The 3 dozen contributors to cognitive decline
There is this common misconception that Dementia and Alzheimer’s are all down to your genes. But in reality, genes are only a small part of the picture.
In fact, there are over 36 different things that can either lead to, or protect you from, cognitive decline – and a large majority of those are very much within our control!
These other contributors have affectionately been termed “the 36 holes in the leaky roof” by Alzheimer’s researcher Dr Dale Bredesen. In this article we’re going to go through a few of these and explain how they impact our brain function and how we can get them in line.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) is common in adults and is frequently associated with cognitive issues, such as increased forgetfulness, mental slowing and “brain fog”. It can also play games with our energy levels, weight regulation and the balance of our other hormones.
Blood tests may show low T4 or low T3 (both thyroid hormones that act in the body) or high or low TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone – the hormone released by the brain that stimulates the thyroid to work).
These are all common signs that the thyroid isn’t working too well. Working with a practitioner to optimise your thyroid function if it’s a little out of balance may help reduce some of your symptoms and protect your brain for the future
Inflammation has become a bit of a buzz word – and for good reason! Many aspects of our modern lives increase inflammatory signals and chemicals in our body such as processed foods, food intolerances, gut imbalances, chemicals and toxins, sedentary lifestyle, chronic negative stress and more.
When we have increased inflammation we’ll see increased CRP (C-Reactive Protein) or other inflammatory markers on blood tests.
When there is elevated inflammation in the body, it can cause damage to tissues, including the blood vessels and the brain. So, while inflammation does have an important function in the body, ongoing, raised inflammation can put our brain in trouble. There are studies linking inflammation with dementia, Alzheimer’s and depression and anxiety.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
Essential Fatty Acids are fat molecules that the body needs to function well. They’re called essential because your body cannot make them, we must obtain them from our diet. There is a lot of misconception around fats, but the science is clear – omega 3s such as EPA and DHA are vital for a healthy brain, in fact our brain is largely fat and a high percentage of that fat is DHA – we’re literally made from it! Whether you’re pregnant and growing a baby’s brain or you want to nourish and protect your own grey matter, you’ll need a good level of omega 3s. Sadly, modern diets are MUCH higher in Omega 6s so we tend to be far out of balance. You’ll want to check the balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 in your blood to see if your diet and lifestyle are resulting in a healthy balance in your body. If you’re a little low, adding oily fish to your diet twice a week, adding a fish oil or good quality algal oil supplement is absolutely crucial.
(BEWARE: there is a lot of misinformation about omega 3s and food sources. out there on the internet. Watch this video for more info)
There are a number of nutrients that are crucial for healthy blood flow, energy production and nerve cell function inside the brain. A deficiency of any of these nutrients can be related to cognitive decline, depression or fatigue. Testing to ensure you have adequate levels of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Folate, Magnesium and Zinc can help you avoid deficiencies and support your brain with all the nutrients it needs.
BLOOD SUGAR DYSREGULATION
One of the issues that precedes dementia can be insulin resistance. This is where the cells become a little deaf to the hormone insulin, whose job it is to get glucose inside the cells so the cells can use it for energy. Blood sugar issues can lead to insulin resistance which is actually a precursor to diabetes. And all of this can happen in the brain too – yep, some people have even considered Alzheimer’s a “diabetes of the brain”. If the brain can’t get the glucose it needs for energy it can struggle to perform and grow which can lead to cognitive decline. Testing for HbA1C will give you a picture of your blood sugar levels over the past 3 months while checking your fasting insulin will help you see if your body is working hard and needing a lot of insulin to keep your blood sugar stable.
There are many other factors that also influence your brain function such as cholesterol, cardiovascular disease markers, sex hormones like oestrogen and testosterone, your gut bacterial balance and more.
The great news?
You have control over the majority of these as most are the result of the way we eat, move and live.
The other great news?
Many of these markers can be tested with simple blood tests through your practitioner (and a baseline set may even be done by at-home fingerprick test, so no need for Drs visits and needles in the arm!)
So there you have it – a small insight into the large number of things that can influence your brain function and impact your risk of cognitive decline. Measuring and keeping these markers within optimal ranges is an important first step in nourishing and protecting your brain for now and for the future.
Want to take a magnifying glass to your health for the sake of your brain? You can book a free 20 minute call with me here, to see what testing might be right for you!