Former president Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer's disease, a horrible condition in which a person loses his capacity to reason, think, recognize and function.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that extraordinarily poor people in Ibadan, Nigeria are only half as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than their counterparts in North America, African Americans in Indianapolis. This suggests that something in the North American lifestyle causes Alzheimer's disease. One in ten North Americans develop Alzheimer's disease by age 65, and five in ten develop it by age 85.

Alzheimer's disease means that the brain is damaged and dying brain cells mix with tangles of the protein beta amyloid. Scientists have identified a genetic basis, but environment appears to be far more important.

Ten years ago, the Kentucky Nuns Study showed that nuns who have the most mini-strokes show the loss of mental functioning associated with Alzheimer's disease, while many with lots of beta amyloid did not have signs of that disease. Data clearly show that anything that increases your chances of developing a stroke also increases your chances of developing Alzheimer's disease. So the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease include smoking, being overweight, not exercising, eating a high fat diet, eating too many calories, lack of omega-3 fatty acids (found in whole grains and other seeds, and deep-water seafood) or having high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels.

If you are afraid of getting Alzheimer's disease, follow all the rules that we know to preventing strokes and heart attacks.

JAMA, February 14, 2001

Checked 8/9/05

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