Keeping the Mind Young: Protect Your Gut to Resist Dementia
Dementia and health care costs are on the rise.
According to a recent article appearing in both the Huffington Post and USA Today, Alzheimer’s disease is rapidly rising in the United States. Citing data from 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease: Facts and Figures from the Alzheimer’s Association, the author of both articles points out that dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders are disproportionately underfunded.
Alzheimer’s Association refers to several studies and demonstrates that 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s; this number does not include other dementias, which are also rising as the U.S. population over 65 increases. 2011 figures tell us the after the age of 85, 43% of the U.S. population may have this very severe neurodegenerative condition. (1)
Once inflammation is caused by a compromised gut, which involves a prolonged activation by the immune system over an extended period of time, the integrity of the blood brain barrier, which protects the brain, weakens and becomes permeable. To help, Body Ecology’s CocoBiotic is a highly bioavailable form of a probiotic and prebiotic beverage that contains a symbiotic blend of beneficial bacteria and yeast that can withstand harsh stomach acids, helping your body defend against disease-causing bacteria, viruses, yeast and other dangerous invaders.
What is neurodegeneration?
Simply put, it is the progressive loss of structure or function of neurons. One big question, of course, is what causes neurons to rapidly degenerate? While researchers look for the answer, we can work with what we do know. And what we do know is that there is a direct and profound link between the brain and the gut. This is called the gut-brain axis.
Current studies illustrate the brain-gut axis.
For example, some studies show that acute head-injury, which involves an inflammatory response in the brain and creates oxidative stress, is followed by abnormal enzyme secretion and gastric ulcers. (2)
Conversely, studies have also shown that impaired gut function, whether an identified gluten sensitivity or outright celiac disease, is associated with anti-neuronal antibodies and, in particular, vulnerability of the brain and its integrity. (3)(4) Several researchers and doctors have made the connection between the brain and gut in their analysis and diagnosis; one such study finds that:
“Celiac disease can sometimes present in the guise of a neurological disorder, which may greatly improve when a gluten-free diet is started promptly… and needs to be considered in patients with ataxia, epilepsy, attention/memory impairment, or peripheral neuropathy.” (5)
When treating the brain, gastrointestinal disorders, or both, it is essential to consider this gut-brain axis relationship.
- The enteric nervous system, embedded in the lining of the gut, contains around 100 million neurons.
- Due to the highly sensitive nature of microglia cells, which protect and nurture the neuron, one neuronal death is never a singular event; there is always, even if small in degree, a domino effect.
- Glial and microglia cells are similar to macrophages of the immune system. They clean house, having the ability destroy and also sound an alarm call to certain cell messengers, called interleukins.
- A systemic inflammatory signal can activate microglia cells and create oxidative stress, which has a sort of cascade effect in the body.
This is one reason why inflammation is often referred to as fire. Besides the obvious manifestations of heat and swelling, the inflammatory response often engages a sort of self-perpetuating cycle of oxidative stress and cell apoptosis, or destruction.
Want to keep your mind sharp as you age? The health of your brain is directly dependent upon the health of your gut to reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
If you have an aging brain, chances are quite high that you also have an aging gut.
This can sometimes involve a sort of atrophy of the vagus nerve, which is like the direct line between the brain and the gut. Stimulating the vagus nerve actually generates greater blood flow to the gut and can sometimes alleviate gastrointestinal distress and destruction.
Likewise, the opposite is also true: if you have a compromised gut, which involves some level of inflammation, this prolonged activation of the immune system and of the enteric nervous system can go systemic and trigger a whole-body alarm response. Once this happens, especially if over an extended period of time, the integrity of the blood brain barrier, which protects the brain, weakens and becomes permeable.
Neurodegeneration is common, tragic, and costly.
Alzheimer’s Association tells us that in 2011, medical costs of dementia patients will come to $183 billion, while care provided to them by family and other unpaid caregivers is valued at $202 billion. The annual cost of care is estimated at around $385 billion. As prevalent as dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions are, they receive little funding for research. Bruce Miller, a professor at UCSF, says that simply doubling what is currently spent on Alzheimer’s research would be a significant step in treatment and prevention of most dementias.
Online readers’ response to the Huffington Post article included several stories about their own experience with a family member or friend suffering from the various forms of dementia. The experience for many is heartbreaking, scary, and exhausting. According to a 2006 article published in The Gerontologist, 72% of caregivers feel relief when a dementia patient dies.
One savvy reader made the comment: “I’d like to see a study of Alzheimer’s around the world. Which cultures/countries have the lowest rates among the elderly. I’m wondering if lifestyle and diet might have something to do with it.” (6) While other variables are surely at play in the development of neurodegenerative conditions, one thing is for sure: cells are dying while inflammation and oxidative stress speed this process up.
Therefore, eliminating foods that excite an immune or an inflammatory response is especially mandatory. In addition, adding foods to the diet that support a healthy gut mucosal barrier is a definitive step toward caring for the brain integrity and function.
The Effect of Food
To control an inflammatory response, being in a state of ketosis may help improve neurocognitive function (7). And as research grows, we see that the keto diet may enhance mitochondrial function as well as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the source of energy within cells (8). Even back in the 1920s and 1930s, the ketogenic diet was used as a treatment for epilepsy (9). When you eat high-fat and low carbohydrates, the levels of ketones are elevated, and the glucose from carbs are no longer being used as the primary source of energy, so the neuroprotective ketones are used for energy. The ketogenic diet is what I have been recommending as The Body Ecology Diet for close to 25 years, with a few key differences. The Body Ecology Diet is a system of health and healing. It’s designed to get your gut health and your body’s health back on track. On The Body Ecology Diet, you’ll eat plenty of veggies — ideally, 80 percent at each meal — and you’ll also get plenty of your fat from avocados, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, and olive oil.
In the world’s first study nicknamed KDRAFT (the Ketogenic Diet Retention and Feasiblity Trial) to test ketogenic diets in a small amount of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the patient’s symptoms improved significantly (10).
Nutritional genomics (how our genes interact with nutrition) plays a huge role here too. Time restricted feeding is commonly also used when on a keto diet, offering an “eating window” based on the ancient practice of how our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to eat. This type of feeding has the potential to reset your body and bring it back to its starting point, helping also activate ketosis and autophagy to regenerate the tissues of the brain.
Additionally, through genetic testing, you can see which SNP’s you have and see why certain genes don’t work efficiently. Some genetic SNPs also keep us from detoxifying efficiently, which we know is a major factor in conditions like alzheimer’s, dementia and autism. Or for some, they don’t do well with grains, so may not have the gene needed to get the nutrients from a keto diet. Our brain even has its own cleansing system – and some genes keep us from making adequate amounts of glutathione, which is a main element that helps get toxins out of our brain. In any case, obtaining genetic testing may be highly beneficial before starting any new lifestyle.
Bringing balance to this gut-brain axis, we recommend the Body Ecology Vitality Super Greens, which is an excellence resource in helping to mend the gastrointestinal tract. Beneficial bacteria actually interact with interleukins and pro-inflammatory cytokines, and therefore fermented foods like Super Spirulina Plus, which supply the brain with many crucial vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, and probiotic beverages are other invaluable tools. A probiotic protein shake also has good digestive protein to take stress off of what could be an already taxed system.
To reduce oxidative stress, the Chinese herb Cordyceps actually nourishes the glutathione cycle in the body. Glutathione is the number one antioxidant in your body and can be measured diagnostically in order to determine levels of health. Cordyceps also has been shown to support immune system function and sustain long periods of intense athletic performance. In Chinese medicine, Cordyceps is also well known for its ability to fortify the yang qi, or primal energy of the body.
WHAT TO REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
The rates of dementia and costs of health care are on the rise in the US. Alzheimer’s Association statistics estimate that for Americans over the age of 85, 43% could suffer from this neurodegenerative condition in 2011.
The health of your brain is directly related to the health of your gut. If you have a compromised digestive system that triggers inflammation, this could weaken the immune system and cause severe side effects throughout your whole body. This will lead to a weakening of the blood brain barrier so that it becomes permeable and leaves you at risk for dementia.
To reduce this stress on the body, you can boost your gut health with Body Ecology products like Vitality Super Greens, Super Spirulina Plus and the probiotic protein shake to provide the to provide the healthy bacteria, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that your body needs to protect your brain health!
- Alzheimer’s Association. “2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2011; 7 (2).
- “Hypothalamic Dysfunction in Acute Head-Injured Patient’s with Stress Ulcer.” Kaohsiung J Med Sci. 1998. Sept; 14 (9): 554 – 60.
- Neuromuscular Disorder as a Presenting Feature of Celiac Disease. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1997; 63: 770 – 775.
- “Brain-White-Matter Lesions in Celiac Disease: A Prospective Study.” Pediatrics. 2001; 108.
- Volta, U. et al. “Clinical Findings of Anti-Neuronal Anti-Bodies in Celiac Disease with Neurological Disorders.” Scan J Gastroenterol. 2002; 11:1276- 1281.
- Beetelheim, Ruth. “Dementia: A Silent Crisis that May Bankrupt America” Huffington Post: Health. Mar. 24 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ruth-bettelheim/dementia-a-silent-crisis-_b_840281.html.
- Robert Krikorian, Marcelle D.Shidler, KristaDangelo, Sarah C.Couch, Stephen C.Benoit, Deborah J.Clegg. “Dietary ketosis enhances memory in mild cognitive impairment.” Neurobiology of Aging. Volume 33, Issue 2, February 2012, Pages 425.e19-425.e27.
- Barañano, K.W. & Hartman, A.L. Curr Treat Options Neurol (2008) 10: 410.
- Bailey EE, Pfeifer HH, Thiele EA. The use of diet in the treatment of epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 2005 Feb;6(1):4-8. Review.
- Matthew K.Taylor, Debra K.Sullivan, Jonathan D.Mahnken, Jeffrey M.Burns, Russell H.Swerdlow. Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Transitional Research & Clinical Interventions. Volume 4, 2018, Pages 28-36.