By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
In the time it takes to brush your teeth, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s (every 67 seconds, says the Alzheimer’s Association.) By 2050, almost 14 million Americans will be living with the condition, according to “Alzheimer’s disease in the United States (2010-2050)” – unless scientists can find a way to prevent the destructive brain processes that lead to this disease.
Recent research is focused on the build-up of beta amyloid proteins in the brain that destroy synapse and cause brain cell death.
The good news is, if beta amyloid proteins can be cleared or reduced, you are much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
But how exactly can you reduce beta amyloid in your brain? Is there any easy way to clear the proteins before they develop into harmful plaques?
How are Beta Amyloid Proteins Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease?
Beta amyloid comes from a protein that is found in the membranes surrounding nerve cells in the brain.
In a healthy, dementia-free brain these proteins are broken down and removed from the brain. When pieces of this sticky protein clump together they form plaques.
And once pieces or clumps of beta amyloid protein start to build up they block the nerve cells’ ability to signal to each other at the synapses, and cause the cells to degrade.
Beta amyloid plaques are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, along with neurofibrillary tangles, constructed from unhealthy tau proteins that wreck communication between cells.
In 2013 scientists from Stanford University School of Medicine demonstrated that beta amyloid proteins start to destroy synapses in the brain even before these plaques are formed. When beta amyloid proteins bunch together in small clusters they attach themselves strongly to nerve cells, leading to subtle effects relating to Alzheimer’s disease that are present even before plaques and serious memory loss occur.
Older People Take Longer to Clear Beta Amyloid Proteins from Their Brains
Research in 2015 from Washington University in St. Louis shows that older people take longer to get rid of beta amyloid proteins from their brains, with people aged in the 30s taking around four hours to clear half the beta amyloid protein while those aged over 80 take more than 10 hours. When beta amyloid is not shifted from the brain it clumps and disrupts brain function.
Can You Test for Beta Amyloid Proteins in the Brain?
In the past the only way to diagnose a case of Alzheimer’s disease was to carry out a brain exam during an autopsy.
But now scientists can study the brain when you are alive to test for beta amyloid proteins using a radioactive dye. However, tests can be deceptive because it is still not known how and when some people with high levels of beta amyloid proteins in the brain develop Alzheimer’s disease and some do not.
But it seems the key is to prevent the build-up of beta amyloid in the first place and remove it before it has a chance to affect brain synapses.
When you clear beta amyloid proteins efficiently you have a much lower risk of developing dementia. We looked at the scientifically proven ways to reduce build-up of beta amyloid protein in your brain.
1. Get More Sleep to Reduce Beta Amyloid Protein in the Brain
A good night’s sleep is important not just for clearer thinking the next day but clearer thinking and better memory as you age.
A 2014 study from the University of Wisconsin shows poor nights’ sleep can reduce the body’s efficiency in removing beta amyloid proteins. In the study those who reported problems with sleep had more amyloid deposits in their brain, particularly in the area of the brain responsible for memory, thought and awareness.
A 2012 study by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis also found that people who had trouble sleeping in middle age were more likely to suffer from a buildup of amyloid proteins that leads to Alzheimer’s.
People who woke up more than five times an hour and spent less than 85 percent of their time in bed actually sleeping were more likely to have abnormal levels of beta amyloid protein plaques.
2. Is Sleeping on Your Side Best for Removing Beta Amyloid Proteins?
Sleeping on your side helps clear out destructive beta amyloid proteins from the brain more efficiently than sleeping on your back or stomach, says a 2015 study from Stony Brook University.
The systems for clearing proteins are more efficient when you are asleep, as shown by the studies above, but it seems that side-sleeping is the best position to take, although the results of this animal study have yet to be replicated in human research. (Read more about the brain lymph system that cleans your brain each night.)
3. Cut Your Copper Intake to Reduce Beta Amyloid Proteins
Copper in the diet can reduce the body’s ability to clear away beta amyloid proteins, according to a 2013 study from the University of Rochester Medical Center – and even the small amounts of copper that are found in the average diet can make a difference.
Copper is an essential trace element and it helps to form red blood cells as well as protect the immune system. But it can also build up in the brain and prevent the easy clearance of beta amyloid proteins, according to researchers.
4. Bursts of Brain Activity Help Reduce Beta Amyloid Formation
Spikes and bursts of activity in the brain help to regulate the formation of beta amyloid proteins in the brain, according to a 2013 study from Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine – experiencing different environments and different activities can cause spiking patterns in the brain.
Researchers suggest that a stimulating environment and changes in sensory experiences can help to reduce the levels of harmful beta amyloid protein in the brain.
5. Take Vitamin D to Reduce Beta Amyloid in the Brain?
Certain mechanisms between brain cells can be better regulated with the help of vitamin D3, which will help the body get rid of beta amyloid protein according to a 2012 study by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Vitamin D3 may help activate signaling networks between cells to stimulate the immune system to clear beta amyloid proteins.
6. Eat Curcumin to Reduce Beta Amyloid Build-Up
Curcumin is a component in turmeric, the spice that is used to flavor and color curry, and scientists have shown that it can help your immune system clear beta amyloid protein from the brain. Curcumin is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to a 2006 study from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and in the test tube curcumin improved the removal of amyloid protein by immune cells in 50 percent of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
7. Increase Your Intake of Omega 3 Fatty Acids to Remove Amyloid Proteins
Another study from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in 2013 reveals how omega 3 fatty acids help boost the immune system to clear the brain of beta amyloid protein.
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish and plant oils and a particular fatty acid called omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) helps regulate inflammation and get rid of the troubling proteins, according to scientists.