Nutrition & Lifestyle
Some interesting research into how nutrition and lifestyle
can play a key role in cognitive function.
Somewhat of a personal topic for me - not only because watching my Father with Alzheimer's has opened my eyes to the many factors involved in how dementia takes effect on the brain and how in turn this affects everyday abilities but also because I am actually concerned with my own cognitive health and fear having early signs of dementia myself, so if there is something we can do to help slow down the process or even possibly eliminate the onset of dementia then I feel it is worth knowing about it.
It has been pure coincidence that I started understanding the power of natural extracts providing essential nutrition just before my
Father was diagnosed with dementia and I would never have forseen the path it would lead me on and beneficial role this would have
as we, as a family, learn more each day about how dementia does what it does and how we can possibly help him manage his condition.
Action Against Alzheimer's Disease - Beating Dementia with Nutrition and Lifestyle Changes
What is Dementia?
The word dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss, difficulties with thinking,
problem-solving or language and often changes in mood.
Remembering/Forgetting - What is Normal/Abnormal
As we age, it is common to take longer to remember things but there are certain pointers that indicate
the problem is more than natural ageing.
Alzheimer’s is the most common age-related disease of cognitive decline. A common symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty in remembering ‘new’ information, such as an appointment that has been made. Whilst people who are ageing normally may also forget things, they will typically remember them later – in others words, they ‘remember that they forgot’, whereas people suffering with Alzheimer's can lose this ability.
How Alzheimer’s Affects The Brain
Changes begin at a microscopic level before symptoms appear. Present diagnosis is based on symptoms and testing and possibly scanning to identify plaque build-up. Recognising early warnings has a huge significance for those people wanting to be self-empowered for their health.
What Goes Wrong
100 billion nerve cells - neurons (cells that carry electrical impulses) are the basic units of the nervous system and is the most important part in the brain. Every neuron is made of a cell body (soma), dendrites and axons. Dendrites and axons are nerve fibres connecting to many others via synapses to form communication networks. In addition to nerve cells the brain includes cells specialised to nourish and support other cells.
Each group of nerve cells has specialised tasks – some are involved in thinking, learning and memory. Others help us see, hear, smell and move. Like tiny factories, they receive supplies of nourishment, generate energy, construct new cells and get rid of waste. Cells also process and store information and communicate with other cells. Healthy function relies on co-ordination and large amounts of oxygen and fuel, typically in the form of glucose and ketone bodies.
Alzheimer’s disease starts when the co-ordination of this dynamic process breaks down. Problems in one area cascade into problems in other areas and, as the damage spreads, cells lose their ability to function correctly and over time die.
The brain of a person with Alzheimer’s usually has an abundance of plaques and tangles, and/or atrophy (shrinkage) of the hippocampus – an area of the brain important for short-term memory.
Plaques form when protein pieces called beta-amyloid clump together.
Beta-amyloid comes from a larger protein found in the fatty membrane surrounding nerve cells.
Beta-amyloid is chemically "sticky" and gradually builds up into plaques.
The most damaging form of beta-amyloid may be groups of a few pieces rather than the plaques themselves.
The small clumps may block cell-to-cell signalling at synapses.
They may also activate immune system cells that trigger inflammation and devour disabled cells.
Tangles are twisted fibres of another protein ‘tau’ which builds up inside the cells.
Tangles destroy a vital cell transport system made of proteins.
The transport system is organised in orderly parallel strands somewhat like railroad tracks.
Food molecules, cell parts and other key materials travel along the "tracks." The protein tau helps the tracks stay straight.
In areas where tau collapses into twisted strands the tracks can no longer stay straight. They fall apart and disintegrate. Nutrients and other essential supplies can no longer move through to the cells, which eventually causes the cells to die.
Most people develop some plaques and even occasionally tangles as they age but those with Alzheimer’s develop far more. These usually start developing in areas important for memory before spreading to other regions.
Plaques and Tangles block cell communication and disrupt the processes that the cells need to survive.
The destruction and death of nerve cells causes memory failure, personality changes and problems to carry out daily activities.
Inflammation causes dysfunction
Although caused by imbalances in the network of synaptic signals that affect memory, the main root cause of almost all the different pathology found (certain in early stages) is ‘excess inflammation’. Inflammation drives dysfunction in metabolic processes.
Inflammation is a normal part of metabolic activity. It is necessary for cell turnover, renewal and all metabolic processes that permit homeostasis and ultimately a life to function. The problem of today is that, by virtue of diet and lifestyle, most of us have a greater level of inflammation causing proliferation of tissue, cell and tissue dysfunction, disrupting normal cell-signalling.
Inflammation is at the head of all disease processes and Alzheimer’s is no exception. By virtue of low nutritional and hormonal status and/or long-term stress, creates ‘burn-out’ in which there are insufficient biological resources in the body to continue growth and repair of tissue. So a diet that is nutrient rich and low in inflammatory triggers is a good choice.
Healthy Gut - Healthy Brain
Have you ever “gone with your gut feeling” to make a decision or felt “butterflies in your stomach” when nervous, then you are likely getting signals from your second brain - in your gut.
What Does Your Gut’s Brain Control? Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this brain in your gut is revolutionising the understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way we think. Scientists call this enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from oesophagus to rectum. Its main role is controlling digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination. The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it but it does communicate back and forth with our brain - with profound results.
An imbalance of bacteria and fungi in your gastrointestinal tract, also known as dysbiosis, causes your immune system to overreact to bacteria in your gut and can be without notable symptoms. But evidence is now emerging that, through interactions with the gut–brain axis, this bidirectional communication system between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract, the gut microbiome can also influence neural development, cognition and behaviour, plus evidence shows that whilst changes in behaviour alter gut microbiota composition, modifications of the microbiome can in turn induce depressive-like behaviours and even contribute to mental illness.
Nutrition - Our food choices
Eating for energy and mental focus.
We need protein - add nuts and seeds for additional protein.
Read more about nutritional values on our 'Essential Nutrition' page
Fast Foods are energy robbers, Low energy foods combine with protein, protein combines with energy foods and are much more beneficial.
It is recommended to eat starchy carbohydrates in moderation
Choose nutrient dense foods with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fibre
Hormones are a variety of signalling systems. Insulin is the hormone which signals the body to intake sugars into bloodstream and distribute as fuel for energy. Refined sugars give a rush of sugar into the bloodstream and natural insulin will be increased to reduce this sugar level which can cause a fluctuation in diet. High rush of sugars cause inflammation and the added high rush of insulin causes even more added inflammation which can be damaging to the body. Sugary refined foods are nutrient poor and trigger roller-coaster sugar levels. Effects of high blood sugar imbalance on brain function are poor memory and concentration, tiredness, anxiety/irritability, cravings for sweet foods, poor sleep, weight gain or frequent headaches.
Over time, constantly high blood sugar levels can cause insulin resistance, which is when chronically high levels of blood sugar and insulin have caused the body’s mechanism for regulating insulin and blood glucose to fail – because there is so much insulin circulating in the body, the cells become less responsive to it - a significant part of the pathology in Alzheimer’s as when the tissue is resistant to insulin and glucose uptake the result is tissue atrophy. The hippocampal region is affected first as this is the most plastic region of the brain and responsible for immediate memory recall.
Not only reducing refined sugar but by also reducing carbohydrates whilst having a high fat diet is suggested because ultimately carbohydrates such as white flour break down into sugar and are stored as sugar molecules. Complex carbohydrates drip feed blood stream sugars into our body. Complex carbohydrates in vegetables like broccoli, courgettes and spinach break down very slowly into sugar and in a low amount. Select 'complex' carbohydrates rather than 'simple' carbs that breakdown quickly into sugar.
Fructose - sugar naturally found in fruit, Processed fructose is totally refined and all the goodness and fibre that would be in the fruit isn’t there. Fructose is reported to go straight to your liver, which has to metabolise it, in the same way as alcohol. So it can make you gain weight, increase your appetite and also build up your fat around the middle. Fructose interferes with production of hormones like leptin, which should send a signal to the brain that you have eaten enough, and fructose can raise levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin which increases appetite and craving for sugar. Fructose does not supply any energy to either brain or muscles; it is simply stored as fat. Natural sources of fructose to keep to a minimum are honey, agave syrup, maple syrup plus certain fruits like grapes, figs, dates, and raisins Stick to the low fructose fruits such as berries, apples and pears.
So a small amount of ‘glucose’ is the ‘sugar’ we need in our blood stream. Sources of such are in dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, leeks, cabbage. Root/starchy vegetables like sweet potato, beetroot, parsnips, and carrots; whole grains like brown rice, oats, quinoa, buckwheat, and rye. are some others
"Sugar increases chronic diseases incl, Alzheimer’s and Type 3 Diabetes.
Sugar is as dangerous as tobacco and should be classified as a hard drug as it is harmful and addictive”
British Medical Journal 2005
The brain is 60% fat. with DHA (docosahexaeonoic acid) being the primary structural component of brain tissue. Poor memory is associated with low concentrations of DHA.
Fats ingested in the body can be used in cell membranes, made up of phospholipids. Cell membranes should be in ‘cis’ form but high temperatures breaks the bonds and transforms into 'trans' fats.
Vegetable oils that require high heat and pressure for their extraction contain high levels of trans fats, i.e. canola, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, grape seed and rice bran so best avoid these. Healthy oils are those that are cold-pressed: extra virgin olive, coconut, cocoa butter, avocado, macadamia, sesame, walnut, flaxseed, hemp seed and ghee.
Fat equals energy, plus all cell membranes are made up of fat. Fat is needed for Hormone synthesis and absorption of fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K plus Prostaglandin synthesis (hormone like substance).
Symptoms of fat deficiency can be depression, poor memory and poor concentration; tingling in arms and legs (nerve deterioration) and vision problems, dry itchy skin and joint pain plus good fat deficiency will increase cravings for sugar rushes.
Trans fats cannot do their job as already damaged and out of shape. Essential fats are essential because we cannot make them in our bodies and need to obtain from food source. Coconut oil is the only ‘plant based’ saturated fat against others which are ‘animal based’.
When Omega 6 fatty acid is too high it creates constant inflammation so you need to balance with Omega 3. Linseed and flaxseed contain the highest in Omega 3 other than in fish. Best ground fresh in small amounts and stored in the fridge.
So a balanced and nutritious diet, recommended fluid intake, moderate exercise plus adequate sleep is essential but,
as our ability to absorb nutrients depletes with age, we may just need a top up with essential nutrients with the help of
natural nutritional supplements and for cognitive health it is suggested to keep a good level of:
B Vitamins (B Complex), Omega 3 & 9 (EPA & DHA), Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc, Choline plus probiotics.
What about 'Lifestyle'?
Just as poor nutrition puts a stress on our gut flora causing inflammation, constant psychological, emotional, physical and environmental stress also raises the level of cortisol - creating inflammation.
A good night’s sleep (7-9 hours uninterrupted)
Essential for brain health. Even when asleep, the brain is still working for us, still functioning, doing its job to keep us healthy.
The brain is always active with neurons firing. When we are awake it’s busy working for us.
Then when asleep, the brain has a chance to clear out toxins through a drainage system called the “glymphatic system.” This is vital because scientists say a build up of waste products in the brain is linked to various cognitive disorders.
Sleep improves our learning capability and capacity by helping the brain to create and consolidate memories. The learning process is made up of Reception, Retention, and Recall.
Sleep helps the brain to be more receptive and prepares our brain for learning; retain short-term memory so we learn more quickly and
improve our long-term memory by recall. Sleep helps the memories to “stick” so that we can retrieve them when we need them.
Sleep helps to boost our creativity. During the sleep state our brain can make unexpected connections that might not have been seen in the waking state.
How many times have you woken up with a solution to a problem that has eluded you during the day?
Sleep gives the brain a chance to process all the various stimuli that we are exposed to during the day, bringing some order to it all. It helps us to make sense of things and pick out what is relevant in any given situation.
Psychological and Emotional Stress
Work/financial/family pressures can be constant and there are times when all we can do is remember to try to take time out to achieve some sort of calm and enjoyment to reduce this.
Psychological and emotional stress can be simply exhausting so it is important we keep our mind fuelled with the right nutrition to help us cope in such times.
None of us should lack the opportunity to find calm and reduce
stress, in fact, there is now more healing information available than ever before and usually it is only a few 'clicks' away.
We should all like to stay active in some form or another.
To many people, physical exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, whether by going for a long walk or run, a session at the gym or taking part in relaxation exercise such as yoga. To others, their daily work may already involve a lot of physical exercise.
But excessive exercise can also increase stress on the body, demanding more nutrition to avoid inflammation.
Many studies have demonstrated that intense muscular work generates considerable amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS). In order to prevent oxidative stress, the body contains a large number of non-enzymatic and enzymatic antioxidants that either prevent ROS formation or scavenge radical species.
Oxidative stress can lead to damage or destruction of cellular macromolecules such as lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. Therefore, oxidative stress has been associated with decreased physical performance, muscular fatigue, muscle damage, and overtraining.
It has been reported that the body's physiological amount of antioxidants is not sufficient to prevent exercise-induced oxidative stress and that additional antioxidants are needed to reduce oxidative stress, muscular damage, or overshooting inflammation.
Built Environmental Stress
The man made surroundings that provide the setting we live in.
Built environmental stress can come from a multitude of forms, including
crowding, privacy, noise, extreme temperatures, air quality and light all elevate psychological distress.
Indirectly, the physical environment may influence mental health by altering psychosocial processes with known mental health sequelae. Personal control, socially supportive relationships, and restoration from stress and fatigue are all affected by properties of the built environment.
Reports show Alzheimer's patients deal even less with environmental stress and adjust better to small-scale, homier facilities that also have lower levels of stimulation. They are also better adjusted in buildings that accommodate physical wandering.
Whilst it is especially important for people with mental health problems, dementia and learning disabilities that the built environment is tailored to particular needs, it is important to remember that we all have mental health that we need to look after and our built environment is the stage upon which this care takes place.
So inflammation is our body's response to stress and whilst inflammation can be good in moderation, the modern epidemic of chronic, low-grade inflammation destroys the balance in our bodies. When the body system
experiences a constant inflammatory response it becomes more susceptible to ageing and disease.
To restore your body's balance, it is recommended to go "back to basics" with a nutritious diet and review your lifestyle and life/work balance.
A Common Nutrition Gap in Relation to Dementia (The difference between ingestion from daily diet and those deemed necessary)
Choline – essential nutrient, precursor molecule to the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine serving a range of functions including motor control and memory.
Omega 3 – Omega-3 fatty acids (FAs) could play an important role in maintaining cognitive function. The omega-3 FA DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a major constituent of neuronal membranes and, along with the other long-chain omega-3 FAs from fish such as EPA (eicosapentaentoic acid), has been shown to have a wide variety of beneficial effects on neuronal functioning, reduction of inflammation, oxidation and cell death, as well as on the development of the characteristic pathology of Alzheimer’s disease. Omega-3 FAs may prevent vascular dementia via salutary effects on lipids, inflammation, thrombosis and vascular function. Found in salmon, mackerel, flaxseed, chia seeds and corrects balance of fatty acids from current modern diets.
Omega 9 – the main omega-9 fatty acid in the brain is oleic acid but there are also large quantities of long-chain derivatives. The nutritional value of oleic acid in a balanced diet has been the subject of a number of studies, with particular emphasis on the cardiovascular system. But this fatty acid is also important for the brain. Our bodies produce Omega 9 naturally therefore this fatty acid is only partially essential.
Vitamin A – an essential nutrient which takes form in either retinol or the provitamin beta-Carotene. It supports regulation of cell division, cell function, genetic regulation and enhancement of the immune system. Required for brain function, chemical balance, growth and development of the Central Nervous System and vision.
B Vitamins (B-Complex) – metabolic processes, transmitters, immune system and detox.
B1 (thiamine) - coenzyme essential for metabolism of carbohydrates and facilitation of glucose use ensuring in production of energy for the brain, normal functioning of the nervous system, muscles and heart. Deficiency signs include apathy, a decrease in short term memory, confusion and irritability.
B3 (niacin) - includes many biological oxidization and reduction reactions within the body. These functions include biochemical degradation of carbohydrates, fats and proteins plus synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol which are reported as mediators to brain biochemistry and of cognitive function. Deficiency can lead to signs of headache, irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, hallucinations, apathy and symptoms of fatigue and insomnia may progress to confusion, memory loss and psychosis.
B9 (folate) - most oxidized and stable form of folate (folic acid). Folate coenzymes are involved in numerous processes within the body but include repair of cells such as neurons and can be linked to the maintenance of adequate brain levels and determinant of homocysteine levels within the body. The link between levels of folate and altered mental function is not large but is sufficient enough to suggest a causal association. Deficiency in folate can cause an elevation of homocysteine within the blood as the clearance of homocysteine requires enzymatic action dependent on folate, and to a lesser extent, vitamins B6 and B12. Elevated homocysteine has been associated with increased risk of vascular events, as well as dementia.
B12 (cobalamin) - an essential vitamin necessary for normal blood formation. It is also important for the maintenance of neurological function and psychiatric health.
that contain this nutrient. Zinc is needed to maintain normal Vitamin A levels in blood plasma. It also helps Vitamin A become metabolized by the Liver. However evidence suggests that when someone is deficient in both Vitamin A and zinc, memory is more improved when just Vitamin A is increased than when just Zinc is increased but memory has the largest improvement when both are increased. When one of these nutrients is not balanced, the other is most likely to be affected because they rely on each other for proper functioning in learning.
Common reasons for nutritional gaps
* Sedentary lifestyle – overfed and malnourished
* Modern farming methods – only a fraction of essential minerals in our crops
* Food Processing – unripe to ripe in shops is not under natural sunlight. Refining foods looses more nutrients, resulting in just starchy foods (which is un-needed fuel)
* Nutrient Depletion from Medicines – Acid reducing medications can reduce B12, Minerals, Folic Acid, B6 and Vit C; statins reduce OCQ10, Zinc, Selenium and Omega 3
* Genetic Factors
* Relation to – Vitamins A, C, D & K plus zinc, Omega 3 (EPA & DHA), Choline (eggs) and gut bacteria.
Natural Nutrition for Cognitive Health
Take a look at our linked pages on 'Aloe Vera'; 'Bee Products'
and 'Essential Nutrition'. I have been constantly impressed with the quality of products by Forever Living and their range of supplements can certainly help fill in some of the common nutritional gaps in our daily diets.
In relation to this page, I would certainly recommend Forever Aloe Vera Gel, Forever Artic Sea, Forever Ginkgo-Plus (with schisandra berries),
Forever Active Probiotic, Forever Bee Pollen and Forever Bee Propolis. Plus the Forever Lite Ultra vanilla shake has been a real help with nutritionally supplementing my Father's lack of interest in eating three nutritional meals a day and preference to simply demolish a pack of chocolate digestives...
Turmeric has been shown to break down amyloid-beta plaques (a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease) in lab-based (in vitro) studies
Another chemical in turmeric that has been studied in the lab is turmerone. In animal studies tumerone has been shown to stimulate stem cells to make new brain cells, something that could in theory help with neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease.
Visit the link 'United Against Dementia' to stay in touch with on-going studies by the Alzheimer's Society.
(Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire)
Research has identified 5 subtypes of Alzheimer’s:
1) Inflammatory/Infectious (hot) where inflammation drives metabolic dysfunction.
2) Glycotoxic which present features of both Type 1 (Inflammatory) and Type 2 (Atrophic) also characterised by people with insulin resistance
(Type 2 diabetes)
3) Toxic, distinctly different, tends to affect younger people (45-65), often non-amnestic but present dyscalculia or aphasia or executive
dysfunction. Often zinc deficient – often toxic. Mycotoxins or metals such as mercury after often contributory. Lymes disease is often
found, Cortical atrophy may occur ahead of hippocampal atrophy.
4) Vascular, characterised by impaired/reduced blood flow and damage to vascular system within the brain. Underlying cardiovascular
disease/diabetes is implicated in this subtype.
5) Traumatic – brain injury – is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Pathogenic mechanisms that may occur after injury to the brain involve proteins
known to contribute to the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.