By Joan Ebsworth, guest writer for sense*, biologist and mother of sense* Founder, Jonathan on Living with Alzheimer’s and part 2 of her series on How to Improve Brain Health, mental health and learning.
Alzheimer’s – spotting neuro degeneration
I so hope that you learned something new and helpful in my first email.
I also hope that it might have motivated you to look at your own lifestyle and do something about protecting your own brain health.
It can be done and it is never too late!
Once I got started on my first email, I suddenly realised that over many years I had learned a lot about the brain. And that there was too much to put in one article.
So here goes with part 2 – Living with Alzheimer’s – how we coped with my husband, John’s (on the right above) illness!
Start in your 30s to avoid living with Alzheimer’s
We really must get to grips with the fact that neuro degeneration can start as early as our 30s when we are totally unaware that it is happening.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it” is what they say. I found that scary.
Teaching and caring for my husband
Some of my brain knowledge has come from my teaching career and some of it has come from helping my husband, John, over many years. Dealing with and hoping to delay his cognitive issues and avoid living with Alzheimer’s.
Virtually everything that I mention in this article could have a book written about it. I already have quite a few that I dig into now and then!
Learning from the experts
Books by neurologist Dr David Perlmutter, Dr Dale Bredesen, Dr Mark Hyman, Dr Amy Myers, Dr David Sinclair and others.
Some of these explain the latest research, others communications with patients. I am just touching the surface but you may find it useful!
Noticing Alzheimer’s in my husband
When did I notice changes in my husband’s cognition?
It was about 12 years before he died and it had nothing to do with his memory. He wanted to read less, he chatted less, he laughed less, he sat more and he was more grumpy.
And he didn’t want to socialise as much which was odd because he was always a guy up for a party.
He just changed, very slowly at first. Eventually though memory issues crept in too.
The APOE4 gene
Quite late into my husbands Alzheimer’s we discovered that he carried a single allele (a type of gene) for the APOE4 gene for the disease (also known as the Alzheimer’s gene).
The reason that I suggested the test was because his mother, his aunt and his brother all had Alzheimer’s. So I felt that there had to be something genetic going on.
Whether the others in his family carried the same gene and whether they had the double allele – we shall never know.
Having the genes does not mean that you will develop Alzheimer’s itself. It just increases your risk.
Role of epigenetics
Now that we know that epigenetics as well as genetics plays a vital role, we are aware that lifestyle choices play an important part in gene expression.
Epigenetics shows that genes can be turned on or off by lifestyle. What you eat, how you sleep, how much exercise you take, tobacco, alcohol, toxins generally.
Sense* did a really helpful article on epigenetics, How Lifestyle Affects Your Genes
They can all affect the expression of your genes – for good or bad.
The cancer connection
To complicate matters John also suffered a variety of different cancers. So relatively early on he had changed his diet for the good and that would have helped his brain too.
We were fans of the cancer treatment called the Budwig protocol which a Nobel prize winning German scientist pioneered. It was not an easy road to travel but we were pretty successful up until 5 weeks before he died!
Urinary tract infection devastation
I had no idea that a urinary tract infection (UTI) could affect the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient so dramatically. We didn’t realise that he had a UTI for some time. He may have had it for weeks.
However, as soon as it became noticeable, his mental function and cognition went down hill fast at the same time. The doctors and nurses who came to our home to treat him all said this was a recurring theme in the elderly.
As his mental health deteriorated so did the ability to treat him with diet, supplements and other remedies save for conventional medicines. Anyone with a severe UTI will tell you that conventional medicines very often don’t touch the infection.
Physically, he was still strong. He was an athlete and rugby player as a young man. He never lost this strength. But mentally he spiralled out of control until there were very few lucid moments.
Improving John’s mental performance with Alzheimer’s
What did we do to stave off Alzheimer’s in the years before this to improve the quality of his and our lives and help John’s brain?
Here are some of these methods:
- We had already cut back on carbohydrates. All of the baddies such as bread, cakes, puddings, potatoes, rice and pasta. They are just “filler-uppers” and digest into sugars.
Sugars feed cancer cells so we initially did it for that reason.
Insulin resistance in the brain is now thought to be a big factor in dementias. Glucose just cannot get into the brain cells so they die due to lack of energy. High sugar diets affect insulin and also increase inflammation.
Brain cell mitochondria work off glucose as I explained in my article on energy production. Creating the energy needed for your brain to function.
If the glucose can’t get into the cells then the mitochondria cannot work and they die. I was amazed to learn that there can be anything from 10,000 to a million mitochondria in one of our brain cells.
Giving you some idea of the amount of energy that the brain requires to work optimally (about 20% of the body’s energy), our heart has about 5000 in each cell.
Brain insulin resistance is now being called type 3 diabetes.
So all processed foods went out of our diets. We weren’t deprived in any way, we just found delicious alternatives. If everyone took this step, you would be much healthier and feel much better.
Add good quality fat and proteins
- We increased good quality fats and proteins dy doing the following:
- No cheap processed oils or margarines
- nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut products
- eggs (organic and free range)
- fish high in omega 3 such as sardines, mackerel and Atlantic salmon (not farmed).
- plus lots of lentils, chickpeas, –vegetables and fruits .
- None of the animal products for me though
Every cell in the body needs good fats. Every cell membrane needs them to function properly. Fats have been given a very bad name until recently.
They are a complex topic but if you stick to unprocessed fats (nuts, seeds, avocados and coconut products) –then you won’t go far wrong. If you eat butter –then make sure that it is from grass fed cows.
Cholesterol is one “fat associated word” that causes panic when mentioned.
You might be interested to know that 25% of your body cholesterol is in your brain.
It is so important to brain function that it makes its own! I didn’t know that it made its own until recently!
It makes it from the foods that we eat so the quality of that food is important.
After all 60% of your brain is fat.
The brain does not take in cholesterol from the blood stream as it cannot cross the blood /brain barrier. Low cholesterol levels in the brain have been linked to neuro degenerative diseases.
Our livers make and recycle cholesterol too. So I think that you can see that it is a pretty important substance.
There is now a lot of work being done on high fat diets because those fats are digested into ketones. And ketones are thought to be a much cleaner source of fuel for our brain cell mitochondria creating fewer free radicals and less brain damage.
You may have heard of ketogenic or keto diets. This is where it comes from.
Stimulate the brains with (legal) substances
- We worked at stimulating our brains!! Chemically😊
John loved his coffee and tea. And caffeine and theanine in moderation stimulates the brain.
It is called a “nootropic”.
There are many nootropics. Some are pharmaceutical and some are dangerous too. They do alter brain chemistry.
We stuck with the natural and safe types e.g. gingko biloba, rhodiola rosea, bacopa monnieri, panax ginseng (not all at the same time I hasten to add).
They do help with memory, mood, focus, and motivation. sense* for busy lives contains some of these for mental performance.
We also took various adaptogens. Adaptogens are balancers and they affect brain chemistry balancing stress and anxiety by affecting the pituitary and hypothalamus in the brain.
They also affect the adrenal glands as well (reducing cortisol and adrenaline when they are in over drive).
I still take ashwagandha, reishi mushroom powder and turmeric every day to help with stress and anxiety.
Then there are others such as Lion’s Mane, Tulsi, Astragalus, Maca and Schisandra..
All can be researched –there is a lot of information out there.
Supplementation for Alzheimer’s
- Supplements were important to us even though John hated taking pills.
Taking a good B-complex was vital. B12 in particular is so important and can be very depleted.
I still feel quite angry when his neurologist confirmed nothing was amiss in a blood test only to miss the fact that John’s reading for B12 was 95 (mine was 700). Happily our GP picked up on it and within the hour John was having an injection.
It seems that although John was eating meats he was not absorbing the B12. And it is so important for good brain function. He continued to have injections for the rest of his life.
Low stomach acid
Low stomach acid can be a reason for low absorption although doctors keep on getting this wrong, diagnosing high stomach acid.
I try to counteract this personally by drinking lemon water first thing and adding apple cider vinegar to meals. I am a vegan and I do supplement B12.
- I still continue to supplement my diet with many superfood powders such as spirulina, chlorella, beetroot, graviola, sense* for busy lives (such a great mix of different superfoods and vitamins), sense* for joint & bone (needed at my age), and a lot more particularly vitamin C, vitamin D3, zinc (separately or together in zinc’d for convenience) and quercetin (particularly for immunity in these Covid times).
- Hydration is vital for the brain to work well –so there was a lot of juicing and smoothie making going on. As John hated to drink plain water.
He liked alcohol – but it mainly was alcohol free beers from then – and not much of those either. Alcohol is a dehydrator – and it depresses the brain – so not a good idea if you have brain issues.
Good hydration equals good detoxification. And sadly we live in a sea of toxins, most of which can impact brain function.
Poor hydration was an issue for John and just maybe that is what caused the UTI. I don’t know the answer to that but it is a strong possibility.
- We walked a lot as exercise and getting oxygen to every cell is so important. As we get older there is a tendency to do less, sit more, take more siestas.
It is not a good idea so whatever movements you can make – do them! Just getting up and down from a dining chair ten times – a few times a day – it all helps every part of the body – particularly the brain. Walk and move!!!
Eat dinner early
- We stopped eating late in the evening. We had our last meal of the day at 6pm and our first meal of the morning at around 10am. This gave us 16 hours of intermittent fasting. Fluids only during those 16 hours .
We did this in the hope that this would help autophagy in the brain (and the rest of the body). Autophagy is the way in which the body cleans out old and damaged cells and creates new ones.
During sleep there should be a lot of autophagy going on. Sleep is not a passive process. The human body has amazing powers of regeneration –if you allow it to do so .
Acquire new skills
- Not always an easy thing to do but ditch the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. You can and it is well worth the effort. You have to persist.
I started to learn Spanish aged 60 never having shown any aptitude for languages. John couldn’t do this as he was partially deaf and if you don’t hear well then it is almost impossible to do. Deafness is yet another factor in neuro degeneration.
So learning to play a musical instrument, doing crosswords, suduko, chess. In fact any game which causes you to think, to process, to use your brain.
Remember “use it or lose it”. All of these were impossible for my husband as we left it too late and he didn’t have the patience.
However –he could order his coffee and beers in Spanish! Got his priorities right 😊
- The gut/ brain connection. A topic all on its own .
Your gut can send messages to your brain and your brain can send messages to your gut. Many now call the gut the second brain . See this article by one of my doctor gurus. This is an extremely interesting article
We take our gut for granted and the medical profession seems to ignore it only providing drugs to cover up symptoms.
Maybe one day they will catch up but I am not holding my breath.
The microbiome and the enteric nervous system –when in a good state –makes for a very healthy and happy person.
When in a poor state –they equate with both brain ill health and autoimmune diseases.
Why go to all this bother
You might wonder why we went to all of this trouble for so many years – learning all the way. So much easier to take the opposite approach – eat what your taste buds like, drink alcohol without thought, watch TV all day, lie in bed.
Well I know that it prolonged the quality of my husband’s life for over 20 years which was wonderful for us both.
His 80th birthday was wonderful, really memorable. He looked fantastic, he laughed, he socialised wonderfully and he gave an impromptu speech. He was the life and soul of the party, see his picture at the top.
I shall never forget that day – as 3 months later he was dead. We had been together for 67 years. He only really suffered mentally for 5 weeks due to an unforeseen UTI.
Then we really saw the dementia kick in – it was horrible. Truly horrible.
Being totally selfish – doing all of the things that we did together, it helped me too –directly and indirectly in so many ways.
Start taking care of your children’s brains from birth.
Start taking care of your own brain from today.
Research well but just start with diet, exercise and good sleep patterns and then take it from there.
I truly cannot stress enough the importance of caring for your brain and so your whole body.
At my age I want as good a quality of life as possible TODAY.
Tomorrow – well that is another day!
This is not a sense* article. The views expressed in this article are those of the author so there may be opinions or statements in this article that are not approved by sense* and do not represent the views and opinions of the company.