Are you noticing more brain fog? Forgetting what was on your TO DO list? Losing your keys…all the time? Forgetting the name of your best friend’s wife or husband? Having a hard time focusing for more than 10 minutes?
I’ve been there. It’s scary. Especially with a family history of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Some of this is normal. Life is busy. Our brains are full.
But I don’t want to accept that this is “just normal aging.” As a functional medicine doctor, I want to dig deeper and uncover any possible causes for suboptimal brain function. Let’s not sit and be docile. Let’s be PRO-ACTIVE and strengthen the highest energy producer in your body, your BRAIN.
There is a new dementia case every 3 seconds in the world. This is a global crisis.
Sadly, research into dementia and Alzheimer’s is not finding a miracle cure.
My grandfather had Alzheimer’s and it was beyond painful to watch him slip away into a dark tunnel, no longer recognizing any of his loved ones.
We MUST start looking at prevention 20-30 years before cognitive decline even begins.
As Emma Derbyshire wrote in the journal, Nutrients, in 2018.
“The brain is the most significant and complex organ of the human body. Increasingly, we are becoming aware that certain nutrients may help to safeguard brain health.”
So let’s not waste any time.
Here’s a list of key lifestyle factors and nutrients for brain health:
Find 30 minutes a day to do something active. Get your heart rate up and your sweat glands pumping. Studies have found that aerobic exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of your brain involved in verbal memory and learning. It also reduces insulin resistance, lowers inflammation, and stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and brain cells.
Eat a low-inflammatory diet, and get rid of boxed, processed, high sugar, fatty foods. Yes, it’s time. Your brain depends on it. We know that highly processed meats and unhealthy snacks are linked to an increased risk of dementia.
Choose fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, fish, and good fats found in olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Studies show that people who eat a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The brain is a social organ. Social isolation has been shown to increase the risk of dementia by 50%. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased decline in those with Alzheimer’s or dementia due to lack of contact with loved ones.
Keep exercising your brain
This study found that people who engage in word puzzles have brain function equivalent to 10 years younger than their age, on tests assessing grammatical reasoning, and eight years younger than their age on tests measuring short term memory. Other games like Sudoku are also effective.
What about nutrients?
Let’s start with lithium, a mineral found naturally in soil, water, and food. The research on lithium completely blows my mind. I am NOT talking about pharmaceutical lithium used for bipolar at 600-1200 mg a day. I am talking about nutritional or low-dose lithium at 1-5 mg a day.
We naturally get 1-3 mg of lithium in our tap water and food each day.
Here’s an interesting fact–Know the drink 7-Up? Back in 1929, lithium was added to the soft drink as a treatment for hangovers. It was removed in 1948.
Hundreds of studies have shown that when more lithium is present in the groundwater and in the food chain, the rates of psychiatric admissions, dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, violence, substance abuse, and overall mortality are often significantly lower.
Lithium deficiency has been linked to ADHD, bipolar, anxiety, aggression, irritability, compulsive behavior, road rage, and depression.
In a study from the British Journal of Psychiatry, long term use of lithium (over a year) reduced dementia risk by 23% (Gerhard. Br J Psychiatry. 2015 Jul;207(1):46-51).
Does this mean you should rush out and start taking lithium? NO. First talk with your doctor. I do not recommend taking lithium if you have kidney disease and if you have a thyroid condition, please first discuss this nutrient with your doctor.
Interested? Read more about low dose lithium.
Low levels of B12 are associated with memory declines and lower brain volume. It is a critical nutrient for mental health, neurotransmission, energy metabolism, and cognitive function. Ask your doctor to test your B12 levels.
NAC or N-Acetyl Cysteine
NAC is a powerful free radical scavenger, supporting the body’s natural defense systems. NAC helps to support glutathione, the major anti-inflammatory molecule in the brain. People with Alzheimer’s disease tend to have lower levels of NAC, and subsequently, more damage to DNA, proteins, and lipids, contributing to cognitive decline.
Interested in trying NAC? Talk with your doctor about dosing and if it would be a good fit for you.
Turmeric or Curcumin
Curcumin is the spice that gives curry its gorgeous yellow color. Over 1300 studies have shown that turmeric can protect against cancer cell proliferation and decrease inflammation, therefore protecting brain cells. It is also a wonderful antioxidant. Interestingly, India, which regularly uses curcumin in cooking, has one of the lowest incidence rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the world.
A study from 2018 found that daily turmeric led to significant memory and attention benefits Small et al, Am Journal of Psychiatry, 2018; 26(3): 278-279.
Curcumin compounds are known to cross the blood-brain barrier and exert neuroprotective effects.
Don’t run out and get the spice in bulk—curcumin is not well absorbed. You need to find a good product that wraps the curcumin in fat or at least eat the spice with some fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fats protect the brain. A low concentration of omega-3’s in cellular membranes stiffens the membranes, reducing the ability of nerve cells to take in fuel for all their high-level activities. They are also important anti-inflammatory agents, which is crucial since inflammation is the smoldering fire that leads to many chronic diseases.
Most of the world’s population is deficient in omega 3’s, largely because of the rising consumption of cooking oils loaded with omega 6’s.
The ideal omega-3 to omega-6 ratio? 1:4.
What is the average today? 1:20. Not good.
So, in conclusion, to optimize cognition and brain health, eat healthy, socialize, do that cross-word puzzle, go for a walk, and talk with your doctor about some helpful nutrients.
It’s time to thrive for a lifetime!