During COVID-19 and the holiday season, our beautiful brains are certainly at risk for some non-optimal circumstances. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and anxiety are on the rise—but there are key focus points that you can use to maintain healthy habits and improve your brain. As the saying goes, show me your habits and I will show you your future!
Dr. Dale Bredesen authored the book, The End of Alzheimer’s, in 2017. As a family nurse practitioner, I use his guidelines to address cognitive health at every opportunity. Dr. Bredesen has been reversing Alzheimer’s disease in patients with significant disease for over a decade, with a very intense and inefficient process which can require years before seeing any success. Learning from his successes, we can create our own personal toolkit to carve out our healthy habits and optimize our brain. You can also complete a Montreal Cognitive Assessment test for an objective assessment. I use the acronym BLESS to describe a healthy habit toolkit.
B is for “balance your micronutrients, hormones and toxins.” Micronutrients are the cofactors to our energy and detoxification pathways. When we are unbalanced in this area, we develop chronic disease. Test your micronutrients through your blood and replace them through diet or supplementation only if they are needed. Taking nutrients that your body does not need can have serious consequences.
Important hormones that frequently become unbalanced include thyroid, cortisol (stress), and sex hormones. Dr. Bredesen reports that women need estrogen and progesterone to think clearly, and men need testosterone. When these levels are carefully replenished and kept in balance with your other hormones, the brain is awakened.
Toxins are abundant in our world today. We eliminate them through our liver, kidneys, skin (sweat), and lungs (exhalation). If these systems are weakened, we can develop disease. Food, air, water, man-made products, and radiation, for example, are contributing to our increasing toxic load. Keeping toxins low can be a daily chore. You can use a good B-complex vitamin, as well as an NRF2 supplement to keep your pathways open. NRF2 increases your primary antioxidant production to eliminate these invaders. If you feel you are exposed to increasing toxins or have weakening of your elimination systems, utilize these supplements to keep them strong.
L is for a low inflammatory diet. Do you know what foods may be inflammatory to you? This is typically different for every individual; however, in our culture, there are three subsets of foods that are known to be the most inflammatory to most humans. These are gluten, dairy, and sugar. Testing for food allergies and sensitivities, and exploring elimination or decreasing these foods, are areas that each of us can explore.
E is for exercise. Does this come as a surprise? In the 30 years that I have been studying medicine, exercise has been a strategy for the masses. But can you get too much exercise? The answer is yes. Exercise is important for healthy metabolism, good oxygenation, and the continued development of our musculature. What I like to point out is if we are not able to continue to fuel our exercise, we can see some disappointing patterns. Chronic tissue breakdown can occur from depletion of our mitochondria or the batteries of our brain cells. Mitochondrial support is a strategy for keeping a healthy brain, and we now know how to heel our mitochondria when they are damaged as well as regrow them. CoQ10, resveratrol, alpha lipoic acid, l-carnitine, and quercetin, together in small doses, will heal mitochondria—to mention just a few.
S is for sleep. There is always the potential to not get a solid eight hours of sleep, but generally speaking, this is what we need. Our brain cells and all the cells in our body are able to reset themselves when we allow our brain to stand still. Did you know that only 5% of your thoughts are processed in your conscious mind? The other 95% of your thoughts are processed in your subconscious mind. If you have difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep, this can be your subconscious mind still at work.
Many utilize sleep medications to assist with quality rest; however, these medications are known to have negative side effects for memory and brain health. Circadian rhythm dictates sleep when it is dark and wakefulness with the daylight. Consider trying to work with your natural cycle and allow yourself to be tired if you have a sleepless night. The next night you may crash early, but re-establish your sleep-wake cycle. One other good habit is to ensure your room is dark, for your natural melatonin hormone to work effectively.
S is for stress. Most of us realize that stress can be detrimental for our brain, but the big unknown is how each of us can manage our stress optimally and process it to our advantage. Taking time to process stress is truly a genius step, and perhaps one of the most important healthy brain habits to learn. Mindfulness, meditation, and taking “you” time on a routine basis are practices well worth repeating. Using the “Insight Timer” meditation app or the Chopra Foundation 21-day meditation program are excellent places to start. Daily use of a meditation practice should be simple and grounding.
While we are working through COVID-19 sheltering and charting new paths for holiday celebrations, consider using a healthy habit toolkit, requesting Dr. Bredesen’s book for your holiday gift, or visit me for a Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test and grow your beautiful brain.