When it comes to brain health, one thing is nearly certain; we can all state we know an adult with the top 4 signs of neurodegeneration:
1. Anxiety2. Depression3. Insomnia4. Brain Fog
Decreased brain health=nuerodegeneration=poorer quality of life and increased stress on ourselves and those that love us.
Make no mistake, your brain health is one area of your health you don't want to leave to chance or to emergency care. My own mother had dementia as did my maternal grandmother which worsened during the last decade of their life. Waiting until this late stage will leave you with little to no options.
Fortunately for me, my insatiable desire to discover the underlying factors to ill health in my family tree led to the discovery of several helpful preventative measures that you can use too.
1. Make Sure Your Thyroid Function Is Optimal:
A significant body of science links poor thyroid function and cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s risk1 (doubling the risk for women).
Data shows that individuals with a baseline higher TSH2 at age 65 had lower scores on mental performance, even though they did not have cognitive impairment at that time. Interestingly, high normal levels of T4 signified even worse cognitive scores and a stronger likelihood of cognitive decline as time goes by.3
It turns out that thyroid issues despite normal TSH levels, known as subclinical hypothyroidism, can lead to brain decline and brain decline also is a cause of intestinal permeability defects, also known as "Leaky Gut". Remember that Leaky Gut Syndrome, also known as LGS or increased intestinal permeability is a major overlooked cause of autoimmune attack and chronic illness.
The nature of subclinical hypothyroidism makes it difficult to diagnose using standard thyroid tests. In fact, extensive blood work is generally required. This is how some people can go for years, enduring body pain that never leaves them--all because their thyroid is actually impaired but doesn't appear to be according to standard thyroid tests. To learn more about having thyroid symptoms despite "normal lab tests" go to this page.
2. Manage Your Stress To Maintain Healthy Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the outer of two layers of our adrenal glands, the adrenal cortex. It is made in response to stress and so is often called “the stress hormone”. Stress can be physical, chemical or emotional. Our body responds the same way to all stressors, good and bad with increased cortisol.
Cortisol influences, regulates or modulates many of the changes that occur in the body in response to stress including, but not limited to:
- Blood sugar (glucose) levels
- Fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism to maintain blood glucose (gluconeogenesis is the term describing your body's ability to make glucose out of protein and fat as needed)
- Anti-inflammatory actions
- Blood pressure
- Immune responses
- Heart contraction and blood vessel tone
- Central nervous system (CNS) activation
Cortisol levels normally fluctuate throughout the day and night in a circadian rhythm that peaks at about 8 AM and reaches it lowest around 4 AM. While it is vital to health for the adrenals to secrete more cortisol in response to stress, it is also very important that bodily functions and cortisol levels return to normal following a stressful event. For many of the patients that I work with, the stress response is activated so often that the body does not always have a chance to return to normal. This can lead to health problems resulting from too much circulating cortisol and/or from too little cortisol if the adrenal glands become chronically fatigued (adrenal fatigue).
Higher and more prolonged levels of circulating cortisol (like those associated with chronic stress) have been shown to have negative health effects, such as:
- Impaired cognitive performance (cortisol directly impacts the electrical activity of neurons including those responsible for memory)
- Dampened thyroid function
- Increased intestinal permeability ("Leaky Gut Syndrome or LGS")4
- Blood sugar imbalances, such as hyperglycemia
- Lowered immune function
- Decreased bone density
- Sleep disruption
- Decreased muscle mass
- Elevated blood pressure
- Slow wound healing
- Increased abdominal fat, which has a stronger correlation to certain health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body.
Chronically lower levels of circulating cortisol (as in adrenal fatigue) have been associated with negative effects, such as:
- Brain fog, cloudy-headedness and mild depression
- Low thyroid function
- Sleep disruption
- Low blood pressure
- Lowered immune function
- Blood sugar imbalances, such as hypoglycemia
- Fatigue – especially morning and mid-afternoon fatigue
In regards to managing stress, some of the most important habits I have found to be helpful are:
- Writing out your goals, affirmations and accomplishments every day
- Exercising several times per week, doing some form of exercise your enjoy (for me it is cycling and walking).
- Be sure to get adequate sleep.
- Find out any food you are intolerant of (gluten, soy, dairy, etc.) and avoid it 100% of the time...no cheating - you only increase chemicals known to increase stress and tissue damage in your body.
- Eat animal protein before you go to sleep so that your blood sugar has a better chance at staying balanced during the night
- Surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting friends and family.
- Do something you like to do for yourself regularly-don't lose your identity for anyone.
- Take appropriate personalized nutritional adrenal support as recommended by your natural health care practitioner who is well educated in nutritional support.
Fortunately a simple but accurate test can measure your adrenal stress called the The Adrenal Stress Index™, which I often use in my assessment of patients to determine if adrenal issues are a connected to their health challenge. Along with adrenal health remember that the two most serious consequences of LGS (Leaky Gut Syndrome) are compromised liver function and autoimmune conditions. These two consequences often lead to a long search for help from traditional doctors as LGS is seldom considered as a causative factor in most illnesses. Instead the various symptoms are treated with drugs or as conditions worsen, surgery.
3. Re-Wire Your Brain With Neurofeedback
Neurofeedback (also called Neuro Therapy) is a non-invasive process where brain waves are monitored in real time by a computer, which can then use that information to produce changes in brainwave activity. The process of adjusting brainwave activity is known as operant conditioning, which is a method where rewards for positive behavior increase learning capabilities.
It has been well documented that people who suffer neurological problems have abnormal brain waves in certain areas of the brain. For instance, case studies using QEEG “brain maps” have shown that people with Attention-Deficit-Disorder (ADD) have elevated delta brainwaves, while those who suffer from depression have elevated alpha brainwaves. Those with anxiety will have elevated Beta brainwaves, while those suffering from memory loss usually have decreased theta brainwaves.
Training the brain using neurofeedback can change these brainwaves over time, adjusting them into normal, healthy ranges. It can improve alertness, attention, emotional regulation, behavior, cognitive function, and mental flexibility. When the brain moves back into normal ranges, users will often see a reduction in symptoms.
The best part of neurofeedback is that results are often permanent, allowing a person to reduce or even eliminate medications altogether (under their prescribing doctors guidance). Where medications only manage the symptoms, the goal of neurofeedback is to address the underlying cause and restore normal brainwave functions.
How Does Neurofeedback Work?
Neurofeedback utilizes a non-invasive technique for monitoring brain activity. Small electrodes are attached to specific areas of the head using paste. Our Neurointegration software records the brain waves and displays the data in real time. During this time the patient is watching a movie or listening to music. The software compares the incoming brainwaves to that of an optimal brainwave in the target range. If the brainwaves deviate from normal ranges, it triggers the audio or video to fade. The brain automatically detects this and refocuses itself back into the proper range. This process is repeated hundreds of times per session. Sessions usually last 30 minutes.
The Brain Is A Learning Machine
Through operant conditioning, the brain is rewarded when the audio or video returns to normal. Eventually the brain learns to stay in the healthy ranges without the reward stimulus, and is able to sustain normal activity independent of the computer. This is achieved by reconnecting functional pathways in the brain.
Neurofeedback does not target any particular disorder. Its purpose is to change timing and activation patterns in the brain. This improves brain regulation, which can impact a variety of symptoms. Different symptoms will require triggering different areas of the brain. The software is designed to target specific areas of the brain according to a patient’s symptoms.
Studies that have looked only at only the healthiest elderly people find minimal cognitive decline even into the ninth decade. These data suggest that significant cognitive decline is not an inevitable consequence of advanced age.
So if you want to age well, minimize neurodegeneration and protect against common (but not normal) conditions associated with aging, you need to take matters into your own hands.
It's important for you to know that 90 percent of our brain’s output goes into a neurologic structure called the pontomedullary system. The brain is constantly receiving input from receptors, and it is constantly sending outputs as well. The main output conduit is the brain stem. The connection between all of our organs and our brain comes from the parasympathetic cranial nerve nuclei of the vagus nerve in the medulla portion of the brainstem-just above the top part of your spinal cord.
The vagus nerve enervates the digestive tract and controls everything from the secretion of stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes to intestinal motility and gall bladder contraction.
Since a large portion of the brain’s output goes into the vagus area, and your brain is not firing well, you’re going to have digestive problems, one of which can be Leaky Gut Syndrome.
There are many other keys to brain health and healing leaky gut syndrome, but in my opinion, these three are very important and something we can all work on to improve. If you would like help with any of them or all of them contact me for a case review, so I can determine your best course of action.
For more details about the natural approach I take with my patients, take a look a the book I wrote entitled: Reclaim Your Life; Your Guide To Revealing Your Body's Life-Changing Secrets For Renewed Health. It is available in my office or at Amazon and many other book outlets.
If you found value in this article, please use the social sharing icons at the top of this post and please share with those you know who are still suffering with low thyroid symptoms or other chronic health challenges, despite receiving medical managment. Help me reach more people so they may regain their zest for living! Thank you!
ALL THE BEST – DR. KARL R.O.S. JOHNSON, DC – DIGGING DEEPER TO FIND SOLUTIONS
1. Thyroid function and Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. Tan ZS, Vasan RS.
2. Thyroid Problems and Cognitive Decline Psychoneuroendocrinology. Hogervorst E, Huppert F, Matthews FE, Brayne C.
3. Thyroid Function in the Very Long-Lived J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Atzmon G, Barzilai N, Hollowell JG, Surks MI, Gabriely