NUTRITION & COGNITION – SAVING DAD’S BRAIN (PT 1)
got a call from my mother some years back. She was quite upset and concerned that my father, who’d lost his own mother to Alzheimer’s, was becoming more and more forgetful.
My dad was then in his late 70s. He’d been quite the tinkerer in his day, he always had some project going. When I was a kid there’d be days when I’d come home to find the washing machine half-disassembled in the hall and dad out searching for parts. He was the kind of guy who did his own tune-ups. He installed his own lawn plumbing and irrigation timers.
But lately he’d started taking long naps. Things weren’t getting fixed around the house. He seemed to be on a downhill slope that his meds weren’t addressing. Mom was concerned.
First I got him taking Basic Micronutrients. At the time I was recommending four micronutrient products, three of them available in most health food stores (since then I’ve added one.) These resupply crucial elements and metabolic cofactors research suggests are missing in optimal amounts in our food these days1,2,3,4 and critical for cognitive and emotional stability.5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14 Who eats five servings of vegetables each and every day?
Then I suggested three more advanced micronutrients: lecithin, CDP-choline, and phosphatidylserine (PS.)
Lecithin is the raw material from which the brain makes acetylcholine,15,16,17,18,19 the neurotransmitter of cognition. Not enough acetylcholine and we can’t think straight.20 Lecithin has a second action that makes it even more attractive in a case like my dad’s: it lowers LDL cholesterol, the most dangerous form.21,22,23 (Atherosclerotic plaques made of oxidized cholesterol can build up and impair blood circulation in the brain, another slow contributor to dementia.)/p>
(Important note: lecithin is derived from soy, and the vast majority of soy grown in nations like the US is genetically modified to tolerate large doses of herbicides. So it’s important to make sure one gets their lecithin from an organic source.)
CDP-choline is another acetylcholine precursor. It’s pricier than lecithin but as it’s further along the metabolic chain it’s a more efficient way to go. It also boosts mood and cognition-enhancing neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine as well as acetylcholine, while also stabilizing neuronal cell membranes and helping in particular elders with impaired brain blood supply contributing to their decline.24,25 I was covering my bases.
Now acetylcholine is also involved in stimulating muscle contraction. So as my dad started on these supplements, I kept a close eye on things. I wanted in particular to make sure that he didn’t start having any muscle twitches … a possible sign of too much acetylcholine.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) helps support healthy neuronal membranes.26 This is important because cell membranes control what gets into and out of each neuron … and that has a lot to do with what goes on inside the neuron. When that’s not closely controlled one result can be chronic low-grade inflammation. Dementia appears in some cases to be a low- to medium-grade inflammatory disease. That inflammation slowly sandblasts cell membranes into uselessness.
Inflammation means oxidation. So all this likely explains some cases of dementia … the brain slowly oxidizing and rotting away like a piece of cheese left out and forgotten on the counter. Learn more about inflammation and what causes it here.
Phosphatidylserine also has a nice secondary action: it lowers cortisol levels and helps improve mood.27,28 Cortisol is a stress hormone often found elevated in elderly people that can create anxiety when its levels are excessive. Cortisol is related chemically to an medication known as cortisone. Cortisol and cortisone are both anti-inflammatory but they also shift metabolism away from resting states in which the body repairs its worn out cells and tissues. Translation: chronically high cortisol levels accelerate aging, including in the brain.
Dad started on his new nutrients. Sure enough, within a week the naps had lessened considerably.
And the week after … the report was that he was getting back to fixing things again.
That was some time ago. Today, years later, my father steps a little slower, but his gaze is still clear. He’s in his mid-nineties now but he’s still with us. His short-term memory isn’t all that good but like many elders he can remember much from his past. His mental deterioration appears to have been stabilized. He can think, reason, communicate and express his wishes.
(Important note: My dad started taking his nutrients before things had progressed very far. It’s easier to prevent degenerative disease than it is to repair it.
Studies on nutrition for dementia have returned mixed results. That may be because researchers prefer for technical reasons to alter only one or a few variables at a time when they do their work. At times they’ll dose folks with one or at most a few individual nutrients … at other times they’ll measure or estimate their intake … while it typically takes a rich mix of missing nutrients to create a marked positive response.
It’s much harder to adequately model this kind of complex nutrient intervention in the lab.)
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