August 31, 2015

334 Glymphatic System [31 August 2015]

Last week I listed adequate deep sleep as one of the ways we can reduce our risk of developing dementia. It deserves a closer look.

The brain comprises 2% of our body by weight but consumes 25% of our energy (no wonder thinking makes us tired!). The brain therefore creates a proportionately larger amount of waste products that need to be removed.

If you look at a chart of the lymphatic system, one of whose functions is the removal of waste products from our cells, you will notice that there are no lymphatic vessels in the brain. How then does the brain clear its waste?

New imaging methods allowed researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center to finally answer that question. They discovered that the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), which surrounds the brain and spinal cord, periodically flushes through the brain. The CSF follows along the blood vessels – in along the arteries and out along the veins – thanks to special brain cells called glial cells. This flushing, called the glymphatic system, removes the waste products from the spaces between the brain cells. Surprisingly the researchers discovered that this flushing activity occurs almost exclusively during sleep when the brain cells shrink by 60% and the interstitial spaces are larger. Furthermore this flushing activity appears to be most effective during deep sleep.

One of the waste products removed by this CSF flushing is a protein called amyloid beta which is normally produced in the brain. A buildup of this protein forming amyloid plaques is one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. It appears that lack of sleep could be an important factor in allowing amyloid beta to build up in the brain.

Besides increasing risk of developing dementia, sleep deprivation has more immediate effects – even one night of insufficient sleep can impair our ability to think clearly, solve problems, make good decisions, exercise self-control, cope with stress, and come up with the right words in conversation.

We know from our own experience that a good night’s sleep refreshes the mind (or at least that lack of sleep muddles it!). Clinical studies have linked poor sleep to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The newly-discovered glymphatic system could explain both, and give us another good reason to ensure we get enough quality sleep every night.

Mercola - Sleep & Alzheimer's
Ted Talks - Jeff Illiff, U of R researcher

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

August 24, 2015

333 Preventing Alzheimer’s [24 August 2015]

We often joke about developing dementia: You can hide your own Easter eggs or Bad news: “you have Alzheimer’s”; good news: “you can go home and forget about it”. There is a poem about aging with these lines:
I've got used to my arthritis, to dentures I'm resigned,
I can manage my bifocals, but oh how I miss my mind.
Seriously, most people would rather lose their vision, hearing or ability to walk than lose their mind. So what can we do to reduce our risk of developing dementia?

• Reduce sugar. High sugar consumption leads to insulin resistance including at the blood-brain barrier. This prevents insulin from reaching the brain and starves your brain cells of glucose. We can compensate with ketones from medium chain triglycerides such as from coconut oil, but prevention is better.
• Avoid diabetes. Diagnosis of diabetes doubles your risk of Alzheimer’s. Even mild elevation of blood sugar (100-110) significantly increases the risk.
• Consume enough good fats (including some saturated fat). A study from the Mayo Clinic found that a high carb diet was associated with an 89% increased risk for dementia while a high fat diet was associated with a 44% reduced risk.
• Keep your weight down. Obesity is an important risk factor.
• Exercise. Aerobic exercise has been found to reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer’s and also to improve brain function in those already diagnosed. Exercise reduces the amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer’s and improves memory.
• Don’t smoke and avoid excessive use of alcohol.
• Control blood pressure. High blood pressure is another risk factor for dementia.
• Get enough quality sleep. The brain’s waste removal system only works during deep sleep when the brain is flushed with cerebral spinal fluid which removes the amyloid plaques in brain tissue.
• Stay mentally and socially active. “Use it or lose it” applies to our brains as well as muscles & bones. Playing games like Scrabble, chess or bridge helps to keep the brain sharp and keeps you connected to people.

While none of these are guaranteed to prevent Alzheimer’s, following as many as you can should significantly increase your chances of keeping all your marbles to the end.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

August 17, 2015

332 Children & Nature [17 August 2015]

We’re getting real summer weather this week, with highs around 30C – perfect for spending time at the lake. Many Canadians enjoy spending part of their summer holidays at the lake, either in the family cabin or camping. We find it relaxing to get away from the “rat race” and “back to nature”, and return to work or school feeling refreshed and invigorated.

What scientific evidence backs our belief that nature improves our mental and emotional health? Here are what some studies have found about the benefits of nature for both children and adults:

• The physical activity of 11-13 year old Canadian children increased with the amount of tree-filled space in their neighborhoods.
• Children in Maryland and Colorado who played in green schoolyards reported less stress and showed increased feeling of competence than those whose schools had no grass or trees.
A study in Illinois found a 20 minute walk in the park boosted the focus and attention of 17 children diagnosed with ADHD.
• Greater amount of greenness at home and especially at school increased cognitive improvements in schoolchildren in Barcelona, Spain.
• Children in nature-based playgrounds engage in more creative play and use their imaginations more to create their own games.
• Camping together improved family relationships for 86% of respondents in a survey of 60 American families.
Childhood experience with wild nature is positively associated with their appreciation of nature as adults.
• Japanese “forest bathing” (basking in a natural treed environment) lowers blood pressure and reduces stress hormones.
• A 2009 study from the Netherlands found that green space in people’s living environment significantly reduced anxiety disorder and depression.
• A 2012 study found walking in nature improved mood and short-term memory in 20 adults with major depression.

With the increasing time children (and adults) spend on their phones and playing video games (one estimate was that children play outside less than half the time their parents did), it would seem to be even more important for parents and teachers to provide opportunities for them to spend time in nature.

Sources for further reading:
Centre for Confidence and Well-Being
The Center for Parenting Education: Nature and children - a natural fit
MindBodyGreen 5 Really Good Reasons Why Kids Ned Time in Nature
MBG 10 Great Reasons to Get Outside More Often
MBG 7 Science Backed Reasons to get Your Kids Outside
MBG Why You Need to Try Japanese Forest Bathing
J. Mercola Green Spaces Make Kids Smarter

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

August 10, 2015

331 Traumatic Brain Injury [10 Aug 2015]

Brain trauma, including concussions, can lead to long term, often permanent, changes in mental and emotional health. Anything that can help the brain to heal more quickly and completely could significantly improve the outcome. I have previously written about two supplements that aid in brain healing and recently learned of two more.

Omega 3 EFAs, particularly DHA, are essential for brain development and healing. Supplementation with high doses of fish oil is likely responsible for two remarkable recoveries I wrote about in December 2012 [#194]. Several high DHA fish oil supplements are available in Canada.

More recently in February 2015 [#305] I wrote about PQQ, a cellular antioxidant that can increase mitochondrial production. This is very important in protecting brain and nerve tissue from oxidative damage by free radicals following a brain or spinal cord injury. PQQ has recently become available as a supplement in Canada.

Creatine, a popular sports supplement, is also used in the treatment of brain injury. Much of the damage to brain tissue occurs after the trauma due to free radical oxidative damage and lack of oxygen. Creatine supports mitochondrial ATP production, increasing energy available for healing and preventing further damage.

I have just learned about another nutrient that is showing promise for concussion and other brain injuries. Brains normally depend on glucose for energy. Unfortunately glucose metabolism is significantly impaired in the brain following an injury, starving it of energy and slowing the healing process. Ketones are the only known alternative to glucose for brain metabolism. I have previously shown how ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and provide an alternative energy source for the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s [#153 February 2012]. Ketones are now proving beneficial following a concussion or more serious brain injuries [; Prins, 2008; White & Vankatesh, 2011].

Ketones can be produced with a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (under medical supervision), administered parentally by IV, or provided through certain ketone-producing foods. Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil are converted in the liver to ketones. Adding MCT oil, or a special blend designed for the purpose, as soon as possible after an injury will provide needed energy for brain repair, and could reduce long term disabilities.

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

August 3, 2015

330 Healthy Cooking Oils [3 August 2015]

I know, grammatically it should be “healthful cooking oils”, that is oils that promote health when consumed, not oils that are feeling pretty good themselves. But “healthful” is such a mouthful that this is one grammatical error that I hope will become accepted in the English language. By the way, if you are interested in the history of the English language take a look at my other blog “The English Cowpath”.

Healthy cooking oil is a very controversial topic – every website has a different opinion – to which I can’t do justice in one article. There are four factors to consider in evaluating the health value of cooking oils: smoke point, oxidative stability, nutrient content, and omega 6 content.

1) Smoke point is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke, producing toxic byproducts and an unpleasant taste (note: if the oil in your pan starts to smoke, discard it, clean the pan, and start over). Oils with high smoke points are needed for pan frying and deep frying, for example: avocado, camelina, and virgin olive. Coconut, extra virgin olive, and macadamia oils have moderately high smoke points and could be used for low temperature sautéing. Oils with a low smoke point like flaxseed should only be consumed raw as a salad oil or in a smoothie.

2) Oxidative stability is actually more important than smoke point for determining the healthfulness of cooking oils. Oils begin to combine with oxygen to form toxic compounds at temperatures well below the smoke point. Camelina, an otherwise very healthy oil with a high smoke point, scores low on this scale, as do all polyunsaturated oils. Highly saturated fats like coconut oil are more stable. One that shows great promise is red palm olein whose promoters claim has both a high smoke point and the highest oxidative stability of any cooking oil. Red palm olein also has a very high content of vitamin E (tocotrienols) and vitamin A (carotenes).

3) Nutrient content is not as big an issue for cooking oils, as you should be consuming the more nutritious oils raw.

4) The Omega 6 content is important if you are consuming a significant amount of fried foods. To achieve the ideal 4:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 oils, you must avoid oils with a very high 6:3 ratio like corn, safflower and grapeseed; use oils with moderately high ratios like avocado sparingly; and use raw oils high in Omega 3s like flax and camelina (or supplement with omega 3 fish oils).

What you need to know about eating oils, Samantha Sutherland, Feb. 2013, MBG
Making Sense of Healthy Cooking Oils & Fats, Irene Macri, Jan. 2014, Eat Drink Paleo - well researched, lists smoking points
What oil should you be cooking with? Joseph Mercola, Oct. 2003

For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.