Preserving and Promoting Brain Health

The Problem:

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There are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) which will have estimated costs of $277 billion in 2018. AD is the 6th leading cause of death with deaths increasing 123% between 2005 and 2015. 1 in 3 seniors will die from AD which is more than breast and prostate cancers combined. Because an AD diagnosis equally challenges family members and caregivers, 16.1 million Americans provide unpaid care for individuals with AD or other dementias. These caregivers provide an estimated $232 billion in care over an estimated 18.4 billion hours of time. It is estimated that there will be greater than 36 million people with AD by 2050 globally.

Symptoms of memory loss:

  • Poor concentration

  • Losing things

  • Forgetting why you walked into a room

  • Decreased ability to multitask

  • Forget to-do-lists

  • Brain fog

  • Loss of sharpness and productivity

  • Slower response time

  • Decreased ability to learn new things

The Root Cause:

The most common cause of cognitive decline is insulin resistance due to overconsumption of refined carbohydrates. Insulin resistance stores energy and makes us fat while it actually starves the brain. 50% of baby boomers and 30% of all adults are insulin resistant.

Other contributing factors include:

  • Nutrient deficiencies (Vitamin B12, folate, Vitamin D, magnesium, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids)

  • Head injuries

  • Physical inactivity and reduced fitness levels with aging

  • Genetics (APOE-4

  • Unmanaged stress

  • Polypharmacy (37% of Americans age 60 and older are on 5 or more medication)

  • Increase brain toxin exposure (mercury and lead)

Signs of insulin resistance:

Naturopathic brain support
  • Elevated blood pressure

  • Elevated triglycerides

  • Low HDL cholesterol

  • Expanding waistline

  • Increased inflammation (hs-CRP)

  • Elevated blood sugar levels

Which factors predict cognitive function?

  • Fasting glucose levels

  • Fitness (both aerobic and strength measures)

  • Lower body fat

  • Moderate alcohol intake

  • Avoidance of tobacco

  • Nutrient intake (Vitamin D, Folate, Vitamin B12, Magnesium, Fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids)

What is normal cognitive aging?

There is a gradual, nearly linear drop in mental speed, reaction time, and cognitive flexibility each decade after the age of 40. Cognition typically peaks between the age of 30 and 40. Attention and memory do not change linerally and can be maintained into the 80s.

Key Steps to Improve Cognitive Function?

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  • Add brain boosting foods and lower glycemic load

    -Eat more green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy, brussel sprouts)

    -Nitrate rich foods (beets, arugula, spinach)

    -Eat smart fats such as omega-3 rich foods (nuts, seaweed, seafood) 3x weekly with goal of 1,000 mg of DHA & EPA daily

    -Consume more plant pigments to include berries, cherries, cocoa, herbal teas, red wine (moderate consumption)

    -Consume more spices and herbs to include curry, tumeric, paprika, garlic, ginger, chile spices

    -Avoid high glycemic index foods (sugar and flour containing foods: donuts, ice cream, crackers, candy bars, cookies, cakes, rice, pasta, cereal, sweetened beverages, bananas, potatoes)

  • Meet key nutrient needs

    -Vitamin D with an optimal blood level of ~60

    -Low Omega-3: Omega-6 fatty acid ratio

    -Probiotics, your gut is often referred to as your second brain and a diverse ecosystem is important for a healthy microbiome

    -Magnesium (L-threonate form is the best for cognitive health)

    -Multivitamin

    -Also to consider: curcumin, MCT oil, beta hydroxy butyrate, mitochondrial support (CoQ10, alpha lipoic acid, n-acetyl cysteine, carnitine, choline), and nootropic support (bacopa, ginkgo, lion’s mane)

  • Add physical and mental fitness

    -Physical activity increases brain speed and brain volume

    -Physical inactivity and loss of lean muscle mass will cause your brain to shrink

    -Minimum goal of at least 10,000 steps daily

    -Adding more intense aerobic exercise has added benefits, especially interval training

    -Fitness is a better predictor of better brain function, not time spent exercising, so train harder, not necessarily longer

  • Enhance brain function

    -Continuous learning

    -Learn a new language

    -Learn how to play a new instrument

    -Learn to play new complex board or card games (one’s that you are not already good at)

    -Spend at least 1 hour learning something new every day

    -Consider cognitive enhancing computer games such as Brain HQ and Luminosity

  • Alchemize stress

    -Stress is a demand for adaptation, find strategies to help you effectively navigate your stressors

    -Let go of the things you cannot control and do not serve you

    -Get high quality, deep sleep for optimal durations with consistent rhythms

    -Practice mental training with things such as abdominal breathing, meditation, affirmations, journaling

  • Avoid brain toxins

    -Tobacco use

    -Excessive alcohol

    -Pesticides like glyphosate (RoundUp)

    -Mercury (high concentrations in predatory fish such as tuna, marlin, swordfish)

    -Lead

    -Inorganic copper (plumbing and cheap supplements)

    -Nitrosamines (preserved deli meats, bacon, ham)