By Oran Aviv
Every day, we're confronted with alarming statistics about the rising numbers of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia diagnoses, as if our fate is predestined.
However, the truth is quite the opposite. There are actionable steps we can all take to reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline. Today, I’ll cover the first five tips to safeguard and protect your brain health.
Healthy Brain Tip #1 - Beware of the Brain Health Charlatans
Every day, I'm inundated with advertisements promising magical cures that prevent or even reverse dementia. Unfortunately, most of these are nothing more than slick marketing campaigns designed to exploit vulnerable individuals who are desperate to fend off cognitive decline.
Be cautious. Often, these charlatans infiltrate dementia support groups, posing as well-intentioned friends and sharing stories about how their loved ones miraculously overcame cognitive impairment with a certain herb or natural remedy. I find myself reporting and blocking these deceptive individuals on social media groups regularly.
Identifying these charlatans is usually quite straightforward, but distinguishing genuine, research-backed claims from fraudulent ones can be challenging. Besides wasting hard-earned money, some of these "cures" may be detrimental to your health.
Consider the case of an internationally acclaimed doctor who claims to have reversed dementia and boasts thousands of followers worldwide. This doctor has even made appearances in national media.
Recently, I learned of a local doctor who adopted the same protocol, offering hope to people living with dementia through a regimen centered on a healthy diet and mega-doses of supplements.
Curious to learn more about this program and eager to share it with others, I reached out to the local doctor. I inquired about case studies or clients I could speak to, hoping to gain a deeper understanding of the protocol's effectiveness.
The doctor's response was disheartening: "When I have some, I'll let you know." It was at this moment that I realized this was yet another empty promise, despite appearing entirely legitimate.
In a previous blog post, I recounted the story of Mark "Mace" Macy and Travis Macy, both exceptional endurance athletes. When Mace, the father, received an Alzheimer's diagnosis, they embarked on a remarkable journey, competing in the world's toughest race, the Eco-Challenge Fiji.
I shared their struggles in finding the right doctors for Mace the father:
At one point, another doctor claimed to have the ability to reverse Alzheimer's and prescribed a daily regimen of 50 supplements for Mace. Mace diligently followed this regimen, but after six weeks, his family not only observed a lack of improvement but also a decline in his cognitive abilities. Consequently, they decided to discontinue the program.
You can read the incredible story of Travis and Mark “Mace” Macy in our blog post: Racing with Alzheimer’s
Ironically, this was the same doctor with the same protocol. It underscores the need for careful scrutiny and thorough research.
I want to emphasize that my tips today are based on extensive reading from books and online sources and my personal experiences, but I am not a researcher nor a medical professional. There are no affiliate links in this blog post.
The term "non-credo" in the context of macrobiotics refers to a fundamental principle that encourages individuals to approach information and beliefs with an open and questioning mind. It emphasizes the importance of not blindly accepting or believing everything one is told, especially when it comes to matters of health and well-being.
In the context of dementia, it is crucial for all of us to adopt a non-credo perspective, to be critical and discerning when faced with information, advice, or purported "cures" or preventions for dementia.
Therefore, I urge all of you to also be discerning readers of the information I share and always explore various approaches to effectively prevent and slow down cognitive decline.
Healthy Brain Tip #2 - Exercise
If I could choose only one tip to keep my brain healthy, it would be regular aerobic exercise. Exercise helps prevent many of the risk factors associated with dementia and keeps us physically and mentally well too.
These are some of the brain-boosting effects of Exercise:
Increases Blood Flow:
Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, ensuring it receives the nutrients and oxygen necessary for optimal functioning.
Reduces Dementia Risk:
Physical activity lowers the risk factors associated with dementia, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Activates Brain Cells:
When we exercise, our brain cells come to life, enhancing cognitive function.
Aerobic Exercise and Memory:
Research has shown that engaging in aerobic activities can reduce the chances of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 50%!
Prevents Brain Shrinkage:
Our brains naturally start to shrink in our 20s or 30s. The good news is that exercise can counteract this process by increasing the size of our brains.
Expands the Hippocampus:
The hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory formation, grows in size with regular aerobic exercise.
Generates New Brain Cells:
Aerobic exercise fosters the creation of new connections between brain cells, known as synapses, bolstering cognitive abilities.
To learn more about the importance of exercise for brain health, including tips to begin or expand an exercise program, read our blog post: Exercise for Brain Health
Healthy Brain Tip #3 - Sleep
Sleep is so important for our overall well-being. We spend approximately one-third of our lives sleeping, so sleep is definitely significant in keeping both our body and mind in a healthy state.
Some of the ways sleep can protect your brain:
Removal of Brain Waste Products:
Think of sleep as a natural cleanup crew for your brain. Within this marvelous organ, there's a built-in sewage system responsible for flushing out harmful waste products – which include beta-amyloid and tau proteins. These are the very plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease.
To learn more about how our brain protects itself, read our blog post Save your Brain, Go to Sleep
Research consistently shows the importance of sleep in optimizing cognitive function. For most adults, the sweet spot for sleep falls between 7 to 9 hours per night. Within this timeframe, your brain rejuvenates and enhances your ability to concentrate and make decisions.
Adequate sleep not only sharpens your focus but also fosters creativity, problem-solving skills, and emotional well-being. It's the vital reset button your brain needs to perform at its best.
Enhances Memory Consolidation:
Have you heard that it is important to go to sleep after studying in order to remember what you have learned? It’s true. While we sleep, our brain is hard at work consolidating memories from the day.
This process involves transferring short-term memories to long-term storage, making them more readily accessible in the future. A full night's sleep aids in better memory retention and learning. It's like giving your brain the optimal environment to archive and retrieve essential information.
Supports Emotional Resilience:
Insufficient sleep can leave us more susceptible to mood swings, irritability, and heightened stress levels. When we prioritize quality sleep, our brain equips us with the emotional resilience needed to tackle life's challenges with a clearer and more balanced perspective.
It is not true that we need less sleep as we get older, but unfortunately, many of us develop sleep issues as we age. Please don’t accept poor sleep as part of normal aging, instead find ways to get a good night’s sleep.
We have several blog posts to help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and sleep well:
✔️ Prevent Insomnia: Sleep Well – Part 1
✔️ Fall Asleep & Fall Back to Sleep: Sleep Well – Part 2
✔️ Allow your Mind to relax: Sleep Well for Brain Health
✔️ Learn or routine to help you fall asleep or fall back asleep: Train Yourself to Sleep
Healthy Brain Tip #4 - Test for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a critical topic deserving its own section, which is why I chose to not include it under the Healthy Brain Tip #2 – Sleep.
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by episodes where breathing temporarily stops and starts during sleep. If you or someone you know experiences any of the following symptoms, it's essential to take them seriously:
Loud and persistent snoring is a common symptom of sleep apnea.
Note – I know one individual who had just begun snoring, was concerned, got tested, and discovered that they already had mild sleep apnea. If you snore - please get tested.
✔️ Morning Headaches: Frequent headaches upon waking can be an indication of disrupted sleep patterns.
✔️ Daytime Fatigue: Despite spending a night in bed, you may find yourself consistently tired and fatigued during the day.
✔️ Pauses in Breathing: If your bed partner notices that you stop breathing intermittently during the night, this is a significant red flag.
Testing for sleep apnea is important for several reasons:
Sleep apnea can lead to intermittent drops in oxygen levels in the brain. This oxygen deprivation during sleep can damage brain cells and impair cognitive function over time.
Severe sleep apnea is associated with an increased risk of stroke. The repeated disruptions in oxygen supply to the brain can contribute to the development of cardiovascular problems.
Emerging research suggests a connection between untreated sleep apnea and an elevated risk of cognitive decline, including dementia.
Without being familiar with this research, I discovered the sleep apnea–dementia connection firsthand:
I knew someone who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s type dementia. As I learned more about this person’s health history, I discovered that it was sleep apnea that had caused mini-strokes that led to this individual’s dementia. I was stunned.
I realized that this person, who could no longer function on their own, due to memory loss and confusion, could have continued with their normal life if they had only been checked and treated for sleep apnea!
Treatment and Prevention:
The good news is that sleep apnea is both treatable and preventable. If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, don't hesitate to consult your healthcare provider. They can guide you through the process of getting tested.
Many healthcare providers offer convenient take-home sleep tests. These tests are user-friendly and help diagnose sleep apnea in the comfort of your own bed.
Effective treatments for sleep apnea are available that can alleviate symptoms and improve sleep quality.
Many clients, blog readers, and friends have shared their experiences of initially hesitating to get tested for sleep apnea but were surprised to find out that they did indeed have the condition. They all strongly encourage anyone who snores to undergo testing.
If you or someone you know snores, experiences fatigue, suffers from headaches or has episodes of interrupted breathing during sleep, I urge you to schedule a test today. This proactive step can significantly contribute to dementia prevention. Don't delay; take action before it's too late.
Healthy Brain Tip #5 - Clear Arteries, Clear Mind
Just as clogged arteries can jeopardize heart health, they also pose a risk to cognitive well-being when they impede blood flow to the brain.
Studies have shown that individuals with mild cholesterol buildup in their arteries experienced minimal cognitive decline over a four-year study period. Conversely, those with severely clogged arteries exhibited significant cognitive deterioration and were twice as likely to develop dementia compared to those with clear arteries.
The promising news is that recent research demonstrates that individuals who proactively manage high cholesterol and high blood pressure can effectively slow down cognitive decline. This emphasizes the importance of preventing arterial blockages, which can harm both heart and brain health.
Preventing Vascular Dementia:
The risk factors for vascular dementia mirror those associated with heart disease and stroke. To lower your risk of developing vascular dementia, consider these proactive measures:
✔️ Maintain Healthy Blood Pressure:
Keep your blood pressure within the normal range through lifestyle choices and, if necessary, medication.
✔️ Prevent and Manage Type 2 Diabetes:
Adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and, if prescribed, medication to prevent or control diabetes.
✔️Manage Cholesterol Levels:
Maintain optimal cholesterol levels through dietary modifications, physical activity, and, when recommended, medication.
✔️ Say No to Smoking:
Refrain from smoking, as it can inflict damage on your blood vessels, impairing circulation to the brain.
Physical activity, as highlighted in Tip #1, is a powerful tool in preventing various forms of dementia, including vascular dementia.
Encourage your family and friends to take these steps toward vascular dementia prevention as well. This type of dementia is one we can actively work to avoid, ensuring that both heart and mind remain in optimal condition.
To learn more about preventing vascular dementia: The Dementia You Can Prevent
To understand what is cholesterol and how to prevent it from blocking our arteries: What I Didn't Know about Cholesterol
I’m surprised how much info I have already written today and will have to add a Part II next week to complete my Top Tips to Protect Your Brain.
Summary of the first 5 tips:
Remember the Macrobiotic principle of “non-credo” and not believe everything we are told, especially when it comes to matters of our brain health and well-being.
Exercise is one of the most important ways to prevent cognitive decline
You need to sleep 7 -9 hours a night to protect your brain. If you are not sleeping well, for your brain’s sake, read our tips to sleep better.
If you recognize the signs, don’t wait. Make an appointment to get tested for Sleep Apnea today.
Prevent vascular dementia, the one dementia that most of us can prevent.
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