In case anyone doubted it at this point, let it be clear from the start: "It is never too early (or too late) to prevent dementia."
So says the latest 2017 Lancet Commission compilation on risk factors that we can modify to reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.
No one should set aside the document, bearing in mind that, "according to this report, up to 40% of the cases of
and other dementias could be prevented or delayed," says Silvia Gil, member of the Spanish Society of Neurology.
Download the new number of BUENAVIDA for free
It's good news that you take in with glee, but knowing exactly what to do to lower your chances of avoiding — or delaying — disease is more difficult.
The authors of this report have made a classification of these risk factors and the most effective guidelines for action according to the vital segment of each one, and have selected those that science indicates may be effective during early life, which establish up to 45 years.
These are the duties that have been given to those who have turned 40.
Walks and polyphenols, a long-term strategy
"Much research has shown that
overweight or obese may be more prone to developing cognitive problems
, mainly due to the association between a high amount of body fat and metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), blockage of blood vessels or inflammatory processes.
But there is more: the latest studies indicate that this increased risk occurs when overweight occurs in middle age and not so much in a more advanced age ”, explains Inés Moreno-González, from the Biomedical Research Institute of Málaga-IBIMA and one of the authors of a recent research work on the risk factors of Alzheimer's disease.
As for the diet, there is unanimity that the Mediterranean is the best option, a diet within which Moreno-González highlights a specific type of nutrient: polyphenols.
"They are natural compounds that help maintain good
, as they have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
They are present in fruits and vegetables in different forms, such as resveratrol in grapes and berries, rosmarinic acid in aromatic herbs, and tannins in red wine, tea and chocolate ”.
In search of the secret of sofrito, the elixir of Spanish cuisine
Scientists have analyzed what is cooked in the pan and have concluded that it may be a fundamental piece to explain the benefits of the Mediterranean diet
Some supplements (especially vitamins C and D) have been postulated as beneficial options at the neuronal level, but “according to the most recent meta-analysis on the subject, which studied the effects of long-term supplementation (5 to 10 years), the evidence of cognitive benefit is low for vitamin C and even lower for vitamin D ”, comments Aleix Sala, researcher at the Pasqual Maragall Foundation's Alzheimer's Prevention Program.
For him, in the absence of conclusive studies, the best preventive option is a varied diet that includes, in addition to polyphenols, other
compounds of interest for brain function such as omega-3 fatty acids
Physical exercise also gathers consensus on its brain benefits at all levels.
“Physical activity during adolescence and adulthood has been shown to be linked to better cognitive ability after age 65.
The reason is that, on the one hand, it increases brain metabolism, helping to preserve the hippocampus (brain area responsible for memory) and, on the other hand, it reduces cardiovascular risk factors and improves mood, as well as mental health ”, points out Eider Arenaza-Urquijo, who is also part of the Prevention Program of the Pasqual Maragall Foundation.
When it comes to specifying which activity would be most recommended for young adults to achieve these benefits, Dr. Arenaza-Urquijo points out aerobics such as running, walking, swimming and cycling, low or medium intensity exercises and long duration.
Stress, 'hobbies' and lack of sleep: this is how your neurons perceive them
It's not easy, no, but the sooner we learn to manage stress and anxiety, the less of a mark they will leave on our brain health.
"Chronic stress can favor the development of clinical depression, since it reduces the levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, molecules that intervene in the emotional response and social behavior".
Hold for extended periods high levels of cortisol (a substance produced by
the brain in times of
) can affect the ability of cells of the nervous system to regenerate and volume areas of the brain involved in memory, "which finally it favors cognitive deterioration ”, explains Moreno-González.
To stop this vicious cycle, the expert recommends activities that increase serotonin and dopamine levels, and reduce cortisol levels, such as moderate physical exercise (again exercise, take note), relaxation techniques and, "in general , any pleasant activity, such as the practice of 'hobbies'.
Acquiring new knowledge and skills also has a positive effect
(it is never too late to learn to ride a bike).
“Reading and other mental activities, especially those that pose a challenge or strategy, can even increase the size of the brain regions directly involved in memory (similar to a muscle that exercises).
In fact, many studies indicate that people with a higher level of education or who speak several languages have a lower risk of suffering from neurodegenerative diseases ”, according to Moreno-González.
These readings can make you smarter
Reading is to intelligence what physical training is to muscular capacity.
But not just any support or any genre
Social relationships are also in favor of brain health, "since in addition to the well-being that it produces, socializing improves our memory and can reduce the levels of inflammation in the brain, according to recent studies," says the IBIMA researcher.
It is also very important not to steal hours from rest.
During sleep, the brain is active performing key tasks such as consolidating memory and 'cleaning'
potentially toxic substances, the chronic accumulation of which can affect the functioning and survival of brain neurons and, therefore, trigger the onset of of neurodegenerative diseases.
All these activities take place in the REM phase, which is why it is so important that sleep is restorative and that, in addition, it is done with the light off, since darkness activates the pineal gland, which produces melatonin and induces sleep ”, says Moreno-González, who recommends as a habit to follow to take care of brain health to avoid the use of screens (television, telephones, computers) before going to bed.
Tobacco, decibels and other "interference" to avoid
Eider Arenaza-Urquijo explains that the negative effect of tobacco occurs by increasing cardiovascular risk factors and favoring brain atrophy.
“Smoking increases the risk even more in people with a genetic susceptibility to develop Alzheimer's.
Therefore, it is never too late to quit this habit.
In fact, there are studies that show the brain benefits of this decision even in elderly people ”.
Regarding alcohol, the guidelines are also very clear: a consumption of more than 21 units per week increases the risk of dementia.
Other specific recommendations from the authors of this report for those under 40 years of age are to keep systolic blood pressure at 130 mm Hg or less;
prevent hearing loss by protecting the ears from excessive noise exposure;
and reduce contact with environmental pollution and second-hand tobacco smoke.
How to take blood pressure for the result to be valid
From the age of 40, it is worth doing it at home every year (if there is a family history, the control is greater, and from before)
“Having a strengthened immune system through healthy habits such as diet, regular exercise and disease control could prevent, to some extent, the development of some types of dementia and delay brain aging.
And an important recommendation in this regard is to avoid the indiscriminate use of antibiotics (self-medication), since,
in the long term, they could affect the microbiota and have adverse effects on the brain
In this way, Inés Moreno-González sums up the link between the state of our defenses and neuronal “joviality”.
The reasons for this link are complex, but it involves a type of cells of the brain's immune system that age at the same time as the rest of the body, “and over time they become less efficient in exercising their defense function, favoring the development of neurodegenerative diseases ”.
The gender factor must also be taken into account in all these recommendations, since, as Silvia Gil explains, although the differences found in men and women in different studies mainly affect the population over 40 years of age, there are data that sees that the initial changes in the brain of a patient with Alzheimer's disease affect women earlier, "and more specifically those who are in a hormonal transition towards menopause."