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Wellness

Memory: The key to keeping your mind sharp

It is estimated that 24 million people around the world suffer from dementia, and this number is predicted to double every 20 years until at least 2040. Brain conditions are not limited to older adults, and early signs can affect all ages. Optimizing brain function increases our ability to sustain attention, learn with greater ease, get quality sleep, and maintain a good mood.

While our brain function is imperative to the rest of our body, maintaining its health is often not addressed until it’s too late. Neurologic degeneration is difficult to identify in oneself, making it easy to allow it to gradually decline. Once the diagnosis of dementia is made, there is little one can do to turn back the clock. Healthy brain function begins with proper fuel — oxygen and sugar.

Impaired circulation

If our body goes more than five minutes without oxygen, our brain suffers permanent damage. While this is one extreme, when our brain does not receive adequate oxygen, its performance is reduced.

Signs of reduced circulation include high or low blood pressure; anemia; cold hands, feet, and tip of the nose; brittle nails; and fungal overgrowth on toes. Gingko biloba and gotu kola are two herbs that greatly enhance circulation and reduce high blood pressure. Exercise is also key — heart-pumping cardio for 15 minutes upon waking can be extremely helpful. Good posture and not hunching at a computer ensures that blood is free to flow to the brain.

The more we engage, the more webs our brains create, allowing us to learn and grow.

Blood sugar imbalances

Alzheimer’s disease is also considered Type 3 diabetes. Individuals affected by diabetes are actually twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Our brain uses 30 percent of our glucose supply, making glucose a primary fuel source for proper brain function. When glucose and the regulating hormone, insulin, are too high or low, performance is affected.

Elevated glucose levels, or hyperglycemia, cause degeneration and inflammation that disrupt normal functions, like clearing the amyloid plaques in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Signs of high blood sugar include fatigue after meals, craving sweets after a meal, constant hunger, and difficulty losing weight.

Conversely, low blood sugar, hypoglycemia, can equally affect performance. Individuals with hypoglycemia must eat regularly, and if a meal is missed, they become irritable, fatigued, and/or experience brain fog. Low blood sugar levels can be greatly affected by stress and poor diet.

Both of these conditions can be appropriately managed by a balanced diet. First, it is important to determine if you have any food sensitivities, because those foods trigger both stress and inflammation. For both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, one should adopt a low-carbohydrate diet, have a breakfast of high-quality protein and fat, and eat something every two to three hours.

Inflammation

The primary immune cells in the brain are the microglia cells, which assist in sending messages between neurons and removing dead neurons and plaques. With persistent inflammation from diet, trauma, lack of oxygen, environmental toxins, autoimmune disease, and blood sugar abnormalities, the immune system becomes taxed with an overwhelming amount of work, and neuroinflammation ensues.

Chronic inflammation speeds neuron cell death rates and reduces the response of existing neurons, causing symptoms like brain fog and depression. By regulating inflammation, microglia cells have the ability to properly clear degenerated tissue to support existing healthy tissue.

As mentioned in the May issue of the Marina Times (“Why you need to be on guard against inflammation,” www.marinatimes.com), compounds like curcumin derived from turmeric and resveratrol derived from grapes can be powerful in reducing inflammation in combination with an anti inflammatory diet.

In terms of diet, one of the most inflammatory proteins from food is gluten in wheat products. We are no longer eating the wheat our parents and grandparents consumed and the processing of the wheat has made it incredibly inflammatory. Many people with neurologic imbalances and autoimmune conditions benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Stimulation

The saying, “use it or lose it,” has never rung more true. As we age, we are continuously losing brain cells called neurons. While we want to be healthy and maintain the neurons we have, our brain is very efficient by creating webs between neurons. The more we engage, the more webs we create, allowing us to continually learn and grow throughout life. My patients that remain engaged in studies, games, athletics, and other activities live happier and healthier lives.

Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia, mood disorders, and learning disabilities are not conditions we have to endure. Proactive health measures affecting circulation, blood sugar balance, and inflammation can be incorporated to improve and prevent neurodegeneration.

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Thalia Farshchian is a naturopathic doctor at Discover Health. Her background includes both conventional and alternative modalities, and her practice is primarily focused on weight management, hormone imbalances, and gastrointestinal conditions. E-mail: drthalia@discoverhealthmd.com