Mentally Sharp Until the End

The statistics on cognitive decline in the USA are shocking. By age 65, 1 in 8 Americans will suffer severe cognitive decline. By age 80, it is predicted to be 1 in 2! Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the USA. Losing your memory and mental abilities to cognitive decline is one of the most dreaded experiences imaginable. For many, this decline may be preventable and avoidable with smart choices and healthy habits. This is a situation where being proactive can reverse your potential fate.

These American statistics are not shared by the rest of the world (are you surprised?).  Finland is the only country with a higher percentage of seniors dying of Alzheimer’s or other dementias. People living in the “Blue Zones”, where people live to be older than 100, have very low rates of degenerative diseases including dementia. What are they doing that we aren’t?

Insulin Resistance and Your Brain

Do you want to maintain the health of your brain as you age? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to experience good health and a sharp mind ‘til the end?  Focus first on supporting healthy blood sugar and insulin levels to avoid becoming insulin resistant. This single problem is at the core of obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and yes, Alzheimer’s disease.

Research shows that African-Americans are nearly twice as likely, and Hispanics one and a half times more likely as Caucasians to get Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Due to having generally longer lifespans, 2/3 of Alzheimer’s disease patients are women.

More than half of Americans are insulin resistant, which may partly explain the high rates of devastating diseases that seem to have taken over our aging population in recent decades. Insulin resistance is a hormonal condition that leads to inflammation and disruptions in cholesterol and fat metabolism, and slowly destroys the body’s ability to process carbohydrates. Your goal should be to get your blood sugar in balance and keep it there.

A diet high in fats and oils, especially saturated and *trans fats, causes insulin receptors to become clogged, which prevents insulin from getting delivered into the muscles and liver where it belongs. Recent research shows that people who consume trans fats have a 75%  higher risk of Alzheimer’s than the rest of us. The diseases caused by insulin resistance, and the inflammatory damage it creates, are the ones that can make your later years frightening and miserable.

Stage 1—Mild Dementia:

Some forgetfulness and memory loss

Repetition while speaking

Losing items, unable to retrace steps to find them

Trouble managing medications

Loss of concentration

Slight trouble managing finances, such as balancing a checkbook

Confusion while driving

How to Protect Your Brain

Factor #1– Diets high in saturated fats from meats and dairy are proven to promote insulin resistance, a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The countries with the highest consumption of meat and dairy also have some of the highest rates of Alzheimer’s, as compared to countries with low consumption and very low rates. High temperature cooking methods — such as grilling, frying or broiling increase the formation of “advanced glycation end products” or AGEs, which promote oxidative damage, especially in older adults. Red meat also delivers large quantities of heme iron and copper, which in excess promote oxidative damage. Prior to the end of WWII our ancestors ate meat sparingly and certainly not multiple times per day. The meat and cheese eating lifestyle is heavily promoted by the food industry lobby, and those industries are subsidized by your tax dollars. This alone explains why a cheeseburger costs less than a salad.

“There is strong evidence that a typical Western diet, which is rich in meat, high-fat foods and sweets, increases the risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.” says Tammy Scott, PhD, an assistant professor at the Friedman School and a scientist in Tufts’ HNRCA Neuroscience and Aging Laboratory.

Factor #2 –Watch Out! Processed and smoked meats (bacon, deli-meat) contain nitrosamines. These toxic compounds cause the liver to produce brain-toxic fats. Processed cheese causes a buildup of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Most beers contain nitrites, also linked to Alzheimer’s. Microwave popcorn contains a nasty chemical called diacetyl that appears to increase amyloid plaques in the brain. (Research has linked a buildup of amyloid plaques to Alzheimer’s disease.) Pasta, white bread, pastries, candy, sugar and white rice stimulate a spike in insulin production, as do high protein animal foods such as beef, pork, chicken, fish and eggs. This has been known for decades. Meat raises insulin levels higher than a cup of oatmeal, a large apple or 1 ½ cups of white flour pasta. Avoid eating these problem foods if you want to protect and maintain your healthy brain.

 “…Vegetarians have significantly lower insulin levels even at the same weight. Meat eaters have up to 50% higher insulin levels.” Dr. Michael Greger, M.D. Author of “How Not to Die”

Stage 2—Moderate Dementia:

Difficulty doing routine tasks

Increase in social withdrawal

Inability to use or find the right words and phrases

Increase in memory loss and forgetfulness

Difficulty doing challenging mental math exercises

Trouble holding urine (incontinence)

Factor #3– Eat a whole foods plant based diet high in colorful, antioxidant-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds and whole grains. These are the same food groups associated with lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and are more environmentally friendly than meat. The best approach is to enjoy these plant foods as the major part of your daily diet, balanced with wild-caught ocean fish and small servings of lean meat upon occasion if you like them. Drink a small amount of red wine now and then. It appears to have brain-protective benefits in small quantities. Antioxidant-rich foods, spices and supplements minimize free radical damage to our cells and help slow the progression of dementia symptoms.

What you eat (and avoid) are equally important. Take steps to make your diet and lifestyle “brain friendly”. It should become your #1 daily priority. Imagine how grateful you will be to your younger self if you do.

Factor #4 — Maintain a healthy gut microbiome with abundant and diverse probiotics. It will continuously reward you with high levels of intestinal butyrate, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory substance made by your beneficial microbes. Butyrate also supports more stable blood sugar levels and prevents spikes. There are many benefits to having a healthy gut, and the key is consuming abundant plant-based fiber daily. It is estimated that the average American adult consumes only 16 grams of fiber daily, which may explain why so many people are struggling with pain, mood issues, toxicity, brain fog, gut problems and many other potential precursors to dementia. Animal foods, dairy products and processed foods contain no fiber.

The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board and the American Heart Association have estimated the minimum adequate intake for fiber based on age and gender. Your child’s individual needs may be slightly different.

  • Toddlers up to 3 years old: 19 grams
  • Kids 4-8 years: 25 grams
  • Girls aged 9-18 years: 26 grams
  • Boys 9-13 years: 31 grams
  • Teen boys 14-18 years: 38 grams
  • Women: 25 grams
  • Men: 35 grams

Factor #5 Leaky Gut/ Leaky Brain: There is growing evidence that having a leaky gut is a factor leading to “leaky brain”— the destruction of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which is in place to protect your brain from exposure to foreign substances. Inflammation in the brain can be a direct result of leaky gut syndrome. The dietary suggestions discussed previously will support your leaky gut to repair itself. Your digestion needs to function well every day; it’s where everything begins. Eliminate all foods and beverages that you know are a problem, and consult with a nutritionist or Naturopathic Physician soon. Consider supplementing with a whole leaf aloe beverage to support and maintain your healthy intestinal lining.

 Researchers using contrast-enhanced MRI have identified leakages in the blood-brain barrier of people       with early Alzheimer’s disease (AD), according to a new study. The results suggest that increased BBB permeability may represent a key mechanism in the early stages of the disease.

For the study, researchers used contrast-enhanced MRI to compare 16 early AD patients with 17 healthy age-matched controls. They measured BBB leakage rates and generated a map called a histogram to help determine the amount of the leaking brain tissue.

The BBB leakage rate was significantly higher in AD patients compared with controls and the leakage was distributed throughout the cerebrum–the largest part of the brain. AD patients had a significantly higher percentage of leaking brain tissue in the gray matter, including the cortex, the brain’s outer layer.  Walter H. Backes, Ph.D et al. “Blood-Brain Barrier Leakage in Patients with Early Alzheimer Disease.” Radiology, May 2016

Factor #6 Exercise daily — without exceptions. No sitting around watching TV all day. Low blood oxygen levels contribute to abnormal brain changes.  Get into bed early and aim for eight to nine hours of restful sleep nightly, and address any sleep apnea or snoring problems.  Stay connected with family and friends. Avoid tobacco, and home and garden chemicals. Take a close look at your alcohol consumption and see if improvements may be in order. Supplement with vitamin D if your blood test result comes back as deficient. (<60 ng/ml) Supplement with the mineral silica to prevent aluminum build-up in the brain. Supplement with Phosphatidylserine daily to support brain function.  Drink half of your weight in ounces of pure water daily. Keep your brain active and practice ways improve your memory with simple methods. Stop worrying; it never makes things better. Ask for help when you need it, don’t be too proud.  Wear a monitor in case you fall. Laugh, have fun, sing (very good for the lungs and increasing oxygen levels); forgive, volunteer, enjoy your loved ones and honor them with your presence. Remembering who you are should be your #1 priority.

*Sources of dangerous trans fats: (Limit consumption to less than 2 grams/day. Choose natural & organic brands that don’t contain trans fats.)

  • Crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies, and other baked goods 
  • Snack foods
  • Frozen pizza
  • Fast-food
  • Vegetable shortenings and some stick margarines
  • Artificial coffee creamer
  • Refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)

Healthy Habits® is here to support you to stay vitally healthy in order to live your happiest and most satisfying life. Thank you for sharing our articles and information with your loved ones. We pride ourselves on being a quality resource for you and your family.

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