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Medicine 101 – Dr. Tara Macart

 

Cognitive impairment is no fun for anyone.  It is embarrassing for the persons with memory problems and it is frustrating for the people around them.  Some believe it is inevitable to experience cognitive decline with aging.   Certainly age is a risk factor in the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  Alzheimer’s, and other related diseases, affects 500,000 Canadians today, and it is estimated to double by 2030. As boomers have greater life expectancy than their predecessors, the demographics move to the right, increasing the amount of people with brain degenerative diseases.

Is it true that we can’t do anything about our brains getting rusty? I say No, and the sooner you do something about it, the better. Like anything, if you want to keep something nice, you must look after it.  Brain maintenance is the key.

Give your brain what it needs.  This means oxygen, fuel and nutrients, primarily antioxidants.  Neurons require oxygen to operate.  Poor cerebral circulation, as found in ischemic vascular disease, leads to areas of the brain starving for oxygen and thus resorting to alternative metabolic pathways that are stressful on the cells.  Neurons are also glucose dependent.  Without adequate levels of glucose, the brain must metabolize ketone bodies: acetone, acetoacetic acid and beta- hydroxybutyric acid.  Stabilizing glucose levels helps the brain function.

The brain is part of the nervous system. What we know about the nervous system is that it is largely lipophilic, meaning it is made up of fats.  Getting nutrients into the brain can be a bit of a challenge because of the blood brain barrier.  Most nutrients are water soluble, and enter the bloodstream, which is about 82% water.  Regarding brain health, it is favourable to use nutrients that can cross the blood brain barrier. A great example of this is glutathione.  This master antioxidant helps detoxify brain tissue, thereby cleaning up the “rust”.

While the human body is blessed with redundancy, there are limits to how much abuse a brain can take.  Physiological psychiatry has been a mystery mainly because we cannot really see what is going on inside the skull.  But, with the help of modern technology and the magnetic resonance imaging, Dr. Amen has shed new light on brain changes that can occur from certain lifestyle choices.  Most striking for me was the brain schematic of a male with substance abuse problems.  His brain had far less convolution detail than controls.  He clearly sacrificed more than a few brain cells in his lifetime.

Use it or lose it!  Mental stimulation has proven useful in slowing the decline in mental functioning at any age.  Social interaction keeps a mind continually inputting and processing data.
The plasticity of the brain allows for new synaptic connections between neurons as we learn.   The possibilities are endless.

Because Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by neurofibrillary tangles and plaques in the brain, scientists are scrambling to find out what causes these changes.  So far, clues to this pathology may lie in genetics.  Some genes have been identified as increasing one’s risk of developing the disease.  This could explain in part why family history is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.  On the other hand, there may be a correlation between both cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes and the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  All of these age related diseases share the unfortunate underlying thread of rampant oxidation, essentially rusting the body as well as the brain.

What can you do about this? Preserving cognitive function means proper maintenance. So, Start Today!  Get out that crossword puzzle while you sip on that single cup of organic coffee with soy creamer.  Next, manage your blood sugars by eating a healthy diet in “the zone”.  Replenish your antioxidant status with some good nutraceuticals and then go out for a jog….   just a suggestion.