Trauma and Dementia

Over the past 30 years, increased evidence has linked moderate and severe traumatic brain injury to a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia or another type of dementia years after the original head injury. US male veterans with PTSD were also shown to have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another type of Dementia. Treatments for trauma induced dementia are currently being studied.

  • One study showed that older adults with a history of moderate traumatic brain injury had a 2.3 times greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s than seniors with no history of head injury. Those with a history of severe traumatic brain injury had a 4.5 times greater risk.
  • Mild traumatic brain injury with loss of consciousness has supportive but limited data to support Trauma Induced Dementia.
  • US Veterans with PTSD were shown to have 2 times greater risk of developing dementia. The mechanism in these cases is still unclear. Could the trauma of combat be similar to a traumatic brain injury?
  • Emerging evidence suggests that individuals who have experienced repeated traumatic brain injuries (concussions) or multiple blows to the head without loss of consciousness, such as professional athletes are at higher risk of developing a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  This condition manifests with similar and different brain changes than Trauma Induced Dementia.
  • Some research suggests that traumatic brain injury may be more likely to cause dementia in individuals who have a variation of the APOE-4 gene. These individuals already have a two-fold chance for developing Alzheimer’s. Combined with traumatic brain injury, that increases to 10-fold.

What can be done? The increased tau proteins and beta-amyloid produced after trauma needs assistance in being cleared. Remember these are produced as a healthy response in a healthy individual. When excessive amounts are produced in trauma they can lead to cell (neuronal) death and loss of brain tissue.  For starters, these proteins repair themselves during sleep so getting 8 hours sleep is essential. Our upcoming retreat will focus on addressing the effects of trauma on the brain and treating Trauma Induced Dementia. See:

What’s Sugar Got to Do With Dementia?

A recent study on blood sugar levels and brain deterioration indicated that normal blood sugars that were on the high end were more likely to have less brain volume in key areas of the hippocampus (memory) and amygdala (emotion and cognition). Shrinkage in both of these areas is also linked to developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia. Elevated blood sugar is associated with dementia.

This echoes the findings of several other studies in which abnormally high blood sugar levels (glucose levels of 105-115 mg per deciliter or 6.1-6.4 mmol per liter) were associated with an increased risk of dementia.

Controlling blood sugar levels is a well-known approach to living a healthy long life but is not always as simple as following a healthy diet and getting more exercise.  Blood sugar can be affected by low testosterone, high cortisol levels and estrogen/progesterone imbalances. It can also be affected by toxins and chemical exposures. At our upcoming retreat,  we will examine all of these effects on blood sugar, insulin and cognition. For more information: click here.

Sleep and Brain Health

We know that Alzheimer’s disrupts sleep. But the lack of sleep itself might encourage Alzheimer’s disease by allowing the buildup of amyloid-beta, which is thought to lead to the death of neurons. Sleep deprivation also affects the levels of melatonin which already have reduced levels as people age. Sleep deprivation also affects metabolism, an independent risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. One recent study found that the sleep-brain connection is so strong that people who suffer from sleep apnea have a 70 percent higher risk of contracting Alzheimer’s. So, if you are not sleeping well, what can you do?

Optimize Your Sleep Wake Cycle

1.Teach Your Body When It’s Time to Sleep

Our melatonin levels, which make it easier for us to sleep are driven by daylight and nighttime. The pineal gland, which secretes melatonin, is activated when it is dark.  Before the lightbulb, when darkness arrived, most people naturally slowed down their activity. Since the advent of electricity, lights, TVs, computers and phones, the brain is tricked into thinking it’s still daylight. So what is one to do?

2. Get Outside

Get as much sunlight during the daytime that you can. Open the curtains when you wake up. Go for a walk every day. Going to work? Make sure you have access to a window. If you don’t, take frequent breaks outside. If all else fails, use a lightbox during the day to get some sunlight.

3. Embrace The Dark

The other half of this is to have darkness at night. Close the blinds to shade yourself from street lights. Turn the lights down at home or off if possible. Use candlelight. If you have to look at a screen, wear glasses to block the blue spectrum light (amazon link here).

4. Make Your Bedroom a Place to Sleep

The bedroom is for sleep and sex only. If you have electronics in your bedroom, remove them. If they’re nonnegotiable, cover them with blue light blocking tape or fabric. A good eye mask can also go a long way to blocking out the light from electronics or otherwise. Have curtains/window coverings that block outside lighting.

We are also hard-wired to get sleepy when the temperature drops a few hours after sunset, so stimulate this by making your bedroom a little chilly. Around 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit is the best temperature for your deepest sleep.

How Food Affects Memory & 3 Recipes to Revitalize Your Brain

Scientists are learning more and more about how our diets can help protect our brains. Things like omega-3s from healthy fats like fish oil, flavanols from nuts, seeds, veggies, citrus fruits and chocolate, and high fiber from whole grains and vegetables all contribute to improved brain function.

Consuming omega-3s has been linked to greater activity of a chemical known as brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). BDNF is believed to be responsible for kick-starting the growth of new neurons. Those flavanols increase BDNF levels too. (Yes, it’s true dark chocolate really is health food!)

High fiber diets increase butyrate in the colon which is neuroprotective in the brain. The recipes below include fennel which has 7 grams of fiber per serving. This alone is higher than the average grams of fiber eaten per day by most North Americans and helps achieve the goal of 30 grams per day.

Fennel, Orange & Mint Salad
2 small to medium bulbs fennel, thinly sliced
2 tsp fennel greens, chopped
1 large orange, peeled and chopped into small squishy cubes
¼ to ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
Salt to taste
1. Mix together all of the dressing ingredients, set aside.
2. Mix fennel, orange, and onion together in a medium bowl, add fennel greens and fresh mint.
3. Pour dressing over salad and stir.
4. Serve over greens or on it’s own. It is an excellent accompaniment to fish!

Slow Roasted Salmon with Fennel, Citrus and Chilis
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 blood or navel orange, very thinly sliced, seeds removed
1 Meyer or regular lemon, very thinly sliced, seeds removed
1 red Fresno chile or jalapeño, with seeds, thinly sliced
4 sprigs dill, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 2-lb. skinless salmon fillet, preferably center-cut
¾ cup olive oil
Flaky sea salt 
Preheat oven to 275°. Toss fennel, orange slices, lemon slices, chile, and 4 dill sprigs in a shallow 3-qt. baking dish; season with kosher salt and pepper. Season salmon with kosher salt and place on top of fennel mixture. Pour oil over. Roast 30–40 minutes for medium-rare. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with fresh dill.

Fennel Top Pesto
Greens of 2 fennel bulbs, coarsely chopped
2 handfuls fresh basil
1-2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup nuts or seeds (almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds)
½ – ¾ cup olive oil
Salt to taste
1. Add all ingredients except for olive oil and lemon juice to
food processor, process until finely chopped.
2. Add lemon juice, then olive oil while motor running, add
olive oil until desired consistency.