Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that can rob people of the ability to think clearly, perform everyday tasks and ultimately, remember who they even are. Because the disease is so devastating, and since previous treatments failed to come up with a cure, I’m always on the lookout for Alzheimer’s natural treatment options and Alzheimer’s news, scouring the medical journals for for Alzheimer’s breakthroughs.

There’s so much we still don’t know about the human brain, but thankfully, 2016 marks a year of progress and some pretty significant Alzheimer’s breakthroughs. Let me share some of them with you.

There are several theories including free radical damage, an inability to use glucose properly, vitamin deficiencies or environmental toxins. This illness affects more than half of people over that age of 85 in the U.S.

The good news is that there are Alzheimer’s natural treatment options that can effectively improve this condition. Recently, scientists are also uncovering major Alzheimer’s breakthroughs that could lead us to a cure.

8 Notable Alzheimer’s Breakthroughs of 2016

1. What you eat TOTALLY matters

If you’ve spent any time at all on this website, you know my mantra: Food is medicine. It’s not hocus pocus, either. Hippocrates knew the importance of food in healing the body back in 400 B.C. when he advised people to prevent and treat diseases first and foremost by eating nutrient-packed foods. Modern science is catching up.

Scientists recently found that the Mediterranean diet seems to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease. A UCLA study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that the Mediterranean diet is one of the main lifestyle factors that seems to keep the brain from developing the toxic plaques and tangles associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Plaque is characterized by deposits of a toxic protein called beta-amyloid in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain. Think of tangles of knotted threads of the tau protein found within brain cells. Both are considered the key indicators of Alzheimer’s.

The new study used PET imaging to study the brain for changes and is the first to demonstrate how lifestyle factors directly influence abnormal proteins in people with subtle memory loss who have not yet been diagnosed with dementia. Healthy lifestyle factors also have been shown to be related to reduced shrinking of the brain and lower rates of atrophy in people with Alzheimer’s. (1)

Food staples of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens like spinach and kale and non-starchy veggies like eggplant, cauliflower, artichokes, tomatoes and fennel)
  • olive oil
  • nuts and seeds (like almonds and sesame seeds used to make tahini)
  • legumes and beans (especially lentils and chickpeas used to make hummus)
  • herbs and spices (like oregano, rosemary and parsley)
  • whole grains
  • eating wild-caught fish and seafood at least twice a week
  • high-quality, pasture-raised poultry, eggs, cheese, goat milk, and probiotic-rich kefir or yogurt consumed in moderation
  • red meat consumed on special occasions or about once weekly
  • plenty of fresh water and some coffee or tea
  • oftentimes a daily glass of red wine

2. Exercise is a potent Alzheimer’s preventer

That same UCLA-led study also produced some robust results surrounding exercise’s brain-protecting properties. Those who were more physically active on a regular basis also had the lowest levels of tangles and plaques on the PET scans, meaning they had a much lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

While any type of exercise is certainly better than sitting around, if you’re time strapped, burst training, also known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a great option.

Keep in mind, though, that we need more research on how HIIT impacts the brain. We know that it does melt away fat faster than traditional steady state cardio (and a lower BMI lowers your risk of the tangles and plaques associated with Alzheimer’s, according to the latest UCLA study). However, a previous study did find that steady state cardio creates more brain neurons compared to weight training or HIIT.

More research is needed to see if one form of exercise is best to prevent Alzheimer’s. For now, just focus on any physical activity and getting into a healthy BMI range.

3. A PMS drug shows promise in reversing Alzheimer’s related memory loss

Could an non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug already on the market and used mainly for PMS cramps and related pain help cure Alzheimer’s? While I’m always optimistically cautious when reading studies like this, there’s a lot of promise behind this science. In the study, University of Manchester researchers completely reversed brain inflammation and memory loss symptoms of Alzheimer’s in mice using already-available mefenamic acid.

While this isn’t necessarily a natural Alzheimer’s treatment option, it underscores the importance of reducing inflammation to prevent or reverse symptoms.

Mefenamic acid is the generic drug name and sold under about 20 different brand name drugs. “There is experimental evidence now to strongly suggest that inflammation in the brain makes Alzheimer’s disease worse,” a researchers said in a statement. “Our research shows for the first time that mefenamic acid, a simple non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, can target an important inflammatory pathway called the NLRP3 inflammasome, which damages brain cells.”

Animal studies don’t always translate to human results, so this promising finding warrants more studies in people now. But it’s certainly a promising breakthrough that I’m keeping an eye on, and more evidence that keeping our bodies’ inflammation in check is key. (Eating these anti-inflammatory foods is a good starting point.)

4. Your profession could act like an anti-Alzheimer’s drug

Did you know that certain jobs could protect against Alzheimer’s? Humans are social creatures, and working directly with other people instead of primarily with data or things seems to offer protection against Alzheimer’s.

Scientists from Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute looked at 284 brain scans of middle-aged people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. They found that those who worked closely with people in complex work situations were able to tolerate brain damage better than those who worked in more isolated settings. Those who worked in more social settings, examples may include teachers and doctors, seem to be able to better maintain cognitive function.

The researchers say these analyses underscore the importance of social engagement in the work setting for building resilience to Alzheimer’s disease. If you work in isolation and can’t do much to change that, take extra steps to be as social as possible after work hours and on your days off to make your brain more resilient.

5. Marijuana could protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease

In what could be a huge finding in the natural Alzheimer’s treatment world, scientists from the Salk Institute discovered that tetrahycrocannabinol, a main component of cannabis, and other compounds found in marijuana could block the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

In the lab, the plant compounds blocked the disease by easing cellular inflammation and removing toxic amyloid proteins on brain cells. This is a first-of-its-kind study showing that cannabinoids affect both inflammation and amyloid beta accumulation in nerve cells. Clinical trials are now needed to see if the promising results hold true in humans, too.

6. Avoiding certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs could lower your Alzheimer’s risk 

Drugs linked to dementia now include popular sleep and allergy meds. These include things like Benadryl, Dramamine, Advil PM and Unison, among others. These pills have These pills anticholinergic properties, something increasingly linking to dementia. Some

A 2016 study published in JAMA Neurology used MRI and PET scans to show how anticholinergic drugs lower brain metabolism and trigger higher rates of brain atrophy. Taking anticholinergic drugs also led to worse scores on memory tests.

Certain antidepressants, COPD and asthma medications, along with drugs for overactive bladder issues, could also fall in the anticholinergic category. Therefore, if you need these medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if safer alternatives exist.

7. Your gut plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease

Your gut is responsible for so much more than digestion. In 2016, University of Chicago researchers found that a long-term dose of antibiotics changed the gut bacteria of mice in a way that seemed to help reduce levels of amyloid-beta proteins in mice brains.

This is preliminary research, and I certainly don’t suggest we all start taking antibiotics. But what I like about this breakthrough is that it highlights the fact that our guts — or our microbiome — are very closely tied to our brains and brain-related disease. In fact, many called our guts the “second brain.” Future research could potentially look at more natural ways to keep our guts healthy to protect our brains.

8. A personalized approach to treatment

A 2016 a small study published in the journal Aging, researchers from the Buck Institute and UCLA were able to use personalized treatment to actually reverse Alzheimer’s disease in patients dealing with the early stages of the disease. Using a 36-point therapeutic personalized program that involves comprehensive changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, sleep optimization, specific pharmaceuticals and vitamins and other steps that impact brain chemistry, the team was able to improve some patients’ symptoms to the point where they were actually able to return to work.