Image from www.alzheimers.org.uk
Here in the UK there are currently 850,000 people living with dementia. Because we are an ageing population, this figure is set to grow massively over the next few years, placing a huge strain on our already beleaguered healthcare system.
Last week I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr Dale Bredesen, a Professor of Neurology at the Buck Institute in America. He is pioneering research into dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (which accounts for 62% of all dementia) and achieving incredible results.
His protocol combines nutrition, lifestyle, supplement and medications – a truly holistic approach for what is a complex condition. You can read more about his work here at the Dementia Alliance International website.
The problem with all the new dementia drugs that keep hitting the headlines is they are only focusing on 1 aspect of the problem: the accumulation of protein tangles in the brain. Stopping these protein tangles will not halt or reverse the progression of dementia in the long term because this is only part of a much broader picture.
Dr Bredesen likens dementia to a leaky roof that has 36 holes in it. The drugs plug 1 or 2 of these holes but the roof will still leak! Taking nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and key nutrients into consideration is crucial in order for the roof to become watertight again.
The causes of dementia vary from person to person, but 3 main areas have been identified:
1. Inflammation in the brain
2. Exposure to brain-damaging toxins such as aluminium, mercury – and for some individuals, gluten – and infections
3. Chronic lack of nutrients needed to maintain brain function
So, if you’re concerned about cognitive decline or simply want to keep your faculties as sharp as possible for as long as possible, what can you do?
Investigate your genes
The presence of the homozygous APOE-4 gene variation causes a 90% increased risk of developing dementia. This is an increased risk – it’s not a definite destiny! How your genes are expressed is determined by your diet and lifestyle: you have the power to positively influence your genes.
For more information on genetic investigations and nutritional support please contact me.
Balance your blood sugars
Alzheimer’s has been termed ‘diabetes in the brain’ because the brain cells lose their ability to respond to insulin and use sugars effectively for fuel. If your diet is high in refined sugars and processed foods, cut these out. Switch to wholegrain versions and include a wider variety of naturally gluten-free carbohydrates like buckwheat, quinoa and brown rice. Include good quality protein with each meal. Aim to have a mini-fast each night by not eating for 12 hours e.g. 8pm to 8am.
Go for full fat!
When brain cells struggle to utilise sugars properly, they can still use a type of fat called MCT (medium chain triglycerides). Coconut oil is an excellent source of these fats, and anecdotal evidence demonstrates improvements in dementia symptoms from including 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil each day.
Your brain also relies on ample levels of cholesterol: 25% of your body’s cholesterol lives in your brain. This works alongside omega-3 oils from oily fish, nuts and seeds to keep your brain cells communicating properly.
Check your Vitamin D
Vitamin D receptors are found throughout the brain and low levels of this nutrient are linked with increased inflammation – a key trigger for dementia.
Reduce your exposure to toxins by switching to natural cleaning products and bodycare products. Stop smoking (that’s obvious!), avoid aluminium pans and utensils and include plenty of antioxidant foods: coriander, spirulina, chlorella and dark green leafy vegetables, eggs and onions are some of the best sources of powerful antioxidant nutrients.
Movement and mental stimulation!
Movement of all kinds improves circulation and blood sugar balance. Including movement each day, whether its walking, swimming, yoga, Tai Chi or a full on gym workout is vital.
Keeping your brain stimulated by learning new things is just as important. Your brain cells grow and restructure themselves each time you learn new information or have to solve problems. Learning a new language, doing a daily crossword or Sudoku puzzle can all help stimulate ‘neuro-plasticity’ – the reshaping and growth of brain cells.
Concerned about your mental wellbeing?
Looking for naturopathic nutritional support for depression, anxiety or poor memory?
A recent large scale study from Japan has highlighted how the national diet which is rich in oily fish, means there are lower levels of depression amongst the population.
Many previous studies examining the effects of omega-3 oils on depression and mood balance have looked at the average Western diet which is typically low in oily fish. The Japanese traditionally eat much more oily fish, thereby having a higher baseline level of omega-3.
The study looked at 1050 men and 1073 women all aged over 40. Results showed that higher intake levels of the omega-3 fats EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) were inversely associated with symptoms of depression.
Both EPA and DHA play key roles in the structure and function of the brain, supporting communication between brain cells.
The importance of omega-3 fats to brain health can be likened to a mobile phone signal: when levels are low, cell communication is crackly and interrupted, similar to poor mobile phone reception!
Oily fish and krill oil are major sources of both EPA and DHA. Certain types of algae can supply DHA whilst flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts provide ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), the ‘parent’ acid of EPA and DHA.
The difficulty with relying on ALA as a source of omega-3 oils is that a lot of the oils are lost in the different conversion processes ALA must go through to become EPA and DHA.
Many other nutrients are needed to support this conversion: magnesium, B-vitamins, vitamin C, zinc – and if dietary sources of these nutrients is low, or digestion is impaired, there are knock on effects on EPA and DHA levels.
Try these simple steps to support your EPA and DHA levels:
Include oily fish such as sardines, wild salmon, mackerel, pilchards and trout in your diet 3 times a week
If you dislike fish, consider a Krill oil supplement. Krill oil provides EPA and DHA in a highly bioavailable form which is easily used by cells throughout your body
For vegetarians & vegans, include hemp, flax and walnut oils daily. ‘Udo’s Oil Blend’ is a fantastic vegan oil blend of various nuts and seeds, supplying a balanced range of Omegas 3, 6 and 9.
If you have difficulty digesting fats, include bitter foods like rocket, watercress, mustard greens, dandelion leaves and apple cider vinegar before meals to stimulate bile production.
Digestive enzymes may also be useful: lipase is the specific enzyme for fat digestion.
If you’re seeking a natural nutritional way to deal with depression, anxiety or hormonal mood imbalance, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07910 705272 TODAY!
Horikawa C et al (2016) Cross-sectional association between serum concentrations of n-3 long-chain PUFA and depressive symptoms: results in Japanese community dwellers British Journal of Nutrition vol 115:672-80
‘Clean Eating’ is the new buzz-phrase in nutrition. Endorsed by countless celebrity dieters and fitness professionals filling Instagram with image of mashed avocado and raw brownies, this so-called new way of eating revolves around ‘clean’ foods and the avoidance of anything highly processed and sugar-laden.
On the surface, this seems like a good idea and is certainly the sort of approach I would normally endorse: avoiding refined processed foods and eating a wide range of natural, nutrient-rich goods instead. But dig a little deeper, and you find the world of clean eating is far murkier than it likes to appear.
A quick Google search reveals several ridiculous rules for clean eating;
“Processed foods are anything in a box, bag, can or package.” So you’re going to have to carry that free-range chicken home in your bare hands. And yes, you are indeed being ‘dirty’ by choosing lentils and chickpeas from tins despite the fact you haven’t got time to be soaking and simmering dried ones for hours.
“Clean foods are naturally low in sugar, salt and fat.” Statements like this perpetuate the widespread confusion we have over low-fat foods. Trans fats and refined vegetable oils disrupt the actions of healthy fats in our bodies, but regular consumption of butter, ghee, good quality olive oil and coconut oil brings many health benefits. And in terms of the so called ‘clean foods’; avocadoes, coconut oil, nuts and seeds are brimming with fats!
“Use clean sugars.” I don’t think I understand this one at all. Sugar comes in many guises and in various states of processing. Avoiding the refined white table sugar is certainly helpful, but replacing this with huge spoonfuls of agave syrup (often favoured by clean eaters) is not a good alternative given its high fructose content. Fructose is metabolised in a different way to regular glucose, with high levels contributing to the formation of triglycerides in the liver – long term issues with this include Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
A ‘Clean Eating Pyramid’: the science behind this pyramid evades me. It encourages the majority of the diet to be based on fruit and water – great if you want erratic blood sugar levels, bloating and diarrhoea. Not so great for supporting your body in dealing with stress, hormone fluctuations, ongoing fatigue or digestive issues such as IBS.
The biggest disagreement I have with ‘clean eating’ is the phrase itself. It implies foods are either clean or dirty, and therefore, by extension, YOU are either clean or dirty, according to your food choices.
It is yet another way in which food becomes demonized. It is yet another way for eating disorders to develop, as people (mostly young women) begin to restrict and control the foods they eat, obeying rules set out by other followers on social media, each trying to outshine the other with the latest images of their ‘clean’ meals.
For me, dirty foods are the carrots I haven’t washed yet. I enjoy mashed avocado as much as the next person, and just as much as I enjoy a bag of ‘dirty’ chocolate buttons at the cinema.
A shorter version of this article appeared in The Press on 07/06/2016