3 posts tagged “Alzheimer’s disease”

From tomatoes to turmeric: Can foods fight inflammation?

Posted October 26th, 2017 by

Inflammation is a hot topic. What’s it all about? And what’s the scoop on certain diets, foods and supplements, such as turmeric, when it comes to fighting inflammation?

What is inflammation?

Not all inflammation is “bad.” Acute inflammation is part of the body’s natural way of defending itself from foreign substances like viruses, bacteria, cuts and splinters. It may cause redness, swelling, heat and/or pain. The upside is, these symptoms are a sign that the body is responding after an injury or infection by triggering white blood cells and disease-fighting chemicals.

But some “other” kinds of inflammation — like chronic inflammation (which may include constant low-grade or systemic inflammation) and inflammation from autoimmune disorders (where the body attacks its own healthy cells as if they’re foreign) — doesn’t always show visible or obvious symptoms and can play a more long-term and complex role, according to Mayo Clinic.

Which diseases or conditions does it affect?

Mounting research shows that inflammation is a common underlying factor (and possibly a cause) in many — perhaps even all — diseases.

You’ve probably heard about the role of inflammation in arthritis or heart health. But researchers and doctors have also studied inflammation’s link to a wide range of other diseases and conditions, including cancerdiabetesAlzheimer’s diseasemultiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease (PD), major depressive disorder (MDD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ALS (note: in the case of ALS and some other conditions, researchers are still determining whether some inflammation may be protective rather than harmful, so more research is needed).

Over the past decade, scientists have also started to identify certain genes associated with inflammation, and research on that front continues.

What can food do?

Some people follow an “anti-inflammatory diet,” but the science behind these particular diets does not clearly support the theory that they thwart inflammation, and doctors advise being wary of the health claims they make.

That said, taking steps to maintain a healthy weight and eat a variety of foods with anti-inflammatory properties (rather than follow a certain “Diet” with a capital “D”) may benefit your health.

“Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The team at Harvard says these foods have anti-inflammatory properties:

  • Tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and collards
  • Nuts like almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines
  • Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges

On the flip side, they say, some foods promote inflammation — so try to avoid or limit these (hint: they’re already foods with a pretty bad rap):

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
  • French fries and other fried foods
  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)
  • Margarine, shortening and lard

Talk with your doctor or a registered dietician about a healthy eating plan with your health condition(s) in mind.

What’s the deal with turmeric?

There’s currently a lot of buzz around turmeric and some other supplements believed to help fight inflammation. Turmeric, a plant related to ginger, is a common spice known for its gold color and use in curry powder.

On top of being used as spice, it can be taken as a supplement. The main anti-inflammatory ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is available as a supplement on its own (the content of curcumin in turmeric spice is only around 3%, so curcumin supplements may pack more of an anti-inflammatory punch). One study found that curcumin may have the same anti-inflammatory effects as NSAID pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofin, (Advil/Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).

Preliminary studies have shown promise for curcumin’s use in people with ulcerative colitismultiple myelomalupus and depression. However, there’s still a lack of conclusive research on the effects of turmeric or curcumin in people with many other conditions, so these supplements typically aren’t recommended as part of a treatment plan at this point. Additional studies on curcumin are currently underway for people with some forms of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, MS and PD.

Talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new vitamin, supplement or treatment.

What about other supplements?

Overall, the potential role of dietary supplements is “largely uncharted when it comes to carefully done clinical trials for safety and effectiveness,” according to Brent Bauer, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. Dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and effectiveness. Keeping that in mind, here are some other supplements with possible anti-inflammatory effects that researchers have studied to some extent, the Mayo Clinic says:

  • Cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) — This could ease rheumatoid arthritis joint pain and osteoarthritis knee pain during activity, but more research is needed.
  • Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum procumbens) — It’s commonly used in Europe and may be effective in the short-term treatment of osteoarthritic pain.
  • Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana) — Made from the mangosteen fruit, this supplement may have anti-allergy, antibacterial, antifungal, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory qualities, but more research in humans is needed.
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) — This may help improve organ function in people with cirrhosis, a chronic liver disease. It may also be helpful in treating chronic hepatitis. But more research is needed before it can be recommended.

“My best advice concerning chronic inflammation is to stay tuned,” says Dr. Bauer. “This is a huge area of interest in the medical world and there are bound to be discoveries down the road that can improve well-being and the quality of health.”

On PatientsLikeMe

Hundreds of patients report using turmeric for a wide variety of health reasons — see what they have to say. Join the community for even more details on the treatments patients have tried and to learn and share about nutrition with your condition.

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Natalie shares her story as caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease

Posted November 21st, 2015 by

Natalie (center) with her mother, Maxine (left) and her mother-in-law, Pam (right).

When was your mom diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease? What was your mom’s diagnosis process like for you, for your mom, and for the rest of your family and friends?

My mother, Maxine, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in April of 2010. She had been living on her own for about one year, following her separation from my father. We both started noticing drastic changes in her attention to detail, motivation to work, cleanliness of her home, etc. and were concerned for her well-being. It wasn’t until she started not answering her phone that we insisted on a change. She simply didn’t want to speak to anyone, because she herself couldn’t understand the changes going on with her mentally, and wouldn’t know how to explain herself. For outsiders, it looked like disinterest, depression and laziness. For myself and my father, we knew something larger was the problem.

What is one thing you learned about yourself as a caregiver for your mom? 

Caring for my mom has taught me so much – and hindsight is 20/20. However, I have found that my resiliency, despite challenging situations, is far stronger than I have ever given myself credit for. When people ask ‘how did you do it?’ I simply reply with the most honest answer I can – There was no other option.

How long and how often were you caring for your mom?

When my mother was diagnosed, the legal implications of her inability to care for herself came to light. Since her and my father were divorced, the State of New Hampshire would have taken control over her finances, healthcare decisions, etc., had there been no one else deemed a responsible party. And at age 20, I was not the ideal candidate. However the thought of the alternative was not something I could bear. Court appointments and legal requests for guardianship took months. When I was finally named her legal guardian, I took on a larger role in her care than I had expected (but was committed to fulfilling as long as I was needed). Additionally, I was her secondary caretaker, traveling from Boston to New Hampshire every weekend on Saturday mornings and returning back to the city on Sunday nights. I cooked, grocery shopped, cleaned the house, did laundry, refilled her medications, paid bills and made sure the caregiver schedule for the following week was set. It was a routine that was well-oiled, but didn’t leave a ton time for the typical weekend ‘R&R.’

How did you balance being a caregiver for your mom with other obligations (work, relationships, planning your wedding, etc.?)

At the time of my mom’s diagnosis and while we moved her back into the home I grew up in, I was an undergraduate at Northeastern University. I would travel back and forth from the city to the coast of New Hampshire to be with her and relieve my father and the other caregivers each weekend. Meanwhile, I was a live-in nanny for a family of three, whom I would care for during the week when I wasn’t at class. I also was just starting a new relationship with my now husband. For the next few years, that was my life. I spent more time in my car than I did in my bed. And while my friends were partying each weekend, I just simply wasn’t around. My priorities were so far removed from those of my age, and I was okay with that. After I graduated and started working full-time, her disease was quickly progressing. Instead of spending Friday nights with my boyfriend (at the time), he would come home with me and help. Once we were engaged, we knew we wanted to move quickly in hopes that she could see me get married. That was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Throughout your mom’s illness, what moment stands out to you most?

Natalie’s mother, Maxine.

A goal that was shared by my father and I was singular and authentic – we wanted to keep mom at home for as long as we were financially and physically able to. Luckily, we spent her money right and found so many helpful resources that were available to us – like the Rockingham VNA and Hospice. Despite her illness, my mom was never without someone by her side that truly loved her – a luxury that many others in a similar situation aren’t privy to. We are so grateful we were able to achieve that goal and to care for my mother at home, even until the day she passed. Selfishly, the moment I remember most vividly in my mind was having her at my wedding, just a month and a half before she passed away. That memory stays with me, and reminds me of something truly magical, even on my most difficult days.

What advice would you give to other caregivers trying to take care of a parent or loved one?

Don’t try to do it all on your own. You will reach a breaking point, and you won’t have the energy to pull yourself back together. Ask friends and other family for help. Have someone come over to relieve you for a few hours so you can shower without worrying the house will catch on fire (yes, I’m not kidding – things like this fall by the wayside). Be honest with others about your situation, because more often than not, they would love nothing more than to help.

If you’re caring for someone living with a chronic condition, you can connect with others who understand what you’re going through on PatientsLikeMe. You can also connect with others in the growing Alzheimer’s community on PatientsLikeMe.

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