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Preventing Alzheimer's: Dr. Elizabeth Pavka explains what nutrition's got to do with it.

Q: My 85-year-old grandmother has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. She's no longer the person I've known and loved my entire life. I'm wondering what, if anything, my parents and I can do to prevent this in ourselves."

--Margaret C., Asheville, NC

A: Thanks for your question, Margaret. I'm certain that many readers have someone in their family with Alzheimer's disease (AD) or know of someone who is experiencing that challenge first-hand. When both my elderly parents got a brain-related diagnosis, I decided that I would put myself on a "let's promote brain function program." Here's some of what I've learned:

First, eat lots of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, spinach, tomatoes and blueberries. James A. Joseph, Ph.D., at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has dubbed blueberries "brainberries." His research on aging "shows that blueberry supplementation at about one to two percent of the diet may reverse short-term memory loss and improve motor skills." Ponder the possibility that a cup of blueberries a day may help keep "senior moments" away. Also, eat organically grown produce.

Second, consume good quality essential fats. Neurons, the cells that make up the brain and central nervous system, are very fat-rich, so a generous amount of omega-3 fats provides essential building blocks for better brain function. Good food sources include salmon, herring, flax seeds and walnuts. Cod liver oil or algae supplements also provide essential fats. In addition, fat-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin E protect these fats from oxidation or "going rancid."


One book I recommend is The Better Brain Book: The Best Tools for Improving Memory and Sharpness and Preventing Aging of the Brain. In his book, board certified neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D., shares a "brain audit," discusses how foods enhance or diminish brain function, presents supplements for improving brain function, describes the role of toxins in brain function, and explores the negative effects that some prescription medications have on brain function. Because brain function is a "use it or lose it" process, he also writes about memory boosting exercises. (Find more book suggestions in the sidebar below.)

In the book, Dr. Perlmutter discusses six brain disorders: stroke, vascular dementia, AD, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In addition, he's created a combination of specific brain supporting nutrients, including acetyl-L-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, n-acetyl-cysteine, and phosphatidylserine. His product, Brain Sustain[TM], comes in capsules and powder. (The supplement company is based in Arden, NC.) There are also other similar nutritional formulations on the market.

While there are hundreds of websites on various types of brain disorders, here are two I recommend: the American Alzheimer's Association at www.alz .org/index.asp and Karen Stobbe's list of resources and books at

Giving direct or indirect care to an elderly family member can be exhausting and frustrating. I urge you to find a support group of people who know what you're going through. Caring for Aging Parents Education and Support Program (CAPES) meets at Mission Hospital's Women's Resource Center at 50 Doctors Drive in Asheville. For information, contact Linda Hemstreet at Women's Resource Center at 828-213-1804. For readers not in Asheville, contact your local hospital or county office for the aging to find support groups in your community.

Brain Books

Preventing Alzheimer's: Ways to Help Prevent, Delay, Detect, and Even Halt Alzheimer's Disease and Other Forms of Memory Loss by Dr. William Rodman Shankle and Dr. Daniel 6. Amen 3

Alzheimer's Early Stages: First Steps for Family, Friends and Caregivers by Daniel Kuhn

Brain Builders! A Lifelong Guide to Sharper Thinking, Better Memory, and an Age-Proof Mind by Richard Leviton

The Sharpbrain's Guide to Brain Fitness: 18 Interviews With Scientists, Practical Advice and Product Reviews to Keep Your Brain Sharp by Alvaro Fernandez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Dr. Norman Doidge

Have a nutrition question?

Email your question(s) to Put "Nutrition Question" in the subject line and include your name (first name and last initial will do) and city of residence.

Columnist Elizabeth Pavka, Ph.D., RD, LD/N, a wholistic nutritionist with more than 27 years' experience, helps her clients prepare an individualized eating plan and often recommends vitamins and mineral supplements, digestive enzymes, probiotics, etc. that support health. She teaches classes, writes articles, consults with organizations about nutrition and wellness, and speaks before professional and lay audiences; she can be reached at 828-252-1406 or
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Author:Pavka, Elizabeth
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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