Natural Approach for Maintaining Brain Health and Preventing Dementia and Alzheimer’s
By Joanne Aponte, ND • June 21, 2021
This article is based on the work of Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD – expert in cognitive disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.
There is no single cause of cognitive illnesses such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s and so there is no single solution. This explains why no drug has been effective for halting or reversing these diseases. Multiple lifestyle, diet, physiological and environmental factors contribute to the development of these diseases and so they all need to be looked at for an effective outcome.
The neurodegeneration of these cognitive diseases, occur for many years and sometimes decades before diagnosis is made and symptoms are often subtle early on. For this reason, it’s so important to take care of your brain now and address risk factors as soon as possible.
- Address and reverse insulin resistance – high blood sugar levels can cause insulin resistance in the brain. Individuals with Type 2 diabetes have an 50-65% increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Even high normal fasting blood glucose (above 95) has been linked with atrophy of the hippocampus in the brain!
- Optimize nutrient levels, hormones and trophic factors that support the brain, mitochondria and immune system.
- Optimize Trophic factors – trophic factors are growth factors that help maintain and rebuild the neurons in the brain and the connections between them. Trophic factors include B vitamins (especially B1, B12 and folate), Vitamin D, testosterone, estrogen, Vitamin C, E and K, Choline, Omega 3 fats (especially DHA), and minerals such as zinc, magnesium, copper and selenium. These should be optimized (not just on the low end of normal range)
- Optimize hormone levels – hormones are critical for making and maintaining the synaptic communication pathways between neurons. Hormones to optimize include –thyroid, pregnenolone, estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol.
- Increase nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF) – this is done mainly through exercise and brain exercises. Keep learning, problem solving and challenging your brain!
- Identify and remove sources of inflammation –The amyloid plaques that form in Alzheimer’s are actually a part of the body’s inflammatory response. It’s like a protective mechanism where the brain is trying to protect itself from the damaging effects of inflammation. The key is to find out what is causing inflammation in YOUR body and remove it. Most common causes of inflammation include:
- Leaky gut and dysbiosis – dysbiosis is an imbalance of the microorganisms living in your digestive tract. When there is dysbiosis in the gut and the gut lining is leaky and permeable, endotoxins produced by gut bacteria cross the blood brain barrier and lead to inflammation in the brain.
- Metabolic syndrome – hypertension, high cholesterol and high blood sugar.
- Dental problems such as gingivitis and periodontitis
- Chronic sinus infections
- Identify and reduce environmental toxins
- Rule out sleep apnea and optimize sleep
- Identify and treat chronic infections (such Tick-borne illnesses and Lyme disease)
So what can you do now to keep your brain healthy?
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
- Include walnuts, blueberries, green leafy veggies and fatty fish like salmon and sardines.
- Healthy oils are key – nuts/seeds, olive oil, olives, avocado, fatty fish, coconut. Avoid processed foods with trans-fat and vegetable oils.
- Only intact whole grains (i.e. whole brown rice not rice crackers) and limit to 1/2 -3/4 cup per day.
- Avoid dairy – only small amounts. Think of this as a condiment only.
- Avoid gluten – to maintain the gut barrier and prevent leaky gut. Gluten is also one of the most inflammatory foods. Click here for a gluten free handout.
- Avoid all sugar – honey and maple syrup in moderation and whole fruits are best.
- Avoid alcohol – 5 ounces of dry red wine 1-3 days per week, is probably okay! There is no clear science about how much alcohol is okay for the brain.
- Eliminate AGE’s in your food – this includes avoiding fried foods like French fries and grilled meats.
- For some with more advanced cognitive decline or certain risk factors a ketogenic diet which is low in carbohydrate and high in fat, might be the best.
- Do not smoke
- Optimize your metabolic health
- Achieve a normal weight and BMI
- Achieve optimal cholesterol levels. We all know high cholesterol is not good but low cholesterol is linked with dementia too. Total cholesterol should be over 150.
- Address high blood sugar and insulin resistance.
- Intermittent fasting: Fast for 12 hours every night (14 hours each night if you carry the ApoE4 Alzheimer’s gene). Consider water fasting for 1 or 2 days each week.
- No snacking after dinner or eating late at night. Earlier dinners are better.
- Optimize sleep and address sleep apnea
- Sleep in a pitch-black room and turn off electronics.
- Aim for a regular schedule, in and out of bed at the same time. Aim for 7-8 hours/night and stop eating 3 hours before bed. Avoid alcohol near bedtime.
- Keep stress low – find the stress lowering techniques that resonate with you. Some options include yoga, meditation/mindfulness, prayer, recreational hobbies that you enjoy. Prioritize self-care and set limits, don’t over schedule! Unplug and get off your email, Facebook, screens, TV and news. Exercise. Maintain social relationships. Get outside in nature and be in the sun.
- Exercise your body AND your brain – for brain exercises you can do things like saying the alphabet backwards, and counting down from 100 by 6’s, 7’s and 8’s. Dr. Bredesen has more info about this in his book.
- Reduce toxin exposure – click here to learn more about how you can reduce your toxic load.
- Keep good oral hygiene – floss every day, get regular dental cleanings and address dental issues like gingivitis and periodontitis.
- Avoid medications that interfere with nutrient absorption – this especially includes proton pump inhibitors that are used for acid reflux.
Lab testing to identify your risk factors and souces of inflammation might include:
- Genetic testing – ApoE4
- CBC, CMP
- Fasting blood, sugar, insulin and HbA1c
- Cholesterol panel
- Hormones – thyroid, pregnenolone, estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and cortisol
- Nutrient testing: zinc, potassium, calcium, RBC magnesium, B12, folate, Vitamin D
- Markers of Inflammation – HsCRP, homocysteine (should be below 7)
- Assessment of the gut microbiome with a comprehensive stool analysis
- Sleep study if sleep apnea is suspected
Remember, everyone is unique and each person’s contributing factors will be different.
If you are experiencing early sign of cognitive decline, have family history of these cognitive illnesses or if you have some of the risk factors described above, work with your naturopathic doctor or other qualified health practitioner to determine what lab tests are necessary and to help you map out a plan for keeping your brain healthy!
Resource: The End of Alzheimer’s Program by Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.