Updated: March 2023
In Part 1 of Vascular Dementia and Cardiovascular Disease, we discussed how brain and cognitive health are important. I explained why cognitive health is important to me and why I developed a passion for helping people preserve their brain health.
We also discussed how high levels of the amino acid homocysteine can damage blood vessels and create fertile ground for dementia and cardiovascular disease.
Continue reading “Part 2” to learn how hypothyroidism, high hemoglobin A1C, a vitamin C deficiency, and high blood glucose levels can also be major contributors to cognitive decline.
How could Hypothyroidism contribute to Vascular Dementia?
When someone is “hypothyroid”, they will have a slow metabolism. A slow metabolism can create a host of health conditions and problems.
Most people who suffer from hypothyroidism understand the fatigue, lack of energy, inability to lose weight, digestive difficulties, poor complexion and skin health, fungal infections, etc… But, what about blood vessels health effects of hypothyroidism?
Slow metabolism means slow everything. Everything in the body literally slows down and becomes sluggish and stagnant. This can also pertain to the cardiovascular system and cellular turnover and repair.
Additionally, hypothyroidism is notoriously linked to high cholesterol levels. Once again, it is partly because of the slow metabolism seen with hypothyroidism. The liver makes cholesterol but the cholesterol has to be metabolized.
When the metabolism is slow, the cholesterol levels can rise which can cause increased risk for life threatening cardiovascular events such as blood clot formation, stroke and heart attack.
Cholesterol is important because we need it to be healthy and have healthy brain tissue. But, when it’s too high, it can cause problems so the cause of elevated cholesterol needs to be rooted out so that healthy levels can be achieved.
How could Hashimoto’s Disease be linked to Dementia?
Hashimoto’s disease a form of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s is considered more serious and severe in the fact that it is an autoimmune disease.
Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system turns on part of the body and attacks the tissues in the body. With Hashimoto’s disease, the immune system attacks the proteins in the thyroid gland.
Any autoimmune disease is pro-inflammatory because autoimmune diseases destroy tissues in the body. Inflammation in any form, can lead to dementia, so even when you take all of the damaging aspects of Hashimoto’s disease out, the inflammatory aspect alone can cause an increased risk for dementia.
Is high Homocysteine Dangerous?
That’s why high homocysteine is believed to be an indication of dramatically increased risk for strokes, heart attacks, and blood clot formation.
Regarding dementia, it should be easy to understand how high levels of homocysteine could really push things in the wrong direction.
I hate to say it, but I’ve worked with countless stroke and heart attack patients who had never heard of homocysteine before they came to me.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
It is my belief that the homocysteine blood test marker of inflammation should be checked on every patient whether they are young or old. Why should someone wait to improve their health until significant damage has been done and disease is showing up?
How many times should someone put the milk in the kitchen cabinet instead of the refrigerator before they work to improve brain and blood vessel health?
What is Insulin Resistance and how could it be related to Vascular Dementia?
Insulin resistance (IR) is something that just about every person deals with in some form or another. Sure, many people choose a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise and will have lower amounts of IR.
But, IR can still rear its ugly head even in otherwise healthy individuals. IR is problematic in that it can causes low energy (chronic fatigue), slow metabolism, sugar cravings, high triglycerides, higher risk of stroke and heart attack.
So, for many of the same reasons that high homocysteine levels can cause damage to blood vessels, IR can elevate triglycerides and contribute to arterial damage.
High triglycerides are considered a hallmark sign of insulin resistance. This means that when you see high triglycerides on a blood test, it’s pretty much a slam dunk that the patient has IR.
Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance
Type 2 diabetes is considered a severe form of insulin resistance. That’s why most type 2 diabetics will have high triglycerides. Poor nerve and blood vessel health is also caused by diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is considered a slow, silent, but deadly killer. Why is that? Because diabetes causes “systemic vasculitis” which is inflammation of blood vessels.
When you put systemic with vasculitis, it literally means that every blood vessel from head to toe is inflamed. As I’ve said many times, inflammation causes breakdown of all tissues and in this case, we are talking about arteries that supply oxygen to the brain.
The good news is that Type 2 diabetes is recognized as a lifestyle disease! It is a disease of choices. Type 2 diabetes is considered a reversible condition. I have seen many patients reverse their Type 2 diabetes.
I didn’t do it. They did. I taught them what they needed to do to improve their health and get their body less inflamed (including the insulin receptors) and they did it.
To decrease insulin resistance is to improve brain health. Insulin is “trophic” for the brain which means that it helps the brain work better. Decreasing IR can really make a big difference for those who are experiencing cognitive decline.
How can high Hemoglobin A1C be related to Dementia?
The most famous of the glycosylated proteins is called Hemoglobin A1C. Hemoglobin is the iron component of red blood cells that binds to and carries oxygen.
The term “glycosylated” refers to what happens when sugar binds to a protein. When sugar binds to the hemoglobin protein, the protein changes shape.
Oxygen comes and goes from the hemoglobin in red blood cells. So does carbon dioxide and other products.
When sugar or glucose changes the shape of the hemoglobin molecule, oxygen can’t bind as well. This is one of the reasons why hemoglobin A1C is an inflammatory molecule.
Red blood cells have a 120 day lifespan. Once sugar glycosylates and changes the shape of the hemoglobin protein, the sugar stays bound to the protein for the rest of the red blood cells life.
Oxygen can come and go from healthy hemoglobin. Sugar is different. Once sugar binds, it is there for the long haul until the red blood cell dies 2, 3, or 4 months down the road depending on how old the red blood cell is.
Besides being pro-inflammatory, high levels of hemoglobin A1C are damaging in that they are a sign that the system is inflamed, oxygen deprived, and in a state of distress.
There are nutritional strategies to help the body get healthier and to lower hemoglobin A1C. Unlike blood sugar levels which can change over the course of 30 minutes to an hour, hemoglobin A1C takes longer to change.
Typically, the glycosylated red blood cells have to live out their lifespan and die. The red bone marrow produces new red blood cells that are young and don’t have hemoglobin proteins that are glycosylated.
One other important point about glycosylated proteins is that if hemoglobin A1C is glycosylated, it is a sign that potentially over 200 other proteins in the body are glyosylated as well.
It’s a much bigger problem than just hemoglobin protein that isn’t working properly. Where there is one mouse, there are probably more. You just see one, but you know you have a much bigger problem.
How does Sugar damage Arteries?
Also, high A1C levels are a sign that sugar metabolism and regulation of sugar are dysfunctional. Sugar is atherogenic. Microscopically, sugar is a jagged molecule.
I explain that sugar floats through the blood vessels and scuffs the inside of the arteries causing damage. Plaques are left behind as a result.
Understanding this concept helps illustrate one of the most basic contributors to hardening of the arteries. This is how excess sugar can lead to “arteriosclerosis”, cardiovascular disease, and vascular dementia.
Vitamin C and Vascular Dementia
One of the keys to protect against free radical damage are antioxidants. Antioxidants can be found in various forms. Catechins from green and white tea are great antioxidants.
Green tea contains EGCG catechins which are a really good source of antioxidant protection from free radical damage.
Glutathione made from methylation pathways is considered the king of all antioxidants. Glutathione helps protect red blood cells and other tissues in the body.
High homocysteine levels and other signs of excessive free radicals such as ferritin, hs-crp, HA1C, etc… are all possible signs of glutathione depletion.
Vitamin C is a leading antioxidant that protects the endothelial lining of the blood vessels in the body. I prefer liposomal formulas because of their better absorption, lack of gastric upset, and longer potency.
Cardiovascular disease is considered scurvy of the blood vessels. A good quality vitamin C should be considered when working to support healthy connective tissues in the body.
Hardening of the arteries is loss of pliability and elasticity of the arteries. Vitamin C helps connective tissue retain elasticity.
In healthy arteries, every time the heart beats, blood pumps from the heart into the aorta and then to smaller arteries throughout the body. Healthy arteries should be able to expand with each heartbeat and return to their normal shape.
This is done approximately every second when someone is healthy and at rest. Of course, exercise and bed rest, etc… can change these numbers but an average resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute would result in 86,400 heartbeats in a 24 hour period!
If there are calcium deposits, plaque formation, foam cells, stenosis, vitamin C deficiency, etc… that are affecting the pliability of the arteries, it can directly cause a decrease in oxygenation to tissues such as brain cells.
Abdominal Aorta and Increased Pulse Pressure
A sign of possible aortic calcification and hardening is an abdominal aorta that is seen on an x-ray. The abdominal aorta should not be visualized on an x-ray.
When there is hardening and calcification of the aorta, it can often be seen on an x-ray. If the abdominal aorta is seen and there is dilation greater than 5 cm, it is necessary to have surgery to prevent possible abdominal aorta aneurysm.
Another sign of possible arteriosclerosis is a pulse pressure greater than 40 mm/Hg. A normal blood pressure is 120/80 mm/Hg.
The difference between 120 and 80 is 40 mm/Hg of pressure. When arteries begin to harden, the pulse pressure can go up and become 50, 60, 70 or higher.
A pulse pressure above a 40 is a sign of possible arteriosclerosis and hardening of the abdominal aorta. It tells us that the heart is having to beat harder to push blood through the arteries.
The harder the heart has to beat to get blood where it needs to go, the higher the risk of a life threatening event such as a stroke, heart attack, or dislodging a blood clot.
It’s amazing to me how simple things can be. The body is extremely complex and a wondrous miracle of life. Something as simple as vitamin C can give incredible benefits.
Vascular dementia is real. But, it is also real preventable by making choices and taking actions that promote better health, decrease inflammation, and decrease free radical damage.
Health is Happiness,
Dr. Keith Currie