New research says anxious, easily-stressed women are more prone to developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

After following 800 women for nearly four decades, researchers say certain personality dispositions can put you at risk for the memory-robbing disease. Middle-aged women with an average age of 46 were given a battery of personality tests and asked to make note of any periods of prolonged stress longer than one month to determine certain traits and tendencies.

Researchers looked at how outgoing or withdrawn participants were, if they were easily distressed, prone to worrying and jealousy, and if they showed signs of neuroticism.

Over the course of the study, 19 percent of women developed dementia. But women who scored high for neuroticism were twice as likely to develop the disease than their low-stress counterparts. Withdrawn women with high stress scores were twice as likely as outgoing and less distressed women to develop Alzheimer’s.

But the Swedish study’s authors chalk it up to more than just personality. “Personality may influence the individual’s risk for dementia through its effect on behavior, lifestyle or reactions to stress,” study author Lena Johannsson of the University of Gothenburg explained in a release.

For example, researchers say people who are less neurotic are more likely to have more active lifestyles, meaning better metabolic function and cardiovascular health. Meanwhile, neurotic types are more prone to having tangles in the brain and damage to the brain’s memory center due to stress.

It’s not known exactly what brings on the disease, but experts believe it to be a combination of lifestyle factors, genetics, and environment. Other research has also suggested stress could be a contributing factor. A 2013 study suggested that stress steroids in the brain can impair memory and increase the amount of plaque-building proteins. And taking a different approach, another study found that stress-busting yoga and meditation can even slow the progression of dementia.

Researchers suggest that you may be able to protect your future memory function by normalizing your cortisol levels. Such intervention would be particularly beneficial for those who are at high risk for elevated cortisol, such as those who show traits of neuroticism, are depressed or are dealing with long-term stress following a traumatic event.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is an energy psychology tool that can help reprogram your body’s reactions to everyday stress, thereby reducing your chances of developing adverse health effects.

Your diet also plays a very important role. In fact, neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, MD insists that being very strict in limiting your consumption of sugar and non-vegetable carbs is one of THE most important steps you can take to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. He cites research from the Mayo Clinic, which found that diets rich in carbohydrates are associated with an 89 percent increased risk for dementia. Meanwhile, high-fat diets are associated with a 44 percent reduced risk.

The importance of a healthy diet cannot be overstated, as a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated that even mild elevation of blood sugar—a level of around 105 or 110—was already dramatically associated with an elevated risk for developing dementia.

Besides diet, there are a number of other lifestyle factors that can contribute to or hinder neurological health.

Exercise regularly.

It’s been suggested that exercise can trigger a change in the way the amyloid precursor protein is metabolized, thus, slowing down the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s.

Optimize your vitamin D levels with safe sun exposure.

Strong links between low levels of vitamin D in Alzheimer’s patients and poor outcomes on cognitive tests have been revealed. Researchers believe that optimal vitamin D levels may enhance the amount of important chemicals in your brain and protect brain cells by increasing the effectiveness of the glial cells in nursing damaged neurons back to health.

Avoid and eliminate mercury from your body.

Dental amalgam fillings, which are 50 percent mercury by weight, are one of the major sources of heavy metal toxicity, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed.

Avoid and eliminate aluminum from your body.

Sources of aluminum include antiperspirants, and non-stick cookware.

Avoid anticholinergics and statin drugs.

Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain nighttime pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers.

Challenge your mind daily.

Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as learning to play an instrument or a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

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