Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of cognitive decline are conditions that put fear not only in the hearts and minds of those affected, but loved ones as well.
In a few short decades, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is projected to almost triple, affecting close to 14 million people (1).
This is immense, and one of the most significant challenges in functional medicine–to live not only a long life, but a healthy one as well. Fortunately, science is finding new ways to catch this condition earlier, and leverage new methods of prevention and treatment.
Could we potentially make Alzheimer’s a completely optional condition? And what could Alzheimer’s have in common with other disease pathways?
There are lifestyle changes you can make starting as early as your 20s that can help maintain cognitive function, and address the important factors we need to support the brain.
Integrative Medicine and Alzheimer’s Disease
Where the brain is concerned, science is coming to understand the conditions of cognitive decline are connected to the body via several common pathways. The main ones being mitochondrial function, inflammation, gut health or the microbiome, and nutrition status.
In terms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), functional medicine aims to analyze these imbalances and provide proactive solutions to minimize risk, even in the face of a genetic predisposition.
Alzheimer’s risk has previously been previously poorly understood, but functional medicine acknowledges nutrition, sleep practices, and lifestyle factors that influence the progression of all cognitive decline.
Begin with Brain Boost with a CentreSpringMD provider to identify the factors your brain is lacking for optimal function, such as:
- Nutrient imbalances or deficiencies
- Altered brain chemistry
- Neurotransmitter function
Schedule an appointment to support your ability to remain PRESENT for a long, healthy life.
Sleep Hygiene for Cognition
No, this isn’t about washing your hands before you head to bed. Providing adequate, consistent rest for the brain is critical for long-term brain health. At night, your brain has a specialized system for performing clean-up and managing oxidative damage.
This system is called the glial-lymphatic or glymphatic system, and it’s responsible for clearing brain fluid and removing waste during sleep (2).
Glymphatic dysfunction is implicated in the progression of AD and other forms of cognitive decline (2).
This is a major reason to prioritize sleep as much as possible, especially during times of stress.
Modifying Risk with Diet & Nutrition
Diet is one major modifiable factor which plays a significant role in the management of brain health. With the brain being approximately 60 percent fat, neuronal function is influenced by the type of dietary fat we consume.
Omega-3 fatty acids are foundational to maintaining good brain communication and integrity on a cellular level, and play a significant role in the levels of inflammation in the body and brain.
In addition, a steady supply of B vitamins support stable brain energy and cognition throughout our life.
Ensuring we have the right nutrients available for cognitive function can be tricky, especially for those with less than optimal digestive function, and the fact that the Western diet is lacking in many nutrients.
Working with a functional provider at CentreSpringMD will provide you with proactive steps to address your cognitive health by identifying gaps in nutrition.
In the meantime, we’ll take a closer look at the connection Alzheimer’s may have to other metabolic conditions, and our ability to to make changes.
Is Alzheimer’s Disease ‘Type 3 Diabetes’?
Diabetes and Azheimer’s are both in the top ten leading causes of death in this country (3).
These conditions may not seem similar on the surface, but when we dig a little deeper, we find their mechanisms for creating reduced brain function are both largely due to diet and environmental factors.
Coincidentally, diabetics are more likely to develop AD, which makes their similar pathologies all that more questionable (4). And the link between diabetes and dementia is well documented.
Alzheimer’s/Dementia and diabetes share similar pathologies, such as:
- Insulin dysregulation within the brain
- Oxidative damage
- Reduced cognitive function
- Altered neurotransmitters
- Mitochondrial dysfunction
If diabetes is a risk factor for dementia and cognitive decline, could the early tests we perform for diabetes give us any indication of Alzheimer’s risk years later?
One of the reasons some people call this condition ‘type 3 diabetes’ is the implication of HbA1C on cognitive function.
Currently, your doctor will test levels of HbA1C when identifying your risk of diabetes. HbA1C is a type of protein that carries oxygen in the blood, and if it’s elevated, this is due to poor blood sugar control.
However, HbA1C isn’t only relevant for diabetes. Research connects the elevation of this protein to risk increased cognitive decline and heart disease (5)(6).
Does this mean we could potentially test for the risk of cognitive decline before showing outward symptoms? This is an exciting idea, especially considering that one study found elevated HbA1C levels, independent of diabetic status, correlate with cognitive decline (6).
Even though we can compare Alzheimer’s to ‘type 3 diabetes’, this is not to be confused with actual Alzheimer’s Type 3, which is one of 6 subtypes of Alzheimer’s disease. Type 3 diabetes is a useful metaphor for comparing the role of insulin within the brain, and how diet and lifestyle factors can influence insulin function overall.
Alzheimer’s connection to insulin and blood sugar means that these three conditions intersect in the gut at some level. What connection does the brain have to the gut, if any?
The Gut-Brain Connection
The most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age. However, it shares secondary risk factors with conditions that also share their root in gut health:
- Lipid metabolism (high cholesterol)
- Vascular conditions (7)
Prior to the last decade, we believed the brain was kept separate from the gut by the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that we now understand DOES allow microglia and certain other specialized cells to pass through (8).
We call the collection of cells, bacteria, and microorganisms that reside in the gut our microbiome. This microbiome is so influential upon health that it’s sometimes called our body’s second brain.
Your gut communicates with your brain via the vagus nerve, which serves as a bi-directional highway between the brain and gut, and vice versa.
The inflammation produced in the gut, as a result of dysbiosis or intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut) is now being recognized as one of the main drivers of neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia (9).
6 Steps to Manage Alzheimer’s Risk Today
- Genetic testing. Knowing your hereditary risk gives you insight for how to properly leverage diet and lifestyle factors.
- Stimulate the connection between the brain and gut. The vagus nerve plays a role in reducing inflammation and can be stimulated by breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
- Support detox. The brain is 60 percent fat, which makes it susceptible to the bioaccumulation of toxins.
- Stabilize blood sugar and insulin. Provide the brain with clean energy and low inflammation by keeping insulin levels low.
- Heal leaky gut or dysbiosis. Reducing pro-inflammatory immune reactions are key for whole-body health.
- Address nutrient deficiencies. The brain requires a high level of vitamins and minerals to perform optimally. Work with your provider to identify areas of concern.
- Evaluate cognitive function with Brain Boost. Identify strengths and weaknesses in the brain that impact learning, memory, and overall cognition.
With Brain Boost, CentreSpringMD will evaluate your personal factors that influence brain health, like:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Brain chemistry
- Gut function
Brain Boost also includes Gibson testing, whose results provide critical knowledge about processing skills, logic and reasoning, word recognition, and much more.
Schedule your appointment, and visit LeaningRx for a personalized brain training plan based on your results.