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How to prevent Alzheimer’s: Sleep, drink wine and exercise, researchers say

Alzheimer’s disease is projected to affect 14 million people by 2050, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

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In Georgia alone, the number of deaths from Alzheimer's has increased by 201 percent since 2000, according to Georgia Health News.

While there’s no current cure for the progressive disease, ongoing research suggests there are some ways to lower your risk, according to Harvard Health Publishing. The methods can be broken down to three basic areas: “how you move, what you eat, and what you do.”

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Harvard researchers suggest older people adopt a hybrid diet of the Mediterranean and DASH diets. These meal plans promote leafy vegetables, nuts, olive oil, berries, whole grains, fatty fish, beans, poultry and red wine ( no more than one glass per day).

A recent study from the American Chemical Society also found that beets, which have a compound called betanin that binds to metals, may improve oxygen flow and cognitive function. Another reiterated that extra-virgin olive oil may help prevent memory loss.

Food to restrict during this meal plan: butter, margarine, red meat, fried foods and sugary sweets. Another paper from Temple Universityresearchers noted that canola oil may also not be beneficial to the brain as it reduced levels of the beneficial amyloid beta 1-40 protein in mice.

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Remember that too much alcohol may actually increase your risk of dementia and affect your sleep and memory. Limit your intake to one glass of alcohol (preferably red wine) per day.

Regular aerobic exercise (or cardio) is another strategy to lower risk of the disease. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise alone helped delay loss of cognitive function better than a combination of strength training and cardio. Consider 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobics three to four days per week, Dr. Gad Marshall of Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital recommends.

Lifestyle habits such as getting a good night’s rest and quitting smoking may have the greatest impact on lowering your risk, according to Harvard Health.

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“Sleep is when we consolidate memories, and when the brain seems to get rid of toxic material,” Dr. Kirk Daffner, director for the Center for Brain/Mind Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, said in this month’s Harvard Men’s Health Watch. 

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Additionally, research published in January in the journal “JAMA Neurology” showed that disrupted sleep patterns were linked with early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

For that report, researchers found that in older people with no signs of cognitive impairment, those who had a messy sleep-wake cycle were more likely to have amyloid protein deposits in their brains.

“It wasn’t that the people in the study were sleep-deprived,” study author Erik S. Musiek, said in a news release. “But their sleep tended to be fragmented. Sleeping for eight hours at night is very different from getting eight hours of sleep in one-hour increments during daytime naps.”

Daffner said that a solid night’s sleep (seven to eight hours) is crucial. But if you’re having trouble sleeping, avoid taking over-the-counter sleep medications that contain the antihistamine diphenhydramine, which he warns have been associated with an increased risk of cognitive deterioration.

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Harvard researchers have also found some evidence that learning new things and connecting socially may also help with prevention.

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