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If you have trouble remembering things, you’ve got lots of company. Poor memory plagues increasing numbers of people and, frighteningly, it’s expected that up to 16 million Americans may suffer Alzheimer’s disease by the middle of this century. But even if you don’t suffer the severe brain dysfunction of full-blown Alzheimer’s, memory problems are still frustrating. Today’s information society throws out so much data that coping with this endless stream, mixed in with life’s everyday issues, can be truly overwhelming even for the best-functioning brain.
Now, when I speak of memory loss, I’m not talking about just forgetting names. That is something I have endured most of my life. Many times I have been about to introduce someone to an established acquaintance and immediately forgotten both their names. How embarrassing!
But significant, ongoing memory loss is a serious situation. This includes totally forgetting things you did yesterday or even events that happened this morning. It is well-established that short-term memory loss can be a sign of imminent dementia. Conventional medicine is helpless to forestall dementia, a progressive decline in mental function. However, it now looks like early dementia may be an accumulation of inflammation in the body and brain tissue that can be reversed!
The time to take preventive action to protect your memory is now, before you age another day! Otherwise, you risk being in the 50 percent of all Americans who, as they get older, will endure significant memory deterioration.
The general root of our cognitive crisis is inflammation, the immune system’s response to what it believes to be an injury or attack by an infectious agent. During chronic inflammation, however, there is no real threat to the body other than the inflammation itself. In that case, the immune system’s activation results in damage to what would be otherwise healthy tissue. When this happens in the brain, neural networks break down along with memory.
Autopsies of people with dementia reveal clear evidence of a type of brain inflammation called neurofibrillary degeneration. Interestingly, lab experiments show that aluminum can induce degeneration of nerve cells called neurons. In some people who have had Alzheimer’s disease, researchers find aluminum in their brains in the concentrations nearly as high as what causes damage in experimental animals. That’s a key reason that experts recommend avoiding food prepared in aluminum cookware.
Toxins are another threat to the brain. Today’s polluted world is filled with inflammatory pollutants that we encounter every day. If you have taken prescription medications or been exposed to pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, household cleaners, industrial compounds and heavy metals (mercury, etc.), chances are your immune system is now more irritable with a tendency toward hypersensitivity. So avoid these chemicals when you can.
Your diet may also be chock full of immune system irritants. Processed foods filled with refined sugar, trans fats, artificial sweeteners and chemical additives can inflame the digestive tract. Supersized portions of animal protein as well as additives like MSG and aspartame add to the problem. Since at least half of your immune system centers on the digestive tract, you need to maintain optimal digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients to keep immunity functioning properly.
You can also think of your intestinal reaction to a poor diet as being like a skin rash. On your skin, the rash results from irritation and exposure to foreign substances. If it is already inflamed and you put on a new cream containing even more chemicals its condition usually worsens. But if you let the rash heal by itself or use a cream that cools the inflammation process, then the rash will clear. Similarly, periodic fasting and meals that focus on fresh foods promote digestive healing.
Controlling weight and having less body fat also tamps down inflammation: Fatty tissue plays a fundamental role in the interactions between toxins and immune system malfunction. While the body stores toxins in fat, fat deposits, in turn, boost the body’s inflammatory load. For instance, the body fat called visceral adipose tissue (VAT), stored around your belly, produces what are called cytokines, immune system proteins that directly trigger overcharged immune activity. While memory decline may be your most obvious sign of this heightened inflammation, increased cytokines also inhibit insulin sensitivity and can lead to diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and autoimmune thyroiditis.
In And Out Of Stress
Recently researchers have taken a special interest in how chronic stress can lead to chronic inflammation and decreased brain function. In their investigations, these scientists have found that when you are stressed, the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands release a cascade of natural chemicals that exacerbate memory problems. Few of us can completely avoid stressful events since they include job problems, marital difficulties, financial strains and legal entanglements.
I should know, because when it comes to job and life-related stress, I’ve had more than my share.
For instance, as I noted last week, after I embarked on my career in conventional medicine, I decided to leave my medical partners of seven years to create the Total Health Institute in Utah. But my new enterprise ran into serious, stressful problems.
I brought other alternative healthcare practitioners to join me in my new practice. At first I felt real freedom after feeling trapped in conventional medicine. I learned so very much about natural healing modalities beyond drugs and surgery.
But after a year of operation the whole project devolved into a heavy financial burden for my wife and me. I couldn’t make enough money to meet my overhead. Since medical insurers did not cover my services, the only patients I had were those who could pay me out of their own pockets.
Finally, I had to go out of business after three years. With more than $2 million of business debt, my wife and I went through chapter 7 (personal) bankruptcy. In hindsight, I know I had expected far too much involvement from her. I put a real strain on our marriage. The experience also taught me about my weaknesses at being a business leader.
With my practice shuttered, I was left humbled, jobless, and wondering where my career could go. Going back to regular medicine was no longer an option. But I found a position working with a German Naturopathic Doctor in a nearby city. The pay was meager, but the experience was tremendously educational. While working there I could better envision a future program that would teach and inspire individuals to reverse disease without the need of a doctor. I could now see how my practice could focus on whole foods education, emotional health training and other do-it-yourself modalities folks could do at home to keep or regain their health. When I came to this revelation five years ago, I sensed that something great was waiting for me in the near future. That insight helped cut my stress!
Invest In Your Memory Bank
Remember, approximately 90 percent of your physical body becomes new again every six months as your cells die and replacements are formed. The good news is that the brain has extraordinary powers of healing if we just provide the right conditions. However, the answer is not in taking prescription drugs.
Obviously, one of the best tools for keeping an optimal memory is eating fresh, whole foods. (Take a look at last week’s nutrient chart to see which foods are best.) Aerobic exercise — like a fast-paced, half hour walk — has also been shown to help preserve brain function. In addition, vitamin D helps cut harmful inflammation.
Next week I’ll discuss non-drug treatments for memory loss and early dementia. Meanwhile, stay off the junk food and make this week the very best ever!
Michael Cutler, M.D
Author, Easy Health Digest