In our society, we are quick to blame common symptoms like forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and brain fog on the aging process. While these symptoms are certainly common, they are not an inevitable part of the aging process. Dementia is the term used to describe individuals who experience memory loss and impairment in judgment. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia. When we understand the different causes of dementia, we can be proactive about making the changes to ensure that we age with mental sharpness.
Inflammation and oxidative stress are two major contributors to dementia. During periods of inflammation, the immune system creates chemicals that contribute to oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells and lead to memory decline.
- Get to the root of inflammation. Inflammation can be coming from:
- Gut Microbiome – directly linked to dementia, gastrointestinal tract microbiome can trigger a low-grade inflammatory process that contributes to metabolic imbalances. New research has shown that the microbiome of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease is different from those without dementia.
- Food sensitivities – a common source of low-grade chronic inflammation.
- Pain – research suggests that the experience of pain may compromise the brain’s ability to encode memories while also interfering with other cognitive functions.
- Depression – has a biochemical link to dementia, triggering elevated inflammation and cortisol levels that contribute to changes in the brain, and, in turn, memory loss and cognitive decline.
- Anxiety – also linked to later onset dementia through the same biochemical mechanism as depression.
- Infections – infections associated with the herpes virus, EBV, chlamydia pneumonia (a respiratory infection – not the STD) and Lyme disease have been shown to increase risk of developing dementia later in life. Again, this is thought to be due to the inflammatory and oxidative stress response of a chronic infection.
- Environmental toxins – exposure to toxic metals (mercury, lead, aluminum), pesticides (organochlorine and organophosphate insecticides), industrial chemicals (flame retardants), and air pollutants (particulate matter) induces neuroinflammation, oxidative stress and contributes to memory loss and cognitive decline.
- Optimize Diet
- Eat a whole foods diet with very limited sugar and processed foods. Emphasize brain supportive foods such as foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, like sardines and wild salmon; foods rich in key phytonutrients, like kale, collards, broccoli, and spinach; healthy fat found in avocado, walnuts, and olive oil; and foods rich in antioxidants like organic wild blueberries.
- Get glucose and insulin levels under control. Elevated glucose levels can lead to insulin resistance which contributes to neuroinflammation and affects key brain mechanisms involved in cognition and memory.
- Understand your unique metabolic needs and how much carbohydrates you can tolerate to still maintain healthy metabolic markers (such as your glucose, insulin, and HgA1C levels).
- Cardiovascular and weight bearing exercise has shown to be a buffer against cognitive decline. Resulting in better memory and reduced formation of beta-amyloid plaques (brain plaques seen with Alzheimer’s Disease).
- Keep learning – exercise your brain; once a skill becomes second nature (like knitting) move on to learning something else (Italian). Forcing your brain to tackle a new skill is shown to be neuroprotective.
- Social support – lack of social support and loneliness lead to higher inflammation and fewer opportunities to meaningfully engage the mind. Loneliness is also associated with brain-damaging behaviors such as heavy drinking, not exercising, and overeating.
- Hearing aids – being able to hear well keeps the brain active and prevents dementia.
- Marriage or partnership – Studies show there is a 42% increase risk of dementia in individuals that are not in a partnership relationship.
- Address TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries) – traumatic brain injuries such as whiplash or concussions increase the risk of developing dementia later in life. If you experienced a TBI, speak with a knowledgeable health practitioner who can develop a brain-supportive, dementia-preventive protocol individualized to your unique needs.
- Manage stress – long term exposure to elevated levels of our stress hormone, cortisol, has been shown to shrink the area of our brain known as the hippocampus (important for memory)
- Practice intermittent fasting
- Reduces neuroinflammation
- Increases autophagy – prevents neurodegeneration by clearing away brain waste and removal of damaged mitochondria.
- Increased BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) – a protein that helps brain cells grow.
- Hormones – Estrogen is neuroprotective and helps with mood, attention, learning and memory.
- Mitochondrial support – Our mitochondria provide energy to brain cells and are essential for healthy neurotransmission and our ability to learn and retain information. We must support healthy mitochondria if we want a sharp and energetic brain as we age.
- Sleep – Insomnia and sleep deprivation increase the risk of developing dementia by impairing our brain’s ability to detox and clear away metabolic byproducts (steps that happen only when we sleep).
- Be mindful of EMF exposure: We are constantly being exposed to EMF and there has been a lot discussion about and anecdotal evidence of its effect on the brain.
- Take nootropics – Nootropics are supplements or medications for the brain, and are most effective when individualized to your unique needs. There are so many, but some of my favorite natural brain supportive supplements are:
- Methylated B Vitamins
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
My goal is to empower you and encourage you to see that there is a lot we can do to control and prevent dementia. At Akasha, we do a comprehensive health intake so we can identify possible brain decline triggers early and develop individualized protocols that support healthy brain function. Our goal is to help you age with a vibrant, sharp brain.
Dr. Maggie Ney is Director of the Women’s Clinic at Akasha and specializes in women’s heath and healthy aging. You can make an appointment with her by calling 310-451-8880 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.