According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of new and existing cases of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is rapidly rising. By 2050, the number of people aged 65 and older with AD may grow to a projected 12.7 million. Currently, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia or another type of dementia.
While Alzheimer’s Disease may be what you hear about the most (because it’s the most common form), dementia is a term used to describe symptoms that can be caused by several disorders that affect the brain, including Alzheimer’s, mild cognitive impairment, traumatic brain injury with dementia, and several other neurological conditions. Memory loss is one criterion to be diagnosed with dementia but there also need to be other factors like impaired language or problem-solving.
If dementia runs in your family, it can be a constant concern. Studies show that family history can increase your risk for neurological decline, but there are also plenty of modifiable behaviors that play a role in either increasing or decreasing your risk of disease.
According to a study reported in Metabolism, those at risk for dementia can take a proactive approach and address modifiable risk factors including hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, hypercholesterolemia, sedentary lifestyle, and current cigarette smoking. Steering clear of sports that can lead to head injuries like football, soccer, skiing, boarding, or cycling without a helmet can also help reduce risk.
The healthfulness of your diet is behind many of these risk factors, and thus also plays a role in your potential for a dementia diagnosis. Since what you drink is considered as important as what you eat, it’s essential that you know what are the worst drinking habits that are aging your brain faster. Avoiding the following four harmful drinking habits will help ensure that you keep your weight and blood sugar levels in check and that your blood pressure will stay within normal levels to reduce your risk of dementia.
Contrary to popular belief, moderate alcohol consumption is neither good for your heart nor your brain. In a recent report issued by the World Heart Federation, the authors state that the bottom line is that alcohol is not good for the heart. And anything that impairs the heart and vascular health has negative impacts on brain health. Research in the last decade had led to a major reversal in the perception that alcohol can be heart-healthy, the report states. Alcohol can elevate blood pressure and harmful blood lipids, which may lead to abnormal heart rhythm and more.
In addition, studies show that excessive drinking can shrink the size of your brain. One study published in Lancet Public Health reported that heavy alcohol consumption tripled the risk of early-onset dementia. If you want to take action to keep your brain sharp, it’s probably wise to avoid alcohol or enjoy a drink only on occasion, like once or twice a month.
In addition to limiting alcohol, avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages is important to help maintain brain health. Sweet sips add loads of empty calories to your overall diet that can lead to weight gain and obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and elevated lipids.
A study published in The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that individuals who reported drinking one to seven servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per week were 1.91 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who consumed no sugar-sweetened beverages. In addition, those who consumed more than seven sugar-rich beverages per week were more than 2.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
You may think that artificially sweetened beverages are a better choice because they have no calories or added sugar, but studies suggest that diet beverages can also up your risk for dementia.
A 2017 study published in the journal Stroke reported that artificially sweetened soft drinks increased individuals’ risk of ischemic stroke, all-cause dementia, and Alzheimer’s. The paper included more than 4,000 middle-aged and older adult participants whose food intake and health outcomes were monitored for about a decade. Study participants who reported drinking more than one diet beverage per day had nearly three times the risk of dementia compared to participants who rarely drank diet beverages.
If you want a healthy “diet” beverage, stick with water—sparkling or still.
Another category of beverages to limit or avoid contains drinks that are high in saturated fat. This includes creamy milkshakes or smoothies made with whole milk or whole milk yogurt; or high-fat recovery beverages. Studies show that diets that are more consistent with the Mediterranean diet patterns can help reduce the risk for cognitive decline and dementia. The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods rich in fruits and vegetables and limits animal-based foods to naturally limit saturated fat. Stick with water, coffee or tea, 100% vegetable juice, and other low or no-calorie beverages as much as possible.
Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD
Julie Upton is an award-winning registered dietitian and communications specialist who has written thousands of articles for national media outlets, including The New York Times, US News & World Report, and USA Today. Read more