Posted on: February 11, 2020
Lost Keys, Lost Memories—How You Can Dodge Dementia
“Again, Mom? You’re always losing your keys!”
One patient’s college and high school kids were always kidding her about her forgetfulness. She would laugh it off, but deep down, she wondered—and worried. Her parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in their 70s.
She wondered, Is that my destiny, too?
Dementia is a huge and growing problem—with Alzheimer’s, being a sub-category, accounting for more than half the cases.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behavior and ability to perform everyday activities.”
Alarmingly, the current number of 50 million dementia sufferers worldwide (5.8 million in the U.S.) is expected to grow to almost 150 million by 2050 (and 14 million in the U.S.). It’s also the leading cause of death.
The cost of dementia to individuals, families, and society is staggering, and not just financially but on a human level. The stress of 24/7 caregiving is enormous.
Even worse, prescription dementia drugs don’t work.
I’m seeing more and more cases of cognitive decline and dementia in my practice. Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk and halt the progression of this terrible, slow, brain drain.
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Symptoms & Flawed Tests
You don’t just wake up with dementia one day.
Just as we don’t instantly go from the black of midnight to (click) a bright midday, like a light switch, it’s the same with dementia. It’s a slow, progressive process. It sneaks up on you with little symptoms. Misplaced keys, a momentarily forgotten name or address, walking into a room and forgetting why. Feeling foggy minded.
For even ten years prior to diagnosis, many patients sensed it was happening. Some even took an Alzheimer’s test.
But those tests only reveal severe cognitive impairment.
A high-functioning, intelligent person, whose symptoms are in the beginning stages, may pass the cognitive function test and be told the results are “just fine, nothing to worry about.”
Unless your neurologist has your prior test results to measure against, he or she can’t tell if you are performing sub-optimally for you. They wouldn’t know if you were heading toward dementia.
Why is Dementia Increasing?
It’s multi-factorial: Many factors contribute to brain dysfunction, which is one reason drug trials for dementia fail. They do not correct root causes.
I’ll discuss a few root causes here, so you can be empowered and avoid becoming one of the dismal dementia statistics.
Inflammation affects the whole body, including the brain. The brain tries to protect itself against foreign toxins with its blood-brain barrier, but inflammation opens the door and allows toxins through. The worst offenders are:
- Processed food – Hydrogenated fats (e.g., fried fast food, some margarines, and cake icing), artificial flavors and ingredients, and refined flour (pasta, bagels).
- Sugar is especially damaging, linked to inflammation, faster aging and advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Eating sugar and processed food is like putting a lit match to dry paper. It inflames your whole body, including your brain. Diabetes (high blood sugar) is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
- Infection – Infection may travel through the bloodstream to the brain from the mouth (dental infection or the herpes virus) or from a systemic spirochete infection (e.g., Lyme).
- Nutritional – B12, B6, B1, folate, and Vitamin D, among others, are often too low.
- Hormonal – I often see thyroid and cortisol abnormalities, as well as deficiencies in sex hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, pregnenolone, and DHEA.
- Sleep – Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of dementia. Alzheimer’s patients sleep less and produce less melatonin.
- Heavy metals – sources of ingestion include pesticides, cookware, make-up, household products, metal amalgams, some fish, medications, and more.
- Biotoxins – the most common source of biotoxins comes from water-damaged buildings. The contaminants found in damp buildings include mold and its byproducts, bacteria, chemicals, volatile organic acids, and so much more. Neurotoxins are also known to be produced by the Borrelia bacteria, which causes Lyme disease.
Dodging Dementia: Action Steps
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to prevent dementia and even stop its progression if it has started.
- Reduce inflammation
- Optimize nutrition and hormone levels
- Eliminate toxins
How, you ask?
Here’s how Sarah,* whose kids teased her about her forgetfulness, turned things around.
She came to me for a full assessment. Her parents had Alzheimer’s, and she was afraid she might be headed that way, too. She was. Her lifestyle was barreling her straight toward that outcome.
Sarah was menopausal and overweight, caring more for her family and job than herself. Her diet consisted of inflammation-promoting fast foods like pizza, burgers, French fries, chips, bagels, and waffles. She had acid reflux, popped antacids, and took meds for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. (In the next blog I will discuss which medications are associated with cognitive decline and dementia.)
Her job and home life were stressful, and she was completely worn out. She couldn’t sleep at night due to frequent awakenings, so all day she drank caffeinated diet soda (which disrupts the microbiome and negatively impacts the brain). In spite of the caffeine, sometimes she dozed off at her desk, jeopardizing her job, which stressed her out even more. She had no energy to exercise and felt very depressed.
Her tests revealed:
- Multiple B vitamin deficiencies, and her Vitamin D was extremely low (optimal range is 60-100).
- Her markers of inflammation were abnormal. Her homocysteine was high (higher than 7 is abnormal) and so was her hs-CRP (an inflammation marker produced by liver, which should be lower than 0.9). Her hemoglobin A1C was over 5.6, confirming that she was a pre-diabetic.
- Her hormones were way off kilter. Her sex hormones were very low, her cortisol was high, and her thyroid function was suboptimal.
I tested Sarah for the ApoE gene, and we found that she had a strong genetic predisposition to developing dementia. That predisposition was understandable since both of her parents had Alzheimer’s. The ApoE gene is expressed by the liver and white blood cells and it regulates the transport of cholesterol in and out of the cell, as well as inflammation.
She knew she didn’t sleep well. But Sarah didn’t realize that she had sleep apnea. Due to her obesity, she stopped breathing during the night multiple times. This deprived her brain of oxygen and her of a restful sleep.
Sarah began using a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine and took Vitamin D and other supplements to bring up her low levels. We started bio-identical hormone replacement to balance her hormone levels. As her nutrition and hormone levels improved and she slept better, she had more energy. She began taking more walks during breaks and exercising a little more. Her mood improved and she lost weight.
As she felt better, she made healthier food choices. This helped her feel even better and lose more weight. Later, she didn’t need the CPAP machine. Her internal chemistry changed due to healthy lifestyle choices, and her memory (and life) improved.
Sarah changed her destiny. She felt completely renewed, no longer on the path to dementia.
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Recently, researchers have been excited to discover that the brain can renew itself. It is not a static organ, as was once believed. The studies mention dementia drugs being developed, but you can reduce inflammation on your own by optimizing your diet, lifestyle, and hormones, as Sarah’s case illustrated.
Here are brief summaries and links to the studies:
- Reduce inflammation, reduce brain fog, reverse dementia.
- Exercise improves brain function.
- Mice with dementia symptoms improved once inflammation was reduced.
So, I leave you with this: You are in the driver’s seat of your destiny. No matter what you inherited from your ancestors, you can help your genes express optimally by the choices you make in your life.
Every day is a brand-new day to begin. Book your complimentary 15-minute appointment with me now. Together, we’ll chart a course to your new destiny.