What You Can Do To Support Good Brain Function

I’d like to walk you through a functional medicine perspective of neurodegenerative disorders in an effort to empower you to take some preventive steps. Neurodegenerative disorders include dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. A functional medicine practitioner asks, “Why?” Why does an individual experience a shift in physiology that results in a constellation of symptoms that can be clustered into a neurodegenerative disorder?

At the root of neurodegenerative disorders are the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the energy centers of cells. Within the mitochondria, food is metabolized into units of energy commonly known as ATP. This is a complex, multi-step process—an interplay of nutrients and genes. Multiple environmental toxins can also play into the process. With so many factors involved, there is a huge margin for error.  Sub-optimal energy production results in impaired brain function. Do you see where this is going?

Additionally, inflammation crosses the blood-brain barrier. Various toxic challenges activate the glial cells in such a way that the brain becomes inflamed, resulting in loss of mitochondria there. In this way, inflammation can create permanent neuron loss.  The net result is a neurodegenerative disorder.

Dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s affect different parts of the brain, but the forces driving the processes are somewhat universal. Therefore, some universal preventive steps can be taken.  Begin with considering mitochondrial needs: glucose, oxygen, and antioxidants. Nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, herbs, and nuts hinder neurodegenerative processes.

  1. Decrease carbohydrate intake to stabilize insulin levels and avoid “type 3 diabetes, ” which is how Alzheimer’s is now being described.
  2. Manage stress in healthy ways to keep cortisol levels low, contributing to hippocampal neuron survival.
  3. Use exercise to stimulate production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is crucial for the survival of our existing neurons, as well as the creation of new ones. BDNF supports mitochondrial production and the brain’s synapses, as well, helping live neurons connect with dead ones. The intensity of exercise matters —meaning the more intense, the better. Aerobic exercise is helpful, but so are mental workouts. Perform specific exercises, like doing crossword puzzles or learning to play a musical instrument, activities that stimulate various parts of the brain.

Depression and brain-based fatigue are the earliest signs of mitochondrial dysfunction and brain degeneration. An early example of this dangerous condition is fatigue that results from reading or listening to music. This is the time to TAKE ACTION and participate in your health to slow or stop the progression of neurodegeneration.   Good energy means good brain function.

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