To Your Health: Dementia, Some Forms Can Be Delayed or Prevented

To Your Health: Dementia, Some Forms Can Be Delayed or Prevented

Part-time Telluride local Dr. Alan Safdi, a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine, posts on Telluride Inside… and Out under the banner of “To Your Health.” His blogs feature the most current information in his field: health, wellness, and longevity. Which now has to mean Dr. Alan’s podcasts and stories are mostly about what’s on everyone’s mind: COVID-19. 

Links to Dr. Alan’s podcasts and narratives on COVID-19 are here.

But this week, Dr. Alan is taking a break from the plague, instead shining his light on dementia, a very different kind of epidemic. Turns out dementia can be prevented or delayed simply by targeting multiple risk factors throughout our lives.  Check out Dr. Alans podcast here. In it you will learn:

1. How common is dementia?
2. When should we start worrying we might have dementia?
3. How can we possibly prevent dementia?
4. What are some key things we can do to help cognitive function?
5. How do we get enough Omega 3 fatty acids?
6. A strong relationship helps and why in general is it important to decrease stress in our lives.

Other helpful hints to avoid dementia:

A good diet and ample exercise don’t just help your waistline. Healthy lifestyle factors may also help lower your risk of dementia, even if you have a higher genetic risk. People who adopted four or five healthy lifestyle habits – a healthy diet; at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity; zero to light drinking of alcoholic beverages; no smoking; and engaging in mentally stimulating activity – reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 60% compared to people who had only one of those healthier behaviors.

Exercise probably benefits the brain just as it helps the cardiovascular system, by improving blood pressure, blood flow, weight, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. In addition, brain scans show that aerobic exercise can actually improve brain activity and produce new brain cells and connections between them.   

The most socially active people had only 25 percent the rate of cognitive decline, compared to the least social. Social activity was beneficial independent of physical activity and other factors related to brain function, such as age and overall health.

There’s strong evidence that type 2 diabetes (and possibly pre-diabetes) increases the risk of age-related cognitive decline and dementia.  

Obesity, especially in the abdomen, has been linked to an increased risk of dementia.    

Many studies have found that a heart-healthy diet based on vegetables, fruits and whole grains, is good for cognition and may well help protect against dementia. (This includes the so-called Mediterranean diet.)

You can’t simply buy a jar of “brain food” with the hope that it will reduce cognitive decline and sharpen mental acuity. The brain-boosting foods, described below, contain natural ingredients like vitamins, flavonoids, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, they’re much less expensive, more fun to eat, and easier to buy than a jar of brain food or supplements.

Leafy vegetables

Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collards, and broccoli are rich in important nutrients—including vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene—that keep the brain healthy. Researchers have found that these nutrients in green, leafy vegetables are linked to slower cognitive decline.

Fatty fish or Plant based sources of Omega 3s

Fatty fish—like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, and albacore tuna—are an abundant source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a key to brain maintenance. But because humans can’t synthesize DHA, we need to get it from our diet. Experts recommend eating fatty fish at least twice a week.

Omega-3 fatty acids are not only important for brain function, but also have been linked to slower cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease. If you are a vegetarian there are a lot of plant based ways to add Omega 3s to your diet. Of the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids, plant foods typically only contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

ALA is not as active in the body and must be converted to two other forms of omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — to bestow the same health benefits.

Some of the best plant based sources of Omega 3s are: 1. chia seeds  2. brussels sprouts 3. hemp seed 4. walnuts 5. flaxseeds 6. edamame 7. canola oil 8.pumpkin seeds 9. pine nuts 10. navy beans, black beans or kidney beans and 11. mushrooms.


Eating mushrooms may promote cognitive health and reduce neuro-degeneration, according to results of a recent study. Researchers found that seniors who consumed more than two servings of mushrooms per week reduced their risk of mild cognitive impairment by 50%.

Mushrooms used in the study included golden, oyster, shiitake, white button, dried, and canned mushrooms. But the researchers speculate that other types of mushroom may produce similar effects, thanks to a specific compound—ergothioneine—found in almost all varieties. Because people with an ergothioneine deficiency may have a higher risk for neuro-degeneration, eating more mushrooms—a main source of ergothioneine may promote cognitive health, researchers reasoned.


Berries are a rich source of flavonoids or plant pigment compounds that are known to have antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic, and anti-carcinogenic properties. Flavonoids have also been shown to inhibit the production of amyloid beta in Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, researchers reported that older women who ate two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week demonstrated a delay in cognitive decline by up to 2 and a half years.

Tea and coffee

A cup of coffee or tea in the morning may do more than just give you a jolt of caffeine. It may also boost your brain function. In one study, participants with higher caffeine intake performed better on tests of cognitive function. In another study, researchers found that caffeine has a positive effect on long-term memory. Participants given caffeine performed better on tests of memory retention than participants on placebo.


Eating walnuts appears to improve measures of cognitive function. Specifically, adults who ate less than a handful of walnuts each day showed improved performance on tests of memory, concentration, and information-processing speed. In other studies, researchers have reported that eating walnuts is linked to overall brain health and reduced cognitive impairment, along with possible benefits of slowing or preventing Alzheimer’s disease progression in mouse models.

In addition to various vitamins and minerals, walnuts also have a high antioxidant content. And, they’re the only nut that contains a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid—a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that has both cardiovascular and brain-boosting health benefits.

Dr. Alan, more:

Dr. Alan Safdi is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Gastroenterology and is a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. A proven leader in the healthcare arena, he has been featured on the national program, “Medical Crossfire” and authored or co-authored numerous medical articles and abstracts. Safdi has been involved in grant-based and clinical research for four decades and is passionate about disease prevention and wellness, not just fixing what has gone wrong. He is an international lecturer on the subjects of wellness, nutrition and gastroenterology.

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