November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. We also shift from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time…I hope you appreciated the “extra hour” you had over the weekend. But never mind setting your clock back by an hour when we made the change to Standard Time. Get a stop watch! The latest research shows someone in the world develops some form of dementia every 3 seconds. Giving that frightening statistic some local context, every state across the U.S. is expected to experience an increase of at least 12% in the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease from 2019 to 2025. Alzheimer’s is thought to arise 20 years before clinical symptoms are visible — a point potentially amenable to lifestyle interventions such as diet. Current consensus is that eating a heart-healthy diet will benefit both the heart and the brain.
That healthy food part gets a bit tricky in the 21st century because so much of our food is processed food…some would say over-processed. Trans fats naturally occur in small amounts in some meats and whole milk. But through a process called hydrogenation many processed foods are infused with unnaturally high amounts of trans fats to make them more stable for longer shelf lives. It may be good for the shelf’s live, but not for yours. It has been well-established that trans fats are associated with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular illness, and there is a biomarker called serum elaidic acid that health care professionals have followed to assess who is at risk for a “cardiac event.”
Researchers in Japan have recently reported that 60+ year olds who started in a panel – with no signs of dementia, but higher levels of serum elaidic acid – were 50% to 75% more likely to develop dementia of any type, including Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia in the decade that followed.
But this serum concentration of trans fats can be reversed by shifting to a better diet. The first rule is to avoid sweet pastries, the strongest contributor to elaidic acid serum levels. But also steer away from margarine, candy – especially caramels, croissants, non-dairy creamers, and ice cream. But giving up these “bad foods” seems so negative. To make the transition away from trans fats, start with some fresh fruits, real milk in your coffee or something else that will be a delight.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.