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Dampening the flames of inflammation

Wellbeing

Dampening the flames of inflammation

KAILAS ROBERTS looks at what we can do throughout our lives to possibly minimise the threat of Alzheimer’s.

Despite over a century of study, Alzheimer’s remains a mystery when trying to determine its cause.

This is probably because, in fact, there is no one cause, and that many roads lead to the symptoms of the disease – including memory loss, deterioration in other thinking skills, psychological difficulties and ultimately physical changes, too.

The consensus among experts is that two proteins, amyloid and tau, are involved in the evolution of the condition, but there are likely other influential factors. This notion is supported by the fact that postmortem studies of the brains of those without dementia or clinical symptoms often show that the proteins are present in brain tissue. So, the mere presence of these proteins is necessary but not sufficient to cause symptoms.

Inflammation is one of the other variables, it seems. When amyloid and tau are accompanied by inflammation of the brain (so-called neuroinflammation), the chances of having symptoms increases significantly. Now, the proteins themselves can cause inflammation, but there are probably other things that do, too.

This finding is a hopeful one, in my opinion, as perhaps we have some control over this inflammatory process. We know there is a link between general chronic inflammation and immune system changes in the body (which we can measure, to an extent) and the development of neuroinflammation. Infections can cause inflammation (and our body needs to become acutely inflamed to fight them off) and some autoimmune conditions are associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

It may be tricky for us to avoid these infective causes, of course, but chronic inflammation can also be created in ways that are more within our control – through a process termed ‘sterile inflammation’.

So, how can we dampen the flames of inflammation? Well, diet is important: eating too many inflammatory foods will not help. These are the usual suspects of heavily processed foods, sugar, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. A balanced diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables will provide antioxidants which can  fight inflammation.

Carrying too much weight is also a problem – fat, especially internal fat, is inflammogenic. Alcohol in excess is also a culprit for inflammation and, interestingly, poor oral health has a special connection with neuroinflammation and dementia. So, ensuring you brush and floss and see your dentist regularly is advised.

Poor sleep also promotes inflammation. Prioritising your ‘Zs’ is very important, and if you are having chronic difficulties, you should consult your doctor. Then, there’s exercise. Although in the short term this increases inflammation, over the long term it has an anti-inflammatory effect. Regular readers of my column will know how much I rate exercise as a tool for promoting brain health and this is one of the likely mechanisms. Looking after your mental health and reducing stress may also help, as cases of long-term depression and anxiety have been associated with raised inflammatory markers in the blood stream.

Finally, although certainly not a substitute for all the above measures, there is evidence that certain supplements may help. I am an advocate of curcumin, the chief ingredient of turmeric. If you’re  not a fan of the spice, then you can get curcumin in pill form. A particular brand, Theracumin, seems especially absorbable by the body.

I also often recommend omega-3 fatty acids. These are chiefly found in fish, but also come in the form of fish oil and krill oil capsules and you can get algae-based ones if you’d prefer. These fatty acids can help resolve inflammation. You should talk to your doctor before starting these, however, as they can cause side effects for some.

Kailas Roberts is a psychogeriatrician and author of Mind Your Brain: The Essential Australian Guide to Dementia, now available at all good bookstores  and online. Visit yourbraininmind.com  or uqp.com.au

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