September is World Alzheimer’s and Dementia Awareness Month. Dementia affects 5-8% of all people between ages 65 and 74, and up to 20% of those between 75 and 84. Estimates for dementia in those 85 and over range from 30-47%. Did you know women account for nearly 2 out of 3 cases.
There are a number of triggers for dementia - things we can avoid and ways to improve our brain. In fact, the field of cognitive neuroscience is leading the research on how we can regenerate brain cells and the brain can in fact repair itself through lifestyle and dietary steps.
The study of dementia has revealed some surprising information on “triggers” including:
As we age our metabolism slows and we become more vulnerable to the adverse side effects including affecting the central nervous system and creating confusion and forgetfulness. Some of the common culprits include blood pressure medicines, arthritis medicines, and sedatives. The website worstpills.org lists 136 prescription that may cause cognitive impairment.
High Blood Pressure
In several studies high blood pressure is a precursor to dementia and alzheimers and in fact in one such study a systolic of more than 180 doubles your rate of alzheimers. One study found a systolic blood pressure of more than 140mm in midlife to be a major predictor of dementia. Diet and exercise are ways to control blood pressure naturally.
For a long time, experts have suspected that sleep apnea triggers loss of brain function. And now a study published in the August 10, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association proves it.
People with sleep apnea hold their breath while snoring, disrupting deep sleep and cutting off oxygen to the brain. A
study led by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found that elderly women with sleep apnea are twice as likely to develop dementia in the next five years as those without it. 2/3 of people with sleep apnea are also overweight.
A new Japanese study of 1,000 men and women over age 60 found that people with diabetes were twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s within 15 years. And their risk of developing any kind of dementia shot up 1.75 times.
Rachel Whitmer, PhD., an epidemiologist in the research division of Kaiser Permanente Northern California says, "It's really important for the [public's] health to understand that diabetes is a significant risk factor for all of these types of dementia."
In fact, as evidence mounts about the connection between diabetes and Alzheimer’s, experts are increasingly referring to Alzheimer’s as “diabetes of the brain” or “type 3 diabetes.”
Here’s how Time magazine explains it: “When the body refuses to make insulin, the condition is called type 1 diabetes; when the body mismanages the hormone, it's known as type 2. Now, scientists report new evidence linking insulin to a disorder of the brain: when the brain prevents the hormone from acting properly, the ensuing chemical imbalance may help trigger Alzheimer's disease. The correlation is so strong that some researchers are calling Alzheimer's disease "type 3" diabetes.”
Researchers at Northwestern University showed that Alzheimer’s patients’ brains are low on insulin and insulin resistant. They also discovered that the toxic amyloid-beta proteins that characterize Alzheimer’s brains can disrupt insulin receptors and prevent memories from forming.
How to Control Diabetes?
Reducing your body mass index may be critical to controlling diabetes. A 2016 study followed 32 patients with Type 2 diabetes who applied the paleo diet for 12 weeks - emphasizing vegetables, finer-rich fruits, and proteins from nuts, eggs, fish and . The Paleo dieters not only became leaner, with improved body mass index overall, the percentage of fat retained in the midsection, a big indicator of diabetes, also improved. Blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity were stabilized, and resting heart rate and blood pressure decreased. One participant was able to stop their diabetes medication, metformin, and two additional participants were able to stop their blood pressure medication. A vegetarian diet was also utilised and showed similar tremendous results. One common factor here aside from the employment of healthy diet was a reduction in carbohydrates and sugar.
How can we improve and regenerate our brain and protect against Dementia?
Turns out, physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, and your brain.
The brain is a voracious consumer of glucose and oxygen, with no ability to store excess for later use. A continual supply of these nutrients is needed to maintain optimal functioning.
Physical exercise increases the blood flow to the brain, delivering a boost of fresh oxygen and glucose to hungry brain cells. A 2014 study showed that just 30 minutes of moderate cardio was enough to boost cognitive functioning in adult brains of all ages.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Exercise is believed to stimulate hippocampal neurogenesis: new cell growth in the region of the brain associated with long-term memory and emotions. Healthy cell growth in this region is important to the aging brain, and believed to help prevent cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Healthy Fats/Low Carbs
Most of us need more healthy fats in the diet to protect the brain against dementia, not carbs at the expense of healthy fats. It even looks like the Mayo Clinic, publishing in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, totally agrees.
Researchers reported the results of a study in which they explored the role of diet, as it relates to dementia risk. They followed a group of over 2,000 elderly individuals for close to 4 years and carefully monitored their dietary intake of protein, fat and carbohydrate. The subjects also underwent mental evaluations every 15 months to determine if they were developing any issues related to dementia.
The results of the study were impressive by any measure. The risk of dementia in those at the higher end of the scale, in terms of carbohydrate consumption, increased by close to 90%! Those whose calories came more from fat were found to have a reduced risk of developing dementia by around 44%.
In the discussion section of the report the authors call attention to other studies that relate these dietary parameters to brain health and function. They summarize research describing how reducing carbohydrate consumption is associated with reduced risk of mental decline. In addition, they point out results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealing that a diet with a high percentage of fat is associated with better processing speed, learning and memory while lower processing speed was associated with a diet that favored higher carbohydrate foods. This information is important because beyond looking at risk for developing dementia, it relates diet to moment-to-moment brain function.
Further, the Ketogenic diet (low carb, high healthy fat diet - fats from healthy oils, nuts, eggs, broths (natural, not powdered broths with fats and essential nutrients stripped from them),has been associated with reduced “brain” inflammation and lower belly fat levels. Higher Body Mass Index (BMI) is one of the most significant markers for dementia.
One example is Turmeric. An intriguing study published in the journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy, researchers found that a little-known component within turmeric, Ar-tumerone, may make "a promising candidate to support regeneration in neurologic disease."
The study found that when brain cells were exposed to ar-tumerone, neural stem cells increased in number and complexity, indicating a healing effect was taking place. This effect was replicated in rats, who when exposed to ar-tumerone saw increased neural stem cell production and the generation of healthy new brain cells.
A 2014 paper studying the active compounds in green tea (known as catechins, a main class of micronutrient), determined that green tea catechins are not only antioxidant and neuroprotective, they actually stimulate the brain to produce more neurons.
Because of this therapeutic effect on damaged regions of the brain, green tea has been shown to have exciting implications in the treatment of 'incurable' neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's disease. This prompted researchers to declare green tea catechins "...a highly useful complementary approach.." in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
Further investigation of green tea examined a combination of blueberry, green tea and carnosine, and found it to promote growth of new neurons and brain stem cells, in an animal model of neurodegenerative disease.
Sulfur from Veggies and Grass-Fed Meats/Broths
How about some raw broccoli or perhaps some bok choy in a sulfur-rich beef broth?
A study, published in the journal Genesis, reveals that sulforaphane, found in sulfur-rich foods, in addition to stimulating new nerve growth, has demonstrated significant healing properties as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, as well as preventing disease and death of healthy neurons.
Use Your Brain
Aging is often associated with cognitive decline, both in research and anecdotal evidence. However, a growing body of literature shows that retaining a sharp, lucid brain means never retiring our critical thinking skills.
The need to continually challenge and expand our thinking was demonstrated in the aforementioned 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry. In this study, the leisure time activities of a group of older adults (ages 70-89) were monitored for effect on mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
The study determined that the level of complexity of the activity was key to its effectiveness at preventing MCI. Working with computers, reading books, and activities associated with patterns and problem-solving contributed to a significant decrease in the odds of developing of MCI.
The more stimulating your environment, the more you’re increasing the complexity of your brain.
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