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Top 8 Ways to Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk, Right Now

What does the Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School who’s also the “brain coach” to the New England Patriots suggest? Meditate and vacation. Here’s what else.
By Erin Lentz

Dr. Rudolph Tanzi—named to TIME’s 100 Most Influential People—is passionately optimistic. The famous neuroscientist, author, and musician (he plays keyboards with Joe Perry and Aerosmith) has led groundbreaking discoveries in a tireless quest to combat Alzheimer’s Disease. At the annual Lead With Love conscious business leadership conference held recently in Aspen, Dr. Tanzi delivered key tips to slowing and preventing a disease currently affecting 40 percent of people over 85 years old. The troubling news first: 20 million of us are already pre-symptomatic for AD in the U.S. The insidious culprit that turns the brain’s plaque and tangles into AD? Neuroinflammation. Yes, the alarming rate of AD is frightening, but the hopeful news is manifold. As the author of three books with Deepak Chopra (most recently, The Healing Self), Dr. Tanzi explains we are in the driver’s seat, and the future in fact looks bright.

Dr. Tanzi and his team used Alzheimer’s genes and human stem cells to create “Alzheimer’s-in-a-Dish”—a three-dimensional human stem cell-derived neural culture system that was the first to recapitulate both pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease: plaques and tangles. This model has made drug screening for Alzheimer’s disease considerably faster and more effective. He has a pivotal, promising drug going to trial next year.

So, just what to do, starting today, to ensure a healthy mind? “You are the user, teacher, guide, and inventor of your brain,” Dr. Tanzi says. “It’s all about inflammation.” Lifestyle is key.
Here’s Top 8 Ways to Reduce Alzheimer’s, right now:

  1. Meditate. And then meditate some more. Dr. Tanzi can’t emphasize this enough. He’s studied Tibetan monks that regular practice meditation. Their brains? Significantly less prone to AD. Intensive meditation leads to beneficial changes in gene networks involved with stress response and inflammation. New or struggle with meditation? He’s developed the “Dream Weaver 3.0,” an electronic stimulus delivered via high-tech looking glasses that induces a meditative state. Bill Belichick, Dr. Tanzi says, uses it daily.
  2. Vacation. Taking a break—giving your mind a rest—has an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes.
  3. Eat a Mediterranean Diet. This is a biggie. Add anti-inflammatory and organic foods. Increase fiber, prebiotics, and probiotics. Switch to olive or safflower oil. Eat less red meat and more fruits, nuts, and vegetables. And a healthy brain needs healthy grains.
  4. Sleep 8 Hours. Think of sleep as “mental floss.” During deep sleep, amyloid production is turned down. It helps combat the formation of brain plaque, and the brain cleans itself during sleep. If you can’t sneak in eight at night, take naps.
  5. Socialize. Loneliness causes stress that can lead to chemical changes in the brain that kills nerve cells. And speaking with people sparks nerve activity that strengthens the brain.
  6. Exercise. Walking 8,000-10,000 steps per day reduces pathology leading to Alzheimer’s and helps grow nerve cells. “Nothing like exercise induces new nerve cells,” Dr. Tanzi says.
  7. Learn Something New. Take a guitar class, learn a new language, or practice salsa dancing. It provides cognitive reserve. The more you learn, the more synapses you make.
  8. Take Tru Niagen. A form of vitamin B3, “It’s the closest thing to the fountain of youth,” Dr. Tanzi emphasizes.