Protect Your Brain from Inflammation

I know I came into this room for a reason…

We have all experienced this! You walk into a room and your mind goes blank. You see someone in the store that you KNOW you know but can’t remember their name for a few hours. We chalk this up to aging, and some of this is completely normal. But, what we are learning is that our aging brains are aging perhaps faster than they should.

Most of my patients will report during their initial intake that they experience some degree of short term memory loss or brain fog leading them to have some fear of dementia. Lately, this has been a big area of interest for me, and of course, I worry about my own brain as it ages.

With the rapid increase in dementia seen in patients, I can’t help but look again to the environment. What has changed so rapidly to account for the changes we are seeing in younger and younger patients?

There is a continuum of symptom severity for people on the Alzheimer’s spectrum. It goes from a 0 to an 8: 0 meaning “no changes in cognition,” and 8 being advanced Alzheimer’s. Most people in their 40’s were found to be somewhere near a 3 in terms of their cognitive changes. That is somewhat scary!

It is documented that brain pathology can be detected in almost all people over 40-years-old, and 45% of people over 80-years-old have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The diagnosis of AD is not made until brain symptoms begin, which is often late in the game. I can’t help but fast forward another few decades: will 30-year-olds be demonstrating brain pathology, and will 60% of people over 85 years old have AD?

Risk factors for AD include: 

  • family history
  • gender (2/3 of patients diagnosed with AD are women)
  • head injury
  • neurovascular events (e.g. stroke)
  • diabetes
  • emotional trauma

Recently, I attended a conference on neuroplasticity— the ability of the brain to be retrained. Great news! We can actually retrain parts of our brains that are damaged, but first, we must put out the fire.

That fire is inflammation. 

Current drugs to treat AD are barely better than doing nothing (e.g., Aricept or Namenda). So, we can’t look to conventional medicine for help.

AD begins with short term memory deficits. Sensory information is stored in the hippocampus in the center of your brain, which is also where we store short term memory. When nerve cells here are destroyed, information can’t be accessed, which becomes poor memory and poor short term recall.

Gene defects have been identified that contribute to the development of these brain changes (e.g. APP, PSEN1, PSEN2, APOE), and we know that certain things turn on and off genes, especially inflammation. These genes have an impact on plaque formation, which is how AD is quantified, i.e. the amount of plaques found in the brain.

What is clear from the research is that the resilient brain has less inflammation; so it makes sense that the prevention of AD requires reducing neuro-inflammation.

Here are the lifestyle behaviors associated with reducing neuro-inflammation:

  • Physical exercise (greater than 10,000 steps per day)
  • Healthy diet (e.g. Mediterranean Diet- fresh fruits and vegetables, good fats, some lean protein)
  • Taking Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA 1400mg/DHA 800 mg)
  • Taking antioxidants, such as curcumin, COQ10, resveratrol, Vitamin E, and more
  • Microbial diversity in your gut (probiotics, variety in diet of fruits and veggies)
  • Ashwaganda – an adaptogenic herb
  • Social interaction
  • 8 hours of sleep
  • Challenging yourself to learn new things
  • Meditation, which reduces stress and thereby, decreases cortisol and its negative effects on brain cells

Here’s a great mantra:

The mind and body I have today are the results of the habits and activities of yesterday.

The mind and body I have tomorrow are the results of the habits and activities of today.

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