Q: I know three people in their mid-50s with brain problems — one with Parkinson's, one with early onset Alzheimer's and one with some other kind of brain disease. It's unsettling. What do you think's going on? — Devon B., Covington, Ky.
A: Since 1997 there's been a 66 percent increase in the number of men and a 92 percent increase in the number of women dying from neurological diseases and conditions such as ALS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease and dementia at younger and younger ages! But listen up: You can dramatically improve your long-term brain health by doing what we recommend below.
What accounts for the increase? All indications are that epigenetic changes — that is, changes in gene expression triggered by environmental influences — are making people more susceptible to brain diseases.
Just as there's been an increase in autoimmune diseases, a fall in sperm counts and a rise in cancer incidence (even as cancer deaths fall), the increase in younger people developing neurological diseases may come from the explosion in electronic devices; a rise in background, non-ionising radiation from PC's, microwaves, TV's and mobile phones; increased petrochemical pollution; chemical additives and pesticides in food; and more.
Fortunately, the body is surprisingly resilient and responds well to good self-care. You can fight back against lifestyle-triggered health hazards. What we need is a war against brain diseases. Our battle cry:
• Achieve and maintain a healthy weight by eliminating the Five Food Felons (saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sugar syrups, and any grain that isn't 100 percent whole).
• Get regular physical activity: Walk 10,000 steps a day, do 15 minutes of strength training two to three days a week, plus 20 minutes of cardio three times a week (cardio exercise is six times more effective than "brain games" in growing your memory center!).
• Meditate daily for at least 10 minutes. Managing stress may be the No. 1 brain helper!
• Enjoy as much black coffee as you like. It cuts memory dysfunction and Parkinson's risk.
• Take anti-inflammatory DHA omega-3 from algal oil (900 IU a day) or eat three servings of salmon a week. Other daily supplements: for eyes — 10 milligrams lutein; for brain — 6 milligrams B-6, 400 micrograms folic acid, 25 micrograms B-12 (after age 50, 400 to 800 micrograms).
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Michael Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.sharecare.com.