What is Dementia?
Most people are familiar with dementia, a progressive disease associated with aging and the loss of memory. Dementia is a truly tragic illness. Family members must cope with the loss of their loved ones twice; as their memory declines and upon their death, which is often precipitated by the onset of dementia. Unfortunately, with an aging population, the prevalence of dementia is going to continue to grow. By 2030, it is estimated that 20% of the population over 65 years will have dementia.
The symptoms of dementia may include confusion, irritability, memory loss and depression, on top of the memory decline that is the hallmark of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, and it is believed to be related to inflammation, diet, and cardiovascular health. Dementia can be caused or worsened by the decline and loss of nerve cells in the brain, nutritional deficiencies, stroke, excessive alcohol/drug use, as well as head injuries. There are medications on the market to slow the decline associated with dementia, but there is currently no cure for this illness. Diet and nutrition can play a huge role in preventing or delaying the course of dementia.
Diet and Nutrition
Recent research indicates that diet and nutrition can play a big role in helping to prevent and treat dementia. Studies suggest that a number of vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants play a role in brain health. Some of these elements can be obtained by diet, in the foods we eat, and others require additional supplementation.
Homocysteine and B Vitamins
Levels of homocysteine, a toxic amino acid, have recently be linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The studies suggest that lowering this level throughout the lifetime will decrease the chances of development Alzheimer’s. Homocysteine levels can be lowered by supplementing with B vitamins. B Vitamins are used to convert homocysteine into essential antioxidants and amino acids. Think of this as extinguishing a fire in our cells; if left unchecked, this fire can cause more damage.
Low levels of B Vitamins are also associated with higher risks of dementia, possibly because low Vitamin B levels typically equal high homocysteine levels. Vitamin B1 helps to support brain health and may slow the progression of Dementia. Vitamin B12 and Folate help to lower the levels of homocysteine and are also recommended in patients with dementia. There are homocysteine lowering supplements on the market that contain all of the nutrients mentioned above.
Omega 3 Fats
Consumption of Omega 3 fats may also help to reduce risk of developing dementia. Research suggests that individuals who consumed more Omega 3’s reduced their risk by 60%! DHA, a form of Omega 3, is the nutrient associated with preventing cognitive decline. While the nutrient has not been shown to slow down the progression of dementia, the research suggests it may keep individuals from developing it. It is not completely clear how Omega 3s help, but one theory supports that the anti-inflammatory processes of Omega 3s prevent the inflammation of the brain that is associated with dementia. The greatest source of DHA is found in fatty, cold water fish such as salmon and mackerel. Studies suggest that eating this fish once weekly can help to reduce risk of developing dementia.
Antioxidants are supportive of treating inflammatory reactions. Research suggests that dementia may have some inflammatory processes, antioxidants may help to reduce this inflammation. The antioxidants to focus on include the following: vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin D, cysteine, glutathione, lipoic acid, anthocyandins, and co-enzyme Q10 and melatonin.
Vitamin E in particular is associated with improved brain function. Not only may it prevent the development of dementia, studies suggest that it is the only supplement to slow the progression of the disease when used in conjunction with Vitamin C. If vitamin E is taken, it is best to obtain it from food sources or use a supplement with several different forms of vitamin E.
In addition to supplementation, many of these nutrients can be found in fresh fruits, vegetables, oily fish and seeds. Eating a diet full of fresh fruits and veggies can help to prevent the development of dementia.
Stress, Cortisol and Memory Loss
Cortisol is a hormone produced when the body is under stress; it comes from the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys. It has anti-inflammatory properties, however, high levels of cortisol can cause damage to the brain. Given this, it is important to manage stress levels throughout the lifetime to help support brain health. Regular exercise and meditation are both great stress relievers.
Phosphatidylserine is a natural compound in the brain that promote memory. Recent studies completed at the University of Michigan Health System suggest that it may have a big impact on treating dementia. Many supplements are available on the market as are created from plant sources. The University of Maryland recommends Phosphatidylserine 100mg three times daily to aid in the treatment of dementia.
Talk to Your Doctor
There is plenty of research to support using natural supplements to prevent and treat dementia. However, if you have concerns that you or a loved one may have or may be developing this disease, it is important to speak to a doctor prior to initiating treatment.