Last month I said goodbye to my 88-year-old Granddad Maurie, who finally lost his battle with dementia. The last few years have been a massive learning curve for my grandmother and our family around how to deal with someone suffering from any sort of dementia. Unfortunately there is little we could do except support him once the disease set in.
Granddad at my wedding 3 years ago
Today, over 46 million people live with dementia worldwide, more than the current population of Spain. According to the World Dementia Report 2015, this number is estimated to increase to 131.5 million by 2050. Our current healthcare system is already struggling to deal with lifestyle diseases such as cancer and heart disease, but dementia costs exponentially more. The higher costs are associated with dementia patients generally living longer with no remission and needing more assistance.
Personally this experience has inspired me to learn more about the disease and what can be done to decrease the chances of the same fate for myself and others. The overwhelming answer that came back from the research was the connection with brain disease and sugar.
Dementia (of which Alzheimer’s is one type) starves your brain, tangles and twists vital cells, and for decades it has been misrepresented as an untreatable, genetically determined disease. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in North America. The truth, however, is that this devastating illness shares a strong link with another sickness that wreaks havoc on many — Diabetes.
We all know that individuals affected by Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes have a notable resistance to insulin. Type 1 is caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin, and Type 2 is caused by the deterioration of the body’s insulin receptors and associated with the consumption of too much refined carbohydrate like processed grains and sugar. But when studies began to appear in 2005 that revealed a shocking correlation between insulin and brain cell deterioration, major breaks were made around Alzheimer’s prevention[i]. Health practitioners became curious about a critical question — could Alzheimer’s disease simply be Type 3 Diabetes?
Alzheimer’s disease has long been perceived as mysterious and inevitable. But, if this illness is associated with insulin resistance, this simply isn’t the case. We already know that diabetics are at least twice as likely to experience dementia[iii]. The cells of your brain can become insulin-resistant just like other cells in the body. Where there is knowledge about underlying causes there is the opportunity for prevention!
Your Brain on Carbohydrates
Most people know that a diet high in carbohydrates indicates a relationship to serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. What we haven’t always known is the serious affect sugar has on our brain health. When you eat carbohydrates, which break down into sugar in the body, your blood sugar levels sky-rocket[vi]. High blood sugar levels also create inflammation, further causing your brain’s health to weaken. Over time, a diet high in sugar translates into the accelerated death of supple, healthy brain cells[vii].
Studies have shown that brain cells shrink and become tangled from high blood sugar levels over time[viii]. This means that your sugar intake could be drastically affecting long-term brain health, inherently increasing the likelihood of developing lesions in the brain, which are linked to the deadly disease process we call Alzheimer’s.
How do I decrease my risk for Type 3 Diabetes?
Many think it an unusual treatment, but increasing your daily healthy fat consumption is the leading preventative tool in cognitive health. It doesn’t take years or even months — coconut oil takes action on the brain after just one 40 ml dose[x]. Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are the primary fat found in coconut oil, and they are powerful in rapidly helping to boost brain metabolism. Recent, insightful research has shown that patients experienced significant neurological healing after 4-6 weeks of using the oil [xi]. Use extra virgin coconut oil in your cooking, baking, or your morning smoothies. Other fats that are optimal for healing in your brain include olive oil, avocados, salmon and almonds. Even small increments of good fats can make a lasting difference on your brain’s health, so implement them into your diet today – and every day! Also taking a good quality fish oil (EPA & DHA) supplement can ensure adequate quantities.
The Best Carbs – Fruits and Veggies
Modern day Western culture has consumes voluminous quantities of processed carbohydrates and so-called ‘whole grains.’ Fruits and vegetables promote good cell growth, are less inflammatory and acidic than are starchy carbs, and, with the exception of a few higher-sugar fruits, they are lower in sugar are ideal for preventing Type III diabetes[xiv]. Maximize your dishes with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, kale, spinach, avocados, and other dark colored fruits and vegetables for peak cognitive functioning[xv].
Anti-oxidants are your ‘good army’, which fight off brain damaging free radicals (the ‘bad army’). There are plenty of ways to increase your antioxidants. Vitamin C and Beta Carotene, found in foods like lemons, grapefruits, kiwi and kale, aids in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases[xvii]. It is also useful to take a good quality Vitamin C supplement. Polyphenols are naturally found in food and have antioxidant properties. Examples include EGCG in green tea and curcumin in turmeric.
Chiropractic research has shown that over time, the body’s resistance to outflow from the brain can cause normal pressure hydrocephalus and toxic metabolic edema, which in turn causes the brain to break down[xviii]. This means that a decrease in normal fluid functioning without an increase in brain volume causes the brain to stop functioning. Naturally, in the prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease (and any other cognitive disorder), schedule regular chiropractic appointments, and maintain a body system that is functioning at its highest potential.
Continue Learning & Stimulating your brain
Challenging your mind daily has long and short term benefits for your brain and can include anything from crosswords, painting, playing a card game, formal or informal studying.
Schedule time for cardiovascular exercise
You didn’t need to be told this one, cardiovascular exercise like running or swimming, raises the heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain.
Whilst there may be little you can do once you have Dementia, research is showing evidence that the disease could in fact be preventable (like diabetes). Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease may no longer be a murky, genetically defined illness, if brain-healthy lifestyle choices are created and maintained. Knowledge is power, choose wisely.