Brain disease. Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s. ALS. Autism. These disorders rob us and our loved ones of their precious minds and understandably strike fear into the hearts of most of the population. So many broken brains and the sad part is that conventional medicine only provides a pill without offering many lifestyle changes. However there is hope. A preventative and mindful lifestyle works to prevent the loss of neurons, the accumulation of toxic brain proteins and to reverse memory loss. It turns out that most of the emerging studies do validate the efficacy of a clean lifestyle in preventing brain disease.
The Far Reaching Effects of Brain Disease:
30 million people worldwide suffer from Alzheimers and other forms of dementia. Just in the United States alone, 5.3 million people suffer from this specific dementia. Thats one in 8 Americans over the age fo 65. This number doesn’t even include other neurocognitive disorders like Parkinson’s, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), autism, Lewy Body dementia, Vascular Dementia (think strokes), Multiple System Atrophy, or Multiple Sclerosis. The burden of these diseases cost the US economy billions of dollars each yearin direct healthcare costs as well as lost opportunities. For example, its estimated that 100 billion dollars per year is spent on Alzheimer’s disease alone! But the emotional and financial price placed on families of brain disorder victims is often not taken into account.
You may ask how autism and Parkinsons could be similar, but they are both are malfunctioning of the central nervous system that lead to cognitive difficulties and understanding. Although we are focusing on the elderly population in this particular blog, some of these remedies may also be entertained for younger patients suffering from brain disorders.
It may seem as if these diagnoses are increasing….and they are, but theres a couple different reasons for that. First, the baby boomer generation is rapidly aging and there is an absolute link to increasing age and likelihood of a brain disease diagnosis. Modern medicine has adopted screening tests which capture more diagnoses than ever before. We even know a few genetic mutations that predispose us to developing brain diseases. However the environmental risk factors are ever increasing and cannot be ignored if we wish to truly help curb this frightening disorder that robs us of our essence. I want to stress that the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative conditions is still largely a mystery.
What Is Brain Disease?
Neurodegenerative diseases result from the gradual and progressive loss of neural cells or the myelin sheath, the covering over the nerve cells, all leading to nervous system dysfunction.
Whats interesting is the environment is often implicated in causing cancer. Cancer is the proliferation of unchecked growth among cells, whereas neurodegeneration is the loss of cells. They feel like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Luckily, research is now heavily focused on environmental triggers and toxins’ potential for damaging the nervous system.
I’ll never forget when my grandpa was diagnosed with Lewy Body’s dementia. This was in the early 2000’s so a diagnosis wasn’t immediate and we all knew something was terribly wrong. Papaw Charlie just wasnt himself anymore. I was in high school when he began to claim a small dark hair girl was running wild through his house and interrupting his morning coffee. His wild delusions even fooled us at first. Things progressed quickly, however, and one night my mom even had to rush out to his house after he’d packed his bags and told everyone that aliens were coming to abduct him that night….and he was ready. By the time, he didn’t really smile anymore and had a shuffling gait, we had our diagnosis.
Lewy Body dementia is characterized by abnormal dopamine loss, accumulation of Lewy Body proteins and inclusions in the brain. It is the second most common form of dementia behind Alzheimers and the symptoms are a mix of Parkinson’s and Alzheimers. Patients, just like my grandpa, have masked facies, a shuffling gait, are a falls risk, have visual hallucinations, delusions and sometimes, violent behavior due to cognitive decline. It was not easy to watch him slip away, but the shell of his body remain. The saddest part about it all is that evidence indicates that it could be preventable, despite genetic mutations.
Symptoms of Early Cognitive Decline:
Early cognitive defects can be difficult to recognize initally. Get help for yourself or a loved one if you recognize:
Memory Loss, mostly short term
Difficulty with word finding
Visual perception or hallucinations
Reasoning and judgment issues
Inappropriate frustration or unexplained anger
The Gut-Brain Connection
If I stress anything with my patients, my social media community and within my own scope of practice, it is the gut-brain connection. It is so complicated and we are just now understanding the implications of it. The brain and the gut communicate intimately and bidirectionally with the gut sending many more messages to the brain than the brain does to the gut. They are connected. In fact, in embryology, they originate from the same group of cells and then separate to form the brain and gut. No matter how far apart, we are now learning they are forever connected. So if your gut is a mess, then this likely means your brain is at risk too. Sugar and the standard American diet are likely culprits in the cause of many patients’ brain fog.
What Environmental Triggers Can Be Avoided? Whats the Answer?
Causes of brain deterioration are often multifactorial so answers are not straightforward. Here are some of my best tips for keeping your brain as healthy and sharp as possible.
“Two forms of fat that are vitally important for brain health are cholesterol and saturated fat.” -Dr David Perlmuter, author of Grain Brain
- Dietary: DON’T: Eat a diet high in processed carbs and refined sugar. Eliminate high fructose corn syrup, processed foods, food additives, and trans fats. This has been shown to promote inflammation and predispose some people to developing neurocognitive decline. DO: Eat an organic diet high in good fats like seeds, nuts, avocados, olive or coconut oils as well as a plethora of organic fruits and vegetables. Medium chain triglycerides found in coconut oil are easier for the brain to break down than the long chain triglycerides that are more commonly found. Healthy fats feed the brain and keep it functioning properly because over 60% of the brain is made up of DHA, an omega 3 or healthy fat. They provide a back door of energy for the brain. Omega 3, like DHA, can increase mental clarity and focus. When I check for omega 3’s on labwork, the majority of people are low! Omega 3 fatty acids can drastically improve mood, memory and clarity. Protein is also extremely important for a properly functioning brain and for that matter, healthy skin. Aim for 25-30 grams of protein per meal.
- Hormonal: If you suffer from a thyroid condition, an estrogen dominance, or low testosterone than this can also affect your mood, vitality, mental clarity and even personality. Many of these conditions can predispose patients to panic attacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and apathy. Be diligant about seeking out a healthcare provider who is willing to look beyond standard testing and check for sex hormone abnormalities too, not just a run of the mill thyroid panel (although thats important too). Many hormones are made and recycled through the gut. Melatonin is partially made in the gut. Serotonin is made in the gut. A large portion of our immune systems are housed in the gut. It is often responsible for our insomnia, anxiety, lowered immunity, and depression. So if your diet isn’t a whole foods diet, try to make changes quickly. Its important for thyroid disease patients to cut out soy and gluten as well. Ridding your home of toxic cleaning products, personal care products, makeup and perfumes that are not natural can also improve hormonal abnormalities. Supplementing with iodine and selenium may also improve thyroid function but be sure to check with a healthcare professional before adding in any supplementation.
- Don’t Lower Your Cholesterol Too Much: The medical system has demonized cholesterol over the years. We have all been bombarded with statin commercials for drugs like Lipitor. I remember hearing doctors in echo chambers stating that everyone should be on a statin and that “cholesterol could never be too low.” How wrong we were. Low cholesterol is a risk factor in developing neurodegenerative conditions. Cholesterol is actually found in the brain-about 25% of the total . In fact, many hormones, like progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, testosterone, and vitamin D are made from cholesterol. To lower it beyond its means, may lead to hormonal depletions, which can lead to brain fog, mental decline and aging. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry showed that in the elderly, the best memory function was observed in those with the highest levels of cholesterol!
- Screen for Diabetes: Believe it or not, high blood sugars can wreak havoc on brain health by causing inflammation. This happens because when your sugar is consistently high, more insulin is secreted to try to counter it but the problem is… insulin is super inflammatory. Sugars also change the protein structure throughout the body, adding even more inflammation, which the brain is particularly susceptible to. An anti inflammatory diet full of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, healthy fats and lean proteins. Get your A1c checked and look for warning signs of diabetes like excessive thirst, urination, dizziness, blurry vision and fatigue. Anti-inflammaory herbs and supplements include curcumin/turmeric, alpha lipoic acid, cat’s claw, grape seed extract, frankincense, and CBD oil. Metformin is not a terrible route to treat type 2 diabetes. Natural remedies that also are effacacious include berberine, cinnamon, chromium, and alpha lipoic acid.
- Test for Pollutants/Heavy Metals: I always advise my patients with cognitive symptoms to be checked for heavy metal toxicities that are often overlooked and unexpected. Lead paints, mercury amalgams, pesticide exposure, and the increasing vaccination schedule all add to the heavy metal load in our bodies. It is wise to look into heavy metal analysis via hair sampling, oral chelation with herbal supplementation. Cilantro with chlorella is also helpful.
- Don’t Forget About Infections: Yep, pathogens like Epstein Barr virus, Lyme, Bartonella, Strep and candida can lie dormant or exist in biofilms, which remain hidden from the body’s defenses. They use heavy metals as an inflammatory shield. The heavy metals create inflammation that allows the pathogens to take over the body’s defenses. The immune system can have a hard time getting a hold on the infection, depending on your specific genes and predispositions. I personally believe that many of these pathogens remain hidden due to our lack of lab capabilities and they could be responsible for chronic diseases. We don’t understand why most chronic diseases manifest, however science is getting closer. Recent studies have even suggested that Epstein Barr Virus is behind thyroid disease.
I want you to know that you can prevent many of the neurodegenerative conditions. Most chronic illnesses are preventable, sadly. The power lies with you and your daily choices. Make self loving choices that your future self will thank you for later!
You are your own best doctor.