Garbage in, garbage out, as the old saying goes. Consistently eat garbage and you may be putting yourself on the path towards Alzheimer’s disease. From Dr. Lisa Mosconi at qz.com:
Dementia haunts the United States. There’s no one without a personal story about how dementia has touched someone they care for. But beyond personal stories, the broader narrative is staggering: By 2050, we are on track to have almost 15 million Alzheimer’s patients in the US alone. That’s roughly the population of NYC, Los Angeles, and Chicago combined. Now add a few more cities to take care of them.
It’s an epidemic that’s already underway—but we don’t recognize it as such. The popular conception of Alzheimer’s is as an inevitable outcome of aging, bad genes, or both.
From a scientist’s perspective, it’s important to remind everyone that we all once believed the same thing about cancer. But just a few days ago, doctors around the world have been considerably shaken up by the breaking news linking cancer to processed foods. In a large-scale study, researchers found that a 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods led to a 12% increase in overall cancer events.
At the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical, this latest cancer research had our full attention. The findings line up so closely with research in the field, including our own work, linking diet and risk of Alzheimer’s—and underscore how important lifestyle changes can be to delaying or even avoiding the onset of the disease.
In an age of inexpensive personal genomics, there’s a general and persistent sense that as with cancer, Alzheimer’s is an essentially genetic outcome. But in reality, less than 1% of the population develops the disease due to genetic mutations in their DNA. To be clear, the vast majority of Alzheimer’s patients is simply not born of those mutations.
For Alzheimer’s, as with cancer—but also as with other conditions like heart disease and diabetes—much of the risk is related to behavioral and lifestyle factors. The consensus among scientists is that over one third of all Alzheimer’s cases could be prevented by improving our lifestyle. This includes ameliorating cardiovascular fitness, keeping our brains intellectually stimulated, and perhaps most of all: eating better.
“Eating better” means addressing the American ultra-processed diet. Ultra-processed is a technical term, and exists in a spectrum of food processing. An apple straight from the tree is wholly unprocessed. Dry the apple, and store it away with common preservatives like sulphur dioxide, and it becomes a processed food.