One of the topics that resonates most with me is prevention. It is far easier to have never had a problem than to be recovering from one. I often joke that I want to live forever and feel great doing it – but the truth is, for many people, getting older is scary because of all of the diseases that afflict so many elderly people. The three diseases I worry most about are Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, and Cancer, mainly because I have relatives who have suffered from one or more of these.
Perhaps the most devastating example was my Grandma. She was an incredibly strong, smart, and hardworking woman.
She taught herself to do her own plumbing, to sew beautiful garments without a pattern, to grow gardens full of persimmons, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, apples, oranges, grapes, figs, and pears (or any other seed she could find) all in her backyard, to cook the most amazing food. The list of her abilities is infinite. When I think of the opportunities I have been afforded that she didn’t have, I am so floored by how much she was able to teach herself to do.
She also had an incredible willpower and tolerance for pain – sometimes so much so that it was to her own detriment. She would “stitch” together her own wounds with a disinfected needle, and once waited until the morning to call my mom to let her know she had a heartattack, to avoid waking our family in the middle of the night. (When people wonder why I’m so driven and a little crazy, I have no better answer than my genetics).
I credit so much of my own drive to having her example. She showed me that anything is possible, that I could teach myself to do anything I wanted to do and that I could bear short term pain for long term results. I credit even my aesthetic preferences to having women in my life like her – she was beautiful in a very simple, no-makeup, no hairstyle kind of way, and she exuded strength and grace simultaneously. As an adult, I still prefer the simplicity and strength combined with femininity that she embodied.
She suffered from diabetes for most of her adult life, but she was able to manage it well with her willpower – she avoided sugars and was amazingly diligent at avoiding temptation. Sadly, she did not have the information (that I think is critical to diabetes maintenance and reversal) about the impact of carbohydrates and their effect on insulin, so she was never able to control her diabetes in the way I think she could have with proper diet.
This all changed, however, when she developed Alzheimer’s. While I loved her and she loved me just the same, she became a completely different person in her last years. She no longer wanted to go for long morning walks or to cultivate her garden or sew or cook or do any of the things she had loved doing for nearly 75 years. Instead, she watched television all day and was virtually uninterested in most conversations, other than our nearly identical exchanges on the phone every day.
To see this incredibly terrible transformation had a profound impact on me. I know that there is still a huge amount of “unknown” when it comes to Alzheimer’s. But, I am willing to take any and all steps that may decrease my risk of developing the disease. I am somewhat skeptical that my family has a genetic predisposition to the disease – my great-grandmother (who was similarly incredible!) lived until nearly 100, with no signs of memory loss or dementia. Her husband, who I was not fortunate enough to meet, lived into his 70s with no issues. My grandma’s brothers and sisters who lived into their 70s and 80s did not develop Alzheimers. This led me to question what external factors could have contributed to my Grandma’s disease.
The benefits of anti-inflammatory foods has been touted in mainstream posts all over the internet (see here or here or here.) Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods are easy to add to almost any recipe: garlic, ginger, oregano, parsley, turmeric, and cinnamon. Grass-fed and pastured meats have higher CLA and do not promote inflammation, so they’re the best sources of protein.
I also supplement in nutrients that have been linked to reducing the risk for Alzheimers:
(1) Magnesium (see here or here or here or here)
(2) Zinc (research is less clear, but I don’t like to mess around with Alzheimer’s, so I take it)
(3) Niacin (see here or here)
(4) Acetyl L-Carnitine (see here or here or here)
(5) Alpha Brain (again, Onnit links to the research)
Finally, I use Lumosity every day. In fact, I believe in it so much that I got a family plan and encourage (read: harass) my family about using it everyday. The idea behind the site is constantly changing games that challenge the brain across multiple sectors: memory, flexibility, attention, speed, and problem solving. Because of the multitude of games and the changing types of challenges, it encourages neuroplasticity. The site includes the science behind why it works on its home page, and touts results even in users who already are experiencing mental decline. The concept is similar to using puzzles, crosswords, and sodoku to challenge the brain – which seemed to have worked for my paternal Grandma, who is 81 and shows no signs of memory loss or mental decline!
Like I said before, I don’t know if any of these efforts will actually prevent Alzheimer’s, but I’ll try anything to avoid such a terrible disease. I guess if this blog is still up and running in 50 years, readers can judge if I’ve suffered any mental decline!