First things first: most people want to know two things.
1. Does the fact that I keep forgetting things mean I am going to get dementia or Alzheimer’s?
2. Is there a reliable test I can do to check my memory and cognitive function?
The answer to number one is no, definitely not. The answer to number two is yes, there is.
Memory Loss Doesn’t Mean Dementia or Alzheimer’s
There was an interesting piece in the BMJ recently (Sep 2013) claiming that many people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia probably won’t ever develop issues beyond normal ageing memory loss. Here’s what WDDTY had to say about it:
Around 65 per cent of people aged over 80 will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in a new drive in the UK and the US to screen the elderly. But only between five and 15 per cent of people with mild cognitive impairment, such as memory loss, will ever develop Alzheimer’s. The rest will never suffer from the disease, despite the prognosis, and they may even improve, say specialists in the UK and Australia.
A similar picture is emerging for people labelled as having dementia. Around 25 per cent will never see their mild cognitive problems develop into full dementia.
I have noticed that the recent drive for better diagnosis of these conditions has led to many more people being told they are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia and this brings a lot of worry that, by the looks of this article, could be totally unwarranted. That seems a shame. The cynic in me would wonder if this is, yet again, a drive to sell more drugs. I hope not.
Of course, it is vitally important to identify those who might be at risk of these horrid conditions but I have been worried about how you do distinguish between simple (if frustrating) memory loss and the more severe conditions. That must be hard.
As the WDDTY article also goes on to suggest, it could even be that the drugs given could cause more cognitive decline themselves.
You can go to the BMJ and sign up to read this article if you like – it is part of the fascinating Too Much Medicine series, which is a fab idea from BMJ and very welcome. If you don’t sign up, reading the rapid responses is enlightening anyway.
How Can I Test If I Am At Risk of Alzheimer’s?
Here is a useful article about possible new ways to distinguish between those who may go on to develop more severe problems and those who likely won’t.
Also, foodforthebrain.org has a free cognitive test which takes 20 minutes. It has recently been given five stars in a comparison study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, when the separate aspects of cognitive function tested in the test were compared to the ‘state of the art’ tests used for diagnosis, like those in the article above.
OK, now we’ve got that panic out of the way, let’s look specifically at brain problems that DO need treatment.
Memory and Cognitive Function
If you are losing where you put your keys, finding words and names hard to come by, that’s quite normal; I’ve been like that since my 20s, frankly! However, if you feel it is increasing or becoming a problem for you, then think about these things:
Nutrient levels. Most cognitive issue I come across are down to low levels of things like choline, magnesium, B vits, fatty acids etc, so make sure you take a good supportive wellbeing sort of protocol (see here) and close those gaps. You might also want to boost specific brain nutrients. There are many complexes about. This is one of my faves because it has good levels of a synergistic blend of brain nutrients that generally help.
Phos serine is also a really good option at about 200mg per day – I remember in my training reading a fascinating article by my professor (Dr Plaskett) and I have never forgotten it. Try this.
Next, consider if your hormones might be out for some reason. They have a real impact on our memory and brain function. Could you be perimenopausal (post 35), low in oestrogen, testosterone etc? Get them tested and correct. See Hormone Tests here.
One big issue is a lack of oxygen to the brain, which is why that complex above works so well as it contains nutrients known to encourage oxygenation. So does exercise and breathwork. NeurO2 here is my fave – brilliant for increasing blood flow to the brain.
If your issue is brain fog, also think about it being a food reaction – I can’t tell you how often it lifts when we remove allergens especially gluten and dairy. I think Dr Carl Pfeiffer termed it ‘brain allergy’. Dead right.
So, try those approaches. If they help to an extent but not entirely, or don’t help at all, think about neuroinflammation/brain inflammation.
Brain/Neuro Inflammation Symptoms
So, what to do if you are having more severe, chronic brain problems?
It depends on the type of issue you are having. In essence, many people suffer with a slow down in brain function – a loss of brain endurance – which is very distinct from memory loss. Or, they can have problems with long-term hidden brain inflammation causing depression, anxiety, food and chemical sensitivities. More severely, they can suffer loss of brain function after a head injury, stroke, trauma or maybe an infection or toxin that crosses the blood brain barrier, setting up an immunological response called glial priming, where the inflammation is constantly doing damage over time.
All forms of brain inflammation confer a higher risk of neurodegenerative issues like Alzheimer’s and dementias so it is wise, if you recognise yourself here, to do something about it.
To help, here are what I would term the milder or early symptoms of brain inflammation:
- Brain fog (hazy thoughts and recall)
- Mental speed varies
- Reduced brain endurance (can’t do things as long eg. read/drive/chat), losing words, gaps as talking, not thinking well
- Brain fatigue after exposure to specific chemicals, pollutants, perfumes
- Brain fatigue after specific foods
- Depression, lack of motivation and drive, fatigue, need to sleep
- Change in handwriting over the years or if writing quickly
- Poor digestion, motility, acid, enzymes, infections etc because of vagus nerve and NI feedback
When the issue becomes more chronic, this can develop into what is termed Sickness Behaviour Syndrome (SBS). That then looks like this – you can have some or many of these symptoms. Usually people recognise themselves quite easily:
- Depression or anxiety – unresolving with normal approaches
- Can’t concentrate esp for long periods, brain fog, slow brain/lack of endurance
- Increased need for sleep/general sleepiness, lethargy/fatigue severe and chronic
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of appetite
- Malaise and can’t be physically active/exercise without crashing, body feels heavy
- If not physically tired, the brain fatigue means you can’t handle stimuli/input like sound, smells, touch, light etc, have to avoid it or absent yourself and possibly sleep to recover
- Muscle weakness
- Cognitive decline
Not nice. People with symptoms like these – think of the unresolving depression or tinnitus, for example – rarely consider brain inflammation as a cause so it goes undetected and untreated.
To be complete, here are the symptoms of severe brain inflammation:
- Delirium, confusion, disorientation
- Dementia, personality or behaviour changes
- Difficulty speaking
- Trembling, tremors, involuntary twitching
Hopefully, I don’t get to see many of those.
To help, here are some typical patient ‘pictures’ where I might consider brain/neuro inflammation treatment:
- A person who can’t handle stimui/input like noise, light, smells etc, has to get away from it in some way or stop it; they might have adrenaline rushes, heart racing and be quite reactive to stress, either having to sleep to recover or suffering brain or nervous system symptoms such as brain fog, can’t write well, think straight, focus, feel anxious or depressed.
- Person has brain fog, exhaustion/chronic fatigue, can’t handle stimuli, chronic pain.
- Person has a brain injury and has never felt the same since.
- Person has poor cognition, memory and learning ability, can’t find words or recall where things are.
- Person falls apart/can’t function after stress
- Person with unresponsive clinical depression
- Person with a leaky gut not resolving
- Person with chronic constipation, chronically low acid and enzymes, can’t swallow pills –
- Person with chronic food intolerance or unresolving SIBO/constipation or gut problem
- Stroke/TIA patients
- Some cases of restless legs syndrome
- Some migraine cases (especially if hypoxic – lack of blood flow to the brain or vagus isn’t right)
- PTSD or ACE Disorder/Trauma patients
- Children having meltdowns
- Never felt well since eg. accident, surgery, infection, trauma etc.
- Someone who has a significant reaction to a trigger – brain/body just shuts down, there is a need to stop whatever they are doing.
- Person has chronic pain – can be anywhere in the body or moving about.
That’s a LOT of people who probably aren’t even aware that brain inflammation could be involved, and who certainly aren’t being treated for that!
Neuro Inflammation (NI) Treatment
So, we recognise ourselves. What do we do about it? It’s complex, but then you knew I was going to say that! Essentially, treatment is based around diet, lifestyle, supplement protocol and brain exercises. It is far too complicated to go into in depth here, however, I’ll try to give you a steer on the basics.
In NI, the diet and lifestyle changes are the most important part. People often think they can get away with doing all their normal stuff and take some supplements. That is going to help, sure, but if you are having serious symptoms like those above and/or you want to prevent progression in the future, you will need to make some changes.
The basics that you need to get right – because they ALL cause or worsen NI are:
- Circulation and blood flow to the brain
- Sleep (do not underestimate this one, it is a real priority for lowering NI)
- No/limit alcohol
- Gluten and cross-reactive free diet, possibly ketogenic and/or intermittent fasting depending on severity (see the Cyrex tests here).
- Blood sugar
As I say it can be a lot more complex than that. For example, if inflammation in the gut or elsewhere in the body is inflaming the brain or, say, an infection, a toxin, a drug or medicine or emotional stress is keeping glial priming processes going, they have to be sorted out. We need to check if there is a leaky blood brain barrier or neuro autoimmunity going on, sort out any anaemia, improve asthma or breathing problems and much more besides. But, those first basic elements are crucial for getting well so that is where to start.
Treatment also includes improving vagal tone and doing customised brain regeneration and HIIT exercises. These have to be specific to the case once we have worked out what regions of the brain are involved.
In addition, there is a whole NI supplement protocol that is customised depending on each case, however I’ve put a great core protocol together below for you. Please check ingredients/discuss with your practitioner as always. The dosages can vary greatly and you may need other products on top of or instead of these. These are advanced products which you can register for at Amrita, using my code 4Y2AE7.
NeuroFlam – a polyphenol-based anti-inflammatory that will cross the blood-brain barrier (where many won’t).
Trizomal Glutathione – this is costly, but it works. Crucial in stopping the free radical attack on neurons and brain tissue.
NeurO2 – brilliant for increasing blood flow to the brain
I’ve seen a lot of improvement just from those three products. The trick, for most, is to go in at a high enough dose to make a difference and then reduce down, but clearly be led by your own body and sensitivity levels.
I hope that helps. Neuro-inflammation is very often missed in cases but can be having a real impact, especially if normal interventions are not getting you well.
For more information, here’s a video from Dr Datis Kharrazian on neuroinflammation. This is for practitioners actually, so is quite technical, but I couldn’t find anything else on it that I thought was as good. It’s by Regenerus Labs, which is where you can get the tests mentioned too.
You can also get Dr Kharrazian’s book here, which is well worth reading.