Your brain health questions answered


By Dr Laura Phipps | Friday 26 February 2021

There are so many sources of information at our fingertips and new stories in the media each week claiming that different activities or foods can either cause or cure dementia. It can be difficult to know what information to pay attention to.

We’ve received lots of great questions since we launched Think Brain Health about the things we can do to help protect our incredible brains and reduce our dementia risk. Here are the four we’ve been asked most frequently:

1. Why do some people who live extremely active, healthy lives still go on to develop dementia?

Dementia risk is complex – our age, genes, environment, medical history and lifestyle all play a role in shaping our likelihood of developing the diseases that cause the condition.

Unfortunately, we can’t change things like our age or our genetics, and this is why people from all walks of life, including those who have extremely healthy lifestyles, can go on to develop dementia.

Although there’s currently no sure-fire way to prevent dementia, research suggests that up to 40% of cases are linked to risk factors that we may be able to influence. Taking steps to improve your brain health won’t guarantee you don’t get dementia, but it’ll help stack the odds in your favour. Think Brain Health is all about helping people understand their brain health, so they can reduce their personal risk as much as possible.

2. How can I keep active and stay connected with others during lockdown?

National lockdown is making many aspects of our lives more difficult. But there are still things we can do every day to look after our brains. The thought of adopting new habits may be daunting at the moment, so start small and be kind to yourself – you may be surprised at what you can achieve.

Staying active doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or pounding the pavements for miles each day, and thanks to technology we can keep connected through video calls or a chat on the phone.

In need of some inspiration? Check out our post on 5 ways to keep brain healthy in lockdown.

3. What should I eat to keep my brain healthy?

Current evidence suggests it’s best to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and to limit sugary snacks and foods that are high in saturated fat.

There is some evidence that a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, oily fish and nuts, may help protect the brain and research is ongoing in this area.

There have been reports that eating ‘super foods’ like berries, drinking red wine or taking certain vitamins can lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia. Sadly, there is no convincing evidence that this is the case.

There is also growing interest in the ketogenic diet (low carb, high fat), though there is no conclusive evidence that this can reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia, or can treat or reverse existing memory problems.

4. Can aluminium increase my risk of developing dementia?

Another good question. In the 1960s and 70s, aluminium was suspected as a cause of Alzheimer’s, after number of studies found a build-up of the metal in the brains of people who had died with the disease.

Since then, studies have failed to provide conclusive evidence of a direct connection. It’s now thought that this build-up is a consequence of the damage Alzheimer’s disease causes to the brain, making it unable to remove metals like aluminium that we consume from our environment – including from food grown in the earth.

The amount of aluminium we are exposed to on a day-to-day basis is so low that that when we are healthy, our bodies can safely remove it and it is not thought to pose any threat.

Information on this page does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. If you have more questions about dementia and research, our Infoline can help. Call us on 0300 111 5 111 or click here to find out more.

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Dr Laura Phipps