A Proactive Approach to Reducing Dementia Risk: Maintaining a Healthy Brain Today, Tomorrow, and Years to Come

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By Natural Medicine Journal

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This interview is part of NMJ's 2018 Cognition and Mental Health Special Issue. Download the full issue here.

In this interview, naturopathic physician Carrie Decker, ND, describes some of the actions she takes with patients to help reduce the risk of developing dementia and cognitive decline. Her integrative approach includes nutritional and lifestyle assessment, assessment for common risk factors or other potential exposures, and nutritional supplementation to meet her patients' individual needs.

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Approximate listening time: 30 minutes 

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This podcast interview qualifies for 0.5 general continuing education (CE) units. The Oregon Board of Naturopathic Medicine has approved this educational content for 0.5 “general” CE units for naturopathic physicians. Naturopathic physicians licensed in any U.S. state except California may obtain general CE by listening to this podcast and completing a 10-question test on the material contained within the clinical topic. Click the button below to take the test for FREE, thanks to an educational grant from Allergy Research Group. Upon successful completion, you will receive an email confirming you passed. This CE approval may also qualify for the CE requirements of other practitioner types.

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About the Expert

Carrie Decker, ND, is a Naturopathic Doctor, graduating with honors from the National College of Natural Medicine (now the National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. Decker sees patients at her office in Portland as well as remotely, with a focus on gastrointestinal disease, mood imbalances, eating disorders, autoimmune disease, and chronic fatigue. Prior to becoming a naturopathic physician, Decker was an engineer, and obtained graduate degrees in biomedical and mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign respectively. Decker continues to enjoy academic research and writing and uses these skills to support integrative medicine education as a writer and contributor to various resources. Decker supports Allergy Research Group as a member of their education and product development team.

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Founded in 1979 by molecular geneticist Stephen Levine, PhD, Allergy Research Group® is one of the very first truly hypoallergenic nutritional supplement companies. For nearly 40 years Allergy Research Group® has been a leading innovator and educator in the natural products industry. Our dedication to the latest research about cutting-edge nutritional supplements continues to this day.

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Transcript

Karolyn Gazella: Hello, I'm Karolyn Gazella, the publisher of the Natural Medicine Journal. Today we're talking about maintaining healthy brain function with naturopathic physician, Dr. Carrie Decker. Before we begin, I'd like to thank the sponsor of this podcast who is Allergy Research Group. Dr. Decker, thank you so much for joining me.

Carrie Decker: Thanks Karolyn, I'm glad I'm able to be with you today.

Gazella: So we're going to start by having you remind us of the medical definition of dementia, and then tell us how common these conditions are.

Decker: Yeah, so dementia basically is the mental decline and associative changes in memory, mood and even personality which can occur from an acute incident, such as a vascular event or head injury, or be the progressive changes we see with conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease, or even alcoholism. There are other less common causes of dementia as well.

Not surprisingly, many of these conditions can overlap, particularly vascular and Alzheimer's dementia. The main difference with vasculars and Alzheimer's dementia, is that with a vascular event there will be a more sudden decline and then a fairly stable period compared to the typical slow decline of Alzheimer's disease. With a vascular event you might see a sudden change in personality, mood, language or even motor symptoms. Personality, mood and motor changes also may occur with Alzheimer's disease, but are generally in the later stages and occur gradually.

Vascular or stroke related dementia accounts for 10 to 20% of dementia in the US and Europe. And the most common type of stroke is ischemic stroke which represents roughly 80% of all strokes in the US. There actually is a region in the US known as the stroke belt in the Southeast, which I was unaware of. Multiple studies have found a higher incidents of stroke in this region. Even in well characterized populations such as healthy male physicians and patients born there. There are many subcategories of ischemic stroke and, of course, all are associated with conditions such as a clot or vessel disease which leads to obstruction and reduced blood flow. And with this oxygen, the nutrients to a focal region of the brain.

With a hemorrhagic stroke, which is often associated with hypertension and trauma, blood leaks into the brain and locally increases pressure in the surrounding region. Changes with a hemorrhagic stroke may occur somewhat gradually over minutes or hours, where the intracerebral hemorrhage are very suddenly with a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Clinically, the course of events helps to diagnose which type of stroke someone had, but brain and vascular imaging is required for diagnoses. Incidents of cognitive impairment in dementia after stroke ranges from six to 32% which becomes clouded with factors contributing to other types of dementia the longer the patient is followed.

Alzheimer's dementia is most common type of dementia. In the age specific incidents ranges from less than 1% in an individual 65 to 70 years of age, to as high as 8% in individuals 85 years in age and older. Early onset Alzheimer and dementia can occur in individuals as young as 30, however this is far less common and usually genetically related or many misdiagnoses and other conditions which can cause cognitive changes.

Gazella: Perfect. So what I'd like to do, is I'd like to focus on Alzheimer's a little bit, because it is the most common form of dementia as you mentioned. So what are some of the hallmark changes that take place in the brain, that can indicate Alzheimer's has set in?

Decker: So all this again is pretty gradual, but the key things that occur in the brain with Alzheimer's dementia, which many people ... the physicians out there, at least will remember from cramming for pathology tests, are extra cellular deposits to amyloid beta peptides near fibrillary degeneration and associated tangles and neuritic plaques.

These are not specifically seen with imaging, but analysis techniques and tracers are constantly being developed that can help us see these changes more specifically. Additional biomarkers that assess for changes in markers related to tau and amyloid beta in the cerebral spinal fluid are also being developed to help determine the risk of cognitive decline and assess for Alzheimer's disease, but are not yet recommended for routine diagnostic purposes.

Brain imaging with an MRI is indicated in the evaluation of dementia and is capable of identifying alternative diagnoses such as the cerebral vascular types of events. Contrast may be used, excuse me, to help visualize the regions of vascular compromise or even an altered blood-brain barrier.

Structural changes seen in an MRI with Alzheimer's dementia include general and focal atrophy, as well as white matter lesions; however, these findings are non-specific.

The most characteristic finding with Alzheimer's disease is reduced hippocampal volume, or medial lobe atrophy, which must be evaluated relative to one's age, as a decrease in volume is normal with aging, as well.

At times, there might be a dramatic reduction in hippocampal volume of over 40%. Positron Emission Tomography, which is commonly called a PET scan, with amyloid tracers can help us determine if there's an amyloid burden on the brain and this helps rule out the likelihood of Alzheimer's dementia if they're not found. But, it's not diagnostic if they are found, because you still have to rule out other types of pathology.

Gazella: Okay, perfect. Now what are some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease?

Decker: As most people ... even an untrained non-professional would know, the cognitive impairment is one of the most common signs that we see. Especially, initially, with Alzheimer's dementia. But it may be accompanied by executive disfunction and visual spatial impairments.

Executive disfunction may manifest as difficulties in things like problem solving, multi-tasking, and abstract reasoning. Visual spatial impairment can manifest as changes with difficulties with reading, discriminating form and color, perceiving contrast, and detecting motion.

For the most part, these deficits and changes manifest insidiously.

The memory changes with Alzheimer's dementia involve significant deficits and declarative episodic memory, that is the memory of events occurring at particular time and place, which relies heavily on the hippocampal function.

Memories for recent events are also impaired early in Alzheimer's disease, whereas the ability to recall something that's mentally rehearsed, like an address, is kind of spared early on.

Longer term memories, which have been consolidated and in essence kind of rehearsed over years, are also spared because they don't rely on the hippocampal function. The deficits in immediate recall of rehearsed items, as well as semantic memory, the knowledge and facts we accumulate through our lives, gradually develop with time.

Procedural memory, like knowing how to tie your shoes, can become affected in the later stages. Generally, the earlier changes are described overall, as recent memory impairment. Kind of avoid confusion and language that's often over a patient or caregiver's level of understanding.

Also, with this we might see neuropsychiatric changes, particularly in the mid to late stages of the disease. This can include apathy or depression, irritability or related disengagement.

More severe behavioral disturbances, such as aggression, wandering, and psychosis or hallucinations, also can be seen but really should be evaluated for further other possible causes, such as infection or medication-related toxicity, which is also more common in the elderly.

It is not uncommon for patients to underestimate their deficits and offer alibis or explanations for them when they're pointed out, which kind of contributes to some of the mood-related symptoms, such as irritability for people.

Loss of insight also occurs with time. And, interestingly, those with more insight into their condition are more depressed. While those with less insight are more likely to become agitated, experience psychotic features or perform actions like leaving the house, wandering in their pajamas. Which, if someone had the insight, they were less likely to do.

Seizures may also occur in 10 to 20% of individuals in the later stations of Alzheimer's disease. The seizure type isn't so much a motor one, it's more of a focal non-motor seizure which manifests with impaired awareness, confusing amnesia spells, unexplained emotions, and experience of a metallic taste.

Sleep disturbances are also common with Alzheimer's disease and may occur early in the disease process. This includes the fragmented sleep. It also may manifest as longer sleep. Sleep time generally decreases by 30 minutes per decade, starting at mid-life. So some sleep changes are also normal with aging. Poor sleep also happens to be a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia, which is important to note.

Gazella: Yeah, it's a devastating diagnosis, there's no question about it. And today we're talking about reducing risk. How do we even know that's possible?

Decker: Whenever I think about risk for any type of disease, I think about, "Well, what are the risk factors?" And if we can associate it with a risk factor, if we deal with those risk factors then we're reducing your risk.

So, from the Alzheimer's disease, specifically risk factors are hypertension, dyslipidemia, and altered glucose metabolism. Each, of course, is treatable. Individuals who are physically active have a reduced incidence risk of Alzheimer's disease and cognitive decline. Exercise, of course, also reduces the risk of these other things; the hypertension, dyslipidemia, and hyperglycemia. So we really can't say enough about that.

Long-term use of certain medications, such as benzodiazepines, anticholinergics, antihistamines, opioids, and proton pump inhibitors, may be associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. So working with patients to discontinue these, if not needed, may really benefit brain health.

Exposure to environmental pollutants, including air pollution, second-hand smoke, or pesticides may put someone at increased risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Chronic infections, such as Lyme disease, also may put someone at risk for developing dementia. That can be mistaken for Alzheimer's disease, but the inflammatory aspect of any type of chronic condition also may play into something that may later manifest as Alzheimer's.

Cigarette smoking contributes to cardiovascular disease and hypertension, both of which are risk factors for Alzheimer's disease.

The high-sugar diet, of course, contributes to the development of diabetes and hyperinsulinemia, which increases the risk of Alzheimer's.

Excessive alcohol use contributes to dementia in its own right and affects memory acutely. Chronic use of alcohol in excess also contributes to hyperglycemia and the nutritional deficiencies, which may also be contributing factors to longer-term memory problems, as well as Alzheimer's.

So, with so many things that are risk factors that are associated with Alzheimer's disease, correcting them inevitably reduced the risk. And then when we start to eliminate many of these factors that are known risk factors for Alzheimer's disease, or at least associated with it, the reduction in risk, of course, compounds as well.

Genetically, there are definitely some things that we're unable to change, per se, but we can still influence the phenotype by addressing environment, nutritional, and other factors which impact it.

Gazella: Well, that's great. And I would like to talk about nutrition and specific diet. You mentioned high-sugar diet as being a possible risk factor. When it comes to reducing risk, what do you like to emphasize and why?

Decker: For me, really that's one of the biggest places to start. Reducing the high intake of high glycemic foods, like the breads, pastas, desserts and sugary snacks, often is one of the first changes that most people need to make.

So often, people are grabbing these things for a quick energy fix because they're easy. And they also come with a blood sugar spike and then a blood sugar crash. Good brain food really includes foods that provide the essential vitamins and minerals, proteins, and healthy fats. Eating a diet that has lots of color, and not the artificial variety, helps people to take in the necessary vitamins and minerals, as well as many other phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables.

Nuts like walnuts, which provide healthy fats, protein, Vitamin E, as well as other nutrients and salmon, which provides a lot of Omega-3 fatty acids, are particularly good things to routinely include in the diet.

A higher total intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. DHA helps reduce the amyloid beta peptide accumulation, as well as oxidative damage, which also is a contributor to Alzheimer's.

One more part of that, when you dial really into the diet more, on an individual basis there might be other things that come up, things like the food sensitivities, the allergies, different types of things that cause inflammation. And for some sensitive people, even things that are high in histamine might be something to reduce. Histamine is an inflammatory mediator, which released from basophils and mast cells in the body, like when we have an allergic response, but it's also found in certain [inaudible 00:11:40] like fermented meats and wine. People can become more sensitive to foods like this when the lining of the gut is damaged, or if they have certain genetics related to the breakdown of histamine. Histamine increases the blood-brain barrier permeability, which can contribute to neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.

Gluten absolutely should be out of the diet for people with celiac disease, as it's been determined in this population, specifically, to contribute to cognitive impairment, as well as nutritional deficiencies. But, not only them, the people who are not affected by celiac disease also can have an inflammatory response and with this foggy thinking, however we don't have research that I'm aware of that specifically connects it with Alzheimer's yet.

Gazella: Okay, so it sounds like a really solid anti-inflammatory diet. In addition to diet, you mentioned exercise. You mentioned sleep. But what other lifestyle factors are critical to look at when it comes to reducing risk of dementia in the patient population?

Decker: Yeah, like I said, exercise is one of those things that just is important for so many aspects of metabolic health, but also has other ways that it improves cognitive function. It's something that supports the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the body. We shorten that up, calling it BDNF. And that improves neurogenesis and cognitive pathways in the brain. Exercise also has been shown to increase hippocampal and total brain volume, which we already talked about as being something that happens with Alzheimer's disease.

Cognitive stimulating also benefits cognition, and that's been shown in studies. Just something people talk about. So whether this includes reading a book, playing a game of cards, or learning a new musical instrument or other skill, it's important to include.

Eliminating smoking and excessive alcohol intake also should be a part of a dementia protocol. But, also general health promoting advice.

Healthy sleep is important for cognitive function and preventing dementia. So working with lifestyle to make adaptations, such as new blue light or other stimulating things at least an hour before bed might come into play with people if the sleep is poor.

Gazella: So Let's talk a little bit more specifically about nutritional factors and how they might contribute to cognitive decline in Alzheimer's disease.

Decker: Nutritionally, deficiencies or lower levels of certain vitamins, minerals, or other essential nutrients have been shown to be associated with Alzheimer's disease. This includes the B vitamins; B-12 and folate, Zinc, Vitamin D, as well as tocophorols, and tocotrienols. Lower levels of CoQ10, which our body produces, have also been shown in some studies to be associated with an increased risk of dementia.

I believe it's critically important to start with the necessary nutrients, such as these, because their impact in the body extends far beyond just the brain.

Zinc has a critical function in the brain and lack of zinc can cause neuronal death. Low zinc levels are associated with a poor ability to smell and depression. So if these symptoms are also mentioned, screening should be considered.

Homocysteine levels have been observed to be significantly higher in patients with Alzheimer's disease and also can be deficiencies in the B vitamins; folate, B-12, or riboflavin. Homocysteine elevation also is commonly seen in cardiovascular disease and depression. So if these are also an issue for a patient, and even if not really, this should also be considered.

Vitamin D access in your [inaudible 00:14:45] hormone and also impacts genetic expression. Vitamin D levels should be at least 30 nanograms per milliliters and I would recommend even higher, really around 50 nanograms per milliliters. Low levels of vitamin D are also often seen with cardiovascular disease and should be a part of screening for that.

Tocophorols, tocotrienols, and CoQ10, they're all fat-soluble, neuroprotective antioxidants and they're also cardio-protective. They support not only a healthy brain, but they reduce the risk of cholesterol oxidation and they support health vessel function, which can help reduce the risk of the vascular dementia, which we talked about earlier as well

Gazella: What about other botanicals or natural substances? Are there any others that have evidence supporting cognitive function and helping reducing risk?

Decker: Yeah. There's so many that I kind of got into thinking about some of them and there's way too many to discuss. But, I'm looking at ... I wanted to talk about some of them with the biggest evidence that I've seen.

So because inflammation plays a role with Alzheimer's disease, we talked about that with diet. Some different therapies, which can help reduce inflammation like oxidative shots, can be helpful. But some other mechanism-like things like essential fatty acids also may improve dementia.

When we talk about managing inflammation with natural substances, curcumin, the active compound found in tumeric is often at the top of the list. And it comes into play here, too. Curcumin has been shown to improve working memory, attention, and reduce cognitive decline in healthy elderly patients. Curcumin has clinical evidence it helps reduce depression, as well. Which, again, is common with Alzheimer's disease.

Mechanistically, it has been shown to reduce oxidative stress and accumulation of the beta amyloid plaques, at the same time reducing our increasing levels of protective antioxidants, such as superoxide dismutase.

Of course, making sure the curcumin is bioavailable is very important. The best data I've seen comparing a lot of the [inaudible 00:16:35] curcumin preparation suggests that the best bioavailable can be obtained with a molecular dispersion process that then answers the water solubility and dispersion of fat-soluble ingredients, like curcumin.

With this type of preparation, it's been shown to be even six times higher absorption than the more commonly used curcumin phytosome that's found in many supplements.

Another one that has a lot of evidence behind it is Huperzine A. Huperzine A is an extract from the club moss and it acts as an acytlcholinesterase inhibitor, which also happens to be one of the mechanisms of many drugs which address dementia. Huperzine A also may help reduce dementia by regulating production of beta amyloid precursor protein, protecting the cells from oxidative stress, mitochondrial disfunction, as well as damage associated with glutamate induced toxicity.

Glutamate's an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, and when in excess, it promotes some of this neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration that we see with a lot of chronic nervous system diseases.

There've been multiple randomized, placebo-controlled trials looking at the impact that Huperzine A has on both Alzheimer's disease, as well as vascular demential. It's been shown to significantly improve cognitive function in patients with mild to moderate vascular dementia and significantly improve cognition, mood, and activities of daily living scores in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease.

The benefits of Huperzine A have also benefits in other populations with findings of enhanced memory and learning in adolescence and improved recovery in elderly patients from general anesthesia.

Ginkgo Biloba has been studied in many clinical trials, as well as in the studying of dementia. As a botanical, we always think of it as being this go-to for supporting microcirculation, kind of in the fingertips, the toes, the eyes, the kidneys, but the brain is also a part of that. Ginkgo's protective, in part, due to its antioxidant effects and supports circulation in the small vessels by reducing platelet activation and aggregation, as well as stimulating the release of endothelium-derived relaxation factor.

In double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies in patients with mild cognitive impairment, Ginkgo has been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce dementia conversion rate, improving episodic memory and even improving activity challenged gait, which is something that can be an issue with people with dementia.

In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's or vascular dementia who also had the neuropsychiatric aspect of that, Ginkgo was shown to significantly improve cognition, neuropsychiatric symptoms, functional abilities, and the quality of life in patients, as well as their caregivers.

In healthy populations of middle-aged and older volunteers, Ginkgo has also been observed to positively impact memory, improving recall performance, as well as speed of processing abilities.

Lipids are also very important for the brain, which is not very surprising, as the brain is very fatty tissue. Brain cells are especially rich in phospholipid choline, which the body can synthesize from a substance called citicholine, also known as CDP choline. Citicholine and phospholipid choline both support the integrity and functionality of the neuronal membrane, as well as the mitochondria.

Citicholine provides choline, and enhances the synthesis of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in memory and learning. Citicholine has been studied in multiple clinical trials with populations experiencing memory-related issues ranging from mild cognitive impairment to vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

A Cochrane review assessed the effectively of citicholine in 14 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials in patients with cognitive impairment due to chronic cerebral disorders, which can include both the vascular and Alzheimer's disease and found that, in patients with cognitive impairment due to these disorders, that citicholine has positive effects on memory and behavior in at least short to medium term and they recommended that studies of longer duration be conducted. Significant improvements in mental performance have even been seen in patients with early-onset Alzheimer's disease treated with citicholine, as well.

In a population of patients with the apolipoprotein protein, E epsilon four allele, which increase the risk of dementia, including that of the early-onset dementia as well as vascular dementia, citicholine has been shown to significantly improve cognitive performance, also improving the parameters of cerebral blood profusion in brain bioelectrical activity patterns. In patients who had their first recent ischemic stroke, citicholine was shown to improve attention, executive function, temporal orientation, cognitive status, as well as quality of life, many of which often decline in this post-stroke period.

Lion's mane mushroom is another one that's worthy of mention in a discussion of dementia, as well as in the other changes that occur with aging. Lion's mane has a long history of traditional use for supporting nerve growth and we now know it induces the secretion of nerve growth factor. In recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, lion's mane has been shown to significantly increase cognitive function scores in patients with mild cognitive impairment, as well as reduce depression and anxiety.

In animal models, lion's mane has been shown to improve spatial short-term and visual recognition memory impairments induced by amyloid beta peptide.

Peripheral neuropathy is not uncommon at all in the aging population, whether it be due to diabetes, nutritional life deficiencies, or idiopathic in nature, and lion's mane can also be a benefit for this, because of the fact that it promotes nerve growth factor again. Lion's mane, like many of the medicinal mushrooms, also may have protective effects against certain forms of cancer.

Gazella: I was gonna say, there's a long list here.

Decker: I know. I just have to throw this last one in.

French maritime pine bark extract also is another one that's been the topic of several clinical studies related to cognitive function. Although, this one hasn't been studied in the population with Alzheimer's or the decline already, it's been studied in several different healthy population ... in different clinical studies. In population ages ranging from kids to older adults, even including 60 years in age and above, it was repeatedly shown to improve cognitive function, as well as additional memory retention, mental performance, and working memory in some of the studies.

And beyond cognitive function, it is also one of these that can positively impact blood pressure, cholesterol balance, blood sugar, and has positive impacts on these other diabetes-related microvasculature complications. So it's really excellent for use in individuals who also experience these other challenges.

Gazella: So that is a long list. You've identified lots of choices when it comes to nutrients and botanicals. Now, are there any safety issues or contraindications associated with this long list that you've just mentioned.

Decker: Yeah. Well for the nutrients, of course, some of them such as zinc and vitamin D are appropriate only if there's a deficiency. As an excess, they can cause problems. But, things like CoQ10, tocotrienols, and essential fatty acids are really very safe and are used in part to help reduce cardiovascular disease risk, as well.

The side effects that some people might experience with agents that help increase blood flow to the brain, like Ginkgo, is a slight headache. And, of course, if this occurs the dosage should be diminished or supplement discontinued if it doesn't subside.

Some people might find cognitive support formulas, and even things like CoQ10 and phospholipids alone, to be somewhat stimulating. Not like the jitters type of thing, life coffee, but feeling like a little supercharged. A little of this sounds positive. It can be really problematic if you're not able to do something with that energy or need to go to sleep.

I've also seen people have more vivid dreams when taking something like Huperzine A, and that tends to usually be more transient. But if it's troubling and doesn't dissipate with time, an alternate supplement should be selected.

I generally instruct people to start with low dose, especially if you using combinations of these nutrients, because they really can be very potent. Although some of the nutrients can be taken at night, I generally tell people to take anything that's intended to support cognitive function in the morning. Because we really want it to be something that helps us fly through the day and be as productive as we can be. But really, with all supplements, it is important to screen them with your doctor to make sure they don't have interactions with other medications you may be taking and to make sure they're something for you, individually, that is correct.

Gazella: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And, it occurs to me that you mentioned formulas for brain health ... probably a lot of these ingredients that you mentioned are used in combination to be more effective. So there's a synergistic effect. Is that accurate?

Decker: Yeah. Some things more than other. Different supplement companies put different combinations together and a lot of the companies look to the research, just like I'm talking about today, and see what might be appropriate to put together. When I work with things, I often use a B vitamin complex or other specific combinations meant to address homocysteine elevation, if that's an issue.

Essential fatty acids and moderate doses of vitamin E, if not part of the diet routinely, should also be included.

CoQ10, Vitamin E, and essential fatty acids - the fish oils, sometimes you can find those in combination because they're all a fatty substance. They often combine very well.

Vitamin D and zinc tend to be single nutrient therapies that people are on because we use them for all sorts of things, including immune support as well as mood. So those will be things, individually, people take.

Generally, if someone's healthy and not experiencing cognitive decline, that's kind of a good combination package of nutrients to just prevent the nutritional decline-related issues. But, some of the combinations ... I've seen a combination that has the lion's mane mushroom, the phospholipids, citicholine, as well as a substance called coffee fruit extract that really supports cognitive health quite well on both a short-term and long-term basis.

The coffee fruit extract, which contains less than 1% caffeine, has been shown in multiple studies to increase levels of brain drive neurotrophic factor, which I kind of talked a little bit about with exercise. The brain drive neurotrophic factor promotes neurogenesis and is naturally increased in the brain when someone's working on learning something.

I like the combination again, because it's so potent and it's something that someone feels the effects of in the day they take it, yet it has long-term benefits because of the fact that both lion's mane mushroom and coffee fruit extract have of promoting neurogenesis. It also contains American ginseng, and that in combination with the phospholipids, has a pretty dramatic on energy levels as well.

You know, we see a decline in energy with aging populations, which also can be an issue.

I've also found this combination to be really helpful with patients with depression, which makes sense. There's a common overlap with some of the things we talked about in many ways with depression. So you might want to consider it for that, as well.

Gazella: Yeah, sounds like a good combination. Well this has been packed full of great information, but I'm wondering if you have any other advice for practitioners who might be listening, who are trying to help protect cognition in their patients.

Decker: Yeah, and this one doesn't maybe fit in with everything I've been talking about, but I'm a naturopath and I think about things in a very whole-minded fashion ... and I live in Portland, so maybe that influences it as well, but I think it's really necessary to look at the impact of community and how being happy can really impact the overall health of our patients. Particularly in older patients, a lot of them might be alone and if they get stuck in grief ... say they have the passing of a loved one or so many people pass the more we age, and often that will be people in the family. A partner. A spouse. And that contributes to loneliness and these things don't really just eat away at the mood, but they bleed into the health in so many other ways.

Community really gives people life. It gives them purpose and meaning. And being active and finding community, which someone resonates with, really serves a far greater purpose than just being an event on their schedule. And with the elderly or aging population, whether this is a local community center, a church or some other group, it can really help people find a fulfillment and happiness and that goes far beyond just that. It improves the mood and the health of the brain, as well.

Gazella: Yeah, that's such an important point and I'm glad that we're ending with social support, because it has far reaching benefits. Well, once again, I would like to thank the sponsor of this topic, who is Allergy Research Group. And I'd like to thank you, Dr. Decker, for this wonderful information and joining me today.

Decker: Yeah, it was great to be able to do so.

Gazella: Well have a great day.

Decker: Thank you, you too.

About the Author

Natural Medicine Journal is an electronic peer-reviewed journal and open access website dedicated to the field of integrative medicine.