Q: “My parents are getting older and I want to do everything I can to help them prevent Alzheimer’s, considering both my grandmothers had this disease, and I am worried about getting it too.” writes this week’s house call. “What can we do to prevent dementia?”
A: The truth is, dementia is a very big problem that’s becoming bigger every day.
Statistics are grim. 10 percent of 65-year-olds, 25 percent of 75-year-olds, and 50 percent of 85-year-olds will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. And the fastest growing segment of our population is the 85-year-olds. Researchers predict Alzheimer’s will affect 106 million people by 2050. It’s now the seventh leading cause of death.
Scientists now call Alzheimer’s disease “Type 3 diabetes.” What’s the link between Alzheimer’s and diabetes? Well, new research shows insulin resistance, or what I call diabesity (from eating too many carbs and sugar and not enough fat) is one of the major factors that starts the brain-damage cascade, which robs the memory of over half the people in their 80s, leading to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
But don’t think too much insulin affects only older folks’ memories. It doesn’t just suddenly occur once you’re older. Dementia actually begins when you’re younger and takes decades to develop and worsen.
Here’s the bad news/good news. Eating sugar and refined carbs can cause pre-dementia and dementia. But cutting out the sugar and refined carbs and adding lots of fat can prevent, and even reverse, pre-dementia and early dementia.
More recent studies show people with diabetes have a four-fold risk for developing Alzheimer’s. People with pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome have an increased risk for having pre-dementia or mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
You don’t have to have full blown type 2 diabetes to develop brain damage and memory loss from high insulin levels and insulin resistance.
We all have heard of the mind-body effect. Well, there is also a body-mind effect. So you can impact your brain through your diet and heal your body. In fact, your body and your mind aren’t two separate systems; they’re one elegant, continuous ecosystem. What you do to the body affects the brain, and what you do to the brain affects the body. I wrote about this mind-body connection years ago in The UltraMind Solution.
Cognitive decline and memory loss can be prevented and even reversed. We simply have to optimize brain function and then we see miracles. I’ve seen this happen many times in my medical practice.
The underlying causes of Alzheimer’s disease begin with too much sugar on the brain. The cycle starts when we over-consume sugar and don’t eat enough fat, which leads to diabesity. Diabesity leads to inflammation, which creates a vicious cycle that wreaks havoc on your brain.
If you looked at an autopsy of a brain of an Alzheimer’s patient, you’d see a brain on fire. This inflammation occurs over and over again in every chronic disease and very dramatically with the aging brain and overall aging process.
How to Reverse Memory Loss
The good news is you can reverse dementia and cognitive decline. To do that, you must control your insulin and balance your blood sugar levels, which will allow you to overcome diabesity and balance your mood, help your focus, help boost your energy level, and prevent all of the age-related brain diseases including Alzheimer’s.
I’ve seen this happen with many patients. One, George, came with his wife to see me because he could no longer manage his business affairs. He had become increasingly less able to function at home and had to withdraw from family and social relationships. George was desperate because he felt himself slipping away.
We found that George had high levels of mercury. We helped him detoxify mercury with foods like kale, watercress, and cilantro; herbs like milk thistle; nutrients like selenium and zinc; and medications that helped him overcome his genetic difficulties by ridding toxins like mercury.
We optimized his cholesterol with diet and herbs, and we lowered his homocysteine (which comes from folic acid deficiency) with high doses of folate and vitamins B6 and B12. When people have high homocysteine, they have a dramatically higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
After one year of aggressive therapy matched to his genes, unique metabolism, biochemistry, and diagnosis, George had a remarkable and dramatic recovery. Before I saw him, George couldn’t manage his business, nor did his grandchildren desire to be around him. After matching his treatment to his genes and optimizing his biology, he was able to function again and his grandchildren loved being with him.
We once thought we could not reverse artery-clogging plaque that triggered heart disease. We now know otherwise. Similarly, dementia can be reversed if caught early enough and by attending to all the factors that affect brain function – including diet, exercise, stress, nutritional deficiencies, toxins, hormonal imbalances, and inflammation.
To do this is, in fact, quite simple. The basic principles of Functional Medicine, or treating the root cause of disease, help optimize your biological functions. Simply get rid of the bad stuff and put in the good stuff. Your body takes care of the rest. It knows what to do and heals itself.
8 Steps to Reverse Memory Loss
From that perspective, these 8 strategies help many of my patients reverse or prevent dementia.
- Balance your blood sugar with a whole-foods, low-glycemic diet. You can achieve this by taking out the bad stuff (refined carbs, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, dairy, and inflammatory, omega-6 rich oils such as vegetable and seed oils) and putting in the good stuff (healthy fats like avocados, walnuts, almonds and cashews, grass-fed meats, pastured chicken and eggs, olive and coconut oil).
- Eat healthy fats that make your brain happy. These include omega 3 fats in wild fatty fish, as well as coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil, avocados, whole eggs, nuts, and seeds.
- Exercise daily. Even a 30-minute walk can help. More active readers might want to incorporate high-intensity interval training or weight lifting. Studies show physical activity can prevent and even slow down the progression of cognitive decline and brain diseases like dementia.
- Supplement wisely. At the very least, take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, an omega 3 fat supplement, extra B6, B12, and folate, as well as vitamin D3. And, a good probiotic will enhance the brain-gut relationship. You can find all of these and other supplements in my store.
- Check your thyroid and sex hormone levels. If they are out of balance, you will want to treat them.
- Detox from mercury or other heavy metals, if you have high levels, by doing a medically supervised detox program.
- Control stress levels. Chronic stress takes a toll on your body and brain. Relaxation isn’t a luxury if you want to prevent or reverse dementia. Whether that involves deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, find something that helps you calm down. Many patients find my UltraCalm CD helps them relax and reduce stress and anxiety.
- Get 8 hours of sleep every night. Studies show poor sleep becomes a risk factor for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Aim for at least 8 hours of quality sleep every night. You can get 19 of my top sleep tips here.
This is just a start, but these eight strategies go a long way by giving your brain a chance to heal, recover, and experience fewer memory problems.
Even if you aren’t suffering from cognitive decline, you should take these steps because they can help you prevent the aging of your brain and help you achieve lifelong health.
Be sure to look out for my new book, Eat Fat, Get Thin, where I describe how to prevent and even reverse memory loss using food as medicine. I’ll show you how more of the right fats can boost your brain function and can even help treat dementia.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, M.D.