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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Houston Chronicle
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You Docs: Little things that have a big brain bonus

Published 11:01 p.m., Sunday, September 11, 2011

  • Image of gears inside of a man's head.

fotolia for francis Photo: Nelson Marques / 22588577
    Image of gears inside of a man's head. fotolia for francis Photo: Nelson Marques / 22588577


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We love it when life's little things add up to something big. Here's a doozy that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves: Taking care of "little" health glitches now could cut your risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease later by 40 percent.


Turns out that sweating the small stuff - updating eyeglass prescriptions; clearing up skin and foot problems; getting chronic sinus infections, arthritis, leaky bladders and digestive disorders treated; even making sure dentures fit and hearing aids work - makes a huge difference. A major new Canadian study has found that each ignored problem boosts your risk for brain trouble by 3 percent.

There's no cure (yet) for Alzheimer's, so don't wait. In addition to sweating the small stuff, these proven steps can protect you from this disease:

Order the walnut salad, grilled fish with couscous, fruit for dessert, then take that stroll. Cutting back on saturated fat and getting more brain-pampering omega-3s, monounsaturated fats and enough folate, vitamin B-12 and vitamin E could cut your Alzheimer's risk by a serious 38 percent. Add a half-hour walk, and that number jumps to 60 percent.

Get serious about LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. All three threaten the arteries that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your brain cells. Ignoring them boosts your risk for dementia by up to 46 percent.

Enjoy a second mug of coffee. Two mugs a day, or three to six small cups, could lower your risk by 67 percent.

If you still smoke, call it quits. Smoking's the worst for Alzheimer's. A two-packs-a-day habit boosts your risk 157 percent. If you've tried to quit and failed, try again. North Americans, on average, require seven attempts to quit for good.

Pop some good fat. Your brain is 60 percent fat, half of it the type of omega-3 fatty acid we take every day: DHA. People with mild memory decline see their brains become three years younger when they take 900mg a day for just six months.

Moderate drinking (one drink a day for women, two for men) protects your brain only to a point. If you or a loved one has signs of mild cognitive problems (memory slips, slowed thinking), it's time to toast with sparkling cider instead of champagne. Just a couple of alcoholic beverages a week doubles dementia risk if there are signs of trouble.


Diet food that you need most

If just the thought of starting another diet leaves you hungrier than a teenager at soccer camp, we've got two words for you: protein snacks. Adding two high-protein snacks a day to a pounds-off program sets you up for three rewards:

1More satisfaction and less hunger, so sticking with it is easier.

2More weight loss - up to double what you get with the same calories of high-carb snacks such as granola bars or crackers.

3A healthier muscle-to-fat ratio when you hit your goal, which increases coordination, too.

What belongs on your high-protein snack list?

A cup of plain, fat-free, no-sugar-added Greek yogurt sprinkled with walnuts. A few slices of broiled or baked chicken breast (skip the skin). A glass of skim milk and a hard-boiled egg. Hummus smeared on red pepper strips. Peanut butter stuffed into celery.