Archive for June, 2015

June 2, 2015

Supporting Our Brain Health as We Age

A “hidden” epidemic:

The incidence of brain-related disease is on the rise in aging populations. According to a study published by professor Colin Pritchard in the journal Public Health, between 1979 and 2010, brain condition-related deaths in the United States rose 66% in men and 92% in women. Professor Pritchard states: “It is not that we have more old people but rather more old people have more brain disease than ever before, including Alzheimer’s.”

Currently, there are nearly 5.4 million Americans affected by Alzheimer’s disease and 30 million globally.  It is becoming evident that women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s epidemic, with 65% of patients and 60% of caregivers being women. In fact, a woman’s chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease is now greater than her chance of developing breast cancer.

So what do we do with this staggering data?

The good news is that recent studies are revealing strong ties between diet choices and lifestyle habits that can significantly reduce the incidence and severity of dementia and Alzheimer’s in both women and men.  There are advanced testing options to evaluate your nutritional needs and assess your body’s ability to manage environmental toxins. Your doctor can provide guidance in designing a personalized diet and lifestyle plan based on these findings that can help you reduce your risk for brain-related diseases later in life.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia – What’s the cause?

Current research is divided over the ultimate cause of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but some strong associations are coming to light regarding nutrition and Alzheimer’s prevention.  We are learning the importance of blood sugar control in management and prevention of Alzheimer’s.  In fact, some researchers are beginning to refer to Alzheimer’s disease as “type III diabetes” because of the strong relationship between insulin resistance in the brain and evidence of Alzheimer’s progression.

Evaluating your insulin resistance:

The term “insulin resistance” refers to how effectively your body can utilize the sugar you consume.  As your cells become “insulin resistant” you are more inclined to develop poor blood sugar control.  In the past, we were primarily concerned about insulin resistance leading to type II diabetes and increasing risk for heart disease.  We now know that insulin resistance can also lead to cognitive decline and may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.

Advanced testing to evaluate your metabolic processes and determine your personal sensitivity to insulin is often a good starting point. One such test is the MetSyn Test by Genova Diagnostics which utilizes a combination of inflammatory, metabolic, and advanced lipid biomarkers to provide an early assessment for pre-diabetes and progression toward cardio-metabolic syndrome. This test can identify early signs of insulin resistance long before there are any blood sugar changes.  This important information can help with the assessment of your risk for developing dementia and provide the motivation to get a jumpstart on prevention.

Genetic testing:

One genetic risk factor that has been associated with an increased risk of developing early onset Alzheimer’s disease (before age 60) is related to the apolipoprotein E gene (ApoE) found on chromosome 19. ApoE comes in several different forms: ApoE 2, ApoE 3, and ApoE 4.

According to the National Institute on Aging:

  • ApoE 2 is relatively rare and may provide some protection against the disease. If Alzheimer’s disease occurs in a person with this allele, it develops later in life than it would in someone with the ApoE 4 gene.
  • ApoE 3, the most common allele, is believed to play a neutral role in the disease—neither decreasing nor increasing risk for Alzheimer’s.
  • ApoE 4 is present in about 10 to 15 percent of the population and in about 40 percent of all people with late-onset Alzheimer’s. People who develop Alzheimer’s are more likely to have an ApoE 4 allele than people who do not develop the disease.

More than meets the eye:

Environmental toxins exert enormous stress on our bodies and may be one of the causative factors contributing to dementia and Alzheimer’s. When asked what he thought caused the recent increases in brain disease in Western countries, Professor Colin Pritchard said: “Considering the changes over the last 30 years — the explosion in electronic devices, rises in background non-ionising radiation- PC’s, micro waves, TV’s, mobile phones; road and air transport up four-fold increasing background petro-chemical pollution; chemical additives to food, etc. there is no one factor, but rather the likely interaction between all these environmental triggers, reflecting changes in other conditions…there is an ‘epidemic’ that clearly is influenced by environmental and societal changes.”

 

Dietary and lifestyle changes can significantly improve brain health:

Recently, a small study conducted at Buck Institute revealed remarkable success in patients affected by Alzheimer’s disease who participated in a therapeutic program that addressed diet and lifestyle changes. Nine out of ten participants showed reversal of cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease just by altering their diets and making lifestyle changes.

Most of the dietary changes were focused on balancing blood sugar while the lifestyle changes focused on stress reduction.  Although this study was small, it provides promising data linking improved diet and reduced stress with improvement in cognitive health.

So what can you do today?

  1. Speak with your doctor about appropriate testing to evaluate your capacity to manage environmental toxins, your blood sugar control, and your inflammation levels.
  1. Help your body manage day-to-day stress:
  • Meditate daily
  • Sleep 8 hours a night
  1. Take supplements to support cognitive health:
  • Curcumin: protects brain cells and works as a powerful natural anti-inflammatory
  • Ashwagandha and Bacopa monniera: herbs that support healthy cognitive function by promoting circulation and supporting adrenal health
  • Fish oil: provides anti-inflammatory support and promotes brain function
  • Vitamin D3: improves brain function, supports mood (check with your doctor on appropriate dosing for you).
  • Vitamins B6 and B12: essential for healthy neurological function and help convert carbohydrates into energy
  • CoQ10: helps optimize brain cell function by providing energy in the mitochondria
  • Multivitamin
  • Probiotics: improve brain function, support mental focus, reduce depression
  1. Focus on dietary changes that reduce the risk for insulin resistance:
  • Eliminate or greatly reduce your intake of simple carbohydrates and processed foods including sugar, grains, and other starches.
  • Fast for a minimum of 3 hours between dinner and going to bed.
  • Fast a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast

Ultimately, there is still much to be learned in the area of brain health, but the recent increase in incidence of brain-related disease warrants our attention.  As a naturopath, my focus is always on prevention, and recent studies support the importance of making healthy lifestyle and dietary changes today to prevent brain-related diseases later in life.  Speak with your doctor for more information on tailoring a brain-supportive health plan for yourself and your loved ones.

Resources:

  1. Pritchard, C., Mayers, A. and Baldwin, D., 2013. Changing patterns of neurological moartality in the 10 major developed countries – 1979-2010.Public Health.
  2. Dale E. Bredesen, 2014. Reversal of cognitive decline: A novel therapeutic programAging
  3. Suzanne M. de la Monte, M.D., M.P.H.and Jack R. Wands, M.D. 2008. Alzheimer’s Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes–Evidence Reviewed. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology
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