Memory loss in old age often comes from Alzheimer’s in combination with other forms of dementia, such as multi-infarct dementia — dementia triggered by mini-strokes — and dementia associated with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, or with circulatory problems such as atherosclerosis. Alzheimer’s is implicated in 50 percent of all old-age dementia cases.
Most forms of dementia can be postponed or prevented, with smoking cessation and a lifelong commitment to physical activity, healthy food choices and portion sizes, stress management and having friends and a passion in life.
Dementia may be reversed if it’s due to nutritional deficiencies, like lack of vitamin B-12, or from infections, interactions between medications or immune disorders.
Also, dementia associated with cardiovascular problems may be kept from progressing if underlying problems such as high blood pressure are corrected.
Alzheimer’s may be managed; medications may slow its progression and ease symptoms. Breakthrough treatments may be around the corner.
Diagnostic tools are becoming available. The Cleveland Clinic Las Vegas’ Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health has a brain PET scan that can spot tell-tale buildup of amyloid plaques and nerve tangles characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
And there’s a spinal-fluid check for two proteins (beta amyloid and tau) linked to Alzheimer’s; it’s not as effective a diagnostic tool as the PET brain scan.
If you find your great aunt is developing Alzheimer’s, see if you can enroll her in a research trial. In the meantime, make sure she’s avoiding the five food felons: saturated and trans fats; simple sugars; added syrups; and any grain but 100 percent whole grains — and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as walnuts and salmon. The spice turmeric (in yellow mustard) also is brain-protective.
Make sure she’s getting plenty of rest and enough exercise to keep her blood pressure around 115/75.
But right now the most important thing you can do to help your great aunt is to get the proper diagnosis. She’s lucky to have you looking out for her.
My husband’s 40th birthday is approaching. I want to prepare a special dinner for him. I’m a bit embarrassed to ask, but are there any foods that are aphrodisiacs?
— Marie F., Cherry Hill, N.J.
The power to provoke sensual sensations, on the spot, as you eat something (who can forget that dinner scene in “Tom Jones”?) well, that’s mostly going on between the ears.
Your brain, it turns out, is your biggest sex organ.
That means flavors, textures and smells can be provocative.
And all kinds of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and micronutrients, are essential for robust sexual function in both men and women. So for your dinner, we suggest you cook up some…
Flavors and smells with zing: Try using citrus fruits such as clementines, oranges and lemons for flavoring. They’re proven to stimulate and delight. Lemon chicken, anyone?
A dash of romantic relaxation: Vanilla soothes; chocolate produces joy. Perhaps you could use these ingredients to serve up a mole sauce or, of course, dessert.
The sexiest spices: Red ginseng (filled with arousing ginsenosides) and saffron (may improve blood pressure and mood) take the prize. Consider an exotic Korean ginseng chicken soup or tasty saffron-infused paella.
The color of passion: Men find women sexier if they wear red, so why not dress up yourself and food in that color? A tomato-avocado salad with a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and chopped fresh basil will do the trick.
And tell your husband happy birthday from us.
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PE AND KIDS’ HEALTH
2012 Olympic hopefuls, gymnast Jordyn Wieber and swimmer Ryan Lochte, have been getting physical for most of their lives. But do most kids have the same opportunities as Jordyn and Ryan?
Believe it or not, in the United States, only 8 percent of elementary schools and 6 percent of middle and high schools provide daily physical education for everyone. And 20 percent of elementary schools have abolished PE altogether.
We want everyone to realize that PE reduces stress and calms kids, making them happier and more attentive in the classroom. And physically fit kids are more likely to skip risky behaviors. PE is also the best way to battle obesity (30 percent of all teens) and type 2 diabetes, which has increased 21 percent in kids since 2001. These conditions threaten children’s heart health even while they’re young and place a huge economic burden on society.
Summer is a great time to start a year-round plan for getting your kids active and establishing habits for lifelong good health.
Step One: Get yourself off the sofa and away from the computer. Active parents have kids who are five to six times more physical than children of couch potatoes.
Step Two: Plan all-season family activities: Walk for 45 minutes after dinner; take kids to a swim club twice a week; go on weekend hikes; garden or do tasks around the yard.
Step Three: Make it a community effort. Call teachers, neighbors, parents of your kids’ friends. Plan activities together, and lobby that school board. Get daily PE back into your school.
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HEALTHY GRILLING TIPS
Cooking meat, as well as poultry, fish and even vegetables, over charcoal or any source of high heat produces two toxins: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), both known carcinogens. But you don’t have to give up the joys of grilling; you can fire up the barbie, enjoy great flavors and eliminate the toxins with simple techniques:
1. Stop the fat-dripping, PHA-producing cycle. When meat and other foods drip their juices on flames or embers, they cause flares that deposit PHAs on the underside of your food. Minimize that nasty additive by placing your food on aluminum foil (you can poke holes or cut slits in it) on top of the grill’s grate.
2. Eliminate 90 percent of HCAs by microwaving your fish or poultry(meat too, but we avoid all red meat to help us stay younger) for one and a half to two minutes before putting it on the grill.
3. Always marinate. And make sure you use fresh rosemary (a real HCA killer) and lemon juice, with a base of balsamic vinegar. Sounds good, right?
4. Add a green side. Make sure there’s a whole lotta broccoli goin’ on. Broccoli has been shown to break down HCAs, even the ones that get through the microwave and marinade and end up on the food.
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TV is blanketed with the sagas of celebrities trying to break bad habits, from Carnie Wilson’s compulsion to overeat to Lindsay Lohan’s repeated problems with, well, take your pick. But for most, a whole lot less drama and a lot more smarts and work goes into reforming behaviors.
Everyday activities, like eating, working or texting, can be transformed into negative habits: overeating or overworking, for example. When you have an “occasional” midnight snack night after night, you’re rewarded with a dose of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. You set a pattern of behavior-and reward-your brain urges you to repeat over and over.
The good news? You’re more than a bundle of impulses and dopamine. Creating smart strategies and reinforcing healthy choices (no cookies in this house) helps your brain adopt healthy habits. Try these steps.
Change your environment. Always eat fries and a shake in the cafeteria? Find a new locale and bring healthy food into it; repeat and eat; repeat and eat. Pretty soon that becomes your pattern.
Make breaking the habit your mantra. Turns out telling yourself to shape up (“I will not drink soda.”) actually helps. Interrupting the cycle of impulse and reward, even temporarily, gives you time to consciously not do something.
Get enough sleep every night. When it comes to making healthy choices, less than six hours of sleep is equal to being a little tipsy.
Enlist support. Bring friends, family, support groups, therapists, even your dog into your battle to create a new, good habit.
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THE KARAOKE CURE
We believe in the healing powers of music, and we’ve put together custom playlists for working out (croon your way through those 10,000 steps a day) and relaxing (the right tunes can enhance meditation) at www.realage.com.
Music is so powerful a therapeutic tool that it’s used to treat abused children, trauma survivors and those in hospice care. We know learning to play an instrument — as a child or a senior — fires up neural pathways that improve memory and other mental powers. But what about the benefits of karaoke, the last refuge of the musically hopeful?
Singing (on key or off) improves breathing, and that’s good for many parts of your body and brain. According to a recent Japanese study, the benefits of karaoke are far-reaching.
Singing Sinatra or even Aerosmith relieves stress and boosts self-esteem and confidence, while also building social connections — all major life extenders. And families that karaoke together? They build bonds and banish conflict.
True, there have not been studies on how karaoke affects listeners, but we do know that listening to joyful music (and what’s joyful is always a personal opinion) reduces blood pressure. So if you enjoy what you’re singing or what you’re listening to, we say be a rock star or a lounge lizard (at home or at the hotel out by the freeway) and embrace karaoke.
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THE POWER OF A NAP
In a world where 34 percent of employees work 41 to 60 hours a week, spend up to 80 hours a month commuting and the average working parent sees his or her family for only about 1.2 hours a day, chances are you’re feeling a bit weary by midafternoon. Energy drinks?
Well, coffee’s good for you, but here’s our suggestion for reclaiming your workday energy: the 10-minute nap, either at your desk, at the gym or in your car in the parking lot. It matters not where, as long as you are peaceful and relaxed. The benefits: enormous.
Each brief 10-minute dive into stage 1 sleep (optimally between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.) sharpens focus and memory, reduces stress (helps your heart and spares you inflammation) and increases your productivity. Another bonus: That brief length doesn’t make you groggy when you wake up. On weekends or at home, you might sleep a bit longer and still wake up refreshed.
If you want to gain the benefits — and you’re not a natural born napper — here’s how to get into the swing of a short, refreshing episode of detachment and relaxation.
1. Find a quiet spot. Set an alarm for 10 minutes. Eventually you’ll be able to wake yourself up after the 10 minutes is up.
2. Use eye shades if it’s not dark.
3. Concentrate on breathing. Let your thoughts flow. Notice them, but don’t focus on them.
4. Focus on tense muscles, and imagine them relaxing. Breathe slowly. Drift.
There. Didn’t that feel refreshing?
• Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com. (c) 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.