Tag Archives: dementia

Concussions triple suicide risk

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While concussions have gained attention for their link to dementia, did you know they also increase the risk for suicide? Just one concussion can triple the long-term risk of suicide in otherwise healthy people.

Although brain-injured football players have been receiving all the attention lately, the typical concussion patient is a middle-aged adult. Most concussions happen during traffic accidents, falls at home, and in other everyday situations.

study looked at a quarter-million subjects who had been diagnosed with a mild concussion during the last 20 years. Researchers found suicide occurred at three times the norm in this population. They also found that on average suicide occurred nearly six years after the concussion. Also, the risk increased with additional concussions.

Why does a concussion increase suicide risk? 

In functional medicine we know a concussion causes brain inflammation, from which the patient may never fully recover. Unlike the body’s immune system, the brain’s immune system does not shut off once triggered. As a result, unchecked brain inflammation damages and destroys healthy brain cells.

Brain inflammation is tied to various brain-based disorders, including depression and mental illness. In fact, a 2014 study concluded that sustaining a head injury leads to a greater risk of mental illness later in life.

When patients fail to employ strategies to dampen brain inflammation, post-concussive inflammation continues its crawl through the brain like a slow-burning fire, consuming neurons in its path. This can go on for years after the concussion, impacting mood, memory, and general function.

What’s more, thanks to intimate communication between the brain and the gut, a concussion often impacts gut health and function. Many people report the onset of digestive issues after a concussion.

This is bad news because research shows an inflamed and unhealthy gut is directly linked to depression, giving post-concussive patients a double whammy of depression-inducing inflammation that travels back and forth between the gut and the brain.

Functional medicine strategies for concussions 

For every person who dies from suicide, many others think about it or suffer from chronic depression. 

This study shows a clear need for better long-term care of patients with concussion.

Fortunately, functional medicine offers many strategies to reduce brain inflammation and lower the risk of mood disorders such as depression after a concussion:

  • Stabilizing blood sugar
  • Removing inflammatory triggers from the diet (such as gluten) or the environment (such as synthetic scents or toxic cleaning products)
  • Improving gut health and gut bacteria diversity
  • Identifying and addressing autoimmune diseases, situations where the body’s immune system attacks body tissue, creating chronic inflammation. Autoimmune reactions in the brain are more common than people realize.
  • Addressing chronic infections.
  • Improving blood flow and oxygenation flow in the brain.
  • Stabilizing hormones.
  • Using nutritional compounds to reduce inflammation in the brain.

These are among the foundations of functional medicine that can make the difference between a post-concussive downward spiral or be the springboard to a more brain-healthy way of living. 

If life hasn’t been the same since your concussion, ask me how functional medicine strategies can help.

Poor sleep habits linked with dementia

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Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you fall asleep around 2 or 3 a.m. and sleep until noon? Or do you wake up at 4 a.m. and can’t fall back asleep?

Studies show insomnia does more than make the days drag — it raises your risk of dementia later in life. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, mood disturbances, constipation, prostate cancer, and breast cancer have all been linked with poor sleep.

Poor sleep is a growing problem, as is dementia. Twenty percent of the population is estimated to sleep too little (less than 6 hours a night). Insomnia is the most common sleep disorder today, affecting 64 million people, and one in three people over 65 will die of dementia.

Researchers found a particularly strong link between poor rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and dementia. These people do not go into the deep enough REM sleep that induces paralysis. Instead, they have vivid, violent dreams that they act out through punching, kicking, screaming, and even jumping out of bed.

Sixty-three percent of people with this REM disorder develop dementia or Parkinson’s later in life.

The sleep wake cycle and dementia risk

Our circadian rhythm regulates our sleep/wake cycles — when we feel tired at night and alert in the morning. A healthy circadian rhythm is tied to daylight and darkness and governs sleeping and waking.

However, when this sleep/wake cycle becomes overly imbalanced, your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases increases.

This is because the area of the brain that governs the circadian rhythm, the hippocampus, also plays a role in short-term memory and learning. The hippocampus is the first area of the brain to degenerate in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Constant problems with your cycles of sleeping and waking could point to problems in the hippocampus and an increased risk of dementia later in life.

The sleep-wake cycle and dementia

Researchers have found the risk of dementia was higher in older women with weak circadian rhythms, and tracking circadian rhythms over time has been shown to predict cognitive decline in older adults.

Are you at risk for dementia later in life?

How do you know if your circadian rhythm is off balance? Look at whether you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Not feeling rested after sleep
  • Poor recovery from exercise
  • Drop of energy between 4 –7 p.m.

Preventing dementia by supporting sleep

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to better regulate your circadian rhythm and lower the risk for dementia. A primary tactic is to regulate cortisol, an adrenal stress hormone. Studies show high cortisol from constant physical or mental stress degenerates the hippocampus.

Stress isn’t just a lifestyle issue. Stress is also be caused by blood sugar swings, inflammation  food intolerances, hormone imbalances, and other metabolic issues. Inflammation in particular is associated with degeneration of the hippocampus. High homocysteine on a blood panel, a telltale sign of inflammation, is one way to determine whether inflammation is undermining your brain health.

Inflammation and dementia

A primary way to normalize the circadian rhythm and reduce your risk of dementia is to reduce inflammation. Your diet is the first place to start. This includes removing foods to which you are sensitive (gluten and dairy are among the more common), stabilizing your blood sugar, and eliminating processed foods.

Ask me about an anti-inflammatory diet, improving sleep, and other tools to lower the risk of dementia.

Worried about losing your memory? Eat your greens

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Memory loss and dementia are valid concerns for everyone these days: one in three seniors dies of Alzheimer’s or dementia and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Fortunately, dementia is largely preventable with many lifestyle and dietary adjustments, one of which is including plenty of greens in your diet.

New research shows eating plenty of spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens can help slow cognitive decline. Researchers believe the high vitamin K content in these vegetables plays a role in preserving brain health.

The study tracked almost 1,000 older adults during five years and saw significantly less cognitive decline in participants who ate leafy green vegetables.

In fact, the elders who ate one to two servings a day of leafy greens had the cognitive ability of someone 11 years younger.

Researchers credited not only the vitamin K in leafy greens for slowing cognitive decline, but also lutein and beta-carotene. Other brightly colored fruits and vegetables are also high in these vitamins.

Vitamins aren’t the only brain benefits of leafy greens — greens promote healthy gut bacteria

The vitamins in leafy greens aren’t their only benefits.

For one, leafy greens are also rich in fiber, which are good for the gut. Plenty of dietary fiber not only prevents constipation, but it also supports the healthy bacteria in your gut. People who eat diets high in plant fiber show a more beneficial composition of gut bacteria compared to those who eat a typical western diet.

Scientists have increasingly been discovering how vital beneficial gut bacteria are to brain health. For instance, healthy gut bacteria promote the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, the lining that protects the brain.

Gut bacteria have also been shown to influence depression, anxiety, learning, and memory. This is because the gut and the brain communicate closely with one another through the vagus nerve, a large nerve that runs between the brain and the organs.

Eating greens is usually part of a healthy brain lifestyle

Another factor to consider with this study is that people who eat greens every day are typically more conscious of their health. Someone who is taking the time to shop for and prepare greens every day is probably eating a healthier, whole foods diet and avoiding dementia-promoting junk foods, sodas, and sugars.

Exercise is the golden bullet to lasting brain health

People who eat healthier also tend to exercise more regularly, whether it’s just taking a daily walk or hitting the gym every day. Both strength training and aerobic exercise have been shown protect neuron health, ensure better blood flow to the brain, and protect the brain from the damaging proteins that cause Alzheimer’s.

One study that followed more than 600 people ages 70 and older found those who engaged in the most physical activity showed the least amount of brain shrinkage.

Another study found that older adults who walked as little as 30 to 45 minutes three days a week increased the volume of the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

So although eating your greens is a great way to boost brain health (and gut health), if you eat your greens AND exercise every day, you drastically reduce your chances of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Considering there is no cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s — the neurons that die in these conditions cannot be recovered — the best approach is a preventive one.

Ask my office for more details on lowering your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Can your brain breathe? How to oxygenate your brain

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Even though you can breathe normally your brain may not be getting enough oxygen. Lack of oxygen in the brain is not something the average person can recognize. However it can cause poor brain function and increase the risk of vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s. The brain can be hungry for oxygen years or decades before dementia sets in. Risk factors include high or low blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, smoking, alcoholism, and high cholesterol.

By learning to recognize symptoms you can take action to increase oxygenation of your brain, improve brain function, and reduce your risk of vascular dementia.

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Retirement may be bad for your health

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Many people look forward to concluding a lifetime of work with retirement, but retirement can lead to a drastic decline in health. Research shows that although retirement may initially reduce stress, it significantly increases the chances of depression, physical illness, and the need for medication while reducing overall health. The longer one is in retirement the more the risks increase. Why? Turns out the body and brain need regular activity and social interaction to stay healthy, and retirement robs some people of those necessary influences.

Retirement can increase loneliness

Regular social interaction has been shown to be vital for health and vitality. In fact, social isolation has the same health risks as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, and regular social activity has been shown to prevent dementia.

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Dementia cases doubling–how to lower your risk

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The numbers of people with dementia are expected to more than double in 30 years and outpace both heart disease and cancer in terms of cost. Because dementia can take root in the brain years or decades before symptoms appear, you can take action now to avoid becoming part of this skyrocketing statistic.

Today, nearly 15 percent of people aged 71 or older have dementia—almost 4 million people. Experts predict that number will more than double to 9 million people by 2040, costing the country more than $500 billion.

What’s worse is these statistics do not include mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or “pre-dementia,” which accounts for another 22 percent of people over 71.

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Hanging out with friends vital to prevent disease

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While we eat well and exercise to prevent disease, studies show one of the best ways to stay healthy is to hang out with friends. Studies have linked socialization with better 
heart health, warding off 
depression, and preventing 
memory loss.

In fact, research shows social isolation carries the same health risks as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, and that regular social interaction can improve your odds of survival by 50 percent.

More people than ever live alone today, almost one third of the US population. This means people have to make an effort to socialize.

And if you think all those hours on Facebook are a substitute for in-person socialization, think again. Although social media is great for connections, online conversations tend to center around what’s “cool” or socially relevant, while in-person conversations go more in depth into sharing life experiences. Important social cues such as body language, facial expressions, and vocal inflections also go missing online.

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Vitamin B12 deficiency more common than thought

image9Vitamin B12 deficiency is more common than people realize and can mimic or cause other disorders. A B12 deficiency is linked with memory loss, anemia, cardiovascular disease, and autism, to name a few. B12 is necessary for the brain and nervous system to function and for other aspects of health. It’s believed B12 deficiency is due in most cases not to lack of dietary sources but to poor absorption of the vitamin in the digestive tract.

Could your declining brain function be a B12 deficiency?

Because B12 is so vital for brain function, a B12 deficiency can manifest as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, shakiness, depression, Continue reading

Trans fats shrink the brain, increase dementia risk

image29A recent study found a diet high in trans fats shrinks the brain and increases the risk of dementia. Trans fats are found in fast foods, processed foods, margarine, shortening, chips, flaky pastries, many fried foods, and many popular convenience foods. They can be identified in a list of ingredients as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.

Diet high in vitamins, omega 3s protect brain

On the other hand, study participants who ate diets high in vitamins B, C, D, and E and omega 3 fatty acids were found to have larger, healthier brains than their junk-food eating counterparts. These nutrients are found in a diet high in vegetables, fruits, fish, and raw nuts and seeds. Continue reading

Poor sleep habits raise the risk of dementia

dementia-circadian-rhythm-adrenal-cortisol-alzheimer'sAre you a night owl who can’t fall asleep? Are you half dead in the morning without several cups of coffee? If so, you may have an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.

Our “body clock,” or circadian rhythm, regulates our sleep/wake cycles.

A healthy circadian rhythm has you alert in the morning, tired at night, and able to sleep through the night.

When it becomes imbalanced your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases increases.

Dementia and circadian rhythm share same area of the brain

The area of the brain that governs the circadian rhythm, the hippocampus, also plays a role in short-term memory and learning. The hippocampus is the first target of degeneration in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

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