Defeat Dementia Naturally

 

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Defeat Dementia Naturally

Overview

Brain health is one of today’s hottest medical topics. And why shouldn’t it be? Across the age spectrum, from grade school student to mid-career professional to retiree, all of us realize that being cognitively sharp is an invaluable asset. However, as we—and those around us—age, we tend to be confronted with a sobering reality: cognitive function typically declines in our later years.

Illustrating this sobering reality was a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study that looked at a representative sample of the U.S. population.1 More than 12% of those over 60 years of age reported increased episodes of confusion or memory loss in the preceding year. Although confusion and memory difficulties are not synonymous with dementia, they are often indicators of that gradual deterioration in mental function that warrants the designation.

Whether or not you feel your cognitive processes are slipping, medical evidence indicates a variety of strategies can help you decrease your risk of losing mental function. Yes, on a population level, the research indicates we can largely defeat dementia. By this I mean we can turn the tide on this epidemic, keeping more and more people away from the grasp of dementia at any given age.

The LifeStart mnemonic helps highlight nine natural lifestyle strategies that can help us “defeat dementia.” Let’s look at some examples.

The Amazing BDNF

One of the most fascinating brain health-enhancing compounds is something known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). If you have some basic medical terminology under your belt, the name is really self-explanatory. If not, let me break things down. Brain-derived indicates this compound is actually made by your brain. Neuro refers to nerve or brain cells while trophic refers to growth. Consequently, we’re talking about a compound made within your own body that helps your brain and nerve cells thrive.

Of special importance to our discussion, BDNF helps prevent at least three cognition-robbing conditions: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and thrombotic stroke (stroke caused by a blood clot, in contrast to a hemorrhagic or bleeding stroke). BDNF also prevents another condition that has been shown to undermine memory and mental processing; namely, depression.

There is no way to take BDNF in pill form. However, medical research reveals we can boost levels of BDNF with four natural strategies—all of which are contained in the LifeStart acronym.

Four Keys to Boosting BDNF

Food and Temperance: Dietary restriction. In the dietary realm, temperance involves eating what is good in moderation—and avoiding those things that are harmful all together. Later in this synopsis we’ll talk about specific dietary choices. However, when it comes to BDNF, the key message is this: don’t overeat. Cutting back on calories as little as 30% significantly boosts levels of BDNF.

If you know anything about longevity research, this is not surprising. In animal studies, lifespan is increased by moderate caloric restriction.2 Add to that human research linking obesity to Alzheimer’s disease, and our motivation to avoid that second helping should be that much stronger.3

Exercise. Regular exercise boosts levels of BDNF in the range of 30% after a single exercise session. Make it a priority to get daily physical exercise and you’ll be doing your brain a favor.

Among the brain health bonuses bundled with exercise is this: physical activity helps offset stress. This is good news on the cognitive health front when you realize that persistent stress causes shrinkage of the brain’s hippocampus (a key area for optimal memory performance).

Interpersonal Relationships. Another important strategy for boosting BDNF levels is something called environmental enrichment. An environmentally enriched setting challenges your brain with new and typically unpredictable cues. Although you can enrich your environment by camping, taking up a new hobby, or doing word puzzles, building new interpersonal relationships is one of the most readily available resources. For this reason LifeStart Seminars encourages you to increase the benefits of our programs by sharing it with someone else—or by using our online directory to connect with others traveling on this same educational journey.

Liquids and Temperance: Alcohol avoidance. Although the internet abounds with “experts” touting the benefits of moderate drinking for cognitive function, the entirety of the mental health research suggests a better option. Opt for items like table grapes and grape juice over wine. Such a strategy will give you the health-giving phytochemicals from the grapes without the alcohol—a known perturber of BDNF and other neurotrophins. For example, beverage alcohol has been documented to lower levels of BDNF in that critical brain memory region, the hippocampus.4

Other LifeStart Elements to Defeat Dementia

A dementia-defeating program involves more than a focus on BDNF. Consider some of the benefits of other selected elements of the LifeStart program.

Food: Specific Dietary Choices. A number of research groups have come to the same conclusion: certain are foods are good for your brain while others increase dementia risk. Among the healthy choices are the following: berries, green leafy vegetables, nuts (in moderation), beans, and whole grains (think whole wheat rather than white bread). The harmful category includes items that tend to be high in fat (especially of the saturated variety): red meat, butter, cheese, pastries, sweets, and fried foods. At least one part of the connection has been elucidated by researchers at New York City’s Icahn School of Medicine (formerly Mount Sinai School of Medicine). They have reported a compelling link between saturated fat consumption and Alzheimer’s disease.

Sunlight. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. One study published in a 2014 issue of the journal Neurology found that the risk more than doubled when those with vitamin D levels less than 10 ng/ml (very low) were compared to those with levels greater than 20 ng/ml. The solution is relatively simple: spend more time in the sun. However, if you have a skin condition that is worsened by sun exposure—or live far from the equator during the winter months—you’ll want to rely on a vitamin D supplement. Wondering how you are doing on this front? Have your doctor check your blood level of 25-OH vitamin D.

Temperance and Fresh Air: Say “no” to smoking. Another habit to add to the total avoidance category of temperance is cigarette smoking. If the connections between cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, stomach ulcers, and skin wrinkling haven’t been enough to motivate you to quit smoking, perhaps the brain health evidence will. A compilation of 19 studies involving more than 20,000 subjects found smoking nearly doubled the risk of both Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia (another common cause of precipitous cognitive decline).

Trust. Higher levels of cynical distrust, expressed in such attitudes as “no one cares about me” or “it is not safe to trust anyone” have recently been linked to more than triple the risk of dementia. The researchers in Finland who published these findings in a June 2014 issue of Neurology were merely providing a new installment in the long-established saga linking trust and brain health. As an example of earlier work, researchers have known for years of the brain health enhancing effects of oxytocin, a hormone released in response to trusting relations such as that between a mother and her child.

The message is inescapable: brain health is not only dependent on individual choices like diet and exercise but also on how we relate to others.

Summary

The natural, lifestyle-based strategies summarized in the LifeStart acronym hold the keys to decreasing your risk of dementia. To learn more about these nine strategies, download the FREE LifeStart eBook. For best results, consult with your healthcare providers and tap into a local support center where you can surround yourself with a community of supportive peers. Our online directory will help you locate such individuals in your community. Our website also features a variety of resources (e.g., books, DVDs, and other health services) endorsed by medical professionals to help you maximize your mental performance naturally.

Endnotes

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Self-Reported Increased Confusion or Memory Loss and Associated Functional Difficulties Among Adults Aged ≥60 Years—21 States, 2011.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 62(18) (May 10, 2013): 347–350.
  2. Ugochukwu, N.H., Figgers, C.L. “Dietary caloric restriction modifies inflammatory responses in livers of streptozocin-induced diabetic rats.” Nutrition Research, 26 (2006): 221–226.
  3. Pasinetti, G. M., et. al. “Caloric Intake and Alzheimer’s Disease. Experimental Approaches and Therapeutic Implications.” Interdisciplinary Topics in Gerontology and Geriatrics, 35 (2007): 159–75.
  4. Miller MW, Mooney SM. “Chronic Exposure to Ethanol Alters Neurotrophin Content in the Basal Forebrain-cortex System in the Mature Rat: Effects on Autocrine-paracrine Mechanisms.” Journal of Neurobiology, 60(4) (September 15, 2004): 490–498.

Take the Next Step...

Join the 30-day LifeStart Online Program and get daily motivation plus personalized support to help you live sharper, leaner, longer, and better—in 30 days or less!

About the Presenter

David DeRose, MD, MPH
Host, LifeStart Seminars

For over 25 years Dr. David DeRose has been helping people improve their health through motivational presentations and natural therapies. He brings solid credentials as a board-certified specialist in both Internal Medicine and Preventive Medicine in addition to holding a master’s degree in Public Health with an emphasis on Health Promotion and Health Education. Known for his engaging presentations, Dr. DeRose is an award-winning public speaker, published medical researcher, syndicated talk radio host, and experienced college teacher.

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