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Reducing the Risk of Alzheimer’s

Reducing the Risk of Alzheimer’s

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A proactive approach to reducing the risk of dementia

Anyone who has watched the health of a love one decline after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease knows all too well the challenges that come with this condition. Not just memory loss, but personality changes, impaired reasoning skills, and even motor issues – dementia slowly erodes one’s independence and ability to fully enjoy life. Thankfully, there are strategies we can implement right now to significantly reduce our risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of cognitive decline. In Part 1 of this two-part series, we look at nutritional and lifestyle factors that help prevent cognitive decline.

Dietary choices that support cognitive health

A diet high in sugar contributes to the development of diabetes and high insulin states, both of which increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Reducing the intake of high glycemic index foods like breads, pasta, desserts, and sugary snacks is therefore essential. Colorful fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Foods like walnuts (which provide healthy fats, protein, vitamin E) and salmon (which provides omega-3 fatty acids) are also beneficial. A higher total intake of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.[1] DHA helps to reduce beta amyloid peptide accumulation and oxidative damage, which are significant contributors to Alzheimer’s disease.[2]

A higher total intake of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

It is also important to eliminate foods that cause inflammation. This includes food allergies and sensitivities, and for some sensitive individuals, foods that are high in histamine like fermented meats and wine.[3] High levels of histamine can increase the blood-brain barrier permeability (or “leakiness” – like “leaky gut“),[4] and can contribute to inflammation and degeneration in the brain.[5] Gluten absolutely should be eliminated for those with celiac disease, as it contributes to the development of cognitive impairment as well as nutritional deficiencies.[6] Consumption of gluten-containing foods in people who do not have celiac disease or a wheat allergy can also contribute to an inflammatory response, and with this foggy thinking.[7]

Nutritional support for a healthy brain

Deficiencies of certain vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Homocysteine levels have been observed to be significantly higher in patients with Alzheimer’s disease,[8] and can be due to deficiencies in vitamin B6, folate, B12, or riboflavin.[9] Homocysteine elevation also is commonly seen in cardiovascular disease and depression, so if either of these are an issue, and even if not, this should be considered.

Vitamin D acts as a hormone and impacts genetic expression and brain health.[10] Zinc has critical functions in the brain, and lack of zinc can cause neuronal death.[11],[12] Low zinc levels are also associated with a poor ability to smell and depression, so if these things are also an issue, supplementation with zinc should be considered.

Tocotrienols, tocopherols, and CoQ10 are fat-soluble, brain-protective antioxidants that support not only the brain, but also healthy blood vessel function and cholesterol balance. As supplements, they may help to reduce the risk of a stroke, which also can cause dementia.[13],[14]

Some of these nutrients such as zinc and vitamin D are appropriate to supplement with only if there is a deficiency, as in excess they can cause problems. CoQ10, tocotrienols, and essential fatty acids are very safe, and may help to reduce cardiovascular disease risk as well.

Lifestyle factors that support cognitive function

Many lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function, possibly even increasing brain volume, and helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.[15] Cognitive stimulation supports brain function,[16] and may include activities such as reading a book, playing a game of cards, or learning a musical instrument or new skill. Healthy sleep is also important for cognitive function and preventing dementia. Melatonin, a natural substance produced in the body that helps to regulate our sleep cycle, also acts as an antioxidant and supports healthy brain function.

Melatonin, a natural substance produced in the body that helps to regulate our sleep cycle, also acts as an antioxidant and supports healthy brain function.

Eliminating smoking and excessive alcohol intake also should be a part of a dementia prevention protocol. Cigarette smoking contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease and hypertension, both of which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic use of alcohol in excess can lead to high blood sugar and nutritional deficiencies. On a longer-term basis, alcohol excess and these nutritional deficiencies may promote memory problems as well as Alzheimer’s disease.

It takes a village

We sometimes neglect the importance of community and the impact of happiness on our overall health. Grief and loneliness can eat away not only at our mood, but also many aspects of our physical health and well-being. Being active and finding a community with which you resonate serves a far greater purpose than just passing the time. Community can give life, purpose, and meaning. Seeking out community becomes especially important in an aging population as the passing of a partner or lifelong friends becomes more commonplace. Many activities such as playing cards, learning to dance, or taking a group exercise class not only stimulate the brain, but provide community as well.

Continue reading Part 2 to learn more about additional supplements that support cognitive health and a reduced risk of dementia. Also, you may want to listen to Dr. Decker’s live interview with Natural Medicine Journal on the topic of cognitive health titled “A Proactive Approach to Reducing Dementia Risk: Maintaining a Healthy Brain Today, Tomorrow, and Years to Come.

Choline and brain health

The brain is comprised of fatty tissue and especially rich in phosphatidylcholine (PC). The body can synthesize PC from a substance called citicoline, also known as CDP-choline.[1] Citicoline and phosphatidylcholine both support the integrity and functionality of the brain. Choline, which can be derived from either of these substances, enhances synthesis of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in memory and learning.

Citicoline has been studied in populations having memory-related issues ranging from mild cognitive impairment to vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A comprehensive review of 14 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials found that citicoline has positive effects on memory and behavior in the short to medium term, and recommended that studies of longer duration be conducted.[2] Citicoline has even been shown to significantly improve cognitive performance and other parameters associated with brain health in individuals with a significant genetic-associated risk of developing dementia.[3]

Botanicals that support the brain

Because inflammation plays a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, supplements that help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress can be helpful. This is one mechanism via which things like essential fatty acids may support cognitive health as well.[4]

Curcumin has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and accumulation of the beta amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.[5] Curcumin has been shown to improve working memory,[6] attention, and reduce cognitive decline in healthy elderly patients,[7] and studies have also shown it helps to reduce depression as well.[8] Of course, making sure the curcumin is bioavailable is important: research suggests that the best bioavailability can be obtained with a molecular dispersion process that enhances the water dispersion of fat-soluble ingredients. This technique yields six times higher absorption than the commonly used curcumin phytosome found in many supplements.[9]

Curcumin has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and accumulation of the beta amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Huperzine A, an extract from the club moss Huperzia serrata, acts as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, which also happens to be one mechanism of medications which address dementia. Huperzine A also may help prevent dementia by decreasing production of the beta amyloid plaques,[10] and has been shown to protect the cells in the brain from oxidative stress and dysfunction by other mechanisms as well.[11] Huperzine A has been shown to significantly improve cognitive function in people with vascular dementia,[12] as well as cognition, mood, and performance of day-to-day activities in those with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.[13],[14]

Ginkgo biloba also has been studied in many clinical trials in the setting of dementia. As a botanical, we think of it being a go-to herb for supporting the microcirculation, which also is important for cognitive function. Ginkgo is protective in part due to its antioxidant effects,[15] and supports circulation in the small vessels by reducing platelet activation and aggregation as well as stimulating the release of endothelium-derived relaxation factor.[16] Ginkgo has been shown to improve cognitive function,[17] memory,[18] and even balance, which is also something that can be an issue with Alzheimer’s disease.[19]

Ginkgo has been shown to improve cognitive function, memory, and even balance, which is also something that can be an issue with Alzheimer’s disease.

Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) has a long history of traditional use for supporting the health of the nerves (including those in the brain). We now know it induces the secretion of nerve growth factor, a substance in the body that signals for the nerves to grow.[20] Lion’s mane has been shown to significantly increase cognitive function scores,[21] as well as reduce depression and anxiety.[22] It can also be of benefit in alleviating peripheral neuropathy (weakness, numbness, or pain in the hands and feet) which often can occur with age due to diabetes, vitamin B12 deficiency, or unknown causes.[23] Like many of the medicinal mushrooms, it may also protect against certain forms of cancer.[24],[25]

French maritime pine bark extract has been the topic of over 400 PubMed indexed studies. This extract from the French maritime pine has been shown to improve cognitive function, attention, mental performance, and working memory.[26],[27],[28] It also positively impacts blood pressure,[29] cholesterol balance,[30] and blood sugar, all of which may mitigate the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.[31],[32]

For many, a combination of nutritional supplements, diet and lifestyle choices, and directed botanical support can support healthy function of the brain today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

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