Doug Cook RD
Nutrition Demystified. Health Exemplified
Nutrition advice that makes sense. Separating hype from reality.

Think Dementia Is Only Something For The Elderly To Worry About?

Salmon-and-asparagus

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We affectionately referred to those moments when we can’t remember a name, or have forgotten where we’ve put our keys, as ‘Senior moments’ [rightly or wrongly] or ‘brain farts’. While it’s true that the majority of cognitive decline is seen in the elderly, what’s not as well understood is that by the time it is noticeable, the damage is well established, often 20 years in the making.

Conventional wisdom put the start of age-related declines in memory, reasoning and comprehension at around 60 years of age but a new study in the British Medical Journal suggests it can occur, and likely starts, at age 45 or so, a type of cognitive decline known as ‘vascular dementia’ [as opposed to senile dementia, or 'old age' dementia].

This study builds on previous research, and the model of vascular-based cognitive decline, which suggests risk factor known to damage blood vessels of any kind will increase the risk for developing dementia. Historically health professionals have always focused on heart health but consensus is growing that ‘what is good, or bad, for the heart is also good, or bad, for the head’ [for men, this can be extended {pardon the pun} to the penis as erectile dysfunction is a disease of the blood vessels that nourish it].

Risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes/diabetes, high triglycerides, high levels of small-dense LDL, trans fat, low intake of omega-3 fats, fructose, added sugars, excess carbohydrate, lack of exercise, and a diet low in antioxidants.

What surprised researchers in this latest study was the fact that signs of cognitive decline were measurable in those 45 to 49 years of age. Compared to those older than 65, men 45 to 49 had a 3.6 percent decline in mental reasoning compared to a 9.6 percent drop in the older group. Similar results were seen in women; a 3.6 percent decline in ages 45 to 49 compared to a 7.4 percent decline in women over 65.

In another recent article in the Journal of Neurology, researchers reported on a beneficial effect of diet, and specific nutrients, on brain volume.

Over 30 nutrients, including trans fat, vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, C, D, E, folate, and the omega-3 fats EPA & DHA [not ALA from plants], were tested for their influence on memory and cognitive function.

Higher blood & tissue levels of the above nutrients [not trans fat] were associated with a reduction [or slowing down] of both brain volume loss and cognitive test scores.

MRI was used to measure brain volume, which typically decreases with age and contributes to cognitive decline.

Using the usual statistics, researchers attributed 17% of the difference in cognition test scores and 37% of the difference in brain size to nutrient status, i.e. greater nutrient intake = better test scores & greater brain volume, poorer intake = poorer brain power.

Blood & tissue levels of trans fat were found to have a negative effect. This is not surprising, trans fats have long been known to be unhealthy for the heart, and therefore will be unhealthy for any other part of the body as it’s really an issue of vascular health.

Unhealthy blood vessels = low supply of oxygen and nutrients to tissues and organs.

This also builds on previous research that demonstrates adequate intakes of vitamin B12 help to prevent brain shrinkage.

Funnily, most health professionals wouldn’t even think of assessing the intake of these nutrients, as it relates to long-term cognitive health, assuming that if someone is generally healthy and not suffering from a clinical deficiency, there’s no concern.

The vitamins & minerals in this study can be obtained by eating whole-foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts & seeds, meats & fish and by judicious supplementation.

Puzzles are also known to help maintain brain function by stimulating the formation of new connections between neurons while strengthening existing ones – that, and a good quality diet, will go a long way to ensure you have a mind like a steel trap!

Time to start sudoko and crosswords!