Memory loss is NOT a normal part of aging but is, unfortunately, a common one. According to the Canadian Alzheimer’s Society as of 2015, 47.5 million people worldwide are living with dementia (that’s more than the total population of Canada). Not only is this number growing but so is the cost to healthcare.
Dementia interferes with mental tasks such as memory and reasoning. It may begin as general forgetfulness and progress into confusion (even in familiar settings), trouble keeping track of time, and personality changes.
*It is important to note that dementia is a group of symptoms while Alzheimer’s is a disease and the most common form of dementia. For simplicity, the terms are used interchangeably in this article.
As with many chronic illnesses, Alzheimer’s does have a genetic link. However, many factors contribute to and influence the development of the disease. Advances in neuroscience continue to expand our knowledge about what affects brain function. We have powerful options to optimize brain health and prevent cognitive decline.
The brain is a complex organ. Nutrition not only helps fuel its integrative functions but can also help quench harmful levels of inflammation that are especially damaging to brain tissue.
Omega 3 – these potent anti-inflammatory fatty acids are found in fish, as well as nuts & seeds.
B Vitamins – a deficiency in B12 has been linked to dementia-like symptoms. B12 requires a special enzyme for absorption that is depleted by certain medications, diet, and age. Occasionally intramuscular (into a muscle) injections are required to boost and maintain B12 levels. Other B vitamins are also powerful brain fuel. They can be obtained by consuming a variety of plant based foods including nutritional yeast, leafy greens, other vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
Grains – Recently there has been much debate around the health benefits (or detriments) of eating grains. In Grain Brain, Dr. David Perlmutter presents information suggesting that a low/no grain diet is an essential factor in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s. Did you know that the rate of increase in Alzheimer’s is in sync with the rise in diabetes and that people with diabetes are at a much greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s? In his book he discusses in detail the role inflammation plays in regards to brain health and presents a solid case for strict elimination of refined grains and reducing or avoiding grains all together.
If you want stronger muscles you exercise, lift weights, and eat well. The same goes for the brain. It also needs to be exercised to be strong and fit. In fact, it’s been shown that the brain responds to stimulation the same way that muscles do – it grows and gets stronger! Practicing mindfulness daily is a workout for your brain.
One of my favourite books on the topic is Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. In a well outlined 8 week plan with links to audio recordings, the idea of mindfulness becomes not only a possible but seamless practice to implement. The benefits are tremendous and extend far beyond improved memory and reduced risk of dementia.
Super Brain by Drs. Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi, explains how the power of conscious intention and self-awareness can reduce the risks associated with aging and improve cognitive difficulties including memory loss, anxiety, and depression.
Start practicing mindfulness today!
Genetic Testing & Nutrigenomics
A relatively new but very exciting area of medicine is making connections between genes, nutrition, and health. Nutrigenomics relates a person’s individual DNA patterns and gene mutations to needs for specific nutrients and can help refine a targeted prevention and treatment plan specific to the individual.
In the case of Alzheimer’s, a gene called apo E4 is a high-risk gene for the disease. Expression of this gene can also cause high cholesterol levels and reduced ability to detoxify mercury from brain tissue. Cholesterol control with diet and herbs as well as a chelation plan to support mercury detoxification would be especially important and therapeutic for a person with this gene.
Another gene called MTHFR causes higher folate requirements and often leads to higher than normal levels of homocysteine, a substance that creates inflammation in the body. B12 helps lower homocysteine levels and would be a targeted suggestion for a person with this gene.
In the past the perception has been that our genes write our story. Nutrigenomics is a way to edit certain parts of the story and is quickly becoming an important medical approach that puts the emphasis on the individual rather than the disease.
Regardless of where you fall on the health and wellness spectrum, it’s never too late or too early to take a step towards feeling your best.