Focus on nutrient density, not on calories

Some people are concerned that a vegan or plant-based diet won’t provide all of the nutrients they need to stay healthy. While this could be true if you rely on white flour pastries, potato chips, and soft drinks, with a little planning, even an entirely plant-based diet can meet — and surpass — your nutrient needs.

Many people fear that critical nutrients like protein, calcium, and iron are only in animal products. But meat, eggs, fish, and dairy are far from the only — or the best — sources of these nutrients. On the contrary, rest assured that plants can indeed provide all of these nutrients and more! In fact, whole plant foods are chock full of the vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that are strongly linked to better health outcomes.

While packed with nutrients, plants are less calorically-dense than animal products, meaning they contain fewer calories in a similar serving size. Therefore, you’ll need to eat more of them in order to get the same amount of calories. (That’s one of the important reasons plant-based diets are so good for weight loss: you can eat until you’re full without consuming too many calories.) By focusing on nutrient-rich plant foods, however, you’ll have no problem meeting your vitamin and mineral requirements.

G-BOMBS

A good place to start is to incorporate some of the most nutritious, health-promoting plant foods on the planet. We like Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s acronym G-BOMBS, which stands for:

  • Greens: Leafy greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, and other cruciferous veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts are full of anticancer compounds, vision-promoting antioxidant carotenoids, phytochemicals, folate, calcium, and fiber.
  • Beans: Legumes like beans, peas, and lentils are an excellent source of fiber and resistant starch, which are healthy carbs that can help lower high cholesterol, manage blood sugar, keep intestines clean, and reduce the risk for colon and digestive cancers.
  • Onions: The Allium family — made up of onions, leeks, garlic, chives, shallots, and scallions — contain powerful organosulfur compounds, which may help boost immunity, promote heart health, and have anticancer, antimicrobial, and anti-diabetic effects.
  • Mushrooms: All mushroom varieties, including white button, cremini, Portobello, oyster, shiitake, maitake, and reishi, contain anti-inflammatory, immune-stimulating compounds that appear to protect against cancer, prevent DNA damage, and trigger cancerous cells to self-destruct for the good of the entire organism.
  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are among the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet. Regular berry consumption promotes heart health, reduces cancer risk, lowers inflammation, and is protective against cognitive decline.
  • Seeds: Nuts and seeds are full of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and calcium. And they can boost absorption of other nutrients, protect heart health, help prevent diabetes, and have anticancer properties.

Focusing on plant-based foods is a great way to enjoy a nutritionally-adequate and delicious palate that can benefit both your waistline and longevity.

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Interference fields & the healing of chronic illness

Interference fields can be roadblocks to healing. Once identified and removed, the body can self-regulate and heal.

Imagine the body as a beautiful city lit up at night. Street lights sparkle for miles and buildings glow against the dark sky. But on closer inspection, there is a dark spot amongst the bright lights, a strange anomaly that disrupts the picturesque view. This is what an interference field is like in the city of lights of our autonomic nervous system: a disruption in the pathway of nerves that speaks to the brain and keeps our systems running smoothly.

Interference fields can be scars, focal infections, tonsils, silver fillings, and root canals as some primary examples. It is an area of previous trauma that is disrupting information that another part of the body desperately needs. These bodily traumas are not fresh and are easy to overlook as they are usually not painful and, especially in the case of fillings, often completely forgotten.

Interference fields can be the key to alleviating a chronic problem in another seemingly unconnected part of the body. Let’s go through how interference fields work, how to find them and the neural therapy that can change lives.

What it is:

If the autonomic nervous system is how messages traverse the body, then the extracellular matrix is how hormones, nutrients and waste products get from one place to another within the body. Interference fields can disrupt the messages from the autonomic nervous system and accumulate toxins from the extracellular matrix. Chronic conditions arise from the disruption of information and the bioaccumulation of toxins from interference fields.

Routine examinations and bloodwork rarely diagnose the true cause of these chronic conditions. Sometimes these conditions get labeled as psychosomatic and cause patients emotional distress along with the bodily chronic ramifications of the condition.

Where it is:

Interference fields can be anywhere in the body and do not always have an easily discernible connection to the chronic conditions they create. These scars, dental issues and other places of former trauma can be abundant on the body and can represent multiple interference fields. Organs can also be a site for infection and the accumulation of toxins. These interference areas silently and chronically disturb unrelated parts of the body.

When working with patients and taking a history, special attention should be paid to areas of previous injury that leave scars, concussions, surgery sites, and dental work. These areas are usually asymptomatic and give no outward signal at all to the patient.

I Hate My Scar: Options for Reducing Scars

Dental work in particular can be a silent site of interference

Mercury amalgam fillings leak toxins into the extracellular matrix and cause long-term damage. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can make up as much as 50 percent of an amalgam filling. While most dentists have been moving away from mercury amalgam fillings, most adults have these fillings quietly building up toxins in the body.

Root canals are another area that can present as an interference field or focal infection. A root canal is a dental procedure intended to remove all nerves connected to a tooth; however, it often leaves the area open for infection, even when sealed off with a crown.

Wisdom teeth, and particularly the cavitation they create, can be linked to a number of disorders and serve as a common interference field. Because of their placement in the mouth, wisdom teeth can be difficult to properly care for and even treat. They can become impacted into the jawbone, causing pain along with inviting infection and interference. Especially once they are removed, the empty cavity can serve as a hotbed for infection.

Of course, the intimate connection between dental health and the overall well being of the body has long been known. So, there can be obvious foci of infection from impacted teeth and faulty dental work. But less obvious can be the tonsils, which are a part of the lymphatic system and should be given careful consideration. Patients with mercury amalgam fillings or other dental issues should be referred to a doctor that specializes in biological dentistry. More harm than good can come from removing these if not done properly.

THESE WEBSITES CAN BE A GOOD PLACE TO START THE JOURNEY TO BETTER DENTAL HEALTH:

International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine: iabdm.org

International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology: iaomt.org

The Huneke Phenomenon

In 1940, German doctor Ferdinand Huneke had treated a woman with chronic shoulder pain by injecting local anesthetic in and around the painfully frozen right shoulder with no success. In fact, this woman’s pain had gone on so long and been so intense that other doctors had removed her tonsils and most of her teeth in an effort to find the focal spot of the infection. She returned to Dr. Huneke one more time when she was experiencing pain in an old surgical scar on her left shin. Dr. Huneke injected the scar with a local anesthetic to alleviate her pain and she felt immediate relief in her right shoulder.

“This experience was so startling that I could have no doubt that I was looking at a fundamentally new pieceof knowledge and that I was on the track of a hitherto unknown law in the field of focal processes.”

— Dr. Ferdinand Huneke (Williams, Louisa, Radical Medicine, p.277)

How to treat:

NEURAL THERAPY originated in Germany in the early 1900s. In neural therapy a local anesthetic is injected into the disturbed area interrupting the abnormal neural signals coming from the interference field. The injection improves polarity of cell membranes
and as the electrical polarity improves more nutrients enter and toxins leave the interference field. This allows the body to self-regulate and heal as lymphatic flow and circulation in the tissue improve.

Injecting with compounded, preservative- free Procaine breaks down scar tissue and resets electrical messages going through the autonomic nervous system. Neural therapy also helps the flow of the extracellular matrix and to “un- crinkle” fascial membranes.

SCAR THERAPY is a good place to begin with patients, injecting directly into the scar or the tissue surrounding it.

SEGMENTAL THERAPY allows practitioners to reach organs through injections into connective tissue that represent segmental patterns around major organs. This increases blood flow and helps flush out toxins and brings nutrients to the organ.

Massage with oils and creams can be used as a home remedy for patients with needle aversions or for scars in particularly personal areas, such as episiotomy scars. Home remedies also allow patients to observe and regulate the emotions that come with relieving chronic conditions.

Interference Fields and Emotions

A patient’s journey often has involved a series of doctors that could not find the genesis of his or her chronic condition and labeled it as “all in your head.” As interference fields are found and dealt with, a variety of emotions may accompany this treatment. It is not unusual for a patient to suddenly start sobbing as the neural therapy takes effect. Even for patients who don’t have serious chronic conditions, interference fields can hold emotions around the cause of the scar itself and changing the electrical messages can release emotions and improve overall well being.

 

 

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GUT Health and triggers for Brain Health

We tend to think of our guts, if we think of them at all, as nothing more than a tube for transforming food into poop.

Even though we still have much to learn about the intricate world of intestinal microbiota and their influence on our health, treatment paradigms are being overturned as we realize the scope and depth of the relationship between the gut and the brain.

When we suffer from poor digestive health, it’s impossible not to pay attention to our guts.  Between the pain, embarrassment and inconvenience of diarrhea, constipation, bloating, flatulence and cramping, and carefully avoiding foods that we once enjoyed, our guts take over our lives when we are not well.

From cardiac health to weight management, diabetes to premature aging, cancer to autoimmune disorders, our experience of health or disease is largely determined by the state of our gut. And our mental health is no exception.

Cutting edge research is finding that the gut communicates with the brain and has a powerful influence over both the physical condition of the brain and our cognitive function.

In order to understand the connection between our guts and our brains, we must understand the microbiome.

The Microbiome

There are billions upon billions of tiny organisms living inside of each and every one of us, creatures that make their homes inside our bodies and consume our food to meet their nutritional needs. These microscopic squatters have a tremendous influence on our day to day wellbeing and are, in fact, intricately connected to our long term health because they’ve evolved to manipulate our thoughts and behavior in order to ensure their own survival.

The microbiome consists of trillions of microscopic creatures of thousands of different species. The majority are bacteria, but there are also some fungi, parasites and viruses.

When this community is composed of the right balance of microbials, they support healthy metabolism, immune function, digestion, hormone production and cognition. But when beneficial species exist in low numbers or are completely missing, opportunistic pathogens take over. In this case, the microbiome still has a powerful influence over many of our bodily systems, except now it has a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing. Maintaining a diverse population of microbial species along with appropriate proportions of specific species within that community is the key.

We still have much to learn about the microbiome and its implications for our health, but the wait may not be long. Funding for such research shows how important the potentials in this field could be. In 2015 the US National Institute of Health awarded one million dollars to a research program intended to reveal the relationship between the microbiome and the brain. Meanwhile, ongoing breakthroughs are challenging our understanding of nutrition, immune response and the nervous system. We’re also having to reconsider everything we thought we knew about memory, cognition and mental health.

The microbiome exerts a tremendous influence over our brains and behavior. Fascinating research has recently revealed direct correlations between the species at home in our guts and the personality traits that we exhibit. Specific links were established, for instance:

• An abundance of gammaproteobacteria were found in people who exhibit high neuroticism.

• High levels of proteobacteria were found in people who displayed low conscientiousness.

• High levels of lachnospiraceae and other butyrate producing bacteria were found in people with high conscientiousness.

The microbiome communicates with the brain via three principal pathways:

Electrical Stimulation of the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system. It is the longest nerve, running from the brainstem all the way to the colon. It acts on all of the organs of the digestive tract, as well as the heart and lungs, and regulates involuntary bodily processes like heart rate, breathing and peristalsis.

We once thought the primary function of the vagus nerve was to carry motor commands from the brain to the organs, but scientists have discovered that a shocking 90% of the fibers in the vagus nerve are actually dedicated to relaying information from the gut to the brain.

On the other hand, when the messages from the body to the brain indicate that we are safe, the brain instigates the parasympathetic response. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system initiates the “rest and digest” mode and gives our bodies a chance to focus on nutrient allocation, tissue repair and detoxification while there is no immediate threat to our wellbeing.

Scientists believe that the most important function of the vagus nerve is carrying information about the organs to the brain and have concluded that our digestive tract, which is our largest surface that interacts with the outer world, could be considered an especially important sensory organ. The gut bacteria of our microbiome directly stimulate the vagus nerve, influencing our moods, memory and cognition.

Production of Neurotransmitters 

Serotonin: Known is the “feel good hormone,” it acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter and governs feelings of wellbeing, contentment, satiety, anxiety and fear.

We use to think that serotonin was produced in the brain, but recent research has found that 90% of our serotonin is actually produced in our gut.

Alterations in serotonin levels are associated with moodiness, depression, anxiety and autism.

Dopamine: It is a neurotransmitter that is associated with feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation and concentration. Our brains release dopamine when we experience pleasure. It also contributes to essential bodily functions including movement, sleep, learning, mood, memory and attention.

Half of the dopamine that we require to be well is produced in our guts.

Low dopamine is associated with lack of focus, fatigue, mood swings, poor sleep, low energy and loss of sex drive. It also correlates to mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and Parkinson’s.

GABA: Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, better known as GABA, is produced or consumed by multiple species of intestinal bacteria.

GABA is the body’s principal inhibitory neurotransmitter. It slows brain activity, which increases relaxation, reduces stress, calms nerves, balances mood, soothes pain and improves quality of sleep.

It promotes intestinal motility, reduces inflammation and enhances immune function. Low levels of GABA are linked to depression and mood disorders.

Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs): They are the product of fermentation of dietary fibers by bacteria in our guts. SCFAs nourish the cells that make up the wall of the intestine, boost the protective capacity of our intestinal wall lining and support healthy digestive motility. SCFAs are also powerful anti-inflammatory agents.

The most famous of the short chain fatty acids produced by the gut is butyrate. It is especially effective at reducing inflammation – not just in the gut, but in the brain as well. Groundbreaking treatments are using butyrate to treat neurodegenerative diseases, depression and cognitive impairment.

Butyrate produced by bacteria in our guts enters our blood stream and crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it facilitates production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF supports our ability to learn, remember and form new memories. It is regarded as “fertilizer for the brain” because of the way it enhances our neuroplasticity. Loss of neuroplasticity causes the trademark mental decline associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Modulation of Immune Response

The final known pathway that our gut bacteria use to influence the brain is through the immune system. Our microbiome signals vital functions of our immune response that are essential to maintaining homeostasis. It influences both inflammation and our immune response by controlling what gets absorbed from our digestive tract to our bloodstream and what gets excreted.

When the immune system is overstimulated we develop chronic inflammation. Inflammation in the intestines causes the junctions in the cell walls to become more porous which leads to Leaky Gut. Food particles, bacteria and toxins are then able to enter the bloodstream, causing bodywide inflammation.

Some digestive bacteria produce Lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS is inflammatory and toxic. It can enter our bloodstream when our gut is hyperpermeable. Leaky Gut causes “leaky brain.” As the intestinal wall becomes more permeable, the blood-brain barrier weakens, leading to inflammation in the brain that influences the way we think and feel. Brain inflammation plays a role in depression, anxiety, brain fog and autoimmune brain disorders.

Psychologists are now treating depression by prescribing anti-inflammatory diets. In fact, many conventional therapies for mental disorders and neurological diseases are being revamped as experts uncover the intricate relationship between the microbiome and mental health.

***

A healthy gut is indispensable to a happy mind. The conclusion of a recent study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences aptly describes the shift that is taking place in the treatment of mental disorders:

“Mental disorders and neurological diseases are becoming a rapidly increasing medical burden. Although extensive studies have been conducted, the progress in developing effective therapies for these diseases has still been slow. The current dilemma reminds us that the human being is
a superorganism. Only when we take the human self and its partner microbiota into consideration at the same time, can we better understand these diseases.”

We are susceptible to many threats that can diminish the diversity of our microbiome. Remember how the composition of each of our microbiomes is unique? The baseline microbial species we start with are determined by our birth and early childhood experiences. However, most of us don’t keep all of them. Throughout our lives many things can happen which deplete our microbiomes and leave us vulnerable to pathogenic infections:

• Antibiotic overuse
• Inflammatory diet
• Lack of dietary fiber
• Chronic stress
• Traumatic experiences, especially in childhood
• High alcohol consumption
• Exposure to environmental toxins
• Pathogenic infections
• Parasites
• Nutrient deficiencies
• Insufficient sleep

IMBALANCE in the microbiome creates stress in the body that not only triggers inflammation but can also lead to significant mental health problems. Recent research at Stanford University revealed that even short-term digestive problems can contribute to mental health issues later in life.

A healthy gut supports a healthy mind. Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have demonstrated that boosted levels of Lactobacillus are directly linked to enhanced memory. Higher levels of GABA, which of course, is produced by some species of gut bacteria, are also associated with better memory.

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How Sugar Feeds Cancer Growth

Could it be possible that sugar feeds cancer growth?  Billions of dollars are funneled into cancer research every year… and still, sugar is a relevant reason for cancer growth that is often forgotten.

Take a look at almost any cancer treatment center in the US that uses the traditional treatment methods (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery) and you’ll notice something outright blasphemous. To help keep weight on their patients, they offer snacks and meal replacements. The problem? They are loaded with sugar and processed ingredients and… sugar feeds cancer.

When it comes to people who are trying to fight off cancer, consuming low-carb on a regular basis is absolutely vital. Our traditional oncological doctors seem to brush this fact off as a non-factor but if your goal is to give the body a fighting chance against cancer, sugar must go.

MONKFRUIT_SugarInflammation

Cancer Cells x Healthy Cells

When you are looking at fighting cancer while keeping normal cells healthy, you have to ask yourself, what makes a cancer cell different?

Based on what we know from research, cancer cells are metabolically damaged. Metabolically damaged in that, their energy producing structures e mitochondria, are unable to operate efficiently.

A cancer cell manifests in their preference for glucose as a fuel source, relatively low-yield production of ATP, and rampant production of oxidative species.  Normal healthy cells, on the other hand, are able to exhibit metabolic flexibility where they can burn multiple sources of fuel, produce more ATP, and relatively lower levels of oxidative species.

CANCERCELLS_Normal-and-Cancer-Cell-Characteristics_2-1024x863

The Mitochondrial Aspect 

For a long time, researchers focused on the nuclear genome for the cause of diseases. This is where the whole idea that diseases are hereditary came from. With the rampant up-rise in chronic disease over the last 100 years, the nuclear genome hardly makes sense. Changes in the nuclear genome occur over thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years.

It turns out epigenetic changes occur much more rapidly in the mitochondrial genome and science is catching on to this concept. The healthier your mitochondria are, the healthier you will be. This is a simple byproduct of efficient energy production.

As we look deeper into many of the chronic diseases plaguing us today, we are beginning to notice that the mitochondria play a much larger role than we ever considered.

But How is Energy Formed in a Cell?

Cells need energy to perform normal functions including: responding to their environment, absorbing nutrients, exporting toxins, growing, replicating, etc. This energy Is produced through a process called respiration.

There are two types of respiration: aerobic and anaerobic.

Normal, healthy cells in most cases will use aerobic respiration which occurs in the mitochondria. This process involves breaking glucose down into pyruvate in the cytosol, transporting it to the mitochondria, and forming ATP in the presence of oxygen. Given that there is enough oxygen within the cells, this is the default method of energy production. The byproducts of this process are 36 molecules of ATP and carbon dioxide, which is released through breathing.

When there is a lack of oxygen, anaerobic respiration takes place. This occurs in the cytosol of the cell where glucose is broken down into pyruvate and directly converted into ATP and lactic acid. This process never reaches the mitochondria and only generates 2 molecules of ATP.

While anaerobic respiration produces a tiny fraction of the energy (2 ATP versus 36 ATP), it actually generates ATP at almost 100 times the rate. We know that rapidly dividing tissues, such as healing wounds or cancer, tend to take advantage of anaerobic respiration for quick energy production.

While anaerobic respiration provides energy faster, there may be other factors that make this method of energy production beneficial for growing cancer cells.

Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 4.36.14 PM

Cancer Cell Energy Production

A healthy cell with enough oxygen should perform both glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation for the production of energy.

Healthy cells can also utilize ketone bodies, converted from fatty acids, to produce ATP through aerobic respiration.

What we now know is that cancer cells, even in the presence of oxygen, choose to undergo glycolysis utilizing glucose (and sometimes glutamine) as the favored substrate.  This is the more scientific understanding of how sugar feeds cancer.

This is thought to be due to damaged mitochondrial structures within cancer cells inhibiting the cells ability to undergo aerobic respiration. Glucose enters the cell and is converted into pyruvate within the cytosol but cannot enter the mitochondria to undergo aerobic respiration.

As a result, growing cancer cells upregulate glucose transport proteins on their surfaces in order to take in as much glucose as possible. There is also a rampant build-up of lactic acid in cancer cells as a byproduct of anaerobic respiration. This means as long as it is abundant in the blood, sugar feeds cancer growth in a way that will only promote its development.

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Advantages of Glycolysis For Cancer 

While some people see glycolysis in cancer cells as a byproduct of damaged mitochondria, it is also possible that cancer cells have adapted to favor glycolysis for its growth promoting properties.Not only does glycolysis produce energy more rapidly that aerobic respiration, but it actually promotes an environment where cancer cells can rapidly divide.

Excess lactic acid produced by cancer cells actually shuts off the body’s anticancer immune response by deactivating anti-tumor immune cells. This essentially shields cancer from the immune system.

At the same time, rapid cell growth requires a lot of raw materials to make new cells. One of the primary atoms needed in abundance to form new cell structures is carbon. Carbon atoms are linked together to form backbones that cell structures are built off of.

After glucose is metabolized, it leaves a 6-carbon chain. While aerobic respiration excretes this carbon through the breath via carbon dioxide, glycolysis retains it. It is thought that this allows for a more rapid division of cells through a higher availability of raw materials.

SUGARANDCANCERCELLS_10WAYS

How Sugar Feeds Cancer Growth

As has been covered so far, cancer cells have an impaired ability to produce energy. Due to damaged mitochondrial structures, they perform glycolysis rather than aerobic respiration. As a result, they must upregulate glucose intake in order to support rapid division and growth.

At the same time glycolysis favors cancer growth in several ways. This why a ketogenic diet has been heavily investigated for being able to limit cancer growth by cutting off its primary fuel supply. In addition to this, there are other mechanisms by which sugar feeds cancer growth.

White Blood Cells

White blood cells are the soldiers of our immune system. They are a powerful force against foreign invaders in our bodies including cancer cells. In order to operate at their full capacity, they require high amounts of Vitamin C. This was discovered by Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, in the 1960’s.

Unlike other animals, humans are not able to produce Vitamin C endogenously. Instead we must receive it from our foods and transport it to our cells for use. We then have internal antioxidant systems that help us to retain and recycle Vitamin C to get the most use out of it. This is a function of glutathione.

In the 1970’s Dr. John Ely discovered what is referred to as the Glucose-Ascorbate-Antagonism (GAA) Theory. Both glucose and Vitamin C are similar in structure and rely upon insulin in order to enter the cells via the Glut-1 receptor on the cell membrane. Unfortunately, glucose has a higher affinity for this receptor which means it is absorbed more readily than vitamin C.

It is thought that having high levels of blood sugar actually inhibits Vitamin C from entering the white blood cells, which drastically reduces immunity and therefore the ability to fight off cancer. So, while sugar feeds cancer, it also inhibits the immune system for acting upon cancer cells.

Phagocytic Index 

In order for white blood cells to destroy foreign pathogens within the body, they do so by engulfing them and essentially breaking them down into benign byproducts. This process is called phagocytosis. The measure of how well a white blood cell is able to perform this function is called the phagocytic index.

Therefore, in order to provide the best chance for the immune system to target cancer cells, they need to have a high phagocytic index.

Because of the relationship explained above between glucose and vitamin C, high levels of sugar circulating in the blood is thought to lower the phagocytic index of white blood cells, impairing their ability to fight cancer.  In fact, it has been shown that a blood sugar level of 120 actually reduces phagocytic index by 75%.

VITAMINC_WHITEBLOODCELLS2

Sugar Feeds Cancer via Insulin HMP Shunt 

In addition to Vitamin C’s importance for proper phagocytic functioning of white blood cells, it is also critical for stimulation of the hexose monophosphate (HMP) pathway.

The HMP pathway produces NADPH which is used by white blood cells to make superoxide and reactive oxygen species that are used to destroy pathogens.  This HMP shunt also produces ribose and deoxyribose which provide important raw materials for the formation of new white blood cell RNA/DNA.

When the immune system is under attack it needs to quickly produce new immune cells.  If blood sugar is high enough to turn off the HMP shunt it will reduce the quantity of RNA/DNA and the amount of new immune cells formed.

hmp-shunt-pathway-12-638

Sugar Feeds Cancer via AMP-K

AMP-K stands for Adenosine Monophosphate-activated protein kinase. When ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is broken down for energy within cells, phosphate groups are removed to form ADP and AMP (Adenosine Diphosphate and Adenosine Monophosphate, respectively).

When the ratio of AMP to ATP is increased, it is a sign that energy is getting low and AMP-K signals the upregulation of ATP production. In this manner, AMP-K is an energy regulating molecule.

It has also been shown that upregulation of AMP-K diverts glucose away from cancer cells and towards the body’s healthy tissues (7). In fact, it is suggested that activation of AMP-K helps to reverse the glycolytic preference of cancer cells, giving them an energetic disadvantage.

Luckily, AMP-K activity can be upregulated by intense exercise, carbohydrate restriction, and intermittent fasting.

There are a number of peripheral benefits of AMP-K activation that are centered around key physiological pathways that are also associated with cancer growth. These include mTOR, the p53 gene, and COX-2 enzymes.

ampk

Sugar Feeds Cancer via mTOR 

Sugar feeds cancer another way by activating biological growth pathways in the body, namely mTOR. mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) is a physiological pathway that regulates cell growth and replication. We know that cancer tissues have an elevated expression of mTOR signaling that may contribute to rapid cell growth in cancer.

Upregulation of AMP-K through the strategies listed in the previous section have actually been shown to inhibit this mechanism of cancer growth.

While mTOR is necessary for a healthy body, having a chronically activated mTOR pathway is what contributes to cancer development. Consequently, one of the primary activators of the mTOR pathway is insulin. Naturally, chronic sugar consumption will leave insulin levels high which will contribute to constantly elevated mTOR.

This is yet another way lowering dietary glucose, fasting, and a ketogenic diet may be able to help the body combat cancer.

By combining these techniques, blood sugar becomes stable, insulin drops, and these growth pathways become less of a contributing factor towards cancer growth.

Sugar Feeds Cancer via The p53 Gene 

The p53 gene is responsible for controlling tumor development by responding to damaged DNA sequences and regulating gene expression in cancerous tissues.

If the DNA is able to be repaired, the p53 gene will allow the cell to go back into its normal cycle of growth and reproduction.  If the DNA cannot be repaired, then p53 signals for cellular apoptosis (programmed cell death).  It has been found that the p53 gene is inactivated in a large proportion of cancers, making it a pharmacological target in cancer treatment.

Yet another benefit of AMP-K activation is that it actually improves p53 expression and prevents it from becoming inactive in the first place. This occurs because AMP-K phosphorylates p53 and, in turn, makes it more stable.

Among many others, high blood sugar is recognized as a contributing factor for inactive or mutation of p53 genes as well. This may be due to hyperglycemia inhibiting the absorption of zinc, which is supposed to bind to p53 to activate it.

Sugar Feeds Cancer via COX-2 Enzymes 

COX-2 is an abbreviated version of Cyclooxygenase-2. COX-2 is a pro-inflammatory enzyme that is elevated in many cancers and is thought to contribute to the aggressiveness of tumors.

The COX-2 enzyme is yet another pharmacological target that many cancer therapies attempt to take advantage of. Rightfully so, lowering this inflammatory enzyme may have powerful potential in a holistic approach to healing cancer.  While more research is needed in the area, activation of AMP-K has also been associated with COX-2 inhibition.

Sugar Feeds Cancer, Fat Doesn’t 

Given what we have covered so far, there seems to be a logical solution to placing cancer cells at a metabolic disadvantage. Given that cancer cells are highly glycolytic and thrive in an acidic environment, steps should be taken to ensure that the availability of glucose is very low in the blood stream.

Additionally, upregulating AMP-K and driving aerobic metabolism towards the oxidation of fatty acids over glucose can be very powerful.  Following the strategies below will help you improve AMP-K and convert over to burning fat for fuel.

SUGARANDCANCER_Strategies-to-Increase-AMP-K-2

Reduce Sugar 

Of course, we understand by now that sugar feeds cancer and so it is imperative that sugar and highly insulinogenic carbohydrate sources be removed from the diet. Insulin is a significant promoter of cancer cell growth and it must be limited as best as possible.

This means relying on healthy fats as the primary source of calories and only moderate amounts of clean protein. Overconsumption of protein can become gluconeogenic, meaning the body begins to convert proteins into glucose.

Cancer cells have an abnormally high number of insulin receptors and extremely upregulated glucose metabolism. This means that depending on the severity of your cancer development, cancer cells are stealing sugar that should be going to your healthy cells. This means sugar feeds cancer at the expense of the rest of your healthy cells while ketones provide an interesting shift in the opposite direction.

Ketogenic Diet 

While removing sugars and carbs is a great first step, it can be equally as important to implement a ketogenic diet. This is where you train your healthy cells to burn ketones, made from fat, as energy instead of glucose.

This is important because, as I just mentioned, aggressive cancer cells will essentially steal glucose away from healthy cells. This feeds the cancer cells while leaving your healthy cells in a weakened state, lose-lose.

Most cancer cells cannot utilize ketones as a fuel source. So, by teaching your healthy cells to do so, you help return vitality to your healthy cells while weakening your cancer cells, win-win.  You reduce the sugar feeds cancer phenomenon.

Reducing Sugar Cravings 

Because cancer cells are stealing glucose from your healthy cells, your healthy cells will have less glucose to create fuel. As a result, your brain will be receiving signals that you need more, which will likely trigger carbohydrate cravings.

These will likely become even more pronounce in the beginning stages of implementing a ketogenic diet because many cancer patients have weakened mitochondria.  Using strategies to stimulate mitochondria and allow the body to begin making ketones more quickly can help a lot here.  This is where exogenous ketones or MCT oils containing C8 and C10 fatty acids can help.

Once ketone production becomes efficient, these cravings will likely diminish greatly. Other strategies to help reduce these cravings include exercise, staying hydrated, getting plenty of minerals, supporting the HPA axis, and supporting optimal dopamine production.

Intermittent Fasting 

In addition to following a ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting is a powerful strategy to quickly reduce insulin and upregulate AMP-K activity. At the same time, intermittent fasting strengthens the immune system to help your white blood cells seek out and destroy cancer cells.

As if those benefits weren’t powerful enough, fasting also upregulates cellular autophagy (breaking down of damaged and abnormal cells) and genetic repair. So, we get rid of bad cells and repair the rest. This benefit becomes more powerful during longer bouts of fasting (24 hours or more).

Finally, intermittent fasting improves your metabolic flexibility to help you get into a deeper state of ketosis at a much quicker rate. At this point, I would say that is a win-win-win-win-win-win… You get what I mean.

Start with a 12-hour fasting window where you consume nothing but water or non-caloric herbal teas for a 12-hours window between dinner and breakfast the next day. Once your body tolerates this well, work up to a longer fast as outlined below.

Other Critical Ketogenic Diet Tips 

So, we know that sugar feeds cancer, but there are other strategies to boost your success when on a cancer healing journey. In addition to the strategies outlined above, there a few other ways to ensure you are optimizing your health on a ketogenic diet.

Super Hydration 

While in a fasted state, it is a great time to drink plenty of water to ensure proper hydration and to assist with gentle detoxification. It is extremely important that you get pure water with no chlorine or fluoride in it.

I recommend super hydrating your system by drinking 32 oz. of water within the first hour of waking and another 32-48 oz. of water before noon. Additionally, you should aim to consume close to your full body weight in ounces of water each day.  So a 150 lb person can aim to drink 150 ounces of water in the form of water, herbal teas, lemon water, broth, etc.

This amount of water seems excessive, but as long as it comes with enough minerals (adding in a pinch of good salt), it is extremely cleansing to the body.  In addition, staying hydrated will improve your energy and reduce feelings of hunger or cravings.

water

High Quality Salts 

Most people in society avoid salts as they have been taught that excess sodium contributes to high blood pressure.  However, during the initial adaptation phase to a ketogenic diet, the body excretes excess sodium and minerals due to a drop in insulin levels.

If you don’t replace these minerals, you can end up with many of the symptoms of the keto flu.  Be sure to replenish these minerals by using a high-quality pink or gray salt and drinking organic bone broth throughout the day.

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Get Regular Exercise 

Short bursts of intense exercise increase AMP-K and promote metabolic flexibility while increasing oxygenation of tissues. Be sure to keep it to 15-20 minutes 2-4 times a week, overdoing it can raise cortisol and pull you out of ketosis.

Additionally, get regular low intensity exercise such as barefoot walking outdoors.  This adds the benefit of free electrons from the Earth that are helpful for your electromagnetic frequency, which calms your stress response and improves healing and sense of well-being.

grounding

Improve Bowel Movements

Many people don’t consider this as an important factor but constipation can drive up stress hormones and pull you out of ketosis. Many people experience constipation on a ketogenic diet so it is important to take steps to mitigate this.

You should be sure to consume plenty of fibrous vegetables, fermented foods, water, minerals, and never eat in a stressed state. Stress inhibits digestion so be sure to perform an act of gratitude or prayer before meals to help pull your body into a resting state.

If intestinal bacterial overgrowth is an issue, this should absolutely be addressed as another cause of poor digestion.  Finally, magnesium supplementation can be a great remedy for constipation while also supporting the body for optimal health overall.

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Control Protein Intake 

Eating too much protein can easily stimulate gluconeogenesis which will raise blood sugar and pull you out of ketosis.  Most individuals will want to aim for 0.4-0.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and around 20-30 grams per meal.

This means a 150 lb. individual would only need about 60-75 grams of protein each day.  Individuals who are more active and involved in intense weight training or intense athletic endeavors may go up to 0.6-0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight on heavy training days.

Use MCT Oil

Producing ketones can be a stressor on the body, especially if you have mitochondrial dysfunction. MCT oil is easily converted into ketones to relieve some of this stress and improve your state of ketosis. Avoid brands that contain lauric acid (C12) as this fatty acid is not easily converted into ketones.

I often recommend the Keto Brain MCT oil which contains pure C8 MCT oil which converts into ketones most efficiently.

Improve Your Sleep 

Mitigating stress is a key aspect of maintaining an optimal state of ketosis and getting good sleep is a paramount aspect of this.  Poor sleep is consistently correlated with blood sugar imbalance and increased risk of cancer.  A good start is to be in bed no later than 11pm, make sure the room is completely blacked out, and lower the temperature to about 60-65 degrees.

More advanced strategies for optimal sleep include:

Getting AM sunlight to prime the circadian rhythm

Avoiding blue light exposure within 4 hours of sleep by investing in a pair of blue-light blocking glasses

Developing a relaxing routine that you go through every night before bed. This could include prayer, meditation, gratitude journaling, light stretching, or anything that brings you peace and comfort.

Conclusion 

We know a lot about how cancer cells behave and what conditions allow them to thrive. Because of this, we are able to alter our internal environment in order to favor our healthy cells over cancer cells.

We understand how sugar feeds cancer.  Therefore, reducing sugar intake, getting the body into a state of ketosis and implementing intermittent fasting can be powerful cancer-fighting strategies. Because cancer cells in general are metabolically inflexible, we are able to take advantage of ketone metabolism as a way of placing cancer cells in a weakened state.

Not only does this make these strategies powerful stand-alone healing practices, but also for improving the outcomes of traditional treatments. Armed with the knowledge of how sugar feeds cancer, you will be empowered to move forward with your healing journey that you see beneficial for you.

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Chronic Pain and Acute Pain: 8 Natural Pain Relievers

Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that is designed to alert you to the fact that something is not right within your body. It may be steady, throbbing, stabbing, aching, pinching, mild, severe or debilitating.

Pain can also bring about other physical symptoms, such as nausea, dizziness, drowsiness or weakness. And it can cause an emotional reaction, like anger, depression, mood swings or irritability.

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Chronic Pain Vs. Acute Pain

Acute pain has a specific cause—usually inflammation, a disease or tissue damage. It often lasts for a particular amount of time and fades as the problem is healed or dealt with appropriately. It also has a purpose: to warn you that something should be done to stop the pain. And if you can’t do that or the cause of the pain is difficult to treat, that acute pain may become chronic.

In fact, chronic pain can go on for months or even years. However, the official definition of chronic pain is pain that lasts for three months or longer and doesn’t go away entirely in response to treatment. In addition, ​chronic​ pain doesn’t last for a specific, predictable amount of time, and may have no apparent cause, or a very easily-identifiable one, such as a disease like osteoarthritis, nerve damage from shingles virus, multiple sclerosis or diabetes, or even a sports injury.

There are many types of chronic pain disorders.

Chronic Pain Disorders

There are three types of chronic pain disorders: neuropathic pain, mixed pain, and nociceptive pain.

Neuropathic Pain Disorders

These pain disorders may be caused by a stroke, spinal cord injury, and diseases like diabetes and HIV, which can affect your nerves.

Mixed Pain Disorders

Low back pain, multiple sclerosis pain, phantom limb pain, migraines, chronic daily headache and fibromyalgia, fit into this category of pain disorder.

Nociceptive Pain Disorders

This type of disorder includes mechanical low back pain, sports or exercise injuries, sickle cell crisis, chronic inflammatory conditions, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

1. Herbal Remedies & Essential Oils

Turmeric is highly anti-inflammatory and especially good for arthritis. What about making an anti-pain smoothie in the morning that contains mango, turmeric, and ginger?

You could also mix together two teaspoons of turmeric, one teaspoon of grated ginger, honey and a little black pepper to help with absorption, and swallow that first thing in the morning.

Turmeric can help boost your general health, sharpen cognitive function and reduce pain. Ginger has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for pain for thousands of years and also helps lower inflammation.

More inspired by external remedies? Peppermint, rosemary and lavender oil are all known for their analgesic effects. Some people directly inhale their aroma, while others add a few drops to massage oil. Peppermint and eucalyptus oil are specially helpful for joint pain, thanks to their cooling menthol effects.

2. Exercise & Stretching

Did you know that endorphins bind to the opioid receptors in your brain to block the perception of pain, much like opioid pain medications?

As a result, activating the release of your inner endorphins can substantially help reduce pain, and get you a nice dose of pleasure, satisfaction, and better-quality sleep to boot.

Any exercise that gets your heart pumping for a sustained period will release endorphins into your system.

One of them includes yoga, which is good for lower-back pain, arthritis, and migraines, but it also helps with stress and the emotional side of pain.

It’s not necessary to force yourself into a “human pretzel” to do yoga. In actuality, a principle rule of yoga is to respect your limits, breathe and enjoy the experience. Just begin with a beginner’s class after getting the thumbs-up from your doctor, as with any new exercise program.

Other types of exercise that are great for joint pain and staying active include swimming, water aerobics, cycling, using an elliptical machine and walking. The stronger your muscles and joints become, the better chance you have of feeling better about yourself and your life, and releasing more of those endorphins.

Qigong and tai chi, which both originate in the East, have been shown to be great for arthritis, lower-back pain, and fibromyalgia. Experts say that these slow-as-molasses-type movements may be as effective as prescription painkillers for some patients, mainly when used in conjunction with meditation.

Stretching, which is often involved in yoga, qigong and similar types of exercise, has also been shown to benefit those with chronic pain. If you’re not able to exercise for some reason, what about adding some gentle static stretching into your routine?

3. Meditation, Hypnosis & Guided Imagery

Meditation is often recommended for chronic pain reduction and symptom management. And with good reason: specialists say it can really help lessen your perception of pain by interrupting pain signals to the brain.

Just breathing in through your nose for a count of four, holding it for a count of seven and then slowly exhaling through the mouth to a silent count of eight can be a great place to start. Try doing rounds of four a couple times per day.

It’s recommended that you meditate twice daily for chronic pain. Another method is finding a sound that’s pleasing to you but has no particular meaning (such as “soom” or “rool”), closing your eyes in a comfortable position and repeating the sound in your mind.

If your thoughts wander away from the sound or you feel pain, notice them and then go back to your sound. Try this for a few minutes per session, and build up to 30-minute sessions.

Hypnotherapy is now among the recommended treatments for lower back pain. Guided imagery, where you are guided to concentrate on images in the mind’s eye may affect the body physically.

All these disciplines are well worth trying out for your pain issues. Meditation alone has been shown to be at least as effective a painkillers in relieving chronic pain.

4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & EFT

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help you identify and change self-defeating thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that trigger pain. This problem-solving approach can alter brain activity and reduce pain levels, and a study showed it to be significantly more effective than standard treatments for those body-wide pain.

EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique—or just “tapping”—is thought to send a calming signal to the amygdala in the brain, turn off the fight or flight response and speed up healing.

EFT also works with the connection between physical problems like pain and trauma. One study found it helped people with chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia and severe fatigue feel better in as little as one month. The technique involves lightly tapping rhythmically on points on the face and upper body and is very easy to learn.

5. Acupuncture & Massage

Acupuncture seems to work well for people suffering from a wide range of conditions that can cause pain; it is recommended for chronic back pain, migraines, tension headaches, sciatica, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis.

The reason behind why this ancient practice is so effective remains relatively mysterious. Tiny needles are inserted into specific points on your body during an acupuncture session, and it’s thought that the needles may affect the activity of adenosine, an amino acid that becomes active after an injury to ease the pain.

The jury is still out on a scientific explanation of its effectiveness. However, many practitioners are able to induce incredible effects in their pain patient’s lives with acupuncture. What’s more, it improves the functioning of the nervous and musculoskeletal system, strengthening general health and inducing a palpable feeling of well-being.

Massage has been seen to boost endorphin and serotonin levels, reduce stress hormone levels and potentially turn off the genes associated with inflammation. Why not enjoy the benefits?

6. An Anti-Inflammatory Diet & Hydration

According to many experts, the easiest way to prevent pain long-term and help the body heal from pain naturally is to change your diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids in foods like cold-water fish, chia seeds, and walnuts help lower inflammation. Organic, fresh fruit and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants that can give you a great start on reducing pain.“The Mediterranean diet” has also been shown to reduce pain sensitivity. It involves consuming plenty of legumes, olive oil, fish, nuts and fruit and vegetables while cutting out sugar, processed foods, trans-fats and other inflammatory foods.

When your stomach is empty, are you getting enough water into your diet? Water can help with pain because it helps your body carry healing nutrients and oxygen to your cells, prevents constipation (a side-effect of many painkillers) and helps flush out toxins. It can also be extremely beneficial to those with joint pain and back conditions.

7. Grounding And Sunlight

Grounding is a phenomenon that involves connecting yourself to the electric field of the earth to neutralize positively charged free radicals and short-circuit the inflammatory process.

That’s why walking barefoot on a natural surface like grass, sand, clay or stone for around 20 minutes per day or using an Earthing device may help relieve pain.

While you are walking barefoot outdoors, you will probably also be exposed to sunlight, helping your body produce vitamin D, which could be very important.

In a recent study, people who got enough sun to produce the recommended daily 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D experienced less pain than those who didn’t. And 93% of those with unexplained persistent musculoskeletal pain in another study were deficient in this critical vitamin.

So, make sure you expose your skin to sunlight for around 10 to 15 minutes per day, whether you’re grounding or not.

8. Supplements

If you’re not able to get into nature and enjoy the outdoors when the sun is shining, it may be beneficial to take a vitamin D3 supplement.

Next, explore proteolytic enzymes. Studies show these types of enzymes help you digest protein, which is needed to repair damaged tissue; they can help reduce inflammation and recovery time after exercise and reduce swelling and the causes of pain.

Electrolytes (like Potassium and Sodium) are needed to reduce muscular pain, help the body detoxify and control the fluid retention that can worsen joint pain. They can also help speed up healing. Most Americans are deficient in potassium due to eating few fruits and vegetables, so be sure to fill up on enough coconut water, avocados, sweet potatoes and leafy greens, or take an appropriate supplement to make sure you’re getting what you need.

As mentioned above, magnesium deficiency is rife, and it could affect your health considerably if you don’t get enough. Consider adding a high-quality magnesium supplement to your anti-pain strategy, as well as making sure you’re eating magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, daily.

Bonus Method: Get Properly Assessed

If you’re struggling with pain and don’t feel like you’ve found natural solutions that work, or feel like you’re well taken care of, getting your pain and situation carefully and thoroughly assessed could be life-changing.

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A Growing Interest in CBD and Physical Therapy

One need only to look through medical articles or talk to health care providers at conferences to realize that medical marijuana (MMJ) is becoming a widely accepted area of study for pain management and other applications.

Medical indications for cannabinoids include neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), muscular dystrophy (MD), and Parkinson disease (PD)—all conditions addressed by physical therapists (PTs).

That’s why a growing number of PTs are looking at (or revisiting) the use of MMJ by patients, based on published evidence and patient experiences. An increasing number of PTs also are advocating for its use in some instances, saying it may be safer than are drugs such as opiates, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories. Still, both medical professionals and patients are questioning whether cannabis and cannabinoids are the solution. They’re asking “Can it really help?” “What are the side effects?” “Is it safe?” and “Is it legal?” These are all questions for which PTs should be prepared.

CBD and physical therapy

Understanding the Terminology:

The terms “marijuana” and “cannabis” often are used interchangeably, particularly in the United States, but they are 2 separate entities.

1. Marijuana

In general, marijuana refers only to parts of the Cannabis sativa plant or derivative products that contain substantial levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical compound that is found in the highest concentrations in the cannabis plant and is primarily responsible for the plant’s intoxicative qualities.

2. Cannabis

Cannabis is a broad term that can be used to describe organic products (eg, cannabinoids, marijuana, and hemp) derived from the Cannabis sativa plant. These products exist in various forms and are used for medical, industrial, and recreational purposes. Given its broad potential, the all-encompassing word “cannabis” has been adopted as the standard terminology within scientific and scholarly communities for organic products derived from the Cannabis sativa plant.

3. Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids are a group of active chemical compounds found in cannabis. Among the more than 100 different types of cannabinoids are THC and cannabidiol.Under US law, cannabis plants with very low levels of THC—not more than 0.3%—are considered “industrial hemp.”

4. Cannabidiol (CBD)

CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis (marijuana). While CBD is an essential component of medical marijuana, it is derived directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin of the marijuana plant. While CBD is a component of marijuana (one of hundreds), by itself it does not cause a “high.” According to a report from the World Health Organization, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”

Knowledge Is Power

It can be difficult to get an unbiased view of MMJ and cannabis. On one hand, although the FDA website contains updated information about states that have legalized marijuana, it’s a federal website that, along with other federal sites (such as for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), presents a certain perspective. Sites that are strongly pro-cannabis (such as the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws [NORML] and the Marijuana Policy Project), meanwhile, present a different perspective.

As you gear up to begin incorporating hemp-derived CBD products in your practice, take a moment to educate your team on CBD. This is a product that lacks substantial research about its efficacy. In order to build trust with patients when incorporating CBD, you and your team should strive to educate yourselves on how to use topical CBD products. 

In conclusion, keep in mind that using CBD as a complement to therapy is still controversial, and both you and your patient should be comfortable in using it associated to PT treatment. Perhaps it is better to manage your plan of treatment according to a patient that already uses MMJ, collect results, and then propose it to the patient that is not familiar with it.

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What is Leaky Brain? Solutions to fix it

You probably have heard about “leaky Gut”, right? It is a gastrointestinal condition that your Gut can be punctured, which then impacts how well you digest your food and absorb the nutrients, how sensitive you are to possible allergens, and how much inflammation your food may cause. You may have heard of leaky Gut in terms of “intestinal permeability”, which might make it seem like your gut shouldn’t be so permeable. But the truth is that your gut is naturally and selectively permeable, allowing helpful compounds like nutrients to pass into the body while keeping harmful toxins and pathogens out. When this process fails, and the membrane of your GI tract becomes more permeable than it should be, it’s called leaky gut.

But today we will talk about “leaky brain”, which has a lot in common with leaky Gut. Just like yourgastrointestinal (GI) tract has a protective barrier protecting it from its surroundings, your brain has its own casing that protects it from your body and bloodstream. It’s called the blood-brain barrier (BBB).

 

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The Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB)

Leaky brain issues are just as common because your blood-brain barrier is also semi-permeable. Your brain needs things like glucose, amino acids, fat-soluble nutrients, and ketones to function properly, and gets them through the semi-permeable blood vessels that shuttle them into your noggin. Your brain also needs the BBB to keep harmful toxins, infectious pathogens, and errant immune cells out.  And, when the barrier is compromised, the floodgates open to all manner of nasty invaders, which can cause brain fog, depression, anxiety, and a host of neurodegenerative diseases, like dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. So basically, when the blood-brain barrier is punctured, ruptured, or loosened, things like heavy metals, toxins, molds, fungi, and chemicals produced by our post-industrial world seep in and wreak havoc.

The blood-brain barrier, at its most basic and well-recognized level, is formed by brain capillary endothelial cells (simple squamous (flat) cells that line the inside walls of blood and lymphatic vessels). It includes anatomical, physicochemical, and biochemical mechanismsthat control the exchange of materials between blood, brain, and cerebrospinal fluid, which makes it the main physical barrier through which nutrients, hormones, and various chemicals pass from your brain to your blood system, and vice versa. Caffeine, for example, crosses the barrier quite easily, and, as you’ll learn, is actually potently beneficial for it.

The barrier maintains the extracellular environment of the central nervous system and brain through three main lines of defense:

  1. The physical barrier itself between blood and brain,
  2. Transporters that mediate the flow of compounds from the brain to the blood, and,
  3. An enzymatic barrier that contains neurotransmitter and toxin metabolizing enzymes in the endothelial and epithelial cells of the brain and blood, respectively.

Most of the research on the BBB in the 20th and 21st centuries, however, has focused on the first layer, the physical barrier, usually in order to learn how to deliver drugs more effectively to the central nervous system. This is the part of the BBB I’m going to cover here.

The endothelial cells lining blood vessels are only one layer thick. Some of the largest vessels, the arteries and the veins, are also surrounded by thick walls of connective tissue and layers upon layers of smooth muscle cells; but the vessel walls themselves are lined by a thin, single sheet of cells. This ultra-thin sheet determines the passage of every substance from the blood to the rest of the body — including the brain. So when it gets damaged, things escalate fast.

Like every other cell type in your body, endothelial cells can divide and repair damages in the sheet wall of a given blood vessel. If left to themselves, they’ll live out a cell lifetime that ranges from a couple months (liver endothelium) to several years (brain endothelium). But when they’re exposed to detrimental compounds and physiological circumstances, they can die prematurely and will need to divide quickly to repair the vessel wall. And when the vessel wall is exposed to this state without break, the BBB will be weakened overall, which can lead to all kinds of problems, including the leakage of plasma proteins into certain regions of the brain. This can cause exacerbated inflammation in the brain, and long-term, chronic inflammation in the brain can only cause problems.


What weakens the blood-brain-barrier?

1. Sleep Deprivation

Your body needs you to sleep appropriate amounts of each sleep phase, in order to properly regulate the functions and integrity of the BBB. In particular, loss of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep damages much of this function.

If you’re sleeping less than, in most cases, the recommended 7 to 9h per 24h, your brain will suffer. A group of researchers studied the effects of chronic sleep restriction (CSR) on mice in a test designed to mimic a common pattern of human sleep loss. They found CSR not only diminished endothelial and inducible nitric oxide synthase, endothelin1, and glucose transporter expression in brain microvessels of the BBB, it also decreased 2-deoxy-glucose uptake by the brain, a sugar needed to maintain proper electrical signaling and membrane potentials. This all coincided with an increase of paracellular permeability of the BBB, leaving the brain more vulnerable to invasion.

2. Excessive Alcohol Intake

Another cause that was already mentioned is excessive alcohol intake. Studies in the past have indicated that long-term alcohol abuse can lead to massive functional and morphological changes in the CNS, including neurodegeneration that ranges from minor dendritic and synaptic changes to full-on cell death. This occurs through oxidative stress on neural cells. The alcohol you drink is essentially ethanol (EtOH), which, among other things, enhances reactive oxygen species (ROS) that damage brain cells. Chronic exposure to alcohol also increases the expression of CYPE1, the enzyme that turns EtOH into ROS and acetaldehyde (the substance that causes the feeling of hangover). And, both EtOH and its metabolite acetaldehyde decrease the tightness of the BBB, which is exactly what should be avoided.

3. High-Blood Pressure

One study observed rats and found that the BBB dysfunction present in the rats was quite clearly related to the combined effects of elevated blood pressure and cerebral vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels in the brain). And, unfortunately for all of us, high-blood pressure is caused by a number of things, including stress (from anywhere), poor breathing, poor diet, lack of sleep, and more. Considering one in every three adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure, this should be taken seriously.


How to fix a leaky Blood-Brain-Barrier

1) Sleep

Before you do anything else, you need to sleep more. The first sleep study mentioned above also found that at the end of a 6-day period of sleep deprivation, the permeability of the BBB was restored to baseline after just 24 hours of recovery sleep. Sleep loss is known to impair the immune system, while simultaneously increasing levels of pro-inflammatory mediators. It also increases sympathetic nervous system activity and causes endothelial dysfunction. So to maintain homeostasis, the general health of your body, and the health of your BBB in particular, you need to get more sleep each day, between 7 and 9h per 24h period.

2) Limit Alcohol

As you learned above, this one is huge. While a glass of wine a day can cause low doses of ethanol to migrate across the barrier and trigger good endorphins and relaxing neurotransmitter receptors, higher amounts of alcohol can, obviously, cause high-doses of ethanol, along with acetaldehyde, to damage brain neurons.

3) Control Blood Pressure

Both acute and chronic hypertension increase blood-brain barrier permeability. Dark chocolate, high-dose garlic, magnesium, potassium, and even hand-grip training can all help to lower blood pressure. And luckily, you don’t have to eat an entire bowl of elephant garlic to reap the benefits. There’s a form of garlic extract called allicin, which is the main active component of garlic, that’s a far more efficient way to get the brain-boosting benefits of this common ingredient. As far as grip devices go, you can take a hand-grip strengthener with you in the car or airplane or train, and just keep squeezing it. There’s even a commercial device called Zona that’s been clinically approved for treating blood pressure. It even digitally walks you through a squeeze-and-relax regimen.

4) Caution With High-Fat Diets

Rodents that were given a 40% saturated fat diet (from cocoa butter) experienced elevated blood-brain barrier permeability, but adding in either aged garlic extract, alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), niacin, or nicotinamide completely eliminated this elevation. Phytonutrient-rich plants and spices such as curcumin (from turmeric), astragalus root, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbage produce a similar healing effect. Fiber-rich plants are also beneficial. They allow you to consume high amounts of fat while minimizing some of its effects. Make sure you also start including lots of dark, leafy greens in your meals, like kale, spinach, or collard greens.

5) Drink Coffee and/or Tea

Caffeine is a noted protector of blood-brain barrier integrity, and may even help inhibit BBB disruption as a means of preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

6) Supplementation

Alpha-GPC, a type of choline that readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, is known to improve endothelial dysfunction. Inositol from egg yolks improves BBB integrity, berberine reduces its permeability and increases resistance to brain damage following head trauma, and vitamins B12, 6, and 9 restore it to equilibrium.

7) Magnesium

As mentioned, high magnesium intake can attenuate BBB permeability, even in test subjects who have been injected with an agent to induce leaky blood-brain barriers. You can get it into your system by taking it orally, or applying it topically either as a lotion or spray on the back of your neck and head.

8) Stimulate Your Vagus Nerve

Stimulating the vagus nerve with practices like singing, chanting, meditating, deep breathing, cold showers and even electronic stimulation, and a host of other lifestyle practices and biohacks can all decrease BBB permeability.

9) Limit Snacking

Ghrelin, a hunger-stimulating hormone that tells you it’s time to eat, can also improve BBB integrity. Specifically, it can reduce BBB breakdown after traumatic head injury. By avoiding frequent snacking and grazing, practicing intermittent fasting, and reaching to point of hunger, you get better BBB function.

10) Nourish Your Gut

One study observed the effects of a transplant of gut microbiota from healthy mice with perfect BBB integrity to unhealthy mice with a leaky barrier, and found that it did, in fact, restore the integrity of the damaged barriers. Luckily, you don’t have to get such transplants from other people — you can get the same results by eating more prebiotic fiber, taking quality probiotics, and eating fermented foods on a regular basis.

11) Cryotherapy

The final tip is simply… cold showers. This will affect everything from your appetite to your vagus nerve connection between the gut and brain, to temperature fluctuations that will cause a release of blood and nitric oxide in your brain, all of which will improve BBB integrity by overall suppressing mechanisms of BBB degeneration. Cold soaks, cold shower, splashing cold water on your face, it’s that simple.

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Everything You MUST Know About Alzheimer’s Disease

Most people today know someone who has been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. It is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about 60 to 80% of all dementia cases. People who have dementia lose memory and cognitive (thinking) abilities, and can also experience altered speech and perception. These losses make it difficult for people with Alzheimer’s to function on their own in daily life.

National estimates suggest that about 5.7 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a number that’s projected to soar to 14 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Aging is the most common risk factor, but Alzheimer’s can begin in middle age, too. Approximately 200,000 people in the United States have early onset Alzheimer’s disease, which begins before age 65.

Alzheimer’s also impacts the friends and family of those who have it. Friends and family provide 83% of care for older adults in the U.S., and nearly half of them provide care for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

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Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Applying the word “Alzheimer’s” to someone close to you can be uncomfortable, even if the signs, or symptoms, have been apparent for some time. It’s much easier to gloss over strange behavior: “Oh, Mom’s just getting older,” or to rationalize: “Well, we all forget things sometimes.”

Only a qualified physician can conclude with high certainty that a living person has Alzheimer’s disease. But the following eight symptoms are strongly associated with the disease. If your loved one is displaying these symptoms, it would be wise to seek medical evaluation.

1. Memory Lapses

  • Does the person ask repetitive questions or retell stories within minutes of the first mention?
  • Are memory lapses growing progressively worse (such as affecting information that was previously very well known)?
  • Are the lapses happening more frequently (several times a day or within short periods of time)?
  •  Is this forgetfulness unusual for the person (for example, sudden memory lapses in someone who took pride in never needing grocery lists or an address book)?
  • Does the person ask repetitive questions or retell stories within minutes of the first mention?

Everyone forgets some things sometimes. But your loved one may have Alzheimer’s disease if you notice these more significant memory lapses.

Having problems with memory is the first and foremost symptom noticed. It’s a typical Alzheimer’s symptom to forget things learned recently (such as the answer to a question, an intention to do something or a new acquaintance) but to still be able to remember things from the remote past (such as events or people from childhood —  sometimes with explicit detail). In time, even long-term memories will be affected. But by that point, other Alzheimer’s symptoms will have appeared.

2. Confusion Over Words

  • Does the person have difficulty finding the “right” word when he or she is speaking?
  • Does the person forget or substitute words for everyday things (such as “the cooking thing” for a cooking pot or “hair fixer” for comb)?

Of course it’s normal for anyone to occasionally “blank” on a word, especially words not often used. But it’s considered a red flag for Alzheimer’s if this happens with growing frequency and if the needed words are simple or commonplace ones.

This can be a very frustrating experience for the speaker. He or she might stall during a conversation, fixating on finding a particular word, or replace the right word with another word. This substitute could be similar enough that you could guess at the meaning (“hair dryer” instead of “hairdresser”), especially early on in the disease process. Or it could be completely different (“bank” instead of “hairdresser”) or nonsensical (“hairydoo”).

3. Marked Changes in Mood or Personality

  • Has the person who’s usually assertive become more subdued (or vice versa)? Has the person who’s reserved become less inhibited (or vice versa)?
  • Does he or she withdraw, even from family and friends, perhaps in response to problems with memory or communication?
  • Has the person developed mood swings, anxiety, or frustration, especially in connection with embarrassing memory lapses or noticeable communication problems?
  • Has he or she developed uncharacteristic fears of new or unknown environments or situations, or developed a distrust of others, whether strangers or familiar people?
  • Do you see signs of depression (including changes in sleep, appetite, mood)?

Mood shifts are a difficult sign to link definitively to Alzheimer’s because age and any medical condition may spark changes in someone’s mood, personality or behavior. But in combination with other Alzheimer’s symptoms, mood changes such as those described above may contribute to a suspicion of the disease.

A person with Alzheimer’s may also become restless and/or aggressive, but usually in later stages of the disease.

4. Trouble with Abstract Thinking

  • How well does the person handle relatively simple mathematical tasks, such as balancing a checkbook?
  • Does the person have trouble paying bills or keeping finances in order, tasks he or she previously had no problem completing?
  • Does he or she have trouble following along with a discussion, understanding an explanation, or following instructions?

Abstract thinking becomes increasingly challenging for someone with Alzheimer’s, especially if the topic is complex or if the reasoning is sequential or related to cause and effect.

5. Difficulty Completing Familiar Activities

  • Has the person begun to have trouble preparing meals?
  • Is the person less engaged in a hobby that once absorbed her (bridge, painting, crossword puzzles)?
  • Does he or she stop in the middle of a project, such as baking or making a repair, and fail to complete it?
  • Has the person stopped using a particular talent or skill that once gave her pleasure (sewing, singing, playing the piano)?

Activities with various different steps, however routine and familiar, can become difficult to complete for a person with Alzheimer’s. Your loved one might become distracted or lose track of where he or she is in the process, feeling confused. Or the person might just lose interest altogether and leave a project unfinished.

Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia is especially suspect when the difficult or abandoned activity is something the person formerly delighted in and excelled at, or used to engage in frequently.

6. Disorientation

  • Has the person begun to be disoriented in new or unfamiliar environments (such as a hospital or airport), asking where he or she is, how he or she got there, or how to get back to a place that’s recognizable?
  • Has the person become disoriented in an environment she knows well?
  • Does the person wander off and get lost in public (or get lost when driving or after parking)?
  • Does he or she lose track of the time, day, month, or year? For example, after being reminded about a future doctor’s appointment over the phone, she may start getting ready for the appointment right away. Or they may have trouble keeping appointments and remembering other events or commitments.

These examples of disorientation are all typical Alzheimer’s symptoms, more so in later stages of the disease but sometimes early on as well.

7. Misplacing Items

  • Does the person “lose” items often?
  • Do these items turn up in unusual places (such as finding a wallet in the freezer)?

Losing track of glasses, keys, and papers happens to most adults sometimes, whether due to age or just a busy lifestyle. However, it may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s if this behavior escalates and if items are sometimes stored in inappropriate or unusual places, and the person doesn’t remember having put them there.

8. Poor or Impaired Judgment

  • Has the person recently made questionable decisions about money management?
  • Has he or she made odd choices regarding self-care (such as dressing inappropriately for the weather or neglecting to bathe)?
  • Is it hard for the person to plan ahead (for example, figuring out what groceries are needed or where to spend a holiday)?

Difficulty with decision-making can be related to other possible symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as lapses in memory, personality changes, and trouble with abstract thinking. Inappropriate choices are an especially worrisome sign, as your loved one may make unsound decisions about his safety, health or finances.

Many of these Alzheimer’s symptoms go unnoticed for a long time. That’s because they’re often subtle or well concealed by the person (or a spouse), who may be understandably freaked out by the changes he’s noticing in behavior. Some patterns of behavior take time to become obvious.

If you suspect Alzheimer’s, keep track of what you’re noticing. Ask others who know your loved one what they think. Encourage the person to see a doctor.


Steps to Diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease

If an aging loved one has started to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure what to do. Your most important priority is to get a diagnosis. The earlier you can put a name to the problem, the easier it is to organize a care plan. Here are 6 steps you should take to get the right diagnosis.

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1. Create a Record

There’s no single test for Alzheimer’s disease or most other dementias. In fact, a definitive diagnosis can only be made after death, by examining brain tissue for telltale changes. But doctors can make a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s with as much as 90 percent certainty.

It’s almost always family members, more than physicians, who spot the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Start by writing down observations that you and others make of the person you’re concerned about. You’ll be better able to notice patterns or changes in the frequency of certain behaviors than if you just keep a mental record. This evidence is incredibly useful when you speak with medical professionals and may even help when discussing the topic with family and friends.

This same notebook can also serve as your “playbook” throughout your family’s journey, a central source of all the information that will be needed not only to make a diagnosis but to formulate an ongoing care plan. Having all the information you need in one place can be a valuable shortcut for families.

What to record:

  • His or her general medical history: current and past medical problems and conditions
  • Current medications and their dosages
  • Other family members’ histories of illnesses (including Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia)
  • Contact information for doctors and pharmacists
  • A record of who has been consulted and when
  • Symptoms

Part of the determination about the condition will have to do with how much the person has changed or how much you think he or she isn’t “acting like himself or herself.” Be sure to note when you first noticed a particular change in behavior, physical ability or mental ability (or about how long the change has been occurring); how frequently it occurs; if it has worsened and how different or “abnormal” it is for him or her.

Try to include as much information as you can about the person’s condition — not just things that you think are typically associated with Alzheimer’s. Other medical issues or unexpected changes (such as falling or incontinence) can be related to the disease.

2. Educate Yourself

As soon as you suspect Alzheimer’s, invest a little time in familiarizing yourself with the disease. There are lots of myths about it and plenty of confusion. Having a basic understanding allows you to ask doctors more informed questions and recognize the signs to watch out for.

  • Do not to jump to conclusions. Various types of dementia, as well as other illnesses or situations, may result in changes that mimic signs or symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (such as disorientation and mood swings or personality changes), so you’ll need to consult with a qualified physician before determining that it’s Alzheimer’s. An early diagnosis means that the right medications and lifestyle changes can be made to slow the disease’s progress and help preserve independence as long as is practical.
  • Take the Alzheimer’s Association Brain Tour and learn how the brain works and how Alzheimer’s affects it.

3. Find and Talk with a Qualified Doctor

With the observations you’ve made of the person you’re concerned about and a basic foundation of knowledge about Alzheimer’s, you’re ready to consult with a medical professional.

  • Start with the person’s regular primary care doctor. This professional is optimal because he or she has observed your family member over time. But if the doctor doesn’t seem particularly knowledgeable about dementia or doesn’t seem to be taking your concerns seriously, it’s probably time to see another doctor, ideally someone who’s experienced in treating dementia. Seeing a geriatrician (a doctor who specializes in treating older adults) may be especially helpful.
  • Go with your loved one to the office visit. Even if you don’t have a history of attending medical appointments with them, try to arrange to be at this one. You might say, “I’ve been worried about you. Let’s make sure everything is all right or see if the doctor can help with that memory problem. I’ll come with you because you know they say it’s a good idea for more than one adult to be at all kinds of medical appointments. That way, between the two of us, we’ll keep track of everything the doctor says.”
  • Be prepared for the appointment. Bring your notebook of observations, including a list of the medications he or she is currently taking and a list of questions you’d like to ask, as well as the person’s medical history if it’s a new doctor. Be sure to include a request for referrals to specialists (if necessary) in your list of questions.
  • Arrange for some assistance. If you live far away and can’t be there for the appointment yourself, try to make sure that someone you all trust accompanies your loved one. Ask your loved one to sign a release permitting you to discuss their medical records and care with the doctor so you can call the doctor directly with follow-up questions.

4. Get a Thorough Medical Workup

The doctor will use evidence from a careful exam and a process of elimination to arrive at a diagnosis. A combination of diagnostic tools enables doctors to screen for conditions that may be affecting your loved one. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • A medical history. The doctor will ask a series of questions about medical conditions and illnesses your loved one has had in the past, any current medical symptoms or medications, and information about other family members’ health. The doctor may ask about other topics as well, such as diet and exercise.
  • A physical exam. As in a regular checkup, the doctor will check the person’s vital signs — blood pressure, pulse and temperature — and also listen to the patient’s heart and lungs and check other physical characteristics.
  • Diagnostic tests. The doctor will order urine and blood tests to check for certain infections or disorders that may be causing symptoms. Blood testing may be used to search for genes known to make Alzheimer’s more likely.
  • A mental status assessment. Your loved one will be asked to answer a series of questions and perform some activities in order to evaluate memory loss, disorientation, trouble with following directions or completing basic tasks, problem-solving ability, communication skills, and awareness of the problems he or she experiences. The doctor may also ask questions to assess for depression, anxiety, and other possible psychiatric problems.
  • A neurological or neuropsychological evaluation. The doctor may test his or her physical coordination, reflexes, balance and speech, among other indicators of neurological health.
  • A brain scan. It’s likely that the doctor will either order a CT (computerized tomography) scan or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to visually examine the condition of the person’s brain, including possible damage due to Alzheimer’s disease, trauma or strokes.
  • Additional tests. The doctor may also order other tests or scans, such as a spinal tap, a chest X-ray, an electroencephalogram (EEG, to examine brain function by the electrical activity it generates), or a positron emission tomography scan (a PET scan, to examine the function of internal organs).

5. See a Specialist

When Alzheimer’s disease is suspected or diagnosed, the doctor may recommend seeing a specialist, such as a neurologist, psychiatrist or geriatrician. This specialist will help confirm the primary diagnosis and advise you on Alzheimer’s care. He or she can also answer specific questions you may have about disease, its treatment and caregiving, and may be able to direct you to other helpful resources and support groups.

6. Consider a Second Opinion

It’s often advisable to seek a second opinion about your family member’s condition (whether the diagnosis is probable Alzheimer’s or not), especially if you or the doctor is uncertain about it. Another experienced, skilled physician can review the findings of the tests and evaluations the person has already undergone.

After the Diagnosis: What Lies Ahead

  • Assemble a team. If the diagnosis is probable Alzheimer’s, the next step is to start putting together an Alzheimer’s care team. Alzheimer’s care works best when it’s a shared responsibility — and when good resources and sources of support are available to the primary caregiver.
  • Don’t forget your own concerns. In addition to powwowing with your family about options for your loved one’s care, be sure to start thinking about support for yourself (or the person who will be the primary caregiver). Financial, emotional, and physical stresses often build over time.

There’s no single timetable for how the disease progresses, and your loved one may have many satisfying years ahead. Do what you can to ease the symptoms, to prolong his or her independence and dignity.


The Stages of Alzheimer’s: What to Expect

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Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative condition marked by a progressive decline in cognitive functioning. This decline, often coupled with emotional apathy, affects the person’s behavior and mood. People sometimes mistake forgetfulness or absent-mindedness in seniors for early signs of Alzheimer’s, but some memory loss is actually considered a normal effect of aging.

You may have heard the terms “early, mid- and late-stage Alzheimer’s.” These are general terms that were used until the development of a more detailed framework with seven separate stages that measure progression of the disease. The system is known as the Functional Staging Assessment or FAST scale, developed by Dr. Barry Reisberg, director of the Zachary and Elizabeth M. Fisher Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Research Program at New York University Langone Health.

Below, we’ll examine the seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease, distinguishing between the normal aging process and the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

What is normal during the aging process?

As we age, some memory loss is considered normal, especially if it is not progressive. For example, an aging senior who does not have Alzheimer’s may:

  • Be concerned about memory loss but be able to provide significant detail regarding specific incidents of forgetfulness.
  • Have trouble finding the right word, but remember it later.
  • Forget the day of the week or where he or she is going, usually remembering later.
  • Need to pause to remember his or her way, even in familiar territory.
  • Misplace keys or a wallet temporarily.
  • Feel sad or moody occasionally, but be able to recover from it.
  • Avoid work or social obligations, but show no decline in interpersonal skills.

The FAST scale measures the decline of people with Alzheimer’s. Although each stage is distinct, due to a steady decline in cognitive function, there is still some overlap among stages. It can be helpful to view the scale as a spectrum, with the condition progressing as the person’s symptoms gradually increase and worsen.

Stage 1: Normal Adult

In this first stage, there is no obvious memory impairment. Clinical tests also show no measurable deficit.

Stage 2: Normal Older Adult

A person in Stage 2 shows very mild cognitive decline, usually showing some personal awareness of the change. This may include the person worrying that he or she is becoming more forgetful, although it is not obvious to a health care professional, family or friends. The person may forget names and temporarily misplace commonly used objects like keys or a wallet.

Stage 3: Early Alzheimer’s Disease

During this stage, the individual may have difficulty concentrating on certain tasks and may falter during a conversation. He or she may also have difficulty retaining information that was just read or heard. Forgetting names and words becomes more frequent. Misplacing objects of value may occur. Some degree of confusion is common.

Stage 4: Mild Alzheimer’s Disease

By Stage 4, friends and family members will have begun to notice changes in the person with Alzheimer’s, in addition to the symptoms mentioned above. These observations could include the person:

  • Forgetting people he or she has recently met
  • Losing interest in social or work situations
  • Being uncharacteristically disorganized
  • Showing a decreased ability to perform common tasks such as planning dinner, paying bills or managing finances

Stage 5: Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease

At Stage 5, the person is no longer able to function independently. Typically, the person will remember his or her own name as well as the names of a spouse and children, but may be unable to recall a home address or phone number. Forgetfulness increases, and disorientation is common, with people in this stage often being confused about time, place, date, day of the week and season. Other signifiers may include the senior:

  • Being unable to make proper clothing choices (for instance, selecting a sundress during the winter).
  • Forgetting personal history, such as where he or she went to school.
  • Withdrawing from social or challenging situations.

Stage 6: Moderately Severe Alzheimer’s Disease

By this time, a person with Alzheimer’s will exhibit major gaps in memory and a significant decline in cognitive function. Personality changes may begin to emerge as well. A person in Stage 6 may be unable to distinguish familiar people, including a spouse or children, from those he or she doesn’t know. The individual may require help with daily activities such as eating and toileting. Incontinence is common. In addition, the person may:

  • Forget the name of his or her spouse, even if the spouse is their primary caregiver
  • Wander and become lost
  • Experience hallucinations, interacting with people or things that are not there
  • Exhibit delusional and/or paranoid behavior

Stage 7: Severe Alzheimer’s Disease

In the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease, most individuals have lost the ability to communicate verbally, although some may retain a few words. A severe physical decline is apparent.

The person with Alzheimer’s will experience a progressive loss of basic physical abilities, including sitting, walking and even swallowing. Muscles become rigid from lack of use, and reflexes are abnormal. There is a disruption in the person’s circadian rhythm, which can upset sleeping patterns and contribute to disorientation and fatigue.

While the cause of Alzheimer’s remains unknown, research shows that many factors can play a part in the development of the disease. Understanding normal aging patterns will help you distinguish them from the warning signs of Alzheimer’s. If you are uncertain, talk to your loved one’s doctor about getting a definitive diagnosis.


Ways to Slow Down the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease

The memory loss and other cognitive changes that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and most other forms of dementia can’t be reversed. But there are some proven ways to delay further decline, at least over the short term.

The Rush Memory and Aging Project is a large ongoing longitudinal study looking at common chronic conditions of aging with an emphasis on decline in cognitive and motor function and risk for Alzheimer’s. A continuously updated list of scholarly publications featuring research conducted by study investigators can be found on the Rush University Medical Center website.

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1. Stimulate Mental Activity

A growing body of research indicates that stimulating the brain has the power to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s, particularly in the early stages. More frequent cognitive activity across someone’s life span is linked to slower cognitive decline later in life.

What you can do:

  • Encourage the person in your care to participate in activities he or she finds pleasurable, especially those that engage the mind: reading, writing, playing the piano, working crosswords or puzzle books, playing games such as chess, or even learning a new language. Make sure the person has fresh materials or plenty of opportunities.
  • Local senior centers and adult day care programs are more than just a way to “pass the time.” They often excel at providing stimulating activities, including group storytelling, music, arts projects and games.

Some research suggests that activities are especially protective when they involve interacting with others. Arrange for help around the home, if possible, but avoid relieving your loved one of all of his or her normal responsibilities. Participating in daily chores can be a type of mental workout, too.

The catch with mental stimulation:

It’s important that someone with dementia find the activity pleasurable. If the person finds studying Spanish or learning to use a computer frustrating because of existing cognitive declines, don’t push it.

Also avoid formal mental “exercises” or memory drills. They may stress your loved one, causing symptoms to worsen.

Too much social activity can also be stressful. Outings are best when low-key (think small dinners as opposed to big parties) and under two hours.

2. Make Daily Life Modifications

Simplifying the living environment and providing the tools to assist your loved one’s existing memory can help him or her maintain independence longer. This has the benefit of reducing stress and slowing further decline.

What you can do:

Find ways to minimize any tasks the person may worry about. For example, you could arrange electronic bill paying, hire a lawn service, enlist a young neighbor to handle the laundry or cancel subscriptions to magazines that are no longer read. Help keep the person’s home free of piled-up newspapers, old mail and other clutter. Look into electronic reminder systems, note-keeping systems, or commercially available tools that can help to prop up a faulty memory.

The catch with daily life modifications:

Be sure to make changes gradually. Too many abrupt changes — removing all the clutter from a messy home in one sweep, for example — can be disorienting and stressful to someone with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and hasten the person’s decline rather than slowing it.

3. Keep Up Routines

The stimulation of fresh ideas can have positive effects, but too many changes can be confusing and disorienting. Familiarity is very important to someone with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. The stress of having to cope with sudden or significant change can make symptoms worse. (Note: Stress doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s, but it has been shown to worsen symptoms in those already affected.)

What you can do:

Try to establish a regular daily rhythm for the person, with meals, sleep, outings, and bathing happening at about the same times each day. Schedule all doctors’ appointments at roughly the same time if you can, such as first thing in the morning or right after lunch. It’s not unlike the way a new parent organizes the day around a baby’s sleep-wake cycle.

The catch with routines:

A good routine is one that’s healthy to begin with. Examples of negative routines worth trying to change: If the person is staying awake later and later and rising later, or if he or she has dropped all former social connections and rarely sees anyone.

4. Incorporate Vitamins and Herbs

Scientists are investigating several different dietary additions for people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Two of the most promising areas:

Vitamins

A clinical trial showed that vitamin E helps slow down mental impairment in people with Alzheimer’s. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect cells against damage. It has also been researched in conjunction with B vitamins.

A large 2005 study found that healthy people who consumed more than 400 micrograms (the recommended daily amount for adults) of folate, a B vitamin that occurs naturally in many foods, cut their risk of developing Alzheimer’s in half. This slowing of cognitive decline is being studied to see if it’s also true once decline has started.

Ginkgo Biloba

This herb, traditionally used in Chinese medicine, comes from the dried leaves of the gingko (maidenhair) tree. It’s sometimes called the “memory herb,” after findings that it appears to help slow down cognitive decline for some people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

To date, research studies making this claim have been criticized, however, and a randomized clinical trial sponsored in part by the National Institute on Aging and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found the herb to be ineffective in reducing the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people.

What you can do:

Encourage the person in your care to inform her primary-care doctor about any supplements and herbs he or she has been taking and their dosages, and do so yourself if the person doesn’t. Bring the bottle, so the doctor can see exactly what’s being taken. Too much vitamin E, for example, can cause gastrointestinal problems and other side effects, and can be fatal to people with heart disease.

In general, the best way to get important vitamins and minerals is to consume them from their natural food sources. One study in 2007 found that people with Alzheimer’s who most closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet (high in vegetables, legumes, cereals, fruit, fish, poultry, dairy, and monounstaturated fats — and low in saturated fats) lived an average of 1.3 years longer than those who consumed a Western diet (higher in saturated fats and meats, lower in vegetables).

Try to make sure that your loved one is eating a diet low in saturated fats and rich in vitamins E, C and B. Older people’s diets often lack fresh fruits and vegetables (such as citrus, berries and leafy green vegetables), legumes (beans), whole-wheat or fortified bread, and nuts and seeds.

Take a close look at the person’s eating habits. People with memory problems often slack off on cooking because even the familiar steps, as well as managing cutlery, become too challenging.

The catch with vitamins and herbs:

The one thing scientists agree on concerning memory loss and supplements is that more research is needed. No single “magic bullet” has been found to stop memory decline in its tracks, and no supplements should be taken by people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia without medical supervision.

5. Medications

Five FDA-approved drugs are used to delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or prevent them from worsening for a limited time.

What you can do:

Talk to your loved one’s doctor about which drugs might be appropriate. For mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, cholinesterase inhibitors — such as Aricept (donepezil), Exelon (rivastigmine) and Razadyne (galantamine), formerly called Reminyl — may be prescribed. These medications help keep the enzyme acetylcholinesterase from reducing acetylcholine, which affects mental capabilities and muscle control. The drug Cognex (tacrine hydrochloride) was prescribed in the past, but is no longer recommended.

For moderate to severe stages of Alzheimer’s, the drug Namenda (memantine) is also used. This drug is an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, which regulates glutamate (a chemical messenger in the brain that’s associated with learning and memory).

The catch with medications:

Not every drug works for all patients. And each involves possible side effects and interactions with other drugs the person in your care may be taking. Talk to the person’s doctor about whether any of these medications would be a good fit.


Life Expectancy for Someone with Alzheimer’s

Knowing the life expectancy of someone with Alzheimer’s can help your family prepare for the gradually increasing amounts of caregiving that eventually will be needed. Someone in the final stages of the disease, for example, requires constant hands-on care. Estimating life expectancy can help you and your family plan ahead for all the practical and financial issues you’ll face.

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What’s the average life expectancy of someone with Alzheimer’s?

The general rule of thumb is that a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s can expect to live half as long as a peer who doesn’t have the disease. For example, the average 75-year-old can expect to live another 12 years. A 75-year-old with Alzheimer’s, in contrast, would be expected to live for six more years.

It’s hard to gauge an individual’s life expectancy based solely on the stage of Alzheimer’s. That’s partly because the length of each stage (early/middle/late) can vary greatly from person to person. Some people live 15 or more years after diagnosis, including many years with relatively mild impairment, while others decline rapidly and die within a few years of being diagnosed.

In general, someone who’s just beginning to show symptoms can be expected to live longer than someone of the same age with end-stage Alzheimer’s.

What Influences Alzheimer’s Longevity?

Scientists have a growing understanding of which Alzheimer’s patients are more likely to outlive their peers with the disease. In 2014, a UK study identified several factors that appear to influence life expectancy:

High Blood Pressure

In the study, participants diagnosed with Alzheimer’s who also had arterial hypertension, or high blood pressure, were found to live for a shorter period of time after diagnosis than those without high blood pressure.

Family History of Alzheimer’s

Study participants with at least one first-degree relative (a parent, sibling or child) with Alzheimer’s were found to live longer on average than study participants without a family history of the disease.

MMSE Score

In a 2004 Washington University study, participants who scored worst on a commonly used memory and cognition (thinking skills) test, the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE), were found to have shorter survival rates.This test asks subjects to do a series of simple tasks, including answering questions about the date and place, remembering three objects, and counting backward by increments.

An MMSE score refers to the number of correct answers given out of a total of 30. A five-point drop in score over the course of a year was linked to decreased survival rates among patients in the study.

However, simply scoring poorly doesn’t mean a person doesn’t have long to live. Sometimes a poor MMSE score is the first indication of cognitive trouble, which may indicate the very start of Alzheimer’s and therefore a longer life expectancy than predicted for someone who’s had memory problems for years.

Note: There are multiple factors that can influence an MMSE score. The test is not an Alzheimer’s diagnostic test — in fact, no such test exists.

Other Health Problems

In the 2004 study, survival was also poorest among those aged 85 and older who had a history of diabetes or congestive heart failure or those who’d had a heart attack.

What often happens in people with Alzheimer’s disease is that their general health suffers when, in the late stages, they forget or find it difficult to eat, don’t sleep properly, lose motor skills and develop bedsores. This sets the stage for infection, such as pneumonia, or the worsening of other chronic ailments. It’s those factors, not the Alzheimer’s disease itself, that ultimately result in most deaths.

Bear in mind that the statistics above represent group averages. Your loved one, of course, is an individual with a unique health history. And Alzheimer’s is a disease whose pace can vary widely from person to person. Still, having even a rough sense of what to expect can provide a glimmer of useful light at a difficult time.


When Alzheimer’s Disease Turns Violent

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Among the many difficult behaviors Alzheimer’s caregivers must cope with, verbal and physical aggression may be one of the most upsetting. Aggressive behavior isn’t uncommon among people with dementia, and we include it here because this is a real consideration as Alzheimer’s disease progresses through the later stages.

Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Gary Moak, author of “Beat Depression to Stay Healthier and Live Longer,” says verbal and physical aggression affects as many as 90 percent of people with dementia at some point during the course of the illness.

“When surroundings and situations that should be familiar instead feel strange and bewildering, people with dementia may become emotionally overwhelmed, and they may lose control,” Moak says. “They may not understand that their caregivers are trying to help them, instead reacting as if they are under attack.”

Causes and Triggers of Aggression for People with Alzheimer’s

Experts say common triggers for physical aggression in those with Alzheimer’s include fear, confusion and an inability to communicate verbally, leading to frustration and anger. Some aggression may be the result of other medical problems, such as poorly managed diabetes or urinary tract infections, Moak says.

He notes that any change in routine can trigger disturbed behavior in people with dementia, including violence. Difficulty with mundane processes that no longer make sense can also prompt a feeling of a loss of control, which can then lead to aggression.

“Television programs that the person with dementia cannot understand, kitchen appliances they no longer know how to work, or family conversations they are unable to follow, also can lead to trouble,” Moak says.

Likewise, if a person with dementia senses that someone around them is anxious, tense or irritable, it can also trigger aggression, he says.

Understanding what triggers your loved one’s outbursts can help you react appropriately and possibly prevent physical aggression.

How to Respond to Physical Aggression

If your loved one with dementia does lash out physically, there are a number of things you can do to help keep you both safe. Moak recommends the following when a violent outburst due to dementia occurs.

  • Back off, if possible, and avoid acting defensively or angrily yourself
  • Use a calm, soothing voice
  • Resist the urge to convince your loved one that their reasons for aggression are wrong
  • Go along with the person, if necessary, as long as it’s safe to do so. (For example, if your loved one demands to be taken home when they’re already home, offer to take her home, but find a good excuse to delay doing so. If she still insists, take her for a drive around the neighborhood and return home).

The doctor notes that side effects from some medications may also contribute to aggressive behavior in people with dementia. He advises having your loved one evaluated by a healthcare professional with expertise in dementia management for possible treatments.

According to Moak, the best treatment for aggressive behavior may be in the caregiver’s hands. By changing their behavior or style, they may be able to create a less stressful environment for their loved one.

“This involves adopting a calm, lighthearted demeanor, learning to adjust [your] style of interacting with the demented person, and learning specific behavioral approaches for troublesome behavior,” he says.

 

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5 types of Brain medication that affect memory

At work, I am often questioned by patients about memory changes with age. They also state: “But you know, nothing much that can be done at my age”.

Wrong. In fact, there is a lot that can and should be done, if you notice memory or thinking changes in yourself or in another older adult. And you should do it because it ends up making a difference for brain health and quality of life.

First among them: identify medications that make brain function worse.

This is not just my personal opinion. Identifying and reducing such medications is a mainstay of geriatrics practice.

And the expert authors of the National Academy of Medicine report on Cognitive Aging agree: in their Action Guide for Individuals and Families, they list “Manage your medications” among their “Top 3 actions you can take to help protect your cognitive health as you age.”

Unfortunately, many older adults are unaware of this recommendation. And I can’t tell you how often I find that seniors are taking over-the-counter or prescription medications that dampen their brain function. Sometimes it’s truly necessary but often it’s not.

Every older adult and family should know how to optimize brain function. Avoiding problem medications — or at least using them judiciously and in the lowest doses necessary — is key to this.

And don’t give anyone a pass when they say “Oh, I’ve always taken this drug.” Younger and healthier brains experience less dysfunction from these drugs. That’s because a younger brain has more processing power and is more resilient. So drugs that aren’t such problems earlier in life often have more impact later in life. Just because you took a drug in your youth or middle years doesn’t mean it’s harmless to continue once you are older.

You should also know that most of these drugs affect balance, and may increase fall risk. So there’s a double benefit in identifying them, and minimizing them.

Below, I share the most commonly used drugs that you should look out for if you are worried about memory problems.

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The Four Most Commonly Used Types of Medications That Dampen Brain Function

1. Benzodiazepines

This class of medication is often prescribed to help people sleep, or to help with anxiety. They do work well for this purpose, but they are habit-forming and have been associated with developing dementia.

  • Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include lorazepam, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam (brand names Ativan, Valium, Restoril, and Xanax, respectively).
  • Benzodiazepines act on the same brain receptors as alcohol, and they almost always keep people with dementia from thinking at their best level.
  • Note that it can be dangerous to stop benzodiazepines suddenly. These drugs should always be tapered, under medical supervision.
  • Alternatives to consider:
    • For insomnia, there is no easy and fast alternative. Just about all sedatives — many are listed in this post — dampen brain function. Many people can learn to sleep without drugs, but it usually takes a comprehensive effort over weeks or even months. This may involve cognitive-behavioral therapy, as well as increased exercise and other lifestyle changes. You can learn more about comprehensive insomnia treatment by getting the Insomnia Workbook (often available at the library!) or something similar.
    • For anxiety, there is also no easy replacement. However, there are some drug options that affect brain function less, such as SSRIs (e.g. sertraline and citalopram, brand names Zoloft and Celexa). Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness therapy also helps, if sustained.
    • Even if it’s not possible to entirely stop a benzodiazepine, tapering to a lower dose will likely help brain function in the short-term.
  • Other risks in seniors:
    • Benzodiazepines increase fall risk.
    • These drugs sometimes are abused, especially in people with a history of substance abuse.
  • Other things to keep in mind:
    • If a person does develop dementia, it becomes much harder to stop these drugs. That’s because everyone has to endure some increased anxiety, agitation, and/or insomnia while the senior adjusts to tapering these drugs, and the more cognitively impaired the senior is, the harder it is on everyone. So it’s much better to find non-benzo ways to deal with anxiety and insomnia sooner, rather than later. (Don’t kick that can down the road!)

 2. Non-benzodiazepine prescription sedatives

By far the most commonly used are the “z-drugs” which include zolpidem, zaleplon, and eszopiclone (brand names Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta, respectively). These have been shown in clinical studies to impair thinking — and balance! — in the short-term.

  • Some studies have linked these drugs to dementia. However we also know that developing dementia is associated with sleep problems, so the cause-effect relationship remains a little murky.
  • For alternatives, see the section about insomnia above.
  • Occasionally, geriatricians will try trazodone (25-50mg) as a sleep aid. It is thought to be less risky than the z-drugs or benzodiazepines. Of course, it seems to have less of a strong effect on insomnia as well.
  • Other risks in seniors:
    • These drugs worsen balance and increase fall risk.

3. Anticholinergics

This group covers most over-the-counter sleeping aids, as well as a variety of other prescription drugs. These medications have the chemical property of blocking the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This means they have the opposite effect of an Alzheimer’s drug like donepezil (brand name Aricept), which is a cholinesterase inhibitor, meaning it inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. A 2015 study found that greater use of these drugs was linked to a higher chance of developing Alzheimer’s.

Drugs vary in how strong their anticholinergic activity is. Focus your energies on spotting the ones that have “high” anticholinergic activity. For a good list that classifies drugs as high or low anticholinergic activity, see here.

Briefly, drugs of this type to look out for include:

  • Sedating antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl).
  • The “PM” versions of over-the-counter analgesics (e.g. Nyquil, Tylenol PM); the “PM” ingredient is usually a sedating antihistamine.
  • Medications for overactive bladder, such as the bladder relaxants oxybutynin and tolterodine (brand names Ditropan and Detrol, respectively).
    • Note that medications that relax the urethra, such as tamsulosin or terazosin (Flomax and Hytrin, respectively) are NOT anticholinergic. So they’re not risky in the same way, although they can cause orthostatic hypotension and other problems in older adults. Medications that shrink the prostate, such as finasteride (Proscar) aren’t anticholinergic either.
  • Medications for vertigo, motion sickness, or nausea, such as meclizine, scopolamine, or promethazine (brand names Antivert, Scopace, and Phenergan).
  • Medications for itching, such as hydroxyzine and diphenhydramine (brand names Vistaril and Benadryl).
  • Muscle relaxants, such as cyclobenzaprine (brand name Flexeril).
  • “Tricyclic” antidepressants, which are an older type of antidepressant which is now mainly prescribed for nerve pain, and includes amitryptiline and nortriptyline (brand names Elavil and Pamelor).

For help spotting other anticholinergics, ask a pharmacist or the doctor, or review the list.

Alternatives to these drugs really depend on what they are being prescribed for. Often non-drug alternatives are available, but they may not be offered unless you ask. For example, an oral medication for itching can be replaced by a topical cream. Or the right kind of stretching can help with tight muscles.

Aside from affecting thinking, these drugs can potentially worsen balance. They also are known to cause dry mouth, dry eyes, and can worsen constipation. (Acetylcholine helps the gut keep things moving.)

4. Antipsychotics and mood-stabilizers 

In older adults, these are usually prescribed to manage difficult behaviors related to Alzheimer’s and other dementias. (In a minority of seniors, they are prescribed for serious mental illness such as schizophrenia. Mood-stabilizing drugs are also used to treat seizures.) For dementia behaviors, these drugs are often inappropriately prescribed, as in this recent NYT story. All antipsychotics and mood-stabilizers are sedating and dampen brain function. In older people with dementia, they’ve also been linked to a higher chance of dying.

  • Commonly prescribed antipsychotics are mainly “second-generation” and include risperidone, quetiapine, olanzapine, and aripiprazole (Risperdal, Seroquel, Zyprexa, and Abilify, respectively).
  • The first-generation antipsychotic haloperidol (Haldol) is still sometimes used.
  • Valproate (brand name Depakote) is a commonly used mood-stabilizer.
  • Alternatives to consider:
    • Alternatives to these drugs should always be explored. Generally you need to start by properly assessing what’s causing the agitation, and trying to manage that. A number of behavioral approaches can also help with difficult behaviors. For more, see this nice NPR story from March 2015.
    • For medication alternatives, there is some scientific evidence suggesting that the SSRI citalopram may help, that cholinesterase inhibitors such as donepezil may help, and that the dementia drug memantine may help. These are usually well-tolerated so it’s often reasonable to give them a try.
  • If an antipsychotics or mood-stabilizer is used, it should be as a last resort and at the lowest effective dose. This means starting with a teeny dose. However, many non-geriatrician clinicians start at much higher doses than I would.
  • Other risks in seniors:
    • Antipsychotics have been associated with falls. There is also increased risk of death, as above.
  • Caveat regarding discontinuing antipsychotics in people with dementia: Research has found that there is a fair risk of “relapse” (meaning agitation or psychotic symptoms getting worse) after  antipsychotics are discontinued. A 2016 study of nursing home residents with dementia concluded that antipsychotic discontinuation is most likely to succeed if it’s combined with adding more social interventions and also exercise.

5. Opiate pain medications

Unlike the other drugs mentioned above, opiates (other than tramadol) are not on the Beer’s list of medications that older adults should avoid. That said, they do seem to dampen thinking abilities a bit, even in long-term users. (With time and regular use, people develop tolerance so they are less drowsy, but seems there can still be an effect on thinking). As far as I know, opiates are not thought to accelerate long-term cognitive decline.

  • Commonly prescribed opiates include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, methadone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl. (Brand names depend on the formulation and on whether the drug is mixed with acetaminophen.)
  • Tramadol (brand name Ultram) is a weaker opiate with weaker prescribing controls.
    • Many geriatricians consider it more problematic than the classic Schedule II opiates listed above, as it interacts with a lot of medications and still affects brain function. It’s a “dirty drug,” as one of my friends likes to say.
  • Alternatives depend on what type of pain is present. Generally, if people are taking opiates then they have pain that needs to be treated. However, a thoughtful holistic approach to pain often enables a person to get by with less medication, which can improve thinking abilities.
  • For people who have moderate or severe dementia, it’s important to know that untreated pain can worsen their thinking. So sometimes a low dose of opiate medication does end up improving their thinking.
  • Other risks in seniors:
    • There is some risk of developing a problematic addiction, although that’s uncommon unless there’s a prior history of substance abuse. In my experience, having someone else — usually younger — steal or use the drugs is a more likely problem.

Where to Learn About Other Drugs That Affect Brain Function

Many other drugs that affect brain function, but they are either not used as often as the ones above, or seem to affect a minority of older adults.

Notably, there has been a lot of concern in the media about statins, but a meta-analysis published in a respectful journal could not confirm an association between statin use and increased cognitive impairment. In fact, a 2016 study found that statin use was associated with a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

This is not to say that statins aren’t overprescribed or riskier than we used to think. And it’s also quite possible that some people do have their thinking affected by statins. But if you are trying to eliminate medications that dampen brain function, I would recommend you focus on the ones I listed above first.

What to Do if You or Your Relative Is On These Medications

So what should you do if you discover that your older relative — or you yourself — are taking some of these medications?

You should discuss any insomnia or sleep problems with your doctors — it’s important to rule out pain and serious medical problems as a cause of insomnia — but be careful: many of them will prescribe a sleeping pill, because they haven’t trained in geriatrics and they under-estimate the risks of these drugs.

If one or more of the medications above has been prescribed, don’t stop without first consulting with a health professional. You’ll want to make an appointment soon, to review the reasons that the medication was prescribed, alternative options for treating the problem, and then work out a plan to reduce or eliminate the drug.

Remember, when it comes to maintaining independence and quality of life, nothing is more important than optimizing brain function.

We can’t turn back the clock and not all brain changes are reversible. But by spotting problem medications and reducing them whenever possible, we can help older adults think their best.

Now go check out those medication bottles, and let me know what you find!

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What is Brain Fog?

Brain fog is caused by a lack of blood flow to your brain. This lack of blood flow is called hypoperfusion and this condition triggers a domino effect of negative impacts on the brain.

Hypoperfusion causes inflammation in the brain which then causes damage to the cells of the brain. This damage to the cells causes the production of antibodies to get rid of the damaged cells in the brain. This then triggers the autoimmune mechanism in the brain to begin killing off brain cells.

This happens subtly over time and goes on for years and years, causing a great deal of damage to your brain.

5-things-that-cause-brain-fog-copy

How Does Brain Fog Feel?

Brain fog slows your reflexes and it slows your processing time. You may feel like you can’t focus and everything in life is dulled. It is the difference between bleached and washed out colors and bright Caribbean colors. Brain fog can feel like you are “stuck in the mud” of life.

Is Brain Fog a Sign of Anxiety or Depression?

Brain fog is connected with anxiety and depression. The vast majority of people suffering from anxiety and depression have hypoperfusion in the frontal lobes of the brain. Hypoperfusion is lack of blood flow into your brain.

Does Brain Fog Naturally Occur with Age?

No. It’s not normal, BUT it’s unfortunately very common. There is no reason, no physiological reason why people can’t learn new things such as languages in their 80’s. Here is a great example, Professor Michael Marsh, the Godfather of Celiac Diagnosis, retired at 74. After he retired, he went back and got two Ph.Ds from Oxford University over the next six years.

Can Prescription Medication Cause Brain Fog?

Many medications can have a negative impact on your brain. You have to
be an advocate for yourself, take a look at what you’re taking and how it’s affecting your brain and talk with your doctor. See if there are different ways to handle things.

3 Day Kickstart Brain Fog Elimination Plan

The following 3-day Kickstart is designed to “stop throwing gasoline on the fire”, for a few days and provide the “kickstart” to better brain health and changes you will notice immediately.

Getting Started

►  Take the time to read over the instructions below and have each of the following ready to go and find a 3 day window in your calendar to fully commit to the kickstart protocol. Being prepared is the key to a successful kickstart.

►  After you have completed your 3 day kickstart, gauge your improvement. You will notice a difference.

►  Commit to these lifestyle modifications for continued benefits to your brain function and health.

Flourishing-center

1) Food – eliminate all wheat products from your diet

►  Why is it that people get brain fog after they eat wheat? It’s not a day later, it’s very shortly afterward. The most common reason is hypoperfusion, which is a lack of blood flow into the brain.

►  Swap out your wheat with alternatives such as gluten-free bread made with flours from ingredients such as buckwheat, chickpea, corn/maize, millet, potato, rice and tapioca.

►  Beware wheat can hide in unusual places, such as pre-made sauces and soups, condiments, alcohol, deli meats, and more. Always read those labels!

As the saying goes, “You can’t be a little pregnant.” you can’t have just a little wheat. It is important to commit to eliminating ALL wheat product from your diet.

►  Remove dairy and excess sugar from your diet. Sugar and dairy are ingredients that many people eat every day, so avoiding them for 3 days can seem like an impossible goal. Here are a few tips for success:

►  Include healthy fats with each meal. Examples include nuts, extra virgin olive oil, fatty fish, avocados and eggs.

►  Enjoy fresh organic fruits, especially those with powerful antioxidants, to curb the sugar craving. Examples include strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.

2) Exercise

► Add exercise and movement into your daily routine. So your goal will depend on your age and current fitness level. If you are in your 20s you may want to try to hit the gym and take in a cardio class and if you are in your 70s it could be a power walk around the neighborhood. The goal is to be active and “kick it up a notch”.

3) Hydrate

► Proper hydration is required for your brain to function optimally. Dehydrationcan impair short-term memory function and the recall of long-term memory.

How much water do you need each day?

The calculation is – half ounce per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 120 pounds, that would mean you would need to drink 60 ounces of water per day.

Start the day with two big glasses first thing in the morning and spread the rest of your water intake throughout the day.

4) EMFS

► Electromagnetic field (EMF) pollution disturbs immune function through stimulation of various allergic and inflammatory responses, as well as by affecting the body’s tissue repair process. Today EMF pollution is everywhere from cell phones to computers to wireless baby monitors and more.

Our goal will be for 3 days to eliminate EMF pollution in the bedroom which is a room you spend a good portion of time each day.

To do this, remove any alarm devices, whether they be a digital clock or your cell phone from your bedroom.

If removing them all together is not possible, move them to the far side of the room as far away from your head as possible.

Next, in the evening turn off your wifi before going to bed.

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