by Michael Corsilles, ND, PA-C~
Ever get that “brain fog” where that word or name recall is a little fuzzy, and seems to be just on the tip of your tongue a bit more often? Are others noticing your memory problem too? Unfortunately, you are not alone. In the journal Public Health, researchers found that “of the 10 biggest Western countries, the USA had the worst increase in all neurological deaths, men up 66% and women 92% between 1979-2010.”
Alzheimer’s disease comes to the forefront for most people when it comes to poor memory. It is an irreversible, progressive disease, and is the most common cause of dementia that now affects just over 5 million Americans. In this disease, the brain essentially “shrinks.” Healthy brain cells lose their ability to function and communicate with each other and eventually die. So you not only have memory issues, but develop reasoning and social behavior problems that can seriously affect a person’s day to day activities.
According to the National Institute on Aging, these are the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease:
- Getting lost
- Repeating questions
- Taking longer to complete normal daily activities
- Poor judgment
- Losing things or misplacing them in odd places
- Mood and personality changes
Memory loss can occur as part of the natural aging process. But in some, this happens more often, or even too early in age, and I frequently have patients ask me about their poor memory and whether they’re developing Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is definitely on the rise, and it’s simply not because we’re living longer. Here are a few of my recommendations to decrease brain damage and to improve your memory:
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids are healthy fats that reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. They’re called essential for a reason – we have to get it from an outside source like fish oil. Fish oil also has anti-inflammatory properties, and chronic inflammation has been linked with Alzheimers. Acute inflammation is needed in the body’s healing process, but with excessive inflammation like in chronic diseases, “innocent bystander” cells in the brain get exposed and damaged by the inflammatory products, according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Antioxidants are lost under physical and mental stress. Stress simply ages us. Look at all the past US presidents the last few terms. Ever notice how quickly they age? Another example is an apple slice. Add an antioxidant like lemon juice, and the apple doesn’t brown as fast. An example of a strong antioxidant is Glutathione, and low levels have been linked to Alzheimer’s according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Blood Medicine. Glutathione is the brain’s “master antioxidant” that basically supports other antioxidants, removes heavy metals, and neutralizes oxidative stress – think of glutathione preventing the “rusting” of our cells. If only we could get rid of all that stress!
Gluten on the brain. Gluten, a major protein in wheat, has been linked with cognitive decline and even Alzheimer’s due to its effects on diabetes, blood sugar and inflammation. A 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that higher glucose levels is a risk factor for dementia, even among those without diabetes. If gluten is prevalent in your diet, it’s best to minimize your wheat intake, or simply avoid it all together. How often do you have bread, pasta, soysauce, or baked goods? Eating gluten-free is simply not a fashion trend.
Multitasking is bad on the brain, and here’s why. Many in our fast-paced society are required to multitask simply because of our busy schedules. Multitasking has been proven to equate to multiple tasks done poorly. Being overwhelmed, can make us feel like we have ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder. Try this exercise: Count out loud as fast as you can from 1-10, then the alphabet A-J. This should hopefully take about two seconds to do each of these. Now try this: alternate between the numbers and letters (e.g. 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, etc) and see how long it takes. Not as easy or fast, right? Probably took you at least 10-15 seconds. That was only two multitasking tasks. Multitasking isn’t necessarily linked to Alzheimer’s, but it’s still helpful to optimizing brain function. Shifting many tasks back and forth (multitasking) is stressful on the brain, so memory will improve if you just focus on one task at a time.
Regular exercise is probably the best way to enhance memory and prevent brain shrinkage, even when compared to cross word puzzles and memory games. Exercise was proven to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s in a 2012 study in the journal Neurology. Participants who did regular exercise had less brain shrinkage compared to those with little or no exercise. The study compared participants’ brain MRI scans just within a 3 year period. Those with more exercise showed less shrinkage. This means it’s never too late to start exercising to improve brain health!
If that wasn’t convincing enough, in a 2013 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers found that exercising 150 minutes a week improved brain function in those at risk for Alzheimer’s. Participants did moderate exercise on a treadmill then were asked to do memory and learning tests while brain activity was measured. As you can guess, those who exercised did better! Can you fit in 20 minutes of walking a day? How about 10 minutes twice a day? No excuses when it comes to brain health!
Write down these tips before you forget. Better yet, start doing these today! Feel free to share this info with your forgetful coworkers and friends. If you are concerned about changes in memory, behavior or mood in yourself or a family member, please start this discussion with your health care provider.