Less sugar, more activity, fish oil and B vitamin supplements may halve dementia risk

A global conference of leading world experts in dementia prevention has today identified four easy ways that could reduce risk of dementia by half and eight that could cut your risk by two thirds.

The research was shared, for the first time, at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Conference, organised by the charitable foundation Food for the Brain.

The new research showed that there are four easy ways to cut your risk of dementia in half:

  1. Supplementing omega-3 fish oils. According to a new study of almost half a million participants of the UK’s Biobank supplementing fish oils cuts dementia risk. This new research was presented at the conference by China’s leading dementia prevention expert from Shanghai’s Fudan University, Professor Jin-Tai Yu, “Our current research, using data from the UK Bio Bank, shows that having a higher blood levels of omega-3, and supplementing fish oils, is associated with less risk of dementia.”

Other studies reported by Dr Simon Dyall, clinical neuroscientist at the University of Roehampton, showed that a higher intake of fish was associated with cutting risk of Alzheimer’s disease by a third.“Half your brain is fat, and a type of omega- 3 called DHA has a very important role in the communication between brain cells.” said Dyall.

2. According to Professor Yu, another very promising prevention treatment is B vitamins. “Lowering blood homocysteine levels, an established indicator of Alzheimer’s risk, with B vitamins is a most promising treatment.” Raised homocysteine is found in one in two people over 70.

In a trial at Oxford University by Professor David Smith, who was presenting at the conference, giving high dose B vitamins versus placebos, resulted in 52% less brain shrinkage and little further memory loss.

Combining omega-3 and vitamin B. The discovery of the synergistic role of omega-3 led the Oxford Professor to reanalyse blood samples taken at the start of the trial for omega-3. They found that those with low omega-3 DHA blood levels, one of the main nutrients found in fish and fish oil supplements, had no benefit from the B vitamins, while those with high omega-3 DHA had 73% less shrinkage and almost nine times less shrinkage of the Alzheimer’s related areas of the brain.

Furthermore, another study in Sweden, that had given omega-3 fish oil supplements, reanalysed their results and found those with good B vitamin status substantially reduced their dementia risk.

A third study in the US, called ‘B proof’, that had given B vitamins with marginal improvements, reanalysed their results and found that those with higher omega-3 levels also had a much greater improvement.

“Research shows that you get impressive results if you give omega-3 and B vitamins together rather than on their own.” Says Professor Smith.

While US National Institutes of Health researchers attributed 22% to lack of seafood or omega-3 and another 22% to the B vitamin factor they also attributed 32% of risk to inactive lifestyle.

“For many people the worst thing they can do for their brain is to retire”

  1. Keeping your brain active. Another expert at the conference, Tommy Wood, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington, showed that your muscle mass predicts brain volume. “Exercise, especially resistance exercise, is important because it makes the brain do things that keep it healthy, such as growth and repair.” he says. “When they aren’t stimulated, the health of brain tissues deteriorates, with a knock-on effect on memory and thinking.”

And it’s not just physical exercise that does this, we also benefit from the mental exercise involved in activities like solving puzzles or learning a new language. “For many people the worst thing they can do for their brain is to retire”, says Wood. “They lose much of the stimulation that kept it healthy.”

“Sugar levels at age 35 predict Alzheimer’s risk later in life”

  1. While it has long been known that diabetics have a much higher risk for dementia, a recent study at Boston University School of Medicine, found that higher blood sugar levels at age 35, but still in the ‘normal’ non-diabetic range, predict Alzheimer’s later in life. Talking at the conference Professor Robert Lustig, from the University of California, said, ”A high level of sugar and insulin in the blood – linked with a high carbohydrate diet – is definitely a driver for Alzheimer’s.”

The conference, hosted by the UK charity foodforthebrain.org, identified eight domains of risk, in other words, four more actions you can take to reduce your risk of dementia: eating antioxidants from fruit and veg; having a healthy gut; sleeping well; and controlling stress.

Targeting all eight risk factors earlier in life may reduce risk by two thirds.

But how do you know what your risk is and what and how to change to reduce your risk? That’s what the charity, the Food for the Brain Foundation has been working on for a decade. On their website, foodforthebrain.org, you can do a free Cognitive Function Test. Almost 380,000 people have taken the test and, according to research by NHS and University College London researchers, 88% find it useful. You then complete a questionnaire that works out your future dementia risk index. It also tells you exactly what’s driving your risk up and what to do about it. By downloading the COGNITION app you can tack your progress, get advice on how to reduce your risk further, and get support to help you dementia-proof your diet and lifestyle.


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