Every 70 seconds, someone in the world will develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive and fatal brain disease that zaps the memory of the victim and devastates family members. Today, it is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.
In a recent report, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) estimated that 35 million people worldwide are living with the disease, a 10 percent increase over 2005.
Raising alarm bells throughout the world, the ADI says the number of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia is expected to nearly double every 20 years, to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050.
Depressed yet? With celebrities spurred into action (David Hyde Pierce is spearheading an Alzheimer’s awareness competition on Facebook and Twitter) research is also showing some positive outlooks on this all-too-gloomy horizon.
A recent study uncovered two new genes associated with Alzheimer’s which could provide ground-breaking leads in the race to find treatment, and possibly a cure, for the condition.
The newly-discovered genes are proteins that normally protect the brain and its memory-related functions. Researchers hope the discovery may pinpoint the causes of the disease and highlight new pathways that lead to a cure. They may also someday be able to predict who is at risk.
Exercise is Best
While waiting for the magic bullet, however, many scientists who have studied the disease say keeping active is the best preventative measure anyone can take.
“Regular physical exercise is probably the best means we have of preventing Alzheimer’s disease today,” said the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Ronald Petersen. “Better than medications, better than intellectual activity, better than supplements and diet.”
One reason exercise works, studies indicate, is that when the body exerts itself, the brain releases an enzyme that prevents build up of a plaque thought to lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers at the University of Chicago studied mice to who were bred to develop the Alzheimers-induce brain plaque. For the study, some of the mice were allowed to exercise while others were not. Results showed that the physically active mice had 50 to 80 percent less brain plaque than the sedentary mice.
Diet and Exercise
A Columbia University study published in August found that diet along with exercise had a two-pronged effect.
Researchers followed a group of 1,880 New Yorkers, all in their 70s, and assessed their diets and levels of physical activity for a five-year period. Participants were evaluated periodically for signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
The people who ate the healthiest diets were 40 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than those with the worst diets, researchers reported.
Those who exercised the most were 37 percent less likely to develop the disease than those who got none.
But the greatest benefits, said the study, were in those who ate healthy diets and remained active. Study participants who scored in the top third for both diet and exercise were 59 percent less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease than those in the lowest third.