By Dr. Mercola
Virtually everyone has forgetful moments, but how do you know if your memory lapses are the normal day-to-day variety or a sign of something more serious like dementia? It's a common concern, especially with increasing age.
Among Americans, the notion of losing mental capacity evokes twice as much fear as losing physical ability, and 60 percent of U.S. adults say they are very or somewhat worried about memory loss.1
On a bright note, most memory blips are nothing to panic over. As you get older, your brain's information-processing speed may decline, which means it may take you longer to recall who wrote the book you're reading or the name of your childhood playmate.
The word is on the tip of your tongue, but even if you can't recall it you're able to restructure your thoughts to get your message across. This is quite normal, as are so-called "senior moments," or as neuroscientists call them "maladaptive brain activity changes."
Examples include sending an email to the wrong person or forgetting about an appointment.
These occur because your brain perceives many of your daily tasks as patterns and may revert to its default mode network (DMN), the part of your brain responsible for your inward-focused thinking, such as daydreaming, during this time.
In short, your brain takes a mini time out when you actually need its focused attention, causing a minor, but completely normal, lapse in memory.
Memory Loss: When to Worry
If changes in your memory or thinking skills are severe enough to be noticed by your friends and family you could be facing mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is a slight decline in cognitive abilities that increases your risk of developing more serious dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
If your mental changes are so significant that they're interfering with your ability to function or live independently, it could be dementia. For instance, it's normal to have trouble finding the right word on occasion, but if you forget words frequently and repeat phrases and stories during a conversation, there could be a problem.
Another red flag is getting lost or disoriented in familiar places (as opposed to needing to ask for directions on occasion).
If you're able to later describe a time when you were forgetful, such as misplacing your keys, that's a good sign; a more serious signal is not being able to recall situations when memory loss caused a problem even though your loved ones describe it to you. Other warning signs of MCI or dementia include:
✓ Difficulty performing daily tasks like paying bills or taking care of personal hygiene
✓ Asking the same question over and over
✓ Difficulty making choices
✓ Exhibiting poor judgment or inappropriate social behaviors
✓ Changes in personality or loss of interest in favorite activities
✓ Memory lapses that put people in danger, like leaving the stove on
✓ Inability to recognize faces or familiar objects
✓ Denying a memory problem exists and getting angry when others bring it up
Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer's
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and the number is steadily increasing. Someone in the U.S. develops the disease every 66 seconds, and, by 2050, the prevalence of Alzheimer's is expected to nearly triple, reaching 13.8 million people.2
In 2016, it's already the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and it's one that has no known cure or proven way to slow its progression. In the video above, you can view some of the earliest warning signs of this disease.
The Alzheimer's Association also compiled these differences between symptoms of dementia including Alzheimer's and typical age-related changes:3
|Signs of Alzheimer's/dementia||Typical age-related changes|
Signs of Alzheimer's/dementia: Poor judgment and decision-making
Typical age-related changes: Making a bad decision once in a while
Signs of Alzheimer's/dementia: Inability to manage a budget
Typical age-related changes: Missing a monthly payment
Signs of Alzheimer's/dementia: Losing track of the date or the season
Typical age-related changes: Forgetting which day it is and remembering it later
Signs of Alzheimer's/dementia: Difficulty having a conversation
Typical age-related changes: Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Signs of Alzheimer's/dementia: Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them
Typical age-related changes: Losing things from time to time
New Mobile Game May Help Diagnose Dementia
Alzheimer's research suggests preclinical signs of Alzheimer's disease may be evident as early as 20 years before the disease actually sets in, allowing for much earlier intervention if these changes are identified.4
However, normally by the time your memory begins to noticeably deteriorate, about 40 percent to 50 percent of your brain cells have already been damaged or destroyed. A new mobile game called Sea Hero Quest may help in the search for a reliable method of early diagnosis.
The game tracks players' spatial navigation abilities, which are among the first skill sets lost in dementia cases. Neuroscientists are hoping to use data collected from hundreds of thousands of players to identify a normal range of navigation skills and ultimately develop guidelines to identify dementia early on.5
Blood tests measuring brain proteins (lysosomal proteins) may also help predict Alzheimer's up to 10 years before the disease develops. Another biomarker panel may predict the disease within a two- to three-year timeframe with over 90 percent accuracy; PET scans and retinal tests also offer hope of early detection.
If you want to test your own cognitive function right now, try the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE) test. It's a 15-minute at-home test developed by Dr. Douglas Scharre, of the Division of Cognitive Neurology at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center.
You can download the SAGE test from the university's website. According to Scharre, this simple test correlates very well to more comprehensive cognitive tests and is an excellent way to get an early assessment of your cognitive function.
If taken at regular intervals over time, it can also serve as an early warning, if your scores begin to decline.
If Your Memory Is Slipping, Switch to a Ketogenic Diet NOW
If your memory slips often enough to put even an inkling of concern or doubt in your mind, it's time to take action. The reality is that you can enjoy sharp brain function well into old age and memory loss can be an early warning sign of more serious brain changes to come.
A high-fat, moderate-protein and low-net-carb ketogenic diet is crucial for protecting your brain health and is recommended for virtually everyone, but especially for those who have concerns about their brain health. This type of diet involves restricting all but non-starchy vegetable carbs and replacing them with low to moderate amounts of high-quality protein and high amounts of beneficial fat.
It's a diet that will help optimize your weight and reduce your risk of chronic degenerative disease while protecting your brain. Eating this way will help you convert from carb-burning mode to fat-burning mode, which in turn triggers your body to produce ketones (also known as ketone bodies or ketoacids).
Ketones can feed your brain and prevent brain atrophy. They may even restore and renew neuron and nerve function in your brain after damage has set in. In addition to eating a ketogenic diet, a primary source of ketones is the medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut oil. As noted in the British Journal of Nutrition:6
"Unlike most other dietary fats that are high in long-chain fatty acids, coconut oil comprises medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). MCFA are unique in that they are easily absorbed and metabolised [sic] by the liver, and can be converted to ketones. Ketone bodies are an important alternative energy source in the brain, and may be beneficial to people developing or already with memory impairment, as in Alzheimer's disease (AD)."
MCTs in Coconut Oil Are a Phenomenal Brain Food
Many people have heard that fish is brain food, due to its concentration of omega-3 fats. These are certainly important, but so, too, are MCTs. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are fats that are not processed by your body in the same manner as long-chain triglycerides.
Normally, a fat taken into your body must be mixed with bile released from your gallbladder before it can be broken down in your digestive system. But medium-chain triglycerides go directly to your liver, which naturally converts the oil into ketones, bypassing the bile entirely. Your liver then immediately releases the ketones into your bloodstream where they are transported to your brain to be used as fuel.
In fact, ketones appear to be the preferred source of brain food in people affected by Alzheimer's. According to research by Dr. Mary Newport, just over 2 tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 milliliters [ml] or 7 level teaspoons) would supply you with the equivalent of 20 grams of MCTs, which is indicated as either a preventative measure against degenerative neurological diseases or as a treatment for an already established case.
Intriguing research has also shown promise for coconut oil in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. One study found 40 ml/day of extra virgin coconut oil led to improvements in cognitive status in women with Alzheimer's disease.7 Another review noted:8
" … [E]vidence is mounting to support the concept that coconut may be beneficial in the treatment of obesity, dyslipidaemia … insulin resistance and hypertension — these are the risk factors for CVD and type 2 diabetes, and also for AD. In addition, phenolic compounds and hormones (cytokinins) found in coconut may assist in preventing the aggregation of amyloid-β peptide, potentially inhibiting a key step in the pathogenesis of AD."
Additional Dietary Strategies to Help Prevent Alzheimer's
In order to reverse the Alzheimer's trend, we simply must relearn how to eat for optimal health. Processed convenience foods are quite literally killing us, contributing to not only dementia but also diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The beauty of following my optimized nutrition plan is that it helps prevent and treat virtually ALL chronic degenerative diseases, including dementia. The sooner you begin, the better. In addition to following a ketogenic diet, the following dietary strategies are also important:
• Avoid sugar and refined fructose. Ideally, you'll want to keep your sugar levels to a minimum and your total fructose below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams per day if you have insulin/leptin resistance or any related disorders.
• Avoid gluten and casein (primarily wheat and pasteurized dairy, but not dairy fat, such as butter). Research shows that your blood-brain barrier is negatively affected by gluten. Gluten also makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream where they don't belong.
That then sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity, both of which play a role in the development of Alzheimer's.
• Optimize your gut flora by regularly eating fermented foods or taking a high-potency and high-quality probiotic supplement.
• Increase consumption of all healthy fats, including animal-based omega-3. Sources of healthy fat include avocados, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, organic pastured egg yolks, coconuts and coconut oil, raw nuts, raw dairy, grass-fed meats and pasture-raised poultry. Also make sure you're getting enough animal-based omega-3 fats.
High intake of the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA help by preventing cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, thereby slowing down its progression, and lowering your risk of developing the disorder.
• Reduce your overall calorie consumption and/or intermittently fast. Ketones are mobilized when you replace carbs with coconut oil and other sources of healthy fats. Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool to jumpstart your body into remembering how to burn fat and repair the inulin/leptin resistance that is a primary contributing factor for Alzheimer's.
• Improve your magnesium levels. There is some exciting preliminary research strongly suggesting a decrease in Alzheimer's symptoms with increased levels of magnesium in the brain. Unfortunately, most magnesium supplements do not pass the blood-brain barrier, but a new one, magnesium threonate, appears to and holds some promise for the future for treating this condition and may be superior to other forms.
• Eat a nutritious diet rich in folate. Vegetables, without question, are your best form of folate, and we should all eat plenty of fresh raw veggies every day. Avoid supplements like folic acid, which is the inferior synthetic version of folate.
General Lifestyle Guidelines for Alzheimer's Prevention
Besides diet, there are a number of other lifestyle factors that can contribute to or hinder neurological health. The following strategies are therefore also important for any Alzheimer's prevention plan:
• Exercise. Exercise leads to hippocampus growth and memory improvement,9 and it's been suggested that exercise can trigger a change in the way the amyloid precursor protein is metabolized, thus slowing down the onset and progression of Alzheimer's.10
Exercise also increases levels of the protein PGC-1alpha. Research has shown that people with Alzheimer's have less PGC-1alpha in their brains and cells that contain more of the protein produce less of the toxic amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer's.11
• Optimize your vitamin D levels with safe sun exposure. Strong links between low levels of vitamin D in Alzheimer's patients and poor outcomes on cognitive tests have been revealed. Researchers believe that optimal vitamin D levels may enhance the amount of important chemicals in your brain and protect brain cells by increasing the effectiveness of the glial cells in nursing damaged neurons back to health.
Vitamin D may also exert some of its beneficial effects on Alzheimer's through its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Sufficient vitamin D (50 to 70 ng/ml) is imperative for proper functioning of your immune system to combat inflammation that is also associated with Alzheimer's.
• Avoid and eliminate mercury from your body. Dental amalgam fillings, which are 50 percent mercury by weight, are one of the major sources of heavy metal toxicity. However, you should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my optimized nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed.
• Avoid and eliminate aluminum from your body. Sources of aluminum include antiperspirants, non-stick cookware, vaccine adjuvants, etc. For tips on how to detox aluminum, please see my article, "First Case Study to Show Direct Link between Alzheimer's and Aluminum Toxicity."
• Avoid flu vaccinations as most contain both mercury and aluminum, well-known neurotoxic and immunotoxic agents.
• Avoid anticholinergics and statin drugs. Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain nighttime pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence, and certain narcotic pain relievers.
Statin drugs are particularly problematic because they suppress the synthesis of cholesterol, deplete your brain of coenzyme Q10 and neurotransmitter precursors, and prevent adequate delivery of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble antioxidants to your brain by inhibiting the production of the indispensable carrier biomolecule known as low-density lipoprotein.
• Challenge your mind daily. Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as learning to play an instrument or a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease.