As our species continues to live longer, our elderly population grows exponentially year after year. While the population worldwide continues to age, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is predicted to grow with it. But why? Thus far, the cause seems to be unknown. Most of the studies believe it is due to environmental and genetic factors.
At Balance Chiropractic in Colorado Springs, we care for many patients that have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other neuro-degenerative conditions. Recent research paves the way for other emerging topics including preserving brain function and brain blood flow as strategies for approaching the inevitable process of age.
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible and progressive brain disorder with the most common symptom being memory loss. It is also known as the most common cause of dementia. As the disease progresses, cognitive function like thinking and reasoning as well as behavioral abilities and overall independence decline. The characteristic findings of Alzheimer’s are bio-markers called amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles found in and around the brain. It can destroy a life long before it passes and is extremely heartbreaking for families to endure.
Lifestyle Risk Factors
Many of the factors that put an aging individual at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s in Colorado Springs are lifestyle choices. Research has shown that things like smoking, diabetes, obesity, and vascular disease have been found to increase the risk. Something as simple as throwing out the pack of squares for good, or adding 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day can reduce that risk. Cognitive stimulating activities like reading or strategy games also show long term benefits for the brain and memory. An interesting correlation between vascular health, cholesterol, and Alzheimer’s lays the groundwork for the possibilities of prevention.
How Alzheimer’s Changes the Brain
The patho-physiological changes that occur in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s can lead us in a new direction for health care. As this disease progresses, the brain begins to breakdown by means of atrophy (or shrinking), inflammation, an increase in free radicals, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Free radicals are formed when there is a disruption in the balance between anti-oxidants and biological stress. In other words, it’s when the waste products given off by cells surpasses the amount of anti-oxidants in the body. This is why it is important to maintain a diet high in anti-oxidant rich foods. Plant-based foods like fruits and green cruciferous vegetables are a great place to start. That large stuffed crust pizza just isn’t cutting it in the fight against free radicals.
Cholesterol plays an important role in brain and nerve function. The brain is said to be made up of about 60% cholesterol. Cholesterol is what makes up the phospholipid bilayer or membrane surrounding every cell in your body. It also makes up the protective covering around all nerves and brain tissue known as the myelin sheath. This sheath is an essential component of neurological health as it is what transmits electrical impulses to and from the brain in order to coordinate all of the functions in the human body.
Therefore, simply lowering total cholesterol is not a logical means of preventing disease processes that occur in the brain with Alzheimer’s in Colorado Springs. In fact, cholesterol in the blood cannot even reach the brain due to something called the blood brain barrier, and instead is made locally in the brain. The key lies in the defects of cholesterol metabolism. The goal instead should be put on maintaining a healthier ratio of cholesterol with higher levels of HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and lower levels of LDL (low-density). This can be done by replacing vegetable oils with coconut and olive oil, reducing sugary foods, increasing essential fats (EPA/DHA) in the diet, and regular exercise. There has been a few studies investigating the ketogenic diet (a diet consisting of minimal to no carbohydrates, replaced with more fat and protein) on neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s with positive results. A high-quality fish oil intake of about 1–2g of EPA/DHA a day has also been shown to not only benefit HDL levels, but promotes brain protection and regeneration by decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress.
Brain Fluid Mechanics
As mentioned previously, atrophy and inflammation are hallmark findings in people with Alzheimer’s. Recent evidence is shining a light on a decrease in blood flow and cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) in and out of the brain as a potential cause of brain atrophy in the elderly. Adequate blood flow into the brain is needed to supply it with oxygen and nutrients. CSF provides the brain and spinal cord with a liquid cushion during movement. However, it has also been linked to the brain’s immune and waste clearing system otherwise known as the glymphatic system. Too little CSF inside the skull and the brain stem sinks into the hole at the bottom of the skull (the foramen magnum) causing something called Arnold Chiari. Too much and something called hydrocephalus occurs. Chronic hydrocephalus causes edema and compression of the brain tissue which causes the ventricles of the brain to swell. This, coupled with a past history of head trauma will trigger an inflammatory reaction in the brain due to the backup of metabolic waste blood. A decrease in blood flow into the brain overtime causes chronic ischemia, which means a lack of oxygen, and may play a critical role in brain atrophy.
One of the most likely places for a blockage of CSF and blood flow to occur is where the vessels pass through the junction between the skull and the upper-most bones in the spinal column. This area of the spine is known as the cranio-cervical junction. Trauma, congenital malformations, and degenerative conditions of that delicate bony passageway may affect necessary fluid flow in and out of the brain and lead to neuro-degenerative changes that are also seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
An emerging option for the prevention and management of issues with blood and spinal fluid circulation in and out of the brain is through a non-traditional form of chiropractic care known as Foundational Correction using the NUCCA method. This is the specific approach our doctors at Balance Chiropractic in Colorado Springs are trained in for patients with neuro-degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s
Chiropractic care is never said to be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or any disease for that matter. However, seeking out a NUCCA chiropractor to identify the presence of any foundational shift in the upper neck and creating a plan to correct it may at least reduce the risk of brain deterioration. Through a gentle and safe procedure involving no twisting or cracking, NUCCA aims to take pressure of the brain stem and blood flow to help maintain and improve activities of daily living, cognitive function, sleep, and healing.
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