Mild Memory Loss is Not a Part of Normal Aging, By Dr. Mercola

Mild Memory Loss is Not a Part of Normal Aging
Posted By Dr. Mercola

| October 07 2010 | 33,661 views

Getting older, in and of itself, is not the cause of so-called “senior moments”. A new study found that even these mild memory lapses are caused by the same brain lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Researchers found that in the last four to five years of life, people’s memory showed a very rapid decline. Pathologic lesions were found to be related to this rapid decline. The preceding years showed a much more gradual decline that was the actual result of normal aging.

According to Newswise:

“… [R]ecognizing that the earliest changes in memory are related to Alzheimer’s pathology can lead to early diagnosis and will be critical information if a treatment is developed that can alter the pathologic course of the disease.”

Newswise September 15, 2010

Neurology September 21, 2010; 75(12):1070-8. Epub 2010 Sep 15

Dr. Mercola’s Comments:

I’ve often said that memory loss is not at all a “normal part of aging,” and this latest research further supports this stance. You do not have to accept those “senior moments” as being inevitable or unavoidable.

In fact, if you notice memory lapses, you may want to seriously consider making some immediate lifestyle changes to help reverse, or at least minimize further damage, because as this research shows, all deterioration of cognitive function appears to be caused by the same type of brain lesions found in those with Alzheimer’s disease – the most severe form of dementia…

If your memory is currently sharp as a tack, you’re either doing everything right already, or you can ensure it’ll stay that way by implementing the healthy brain strategies I’ll discuss in this article.

Interestingly, you’ll find that many of the same lifestyle changes that will lower your risk of diabetes will also improve your chances of keeping your mind intact.

Surprising Finding – Even Mild Memory Loss is Caused by Pathological Changes

Brain lesions have been associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s for some time, but the researchers were surprised to discover that even very mild memory loss appears to be linked to the presence of the same type of damage seen in more serious cases of cognitive decline.

Newswise reports:

“The very early mild cognitive changes once thought to be normal aging are really the first signs of progressive dementia, in particular Alzheimer’s disease.” said Robert S.Wilson, PhD, neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Center.

“The pathology in the brain related to Alzheimer’s and other dementias has a much greater impact on memory function in old age than we previously recognized.”

This may sound frightening to some, but remember, you CAN prevent cognitive decline, and I’ll discuss several of the most effective strategies below.

Those who experienced hardly any decline in their cognitive function up until their death, were also found (post-mortem) to be free of brain lesions, further emphasizing the importance of preventing the damage from occurring in the first place.

Newswise quotes Dr. Wilson as saying:

“Our study finds that Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are the root cause of virtually all loss of cognition and memory in old age.

They aren’t the only contributing factors; other factors affect how vulnerable we are to the pathology and to its effects. But the pathology does appear to be the main force that is driving cognitive decline in old age.”

As mentioned in the Newswise article, noticing these initial changes, such as the minor memory lapses that are typically associated with “just getting older,” can be very important and should not be ignored. However, most likely the conventional treatment will end up being some form of pharmacological intervention.

This is typically NOT going to be your best bet.

The Best Strategy to Prevent Memory Loss and Cognitive Decline

Diet and exercise work hand-in-hand, forming your primary defense against all disease, including brain disorders of all kinds.

Previous studies have shown that elderly individuals who consume a healthy diet are in fact less likely to suffer symptoms of dementia as they age, and an increasing amount of research attests to the power of exercise to keep your mind sharp.

Avoiding sugars and grains, and being mindful of eating foods that do not cause major spikes in your glucose levels, is very important if you want to optimize your health and maintain optimal brain function, regardless of your age.

Because while increasing age is the greatest risk factor for dementia and Alzheimer’s, insulin resistance and diabetes are also factors that significantly increase your risk. Diabetics have up to a 65 percent higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, for example.

Exercise is a Vital Component of Brain Health

John J. Ratey, a psychiatrist who wrote the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says that there is overwhelming evidence that exercise produces large cognitive gains and helps fight dementia.

He claims you can easily “push back cognitive decline by anywhere from 10 to 15 years” by incorporating an exercise regimen three to four times a week – even if you begin during middle age, and exercise at a moderate rate.

Although the mind-body research into the benefits of exercise against dementia may still be in its infancy, there is compelling evidence that regular exercise promotes essential cell and tissue repair mechanisms, including growth of new brain cells.

Physical exercise may also protect against mild cognitive impairment by:

* Promoting production of nerve-protecting compounds
* Increasing blood flow to your brain
* Improving development and survival of neurons
* Decreasing your risk of heart and blood vessel diseases that can impact brain function

In essence, exercise encourages your brain to work at optimum capacity by causing your nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage.

Eat Your Veggies to Protect Against Mental Decline

Boosting your vegetable intake is a surefire way to optimize your health, and may also help prevent age-related mental decline.

Research has shown that vegetables such as spinach may be beneficial in slowing down age-related central nervous system and cognitive behavioral deficits. Nutritional intervention with vegetables may even play an important role in reversing cognitive decline.

What makes veggies such a powerful ally against cognitive decline?

Vegetables are key sources of antioxidants, nutrients that disarm harmful molecules called free radicals — the undesirable byproducts of various metabolic functions, which damage cells. Over time, this damage, called oxidative damage or oxidative stress, is believed to play a leading role in age-related changes in your health.

Your brain may be particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of free radicals because it is relatively deficient in antioxidants to begin with. Free radical destruction is thought to be a contributing factor to the decline in memory and motor performance seen in aging.

This is another reason for eating whole foods, and not just supplements.

Foods containing a variety of phytochemicals, including phytochemicals with antioxidant properties, offer much greater protection and health benefits than individual nutrients.

However, even when it comes to something as healthy as vegetables, it’s important to know which ones are the most beneficial for you, as we’re all created differently. The way to determine which ones may be best for your individual constitution, I strongly recommend taking my free online nutritional typing test.

Eating vegetables that work best for your nutritional type, which is based on your personal biochemistry, can truly maximize the health benefits you can reap from your diet.

Omega-3s are Vital for Healthy Brain Function

Probably one of the most essential nutrients for your brain are omega-3 fats. In fact, 50 percent of your brain is an omega-3 fat called DHA.

A number of studies have shown that omega-3s can offer protection against cognitive deterioration.
Several protective mechanisms have been suggested, including:

* Reducing inflammation in your brain
* Limiting the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaques, which are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease
* Influencing membrane functioning
* Regenerating nerve cells

Unfortunately, the ideal source of omega-3 — fish — is typically not a safe source anymore, as most fish are now severely contaminated. This is why I recommend getting your omega-3 from a high quality krill oil instead. In addition to being more absorbable than fish oil, it’s also loaded with beneficial antioxidants and is clearly the most sustainable source of animal-based omega-3 on the planet.

Foods to AVOID to Keep Your Mind Sharp

In addition to knowing what kinds of foods to add to your diet, it’s equally important to know what to avoid, in order to protect the health of your brain.

Four foods in particular can be pinpointed as the enemies of optimal brain health:

1. Sugars, especially fructose
2. Grains
3. Aspartame
4. Soy

Excessive sugar and grain consumption are the driving factors behind insulin resistance, and as mentioned at the beginning of this comment, the strategies that protect your brain are very similar to those for avoiding diabetes.

There is simply no question that insulin resistance is one of the most pervasive influences on brain damage, as it contributes massively to inflammation, which will prematurely degenerate your brain.

Ideally, you’ll want to restrict your total fructose consumption to below 25 grams a day. This includes refraining from eating too many fruits, if you normally eat a lot of them. If you consume more than 25 grams a day of fructose you can damage your cells by creating insulin and leptin resistance and raising your uric acid levels.

Berries tend to be lower in fructose, and wild blueberries, for example, are high in anthocyanin and antioxidants, and are well-known for being beneficial against Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.

However, the answer is definitely not to use artificial sweeteners instead!

Aspartame, for example, is an excitotoxin that can literally destroy your brain cells. There are many studies showing the dangers of aspartame. For example, one study published in 2000 found that aspartate shortens the memory response, impairs memory retention and damages hypothalamic neurons in mice.

And the results from a 2002 study published in the journal Nature suggest that aspartate may cause mental retardation, although the mechanism by which it does that is still unknown.

Other animal studies have linked aspartame to brain damage and brain tumors, even in low doses.

I believe aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are dangerous to your health in so many ways, I even wrote an entire book on this topic called Sweet Deception.

Unfermented soy products are another common food that should be avoided if you want to maintain healthy brain function.
One well-designed epidemiological study linked tofu consumption with exaggerated brain aging. Men who ate tofu
at least twice weekly had more cognitive impairment, compared with those who rarely or never ate the soybean curd, and their cognitive test results were about equivalent to what they would have been if they were five years older than their current age.
What’s more, higher midlife tofu consumption was also associated with low brain weight. Shrinkage does occur naturally with age, but for the men who had consumed more tofu showed an exaggeration of the usual patterns you typically see in aging.
Dr. Kaayla Daniel has written an excellent book, The Whole Soy Story, which covers the health dangers of soy in great depth and I highly recommend it to anyone still under the illusion that soy is a health food.

Other Brain-Healthy Lifestyle Strategies

Last, but certainly not least, you’ll also want to:
1. Optimize your vitamin D levels through safe sun exposure, a safe tanning bed and/or vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D plays a very important role in brain development and function, so get tested regularly to make sure you maintain healthy levels year-round.
2. Challenge your mind daily. Mental stimulation, such as traveling, learning to play an instrument or doing crossword puzzles, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Avoid mercury. Dental amalgam fillings are one of the major sources of mercury, however you should be healthy prior to having them removed.Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a qualified biological dentist to have your amalgams removed. (Be sure to only use a high-quality biologically trained dentist who is familiar with the removal of amalgam fillings or your health could get ruined.)
4. Avoid aluminum, commonly found in items such as antiperspirants and aluminum cookware.
Avoid flu vaccinations as well, as they contain both mercury and aluminum!
5. Avoid fluoride. Fluoride is another powerful neurotoxin. The most common sources would be in your water and toothpaste. But it is also a part of some antibiotics (like Cipro), soy protein, and pesticides, so seek to have as much of your food organically grown as possible, and filter your tap water with a reverse osmosis filter to eliminate the fluoride.