Is there a link between radon exposure and Alzheimer’s disease?

January is National Radon Action Month and if you haven’t tested for radon in your home in the past year, this is a good reminder to put it on your to-do list. Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible, odorless gas that decays into radioactive particles. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It’s estimated that about 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year are caused by radon exposure. I’m just learning that It is also linked to neurodegenerative diseases.

My husband spent many hours each day in his basement office. When we put our house up for sale, we had to do a radon mitigation after discovering that we had high radon levels. Now I’m wondering if his Alzheimer’s disease was caused by the radon. In a systematic review of the topic, ten studies have been related to multiple sclerosis (MS), two related to motor neuron disease, in particular ALS, and three were related to both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33066046/

I’ve also just learned that the average radon level in a home in Colorado, where I live, is equivalent to every person in the home having 200 chest X-rays a year. That’s scary!

The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease published an article concluding that ionizing radiation is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Inhaling radon gas, can damage tissue in the nasal cavity and hippocampus that, overtime, results in Alzheimer’s.

The researchers did an extensive study of ionizing radiation exposure of the population in the U.S. and compared that with 2013 death rates by states provided by the Alzheimer’s Association. They found that radon background ionizing radiation was significantly correlated with AD death rate in 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Signs and symptoms of radon exposure and possible lung cancer from radon

  • Persistent cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Frequent infections like bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

What can you do?

Testing for radon is easy and inexpensive. Kansas State University National Radon Program Services offers low-cost test kits online. To order a test kit from KSU, go to sosradon.org. Kits can also be found at local hardware and home improvement stores.

If you find radon in your home, A properly installed radon mitigation system will harmlessly disperse the radon gas, making your home dramatically safer. The best part is that these mitigation systems are affordable to install and require minimal maintenance over their lifespan.

I’m ordering a radon testing kit ASAP. This is something that’s easy to do and can help prevent serious diseases. Please get one for your home, too.

Take care and stay safe.

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

How to prevent and ease tension headaches without drugs

There’s been an increase in the incidence of stress headaches, no matter whether you’re a caregiver, someone who’s lost a job or a loved one, a parent juggling virtual school and a job, or dealing with loneliness and pandemic stress.

If you’re concerned that your headache may be a symptom of COVID-19, Dr. Emad Estemalik, director of the headache section at the Cleveland Clinic, said that although respiratory viruses often involve headaches, if a headache is your only symptom, it’s unlikely that it is related to COVID-19. https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/having-more-headaches-during-the-pandemic-its-not-just-you

On the other hand, “If you suddenly are short of breath or you have a fever out of the blue and you have an excruciating headache, that’s a different story,” he said.

What is a tension headache?

Tension headaches are typically caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck. They can be mild, moderate, or intense pain that you may feel in your head and neck or behind your eyes. Often they feel like a tight band around your head. They can be chronic or episodic, once or twice a month. Women are twice as likely as men to have tension headaches, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, chronic headaches affect approximately three percent of people in the U.S and can last more than 15 days a month.

Common causes of headache

  • Allergies and certain foods including MSG, artificial sweeteners, aged cheese, cured meats, salty foods, chocolate, pickled and fermented foods, frozen foods (i.e brain freeze)
  • Alcohol, caffeine, smoking
  • Depression, stress and anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Eye strain and dry eyes
  • Emotional stress
  • Peri-menopause and pre-menstrual hormone fluctuations
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor posture, especially looking down at our devices and at our computers for long stretches of time.
  • Cold, flu, or sinus infections
  • Vertebrae misalignment, especially of the atlas and axis
  • Over exercising
  • Hunger, not eating enough or on time
  • Air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, particulate matters from wildfires, and benzene from fracking
  • Change in the weather

Ways to prevent and ease a tension headache

According to the National center for Complementary and Integrative Health, these supplements may help prevent tension headaches:

  • Butterbur
  • Coenzyme CoQ10
  • Feverfew
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B-12 (riboflavin)

Yoga postures help by increasing circulation to your head. Remember to breathe. For more information about deep breathing as a stress reliever, including two easy breathing exercises, visit: “Support your lungs with deep breathing exercises” https://barbracohn.com/2020/03/26/support-your-lungs-with-deep-breathing-exercises/

More ways to ease a tension headache

  • Dab some lavender essential oil on your temples. Some people report instant relief.
  • Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water each day.
  • Get plenty of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping read this: https://barbracohn.com/2017/10/25/16-ways-to-sleep-better-so-you-can-be-a-better-caregiver/
  • Exercise regularly and walk outside in fresh air.
  • Get an air purifier to clean the air in your house.
  • Set boundaries for yourself. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
  • Support your emotional well being. Avoid movies that elevate cortisol (stress hormone), avoid family arguments, engage socially on facetime or zoom to avoid loneliness. Take a walk with a neighbor with masks on, etc.
  • Get a massage or chiropractic adjustment.
  • Do something soothing for yourself at least once a day. Listen to some classical, religious or meditative music to uplift your spirit. Take an Epsom salt bath with lavender aromatherapy oil. Take time out to read a book. Keep a gratitude journal. Get a dog or cat.

Please make a telehealth appointment with your doctor if your headaches continue and to rule out other illness.

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and online at Target and Walmart, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

The most important supplements you need for protection against COVID-19 and influenza

 

We’re already getting warnings from the CDC and other prominent doctors and scientists that COVID-19 is not going away. Coupled with the influenza threat, which normally starts around October and lasts through March or April, it’s a good idea to start building up your immune system now.

Here are the vital nutritional supplements that health practitioners recommend to protect you from COVID-19 and influenza.

Vitamin D
All the recently published studies are showing that individuals with low levels of vitamin D fared worse from COVID-19 than those with higher levels. Additionally, in a study published April 2020 there is evidence that vitamin D3 supplementation might reduce your risk of influenza and COVID-19 infections and deaths.

The authors of one study recommended that people at risk of influenza and /or COVID-19 consider taking 10,000 IU a day of vitamin D3 for a few weeks to rapidly raise their vitamin D concentrations, followed by 5000 IU a day. For treatment of people who become infected with COVID-19, higher vitamin D3 doses might be useful. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32252338/

Another study advises that older adults, especially those with Parkinson’s disease, should take 2000-5000 IU a day of vitamin D3 which has the potential to slow Parkinson’s while also potentially offering protection against OVID-19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7287983/

How does vitamin D help?

Vitamin D supports immunity in two ways: 1) It is necessary for the production of antiviral peptides in the respiratory tract, making the respiratory tract less likely to be infected with a virus. 2) It helps promote a balanced inflammatory immune response.

Researchers at Northwestern University analyzed publicly available patient data from 10 countries and discovered a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and cytokine storm—a hyper-inflammatory condition caused by an overactive immune system — as well as a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mortality. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200507121353.htm

According to Ali Daneshkhah, the study’s first author, “Cytokine storm can severely damage lungs and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in patients. This is what seems to kill a majority of COVID-19 patients, not the destruction of the lungs by the virus itself. It is the complications from the misdirected fire from the immune system.”

The research team believes that this is where vitamin D plays a major role. Vitamin D enhances our innate immune systems, and prevents our immune systems from becoming dangerously overactive. This means that having healthy levels of vitamin D could protect patients against severe complications, including death from COVID-19.

Lead researcher Vadim Backman said, “ Our analysis shows that it might be as high as cutting the mortality rate in half. It will not prevent a patient from contracting the virus, but it may reduce complications and prevent death in those who are infected.

Getting enough Vitamin D

Vitamin D is made in the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. The problem is, most of us do not get the sunlight needed for cutaneous vitamin D synthesis.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone that is made in the skin as a result of exposure to sunlight. The problem is, if you live at a latitude of 42 degrees (a line approximately between the northern border of California and Boston) the sun’s rays are too low between November and February for your skin to get the sunlight needed for cutaneous vitamin D synthesis.

If you live at a latitude below 34 degrees north (a line between Lost Angeles and Columbia, South Carolina) your body can make vitamin D from sun exposure yearlong. However, it’s important to expose a large portion of bare skin (like your midriff) to mid-day sun for at least 15 minutes every day. Most people are unable to fit this into their schedule, so vitamin D supplementation is highly recommended, especially since so few foods contain it.

According to Michael Holick, PhD, MD, an internationally recognized expert on vitamin D and director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Research Laboratory at Boston University Medical Center, approximately one billion people throughout the world are deficient in vitamin D.

Blacks, Browns, and other dark skinned individuals are at even higher risk for inadequate levels of vitamin D because their skin isn’t able to absorb as much sunlight. This may be one of the reasons that these populations have fared so poorly in the fight against COVID-19.

Foods that are high in vitamin D

  • Cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, smoked whitefish, rainbow trout, swordfish
  • Milk and fortified non-dairy drinks (orange juice, coconut, soy, almond, etc.)
  • Fortified cereals
  • Mushrooms are the only food in the produce section that has vitamin D. Portobello, maitake, white button have the highest vitamin D content.

How much should you take?

Dr. Holick says, “I recommend to all of my patients that they should take 2000-3000 IU of vitamin D a day from dietary sources, sensible sun exposure and supplements. I believe that it is important for women to take at least 2000 IU of vitamin D a day. Although many of the studies are association studies there continues to be strong evidence that increasing vitamin D intake has other health benefits besides those for bone health. From my perspective there is no downside to increasing your vitamin D intake to levels I have recommended in “The Vitamin D Solution” which is 1000 IU of vitamin D a day for children and 2000-3000 IU of vitamin D for adults.” https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmra070553

If you’re over 60, consider taking at least 3,000 IU daily during the summer, and take 5,000 IU in the winter if you want to increase your protection against COVIC-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

Zinc

Zinc is naturally found in the body and is the second most abundant trace element. It is commonly taken to relieve symptoms of the common cold and influenza. It prevents viral replication and the binding of viruses to cells. However, moderate deficiencies can increase the risk of infection.

How does it help?

Researchers are working on lab studies showing how zinc supplementation can help reduce risk of COVID-19. But we know this: Zinc is thoroughly involved in cell-mediated immunity against any infectious agent such as bacteria and virus. Zinc is one of the major factors that control function and proliferation of neutrophils, natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages, and T and B lymphocytes as well as cytokine production by the immune cells. Zinc also mediates protection from the adverse effect of ROS that are generally produced during inflammatory processes. 

Zinc supplementation might play an important role to COVID-19 patients by adding immune boosting effects with anti-viral drugs.

Foods that are high in zinc

  • Meat
  • Shellfish
  • Legumes—chickpeas, lentils, beans
  • Seeds—pumpkin
  • Nuts —cashews,almonds, pinenuts, peanuts
  • Dairy
  • Eggs

How much should you take?

The recommended daily allowance of zinc will vary according to the age, sex, and health conditions of an individual. For healthy adults, the recommended daily allowance is typically 15–30 mg of elemental zinc. Make sure the supplement contains some copper, which makes the zinc more absorbable. The supplement should contain a ratio of 15 mg of zinc to 1 mg of copper.

Other important supplements

Vitamin C and selenium are antioxidants with lots of studies showing how they help support the immune system.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace element obtained from the diet (i.e. fish, meat and cereals) which has been found to affect the severity of a number of viral diseases in animals and humans.

Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey, said: “Given the history of viral infections associated with selenium deficiency, we wondered whether the appearance of COVID-19 in China could possibly be linked to the belt of selenium deficiency that runs from the north-east to the south-west of the country.”

Examining data from provinces and municipalities with more than 200 cases and cities with more than 40 cases, researchers found that areas with high levels of selenium were more likely to recover from the virus. For example, in the city of Enshi in Hubei Province, which has the highest selenium intake in China, the cure rate (percentage of COVID-19 patients declared ‘cured’) was almost three-times higher than the average for all the other cities in Hubei Province. By contrast, in Heilongjiang Province, where selenium intake is among the lowest in the world, the death rate from COVID-19 was almost five-times as high as the average of all the other provinces outside of Hubei.

Most convincingly, the researchers found that the COVID-19 cure rate was significantly associated with selenium status, as measured by the amount of selenium in hair, in 17 cities outside of Hubei. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200429105907.htm

How does it help?

Selenium supplementation modulates the inflammatory response in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) patients by restoring the antioxidant capacity of the lungs, thus improving lung function. When there isn’t enough antioxidant capacity in the lungs because of selenium deficiency, mutations within viruses occur. This makes them even more dangerous and infectious.

Foods that are high in selenium

  • Brazil nuts
  • Tuna
  • Shellfish–oysters
  • Pork chops
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Firm Tofu
  • Whole wheat pasta, kamut, oatmeal, brown rice
  • Shrimp
  • Shitake mushrooms

How much should you take?

It’s best to make sure you’re eating foods containing selenium. When taken by mouth: Selenium is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in doses less than 400 mcg daily, short-term. However, selenium is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in high doses or for a long time. Taking doses above 400 mcg can increase the risk of developing selenium toxicity. Most multi-vitamins contain selenium. Check yours (and yes, you shuld be taking a multi-vitamin. Make sure it contains adequate selenium. The recommended Daily Value (DV) or daily allowance for selenium is 55 mcg per day for adults. During pregnancy, a woman should get 60 mcg, and lactating women should get 70 mcg a day.

Look for my next blog in which I’ll discuss how vitamin C infusions can help keep you from being put on a ventilator if you get COVID-19.


 

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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Support your lungs with deep breathing exercises

Healthy Human Lungs 2d illustrationThe World Health Organization says about 80% of people with COVID-19 recover without needing any special treatment. But one person in six becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Professor John Wilson, president-elect of the Royal Australian College of Physicians and a respiratory physician says that people develop a fever and cough when the infection reaches the air passages that conduct air from the lungs to the outside. If it gets worse, the infection moves to the end of the air passages. In an article in “The Guardian,” Wilson explains “If they become infected they respond by pouring out inflammatory material into the air sacs that are at the bottom of our lungs.”

If the air sacs then become inflamed, the lungs fill up with fluid and inflammatory cells, which results in pneumonia. This condition severely impacts the body’s ability to take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. And coronavirus pneumonia affects all of the lungs, instead of just small parts.

I don’t know whether the condition of a relatively healthy person’s lungs is a factor in whether or not you would get pneumonia from the COVID-19 virus, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to paying attention to how you breathe. It’s always a good idea, but it’s more important now than ever.

Breathing is something most of us take for granted.  In fact, the average person breathes 1,261,440,000 (one and a quarter billion) times in a lifetime without thinking about it.  Breathing is so vital to your overall health and well-being that Dr. Andrew Weil, best-selling author, educator and practicing M.D. says: “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”

Slow, deep breathing is probably the single best anti-stress medicine we have, ” says James Gordon, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington.”  When you bring air down into the lower portion of the lungs, where oxygen exchange is most efficient, everything changes.  Heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, muscles relax, anxiety eases and the mind calms.  Breathing this way also gives people a sense of control over their body and their emotions that is extremely therapeutic,” says Gordon.1

Most of us do not breathe correctly.  Typically our “normal” breathing is shallow. “The result is a vicious cycle, where stress prompts shallow breathing, which in turn creates more stress,” says Gordon.2

Abdominal breathing and pranyama (yoga breathing exercises) are natural, easy ways to increase your energy and feel more relaxed because they accelerate the intake of oxygen.

Here are some breathing exercises that might just help strengthen your lungs and help you to relax during this stressful time.

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal breathing is done from the depths of the belly, rather than breathing from your chest and nose.  It is a simple method of relaxation that can be done anywhere, at any time.

  1. Sit or lie down with your hands on your stomach.
  2. Inhale slowly through your nose, filling your stomach and then your chest.  Your abdomen should rise as if you’re inflating a balloon.  Allow it to swell and return to normal.  Your chest should move only slightly.
  3. Try to get a rhythm going, counting to 4 on the in-breath and to 8 on the out-breath.
  4. Exhale as slowly as possible through slightly parted lips.
  5. Practice this for about 10 minutes.

Alternate nostril breathing (pranyama)

You’ll notice that one of the nostrils is more open than the other.  Don’t mind this, it’s normal.

  1. Close the right nostril with your thumb.
  2. Breathe in through your left nostril.
  3. Close the left nostril with your third and fourth fingers.
  4. Breathe out through your right nostril.
  5. Close the right nostril with your thumb.
  6. Breathe in through your left nostril.
  7. Repeat the entire sequence and continue for 3-5 minutes.

The effects from these breathing exercises are cumulative, so try to practice them a few minutes each day.  You’ll experience a more settled feeling immediately, and after a week or two you may realize that the mind chatter has quieted down, and that physical tension has diminished too.

Reverend Sharon Shanthi Behl wrote a chapter called “Breath Work” for my book Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia. This excerpt includes a breathing exercise you can do with a care partner who gets agitated, as well as for yourself.

“When we say we are tired and have no energy, what we are really saying is that our energy is blocked. We need to breathe to live, and how we breathe can profoundly affect our degree of physical well-being; it can regulate our emotions, and it can deplete, sustain, or increase our experience of aliveness.

“Prana is constantly fluctuating and moving throughout the universe. According to yoga philosophy, it flows throughout the living body in exquisitely determined whirlpools and currents. The wonderment of the yogic system is asana and pranayama practice allows our innate energy currents to flow as nature intended.

Here is a lovely pranayama practice to use with an agitated individual who is “sundowning.” You may be familiar with this phenomenon. Mayo Clinic clinical neuropsychologist, Glenn Smith, Ph.D., describes sundowning as a state of confusion at the end of the day and into the night. Sundowning isn’t a disease, but a symptom that often occurs in people with dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Smith lists several factors that may aggravate late-day confusion including fatigue, low lighting, increased shadows, and the disease’s disruption of the body’s internal clock. You might find that focusing your loved one’s attention on this practice calms them, and you. ”

Read these instructions slowly out loud as you demonstrate the movement.

  1. Let us do the Butterfly Breath together.  
  2. Face palms toward the heart center at center of the chest.  Interlace the fingers with thumb pointing up to the ceiling.  Place hands on the chest and keep your awareness at this heart center as you breathe deeply and slowly in and out the nose.
  3. Can you feel your heart beating? Can you feel how much you are loved?
  4. Notice the rise and fall of your breath. Feel the warmth of your hands on your chest.  

Add this option for yourself:

  1. Notice any feelings or thoughts as you breathe naturally.
  2. As you breathe in, see your feelings and thoughts like bubbles of air rising from the bottom of a lake.
  3. Breathe out and imagine the bubbles silently bursting as they reach the water’s surface.

If you are a caregiver, please remember to take care of yourself so you can take care of your loved one(s).

References

  1. Krucoff, Carol. “Doctors Empowering Patients by Promoting Belly Breathing,” Washington Post, June 2000.
  2. Ibid

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

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