What is cognition?
It is more than just being able to memorize. It encompasses being able to process information, respond appropriately, and remember the activity. Cognition is an act of knowing and thinking. This takes hundreds of synaptic transmissions in the brain and it all happens in a split second. But what if the connections started to break down?
Our bodies are built to put up with a lot of wear and tear but over time they naturally start to decline. With the proper care and attention our bodies should last for many many years. Unfortunately, even with the best care there is no denying the shift in activities that occur as we age once youth is no longer on our side. This is just a natural shift in life. Our joints and bones aren't able to handle as much pressure and stress as before, our muscles aren't as strong, and our skin starts to lose its elasticity. The one thing that should remain constant into our later years is our mental health. Our brains are built to last and taking a few healthy steps can help make sure they do.
So what is causing this big shift towards memory loss? The latest research revealed that the number one cause of Alzheimer's has been linked to insulin resistance. To put it simply, it is related to excess sugar intake and a decrease in activity. By the year 2030, it is predicted that the diagnosis rate of Alzheimer's disease will increase by 200%.
How does insulin work?
Insulin is the hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels. When sugar is absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream, insulin is released which signals cells to take in sugar. But just like a barrel, cells can only take so much in before they are full. When this occurs, blood sugar levels keep on rising because there is nowhere else for the sugar to go. This is very important when it comes to cognitive function. Even though our brains need energy to function, the excess sugar flowing in the system isn't able to be utilized by the brain due to the sugars inability to be brought into the cells. This leads to cell starvation, cell death, and cognitive decline.
What are the common signs of memory decline?
Cognitive decline occurs over a period of decades and not just over night. The onset is slow but often the first most sign to occur is brain fog or the feeling that the individual can't gather their thoughts. Another sign is the inability to remember where they have put their personal belongings (wallet, keys, cell phone) on a daily basis. Short term memory is reduced and the ability to go from one task to another begins to be impaired. Each case is the unique, some progressing faster than others and symptoms may vary between each person.
So what can we do?
Diet is a simple and effective way to keep your brain sharp with age. Foods rich in nitrates (beets, spinach, arugula) help to increase blood flow to the brain which brings more nutrients and oxygen to the brain cells for fuel. Along with oxygen comes the building blocks needed to repair and grow the connections between neurons. Adding fish and seafood, which are loaded with Omega 3 fatty acids, to the diet will reduce inflammation and help overall brain function.
Maintaining proper blood sugar levels is an important part of cognitive maintenance. Keeping our insulin levels regulated will help to keep our cells healthy and functioning properly well into our later years. A diet rich in carbohydrates and simply sugars is a recipe for early cognitive decline. Now that being said, adding treats now and then is fun and won't have long lasting effects. The idea is moderation and not over indulging on a continuous basis.
Getting the appropriate B vitamins from dietary sources or supplements will also help in maintaining cognitive function. B 12 (methylcobalamin) is essential for cellular energy function as well as for brain signaling. Co-enzyme Q10 is another supplement that is essential for cellular energy production as it plays a critical role in the electron transport chain. These two alone will help to keep your brain healthy and supplied with energy.
There are many ways to maintain brain health as we age and majority can be done easily from home. Monitoring your dietary and nutritional needs, getting out and participating in physical activities, and continually exercising the brain with daily challenges such as crossword puzzles, card games, or books. If you are interested in finding ways to help reduce the risk of memory loss and maintain your cognitive function, contact Dr. David Hatton to make an appointment. Ask questions, get answers, and see how you can improve your brain health and memory.
The Role of Beta- Amyloid in Alzheimer's Disease-Related Neurodegeneration http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/32/12910
Clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, http://n.neurology.org/content/34/7/939. Guy McKhann, et al.
Prevention strategies for Alzheimer's disease. https://translationalneurodegeneration.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2047-9158-1-13. Serge Gauthier