I had the opportunity in the last couple of weeks to work with a fantastic medical doctor in senior living and hospice centers in the San Diego area. In a collaborative effort, we’ve made rounds to various centers, offering both the medical and naturopathic perspective to patient care. It’s been challenging, heart wrenching at times, and very eye opening. But I tell you, it’s made me the happiest I’ve been in months. It’s been therapy for me.
I love being around my elders. As much as our culture tends to look down on the process of aging, I have a tender spot in my heart for those who are older and wiser. I love hearing their stories. I love learning from their wisdom. They remember our world before technology existed. When things were simpler. When doctors would make house visits. When people would write letters rather than send text messages. When kids would play outside for hours and hours rather than zone out on XBOX 360. Sigh… The good ol’ days.
What has been very apparent to me in my experience, the elderly in the United States tend to age very differently than the elderly in many non-industrialized countries. In many cultures, aging is seen as an accumulation of wisdom, a mark of survival, and a status worthy of respect.
Putting the negative stigma aside, the process of aging in the United States is often laden with chronic disease and pain.
One of the most marked losses in this altered process of aging is cognitive function. As Americans are losing their youth, they are also losing their minds.
What is cognition? Cognition is the scientific term for mental processes. These processes include attention, remembering, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions.
Basically, memory and cognition is keeping and using your marbles.
Cognitive decline is NOT a normal process of aging, yet is very common in Westernized culture. Here are some tips to avoid this in your future.
How to keep your marbles as you age:
1. Eat fat – Your brain is made predominately of fat. If you’re eating a low fat diet, you’re likely deficient in the building blocks to keep your brain healthy. Examples of healthy fats – wild salmon, avocadoes, coconuts, raw nuts and seeds, and grass fed/pasture raised meats, olive oil
2. Toxins – Research shows a link between toxicity and cognitive decline. To address this, first reduce your exposure to toxins (cleaning products, make ups, soaps, avoid mercury fillings, plastics, and tap water). Secondly, detoxify the toxins that have accumulated in your body. If you’ve had exposure to heavy metals (mercury or lead for example), chelation therapy may be appropriate. Keep in mind that toxins are stored in fat. Since your brain is composed of fat – it also leaves your brain susceptible with greater toxin exposure.
3. Inflammation is a common denominator with diseases of Western civilization, including dementia and cognitive decline. Keep inflammation down by eating real food, managing stress, getting adequate sleep, reducing exposure to toxins, getting sufficient vitamin D, and keeping antioxidant intake high.
4. Keep/get your gut healthy – As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, leaky gut is a common problem that afflicts many people. From clinical evidence, the more leaky one’s gut is, the greater likelihood of a “leaky brain”. This leaves the brain more susceptible to toxin exposure and damage.
5. Eat real food – this means eat foods that promote your health and avoid foods that take away from it. This is a general recommendation. If it doesn’t grow on a plant, walk, fly, or swim – don’t eat it. There is no bread bush or pasta tree. There is no “fruit roll up” plant. Health is not made in a lab.
6. Avoid food sensitivities – This is a specific recommendation. We all have unique biochemical individuality. What is medicine for me may be your poison. Find a practitioner who can guide you to identify what diet works best for you as an individual. Get tested for gluten sensitivity – as this is highly associated with cognitive decline. Avoiding your sensitivities helps to keep your inflammation levels low.
7. Sleep – The ultimate medicine for your brain. Research shows that medical residents who are sleep deprived show decreased memory and cognitive function, learning and creativity. Get those zzz’s!
8. Balance blood sugar – When blood sugar goes uncontrolled, the formation of AGE’s occur (advanced glycation end products). These act as poisons to the blood vessels in the body. Research shows that patients with poor blood sugar balance and diabetes tend to have higher rates of dementia. If you follow the above steps, your blood sugar will likely remain balanced and avoid this from happening.
9. Use your brain. In research, reading, writing, and arithmetic are all associated with keeping the brain sharp. On the clinical rounds last week, I met a 96 year old author who just had a book published! He was sharp as a tack. If you don’t use it, you may lose it!
The moral of the story is – to keep your brain healthy – eat, move, think, sleep, and live like you’re designed to. Dementia is not inevitable as you age.
The closer you adhere to the natural elements, the more protected you are.
Dr. Lauren Noel