Brain health


While many of us are concerned about keeping our skin youthful and our bodies agile, what about our minds? Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is on the rise, affecting more individuals each year – a beautiful mind (along with glowing skin and a healthy body!) might be just the place to focus our anti-aging efforts these days. Based on the Alzheimer’s Association 2019 annual report, Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures, 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, with it being the 6th cause of death in the U.S. Probably the most shocking statistic is that 1 in 3 American seniors dies with dementia. That’s one third of the senior population! AD costs $305 billion dollars each year; by 2050, dementia related costs are predicted to rise to as much as $1.1 trillion. The majority of primary care doctors believe that the healthcare system is not prepared for the exponential rise in…

 A new study finds proof that Parkinson’s disease begins in the gut. After injecting specific proteins into the guts of mice, the manifestations of Parkinson’s were observed a month later. The mouse model showed how a protein (alpha synuclein) can travel from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve and resulted in Parkinson’s symptoms rarely seen in previous animal studies. Neuron Takeaway: While this study acts as the first proof of Parkinson’s gut origin, the hypothesis has been around since 2003 and was originally presented by Dr. Heiko Braak. Scientists are now hoping to conduct studies that uncover how and why this process begins in the first place.

Could your gut bacteria make you smarter (or not so smart)? Recent studies show overwhelming evidence that the microbial communities living within our gut play a central role in brain function and development, behavior, and even cognition, including learning and memory. A recent paper outlines how advances in microbial research can be utilized to understand individual variations in cognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences →Takeaway: Cognition begins in the gut! If you are looking to have an intellectual edge and optimize your brainpower, grow a good gut garden. If you feel like your memory, learning, and overall cognitive sharpness is becoming foggy or dull, rewilding could be your answer. Where can you start? Dr. Chutkan recommends consuming lots of leafy greens and indigestible plant fiber daily. Try a daily green smoothie to fertilize your gut garden and “wake up” your brain!

A ketogenic diet (KD) improves neurovascular pathways that play key roles in brain function and beneficially alters the gut microbiome.  The study included a 16-week ketogenic diet and was conducted in young, healthy mice aged 12 to 14 weeks. In addition to improved neurovascular function, a KD reduced blood glucose levels and body weight and showed markers of microbial alterations. Researchers conclude that when started early, a ketogenic diet may enhance brain vascular function, increase beneficial gut bacteria, improve metabolic function, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Scientific Reports →Takeaway: Should we begin our children (or ourselves) on a ketogenic diet as a preventative measure for disease? Probably not! While ketogenic studies have uncovered some impressive findings – such as rapid weight loss, improved cardiovascular health markers, and efficacy for some diseases like epilepsy and MS – a long-term ketogenic diet can be problematic, if not detrimental. Adherence to the diet is extremely…

Common medications, when used for 1 year or more, increase the risk of dementia by 30% in a recent study looking at dementia onset in 350,000 older adults (aged 65 to 99). These medications include anticholinergic drugs – which block the effects of acetylcholine, a chemical used by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells and muscles – used for depression, Parkinson’s disease, and urinary incontinence. Anticholinergic drugs prescribed for asthma and gastrointestinal issues did not increase the dementia risk when compared to controls. BMJ →Takeaway: Anticholinergic medications are prescribed to as many as 50% of older populations in the U.S. and U.K. In addition to the 2018 BMJ study described above, a 2017 study found that long-term use of anticholinergic drugs, including first-class antihistamines (Benadryl) and tricyclic antidepressants, is associated with a significant increased risk of dementia. These findings highlight the importance of embarking on a risk-benefit analysis before taking medication.