Updated: June 2023
Cognitive decline and dementia are on the rise in America and worldwide. Why is that? The reasons are multifactorial.
There isn’t just one component that leads to devastating cognitive decline and neurological impairment associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Of course, we live in a world that is more toxic than ever. Chemicals, pesticides, xenobiotics, pollutants, etc… are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food that we eat.
Heavy metal poisoning and toxicity is rampant and the consequences of heavy metals can cause poor health in many ways. Heavy metals such as iron, aluminum, lead (and others) can deposit in joints, organs, and other tissues in the body.
When excessive metals accumulate in the body, it can promote breakdown and degradation of the tissues in which they are deposited.
I recommend that my patients have a hair analysis test done at least every couple of years.
To not test is to guess. How can you take action and work towards prevention if you don’t know what you are trying to prevent?
Once metal toxicity is identified, strategies can be implemented to reduce toxic exposure.
There are different types of dementia. Some can suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) that goes no further. For them, it may be acceptable to forget where they put their keys, etc…
Others can progress and develop the deadly disease known as Alzheimer’s. For me, any amount of cognitive decline is unacceptable.
Why is Prevention of Dementia Important?
I like my brain. I’ve worked really hard packing a lot of information into this brain of mine and I want to protect it. If you are reading this article, you probably like your brain too!
I think of my brain as my toolbox. I keep putting more and more tools in my toolbox so that I have the right tools to help meet the individual needs of the patients who rely on me.
Some people may think that traveling to seminars would be fun. I admit that in certain ways, it is. But, it costs a lot of money and I’m usually leaving at the end of the week and either driving 8-16 hours or flying.
Once I get there where I’m going, it’s a hotel room. Some are nicer than others but after a while, they all look the same. I sit in a seminar for 12-24 hours and type notes into my computer in a hard chair.
By the end of the seminar, my eyes are bugged out from looking at a computer screen and my shoulders are tight from all of the typing. Then, either the long drive home or flight and I get home late Sunday night. Work starts again on Monday morning.
Heck, I got up this morning and started writing this article. It’s 4:17 p.m. and I’m not finished but this is information that needs to be written and presented because it could be potentially life saving information.
It takes a lot of work and time but I don’t regret a minute of it. Why? Because I have a passion for helping people and seeing them smile and laugh.
I enjoy spending time with my family. I want to remember my youth as I age and shutter at the thought of not knowing the names of my children or knowing my grandchildren someday.
Brain Health and Dementia Prevention is Personal
I take brain health and cognition very seriously. Almost 30 years ago, I had a motorcycle accident in which I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
It is widely understood and accepted that any head injury can increase someone’s risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life.
Inflammation in the brain can lead to beta amyloid plaque formation and Tau proteins which are associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
I am tremendously blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many wonderful patients in my practice. I counsel patients on what they need to do to get healthy and thrive (not just survive). I’m thankful for the people who have chosen me as their functional medicine doctor.
I don’t want to give any false impressions. I’m also doing this for myself. I don’t plan on ever retiring. There are so many people who need help and mainstream healthcare can’t keep up.
People need the help that I can provide them and I get great enjoyment out of seeing my patients reclaim lost quality of life. Why would I want to stop.
So, I have to preserve my brain and cognitive function if I want to be able to pass on my knowledge to others in years to come.
Does Inflammation cause Dementia?
Probably the largest focus with my patients is helping identify causes and reduction of inflammation. Inflammation is associated with every known disease and degenerative process in the human body, including the brain.
I wanted to write this article about a form of dementia called “vascular dementia”. Vascular dementia can have multiple etiologies but basically refers to dementia caused by poor blood vessel health.
Blood vessels have a very delicate inner lining called the endothelium. The endothelium is only one cell layer thick. It is very fragile, delicate, and is highly susceptible to free radical damage.
Damage or disruption of the endothelium can cause breakdown of blood vessels over time. Blood vessels that are filled with plaque, atherosclerotic, stenosis, etc… can’t carry blood to the tissues that those blood vessels supply.
Blood carries oxygen to all cells and tissues throughout the body. Poor oxygen supply to those tissues will cause ischemia and breakdown of those tissues.
No cells in the body are more dependent on oxygen than neurons (brain cells). Without oxygen, neurons can die very quickly.
We can go without food for weeks. We can only go without water for a couple of days before death will occur. This is largely because water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.
Oxygen Deprivation = Cell Death
There are many potential causes of vascular dementia. I’m not trying to write a book here, so I’m going to focus on 4 possible causes: high homocysteine levels, insulin resistance (seen with type 2 diabetes), glycosylated proteins, and vitamin C deficiency.
How could Homocysteine cause Vascular Dementia?
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is part of the methylation pathways in the body. Homocysteine converts into methionine and also cysteine which are important chemical processes.
When homocysteine goes high (seen on a blood test) it can be a sign that homocysteine isn’t being metabolized properly. Homocysteine metabolism is dependent on B6, B12, and Folate.
Quest labs reports homocysteine as a functional deficit of folate and vitamin B12. The word “functional” is the key ingredient. It means that there is a problem with the utilization of B12 and folate and that is why the answer isn’t necessarily to supplement with B12 and folate.
It’s important to identify the cause of faulty homocysteine metabolism. Is it inflammation? Is it a vitamin deficiency? Can poor methylation be due to genetic polymorphisms?
Homocysteine and Blood Vessel Damage
The real reason why homocysteine can be such a big player in cognitive decline is that homocysteine is a super free radical. It damages the delicate endothelium I described above.
When the endothelium is damaged, repair must occur. The problem arises because the resulting damage is often repaired with cholesterol.
Sure, HDL cholesterol is considered the “good” cholesterol and LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol. But, a repair is a repair which is never as strong as the original.
The same holds true for any structure. That’s why the value of a car goes down tremendously after repairs have been done. A repaired bent frame isn’t as structurally sound as a frame that was never bent in the first place.
Arteries can have a literal patchwork appearance as they develop multiple sites of plaque formation and endothelial repair. LDL cholesterol makes weaker plaques than HDL cholesterol but a plaque is still a repair which is weak.
To learn more about how high homocysteine, Insulin Resistance, Type 2 Diabetes, high hemoglobin A1C, high blood glucose levels, vitamin C deficiency, and high pulse pressure can be related to vascular dementia click the link to read Vascular Dementia and Cardiovascular Disease Part 2.
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie