Avoid The Dreaded 'D'


Avoid The Dreaded D - Dementia (by BrainReady special guest contributor Dr. Susan Parsons, MD)

Most of us fear the loss of brain function as we get older.  In fact, that may be why you are here at BrainReady.  Maybe Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia have affected your parents, grandparents, or other loved ones. 

Is there anything you can do to prevent or forestall this malady?  I’m happy to report:  Yes, there are things you can do now. 

How you live right now may affect the quality of your life as you grow older.  You can improve your chances against cognitive decline in the future.

The Magnificent Brain

Our brains are needed not only to keep us alive, to manage our careers, and to raise our children.  Our amazing brains also contain the essence of our personalities.

We each have the ability to laugh, love, and enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer, thanks to the complicated organ sitting behind our eyes. Our thoughts shape not only what we do but who we are.  

So when dementia strikes, it is often emotionally devastating to those who observe it.  Most of us have had at least one loved one who was affected by dementia.  And we are all interested in preventing or forestalling its effects on us.

What is dementia?

And how is dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease?  There is much confusion about these definitions.  Since a large part of my medical practice is now focused on geriatrics and nursing home care, I feel qualified to report to you on this topic.

Dementia is a term that describes a progressive and irreversible cognitive decline. It is associated with memory impairment as well the development of apraxias.  An apraxia is the loss of a skill, like the ability to walk, talk, tie shoes, or brush teeth.  Early on in the disease, the afflicted individual may have trouble with planning (called executive function) or the ability to use good judgment.   He or she may have trouble managing financial affairs or running a household.  Later on, language skills may suffer.

Personality traits are often lost as the disease progresses.  Behavioral changes may be surprising and distressing to family members and their caregivers.  Individuals can live a long time with the progressive effects of dementia, and may require others to care for them.

Causes of dementia

There are two major causes of dementia:  Alzheimer’s disease and vascular disease.

At least 50% of dementia cases are due to Alzheimer’s dementia.  Vascular disease is also very common, and results from damage to the blood vessels in the brain.

Vascular dementia may be caused by a major stroke, a series of smaller strokes, or even by the clogging of many smaller vessels that occurs over time. When blood circulation is impaired, brain cells don’t get the nutrition and oxygen they need.  Cells can’t function properly and may even die. 

There are a variety of other types of dementia as well.  Some of the more common types are Lewy Body dementia and the cognitive decline sometimes seen with Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. 

Since Alzheimer’s dementia is not only widespread but devastating, many researchers are looking for causes as well as possible treatments.  

What causes Alzheimer’s Dementia?

The major forces contributing to Alzheimer’s dementia are:



Diabetes and insulin resistance

Biochemical damage like inflammation and free radical oxidation which can be heightened by toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and head injury

If you performed a brain biopsy of an Alzheimer’s sufferer, you would be able to see the hallmarks of the disease under a microscope.  They are amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. 

The neurofibrillary tangles are thought to be related to abnormal clumping of a normally-occurring tau protein in nerve cells.  The plaques consist of a build-up of protein called beta-amyloid.

Beta-amyloid is deposited between the nerve cells and as it grows, it contributes to nerve cell death.  With the loss of more and more neurons, the brain atrophies.  The cells are unable to make enough neurotransmitter chemicals.  The communication pathways between neurons disintegrate.

What About Treatment for Alzheimer’s?

Much research is now focused on the damaging beta-amyloid protein and how we can prevent its accumulation.  A vaccine was developed that targets this protein, but proved to be a dead-end.  Although helpful for some participants, the vaccine triggered serious brain inflammation in others.  

At the present time, there are several drugs in use by physicians to treat Alzheimer’s dementia.  These pharmaceuticals can modulate some of the effects and symptoms of dementia.  But no cure exists at the present time.

New drugs are under development.  Some target the enzyme that leads to beta-amyloid production.  Only time will tell whether this therapeutic approach will prove successful or not.

Of significant interest is the powerful potential of one type of omega-3 fatty acid supplement, DHA, to slow the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  DHA is a structural fat which is abundant in the brain cortex.  It is found in fish and fish oil supplements, and can be synthesized from algae. 

Researchers reported in the Journal of Neuroscience that algal DHA reduced levels of both the tau protein as well as the beta-amyloid plaques in mice bred to develop the brain lesions typical of Alzheimer’s disease.  Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may be a great treatment option to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Unfortunately, natural supplements are often neglected in biomedical research.  They are often not candidates for patents.  No hope of future profits often means little research money is available for the necessary studies.

Can We Prevent Alzheimer’s Dementia?

Luckily, there are things we can do now to preserve brain tissue, and hopefully prevent the destructive forces of Alzheimer’s dementia and vascular disease.

Unfortunately, the brain cannot make new nerve cells.  Our body has the ability to make new skin cells, new stomach lining cells, and even new liver cells.  But it cannot regenerate new brain cells to replace the damaged ones.

Of course we cannot change our genes or the passing of time.  But many of us may prevent or at least delay the onset of dementia by the way we live every day.

Recent studies suggest that certain lifestyle factors may predispose us to a greater probability of developing dementia.  Both the lack of exercise and a shortage of intellectual stimulation may increase your risk.  If you have cardiovascular risk factors that impair circulation, you should also be concerned.  These are high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

What Can You Do To Protect Yourself from Alzheimer’s Dementia?

Metabolic and nutritional disorders such as insulin resistance and diabetes dramatically increase your risk of Alzheimer’s.  But if you follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly, you can significantly improve your chances.

Here are my lifestyle and diet recommendations to protect your brain and keep it functioning well into old age:

- Avoid obesity, a contributor to diabetes and insulin resistance

- Increase your intake of fish or fish oil supplements that supply DHA, the omega-3 fat that is abundant in brain tissue

- Exercise regularly

- Stimulate your brain with learning new tasks and ideas

- Minimize stress, since the stress hormone cortisol can damage the brain cortex

- Minimize high-glycemic carbohydrates that increase your blood sugar (like sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup)

- Increase your intake of vegetables, fruits, and seasoning herbs which contain antioxidants

- Take a multi-vitamin containing a full complement of B vitamins and antioxidants

- Monitor your iron levels (both iron overload and iron deficiency can harm brain function)

- Avoid too much alcohol which is toxic to brain cells

- Add “brain foods” such as turmeric and other phytonutrients found in whole foods, drinks, seasonings, and spices

- Minimize your exposure to other heavy metals such as lead and mercury

- If you have diabetes, it is very important to monitor and control your blood sugar as best you can with diet, exercise, and medication if necessary.  See your physician frequently.

You can learn more about how you can lose weight and choose the best diet and exercise programs to help you meet your health goals by visiting my website,

(We'd like to thank Dr. Parsons again for her insightful, comprehensive Dementia blog piece for BrainReady...and we highly recommend visiting her too as it's packed with great diet & health articles, recommendations, and more. Thanks again Dr. Parsons!)

- The BrainReady Team

All Contents (c) 2006-2008 BrainReady Pty Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Medical Disclaimer