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9 Ways To Improve Your Brain Health For Better Memory

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February 20, 2015

No one wants dementia or early cognitive decline for themselves or their loved ones. Who would want to outlive their memory? Unfortunately, the rates of both are increasing sharply, and age of onset is falling.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)1 there are 5 million Americans with Alzheimer's dementia. Unfortunately, drug treatments for Alzheimer's dementia do not restore memory, and are only minimally effective at slowing decline. Most Americans think that their DNA will determine whether or not they will suffer from dementia and early memory loss. That's wrong.

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According to the National Institute on Aging, the research shows that a complicated interaction between your DNA and your dietary choices, smoking status, physical activity level, environmental exposures, sleep quality and every other aspect of your environment determines your risk of developing early memory loss and dementia. This is excellent news, because most of these things are under your control.

Even better news is that in a study conducted by Dr. Dale Bredeson at UCLA, he was able to use dietary and lifestyle changes to reverse early cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's dementia. In a small study of 10 subjects, 6 of whom were either struggling at work because of cognitive decline or had exited the workforce because of cognitive decline were able to return to work or continue working with improved performance. Furthermore, the cognitive improvements were sustained.

Helping people create a healthier environment for the their brain cells using dietary and lifestyle changes, like I do, has been very helpful. Many of these diet and lifestyle choices you can begin doing right now.

Here are the top nine things you can do to dramatically lower your risk of developing cognitive decline. If you or a loved one is already experiencing memory problems, these steps will also help stop the decline, and may lead to remarkable restoration of cognitive abilities.

1. Go gluten-free.

Unrecognized gluten sensitivity is a leading cause of reversible cognitive decline. Remove gluten completely from the diet, reading all food labels very carefully. Blood tests for gluten sensitivity aren't 100% reliable, therefore the gold standard is an elimination diet. Gluten is in wheat, rye, barley and many ancient grains.

2. Get rid of casein.

Casein, a protein found in dairy, has an amino acid sequence is similar enough that the immune cells will cross react to both. Since casein is a dairy protein, remove milk proteins, including cheese and yogurt. Clarified butter, or ghee, is the only dairy product that does not contain casein and is safe to consume.

3. Eliminate sugar and flour-based products.

These products lead to a sharp increase in insulin. Higher insulin levels are associated with more rapid shrinkage of the brain and early memory loss and dementia.

4. Eat low glycemic (non-starchy) vegetables and berries.

It's best to get six to nine cups a day, depending on your size and gender. This will give you healthy carbs with much less insulin plus more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that your brain cells need.

5. Eat more healthy fats.

Your brain is 70% fat. You need a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats to promote brain health. Eat more grass-fed meat, wild fish, nuts and seeds. Stop using any trans fats (hydrogenated fats), and stop frying foods in vegetable oils, which convert to trans fats when they're heated.

6. Consider ketosis.

A ketogenic diet, stressing medium-chain triglycerides, generates more ketones and allow for 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrates every day while still generating enough ketones to put you into ketosis. This helps increase the nerve growth factor hormones that tell brain cells to begin repairing connections and building more brain cells.

7. Pay attention to sleep quality.

Lack of sleep leads to more rapid brain atrophy or shrinkage. Try to have a consistent bedtime, and aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

8. Exercise regularly.

Exercise causes the brain to generate more nerve growth factors, which are important to maintain and repair brain cells and brain cell connections. Strength and balance training are the most effective at producing nerve growth factors.

9. Optimize vitamin B12 (cobolamin).

Consider using methyl forms of B12, which are activated making the B12 more easily utilized by brain cells. It is best to use MethylB12 lozenges that dissolve in the mouth and are absorbed directly into the blood stream, bypassing potential problems with not having the proper amount of intrinsic factor to allow the B12 to be absorbed from the gut.

These suggestions are not theoretical. I'm a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa and see patients in a traumatic brain injury and a therapeutic lifestyle clinic designed specifically for people with complex chronic diseases, many of whom have issues with brain fog and memory problems. We focus on using diet and lifestyle interventions to treat our patients, with tremendous success. Because so many of these principles can be applied at home, I created my Food Fundamentals video course to guide you to better brain health.

Exercise and stress reduction are also emphasized. As people adopt the diet and lifestyle programs we teach, their mental clarity, memory, and attention improve significantly. When people understand how dietary and lifestyle changes nourish our cells more effectively, they're willing to adopt and sustain the changes, which allows their cells to rebuild a healthier brain, molecule by molecule.

If you'd like to learn more about the protocols we use to help people restore their brain health, visit my website and pick up my book, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles.

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Terry Wahls, M.D.
Terry Wahls, M.D.

Terry Wahls, M.D. is a professor of medicine at the University of Iowa, where she conducts clinical research on the use of diet and lifestyle to treat brain-related problems. She has also worked at the V.A. for many years in the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic and was the Director of the Therapeutic Lifestyle Clinic. In both clinics, she focused on using diet and lifestyle to treat traumatic brain injury and neurological and neurodegenerative disorders.

She received her master's in medicine from The University of Iowa, as well as her master's in business administration from the University of St. Thomas.

Wahls has progressive MS. For seven years, she declined steadily, and though she took the newest drugs, including very potent biologic drugs, she ended up in a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years. When she started studying the latest brain science and designed a diet and lifestyle program specifically to support her brain cells, her decline slowed, then stopped, then she recovered. Now, she bikes five miles to work. She uses these principles to help others with a wide variety of brain-related symptoms end their decline and suffering, and restore their lives.

She has authored The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, as well as its companion cookbook, The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life. Terry also holds her Wahls ProtocolĀ® Seminar every August.

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