|Dr. Marjorie Ordene, MD
Functional Medicine Doctor
Cognitive Decline Expert
Functional medicine is a patient-centered approach. The treatment is carefully customized to the patient’s unique needs, and diet is no exception.
When evaluating a patient for Alzheimer’s disease we may start by assessing brain function, but other aspects of health are also addressed. For example, some people might need to lose weight, while others may be underweight. The dietary approach varies with the individual.
With that said, there are some basic dietary guidelines that you can start with. These are relatively broad recommendations and good wellness stepping stones for everyone to follow, especially those who are looking to prevent Alzheimer’s.
When your body is focused on digestion it has fewer resources to properly rest and heal. A 12 hour fast, which takes place mostly while you are asleep is an easy way to give your body the opportunity to cleanse itself of waste and toxins and repair daily damage.
We used to emphasize breakfast as the most important meal of the day and encourage people to eat as soon as they woke up in the morning. Now the research suggests that restricted feeding times may offer many health benefits.
While 12 hours of fasting is usually a good place to start, people with risk factors such as certain genotypes may benefit from fasting for 14-16 hours at a time. Also, avoid eating up to 3 hours before bed to help empty the gut before going to sleep.
A Low Carb or Ketogenic Diet?
Although it seems a bit extreme to many people, the ketogenic diet can be beneficial for those with advanced cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s. People in the prevention stage can stick to an easier to follow low-carb diet, but to get the full effects of the low carb approach, you may need to get your body into a state of ketosis. This may be one of the areas where a personalized approach can help you fine tune the exact amount of carbs that work best for you.
Healthy Gut for a Healthy Brain
The gut is intricately connected to the brain via the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is a pathway of nerves that send signals back and forth between the gut and the brain. Anything impacting the gut will also impact the brain and vice versa. This is why people with anxiety tend to also have irritable bowel syndrome. The person’s mental state impacts their digestion and worsens the anxiety.
Maintaining gut health is critical to a healthy brain. While some people with gut health issues may need a specific plan to address digestive problems, here are a few guidelines to help you promote optimal gut health:
Getting enough fiber in your diet is one of the most important things you can do to keep your bowels moving and maintain good gut health. Fiber may also help prevent inflammation in the gut that can indirectly affect your brain. Most people don’t get enough fiber in their diets. Try to eat at least 25-35 grams of fiber a day.
Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, is an irritant to the gut, even for people without Celiac disease. Eliminating gluten containing foods can help reduce inflammation in the gut.
Eat More Vegetables & Fruits
Aim for dark leafy greens and other colorful vegetables. You can still eat low glycemic fruits as a part of your low carb diet. Dark colored berries such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries make an excellent choice, as they are high in antioxidants and other important nutrients, while still low in sugar. If you are pre diabetic, even these fruits can be problematic.
The majority of your fruits and vegetables should come from organic sources, especially those on the EPA’s “dirty dozen” list. This is a list of produce that contains the most pesticide residues. The EPA also published a “clean 15” list of the fruits and veggies lowest in pesticides. If you eat mostly these, then you don’t have to worry as much about choosing organic. For more information, see: Dirty Dozen.
Healthy fats are a necessity for a healthy brain function. Not only are these good for cognitive function, they may also help keeping you full longer. People often fear giving up carbs because they think they need them to feel full, but fats are actually more efficient at keeping you satisfied. Good sources of healthy fats include small wild caught fish such as salmon, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Good oils include coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil.
For protein, the healthiest choices include small wild caught fish, grass-fed beef, and organic poultry. When choosing fish, make sure to stick to low mercury options like sardines and salmon.
Personalized Supplements for Alzheimer’s Prevention
While I find that certain supplements can be very helpful as a part of the overall nutritional approach, let me start with an important disclaimer. Supplements should be used in addition to other lifestyle changes. I like to use the analogy of taking antioxidants while smoking cigarettes. Can you experience optimal health while doing both? Absolutely not!
Having said that, many people are deficient in important nutritional elements that could jeopardize their cognitive health. I always run blood tests to assess individual nutritional deficiencies, and tailor a diet and specific supplement plan to address the missing vitamins and minerals.
While every person may be deficient in different nutrients, there are some supplements I often recommend to address common nutritional gaps related to cognitive decline. These include:
- Omega 3
- Folic acid
Brain Boosting Supplements
In addition to personalized supplements to prevent individual deficiencies, there are some great brain supplements that may improve cognitive function. While these supplements may work differently for different people, as a part of the protocol, I have seen people dramatically increase their cognitive function test scores after taking some of the following:
- Gotu Kola
- Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
To prevent Alzheimer’s, people need to get educated. We once thought Alzheimer’s to be an inevitable part of aging, we now know that cognitive decline can be prevented. There is no reason why most people can’t live well into old age with a sharp mind.
Early detection and lifestyle prevention methods such as diet, exercise and personalized supplements are critical to battling Alzheimer’s. If you or a loved one is showing signs of cognitive decline, do not wait until symptoms become more severe. A functional medicine doctor can help you evaluate the possible causes for the cognitive decline, and the treatment options you may need.
The Bredesen Protocol: The functional medicine approach to Alzheimer’s prevention.
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