When we’re young, we don’t think about living with impaired memory and loss of cognition. But as we get older we worry about even minor memory lapses. Are they just signs of normal aging or some form of dementia? Do we have the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease? Will we eventually need to depend on caregivers? Are we going to lose our minds? It’s frightening.
Alzheimer’s is on the rise. In fact, doctors diagnose one in eight people over the age of 65 with this progressive degenerative brain disease. And even more people are living with it without a diagnosis. The Alzheimer’s Association expects 10 million Baby Boomers to develop Alzheimer’s.
The disease has stymied the drug companies. As hard as they look, they can’t find a way to stop its progression – much less reverse it. Once again, they’re looking in the wrong places.
While drugs don’t work, several new studies indicate that several natural therapies can prevent Alzheimer’s – and even reverse some of its symptoms. What’s more, they’re easy and affordable.
These solutions may sound too simple to work, but scientific studies back them up. Since they’re easy to do and inexpensive as well, they’re worth trying.
Meditation and Memory
The old adage, “use it or lose it” applies to your brain. In addition to exercising it by doing puzzles, playing chess, or learning a new language, regular meditation strengthens the brain and improves cognition. It can even reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. From past studies, it looks like any form of meditation may do. But brain scans show that one form, Kirtan Kriya, activates one of the first areas in the brain that degenerates with Alzheimer’s.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania recently conducted a study which the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation funded. They combined a short, specific singing exercise called Kirtan Kriya. They took brain scans before and after the eight-week program. One “before” scan showed a lack of complete blood flow, which is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The “after” scan of the same brain showed an increase in blood flow. Simply speaking, this technique reversed memory loss and enhanced brain function in people with early Alzheimer’s. Many experts consider meditation one of the most effective forms of mind/body medicine.
Meditation has nothing to do with religious beliefs or practices. You can pray or continue with your religious practice and still meditate. Many kinds of meditation simply consist of focusing your awareness and specific breathing exercises. Kirtan Kriya is a chant of four particular sounds. You chant them repeatedly and in a specific order. It includes visualization and holding your fingers in a specific manner.
Using this meditation technique for just 12 minutes a day for two months reversed memory loss in a group of people with mild cognitive impairment. If you know anyone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, make sure you tell them about this technique.
Kirtan Kriya is easy to do. But if you’re like me, you may want some help to make sure you’re doing it properly. You can buy an audio CD from the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation for just $12. It will lead you through this exercise and give you confidence that you’re doing it correctly. Call the ARPF at 520-749-8374 or email them at info@AlzheimersPrevention.org.
Nuts to You
By now you’ve heard that nuts contain beneficial fats and are high in antioxidants. Walnuts are preferred by many since they’re highest in healthful omega-3 fats. But it looks like the nuts that have been my favorite ever since I was a child may protect your nervous system better than any others.
Pecans were treats for special occasions when I was young. However, you may want to eat them every day. They are high in the antioxidants that help fight Alzheimer’s and other neurological problems, including Parkinson’s. In fact, pecans are one of the top 15 foods highest in antioxidants!
This past summer Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research published a study on pecans and neurological problems. In this study, researchers put neurologically impaired mice on diets with differing amounts of pecans – or no nuts at all. They tested the mice for motor neuron functions before and after eating these diets. All of the mice that ate pecans had less of a decline in motor function than those that ate no nuts. The mice that ate the most pecans had the best results.
Researchers suggest that adding a handful of pecans each day could delay the progression of Alzheimer’s and other age-related motor neuron degeneration. They contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals and, of course, they’re replete with omega-3s.
The Non-Hormone Option
We know that estrogen protects the brain. And bioidentical hormones can help protect your brain. But if you don’t want to take hormones, there’s another option. This solution comes in the form of an herb. This herb is one of my favorite supplements for women in their 50s and beyond.
This herb, called maca, grows in South America, particularly Peru, and women there have used it successfully for centuries to support a wide range of female-specific issues. Younger women use it to correct hormonal imbalances, regulate their menstrual cycles, and enhance fertility. Older women use it to relieve menopause and post-menopause symptoms, including low energy, low libido, and depression.
Unlike plants such as soy and black cohosh that are frequently recommended to women, maca does not contain any hormones. Instead, it contains plant sterols, which encourage women’s bodies to produce their own hormones. This helps ensure we don’t get levels of hormones that are inappropriate for our age, gender, or health. The sterols simply help push our bodies to do what they ought to do naturally, which is why maca can help treat such a variety of issues.
We don’t just have to take the Peruvians’ word for it either. Clinical case studies have supported maca’s efficacy in treating premenstrual syndrome, menopause symptoms, and even symptoms of hypothyroidism. Some doctors like to use it in place of bioidentical hormones or in combination with them, particularly for patients who are trying to get weaned off of hormone replacement therapy. Many doctors who offer patients a choice of maca or bioidentical hormones report that both groups see equal benefits.
If you’ve never taken bioidentical hormones and would like to give maca a try, it’s fine to do so on your own, as long as you use maca from a reputable, organic source. I like a brand called Femmenessence, produced by Natural Health International. You can find this company’s products on Amazon.com, and it offers a variety of formulations depending on your needs. If you’re taking maca to support brain health, I like Femmenessence Macapause, which is designed for women 50 and up.
One caveat of maca is that you should not begin taking it without your doctor’s supervision if you are already using hormone replacement therapy, as you don’t want to distort your prescriptions. You should also discuss maca with your doctor if you have osteoporosis so that he or she can help you establish a baseline of your bone health and avoid getting a “false positive” test result when they test hormones in your urine.
“The Spice of Life”
That’s what it was called in ancient India where they used it to treat a myriad of illnesses. Now it looks like it’s not only a recognized potent anti-inflammatory, it can prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia as well. The spice is turmeric. And its active ingredient, curcumin, prevents the spread of amyloid plaques.
Amyloid plaques, found outside brain cells, help degrade the wiring in the brain. This leads to Alzheimer’s disease. According to Professor Murali Dorasiswamy of Duke University Medical Center, “There is very solid evidence that curcumin binds to plaques.”
Dorasiswamy discovered this when he took a group of mice riddled with plaques in their brains. He fed them a diet rich in curcumin. These plaques dissolved! When he fed younger mice this same diet, it prevented them from forming new plaques.
How much curcumin do you need to add to your diet to prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s? No one knows for certain. Past studies indicate that people who ate a meal with curry two or three times a week have less dementia than those who ate less or no curry. Researchers are now testing higher doses off curcumin to determine an optimal protective amount.
You may want to eat curry two or more times a week. If you don’t like its taste, or if that much curry doesn’t work into your daily diet, you can find curcumin or turmeric supplements in any health food store. It’s a major ingredient in the anti-inflammatory supplement I take, Reduloxin.
Put all four of these simple treatments to use at the same time and you’ll really improve your memory. And, just as importantly, you won’t have any negative interactions or expensive prescriptions to fill.