250,000 Australians currently suffer from dementia and that figure will be 750,000 by 2050, at current growth rates. Five and a half million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer’s and within 20 years it is predicted that one in four will suffer from the disease. What has sponsored this plague of forgetfulness and how do we avoid becoming a grim statistic in this ocean of mental malaise? Despite the discovery of an Alzheimer’s gene, which increases the chance of problems, the major contributing factors are based on lifestyle and nutrition. In this context, we get to determine our own likelihood of becoming a brain-addled burden and there is much that we can do to avoid this scenario. The key risk factors can all be substantially reduced with a little commitment and willpower.
The Gut Factor
If you are sporting a spare tyre, beer gut or love handles then you have a 500% higher chance of succumbing to Alzheimer’s in your later years. It’s easy, lose the gut and retain your clarity (or at least reduce your risk). The benefits of this simple strategy don’t stop at dementia. There are ten degenerative diseases that are similarly impacted by these few excess kilos of abdominal fat. These fat cells convert testosterone to cancer-feeding oestrogen, they produce inflammatory factors linked to many diseases and they even help sustain themselves by shutting down your capacity to know that you have eaten enough. Abdominal fat is the most important of six factors that together comprise a symptom cluster called “Metabolic Syndrome” or “Syndrome X”. If you suffer four or more of these symptoms then you have a much greater chance of a stroke or heart attack. High blood pressure and excess blood sugar, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides are other parts of the syndrome package.
The Sugar Sickness
The link between sugar and senility is so profound that some now refer to Alzheimer’s as the third form of diabetes. Insulin resistance increases your chances of developing Alzheimer’s by 65%. Insulin is strongly linked to the inflammation that is a big part of Alzheimer’s so a key strategy is to reduce your fasting blood insulin levels. There are several other factors that make this a good idea, including three recently completed studies of centenarians. In this research, it was found that the only common denominator amongst all three disparate groups was low blood insulin. Everyone from all three groups who successfully made the long haul to one hundred had a low calorie diet, which minimised insulin production. Interestingly, calorie restriction has been shown to treble the life span of rodents and double the lives of primates so this also fits the low insulin/longevity findings. The key is to reduce your fasting insulin levels to below 3 and this is best achieved with a 2000-calorie daily diet that also serves to extend life and improve health.
Escape the Pressure
High blood pressure affects 30% of people over 50 and many tend to accept this condition almost as if it were a rite of passage. They accept the pharmaceutical solution with the inevitable side effects rather than seeking out the root cause of this condition and solving the problem. A common cause of high blood pressure is low cellular magnesium and this is best addressed with transdermal magnesium (magnesium oil), in conjunction with oral supplementation of this mineral. Over 80% of adults are magnesium deficient and the efficiency of oral supplementation declines when the shortage is prolonged. In this context, magnesium oil can deliver magnesium via the skin up to ten times more efficiently, as it is absorbed directly into the blood rather than battling though an often compromised digestive system. Magnesium deficiency can also lie behind other dementia risk factors like heart disease and stroke.
The kidneys are the next port of call when it comes to addressing blood pressure problems and there are some simple things you can do to improve kidney performance. The kidneys are responsible for the sodium/potassium pump and it is their malfunction that necessitates a reduced input of sodium chloride and increased potassium consumption in those with hypertension. In my travels around the globe, I have encountered several natural health practitioners who claim that parsley tea can improve kidney health and reduce blood pressure. This apparently involves three cups of parsley tea each day for a week while you observe any changes with a blood pressure monitor. Parsley tea is produced with a couple of sprigs of parsley chopped into a cup and covered with boiling water. This herbal brew is left to steep for a minimum of ten minutes before consumption.
The H Factor
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced by the body, utilised for several functions and then recycled through the process of methylation. This involves nutrients called methyl donors but, if they are lacking in the system, homocysteine becomes a particularly destructive free radical. It was originally thought that this destruction was limited to the inner walls of the arteries, but more recent research has revealed that it is equally vicious on the brain. In fact, homocysteine damage has been directly linked to dementia in several studies. A proactive health system would involve regular public monitoring and appropriate supplementation to ensure that this free radical ravager was reined in and muzzled. However, many doctors are not even familiar with the problem and their ignorance is largely due to the fact that the methyl donors are not patentable. They are not hyped by the drug companies educating the doctors, so they disappear off the radar.
The missing methyl donors are three inexpensive B group vitamins. They include folic acid, B12 and B6, a group of nutrients often lost during food processing as a result of stress and as part of the hidden cost of hybridisation. I have some personal experience with the correction of high homocysteine levels and it was certainly no overnight process. In fact, I supplemented with 1000 mcg of folic acid, 1000 mcg of B12 and 100 mg of B6, morning and evening for 6 months, to reduce a homocysteine level of 17 down to 9. The ideal level is 7 or below.
The Good Oil and Fat Loving Vitamins
Inflammation is profoundly linked to dementia and a major cause of this flame is the imbalance between two key essential fatty acids in our bodies. The inflammatory cascade comprises two processes involving both inflammation and healing and there are different building blocks that fire each of these processes. Omega-6 fatty acids fuel the initial inflammation while omega-3 fats are responsible for the anti-inflammatory, or healing phase. The ratio between these two fatty acids should ideally be 2:1 (omega-6 : omega-3) but in Australia this critical ratio is currently running at 20:1. What happens when you have 10 times more inflammatory stimulants than required? Well, you get an inflamed population and plagues of degenerative disease that are inflammation-based! The solution is to dump the junk oils (sunflower, safflower, canola, peanut), margarine, feedlot beef (fed exclusively with omega-6-rich grains) and most fast food. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids should be embraced to address the imbalance. These include fish oil, fatty fish, flaxseed oil, grass fed meat and the superfood, chia seed (ChiaTone™ from NTS Health).
There are two fat-soluble vitamins that have been strongly linked to brain health and they also offer antioxidant protection against a wide range of degenerative illnesses. The brain is 60% fat (by dry weight) so it is logical that these fat-soluble substances should be so important. Of course we do need fats in our diet to deliver these materials. The low fat, no fat, 98% fat free fare that lines our supermarket shelves has certainly not proved supportive of brain health. Vitamin E is critical in the maintenance of a resilient brain and yet we remove 85% of this key player when we convert wholemeal flour to white (90% of Australian bread sales are white bread). Brain specialists are notoriously skeptical of the role of nutrition in brain health and yet they all supplement with vitamin E (perhaps this should serve as a message for anyone striving to avoid brain degeneration). Alpha tocopherol is the form of vitamin E that is commonly supplemented, but there are actually eight forms of vitamin E and it is now known that they work in concert. Like the B group vitamins, you must have all forms present to achieve the maximum synergistic response.
The second fat-soluble brain supporter is vitamin D and a flood of compelling new research suggests that this misnamed nutrient (it is actually a hormone precursor rather than a vitamin) is a major player in brain resilience. Sunlight builds vitamin D but you must get enough sun at the right time to ensure adequate production. 20 minutes of full-body exposure is required at least three times a week to keep your levels up. Queensland is called the Sunshine State and yet recent data suggests that 75% of people living there are vitamin D deficient. Part of this shortage relates to the timing of the sun exposure. You should get your clothes off and enjoy the sun between 10 am and 2 pm for your three 20-minute sessions each week. I know that this particular time slot has been demonized due to melanoma fears, but many nutritionists believe that avoiding the sun may actually create more cancer pressure. It is all about the “Goldilocks effect” and getting that exposure “just right”. The other natural source of vitamin D is cod liver oil. A tablespoon each day combined with lemon juice provides a pleasant tasting, reflux-free source of vitamin D, along with a major dose of vitamin A (for flu protection) and a luxury supply of the all-important omega-3 fatty acids.
The Coconut Oil Cure
Coconut oil is remarkably healthy oil that received a bad rap when the world turned phobic about saturated fat. It contains an abundance of medium chain fatty acids that has been shown to protect the heart and help to neutralise undesirable gut organisms, including Candida. It is a rare source of lauric acid, a saturated fat that may boost immunity. The only other source of this fatty acid is breast milk. Coconut oil is a saturated fat that may also assist with weight managment. It is now used as a diet tool because it boosts metabolism, leading to increased burning of calories. However, it is the claims of Dr Mary Newport that have excited those concerned with brain longevity. She used coconut oil to reverse and apparently cure her husband who was struggling with advanced Alzheimer’s. Here’s how this may have worked. Brain cells in those with Alzheimer’s often lose the ability to uptake glucose, which is the energy source for brain cell metabolism. Ketones are an alternative energy source. Interestingly, ketones are produced naturally when you cut back on the carbohydrates, which is yet more evidence of the life-extending potential of a low calorie diet. Coconut oil can also stimulate the production of ketones and it serves a dual purpose in that it can also transport glucose into the cells. Insulin usually performs this task but cannot perform this role as well in the insulin-resistant or diabetic. Dr Newport claims that 20 mL of coconut oil per day (2 teaspoons morning and night) can prevent and sometimes help reverse this disease. It seems a little hard to believe that such a simple solution could be so effective but what have you got to lose when this super oil offers so many other benefits?
The Dos and Don'ts of Dementia
Here’s a list of additional things to embrace and avoid for those seeking brain resilience:
Challenge your mind daily to keep those dentrites dancing. The online scrabble game phenomenon “Words with Friends” is a great option, but from personal experience I must caution those with an addictive nature to be wary.
Optimise your B12 levels – a recent Finnish study found a significant reduction in Alzheimer’s amongst those consuming luxury levels in their food. B12 is not found in vegetables and vegans are seriously at risk. Best sources are wild salmon, free range eggs, grass fed beef and lamb, and organic liver. 1000 mcg per day is the best supplementing rate and those over 50 are probably wise to choose a sublingual form as they are often lacking a substance called “intrinsic factor”, which governs B12 uptake in the gut.
Avoid anticholinergic drugs – these drugs used as anti-depressants, painkillers, sleep aids and antihistamines block acetyl choline. This is a key neurotransmitter and those with Alzheimer’s often have low levels.
Supplement with Ginkgo biloba – this herb delivers more oxygen to the brain and has been shown to be as effective as some drugs in relieving symptoms.
Exercise is essential – in one study it was found that there was a 400% higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s in those who didn’t exercise between the ages of 20 and 60. A combination of stretching, resistance exercise and aerobics is best. The five Tibetan rites comprise a combined stretch and resistance routine, which also supposedly serves to balance the seven chakras (aligned to the endocrine system in Western science). Aerobic exercise should ideally be combined with an anaerobic heart workout which is called Peak 8.
Avoid aluminium – research has repeatedly linked this contaminant to Alzheimer’s. Aluminium is added to table salt as an anti-caking agent and it is also found in baking powder. Drink from glass rather than cans and toss out aluminium cookware. A common bathroom routine poses the highest risk and yet it is easily avoided. Aluminium is the only substance that can shut down sweat glands and all anti-perspirants are based on it. You can still use deodorant but shutting down sweat glands comes with a price and if you clean your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after using your roll-on, the risk increases further. Fluoride triggers aluminium to do its dirty work.
The simple fact that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease has increased so dramatically in recent years highlights the fact that it is largely a diet and lifestyle disease. We are not hapless victims in the face of a brain-sapping onslaught. There is a clear course of action we can adopt to reduce our risks. I trust that you may be motivated to make a few simple changes to help us move toward a future where age brings wisdom rather than confusion.