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Posts Tagged ‘Brain health’

Concussions triple suicide risk

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While concussions have gained attention for their link to dementia, did you know they also increase the risk for suicide? Just one concussion can triple the long-term risk of suicide in otherwise healthy people.

Although brain-injured football players have been receiving all the attention lately, the typical concussion patient is a middle-aged adult. Most concussions happen during traffic accidents, falls at home, and in other everyday situations.

study looked at a quarter-million subjects who had been diagnosed with a mild concussion during the last 20 years. Researchers found suicide occurred at three times the norm in this population. They also found that on average suicide occurred nearly six years after the concussion. Also, the risk increased with additional concussions.

Why does a concussion increase suicide risk? 

In functional medicine we know a concussion causes brain inflammation, from which the patient may never fully recover. Unlike the body’s immune system, the brain’s immune system does not shut off once triggered. As a result, unchecked brain inflammation damages and destroys healthy brain cells.

Brain inflammation is tied to various brain-based disorders, including depression and mental illness. In fact, a 2014 study concluded that sustaining a head injury leads to a greater risk of mental illness later in life.

When patients fail to employ strategies to dampen brain inflammation, post-concussive inflammation continues its crawl through the brain like a slow-burning fire, consuming neurons in its path. This can go on for years after the concussion, impacting mood, memory, and general function.

What’s more, thanks to intimate communication between the brain and the gut, a concussion often impacts gut health and function. Many people report the onset of digestive issues after a concussion.

This is bad news because research shows an inflamed and unhealthy gut is directly linked to depression, giving post-concussive patients a double whammy of depression-inducing inflammation that travels back and forth between the gut and the brain.

Functional medicine strategies for concussions 

For every person who dies from suicide, many others think about it or suffer from chronic depression. 

This study shows a clear need for better long-term care of patients with concussion.

Fortunately, functional medicine offers many strategies to reduce brain inflammation and lower the risk of mood disorders such as depression after a concussion:

  • Stabilizing blood sugar
  • Removing inflammatory triggers from the diet (such as gluten) or the environment (such as synthetic scents or toxic cleaning products)
  • Improving gut health and gut bacteria diversity
  • Identifying and addressing autoimmune diseases, situations where the body’s immune system attacks body tissue, creating chronic inflammation. Autoimmune reactions in the brain are more common than people realize.
  • Addressing chronic infections.
  • Improving blood flow and oxygenation flow in the brain.
  • Stabilizing hormones.
  • Using nutritional compounds to reduce inflammation in the brain.

These are among the foundations of functional medicine that can make the difference between a post-concussive downward spiral or be the springboard to a more brain-healthy way of living. 

If life hasn’t been the same since your concussion, ask my office how functional medicine strategies can help.

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Do your fingers whir across the keyboard, but your brain is left in the dust? One small but effective way to improve brain health is as simple as putting a pen to paper for a little bit each day. Research shows that although keyboards make writing fast and easy, they also make for sloppier brain function compared to handwriting.

Handwriting has been phased out of everyday life and school curriculums. Studies show many people can’t remember the last time they had to write something by hand and many children don’t know how to properly hold a pen or pencil because it’s barely taught in school.

This is bad news for our brains, say experts. The reason it takes children several years to learn how to write is because writing requires so many different areas of the brain to work simultaneously, enhancing development.

Likewise, college students who take notes by hand understand the material better than computer note takers. Note taking by hand requires more focus and discernment, enhancing memory, while taking notes on a laptop note can turn into mindless transcription.

In fact, taking notes by computer actually impairs the learning process while handwriting enhances it, thanks to the motor skills involved.

Why handwriting is better for the brain

Neuroscience has discovered a variety of reasons why handwriting is better for the brain than typing.

  • It activates learning pathways in the brain.
  • It stimulates more ideas and creativity.
  • Cursive writing can help remedy dyslexia.
  • Taking notes by hand improves memory.
  • A handwritten piece has more personality than something type written, thus improving human connection.
  • Handwriting involves fine motor skills that involve more areas of the brain in the learning process.

Perhaps those missing out most on the neurological benefits of handwriting are the children who barely learn it. Cursive writing is largely no longer being taught and keyboard proficiency takes precedence over writing after first grade.

Brain scans of children learning letters through writing versus through typing showed writing activates various parts of the brain while typing hardly activates it at all. In other words, those messy first stabs at writing that gradually improve with practice are building neurological foundations that make learning easier and more enduring.

Handwriting improves overall health

Because it boosts brain function, handwriting can improve your health. You can further supercharge the benefits of handwriting based on what you write about  Using specific journaling practices will not only give you the benefits of handwriting but the content of your writing can help you better manage your health. Look what studies below show.

  • Writing down your thoughts and feelings can make your wounds heal faster.
  • Writing 20 minutes a day improves quality of life for patients with cancer.
  • People who keep a gratitude journal are more optimistic and exercise more.
  • Writing down what you’re grateful for at night can improve sleep.
  • Expressive writing has been shown to improve mental and physical well-being.

Whether you keep a gratitude journal, take class notes by hand, or commit to regularly writing an older relative handwritten letters, handwriting is a small but effective way to boost your quality of life.

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PQQ

By now you’ve probably heard of CoQ10 and it’s anti-aging potential. The newest discovery in the anti-aging world is PQQ (pyrroloquinoline quinone). PQQ works inside your cells like CoQ10 by defending them from damage. But what sets PQQ apart is that it can also energize your cells so they function better. This is done by PQQ’s ability to enhance mitochondrial function.

Mitochondria are tiny compartments inside the body’s cells that are often referred to as the cell’s batteries or energy factories. Just as low battery power can cause the lights on a flashlight to slowly dim, so can poor mitochondrial function drain us of energy and function.

PQQ and aging

Poor mitochondrial function is a key marker of aging. Research shows people over the age of 70 have 50 percent more mitochondrial damage in the brain than those who are middle-aged. Mitochondrial dysfunction is also linked to chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and dementia and Alzheimer’s.

PQQ is found in the natural world, including in plants and even in stardust. However, because we cannot synthesize it ourselves we depend on getting it from out diets, which makes it an essential micronutrient. Studies show that animals deprived of PQQ exhibit stunted growth, poor immunity, reproductive problems, and fewer mitochondria in their tissues. Putting PQQ back into their diets reversed these issues.

PQQ is also unique because it is a very stable antioxidant, which means it can perform it’s cellular defense duties without breaking down. It has been shown to be especially effective in the heart and the brain, the body’s two most energy-demanding organs.

PQQ and the brain

Studies of PQQ have shown it can optimize the health of the entire central nervous system, reverse cognitive impairment, improve memory, help in stroke recovery, slow the damage caused by neurodegenerative disease  and help protect the brain from toxicity, such as from mercury.

Because of its many protective roles, researchers and clinicians are looking at PQQ’s preventive role in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. One study on aging rats showed supplementation with PQQ resulted in significantly improved memory. Studies on humans showed supplementation of 20 mg a day of PQQ improved cognition in middle-aged and elderly people. The improvements were amplified when they also took 300 mg a day of CoQ10 in addition to the PQQ.

PQQ and the heart

PQQ appears to help protect the heart after a heart attack and from oxidative stress in general, thanks to its ability to support mitochondrial function.

To learn more about PQQ and how it may help you, contact my office.

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2 7 sugar makes you stupid

A recently published UCLA study shows what many have suspected all along: Eating too much sugar makes you stupid. Scientists found that just six weeks of bingeing on sweets and soda will sabotage both learning and memory. Fortunately, consuming omega-3 fatty acids can counteract some of the damage.

The study looked at the effects of fructose — in the form of cane sugar (sucrose), high-fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup — which is found in the American diet in everything from soft drinks to baby food. A whopping 156 pounds of sugar per year is what the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates an average American consumes, including 82 pounds of fructose, the sugar that was studied. In total, we Americans are consuming 150 more pounds of sugar per year than we did in 1822. Put another way, our sugar consumption has increased by almost a pound of sugar per person per year. Every year. That’s a lot of sugar.

Sugar lowers the brain chemical needed for memory

While sugar’s role in obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, and even Alzheimer’s Disease has been established, this is the first study to show how sweeteners directly affect the brain.

Sugar reduces the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a brain chemical necessary for the formation of memories and for learning and recall. As expected, those with diabetes or pre-diabetes (insulin resistance) show lowered levels of BDNF. Additional research links low BDNF levels to depression and dementia.

DHA can help protect the brain from sugar damage

In the UCLA study, two groups of rats were given a fructose solution for six weeks in addition to their regular feed. One group of rats also received omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flax seed oil and DHA, an omega-3 compound that protects the brain from damage and facilitates memory and learning.

The rats were trained to learn a maze in five days. After six weeks of being given the sugar solution, they were then put back into the maze to test their memory. The rats that received the omega-3 oil and DHA were able to negotiate the maze much faster. The brains of the DHA-deprived rats showed a decline in synaptic function, poor communication between neurons, and worsened memory. These rats also developed a resistance to insulin, a hormone necessary not only for blood sugar regulation but also for brain function. Insulin controls synaptic function, and so imbalances in insulin may disrupt neurons and cause memory loss.

The study clearly suggests that fructose impairs memory and learning. It also suggests that a daily intake of DHA, such as through salmon, walnuts, flax seed, or a supplement, can help protect the brain from the harmful effects of sugar.

DHA cannot stand up to 156 pounds of sugar

Of course, simply adding more DHA to your diet isn’t going to counteract the damage of eating 156 pounds of sugar a year. The best way to stay smart is to cut out the sweeteners and moderate your carbohydrate intake to a level that doesn’t disrupt blood sugar balance. A bonus side effect of this lifestyle change is a way out of your daily energy highs and lows, and who knows, maybe even a dropped pound or two.

For help getting started on a brain-healthy diet, contact my office.

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