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Prevent cognitive decline even if it runs in your family and in your genes

Your DNA doesn’t determine your potential and you don’t have to become a prisoner of your mind

Some would describe it as abandonment, some would say “it isn’t fair”, nonetheless, the feelings rushing through you, when someone you love and care about looks back at you with indifference, are seldom easy to describe. It’s not because they don’t care about you, but rather they don’t remember who you are. It might feel as if you’re losing someone before actually losing them to a disease.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16 million people in the United States are living with cognitive impairment. A person with cognitive impairment often has trouble remembering or learning new things, concentrating or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Moreover, it’s projected to impact 50% of the population above ages 85.

A common cognitive condition Alzheimer’s Disease affects more than five million Americans aged 65 years and older, and this number may rise to 13.2 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. 

The numbers are staggering, and there’s no cure to any known dementias. There are only treatments and long-term care which costs billions. The Alzheimer’s Association estimated that just this year, “Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $305 billion, including $206 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments.”

New research, however, has shown there is a possibility of lowering the chance of developing dementia even if it’s coded in one’s DNA. A recent report published by scientists at the University of Alberta found that genes have less than 5% to do with the risk that you’ll develop a condition you’re predetermined to.

“Simply put, DNA is not your destiny,” David Wishart, a professor at the University of Alberta’s Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of Computing Science and co-author on the study, said in an interview earlier this year. “The vast majority of diseases, including many cancers, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, have a genetic contribution of 5 to 10 percent at best.”

In other words, if your parents have suffered from cognitive decline, it is not a given that you will too. Epigenetics, your environment and lifestyle choices play a big role in human gene expression. Whether what you do, eat, drink and even think will or will not upregulate that gene mutation is entirely up to you. But how can you be sure you’re doing the right thing?

Although it’s not an official medical term yet, a growing number of scientists in the medical community are calling dementia, “Type 3 Diabetes.” Researchers have found those with diabetes have a fourfold risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.

 It turns out, poor metabolic health and insulin dysregulation may indirectly lead to memory loss. People with diabetes deal exactly with those two issues among many others. They also tend to have vascular conditions, which may limit the blood supply to the brain, causing a shortage of nutrients and oxygen the brain heavily depends on. 

When the brain is stripped from adequate oxygen and fails to recognize the insulin signal due to insulin resistance, insulin utilization malfunctions which is linked to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease.

To break this down, when your insulin regulation is out of whack, receptors in your body don’t recognize the level of insulin already there, and your pancreas will pump out more to deal with metabolizing sugar or carbohydrates. This excess of insulin in the blood can end up in the brain where it doesn’t belong.

The human body is built to prioritize dealing with what’s important and downregulate excess stress. Too much insulin is highly stressful for the brain, so it uses an enzyme, let’s call them defensive soldiers, to clear it out. However, those soldiers had a different role which they now must step away from — to clean up excess beta-amyloid proteins. Busy with insulin, they can’t be in two places at once, and can’t protect the brain from a built-up of those proteins. Which will then turn into the infamous “brain plaques” that cause memory loss and may lead to dementia.

Regulating insulin begins with your daily lifestyle choices. A Mediterranean diet that’s rich in antioxidants, healthy fats and good sources of protein has been found to be beneficial for not only heart health but brain health, too. Keep in mind, the brain is made up of 60% fat. Hence, consuming high-quality fats, such as avocados, olive oil and fatty fish feed the brain with nutrients it needs to work optimally.

Other important lifestyle choices and habits worth picking up are regular exercise, stress management, mindfulness practice and adequate sleep. Deep sleep is especially essential because it’s when brain detoxification occurs.

The same way bad decisions, no matter how small, will end up resulting in disease, step-by-step good decisions will lead to the opposite: a happier, healthier and longer life.

My top 10 tips to lowering your chance of developing cognitive impairment

  1. Balanced diet
  2. Good quality sleep
  3. Regular exercise
  4. Stress management
  5. Practice fasting or intermittent fasting occasionally 
  6. Mindfulness practice
  7. Quit smoking
  8. Avoid excess alcohol consumption
  9. Avoid processed sugar
  10. Avoid junk and processed foods