Cognitive decline is a part of getting older to some extent, but what causes some people to develop full-blown dementia while others will never experience it? While much about this illness remains a mystery, researchers are honing in on inflammation as a root cause of this condition.
Blaming chronic inflammation on aging is an easy answer, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Some behavioral factors, like obesity, a lack of physical activity, and smoking, can also lead to chronic inflammation, raising your risk of several chronic conditions. In fact, chronic progressive inflammation is behind illnesses like cancer, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and arthritis in addition to Alzheimer’s disease.
This might lead you to assume that inflammation is bad, but acute inflammation is actually a beneficial response by your immune system, For example, Everyday Health points out that when you have acute pneumonia, inflammation is your first line of defense in fighting the cause of the lung infection.
Chronic inflammation is different, however, and there’s a growing body of evidence pointing to the role it plays in Alzheimer’s. Many of the genes identified as putting people at risk of Alzheimer’s are related to aspects of immunity regulating inflammation.
In addition, the cerebrospinal fluid and blood of people with Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment indicate greater levels of inflammation than samples of those who don’t have dementia.
While researchers are still trying to determine conclusively whether the inflammation is the result of the disease or the cause of it, it’s looking increasingly like it is indeed the cause. In fact, scientist believe that inflammation in your 40s and 50s, if not earlier, could influence neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s symptoms that appear later in life.
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In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers studied the connection between systemic inflammation at midlife and cognitive decline across 20 years, and they found that those who had the greatest inflammation noted a 7.8 percent steeper cognitive decline than those with the lowest inflammation. Among the various aspects of cognition, it appears to affect memory function in particular.
What can you do about inflammation?
Here’s a look at a few ways you can fight chronic inflammation naturally.
Anti-inflammatory diet: Focus on consuming foods that are high in antioxidants and polyphenols. Fruits like blueberries and cherries, nuts, tomatoes, leafy greens, olive oil and fatty fish like salmon are all good choices. Avoid foods like refined carbohydrates (white bread and baked goods), fried food, and processed meat.
Curcumin: Curcumin, the active compound of turmeric, has been shown to improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice. After consuming a curcumin-based diet for five months, they showed lower levels of Alzheimer’s hallmark amyloid beta protein than control mice. Different studies have shown that it can also reduce the clumping of tau protein in the brain, which has been lined to Alzheimer’s. If you decide to increase your turmeric or curcumin intake to protect you brain, make sure you pair it with a pinch of black pepper to increase its bioavailability.
With inflammation being behind so many illnesses, now is the time to start paying attention to your diet and eating in ways that can help keep inflammation at bay. It can potentially protect you not only from dementia, but also heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many other illnesses.
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