It’s Brain Awareness Week and a good time to assess what we are doing to enhance our memory, focus, cognition and other mental processes.
I recently read “In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s” by Dr. Joseph Jebelli, a British neuroscientist. It is a wonderfully written comprehensive analysis of the disease, including a history of research, theories, clinical trials, and possible ways to stave off the disease. Although the research and scientific language might dissuade some readers, I found the book very readable and accessible, especially since Jebelli includes his personal account of his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some of his recommendations for supporting brain health.
The Best Brain Support Awards
- Staying socially and physically active has a positive effect on mood and well-being.
- Eating a healthy diet, especially the Mediterranean diet (lots of fresh fruits and veggies, cold-water fish such as wild salmon and sardines, whole grains, and healthy oils (olive, walnut, avocado) and nuts). For more ideas on how to eat well, read 20 Ways to give your body the best nutrition it deserves.
- Using turmeric to season your food or taking a turmeric supplement. Dr. Jebelli writes about an in vitro (in a petri dish) study in which curcumin, the bioactive ingredient in turmeric, actually dissolves the beta-amyloid plaque found in the Alzheimer’s brain. Beta-amyloid is responsible for creating the plaques that inhibit the communication between neurotransmitters, leading to loss of memory and other functions. For more information about turmeric read Turmeric does a body good.
- Maintaining a positive attitude
Additionally, here are a couple of my favorite brain support aids.
1. Coconut oil–I was skeptical when I first heard that Alzheimer’s patients were having a reversal of the disease process after consuming coconut oil. But after hearing anecdotal stories, I am very curious about how coconut oil improves cognitive performance in individuals with Alzheimer’s. A Spanish study published in March 2017 concluded that after consuming 40 ml of coconut oil each day for 21 days, (divided into two servings) 44 patients with Alzheimer’s exhibited a significant improvement in language skills. Read more about it: How does coconut oil affect cognitive performance in alzheimer patients?
Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, which go directly to your liver. The liver naturally converts the oil into ketones. Ketones are chemicals made in your liver. You produce them when you don’t have enough insulin in your body to turn sugar (or glucose) into energy. Ketones are released into the bloodstream where they are transported to the brain as an alternative fuel. Other fats are not readily released into the blood stream and are typically mixed with bile released from the gallbladder before they can be broken down in the digestive system.
Dr. Mary Newport, author of the 2011 book “Alzheimer’s Disease: What if there was a cure?: The story of ketones,” discovered that when her husband ingested coconut oil his Alzheimer’s-impaired cognition improved. In fact, it improved so much that “by the fifth day I felt as though I had gotten my husband back,” says Newport. “His personality and sense of humor returned, he was less depressed, and was able to walk normally again. And he started running and resumed the activities of vacuuming and mowing the lawn.” Additionally, two months after he started taking coconut oil his Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) score went from 12 to 20 out of 30 points, and he was able to draw the face of the clock, says Newport.
Therapeutic levels of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been studied at 20 grams a day, or about 7 level teaspoons. That comes to about 240 calories per day, since one tablespoon of coconut oil is about 120 calories. But there are no significant long-term human clinical studies completed at this point in time.
A groundbreaking research study of a ketone ester in an Alzheimer’s mouse model was released for publication January 4, 2012 in Neurobiology of Aging. This study showed that compared to animals fed a normal control diet, the Alzheimer’s model mice that were fed ketones had significantly less amyloid plaques and tangles in their brain. The animals also showed reduced anxiety, and improved learning and memory compared to the mice fed the control diet.
Mild to moderate Alzheimer’s patients are having good results from a medical food called Axona® which contains a proprietary formulation of medium-chain triglycerides. Axona, which provides an alternative fuel for the brain, as does coconut oil, is a medical food product and not a drug or a dietary supplement. Medical food products are regulated by the FDA, but are in a unique category separate from drugs and dietary supplements. Axona is available by prescription, and is used in conjunction with other Alzheimer’s medications. For more information visit: http://about-axona.com/
Since we have yet to see long-term human clinical trials, I would not call coconut a miracle remedy for Alzheimer’s disease as indicated by Dr. Mary Drew. But if my husband were still alive I would definitely try giving him coconut oil or Axona. Besides some possible minor gastrointestinal side effects and a slight weight gain, adding medium-chain triglycerides to the health regimen of someone with Alzheimer’s disease might just make a difference.
2. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is one of my favorite daily supplements. I notice a difference in my mental acuity when I take it. And when I forget to take it, I am definitely not as sharp as I like to be. PS protects the integrity of brain cell membranes, facilitates the efficient transport of energy-producing nutrients into cells, and enhances brain cell energy metabolism. PS has been sanctioned by the FDA as a safe “brain booster.”Because there are global concerns about mad cow disease, commercial sources of PS, once derived from cows, are now made from soy-derived PS.How does phosphatidylserine work? Phosphatidylserine keeps fatty substances soluble and cell membranes fluid. It also helps to increase glucose metabolism in the brain. This is especially significant because Alzheimer’s disease has been called a type of diabetes–diabetes 3- because the Alzheimer’s brain is inefficient in metabolizing glucose. PS has also been found to increase the number of neurotransmitter receptor sites in the brain.
A study published in August 2015 found that PS decreased cholinesterase, the enzyme that interferes with the brain’s uptake of choline. Most importantly, the patients who took supplemental PS showed an improvement in their memory. In conclusion, PS decreased cholinesterase, improved memory.
The Worst Brain Support Awards
You have probably heard it before, but it’s worth repeating. Refrain or at least cut back on eating these foods. They really do a body harm, and especially your brain.
- Refined carbs
- Soda, and high fructose corn syrup, which tricks your brain into thinking you’re hungry when you’re not
- Trans Fatty acids in processed foods, margarines, salad oils, bakery goods, potato and corn ships, candies
- Saturated fats meat, chicken skin, full fat dairy products and butter
Lack of sleep has been demonstrated to increase risk of dementia and other health concerns. For more information about the importance of sleep, read 16 ways to sleep better . . . so you can be a better caregiver.
Sitting all day and not getting enough exercise is bad for the body and bad for the brain. If you have an office job where you sit most of the day try to get up and move every hour or so. And during your lunch break, go outside for a walk. You will feel so much better!
The Weirdest Brain Support Awards
Stress has a big impact on brain health. But there are dozens of ways to reduce stress and protect our overall health and brain health. Here are some that were a surprise to me.
- Applying pressure to the space between your second and third knuckle (the joints at the base of your pointer and middle fingers) supposedly calms you down instantly because it activates a nerve that, according to Sharon Melnick, author of “Success Under Stress,” “loosens the area around the heart, so any fluttery feeling you feel when you’re nervous goes away.”
- Kissing helps your brain release endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters. Laura Berman, Ph.D., a Northwestern University researcher found that in a study of 2,000 couples, those who only kissed when they had sex were eight times more likely to report feeling chronically stressed or depressed. So kiss often and more passionately.
- I see “the lemon trick” every so often on Facebook. Well, it’s not a trick and it’s not lemon. Rather, this post is about a dietary supplement made from a lemon balm plant called Blueness that is grown only in Bavaria, Germany. The marketing copy claims that if you take this supplement within one hour you will be thinking “I can do anything if I just set my ind to it.” It supposedly improves rapid fire oscillation, which means you’ll be able to remember where you parked your car and the names of people you haven’t seen in years), and you won’t be destined to a life of “What’s this thingamajig called?” It sounds too good to be true, but the hype convinced me to continue reading to the end, where I discovered that the supplement is pretty expensive. No thanks.
I’d love to hear about your favorite brain support tips.
I will send to the first 10 people who respond a chapter from my book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia” called “Living in the Now.” The chapter includes affirmations for staying positive throughout the day and techniques for staying present when you are worried about the futurefrom my book.
“Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia” by Barbra Cohn contains a treasure trove of information on how to stay connected with your loved one, keep calm, improve immunity, reduce stress and feel happier and healthier. Plus, it includes 20 healing modalities that the caregiver can do alone or with their loved one. Available wherever fine books are sold and on Amazon.