5 Alzheimer’s Prevention Tips: Could Mental Health Be the Missing Piece?

Alzheimer's prevention — is that a thing? Experts share a newfound connection between mental wellbeing and brain diseases. Read to learn how to reduce your risk + 5 science-backed preventative measures to take now.

Image of a visually exciting piece of art featuring a white sculpture of a brain with half of it covered in colorful paint that appears to run off into a cool design. This is a visual representation of the connection of mental fitness and Alzheimer's prevention.
Credit: Galina Nelyubova via Unsplash

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If you’re looking into Alzheimer’s prevention, it may make sense to first assess your risk.

Questions to consider:

  • Does Alzheimer’s run in your family?
  • Do you have diabetes? 

If you answer yes to either, then you may be at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

The Surprising Link Between Mental Disorders and Alzheimer’s

But one study has lent more weight to yet another risk factor — mental disorders. Recently, a previously observed correlation between mental disorders including schizophrenia, ADHD, and depression and an increased risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease was confirmed. 

Image of a visually exciting piece of art featuring a white sculpture of a brain with half of it covered in colorful paint that appears to run off into a cool design. This is a visual representation of the connection of mental fitness and Alzheimer's prevention.
Credit: Galina Nelyubova via Unsplash

While not the first time experts have noticed this link, (read about the link between eating healthy and Alzheimer’s here) the new study boasted an unprecedented scope,according to neuroscience researcher and neurodegenerative disease expert, Dale Bredesen, MD.

Dr. Bredesen is the best-selling author of The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline and The End of Alzheimer’s Program and the principal investigator for the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at UCLA.

“The study was longer than others and covered a much larger population,” says Dr. Bredesen. “It was over the span of 3 decades with a population of 1.7 million.”

Mai Nguyen, who holds a PhD in Neuroscience from UC Berkeley categorizes the research indicating the link between psychiatric disorders and increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia as “strong.” Nguyen is also the CEO of OptoCeutics, where clinical trials on both mice and on early-stage Alzheimer’s patients are currently underway

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Alzheimer Prevention: The Depression Connection

“According to the National Institute of Health, individuals who experience depression develop Alzheimer’s symptoms two years earlier than those who don’t,” says Nguyen. “And those who have anxiety experience Alzheimer’s symptoms three years earlier than those who don’t.”

She cites one study indicating that those with a history of depression are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

The link is clear; what’s murkier is the cause.

“The exact mechanism of this association is yet to be determined,” explains Dr. Sony Sherpa, a holistic physician from organic wellness company Nature’s Rise. “However, recent studies suggest that certain amino acids in the brain are depleted in individuals with mental health disorders, rendering them more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s risk factors.”

Bipolar Disorders, Mood Swings and  Alzheimer’s Risks

Image of a mental health professional sitting in a chair taking notes while speaking to a young woman facing him on a couch in a cheery office with a bright window highlighting the fact that supporting your mental health may be the key to Alzheimer prevention.
When it comes to preventing Alzheimer’s, prevention is key.Credit: Hrant Khachatryan via Unsplash

She adds that those who suffer from bipolar disorder and other conditions related to mood swings may also be at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life due to disruptions in the brain chemistry and impairment of cognitive processes.

So what does this mean if you have ADHD, depression, anxiety, bipolar, or schizophrenia?

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a World of Cure

First of all, don’t panic; stress only worsens general inflammation, which is a central mechanism for Alzheimer’s, according to one study. Instead, take action. After all, our experts agree: An ounce of prevention is worth a world of cure.

“To me, the best thing an individual can do is increase their awareness and knowledge in preventative care,” says Nguyen. “Take care of your body and mind as early as possible so that stressors of life do not build up. The brain is like any other parts in our body, (if not the most important part), and we need to treat it well.”

Here are some of the ways that our experts recommend people manage their risk – whether they show potential risk factors or not.

How to Prevent Alzheimer’s: 5 Preventative Measures

1. Manage Psychiatric Disorders

If you have one of the psychiatric disorders cited in the study, there’s no cause for alarm. But this evidence should be a sign for you to be proactive in your management of your mental health.

“Taking medications properly, avoiding illicit drugs, and refraining from excessive alcohol consumption is also essential for protecting long-term brain health,” says Sherpa.

Krista Elkins, Registered Nurse (RN) and Paramedic (NRP) echoes the importance of treating mental health disorders like addiction or depression, but she also cautions that links have been shown between certain medications used to treat mental health disorders and an increased risk of developing dementia, including: benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin), anti-seizure medications (Topamax, Depakote, Keppra, Trileptal), and antidepressant SSRIs (Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, Zoloft).

Image of a spilled white pills on a bright blue background showing that how to prevent Alzheimer's may be managing mental health disorders.
Some drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders may increase risk instead of preventing Alzheimer’s.Credit: Hal Gatewood via Unsplash

“Although drugs are able to mitigate the symptoms of many psychiatric disorders, some drugs that are being used today for anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and other psychiatric disorders hold a moderately increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s,” echoes Nguyen.

Let us be clear: This does not mean that you should not take medications prescribed to you by your doctor.

“In my opinion, there is a huge tradeoff with the benefit of risks to the current pharmacological solutions,” says Nguyen. “Therefore, I do believe that we should develop new innovative solutions that are non-pharmacological and have the ability to alleviate such disorders and help increase the quality of life for those suffering from such disease.”

Bredesen stresses that it’s unclear if managing these underlying conditions may actually reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s — due to a lack of deeper understanding of how the two are linked.

“It is important to note that this is currently just an association,” he cautions. “No one has yet shown that treating these disorders reduces dementia risk — that is for a future study.”

But managing your mental health ultimately has no downsides, and it could make it easier to diagnose Alzheimer’s should it arise.

“Early intervention and treatment can lead to improved mental health outcomes,” says Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, Psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation Media Advisor. “If someone does develop Alzheimer’s and they have a psychotic disorder that has not been treated, it can make it more challenging to navigate their Alzheimer’s and psychotic disorder diagnoses.”

2. Reduce Inflammation

Image of an outdoor farmer's market with a table piled high with nutrient-rich produce: eggplant, squash, tomatoes, and green beans showing the importance of nutrition for Alzheimer's prevention.
Eating nutrient-rich foods and having a good work-life balance can reduce stress and help in preventing Alzheimer’s.Credit: Ahmed via Unsplash

General inflammation may well be the plague of the modern era, contributing to metabolic disorders, reduced immune response, and even cancer. Left unmanaged, according to Nguyen, inflammation can lead to a decline in function and mobility — and open the body up to worse symptoms should Alzheimer’s or dementia arise.

“This inflammation over after long periods, can lead to cognitive and neurological decline,” she says. “Seeking help to address these symptoms as soon as possible, is an understatement.”

Inflammation can be reduced by adopting a healthy exercise routine, exercising good sleep, hygiene, and, perhaps most importantly, managing stress.

“The long-term effects of stress, anxiety, and depression may adversely affect cognitive functioning and memory, which over time may increase susceptibility to age-related dementia, such as Alzheimer’s,” explains Sherpa.

Nguyen echoes this advice. “Some research has already shown that life long stress and psychiatric disorders can be detrimental over time,” she says.

“The longer that a person is stressed, depressed or anxious, the more likely that they can potentially impact brain functions and may increase their risks of Alzheimer’s. A healthy lifestyle such as exercising, eating nutrient-rich foods (like this brain-supporting lion’s mane mushroom pasta recipe, watch the video!), having a good work-life balance, and seeking out early preventative care are all very important preventative measures to reduce risk in cognitive decline.”

3. Manage Weight and Diabetes Risk

In addition to psychiatric disorders, diabetes is one comorbidity that, Nguyen explains, has been shown to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. We explore the link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s here and learn if reducing sugar might reduce your risk, here.

Managing weight and any underlying metabolic conditions might be done in tandem with a special diet. (Read about our favorite greens powders that we’ve tested, and whether or not spirulina, wheatgrass, or chlorella might be right for you.)

Bredesen recommends KetoFLEX 12/3, which is a plant-rich, mildly ketogenic diet. Keto has indeed been shown to reduce inflammation and risk of certain metabolic diseases as well as some cancers. Consider speaking with your healthcare professional to see if a diet change would be a good fit for you.

4. Maintain Cognitive Health

The cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be offset in some cases by prioritizing brain health, specifically by training your memory.

“I am a firm believer in always training the brain and learning something new daily,” says Nguyen.

Sherpa agrees.“Staying socially active and engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, doing puzzles, taking classes, or playing games, can help keep the brain sharp and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.”

What’s your favorite way to maintain social engagement in today’s digital world? Please share in the community in the comments.

5. Be Proactive May Be the Key to Preventing Alzheimer’s

Image of an overhead view of a woman doing yoga on a teal mat with an orange water bottle showing the importance of mental and physical well-being when preventing Alzheimer's and dementia.
Maintaining an active lifestyle and reducing your stress is key to reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s.Credit: Hans Isaacson via Unsplash

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, nor are there tests that can fully predict whether someone will develop Alzheimer’s later in life. Which is all the more reason to start preventing the onset of symptoms now — especially if you have a mental health disorder.

“Anyone with a mental health disorder should be evaluated for Alzheimer’s risk factors such as low vitamin D, high homocysteine, and insulin resistance, and be diligent about addressing these in order to offset the risk,” says Bredesen.

By catching the increased risk or symptoms of Alzheimer’s early, Nguyen says, one might be better able to stave off cognitive decline.

“With the development of biomarkers, specifically blood biomarkers in the last few years, it is becoming easier to diagnose whether someone is developing early signs of Alzheimer’s,” she says.

And new research has shown that some symptoms of Alzheimer’s may be stalled or even reversed, Bredesen notes, citing a successful clinical trial that showed the reversal of cognitive decline using a precision medicine therapeutic approach as well as the Finnish FINGER trial which encompassed a multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring over the course of two years.

Research is ongoing in the hopes that we’ll soon better understand this link — and have even more ways of mitigating the risk factors of cognitive decline.

P.S. Did you know? Organic Authority has its own nutrition and wellness shop to meet your needs and help you take control of your health. Shop clean supplements for energy, sleep, inner beauty for skin support, protein, workouts, pantry items and more. Shop The Organic Authority Shop now. 

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco