Why Talk About the Brain? My clinical experience as a naturopathic doctor, as well as statistics, reflect a growing number of our population suffering from various brain diseases such as Learning Disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Schizophrenia, Autism, Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder and more. I believe that many of these diseases are lifestyle related and are preventable.
Why are our Brains at Risk? Our brains are more fragile than we think. Contrary to popular belief that we only use a small portion of our brains, in reality, while we may use only 10% at any given time, the entire brain is important and active. Our modern lifestyle habits result in excessive expose of our brains to many of the following brain damaging chemicals: medications (ex., Benzodiazepines, Phenobarbital, Valium Xanax, Percodan), alcohol, caffeine (ex. coffee, pop, natural weight loss products), nicotine from cigarettes, vaccines, pesticides, alcohol, food chemicals (ex., artificial sweeteners, MSG, pesticides), recreational drugs, vapors (ex. paint fumes), anti-cancer drugs, and more. In addition, a number of very common chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, strokes and chronic stress can cause significant damage to our brains over time. For example, those with Alzheimer’s disease are found to have much higher levels of cortisol in their bodies, a hormone elevated by chronic stress.
What Does a Healthy Brain Require? The diverse number of risks listed above all has in common the ability to deprive the brain of vital components for longevity. These are a steady supply of glucose (sugar) as cell fuel, oxygen, nutrients, positive stimulation, anti-oxidants and protection from oxidants (any damaging toxins). For example, caffeine constricts proper blood flow to the brain and blocks receptor sites in the brain to produce important hormones that allow the brain chemistry to relax and rejuvenate.
What Can I do To Promote Brain Health? Stress management, good diet, exercise and creativity, all promote longevity of the brain. Some dietary tips key to brain health that are well supported by studies are as follows: increase water intake (the brain is 80% water), avoid overeating, avoid toxic fats such as margarines and consume omega-3 fatty acids regularly (ex. Cod Liver Oil), get protective antioxidants from fruits and vegetables daily. According to studies it is also important to learn new skills, limit TV and video games, break from routines, exercise, and avoid chronic stress.
How Does Naturopathic Medicine Treat Brain Diseases? Current exciting research shows that adults can in fact replace damaged or dead brain cells. Of course the treatment depends on the disease in question and the complex components that make each individual unique. A number of natural supplements have well proven abilities to stimulate, repair and protect the brain and significantly improve symptoms experience by those with problems ranging from leaning difficulties to Parkinson’s, Autism and Alzheimer’s. Some supplements offer protective specific brain antioxidants, others aid blood flow and therefore nutritional and oxygen delivery to the brain, others calm or excite specific brain centers. Many of these work well in conjunction with conventional medications. For example, Ginkgo is great to increase blood flow and has protective antioxidants. Talk to your practitioner about appropriate supplements and doses.
Reference: Making a Good Brain Great by Daniel Amen, MD
How Can I Gage My Risk for Age Related Brain Diseases? It is important to take preventative steps before developing diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. The following questionnaire designed by Dr. Daniel Amen, MD, can help you assess your risk of developing brain disease of aging.
- (3.5) One family member with Alzheimer’s disease or other cause of dementia.
- (7.5) More than one family member with Alzheimer’s disease or other cause of dementia.
- (20) A single head injury with loss of consciousness for more than a few minutes.
- (2.0) several head injuries without loss of consciousness.
- (4.4) Alcohol dependence or drug dependence in past or present.
- (2.0) Major depression past/present.
- (10) Stroke.
- (2.5) Heart (coronary artery) disease or heat attack.
- (2.1) High cholesterol.
- (2.3) High blood pressure.
- (3.4) Diabetes.
- (3.0) History of cancer or cancer treatment.
- (1.5) Seizures in past/present.
- (2.0) Limited exercise (less than twice week or less than 30 minutes per session)
- (2.0) Less than High School Education.
- (2.0) Jobs not requiring periodic new learning.
- (2.3) Smoking cigarettes for 10 years or longer.
- (2.5) One Apo lipoprotein E4 gene
- (5.0) Two Apo lipoprotein E4 genes
If you score 0-2 you are low risk. If you score 3-6 you have moderate risk and should take prevention seriously. If you score more than 6 prevention should be part of your daily routine.