News and Blog

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:  https://www.thrivingmindretreats.com/costa-rica-2019/

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.

Do statins cause Alzheimer’s disease?

Yes and no. There is evidence that suggests statins cause cognitive impairment in some patients. However, statins have also been shown to decrease the risk of dementia and even improve cognitive impairment in other cases, though this positive effect hasn’t been as well supported by research.

Our brains need cholesterol to function. Cholesterol builds healthy myelin, a fatty covering which insulates nerve cells to make signals go faster. It’s vital for mitochondrial function and the production of steroid hormones involved in brain signaling. And the body uses cholesterol to transport antioxidants such as coenzyme Q10 that protect the brain.  (See our previous post about fat and the brain here.) Thus, anything that affects cholesterol levels in the central nervous system can cause problems with memory and cognition.

Studies have found that statins can negatively affect memory and cognition. High doses of statins have been shown to decrease brain cholesterol and are associated with cognitive decline. This effect is compounded by more lipophilic statins (meaning that they can bind to and be carried by fat) such as atorvastatin, simvastatin, and lovastatin, which are more able to cross the blood-brain-barrier and cause decreased brain cholesterol. Not surprisingly, these medications are more associated with cognitive decline.

The level of statins in the brain is also influenced by the individual’s ability to metabolize and clear the medication from the body. Some people have genetic differences that make less able to clear this class of medications effectively.

On the other hand, there is also evidence to suggest that statins may help to prevent cognitive impairment in some cases. Some forms of dementia, called vascular dementia, are caused by damage to the blood vessels which feed the brain tissue. It is possible that statins can prevent this kind of pathology, as research has shown statins to be beneficial for the prevention of strokes and microvascular damage that can cause vascular dementia.

Statins are also beneficial for decreasing inflammation. Inflammation is strongly implicated in the development of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s, because neuroinflammation is a trigger for the formation of the amyloid beta protein that disrupts brain function. This may be especially relevant for people with the APOE4 gene who are more likely to have  increased inflammation as a main contributor to cognitive impairment. Research shows that these patients might derive more benefit from the anti-inflammatory effects of statins.

So while the answer to the question isn’t cut and dried, one thing is clear: treatment and prevention of dementia needs to be based on the root cause in each individual, not a standardized approach. Health care providers need to be able to identify both types of patients: patients at risk for cognitive impairment from statins and those for whom statins could potentially decrease their risk. The best health care takes each patient’s genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors into account to make individualized plans for each patient’s care.

Fats on the Brain

The brain loves fat. In fact, the brain is made of 60% fat. The mitochondria, the engines powering the brain’s neurons, also favorably use fat for fuel. So eating healthy fats is a cornerstone in the plan to revive a thriving mind.

Fat can be a controversial subject in nutrition, especially when it comes to brain and cardiovascular health. What kind? How much? Here are a few rules of thumb for fat and brain health:

  • Stay as far away as possible from trans-fats and processed vegetable oils like soybean oil, canola oil, and safflower oil. These are pro-inflammatory and toxic to the brain and blood vessels. For plant-based oils, opt for monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocado oil.
  • Be careful with more fragile nut and seed oils like sesame seed, flax and walnut oils, which become rancid easily. These should be refrigerated and should not be heated or used for cooking. They are great in salad dressings or to drizzle over a vegetable dish.
  • Saturated fats from animal fats, butter, and coconut are fine, even beneficial for those who are APOE4 negative, but for those with the APOE4 gene, they should be limited. MCT oil from coconut can assist with helping the body get into ketosis, so APOE4 positive people can use them for a short period of time and then opt for olive oil.
  • The brain needs essential fatty acids like DHA which are also high in anti-inflammatory Omega 3s. These can be taken in the form of fish oil, flax oil, and eating fish, like salmon and sardines, which have a lower mercury content.

Homemade Mayonnaise Recipe

Most store-bought mayonnaises are made with soybean oil, a highly processed oil that contributes to inflammation, a major contributor to cognitive impairment and many other health problems.  Canola oil is not much better, as it is also highly processed and treated with solvents, and contains high levels of omega 6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory when out of balance with omega-3s.

Homemade mayonnaise is surprisingly easy and fun to make and has many health benefits over store-bought mayo. By adding your own cold-pressed oils, you get the benefits of enzymes that help to digest fats and proteins. Fat also helps digest proteins, which is why chicken and tuna salads were born. Mayo is a great way to get more fat into your diet while on a diet to feed your mitochondria – you can dip veggies in it, put it on fish or in salad dressings or

Mayonnaise contains raw egg yolks, which are easy to digest and contain more carotenoid antioxidants than their cooked counterparts. You can probably guess that carotenoids take their name from carrots. They are the pigments that make carrots and egg yolks orange and are powerful anti-oxidants, sweeping up harmful free radicals in the body.  Raw egg yolks are also rich in zinc and Vitamin D. The yolks have a lower risk for carrying salmonella than the whites, which is also less of a worry in eggs that come from happy hens that are pasture-raised.

2 egg yolks at room temperature

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice

¾ -1 cup extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, or other neutral flavored oil

Pinch sea salt

In a food processor or blender, place all ingredients except for the oil. Process until well-blended. Then, while the motor is running (using a lid with a hole), add the oil very slowly, drop by drop until the mayo reaches the desired consistency – the whipping action of the blender gradually thickens the mayonnaise. When thickened, taste and check seasoning (may want to add more salt or lemon juice)

You can add flavoring to the basic recipe above after it is completed, here are a few variations:

Aioli (Garlic Mayonnaise) – add 1 clove garlic, crushed or finely grated.

Garlic Chili Mayonnaise – Add 1 clove garlic and ½ tsp red chili flakes or hot sauce of choice

Herbed Mayonnaise – add ½ cup minced fresh herbs – try dill, basil, tarragon, parsley

Fennel Mayonnaise – great as a dip or on a BLT – add:

2 tablespoons finely chopped fennel bulb

2 tablespoons finely chopped fennel leaves

3 tablespoons orange or lemon juice

1 clove garlic, minced (optional)

-From Farmer John’s Cookbook by John Peterson

Caper Scallion Mayonnaise – add greens from 2 scallions, finely chopped, 1 tablespoon small black capers – great with salmon or artichokes!

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
Dressing:
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.