Image courtesy of Age Healthy
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease are driven largely in part by environmental factors, a study released last week found. The report, Environmental Threats to Healthy Living, is a comprehensive review of research on the influences that the environment has on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Its key finding is that the risks for both can be significantly reduced—if we can tackle the environmental threats that pose them. The Environmental Influences on Cognitive Disease
The influences researched include common dietary patterns and toxic chemical exposures, along with insufficient exercise and stress. Some of the key environmental factors found to generate risk in the study were lead, air pollution, and pesticides. Exposure to each was found to greatly increase the risk of developing a cognitive disease. And it's now believed that these influences can begin having an impact as early as the womb and be carried through life, eventually developing into a neurodegenerative disease.
Report co-author Jill Stein, MD, Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, says:
"As we explored origins and patterns of chronic degenerative diseases, we discovered a web of
conditions in the environment — including nutritional, chemical, physical and social factors — that have a direct influence on the risk of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and related chronic diseases. It is clear from these findings that our activities in the areas of food and agriculture, energy, chemical use, and social organization are key drivers in the abnormal loss of neurological function in older people throughout the modern world."
The report also finds that nutrition and diet have a sizable impact on the contraction of cognitive diseases—for instance, saturated fat intake have been found to greatly increase the risk of dementia. Infant soy formula, and formulas heavily fortified with iron were also found to be possible contributors.
Unhealthy Environments Can Cause Cellular Alteration
One of the most interesting findings was that these environmental factors are causing an alteration in biochemical pathways at cellular and subcellular levels—and that these physical alterations can lead to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, as well as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. According to the report, "This collection of diseases is being driven by dramatic alterations over the past 50 to 100 years in the U.S. food supply, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and exposure to toxic chemicals."
Fighting Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and an Unhealthy Environment
The report advocates a series of both personal and societal changes that could make the environment better fit for decreasing the risk of cognitive disease development. It encourages, among other action, the following:
• "Increase sustainable, diversified and local alternatives to industrial farming — to improve the nutritional value of food, cut down on harmful content, ensure access to healthy food, and lessen serious damage to the environment;
• Regulatory reform of chemical policy that helps prevent hazardous toxic exposures from air, water, food, and other consumer products; business policy changes that give preference to purchasing and using products made of safer chemicals;
• An energy policy that reduces toxic emissions, promotes conservation and efficiency, curtails dependence on fossil fuels, and encourages more physical activity.
As for preventative action that each individual could undertake to decrease their own risk, the report gives these suggestions:
• Eating healthy and nutritious food, and avoiding common hazards in the typical modern diet;
• Staying active physically and mentally;
• Eating the Mediterranean diet, which includes fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and olive oil, is linked to substantially reduced risks of both Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, as well as dramatically lower rates of diabetes, vascular disease, recurrent heart attacks, and metabolic syndrome.
• Avoiding harmful toxicants and pollutants; and,
• Being socially engaged with family, friends and community.
To take a look at the entire report, which was published by the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Science and Environmental Health Network, visit Age Healthy.