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Posts Tagged ‘dementia’

sleep wake cycle and dementia copy

Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you fall asleep around 2 or 3 a.m. and sleep until noon? Or do you wake up at 4 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep?

Studies show insomnia does more than make the days drag — it raises your risk of dementia later in life. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mood disturbances, constipation, prostate cancer, and breast cancer have all been linked with poor sleep.

Poor sleep is a growing problem, as is dementia. Twenty percent of the population is estimated to sleep too little (less than 6 hours a night). Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder today, affecting 64 million people, and one in three people over 65 will die of dementia.

Researchers found a particularly strong link between poor rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dementia. These people do not go into the deep enough REM sleep that induces paralysis. Instead, they have vivid, violent dreams that they act out through punching, kicking, screaming, and even jumping out of bed.

Sixty-three percent of people with this REM disorder develop dementia or Parkinson’s later in life.

The sleep wake cycle and dementia risk

Our circadian rhythm regulates our sleep/wake cycles — when we feel tired at night and alert in the morning. A healthy circadian rhythm is tied to daylight and darkness and governs sleeping and waking.

However, when this sleep/wake cycle becomes overly imbalanced, your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases increases.

This is because the area of the brain that governs the circadian rhythm, the hippocampus, also plays a role in short-term memory and learning. The hippocampus is the first area of the brain to degenerate in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Constant problems with your cycles of sleeping and waking could point to problems in the hippocampus and an increased risk of dementia later in life.

The sleep-wake cycle and dementia

Researchers have found the risk of dementia was higher in older women with weak circadian rhythms, and tracking circadian rhythms over time has been shown to predict cognitive decline in older adults.

Are you at risk for dementia later in life?

How do you know if your circadian rhythm is off balance? Look at whether you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Not feeling rested after sleep
  • Poor recovery from exercise
  • Drop of energy between 4 –7 p.m.

Preventing dementia by supporting sleep

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to better regulate your circadian rhythm and lower the risk for dementia. A primary tactic is to regulate cortisol, an adrenal stress hormone. Studies show high cortisol from constant physical or mental stress degenerates the hippocampus.

Stress isn’t just a lifestyle issue. Stress is also be caused by blood sugar swings, inflammation  food intolerances, hormone imbalances, and other metabolic issues. Inflammation in particular is associated with degeneration of the hippocampus. High homocysteine on a blood panel, a telltale sign of inflammation, is one way to determine whether inflammation is undermining your brain health.

Inflammation and dementia

A primary way to normalize the circadian rhythm and reduce your risk of dementia is to reduce inflammation. Your diet is the first places to start. This includes removing foods to which you are sensitive (gluten and dairy are among the more common), stabilizing your blood sugar, and eliminating processed foods.

Ask us about an anti-inflammatory diet, improving sleep, and other tools to lower the risk of dementia.

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eat greens to save memory copy

Memory loss and dementia are valid concerns for everyone these days: one in three seniors dies of Alzheimer’s or dementia and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Fortunately, dementia is largely preventable with many lifestyle and dietary adjustments, one of which is including plenty of greens in your diet.

New research shows eating plenty of spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens can help slow cognitive decline. Researchers believe the high vitamin K content in these vegetables plays a role in preserving brain health.

The study tracked almost 1,000 older adults during five years and saw significantly less cognitive decline in participants who ate leafy green vegetables.

In fact, the elders who ate one to two servings a day of leafy greens had the cognitive ability of someone 11 years younger.

Researchers credited not only the vitamin K in leafy greens for slowing cognitive decline, but also lutein and beta-carotene. Other brightly colored fruits and vegetables are also high in these vitamins.

Vitamins aren’t the only brain benefits of leafy greens — greens promote healthy gut bacteria

The vitamins in leafy greens aren’t their only benefits.

For one, leafy greens are also rich in fiber, which are good for the gut. Plenty of dietary fiber not only prevents constipation, but it also supports the healthy bacteria in your gut. People who eat diets high in plant fiber show a more beneficial composition of gut bacteria compared to those who eat a typical western diet.

Scientists have increasingly been discovering how vital beneficial gut bacteria are to brain health. For instance, healthy gut bacteria promote the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, the lining that protects the brain.

Gut bacteria have also been shown to influence depression, anxiety, learning, and memory. This is because the gut and the brain communicate closely with one another through the vagus nerve, a large nerve that runs between the brain and the organs.

Eating greens is usually part of a healthy brain lifestyle

Another factor to consider with this study is that people who eat greens every day are typically more conscious of their health. Someone who is taking the time to shop for and prepare greens every day is probably eating a healthier, whole foods diet and avoiding dementia-promoting junk foods, sodas, and sugars.

Exercise is the golden bullet to lasting brain health

People who eat healthier also tend to exercise more regularly, whether it’s just taking a daily walk or hitting the gym every day. Both strength training and aerobic exercise have been shown protect neuron health, ensure better blood flow to the brain, and protect the brain from the damaging proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.

One study that followed more than 600 people ages 70 and older found those who engaged in the most physical activity showed the least amount of brain shrinkage.

Another study found that older adults who walked as little as 30 to 45 minutes three days a week increased the volume of the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

So although eating your greens is a great way to boost brain health (and gut health), if you eat your greens AND exercise every day, you drastically reduce your chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Considering there is no cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s — the neurons that die in these conditions cannot be recovered — the best approach is a preventive one.

Ask my office for more details on lowering your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

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316 vascular dementia

Even though you can breathe normally your brain may not be getting enough oxygen. Lack of oxygen in the brain is not something the average person can recognize. However it can cause poor brain function and increase the risk of vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s. The brain can be hungry for oxygen years or decades before dementia sets in. Risk factors include high or low blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, smoking, alcoholism, and high cholesterol.

By learning to recognize symptoms you can take action to increase oxygenation of your brain, improve brain function, and reduce your risk of vascular dementia.

How to tell whether your brain can breathe

The brain contains one of the body’s most dense networks of blood vessels, which carry oxygen. It is very susceptible to any hindrances in blood flow. When the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain is hindered, brain cells die and the brain degenerates.

Many conditions can affect blood flow to the brain, things not normally associated with brain function. They include:

  • Smoking
  • Chronic inflammation (such as chronic pain, an autoimmune disease, or other inflammatory disorder)
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • High blood sugar (insulin resistance)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Anemia
  • Chronic stress
  • Aging

Symptoms that may alert you to poor flow of blood and oxygen to the brain include cold hands and feet, becoming easily fatigued, brain fog, erectile dysfunction, and chronic toenail and fingernail fungus.

How to help your brain breathe better

Two of the most effective ways to oxygenate the brain are to lower inflammation and stabilize blood sugar. An anti-inflammatory diet is designed to lower overall inflammation in the body, which can boost blood flow to the brain. Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast with protein, eat regularly enough to avoid blood sugar lows (but avoid overeating), and avoid foods that spike your blood sugar, such as sweets or refined carbohydrates. Just focusing on an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet can go a long way to improving blood flow to the brain.

Certain herbs improve oxygenation to the brain. They include Ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine, and Butcher’s broom.

How to exercise to improve blood flow to the brain

Exercise is a great way to improve overall blood flow. High-intensity interval training in particular dilates blood vessels, lowers inflammation, and improves blood flow to the brain. This involves reaching your maximum heart rate with just a short but vigorous burst of exercise, resting, and repeating. It’s important, however, to work within your ability and avoid overtraining or you’ll negate the benefits. Even just a few minutes of high-intensity exercise can improve blood flow in the brain.

Improving blood flow to the brain may also include managing hypothyroidism, anemia, or other conditions. The book Why Isn’t My Brain Working? by Datis Kharrazian covers the topic of brain oxygenation. Ask my office for advice on improving brain health.

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309 retirement bad for health

Many people look forward to concluding a lifetime of work with retirement, but retirement can lead to a drastic decline in health. Research shows that although retirement may initially reduce stress, it significantly increases the chances of depression, physical illness, and the need for medication while reducing overall health. The longer one is in retirement the more the risks increase. Why? Turns out the body and brain need regular activity and social interaction to stay healthy, and retirement robs some people of those necessary influences.

Retirement can increase loneliness

Regular social interaction has been shown to be vital for health and vitality. In fact, social isolation has the same health risks as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, and regular social activity has been shown to prevent dementia.

If someone’s social life happened primarily at work, taking that away can suddenly launch them into isolation and loneliness, keeping company with the television. If someone is living alone because they lost a spouse through divorce or death, the risk of depression increases.

Retirement can decrease physical activity

Another risk with retirement is a sudden decrease of physical activity. Even if a person worked a fairly sedentary job, they were at least getting themselves to and from work and perhaps walking to lunch with coworkers.

When it comes to preventing disease and dementia and slowing the aging process, exercise is a magic bullet. Although a combination of strength training and high-intensity interval training are ideal ways to prevent disease and dementia, simply going for a walk every day is also highly preventive.

Retirement can decrease mental stimulation

The brain is like a muscle—use it or you lose it. Regular mental stimulation is vital to keeping the brain healthy and active, which helps lower the risk of depression, illness, and dementia. Working keeps the brain regularly engaged, especially if the job places higher demands on thinking skills. In retirement many are susceptible to spending days in front of the television, which does not stimulate the mind like reading, learning new things, and doing crossword puzzles and other games.

Stay healthy after retirement

The key to staying healthy after retirement is to maintain a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, mental stimulation, and social activity. Volunteering, learning something new, setting new goals and challenges for yourself, and working in some capacity are ways to avoid the increased risk of physical and mental decline after retirement.

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3 05 dementia doubling lower risk

The numbers of people with dementia are expected to more than double in 30 years and outpace both heart disease and cancer in terms of cost. Because dementia can take root in the brain years or decades before symptoms appear, you can take action now to avoid becoming part of this skyrocketing statistic.

Today, nearly 15 percent of people aged 71 or older have dementia—almost 4 million people. Experts predict that number will more than double to 9 million people by 2040, costing the country more than $500 billion.

What’s worse is these statistics do not include mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or “pre-dementia,” which accounts for another 22 percent of people over 71.

How to lower your risk of dementia

Some experts say there is no way to prevent dementia, but studies show diet and lifestyle influence brain health. We can use that knowledge to lower the risk for dementia.

For instance, poor diet and lifestyle choices can cause inflammation throughout the body, which ultimately inflames the brain and accelerates the degeneration of brain tissue. It may cause symptoms such as brain fog or a gradual decline in cognition, but the average person will not connect this with an increased risk of dementia later in life.

The good news is you can slow the rate of brain degeneration and lower your risk of dementia with the following tips:

  • Ditch the sugar, processed starchy foods, and junk foods. These foods lead to insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) and Type 2 diabetes. The link between a sugar-laden diet and brain degeneration is so strong some researchers call Alzheimer’s “Type 3 diabetes,” a totally diet and lifestyle driven disease. Sugars and processed starches and the insulin surges they create are devastating to brain health.
     
  • Avoid hydrogenated oils (trans fats) found in processed foods, pastries, and many restaurant fried foods. The brain is mostly fat and the fats you eat play a role in its health. Hydrogenated fats are more like plastic than food and research shows eating hydrogenated fats leads to loss of cognitive function and smaller brain volume, evidence of degeneration. Eat healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, and seafood, and get plenty of omega 3 essential fatty acids. Ask my office how you can do this to lower your risk of dementia.
     
  • Go gluten-free and ditch other food intolerances. Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity have been found to damage neurological tissue more than any other tissue in the body. Gluten causes brain inflammation in many people, which accelerates brain degeneration, increasing the risk of dementia. Find out through testing or an elimination diet whether you have intolerances to foods that could be triggering brain inflammation and degeneration.
     
  • Exercise your body and your brain. Exercise has been well documented as a way to boost brain health and lower your risk of dementia. You should engage in both aerobic exercise and weight training for ultimate dementia prevention. You should also exercise your brain with mentally stimulating activities, such as learning new things, reading, writing, playing chess, etc.

You need to be both a scholar and an athlete to prevent dementia

As Dr. Kharrazian says in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, if you want to lower your risk of dementia and enjoy optimal brain health, you need to be both a scholar and an athlete. Ask my office for more ideas on how to boost your brain health and lower your risk of dementia.

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3 05 socialization prevents dementia

While we eat well and exercise to prevent disease, studies show one of the best ways to stay healthy is to hang out with friends. Studies have linked socialization with better heart health, warding off depression, and preventing memory loss.

In fact, research shows social isolation carries the same health risks as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, and that regular social interaction can improve your odds of survival by 50 percent.

More people than ever live alone today, almost one third of the US population. This means people have to make an effort to socialize.

And if you think all those hours on Facebook are a substitute for in-person socialization, think again. Although social media is great for connections, online conversations tend to center around what’s “cool” or socially relevant, while in-person conversations go more in depth into sharing life experiences. Important social cues such as body language, facial expressions, and vocal inflections also go missing online.

Having friends prevents dementia

The more socially active people are the lower their risk for cognitive decline and dementia, especially if they have high risk factors, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

Although researchers don’t understand exactly how socialization prevents dementia, they have several ideas. Friends and family may offer support in seeking health treatment when necessary. A rich social life also exercises the brain and fosters connections between neurons, which is vital to preventing cognitive decline and dementia. Social activity also inhibits chronic stress  a notorious destroyer of brain function.

Bad socialization is worse than no socialization

Although studies show regular social interaction is good for health, negative and stressful relationships are not good for health. Research shows being in a strained, unsupportive marriage carries a higher risk of depression than being single. One study showed that people in stressful marriages healed from wounds more slowly than those in happy relationships. Women seem to be more negatively impacted by a bad relationship than men.

How to cultivate a healthy social life

Staying socially active doesn’t come naturally to everyone. If you’re interested in improving your health and preserving your brain function, here are some tips to incorporate regular social activity into your life:

  • Don’t wait for others to call or invite you out. Pick up the phone and schedule time with friends.
     
  • Volunteer. This can make a difference in other people’s lives and provide you with healthy social interaction.
     
  • Get a job. If you don’t work or work at home, spending some time working out of the home can expand your social life.
     
  • Find groups of people with similar interests or hobbies through the local paper or meetup.com.
     
  • Take some classes. Learning new things not only provides healthy brain stimulation but also exposes you to more people with similar interests.
     

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B12 deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common than people realize and can mimic or cause other disorders. A B12 deficiency is linked with memory loss, anemia, cardiovascular disease, and autism, to name a few. B12 is necessary for the brain and nervous system to function and for other aspects of health. It’s believed B12 deficiency is due in most cases not to lack of dietary sources but to poor absorption of the vitamin in the digestive tract.

Could your declining brain function be a B12 deficiency?

Because B12 is so vital for brain function, a B12 deficiency can manifest as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, shakiness, depression, and loss of memory and cognition that can mimic the beginnings of dementia. It’s especially important to pay attention to a possible B12 deficiency in older people as the ability to absorb the vitamin declines with age. Studies show older people with higher B12 levels show less brain shrinkage and cognitive decline than their B12 deficient counterparts.

Is your anemia a B12 deficiency?

Other common manifestations of B12 deficiency are symptoms of anemia, which include fatigue, lethargy and weakness. Many people with B12 anemia discover they have an autoimmune disease called pernicious anemia, which inhibits the absorption of B12. In this case managing the autoimmune disease is important as well as supplementing with B12 sublingually or through injection.

A deficiency in B12 is also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, autism, autoimmune disease, infertility, and more.

B12 deficiency often due to poor absorption

So what causes B12 deficiency? For many people it’s due not to diet but rather to poor absorption of nutrients.

Many people today have damaged guts due to diets high in inflammatory foods, chronic stress, and food intolerances, such as to gluten. It’s difficult for nutrients such as B12 to pass through an inflamed and damaged gut lining into the bloodstream.

Other factors that can lead to a B12 deficiency include a decline in stomach acid (common in elderly), the use of antacids and acid-blocking drugs, the use of metformin and other prescription drugs, alcoholism, and weight-loss surgery.

Repairing and restoring gut health should always be addressed in the event of a B12 deficiency.

Vegans and vegetarians at risk for B12 deficiency

One group at risk for dietary deficiency of B12 are vegans and vegetarians—B12 is only found in animal foods. Natural plant sources of B12 such as spirulina, algae, seaweed, or grasses are poorly absorbed and may give a false reading of normal B12 on a lab result. This population especially should supplement with B12.

Also, although gut bacteria can synthesize B12, this requires healthy gut function and flora, and most of it is synthesized downstream of the small intestine where B12 is absorbed.

Taking B12

Recommended doses of B12 vary depending on whether you have a deficiency, and you should work with a qualified health care practitioner to determine the best dose. However, there is a low risk of B12 toxicity.

The more bioavailable form of B12 supplementation is methyl B12, or methylcobalamin, as opposed to the more common, synthetic cyanocobalamin. Not only is methyl B12 more neurologically active, it also enhances a liver detoxification process called methylation, which can reduce inflammation.

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