Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Medical advancements have increased the average lifespan of a human. So good news is we can live longer… we have more people living in their 80s, 90s but then bad news is this population over the age of 80 are also at risk of diseases due to the aging process like Neurodegenerative diseases. While age is the most common reason, there are other lifestyle-related and environmental factors that contribute to the rise in Neurodegenerative diseases.
What are ND diseases?
Neurodegenerative disorders: Neurodegenerative diseases occur when nerve cells in the brain or the rest of your body lose function over time and ultimately die. The risk of being affected by a neurodegenerative disease increases dramatically with age.
The most common neurodegenerative diseases
- Alzheimer’s (most common)
- Huntington’s disease (trisomy 21)
- Motor Neuron Disorder
Are neurodegenerative diseases genetic or hereditary?
- While causes of PD and AD are still unknown, there is a general consensus that they are not entirely genetic. In contrast, Huntington’s disease is entirely genetic.
- Yes and no. Accord to the NIH “ A person might have a gene that makes them more susceptible to a certain neurodegenerative disease. But whether, when, and how severely the person is affected depends on environmental exposures throughout life.”
- So, when people say “genetic” what does it mean? It could be one of two things. Genetic disorders are broadly diseases caused by genes or the genetic matter of our body. BUT, genes are actually classified in two other ways – deterministic (those which actually cause disease) and those genes that increase the risk of developing a disease. So yes, the risk of developing AD in one’s lifetime increases as the number of family members with AD increases. But no, in the sense that if you have these identified genes that you’ll definitely get the disease. For reference of how rare deterministic genes are, It is estimated that less than 1% of Alzheimer’s cases are caused by deterministic genes.
What are the factors that might contribute to these diseases?
- Endocrine conditions
- Oxidative stress
- Infection and inflammation
- Vascular conditions
- Head trauma, tumors.
- Ethnicity and culture
- In particular, smoking and caffeine and alcohol consumption have been postulated to have an association with neurodegenerative diseases.
What are the early symptoms?
Symptoms vary with the disorder and stage of the neurodegenerative disease. Some of the symptoms can occasionally exist for some people as a result of temporary conditions. However, if these symptoms are seen consistently for 2-3 weeks it is advisable to see the doctor. Let’s see some of the early symptoms associated with the most common five disorders.
Alzheimer’s disease early symptoms
- Memory loss / Misplacing things.
- Challenges in solving problems.
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks.
- Confusion with time or place.
- Problems with language.
- Withdrawal from work / social activities
- Changes in mood and personality
Parkinson’s disease early symptoms
- Slowed movement (bradykinesia).
- Rigid muscles.
- Impaired posture and balance.
- Loss of automatic movements.
- Speech changes.
- Writing changes.
Huntington’s disease early symptoms
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Memory lapses.
- Depression, Low mood.
- Lack of interest
- Stumbling and clumsiness Mood swings.
- Aggressive behavior
ALS disease early symptoms
- Difficulty walking or normal daily activities.
- Tripping and falling.
- Weakness in your leg, feet, or ankles.
- Hand weakness or clumsiness.
- Slurred speech or trouble swallowing.
- Muscle cramps and twitching.
- Inappropriate crying, laughing, or yawning.
- Cognitive and behavioral changes
Motor Neuron disease early symptoms
- Weakness in your ankle or leg.
- Slurred speech.
- Difficulty swallowing some foods.
- Weak grip.
- Muscle cramps and twitches.
- Weight loss in arms or leg.
- Difficulty stopping yourself from crying or laughing in inappropriate situations
Neurodegenerative Diseases & Lifestyle Changes
What can we alter in our nutrition to prevent Neurodegenerative Diseases?
Cumulative oxidative stress may induce cellular damage and can be a potential cause for neurodegenerative disorders. If we try to maintain optimal antioxidants in our diet, it can help to prevent or at least delay the onset of these diseases. Even if these diseases are linked with old age, the oxidative stress buildup starts years prior to the symptoms. Hence one has to look at it as lifestyle modification and start as early as you can to include food that is rich in antioxidant property in your diet.
- studies have found that blueberry (BB) or strawberry (SB) extracts significantly attenuated age-related motor and cognitive deficits in aged rodents.
- Berries enhance neuronal communication.
- The anthocyanins contained in blueberries have been shown to enter the brain, and their concentrations were correlated with cognitive performance.
- Berries are great antioxidants
- Regular inclusion of walnut in the diet improves memory deficits and learning skills
- Walnuts contain several components that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Fish like Salmon
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in salmon can be a potential dietary intervention to prevent age-related neuronal and cognitive decline
- Curcuminoids found in turmeric has shown potent anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
- Turmeric as less as a Tsp a day has shown great results on improved nutrition.
- Reduce Neurotoxicity
- Reduce the use of chemicals causing toxicity like plastic and pesticides. Plastic and pesticides are toxic to human cells. These and other such chemicals are pollutants from the environment which induce oxidative stress.
- Stop using plastic containers and replace them with glass or metal like steel/copper.
- Opt for organic food wherever possible. Chemical pesticides used in growing vegetables result in increased oxidative stress.
Can exercise prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
- Patients with AD who presented with long-term exercise interventions appeared to have improved blood flow, increased hippocampal volume, and improved neurogenesis.
- Higher physical activity levels are associated with a reduced risk of AD development.
- Yoga practice involving Yogasana and breathing (Pranayama) might be helpful in preventing or managing Alzheimer’s but we still don’t have enough studies to prove so.
Is there a link between sleep disorder and neurodegenerative disorders?
- Disorders of sleep like insomnia, sleep-wake cycle disruption, excessive daytime sleepiness are an integral part of neurodegenerative diseases.
- Regular 6 to 8 hrs of healthy sleep may also play a key role in the onset and progression of neurodegeneration.
- Treatment of sleep disorders in patients with neurodegenerative diseases should be individualized and includes behavioral therapy, sleep hygiene, bright light therapy, melatonin, hypnotics, waking-promoting agents, and continuous positive airway pressure.
Is there a link between learning and Alzheimer’s disease?
- Lack of education is linked to Alzheimer’s disease in some studies. Education here may not mean the degrees you earn, but basic learning function gives brain exercise to develop better cognitive functions at an early age, lack of which can be linked to dementia in old age.
- The cognitive reserve can be defined as the resilience to neuropathological damage of the brain, and it can be enhanced with bilingualism. Bilingualism is known to train the working memory or short term memory in a specific way when people can switch from one language to another. Another factor can be a pathway, Every time you try to remember something it creates a pathway.