I think we all want to live a long time, but we want our brains to keep functioning at a high level, right? The old saying “you want to be all there when you get there” couldn’t be closer to the truth for all of us.
Moderate cognitive decline is common as we age, forgetting some people’s names, a name of a movie, or the name of an old boyfriend, but what you start to see with dementia is pretty scary. Confusion in the evening hours, disorientation, inability to speak or understand language, making things up, anxiety over changes in the environment, mental confusion, or inability to recognize common things. Have you known someone who has started to decline cognitively?
My Mom developed Alzheimer’s in her early seventies. Hers went pretty quickly, or so we thought, but in looking back we can now see signs of decline years before. She would get irritable easily, anxious, picking at her face, angry outbursts, anxiety about changes in her environment, and making up stories. We now know so much more and the good news is we now know things that can prevent or slow down cognitive decline.
Inflammation on the Brain
Have you heard of the “Glymphatic System?” For years, the brain was thought to be separate from the lymphatic system. But now we know that’s not true, and that the brain has an incredible connection to the immune system, called the glymphatic system, that helps the brain detoxify and receive valuable nutrients.
Chronic immune activation in the brain causes something called “neuroinflammation.” You have more than likely heard of inflammation being the root cause of so many age-related diseases, but for some reason, we think of the brain as this separate entity that acts differently.
This immune response is caused by a perceived toxin. This leads to chronic immune activation in the brain that’s affecting brain cells, creating free radicals, creating oxidative stress, and damage in the brain. Over time, this can lead to a number of conditions. It can lead to cognitive decline. It can lead to something called brain fog. If you’ve had chemotherapy, you often will experience something called “chemo brain.” This is an inflamed brain responding to the toxins from the chemo.
The microglia are our immune cells of the brain that respond to the toxins such as drugs, excess sugar, or heavy metals to name a few. Inflammation can start “outside” the brain from these same offenders, but what we now know is this inflammation can create a “leaky brain.”
You’ve more than likely heard of “leaky gut”, but have you heard of the leaky brain? When we have a leaky brain, the lining that protects the brain becomes porous, and inflammation from the body, that’s systemic or chronic in the body, can begin to affect the brain, as well, and can trigger this glia or this microglia, these immune cells in our brain, to chronically turn on. It’s like having an auto-immune disorder of the brain.
Turning Down the Inflammation
In Dr. Bredesen’s book, “The End of Alzheimer’s” he shares the results of his first clients using this protocol. Of the first ten patients on the protocol, nine displayed significant improvement within 3-6 months; since then the protocol has yielded similar results with hundreds more. He lays out 36 metabolic factors that can contribute to Alzheimer’s including sleep, hormones, and a diet low in micro-nutrients. It’s an incredible breakthrough on how to prevent and even reverse Alzheimer’s.
This is the foundation of any anti-inflammatory program. You can spend a small fortune on supplements, but if you don’t change your diet it’s a waste of money.
Since my mother died of Alzheimer’s and my husband’s father died of Alzheimer’s, you can imagine we were a little concerned. I have been trained as a Nutrigenomics Practitioner and ran full genetic panels on each of us.
We now know that there is a specific gene that increases your risk for Alzheimer’s. That gene is called an APOE e4 gene. Having at least one APOE e4 gene increases your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease two- to threefold. If you have two APOE e4 genes, your risk is even higher, approximately eight- to twelvefold. But not everyone who has one or even two APOE e4 genes develops Alzheimer’s disease!
This is where the field of Epigenetics comes in. We now know that we can have a “bad” gene, but we can influence that gene to not express itself. Having your nutrigenomic testing done allows you to see what areas of your body you will want to support with diet and targeted supplements. You can see if you need to be super vigilant with detox foods, if you have poor detox genes, you can see if you need extra Vitamin D, if you have a mutated vitamin D gene, you can see if you should avoid gluten and more.
The best-studied low-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet. A diet full of colorful, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, clean proteins in moderate amounts, healthy fats like olive oil and omega 3 oils, and plenty of sunshine! If you are puzzled about what to eat, I would highly recommend you start with the Mediterranean diet.
How do you turn on the Glymphatic system in the brain? Well, you actually support it to do what it does every night, with good, sound sleep. Studies have shown that the glymphatic system ramps up during sleep. Very similar to the detoxification system of the body, primarily the liver, which turns on at night.
I hear from so many people that they have trouble sleeping, especially as they age. There are so many factors involved with getting a good nights sleep but here are my top tips:
- Wear blue-blocker glasses starting at least 2 hours before bedtime. So many of us watch TV, get on the computer or read on a Kindle, all lit with blue-light which interrupts our melatonin production. Blue blocker glasses “block” this blue light and fool our bodies into believing the sun has gone down.
- Morning sunlight, if possible as it’s rising. Getting out on a patio, going for a walk, or if you are driving to work when the sun is coming up, don’t wear your sunglasses. This is the beginning of your brain making serotonin that gets converted to melatonin in the evening.
- Drink only occasionally. Many research papers show alcohol at night interferes with the sleep cycle. Remember it’s sugar, so the same goes for sugary foods, nothing after dinner.
- Magnesium is a mineral that a large majority of people are low in. Taking a magnesium supplement one hour before bed can relax the body. If you have a “busy brain” that won’t shut off, try Magnesium Threonate (Mag-Mind by Jarrow).
For an in-depth deep dive into sleep, Dr. Mark Hyman is offering his sleep master class for FREE right now! Go here to register Sleep Course
When I went to research supplements for dementia, 405 substances had been researched for dementia! So, what I want to share are the top five.
- #1 Turmeric – no surprise here, a great anti-inflammatory and can be part of your daily regime, either fresh root in a smoothie or a supplement.
- #2 Ginsenosides are the major constituents of ginseng. Ginsenosides have unique biological activity and medicinal value, such as antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidation, and inhibition of cell apoptosis.
- #3 Resveratrol – no doubt you’ve heard of this as a super antioxidant that’s found in foods such as peanuts, pistachios, grapes, red and white wine, blueberries, cranberries, and even cocoa and dark chocolate.
- #4 Berberine and Melatonin – these were tied for the number of research papers relating to Alzheimer’s. Berberine is very helpful for lowering blood sugar (as effective as Metformin) and we know that sugar causes inflammation in the brain. Melatonin? Get that sleep cycle working and you’ll make plenty of it, or you can supplement?
- #5 Huperzine and Flavonoids were also tied. The research on Huperzine suggest 300 mcg to 500 mcg daily if taking a supplement. Flavonoids are a big family and are found primarily in berries, “red” foods like grapes, red cabbage, and red wine. Kale, dark chocolate, and onions also contain high levels of flavonoids.
As you can imagine, I could write a couple more pages on the benefits found in these research papers. The take-away here is, eat a diet high in colorful fruits and vegetables, sleep good and get some sun for a start.
Problems with Drugs
I want to finish this article by sharing with you something you may not have thought about, and that is the prescription medication you are on may be leading to cognitive decline.
Oftentimes one will read studies of something like a medication that touts wonderful benefits. Many medications, however, increase all-cause mortality rather than decreasing it. A recent study reported that a wide range of medications have an anticholinergic effect which increases the risk of cognitive impairment by 46% over 6 years. A chart that allows one to tally up the total ACB or Anticholinergic Cognitive Burden has been developed. Each one-point increase in the ACB scale has been correlated with a 26% increase in the risk of death over a two year period in at least one study.
The average American over the age of seventy years is on nine to thirteen medications. If you want to look up the ACB scale to see which medications are on the list you can go to ABC Scale
Time to Get Serious?
I think this past year with the fear of COVID and the lock-downs many folks have re-considered their crazy busy lifestyles. Stress is a huge driver of inflammation in the body but excess fat on the body is even worse. Don’t wait until you have a diagnosis of auto-immune, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or the beginning of dementia, decide now that it is time to take your health into your own hands and prevent these diseases that can steal your “golden year.”
If you are ready to jump start your weight-loss and gently detox your body, get into my 10 Day Detox and get started now!
- Polyphenols and Longevity, May 9, 2021, McAfee, James CCN, http://imageawareness.blogspot.com/2021/05/cause-mortality-polyphenols-and.html
- Anticholinergic Medication Use and Cognitive Impairment in the Older Population: The Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study, June 24, 2011,https://agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2011.03491.x
- Green Med Info, https://www.greenmedinfo.com/disease/alzheimers-disease
- 5 Take-a-ways from my Broken Brain Series, Hyman, Mark, M.D., https://drhyman.com/blog/2019/04/15/5-takeaways-from-my-broken-brain-2-docu-series/
- How Many Pills do Your Elderly Patients Take Each Day?, 10/4/2010, https://www.hcplive.com/view/how-many-pills-do-your-elderly-patients-take-each-day