Recognizing the Signs of DementiaI consider dementia the Trojan Horse of modern times. The causes of dementia are right in front of us and we allow them into our bodies. But there’s one difference between the sack of Troy and the onset of dementia: It takes decades for most forms of dementia to set in. In that time, the symptoms of dementia – memory loss, poor judgment, difficulty keeping track of things, mood fluctuations, withdrawal, and more – can surface. But you may not notice them or you write them off as something else: fatigue, dehydration, aging. However, you have a big advantage over dementia. Time is on your side to prevent it, but the time to start is now. You have another advantage that people 5 years ago didn’t have. And you can thank Dr. Dale Bredesen for that. His groundbreaking 2014 research took a person-specific approach to recognizing and treating dementia. For each patient, he took multiple blood tests and cognitive evaluations and then implemented (and tweaked) treatments based on results. He focused on hormone levels, sleep, exercise, brain stimulation levels, vitamin levels, gastrointestinal health, antioxidant levels, and much more. I strongly urge you to read more about his work. It’s truly fascinating. Prevention of all forms of dementia is generally the same. I divide preventative practices into four main categories: Nutrition, Lifestyle, Supplements, and Drug Interaction.
Preventing Dementia One Plate at a TimeLet’s talk about what you should eat. Your body is different from everyone else’s, but you probably don’t know exactly how. A nutritional panel gives you critical information about what your specific nutrient needs, much more targeted than the general advice I can give in a newsletter. A comprehensive nutritional panel will reveal nutritional deficiencies – proteins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It also reveals your total blood count and metabolic profile. Armed with that information, you can create an optimized dementia diet. Perhaps you need more vitamin D…perhaps you need more
- 100% whole grains
- Complex carbohydrates
- Aim for 5 - 10 servings of vegetables a day. The greener the better.
- Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil
- Lean proteins such as legumes, chicken, and fish
- Low glycemic fruit like berries
- Processed foods
- More than two servings of meat a day. Aim for one.
- Refined carbohydrates like white or non-whole-grain bread, crackers, pasta and pastries
- Added sugars and high-fructose corn syrup
The Top 5 Lifestyle Habits of Dementia PreventionI cannot understate the value of a healthy lifestyle. Not just for preventing dementia, but all forms of disease. A “healthy lifestyle” can mean a lot of different things, so to make things simple, I pared it down to five dementia fighters: better sleep, regular exercise, reduce stress, brain stimulation, and weekly fasting. Better Sleep and Regular Exercise: A 2017 study found that people who get less rapid eye movement (REM) sleep have a greater risk of developing dementia. Separately, a 2018 study found that being physically fit decreases your risk of developing dementia. And it doesn’t take another scientific study to tell you that regular exercise helps you sleep better. In fact, just a little exercise today will help you sleep better tonight. You don’t need to run a marathon or bench press your own body weight. But going for a brisk walk, every evening after dinner, could work wonders.
Supplements that Boost Your Brain PowerStacks of research show that curcumin, omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA), and vitamin B12 are bona fide dementia fighters. Curcumin: Protein accumulation, oxidative damage, and inflammation are the hallmarks of many neurodegenerative diseases. Curcumin can prevent aggregation of proteins, flush potent toxins and free radicals, and stop and prevent inflammation. It’s the ideal dementia fighter. I recommend 1,500 mg over the course of the day. Omega-3 EFAs: Numerous studies show that omega-3 essential fatty acids can prevent and reduce the progression of dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it fights off other forms of dementia too. One of its acids in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), protects you from other dementia risk factors like head trauma, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. I recommend up to 3,000 mg of the omega-3 EFAs per day. Be a label reader! Make sure the combined EPA and DHA content specifically is at least 1,000 mg or more. Research also suggests that DHA is more effective when taken in conjunction with antioxidants. Vitamin B12: Numerous studies have linked diets deficient in vitamin B12 with increased risk of depression and cognitive impairment – especially among people over the age of 50. In fact, many cases of dementia are actually long-undiagnosed B12 deficiencies. Adding to this, your body does not absorb B12 as well as you get older. I know I talk a LOT about eating plenty of vegetables per day, but many of them lack B12. Focus on greens if you are trying to get B12 from plant sources – spinach, broccoli, green peas, asparagus, and turnip greens. But animal proteins like meat, milk and cheese are the most plentiful source of vitamin B12. But I recommend taking 6 mcg of a B12 supplement daily so you don’t have to overthink what’s on your plate every day.
Drugs Linked to DementiaFinally, a growing body of research links anticholinergic drugs to increased risk for dementia. These drugs are commonly prescribed for urinary incontinence, Parkinson’s Disease, depression, allergies, sleeping problems, and asthma. And they work by decreasing overactive gut activity, reducing production of digestive juices, and altering the production of neurotransmitters. Apparently, though, they work too well. An April 2018 study of 40,000 people found “a robust association between some classes of anticholinergic drugs and future dementia.” The anticholinergic drugs in particular were anti-Parkinson’s Disease medication, quetiapine (Seroquel), and medications to curb overactive bladder. If you are prescribed anticholinergic medications, I suggest that you talk with your doctor about finding alternatives that do not carry as much risk.
A Fighting ChanceTen years ago, I couldn’t write the following sentence with confidence: There’s a wealth of knowledge readily available to you that can treat and prevent dementia. And it’s growing by the day. That gives me hope in the face of those grim dementia statistics – that millions of people at risk for dementia now have a fighting chance to delay it, blunt it, or prevent it outright.
- “World Alzheimer’s Report 2015: The Global Impact of Dementia.” Alzheimer’s Disease International. Published 2015.
- Russell, Peter. “Common Meds Linked to Alzheimer’s.” WebMD. Published April 20, 2016.
- Pase, Matthew et al. “Sleep architecture and the risk of incident dementia in the community.” Neurology. Published August 2017.
- Brody, Jane. “Vitamin B12 as Protection for the Again Brain.” New York Times. Published Sept. 6, 2016.