In the course of President Obama's SOTU litany, his recommitment to spending on Alzheimer's research stands out as the one topic that brought applause from both sides of the aisle. It even earned praise from some of Obama's most severe ideological critics. On Fox News, Jim Pinkerton claimed, "Alzheimer's research is a cause Obama and his critics should all support -- to save both money and lives."
This is exactly the right point, and it's the reason that bitter rivals can overlook their cantankerous disputes to join forces. Investing in Alzheimer's research is both a social and economic investment that will pay dividends if we get it right. And Americans will not have to go it alone. Globally, Alzheimer's is understood as the 21st century's great health and fiscal crisis. With a billion people over 65 in just about a decade -- and with the near perfect correlation between advancing age and increased risk -- no country can afford to defer their commitments to beat Alzheimer's.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that Democrats and Republicans agree that investing in Alzheimer's is money well spent. And perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to see a growing number of countries adopting robust national Alzheimer's plans. The World Health Organization has set the global tone, declaring the disease to be "a global public health priority." It is very significant that the WHO is using this term, as it is one they only use rarely and with great caution. The United Nations has made equally historic strides through their recent dedication to non-communicable diseases, which includes an entire section on Alzheimer's.
President Obama, it seems, is very serious about preparing the United States for the oncoming surge of Alzheimer's cases. The administration is taking serious and courageous steps to advance our understanding of the human brain, undertaking a "decade-long scientific effort... to do for the brain what the Human Genome did for genetics."
This is huge, and, with the right follow-through, it will be like President Kennedy's call in 1960 to put a Man on the Moon. And we all know how that one turned out.
Alzheimer's needs inspired global leadership. Already, the disease saps a whopping $604 billion annually -- 1% of Global GDP. But experts agree that this number, enormous as it is, is still an underestimation due to the high rate of unreported cases around the world. As the "longevity miracle" extends lives across the globe (and most dramatically in the developing world), Alzheimer's is not an isolated issue of the developed world.
While President Obama's efforts should be applauded, the Europeans have already begun a similar initiative. The Human Brian Project in Europe plans to build "a facility that will simulate the human brain [an bring together] 13 research universities, research facilities and hospitals... to coordinate hundreds of other activities in Europe and around the world." In other words, this project, like Obama's, hopes to "map" the brain just as we have mapped the human genome.
In the two months of 2013, we have witnessed partnership to beat Alzheimer's both "across the aisle" and "across the pond." But late last year, the Japanese also hosted an OECD conference on "The Silver Economy" at their famed Waseda University. At the conference, it was recognized that Alzheimer's is the most significant anchor to transforming Japan's aging population -- soon to be 40% of their entire population -- to one that can add economic value to their strategic growth goals.
Ultimately, our goal must be to de-link Alzheimer's from aging. We have done this for a number of other health conditions that were once inextricably age-related - like vision loss, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, for example. This would be revolutionary progress, to be sure, but we can't be intimidated by the complexity of the challenge. As Americans, Europeans and Japanese make their own national commitments for basic research, we still need is a global commitment and a global fund to find better ways to prevent and treat Alzheimer's.
Such a goal will require political cooperation beyond Democrats and Republicans, but the across-the-aisle partnership we've seen on Alzheimer's provides a good start. In our 21st century marked by aging populations, good science policy is the basis of great economic policy.
That doesn't mean you should pour out a bag of Skittles at each meal. Try to eat foods of a variety of natural colors to gain antioxidants, said Dr. Amen.
Just because something is a fruit, doesn't mean you should chow down on it, according to Dr. Daniel Amen, author of "Use Your Brain To Change Your Age." For brain health, Dr. Amen recommends food with a low glycemic index -- which measures how quickly food increases blood sugar -- and a lot of fiber, which benefits your intestinal tract. Certain fruit like pineapple and watermelon have high glycemic indexes and should be avoided, advises Dr. Amen. Instead, incorporate fruits like blueberries, apples, oranges, cherries, kiwi, strawberries and raspberries. When it comes to fiber, consider adding coconut to your diet. <em>Correction: In a previous version of this slide, "blood pressure" was incorrectly inserted where "blood sugar" is.</em>
Don't eliminate all of the fat in your diet. Instead, focus on incorporating good fats. In fact, if your cholesterol drops too low, you may be at greater risk for depression, according to Amen <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-breakthrough-depression-solution/201106/low-cholesterol-and-its-psychological-effects" target="_hplink"> and several studies on low cholesterol</a>. So what exactly are "good fats"? Dr. Amen advises people to eat foods rich in omega-3s to promote brain health, including almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, fish, lamb, avocados and green leafy vegetables. Another added benefit of eating good fats? "Your vitamins are actually absorbed better when you eat them with a little bit of fat," said Dr. Amen.
While you generally want to avoid bad fats, if you choose to eat steak, "you want to go with grass-fed, hormone-free, free-range meats" rather than grain-fed meats, said Dr. Amen. "When you feed the animals the high-glycemic foods, they actually produce less of the good fat and more of the bad fat. So they're not as good for you." In other words, what your food eats affects your health too, according to Dr. Amen. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdid/" target="_hplink">mdid</a></em>
Next time you're whipping up some grub, turn to your spice rack for an extra brain boost. Spices and herbs may do more for your health than you realize. According to Dr. Amen, cinnamon balances blood sugar; garlic, oregano and rosemary increase blood flow to the brain; curry acts as an anti-inflammatory; and saffron can have anti-depressant effects. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/spence_sir/" target="_hplink">S. Diddy</a></em>
Next time you're craving a cold glass of juice with your breakfast, think again. "Juice is sugar that is unwrapped from its fiber source, and whenever you unwrap sugar from its fiber source, it can turn toxic in your body," said Dr. Amen. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mamchenkov/" target="_hplink">Leonid Mamchenkov</a></em>
You may be dreaming about that delicious breakfast muffin all night, but you should probably steer clear of the breakfast pastries. "There's way too much bad fat and sugar," said Dr. Amen. Instead, he recommends a protein-heavy breakfast like a few boiled eggs, nuts and an apple. While Dr. Amen suggests eating lean protein at each meal, he believes it is "especially important in the morning because it helps you focus," he said. <em>Photo courtesy of <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/15216811@N06/" target="_hplink">Nicola since 1972</a></em>
The last thing you need when you're trying to eat healthy are friends who try to coerce you to be unhealthy. "You have to deal with the food pushers in your life because they'll steal your health," said Dr. Amen. "The health of the people you spend time with will often determine your longevity." Make sure your friends understand and support your decision to eat healthier, and try to find other people who who are on the same healthy path as you.