Science Update

The Scary Stats & Happy Facts on Cognitive Health Part I

As the baby boomer population ages memory loss along with its associated decreased quality of life is a major concern. This is especially true with those who are caregivers to parents and loved ones who suffer from various forms of dementia including Alzheimer's disease.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is defined as the transitional state between the cognitive changes of normal aging and very early dementia.1 It has been suggested by several studies that individuals with MCI have an accelerated rate of progression to dementia and Alzheimer's disease.12

Although a 2011 article by the Center for Disease Control estimates that more than 16 million people in the United States are living with cognitive impairment2 the prevalence and incidence of cognitive impairment may be hard to accurately determine.3 According to a 2012 review of studies published since 1984 the disease burden of cognitive impairment could not be precisely calculated. This was due to the fact that there was no agreed consensus amongst the 42 articles examined on the definition for MCI.4 This may mean that there are many more silent sufferers who are at risk for mental deterioration and Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia and results in a decline in mental ability which is significant enough to impair daily activities and negatively impact quality of life. According to the Alzheimer's Association: 

  • Alzheimer's disease rates as the sixth leading cause of death in the US
  • One in three seniors currently dies with a form of dementia
  • From 2000 to 2010 there was a 68 percent increase in deaths from Alzheimer's while deaths from other major diseases including heart disease decreased5
  • The greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's is increasing age followed by genetic risk genes [ApoE-e4 amyloid precursor protein (APP) presenilin-1 (PS-1) and presenilin-2 (PS-2)] and family history.6

With these dire statistics and the impending reminder that we can't escape Father/Mother Time it could make one feel hopeless that there is nothing that can be done for a healthy brain. However there is plenty we can do.

The Hopeful Facts

When it comes to the topic of memory or losing one's cognitive abilities people tend to get a little nervous. So let me ease your mind a bit. Regardless of the dismal stats or negative articles on declining cognitive health the good news is there are specific steps you can take that can not only prevent cognitive decline but may even help with environmental exposures that have already taken hold. 

A recent groundbreaking study supported how lifestyle intervention can slow cognitive decline.78 An article in Medscape reviewed The Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) that was published online in The Lancet on March 12. The authors reported:

Targeting multiple lifestyle factors including physical activity diet vascular risk factors and brain training slowed cognitive decline among older healthy individuals in the first randomized controlled trial of its kind…

"This is the first time that it has been shown in a longitudinal study that it is possible to reduce the risk of cognitive decline with lifestyle changes" Professor Kivipelto told Medscape Medical News.7

The CDC lists family history education level and brain injury as factors that cannot be modulated and that contribute to cognitive decline. However other factors such as medication side effects vitamin B12 deficiency and depression can also contribute to cognitive decline and should be addressed. As mentioned above your risk for cognitive impairment can also be reduced by physical activity and a healthy diet.2 9

Another way to support brain health is through limiting sugar intake. High sugar diets are correlated to increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.1011 Recently the CDC reported that from 2005-2010 added sugars comprised approximately 13% of adults total calories. Although the amount consumed varied between gender and ethnicity this is still above the recommended 5-15% by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans12 and the even more stringent recommendations of the latest Advisory Report for 2015 which recommends cutting the limit to 10%.13  Therefore through implementing lifestyle factors such as exercise brain training and a healthy diet that includes decreasing sugar intake and incorporating a whole-food diet rich in healthy fats seafood and oils we may be able to mitigate excess inflammation and stress on our body and protect our brain.14-17 In a follow-up blog I'll discuss this in more detail so stay tuned.

By Sarah LoBisco ND


(1) Petersen RC1 Negash S. Mild cognitive impairment: an overview. CNS Spectr. 2008 Jan;13(1):45-53.

(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cognitive Impairment-A Call for Action Now! February 2011.

(3)Petersen RC1. Mild cognitive impairment as a diagnostic entity. J Intern Med. 2004 Sep;256(3):183-94.

(4) Ward A1 Arrighi HM Michels S Cedarbaum JM. Mild cognitive impairment: disparity of incidence and prevalence estimates. Alzheimers Dement. 2012 Jan;8(1):14-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2011.01.002.

(5) Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's Facts and Figures. Accessed March 2 2014.

(6) Alzheimer's Association. Risk Factors. March 19 2015.

(7) Hughs S. Lifestyle Intervention Slows Cognitive Decline in Randomized Trial. Medscape Medical News. Neurology. March 11 2015.

(8) Ngandu T et a.l. 2 year multidomain intervention of diet exercise cognitive training and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet. March 11 2015. DOI:

(9) Science Daily. Exercise May Be the Best Medicine for Alzheimer's Disease. Science July 30 2013.

(10) De la Monte SM Wands JR. Alzheimer's Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes Evidence Reviewed. Journal of diabetes science and technology (Online). 2008;2(6):1101-1113.

(11) Ohara T Doi Y Ninomiya T Hirakwa Y Hata J Iwaki T Kanaba S Kiyohara Y. Glucose tolerance status and risk of dementia in the community: The Hisayama Study. Neurology September 20 2011; 77 (12): 1126-1134. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31822f0435

(12) Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Consumption of Added Sugars Among U.S> Adults 2005-2010. NCHS Data Brief. Number 122 May 2013.;2010</a>

(13) Part D. Chapter 6: Cross-Cutting Topics of Public Health Importance Continued. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. February 2015.

(14) Dietary intake of differently fed salmon; the influence on markers of human atherosclerosis. Eur J Clin Invest. 2005 Jan;35(1):52-9.

(15) Sofi F Macchi C Abbate R Gensini GF Casini A. Mediterranean diet and health status: an updated meta-analysis and a proposal for a literature-based adherence score. Public Health Nutr. 2014 Dec;17(12):2769-82. doi: 10.1017/S1368980013003169. Epub 2013 Nov 29.

(16) American College of Cardiology (ACC). Omega-3 Fatty Acids Appear to Protect Damaged Heart After Heart Attack. March 4 2015. Accessed at

(17) Weatherby C. Expert's Advice to U.S. Urges More Seafood. Seafood benefits outweigh the alleged risks which an expert advisory panel dismissed as very low. Vital Choice Newsletter. March 6 2015.