With Alzheimer’s and dementia on the rise it can be empowering for us to understand what is actually happening in the brain when it deteriorates. Why?
Because there are choices we can make to help increase brain health for ourselves or our loved ones even in the presence of decline or diagnosis.
The key players here are neurons, synapses, glial cells or the glymphatic system, cerebral spinal fluid and plaques such as amyloid beta. What is the relationship of all these pieces? Let me first define each one separately, then we can put the puzzle pieces together.
The most obvious or known to most of us are the neurons and synapses. The brain functions by way of firing electrical information across synapses from neuron to neuron. When the brain is healthy, the firing is healthy and contributes it’s part to the health of the entire person.
Cerebral spinal fluid, or extracellular fluid, sits like a thin membrane right inside the skull and around the brain. It both protects the brain as a whole and nourishes the neurons and neurotransmitters as it washes around and through all the cells.
This brings us to the glial cells, or glymphatic system.
Cutting edge research is shining a light upon the newly defined (and Nobel Prize winning) research identifying this system that runs through the body and brain.
The glial cells surround all the cells in the body to provide a way for waste to move out. In the brain they work a little differently. Billions, about a hundred billion to be a bit more exact, of glial cells form tendrils as fine as a web that extend from the periphery of the brain down deep into every single tiny space inside the brain. The tendrils are sometimes called astrocytes.
This vast network provides a way for the cerebral spinal fluid to move through the brain to do its nourishing job and to remove toxins. When the flow is steady the brain maintains greater health. When the flow is constricted, the neurons cannot do their job and sometimes even die. Inflammation is named as the chief cause. Inflammation comes from many causes but one to mention here is the last player in our series of definitions.
Amyloid beta. It is a protein toxin that clogs the brain. It is called a plaque, so you can think of plaque that collects on objects like our teeth, or on a mored boat. When this plaque increases, inflammation increases and the astrocytes become constricted.
Which means the cerebral spinal fluid cannot wash through all the places of the brain to refresh and renew.
One chief result is memory loss, from simple decline all the way to Alzheimer’s and dementia.
So now knowing the players we can change our choices to increase the flow of the cerebral spinal fluid, to decrease inflammation through diet, exercise and the focus of the next article, sleep.
Have you ever felt there is a little truth to the statement, cranky old man? While no one wants to generalize in a negative way there oftentimes is some reason the phrase has come about in the first place. The statement leads us to wonder, ‘Why did it come about anyway?’
A plausible explanation could be quite simple. When someone older is cranky it could be that their health is compromised. Waking up with aches and pains (another one of those statements;) dealing with the inability to physically perform; feeling stressed over finances shrinking and health care expenses rising are all factors that can show up as crankiness.
But crankiness does not have to be one of the defining qualities of aging. What if crankiness could be turned to happiness?
With all the research devoted to longevity, with all the professionals (like me,) giving their entire lives to create a new paradigm we have reason to believe there is hope.Hope is not just an airy sentiment, it is the realization that our health can be influenced by our choices.
This is the time I get on my soap box, in a gracious way of course. What we put into our bodies will influence how we feel. If we are set on the quick fixes of simple sugars and processed foods we will have the high that leads to a low. But there is more to this than meets the eye. Putting these foods into our bodies is ultimately toxic. YES, toxic. Our body is put into a mode of having to handle the stress of processing these simple carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. And stress is what takes a toll. Stress breaks down our ability to think clearly. Literally. Stress and pour nutrition are the leading contributors to cognitive decline.
The downwards spiral starts here. As cognitive decline sets in, our choices become weaker and weaker and we fall into a pattern, a habit, of giving ourselves a quick fix. The quick fix causes inflammation. The inflammation causes unhappiness. The unhappiness decreases our quality of life.
Take a look at the pioneering contributions of Dr. David Perlmutter, author of The Grain Brain and Dr. William Davis, author of The Fat Belly, and you will see clearly that much of the power of our health and happiness lies within our choices. My own life’s work is to this end. To help people move from crankiness to happiness; yes, to be a source of hope. My book, The BodyEnergy Longevity Prescription gives the recipe for this hope which includes nutrition.
Many cultures have a custom of honoring those older in community as elders. And elder has a connotation to it that leaves a sense in the mouth of wisdom, life experience, and worthiness of respect because they have made the journey for many years. In this connotation is a belief the persons have a value meant to be passed on. It is as though they have reconnoitered the land we are just beginning to tread.
In America the place of our seniors has been challenged. We are a free market society where each individual is honored for having control over their future, their success and what constitutes their personal stability. Working hard and working smart for what we want is esteemed highly, and considered the way success is achieved.
This is not unilaterally true, but there is truth in the observation. For years and years people of other nations have seen America as the place of ‘freedom and democracy,’ a place where one can achieve their dreams. These are qualities worth preserving as a way we can mature as a nation. The downside of this personal agency is the relative dismissal of the community as a collection of people all having something valuable to bring to the table. And when someone loses their ability to perform in the ways society sees as valuable, that very someone may be considered a burden or even one in need.
The middle ground is the constant invitation. To preserve free market and to preserve the value of each person based on another set of criteria instead of only one set of social norms.
Could we possibly create a new way to look at the seniors in our midst? Even if they may not be able, or want to, run a corporation to make multi-million dollar profits, they do have unique gifts to share to remind us of what life is about.
As the American dream breaks down before our eyes we have the chance to let the shakeup lead us to a new paradigm. One factor would be to redefine our relationship to those aging among us.
Elders. We could begin to see seniors as elders. The very word differs from the latter. Senior denotes a chronological fact. Elder connotes a relationship to those around them.
Beginning to shift this term leads to practical implications. It leads us to ask different questions. Instead of asking, ‘What nursing home will take care of our seniors?’ We could ask, ‘What type of medical care would preserve the health of our elders so we can continue to have them and their gifts among us?’
This new question leads down a very new road, already paved with alternative modalities for health, new research in the field of gerontology, and even options of social paradigms offering a quality of life for our elders happening in our very midst.
Let’s ask new questions, therein we find answers to a new paradigm to honor our elders.
This article poses a simple question. But is the question really that simple? How would you answer it- ‘What is normal aging, anyway?’
It seems that one of the advantages of the globalization effects of the internet and technology is the shake up to our ideas of what is normal. We are exposed to all sorts of cultures and individuals telling their stories of getting older, or belying the aging process. We hear how people in China age differently based on their diet and culture. We hear how some live to be over a hundred and others die in their sixties. And even though formulas are created to tell us if we do what ‘they’ do we too will live longer, is it so?
While this could be debatable what is within our personal power is to challenge our assumptions around what it means to age. So first, let’s start with your definition. Before reading further, if you will entertain me on this one, write down your own definition to the question, ‘What is normal aging?’
Okay. Now you have that to hold up to the concepts and research offering new ideas to describe and even redefine the aging process. Is aging an inevitable downward spiral? Are we bound to the genetics of our past? Perhaps not, especially if we frame aging in a completely new way.
A prevailing definition of what it means to age normally is to assume that our cells are programmed to degradate, which means to simply wear out. We can accept this as the inevitable case or we can ask why our cells would have that programming. If we ask why, we can discover that the belief itself sets up the programming. This kind of pattern is so entrenched in the collective of humanity we may not be able to completely dismantle it in our cells, but we can certainly approach our health that way in small steps.
Let’s take a practical example. What if 90% of your family has a history of diabetes. Would you assume that you too will probably end up suffering diabetes? Would your language begin to mirror this belief because research has shown that we are affected by our genetic line? You could walk down that road.
Or you could consider the research in other fields, such as epigenetics that contributes our response to our environment to have a larger percentage of influence upon our health. This would take us deeper out of the strangling idea that we have no power since it runs in our genes. But it does push us into a realm of greater responsibility. It could lead us to take a look at our family line and see that everyone has grown up with, and eaten a diet heavy in the very foods that cause trauma to the pancreas, liver and digestive system. We could see that the normal aging of cellular decline happened because the diet was rich in high processed foods and poor in nutrition and balance. And we could observe that our relatives that have diabetes are eating poorly. Then we step out of the system and choose.
If we are courageous we could take on a personal challenge to see if we function more effectively if we make a small change to our diet. And if we function more effectively it is fair to say that it is happening on a cellular level. Hence, we are helping our cells shift from a pattern of degradation to regeneration.
In the next articles I wish to get into other concepts tied to normal aging such as random damage, cross linkage and allostatic load (or homeostatic imbalance.) And then of course we can move into a deeper understanding of the ways our personal choices can directly influence our personal normal aging.
We would all like to defy the aging process. Who among us would not want to be able to have the energy, creativity, stamina and discipline that characterizes youthful bodies and minds.
It is quite possible to bear more influence upon our personal aging process and even the paradigm that is reigning in our culture. One way to begin would be a look at our language. Do we bring in all sorts of assumptions when it comes to chronological age? Sentiments such as, ‘well you know when I was thirty years younger, I used to be able to….’ Or even, ‘now that I am forty years older I just can see the way I used to…’ While there is a certain amount of truth to the statement of such a fact, it gives a kind of reinforcement of what is expected to begin to get harder, or work less easily, or be more painful as we age chronologically.
What if we began to frame things using the word biologically? What if we learned more about our bodies, minds and hearts, their true state of health and the possibilities to increase or change our health for the better solely in relation to this direct experience?
When we get to know what we are capable of rather than impose ideas of what is inevitable, we open new avenue of possibility. For instance we could look at how much energy we have, or do not have, and approach ourselves with an open question, ‘What could I do to have more energy today?’ And if our stamina declines we could look at factors that are measurable like inflammation or stress and work with our actual biology by introducing techniques and methods like nutrition, exercise and meditation and begin to actively shape our biology.
Not only do we help ourselves in reframing our relationship with the aging process but we begin to create a new paradigm for aging in our world!
The festive season is upon us again, and as you prepare for spending time with your friends and families, sharing holiday meals and exchanging presents, spare a few moments to be thankful for these healthful resources which can reduce your risk of developing Dementia and Alzheimer’s as you age.
A welcome solution to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s is craniosacral therapy (CST). One of the contributory factors to both Alzheimer’s and dementia is inflammation of brain tissues. Lifestyle, stress and diet can increase this inflammation. CST is a non-invasive technique that allows the therapist to use their hands to feel and gentle manipulate the flow of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) as it circulates within the cranium, along the spinal cord, and down to the sacrum. A health balance and flow of CFS, blood and interstitial fluid is vital for the brain to perform optimally. When these factors are imbalanced the brain gets insufficient oxygen, meaning it will become over-exerted, fatigued and memory functions will begin to deteriorate. The aim of CST is to increase the flow of vital fluids and enhance memory.
You may be surprised to known that researchers have found that regular exercise can help reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It does so by building up part of the brain that Alzheimer’s causes to decline and eventually perish. Regular exercise causes the cerebral cortex – the outer layer of the brain – to thicken, increasing protection against dementia. A minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week can improve your memory function in just three months.
Mediation is nourishment for the mind and for the body. It re-energizes the mind and body when they are weak and exhausted, it calms the energies of the mind and the bodies when they are anxious and tense, it rebalances the body’s energies when they are out of sync. Meditation can also reduce the risk of dementia by increasing blood flow to the brain, increasing the brain’s protective tissues, reducing stress and boosting mood and general wellbeing.
A healthy doesn’t have to be a life sentence, even during the holiday season. There are many useful resources out there to give you ideas for healthy meals that can actually help to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. A great example is The Alzheimer’s Prevention Cookbook, which has a hundred recipes to boost brain health. There are many other resources which can help prepare tasty meals, snacks and desserts for the holidays and year-round.
During the holiday season, many people are partying and having fun. This often means late nights and lack of sleep. When the holiday time is over you may be feeling the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Getting a good night’s sleep is another step to combating dementia and Alzheimer’s. Sleep helps to drain toxins from the brain, leaving you feeling refreshed and renewed.
More than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Though most of them are 65 and over, this disease can be detected at early as age 40 or 50. By following these tips and using the helpful resources, you can help prevent this number from increasing.