Health and Disease, Uncategorized

Brain Games for Seniors

Brain Games for Seniors

 

Games for People with Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

Many doctors encourage seniors to use brain fitness games as a means to help deal with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases, says SeniorLiving.org.

 

While research remains inconclusive, there appears to be a correlation between brain games and brain health.

The website says brain games that may help seniors include:

  • Memory games, such as Match and Simon.
  • Word games, such as word searches and Scrabble.
  • Electronic games, such as Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Family Feud.
  • Board games, such as Chess and Checkers.
  • Interactive Wii and X-Box games.
  • Trivia games, such as Trivial Pursuit.

 

If you need help determining which supplements you should take to prevent dementia, please contact us.

Remember, We are in this together!

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Foods, Health and Disease, Uncategorized

Brain Aging: The Brain-Food Connection

Brain Aging: The Brain-Food Connection

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For decades, the medical community has recommended dietary management as part of the therapeutic plan for many conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. To date, no such recommendations exist for brain aging and dementia. In fact, many scientists and nonscientists alike are still reluctant to believe that our food choices might have something to do with the way our brains age or our risk of developing a brain disease.

In part, this is due to the fact that historically nutrition has been glossed over in medical schools, as well as in most post-grad mental health programs. It is only in recent years that nutrition was granted scientific-field status, and diet has been acknowledged as a legitimate means of protecting ourselves against brain aging and brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Little by little, scientists have come to appreciate the powerful connection between the foods we eat and our brain health. This very revelation has fostered a fast-growing body of evidence showing that we might very well be eating our way to dementia.

Brain Aging

What many of us have only begun to grasp is that the actual health and quality of the foods we eat has dramatically diminished. Animals are routinely fed growth hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified (GMO) feed, which we in turn ingest when we make a meal of them. Chicken and pigs are fed poisons like arsenic as a preservative. Conventionally raised produce is showered in pesticides and chemical fertilizers. In addition to being toxic and depleting our soil of nutrients, these treatments drive our produce to grow larger and plumper in appearance while disguising the fact that they possess an unprecedentedly diminished vitamin and mineral content. Additionally, chemically modified fats and refined sugar are routinely added to most foods. This is done not only to preserve the foods’ shelf life but to deliberately increase our cravings for them, which in turn drives sales and profits.

What has gone unnoticed until now is the discovery of how, of all the organs in our body, the brain is the one most easily damaged by a poor diet. From its very architecture to its ability to perform, everything in the brain calls out for the proper food. Many of us are unaware that the only way for the brain to receive nourishment is through our diet. Day after day, the foods we eat are broken down into nutrients, taken up into the bloodstream, and carried to the brain to replenish its depleted storage, to activate cellular reactions, and, most importantly, to be incorporated into brain tissue. Proteins from meat and fish are broken down into amino acids which, among other things, serve as the backbone of our brain cells. Vegetables, fruit, and whole grains provide important carbohydrates such as glucose, as well as the vitamins and minerals that energize the brain. Healthy fats from fish and nuts are broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that make our neurons flexible and responsive, all the while supporting our immune system and shielding the brain from damage and brain aging. Our brains are literally what we eat.

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Lifestyle, Uncategorized

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain? (It’s Not Pretty)

Health and Wellness Associates

EHS Telehealth

 

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain? (It’s Not Pretty)

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Ever wonder, “What does alcohol do to your body?” Particularly, how does alcohol affect the brain? The truth is the damage goes far beyond a headache and brain fog you experience the morning after drinking too much. The effects of alcohol on the brain are profound, and heavy drinking can set you up for some of the most dreaded brain diseases. The long-term effects of alcohol can completely rewire your brain, too, increasing the risk of depression and other conditions.

 

The Link Between Alcohol & Dementia

How alcohol affects the brain is likely more complex than most people think. True, it’s well known that the chronic use of excessive alcohol can have detrimental effects on the body. Still, a surprising 2018 French study from shows a strong link between early onset dementia, in which an individual begins shows symptoms of dementia before the age of 65, and alcohol addiction.

 

The study states that heavy alcohol use, as well as other alcohol use disorders, are important risk factors for dementia which can shorten lives by up to 20 years, with dementia as the leading cause of death.

 

So how exactly are dementia, which up until now was mainly synonymous with Alzheimer’s disease, and alcohol-related?  To understand the link between the two, it is first helpful to understand the effects that alcohol has on the brain as a whole. (1, 2)

 

Alcoholism

 

Heavy drinking is considered three drinks a day for women and four to five drinks per day for men. (3) There are several factors that determine how alcohol affects the brain: (4)

 

How much and how often drinking occurs

Age when drinking first began

Prenatal alcohol exposure

Age, gender, genetic background/family history

Level of education

General health status

Symptoms of alcoholism are:

 

Physical

 

Poor coordination

Slurred speech

Slowed reaction times

Psychological

 

Impaired thinking

Memory loss

Behavioral

 

Engaging in risky behaviors

Addictive behavior

Depression

Withdrawal or abstinence of drinking results in sweating, nausea, shakiness, anxiety, and delirium tremens; which may include visual or auditory hallucinations. Immediate effects of alcohol are similar following a few drinks.

 

When you consume alcohol your liver breaks it down into nontoxic byproducts but with excessive consumption, your liver is unable to keep up with the demands required and the alcohol remains in the bloodstream. The effects of alcohol on the brain depends upon an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). (5)

 

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain?

An increase in BAC interacts with the brain through the blood-brain barrier.  Once in the central nervous system, alcohol causes alterations in behavior by acting upon specific regions in the brain susceptible to chemical modifications.

 

Regions of the Brain Affected by Alcohol

Mesolimbic pathway

 

Alcohol stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, or the reward pathway, within the brain and releases dopamine causing a feeling of pleasure.

 

This pathway is the major pathway involved with addiction in which constant stimulation of the pathway requires more of a substance to create the same level of pleasure. Studies have shown that a pathway that is repeatedly activated, in this case by drinking, becomes covered by a mesh-like glue that makes it difficult to form new synapses or break old ones. This explains why addiction is so tough to overcome, the pattern is ingrained and held together that way in the brain. (6, 7)

Frontal Lobe & Prefrontal Cortex

 

This region is involved in decision making, motivation, planning, goal setting, judgment problem solving, social conduct and impulse inhibition.  Neuropathological studies have shown a large reduction in the number of neurons in the prefrontal cortex of alcoholics and overall reduced brain mass relative to controls (non-alcohol drinkers). (8, 9) Damage to the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex results in emotional and personality changes.

 

Hippocampus

 

The hippocampus lies within the mesolimbic system and is involved in motivation, spatial navigation, emotion and crucial for the formation of memories. (10) There is evidence that the hippocampus may also play a role with fear and anxiety. (11) The hippocampus is also one of the few sites for neurogenesis in the adult brain.

 

Neurogenesis is the process of new brain cells being formed from stem cells (undifferentiated cells that can give rise to all different types of cells). Studies suggest that increasing doses of alcohol create a disruption in the growth of new cells, which leads to a deficit in specific areas such as the hippocampus which will lead to decreased learning and memory. (12) Hippocampal neurogenesis is resilient and has been shown to recover following 30 days of abstinence.  Though there appears to be increased vulnerability to relapse. (13)

 

Hypothalamus

 

Also a part of the limbic system, the hypothalamus has connections to many systems and is involved in learning and memory, regulatory functions, eating/drinking, temperature control, hormone regulation and emotion.  Long-term damage to the hypothalamus due to alcohol leads to memory deficits and amnesia can follow. (14)

 

Cerebellum

 

The cerebellum accounts for approximately 10 percent of the total weight of the brain but contains about half of the neurons. (15)  Small but mighty, the cerebellum coordinates voluntary movement, balance, eye movement and integrated into the circuitry for cognition and emotion.  Alcohol abuse leads to atrophy within the white matter of the cerebellum. (16)

 

Amygdala

 

Within the temporal lobe, the amygdala has connections to the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus and the thalamus and mediates emotions (love, fear, rage, anxiety) and helps identify danger.

 

How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain: Alcohol & Neurotransmitters

Alcohol affects the brain chemistry by altering the levels of neurotransmitters within the above-mentioned regions.

 

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers within the brain that transmit signals within the central nervous system and extend out throughout the body.  The alterations of neurotransmitters within the specific regions cause changes in an individual’s behavior and motor functions.

 

Neurotransmitters are either excitatory and increase electrical activity in the brain or they are inhibitory or decrease electrical activity in the brain.

 

GABA and NMDA Receptors

 

Alcohol slows the brain down by binding to the inhibitory GABA  and NMDA receptors.  This slow down results in slurring of words, decreased memory and tiredness.  (17)

 

Dopamine

 

An excitatory neurotransmitter that is increased within the mesolimbic pathway, mediating the reward circuitry.

 

Norepinephrine

 

The release of norepinephrine in conjunction with the temporary increases adrenaline, cortisol and dopamine creates a stress-free, party feeling. (18)  Chronic alcohol abuse results in a decrease in these neurons that release norepinephrine, which leads to impaired attention, information processing and a negative effect on learning and memory. (19)

 

Glutamate

 

Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter but is blocked from binding to its NMDA receptor by alcohol.  The inability to bind to its receptor leads to overall depressant effects throughout the brain. (20)

 

Serotonin

 

Another excitatory neurotransmitter involved in the pleasure/reward effects of the mesolimbic pathway. Studies have shown a 50 percent reduction in serotonergic cells with chronic alcohol abuse, leading to alterations in mood, thinking, appetite, and sleep. (21)

 

Following the initial increase of the excitatory neurotransmitters, the stimulation wears off and there is a build-up of the inhibitory neurotransmitters; GABA and NMDA. This results in the depressed, subdued and tired “afterglow” of a night of binge drinking.

 

Alcohol-Related Syndromes

 

Following chronic excessive alcohol consumption studies have shown an overall decrease in neuronal density, regional blood flow volumes and glucose metabolism.  (22, 23, 24)

 

The decrease in glucose metabolism as a result of alcohol consumption is due to a decrease in thiamine.  Thiamine (also known as vitamin B1) is critical for all tissues in the body, especially the brain.  The brain needs thiamine because of its critical role in glucose metabolism and neurotransmitters synthesis. (25)

 

A decrease in thiamine can occur in two ways due to alcohol consumption.  One is a poor diet and the other is due to a decrease in thiamine absorption and activation. The body does have reserves of thiamine, but they become depleted during heavy drinking. If heavy drinking becomes chronic those reserves don’t have to ability to recoup and an individual starts to have a thiamine deficiency. Of the people with a thiamine deficiency due to alcohol consumption, 80 percent will go on to develop:

 

Wernicke Encephalopathy

 

A person with Wernicke Encephalopathy will suffer from mental confusion, oculomotor disturbances (disturbances with muscles that move the eyes), and difficulty with muscle coordination. (26)

 

Korsakoffs Psychosis

 

Effects 80 to 90 percent of individuals with Wernicke encephalopathy.  Individuals showing symptoms of Korsakoffs Psychosis have difficulty walking and severe problems with amnesia, particularly anterograde amnesia or forming new memories. (27)

 

Alcohol-Related Dementia

 

Research shows the risk of developing dementia is three times greater in heavy drinkers than other people.  Dementia due to alcohol encompasses both Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoffs psychosis. (28)

 

Other syndromes due to alcohol consumption are:

 

Hepatic Encephalopathy: Liver dysfunction occurs following chronic excessive alcohol abuse leading to changes in sleep patterns and mood, in addition to shaking hands and shortened attention span. (29)  The liver damage caused by alcohol results in an increase of ammonia in the blood which has a neurotoxic effect on the brain. (30)

Cerebellar Syndrome with Anterior Superior Vermal Atrophy: Patient presents symptoms of a broad-based gait, difficulty with eye movements and dysarthria (slowed or slurred speech). (31)

Final Thoughts on How Does Alcohol Affect the Brain

Excessive use of alcohol causes a variety of chemical and molecular alterations within the brain that forms the basis of several behavioral and physical manifestations.

The neurotoxic effects of alcohol lead to thiamine deficiency and global cell death within, particularly vulnerable areas within the brain.

This cell death results in a decrease in overall brain volume, specifically within the frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex, cerebellum and hippocampus.

Due to neurogenesis, abstinence of alcohol over an extended period of time may see a restoration of cells within these areas.

Lastly, although the research illustrating a link between early onset dementia and alcohol is in its early stages, it is a strong warning of the ever-growing list of detrimental effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

If you need help with any of your personal healthcare needs, or you are suffering with a medical condition that you do not think is reversable, please give us a call.

 

Health and Wellness Associates

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Dr. Mark Williams D-Psych

Director of Personal Healthcare

Restorative and Preventative Medicine

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Foods, Uncategorized

Foods For Your Brain

brain

Top Six Foods for Your Brain

That said, let’s return to the topic at hand. These are my top picks when it comes to foods that nourish your brain, heart, gut, muscles, immune system and more. Can you boost your brainpower with the foods you eat? You bet. Topping the list of brain-boosting superfoods are foods high in healthy fats. This should come as no surprise considering your brain is mainly made up of fats.

 

  1. Avocados are a great source of healthy oleic acid (monounsaturated fat, which is also found in olive oil), which helps decrease inflammation.1 Avocados have also been shown to effectively combat nearly every aspect of metabolic syndrome, a risk factor of dementia and most other chronic disease. Aside from providing healthy fats, avocados also provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including potassium, which helps balance your vitally important potassium to sodium ratio.

 

  1. Organic coconut oil. Besides being excellent for your thyroid and your metabolism, its medium-chain fatty acids (MCTs) are a source of ketone bodies, which act as an alternate source of brain fuel that can help prevent the brain atrophy associated with dementia. MCTs also impart a number of health benefits, including raising your body’s metabolism and fighting off pathogens.

 

  1. Grass fed butter and ghee. About 20 percent of butterfat consists of short- and medium-chain fatty acids, which are used right away for quick energy and therefore don’t contribute to fat levels in your blood. Therefore, a significant portion of the butter you consume is used immediately for energy, similar to a carbohydrate. Ghee, which has a higher smoke point than butter, is a healthy fat particularly well-suited for cooking. It also has a longer shelf life.

 

  1. Organic pastured eggs. Many of the healthiest foods are rich in cholesterol and saturated fats, and eggs are no exception. Cholesterol is needed for the regulation of protein pathways involved in cell signaling and other cellular processes. It’s particularly important for your brain, which contains about 25 percent of the cholesterol in your body.

 

It is vital for synapse formation, i.e., the connections between your neurons, which allow you to think, learn new things and form memories. For a simple snack, see this healthy deviled egg recipe.

 

  1. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon. While most fish suffer drawbacks related to contamination, wild-caught Alaskan salmon and other small, fatty fish, such as sardines and anchovies, are still noteworthy for their health benefits in light of their low risk of contamination.

 

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon and other oily fish are high in omega-3 fats necessary for optimal brain (and heart) health. Research2 also suggests eating oily fish once or twice a week may increase your life span. Avoid farmed salmon, however, as they’ve been identified as one of the most toxic foods in the world. For tips on how to cook salmon steaks, see this salmon cooking guide.

 

  1. Organic raw nuts such as macadamia and pecans. Macadamia nuts have the highest fat and lowest protein and carb content of any nut, and about 60 percent of the fat is the monounsaturated fat oleic acid. This is about the level found in olives, which are well-known for their health benefits.

 

A single serving of macadamia nuts also provides 58 percent of what you need in manganese and 23 percent of the recommended daily value of thiamin. Pecans are a close second to macadamia nuts on the fat and protein scale, and they also contain anti-inflammatory magnesium, heart healthy oleic acid, phenolic antioxidants and immune-boosting manganese.

If you need help with what foods to eat and not eat with other medications you are taking, please give us a call.

 

Health and Wellness Associates

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