The Body Ecology Diet (BED) Column
......with Donna Gates
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Tuesday, April 5th, 2011:
Keeping the Mind Young: Protect Your Gut to Resist Dementia
Dementia and health care costs are on the rise.
According to a recent article appearing in both the Huffington Post and USA Today, Alzheimer's disease is rapidly rising in the United States. Citing data from 2011 Alzheimer's Disease: Facts and Figures from the Alzheimer's Association, the author of both articles points out that dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders are disproportionately underfunded.
Alzheimer's Association refers to several studies and demonstrates that 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer's; this number does not include other dementias, which are also rising as the U.S. population over 65 increases. 2011 figures tell us the after the age of 85, 43% of the U.S. population may have this very severe neurodegenerative condition. (1)
What is neurodegeneration?
Simply put, it is the progressive loss of structure or function of neurons. One big question, of course, is what causes neurons to rapidly degenerate? While researchers look for the answer, we can work with what we do know. And what we do know is that there is a direct and profound link between the brain and the gut. This is called the gut-brain axis.
Current studies illustrate the brain-gut axis.
For example, some studies show that acute head-injury, which involves an inflammatory response in the brain and creates oxidative stress, is followed by abnormal enzyme secretion and gastric ulcers. (2)
Conversely, studies have also shown that impaired gut function, whether an identified gluten sensitivity or outright celiac disease, is associated with anti-neuronal antibodies and, in particular, vulnerability of the brain and its integrity. (3)(4) Several researchers and doctors have made the connection between the brain and gut in their analysis and diagnosis; one such study finds that:
"Celiac disease can sometimes present in the guise of a neurological disorder, which may greatly improve when a gluten-free diet is started promptly... and needs to be considered in patients with ataxia, epilepsy, attention/memory impairment, or peripheral neuropathy." (5)
When treating the brain, gastrointestinal disorders, or both, it is essential to consider this gut-brain axis relationship.
- The enteric nervous system, embedded in the lining of the gut, contains around 100 million neurons.
- Due to the highly sensitive nature of microglia cells, which protect and nurture the neuron, one neuronal death is never a singular event; there is always, even if small in degree, a domino effect.
- Glial and microglia cells are similar to macrophages of the immune system. They clean house, having the ability destroy and also sound an alarm call to certain cell messengers, called interleukins.
- A systemic inflammatory signal can activate microglia cells and create oxidative stress, which has a sort of cascade effect in the body.
This is one reason why inflammation is often referred to as fire. Besides the obvious manifestations of heat and swelling, the inflammatory response often engages a sort of self-perpetuating cycle of oxidative stress and cell apoptosis, or destruction.
If you have an aging brain, chances are quite high that you also have an aging gut.
This can sometimes involve a sort of atrophy of the vagus nerve, which is like the direct line between the brain and the gut. Stimulating the vagus nerve actually generates greater blood flow to the gut and can sometimes alleviate gastrointestinal distress and destruction.
Likewise, the opposite is also true: if you have a compromised gut, which involves some level of inflammation, this prolonged activation of the immune system and of the enteric nervous system can go systemic and trigger a whole-body alarm response. Once this happens, especially if over an extended period of time, the integrity of the blood brain barrier, which protects the brain, weakens and becomes permeable.
Neurodegeneration is common, tragic, and costly.
Alzheimer's Association tells us that in 2011, medical costs of dementia patients will come to $183 billion, while care provided to them by family and other unpaid caregivers is valued at $202 billion. The annual cost of care is estimated at around $385 billion. As prevalent as dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions are, they receive little funding for research. Bruce Miller, a professor at UCSF, says that simply doubling what is currently spent on Alzheimer's research would be a significant step in treatment and prevention of most dementias.
Online readers' response to the Huffington Post article included several stories about their own experience with a family member or friend suffering from the various forms of dementia. The experience for many is heartbreaking, scary, and exhausting. According to a 2006 article published in The Gerontologist, 72% of caregivers feel relief when a dementia patient dies.
One savvy reader made the comment: "I'd like to see a study of Alzheimer's around the world. Which cultures/countries have the lowest rates among the elderly. I'm wondering if lifestyle and diet might have something to do with it." (6) While other variables are surely at play in the development of neurodegenerative conditions, one thing is for sure: cells are dying while inflammation and oxidative stress speed this process up.
Therefore, eliminating foods that excite an immune or an inflammatory response is especially mandatory. In addition, adding foods to the diet that support a healthy gut mucosal barrier is a definitive step toward caring for the brain integrity and function.
Body Ecology Vitality Super Greens is an excellence resource in helping to mend the gastrointestinal tract. Beneficial bacteria actually interact with interleukins and pro-inflammatory cytokines, and therefore fermented foods like Potent Proteins, which supply the brain with many crucial vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, and probiotic beverages are other invaluable tools.
To reduce oxidative stress, the Chinese herb Cordyceps actually nourishes the glutathione cycle in the body. Glutathione is the number one antioxidant in your body and can be measured diagnostically in order to determine levels of health. Cordyceps also has been shown to support immune system function and sustain long periods of intense athletic performance. In Chinese medicine, Cordyceps is also well known for its ability to fortify the yang qi, or primal energy of the body.
WHAT TO REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
The rates of dementia and costs of health care are on the rise in the US. Alzheimer's Association statistics estimate that for Americans over the age of 85, 43% could suffer from this neurodegenerative condition in 2011.
The health of your brain is directly related to the health of your gut. If you have a compromised digestive system that triggers inflammation, this could weaken the immune system and cause severe side effects throughout your whole body. This will lead to a weakening of the blood brain barrier so that it becomes permeable and leaves you at risk for dementia.
To reduce this stress on the body, you can boost your gut health with Body Ecology products like Vitality Super Greens and Potent Proteins to provide the healthy bacteria, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that your body needs to protect your brain health!
1. Alzheimer's Association. "2011 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures." Alzheimer's & Dementia. 2011; 7 (2).
2. "Hypothalamic Dysfunction in Acute Head-Injured Patient's with Stress Ulcer." Kaohsiung J Med Sci. 1998. Sept; 14 (9): 554 - 60.
3. Neuromuscular Disorder as a Presenting Feature of Celiac Disease. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1997; 63: 770 - 775.
4. "Brain-White-Matter Lesions in Celiac Disease: A Prospective Study." Pediatrics. 2001; 108.
5. Volta, U. et al. "Clinical Findings of Anti-Neuronal Anti-Bodies in Celiac Disease with Neurological Disorders." Scan J Gastroenterol. 2002; 11:1276- 1281.
6. Beetelheim, Ruth. "Dementia: A Silent Crisis that May Bankrupt America" Huffington Post: Health. Mar. 24 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ruth-bettelheim/dementia-a-silent-crisis-_b_840281.html.
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