personal care products, and cleaning products that do not contain parabens and pthalates. Read this blog post for more details on what to avoid and choose.
Read more tips for eliminating toxins from your home in my blog post related to creating a clean sleeping environment here.
It’s not just in your home that you can be exposed to toxins that increase oxidative stress in your body, but outside too. Consider whether you are exposed to the following on a daily basis:
- Car exhaust fumes from sitting in traffic.
- Smoking, or being around other people who do and breathing their second-hand smoke.7
- Pesticides and insecticides in buildings and outdoor areas.
- Industrial wastes.
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make
- Change Locations. Consider making changes to your commute, work environment, and/or the area that you live. You can look up toxic exposure in your local area on the website Scorecard.
- Stop Smoking. If you smoke, it is time to quit. Each day of exposure to cigarette smoke increases the risk of cell damage throughout your body and especially your brain cells. And it’s never too late to stop. Studies show you’ll benefit from quitting no matter how long you’ve been smoking. There are many private and government funded programs to support you with quitting, including this guide from the American Cancer Society—Google for resources in your area. You might also consider acupuncture and hypnosis as techniques that can help your body transition.
It’s Not Just About Avoiding Stuff
When it comes to minimizing your risk of getting Alzheimer’s Disease, there are many positive diet and lifestyle habits that can keep oxidative stress to a minimum and help prevent cognitive decline.
However, it could sound like quite a lot to do and avoid if you are just getting started down this path to support your wellness. That’s exactly why I wrote my book The Stress Remedy and created the Hamptons Cleanse—to help you on the journey to integrating these changes little by little. I have all the steps and tools outlined for you in chapter 8 of The Stress Remedy, and then a full three-week menu plan that helps balance your blood sugar while reducing inflammation, and a whole set of recipes and resources to help guide you through the process. There is even a list of toxin-free products.
Find The Stress Remedy here and information about the Hamptons Cleanse here. It’s a different kind of cleanse—not intended to stress you, but quite the opposite, to support you. Remember, stress itself increases oxidative stress and has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease.8
Specialty labs have developed tests that tell us the level of toxins and oxidative stress in your body. I’ll be talking more about them in the next articles in this series. And I’m working on developing a new program, coming in the New Year (but message me if you want to ask about it now!), where I test you for all your risk factors, including genetics, and help you get back on track so you can stay healthier longer and prevent Alzheimer’s.
To be sure you receive the next article in this series, and for information about the supplements, nutrients and herbs you can take to prevent Alzheimer’s and oxidative stress, please sign up for my newsletter here.
10th December 2015
UPDATE 1/28/16: I just launched my new Oxidative Stress Consultation Package, please check it out to see if it’s right for you.
- de la Monte SM1. Type 3 diabetes is sporadic Alzheimer׳s disease: mini-review. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2014 Dec;24(12):1954-60.
- Paoli A, Bianco A, Damiani E, Bosco G. Ketogenic diet in neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:474296.
- Paul A. Adlard, Victoria M. Perreau*, Viorela Pop*, and Carl W. Cotman. Voluntary Exercise Decreases Amyloid Load in a Transgenic Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Journal of Neuroscience. 27 April 2005, 25(17): 4217-4221.
- Steven T.DeKosky, MD; Sam Gandy, MD, PhD. Environmental Exposures and the Risk for Alzheimer Disease Can We Identify the Smoking Guns? J Biomed Biotechnol. 2002; 2(3): 120–123
- William T. Hu, MD, PhD; Joseph A. Murray, MD; Melanie C. Greenaway, PhD; Joseph E. Parisi, MD; Keith A. Josephs, MST, MD. Cognitive Impairment and Celiac Disease. Arch Neurol. 2006;63(10):1440-1446.
- Yegambaram M, Manivannan B, Beach TG, Halden RU. Role of environmental contaminants in the etiology of Alzheimer’s disease: a review. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2015;12(2):116-46.
- Letenneur L, Larrieu S, Barberger-Gateau P. Alcohol and tobacco consumption as risk factors of dementia: a review of epidemiological studies. Biomed Pharmacother. 2004 Mar;58(2):95-9.