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    Keeping Our Brains Healthy

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | June 5th, 2022

    Keeping Our Brains Healthy

    I was driving to work last month when I heard on the news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  approved a new test to improve the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. I told myself, I would read more about the new test when I got to work. When I got to work, I got busy and never had a chance.  June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month so I used this opportunity to learn more about the test.  I am also reminded of the lecture I heard many years ago when Dr. Daniel Amen, the author of Memory Rescue, mentioned that we do not do enough to take care of the most important organ of the body – the brain.

    The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that dementia is a general term for impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions that interfere with doing everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging.

    Some facts about Alzheimer’s disease:

    • It is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
    • More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is projected that the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease will triple by 2060.
    • 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
    • 14 percent of African-Americans aged 65 years and older have Alzheimer’s disease compared with 12% of Hispanics and 10% of non-Hispanic Whites.

    Last month, the FDA approved the Lumipulse test. This test is supposed to detect the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This is great news because we will soon have the ability to eliminate having to use the positron emission tomography (PET) scan for diagnosis which is costly, time-consuming, and is associated with radiation risk. The Lumipulse test is approved for adult patients, aged 55 years and older, presenting with cognitive impairment and being evaluated for Alzheimer’s disease.

    Although memory often changes as people grow older, the CDC wants to remind people that memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging and must be evaluated. The CDC has listed 10 warning signs:

    1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life
    2. Challenges in planning or solving problems- ex. Trouble paying bills
    3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure
    4. Confusion with time or place
    5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relations
    6. New problems with words in speaking or writing
    7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps
    8. Decreased or poor judgment
    9. Withdrawal from work or social activities
    10. Changes in mood and personality

    Talk to your health care provider if you notice any of the above problems.

    Although scientists do not yet fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s disease, there are things that we can do to help keep our brains healthy. In Dr. Amen’s book, Memory Rescue, Dr. Amen believes we need to take care of our brain and we do that by preventing or treating 11 risk factors. He has summarized the risk factors with the mnemonic BRIGHT MINDS.

    BBlood flow – Blood flow is important to all parts of our body, especially our brain. Anything that reduces blood flow to our brain has the potential to cause injury to our brain. Tobacco use and uncontrolled blood pressure are examples of what can affect blood flow. Recommendations – have your blood pressure controlled (less than 130/80), quit smoking, exercise, drink water, and eat foods like beets and green leafy vegetables.

    R Retirement (aging)  – When you stop learning, your brain starts dying. Recommendations – Stay connected with people, volunteer, learn something new, and read.

    I – Inflammation – We are learning that inflammation in the body is not good. Recommendations – maintain good dental health, and avoid processed food. Increase foods that are anti-inflammatory like green leafy vegetables, fish, walnuts, and avocados.

    G- Genetics – Although we cannot change our family, it is not our destiny. By improving on the other risk factors we can decrease the risks of having problems with our brain.

    H- Head trauma – Try to minimize trauma to the brain as much as possible. We should think twice when having our young people engage in sports like football or soccer. Recommendations – manage concussions with the assistance of a health care provider. Wear helmets when you are supposed to.

    T – Toxins – I know it may be hard to avoid all toxins, but when we can, we should. Tobacco, marijuana, and cocaine are toxins and should be avoided.  Recommendations – wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly to wash off the pesticides. Avoid microwaving in plastics even if it is BPA-free. Check out the ingredients in your makeup.

    M – Mental Health– Chronic stress, emotional trauma, grief, depression, and addictions are just a few stressful events that affect brain health. Recommendations– Learning how to pause, taking deep breaths and meditation are helpful. Exercising is also great for our mental health.

    I – Immunity/Infections – If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, you want to work with your health care provider.  Recommendations – Eat foods that are good at building your immunity, garlic, onions, and shiitake mushrooms. Limit your alcohol use, and add Vitamin D and vitamin C to your diet.

    N- Neurohormone Deficiency –Check your thyroid levels. Recommendations – Avoid what we call hormone disruptors – BPA (found in plastics), phthalates (found in some makeups), parabens (found in some lotions), and pesticides.

    D – Diabesity – Diabetes and being obese can affect brain health. Recommendations – Get your diabetes under control. Exercise and modify your diet to maintain a healthy weight.

    S – Sleep Issues – Sleep is important for overall good health. If someone has told you that you snore, you may want to get checked for sleep apnea especially if you are having trouble staying up during the day. Strategies to help you get a good night’s sleep – Have a regular sleep schedule even on the weekends, sleep in a cool, dark quiet room, avoid heavy evening meals, exercise however not close to bedtime, and turn off the electronics.

    Dr. Amen says, “Your brain’s history is not your destiny”. We can do a lot to maintain our brain health so that we can decrease our risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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