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Monday, July 9, 2012

Feed Your Brain

Last year, my beloved grandmother passed away after a long period of dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s disease. It was as if she had died years before, as for years I had seen only glimmers of the bright, warm, inspiring matriarch I knew. It was depressing to visit her in her memory-impaired care facility, like touring a dismal bardo of the not-quite dead. Worse yet, at current rates, over 10% of people over 65 will develop the disease, and over 50% of those who live to be over 85 will be stricken (Perlmutter, Colman, 2004).

Alzheimer’s disease usually begins with short-term memory loss, which progresses to include other cognitive troubles, such as language deterioration and movement problems, interfering with daily activities. It is only diagnosed definitively by autopsy, which reveals brain degeneration, including the characteristic amyloid (a type of protein found in the healthy brain) plaques and nerve fiber tangles (Kidd, 2008). Recent research has revealed changes at the cellular level, including low-level inflammation of the brain’s grey matter, evidence of high oxidative stress, and damage to the mitochondria, our cells’ energy-generating organelles (Kidd, 2008). Researchers are now finding evidence of problems with sugar metabolism and insulin signaling the brain in Alzheimer’s, calling it “Type-3 diabetes” (Kroner, 2009).

 Medical treatments for Alzheimer’s are generally ineffective. While there is some promising research on the use of vitamins and supplements (Kidd, 2008), prevention is likely the best strategy. Neurology has undergone a paradigm shift in recent years, as the concept of neuroplasticity—the notion that the brain can adapt, change, and grow new connections throughout life—has become prominent. “Use it or lose it,” should be a mantra for anyone interested in aging with grace and maintaining memory. Physical and mental exercise reduce Alzheimer’s risk, which is increased by smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, traumatic brain injury and heavy metal toxicity (Kidd, 2008).

You are what you eat, of course, and many healthy foods can reduce your chance of dementia, to wit:

• Vitamin E intake is protective. Get your E in nuts and nut butters, whole grains and leafy green vegetables (Perlmutter, Colman, 2004).
• A diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. In particular, berries, grape juice and walnuts have been shown to improve memory in animal and human studies (Joseph, Shukitt-Hale, Willis, 2009).
• Eating fish even as little as once per week was linked to a 60% reduction in dementia risk, and multiple studies have shown that the more fish people eat, the less likely they are to develop dementia (Kidd, 2007).
 • Drinking 3-5 cups a day of caffeinated coffee can protect against Alzheimer’s (Eskelinen, Kivipelto, 2010).
• Light to moderate alcohol drinking appears to have a protective effect, as well (Neafsey, Collins, 2011). In this, as in everything, moderation is key!
• Eating chocolate and drinking tea, coffee and red wine are habits linked to a lower chance of Alzheimer’s (Nurk, et al., 2009).

Age-with-Grace Trail Mix
This mix is a potent blend of memory-enhancing, brain protective foods that can travel with you and replace less-healthy snacks. Seek out locally grown, raw nuts and seeds and unsulfured dried fruit without added sugar. Grandma would approve.
½ cup walnuts
½ cup almonds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup currants or prunes
¼ cup goji berries, or dried cherries, blueberries or apricots
¼ cup cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips or chunks (choose at least 70% cocoa)
Combine all ingredients and store refrigerated. Enjoy a large handful each day.

References
Eskelinen, M. H., Kivipelto, M. (2010). Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer's disease. J Alzheimers Dis, 20 Suppl 1, S167-174. Joseph, J. A., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Willis, L. M. (2009). Grape juice, berries, and walnuts affect brain aging and behavior. J Nutr, 139(9), 1813S-1817S. Kidd, P. M. (2007). Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Altern Med Rev, 12(3), 207-227. Kidd, P. M. (2008). Alzheimer's disease, amnestic mild cognitive impairment, and age-associated memory impairment: current understanding and progress toward integrative prevention. Altern Med Rev, 13(2), 85-115. Kroner, Z. (2009). The relationship between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes: Type 3 diabetes? Altern Med Rev, 14(4), 373-379. Neafsey, E. J., & Collins, M. A. (2011). Moderate alcohol consumption and cognitive risk. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, 7, 465-484. Nurk, E., Refsum, H., Drevon, C. A., Tell, G. S., Nygaard, H. A., Engedal, K., et al. (2009). Intake of flavonoid-rich wine, tea, and chocolate by elderly men and women is associated with better cognitive test performance. J Nutr, 139(1), 120-127. Perlmutter, D; Colman, C. (2004). The better brain book : the best tools for improving memory, sharpness, and preventing aging of the brain. New York: Riverhead Books.

1 comment:

Flora's Pond said...

My mother passed away two years ago from dementia, though, as you said, it was as though we lost her several years prior. She was always a heavy woman and had type 2 diabetes. When she had knee issues, the doctor told her to lose weight before he'd approve the surgery. She dieted like most people are told to, low fat to no fat, high carb. She ate little fresh veggies and no fish or fish oils. She lost a lot of weight, but was starting to decline cognitively. She had the surgery on her knee, but had what they think was small strokes during the surgery. Her decline was rapid after that and she was in a hospital for the last 2 years of her life. At 76, she's the youngest of the women in my family to die and I am determined not to follow her example! I use the Weston Price model for my diet and also exercise. I do drink some coffee and wine. I've lost 60 lbs in the last 2 years and eliminated my need for asthma, allergy and high blood pressure meds. Thanks for putting this information out there!