There are consequences to all of our choices and choosing how we treat our body over the years with nutrition and lifestyle choices without a doubt can impact our health including risk factors associated with disease progression the body. Diet and lifestyle choices can affect our cognitive health and the development of associated diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Genetics are also a part of the risk factor profile, and although we can not change our genes, we can impact how our genes express themselves and this can affect the presence and progression of disease. 

Cognitive decline can be a sensitive issue and stressful for both the person experiencing the cognitive decline as well as the family and friends living around that person. It may show up as simple forgetfulness or more significant confusion or even disorientation. More research continues to discover new facets about brain health and more natural treatment protocols targeting whole body approaches to treating cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease which is the major cause of age related cognitive decline. 

Dementia is a significant global healthcare issue and even though it appears to be a growing issue, therapeutic treatment for conditions such as Alzheimer’s doesn’t seem to have made much impact when compared to the treatment of other health issues such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Alzheimer’s is often referred to as type 3 Diabetes because inflammation and increased insulin resistance are associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  Several treatable metabolic markers appear to be involved with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and may be present years prior to diagnosis. Therefore it may be worth testing for such markers in those with cognitive decline as well as those at risk of cognitive decline. High levels of blood homocysteine, chronic inflammation, low vitamin D (amongst other vitamin deficiencies), hormonal deficiencies, gastrointestinal tract integrity and heavy metal toxicity status are all potentially linked to increased risk of cognitive decline.  These may be considered  ‘non standard’ tests by orthodox medical practitioners however growing research suggests links to cognitive decline and these markers are treatable with diet, lifestyle and nutritional support.

Dr Dale Bredesen is a neurologist who has pioneered research in the treatment and reversal of cognitive decline basing treatment on nutrition and lifestyle protocols. His treatment protocol includes addressing lifestyle, diet, supplements, exercise and sleep to reverse the cognitive decline associated with early Alzheimer’s disease. This isn’t a simple magic pill, it involves commitment and effort for the patient to take charge of their health and following the protocol for at least 6 months. This treatment plan can also be used to prevent cognitive decline.   

Dietary guidelines include eliminating refined sugar and white carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, pasta, potatoes) and following a generally low carbohydrate diet. 

In Alzheimer’s disease, a substance called beta-amyloid accumulates between the nerve cells in the brain, destroys communication between the cells and then forms plaques that can lead to destruction of the nerve cells. More natural treatments focus on preventative care and avoiding the formation of these plaques.  For example according to Dr Bredesen, 12 hour fasting overnight, including the 3 hours before bed can reduce insulin and amyloid beta which contributes to the formation of amyloid plaques.

Other than eating low carbohydrate/refined sugar diet, other things that may improve cognitive function include:

  • Coconut oil which is high in medium chain fatty acids (MCTs) and taking a 30ml shot 1-2 daily. It is important to be aware that for some individuals, high coconut oil consumption may increase cholesterol levels. 
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a structural fatty acid required by the central nervous system and is required for optimal brain function.  
  • Curcumin which is an active constituent of turmeric is showing potential benefits in the treatment/prevention of Alzheimer’s due to it’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. 
  • Increasing hydration
  • Exercising 30-60mins a minimum of four days per week can reduce brain atrophy in the elderly. Increasing the heart rate increases circulation which is important for blood flow to the brain. 
  • Increase brain training – much easier these days with many free Apps available as well as good old fashioned crosswords and Sudoku. Playing a musical instrument is also an effective way to integrate left and right brain activity.
  • 8 hours good quality sleep is important for resting and oxygenation to the brain. Sleep apnoea needs to be addressed and for some, taking melatonin before bed can improve restlessness. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can also be useful to increase oxygen circulation and uptake.
  • Antioxidants are protective against cognitive decline as well as many other inflammatory disease processes so eating an abundance of antioxidant rich foods such as fresh vegetables, as well as possibly taking additional vitamin E, C and alpha lipoic acid can provide the body with good antioxidants. 
  • Herbal medicine such as Bacopa monniera and Gingko biloba may be beneficial by increasing blood flow to the brain.
  • Avoid exposure to toxic chemicals such as pesticides and cigarette smoke.

Recent studies have suggested there may be a link between popular medications prescribed for heartburn and reflux (proton pump inhibitors eg Nexium and H2 blockers eg Zantac) and increased risk of dementia. It is always important to address the cause of a condition so symptomatic relief is not relied upon for long term use. If hyperacidity in the stomach is an issue, the cause of the hyperacidity needs to be addressed as well as the symptomatic relief. 

Prevention is definitely better than cure, especially when considering cognitive decline so it makes sense to address a healthy diet and lifestyle now. Not only will it more than likely reduce risk factors for developing disease, it will make the ageing process less stressful and more enjoyable physically, mentally and emotionally. 

For further information or to make an appointment for a naturopathic consultation please contact Diana Arundell at Avoca Naturopath on 0410 465 900 or visit www.avocanaturopath.com.au.  Health fund rebates are available.