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Cognitive Issues

A longer and healthy life brings with it opportunities not only for older people and their families, but also for society as a whole. Having additional healthy years provides the chance to pursue new activities such as a different career, long-sought travel, or pursuing a passion project. Older people make vast contributions to their families and communities. The extent to which people can pursue an active and productive life as they age depends heavily on one factor: HEALTH.

Medical research and subsequent development of treatments for disease has made great strides in the last 100 years in the areas of metabolic disease, cancers, viral-based illnesses, and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, little progress has been made to prevent and reverse cognitive decline and few medications are available to treat cognitive diseases. As the mortality from aging due to diseases decreases, the lifetime risk of cognitive illness increases substantially.

Cognitive disease poses one of the greatest global challenges for health and social care in the 21st century. World Health Organization

The incidence of cognitive disorder does increase with age and doubles every 5 years after the age of 65. At least 22% of people between the age of 45-64 report having subjective cognitive decline and that statistic goes up to 77% if there is at least one chronic disease. Deaths from Alzheimer’s disease has increased 145% yet only 4/10 people talk to their doctor right away when experiencing early cognitive issues. Almost 70% of people say they want early detection methods so they can get earlier treatment to prevent serious brain illness.

Despite what seems to be rather dire statistics on cognitive illness, new research and breakthroughs in neuroscience have shown the assumption that cognitive decline is inevitable is NOT correct. The graph below shows that under conditions of normal aging, good cognitive functions can remain intact well into our 80’s. Even when we have mild cognitive impairment our lives can, again, remain normal well into our 80’s. However, when we do not take care of our brain health, we have a high risk of succumbing to dementia and other cognitive impairments.

 

Aging Graph

 

The Major Causes Cognitive Decline

The brain is thought to undergo small changes decades before the first symptoms of cognitive decline. Only after years of small brain changes does someone notice symptoms such as memory loss and other cognitive problems.
The causes of cognitive decline are becoming increasingly clear with the advances in brain research. While still not completely understood, researchers believe there are many factors involved including genetics, environmental exposures, modifiable lifestyle factors, stress, and nutrition. The key to a long healthspan without cognitive issues lies in targeting the underlying mechanisms of cognitive decline. Reducing neuroinflammation and promoting the removal of dead cells and their debris are two of the main strategies for maintaining a healthy brain.

 

Neuroinflammation

The brain can become inflamed like the rest of the body, and this can be caused by a variety of factors such as environmental toxins, food allergies, a bacterial or viral infection, excessive alcohol use, or poor circulation. The brain is unique in that it has its own immune system. As we age, our immune system tends to ramp up, leading to a chronic state of inflammation called “inflammaging”. It is important to aggressively address brain inflammation because it can lead to rapidly degeneration of the brain. In fact, scientists have discovered brain aging is much more related to problems with the brain’s immune system than neurons.

3d rendered illustration of a painful brain.Older models for the cause of cognitive decline had focused on the build-up of a protein called amyloid which can form amyloid clumps around the neurons, preventing them from working properly. Major breakthroughs in biogerontology have now shown that cognitive disease stems from issues with the brain’s immune cells, called microglia. When the brain is healthy the microglia remove dead neurons, debris from cellular death, and amyloid plaque. The clean-up process of the microglia keeps the neurons working correctly. However, when something triggers inflammation in the brain the microglia go into attack mode. The overactive microglia cause the neurons to fire more slowly with subsequent symptoms of brain fog, slower mental processing, and slow neuron death.

 

Cell Senescence

It is an inescapable fact of life: we get older and with that our body will show signs of aging. Medical research has been revealing exciting information on WHAT is behind the process of aging. They have discovered the aging process is largely linked to ONE biological factor: senescent cells, which they nicknamed ZOMBIE cells. What are these scary-sounding cells and what is their role in aging?

It is normal for the cells in our body to age and die off. Our body has a complex process of removing these dead cells so they do not accumulate. The immune system is responsible for removing these dead cells and is very efficient at doing that when we are younger. As we age, the immune system has a decreased capacity for this process and dead cells remain in the body as zombie cells. These cells release certain molecules that can spark inflammation and can damage other viable cells. The number of zombie cells increases with age and zombie cells in the brain tissue can degrade cognitive functions.

Normal Cell becomes stressed and damaged. Resulting to the normal cell becoming Senescent Cell that triggers inflammation.

 

Solutions to Prevent Cognitive Decline

The abundance of research on the causes of cognitive decline has led to the development of steps that we can take to ensure that we maintain a healthy brain and stay cognitively fit. The main goal is to identify and mitigate the main risk factors that impact our health and vitality. To have a healthy brain, we need to have a healthy body. Experts in the field of cognitive health have developed six cornerstones for an effective brain health program and they are as follows:

  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet which is predominantly plant-based
  • Follow a regular exercise program
  • Get plenty of quality sleep
  • Manage and reduce our level of stress
  • Nurture social contacts and engagements
  • Continue to challenge our brain to improve neuron function
  • Changing our lifestyle to incorporate ALL these actions can yield very real results for changing both our brain’s structure and function.

Changing our lifestyle to incorporate ALL these actions can yield very real results for changing both our brain’s structure and function.

 

Removing Zombie Cells

Autophagy is our body’s very elegant process of getting rid of old cells and damaged cell parts. Autophagy works like a cellular waste recycling program helping to clean up cell parts, recycling the ones that are usable and getting rid of the damaged parts. It is a critical process for getting rid of zombie cells before they can harm healthy cells. Proper functioning autophagy is necessary to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disease and slow the effects of aging.

Autophagy process diagram

While autophagy functions normally when we are young, from our late forties and beyond we need to help stimulate autophagy. One way to enhance autophagy is through some form of fasting, such as intermittent fasting or time restricted feeding. We can also use calorie restriction to induce robust autophagy. However, many people find fasting and calorie restriction too hard to stick with as part of a lifestyle change.

Fortunately, very recent research has discovered plant-based compounds called senolytics and senomorphics which are compounds that help kill the zombie cells. Once the senolytics break down these dead cells, the immune system can come in and remove them from our tissue. The discovery of these exciting new phytochemicals has paved new ways to thwart or diminish age-related cognitive disease and extend our healthspan.

 

A New Hope

The recognition of having a cognitive issue can be quite disturbing and can leave us feeling frightened and a bit hopeless. Often when we consult our doctors about concerns over having a cognitive issue, they don’t provide encouraging solutions, nor are there medications that can cure cognitive disorders.

Fortunately, there have been considerable breakthroughs over the last five years in how healthy brains age and get diseased. The field of geroscience is beginning to understand how we can better manage cognitive health using novel phytocompounds, repurposed drugs, and supplements to counteract neuroinflammation and senescent cells. Because we now understand the mechanisms of how brain cells age, some of the supplements we buy over the counter can influence how long we live!

Due to all the advancements in neuroscience and cellular aging, we can boldly state that cognitive decline is preventable and mild cognitive issues are reversible. This paradigm shift in mindset -that healthy aging is achievable and healthspan can be lengthened – is at the forefront of the mission of CogniStrength.

If you are concerned about your cognitive wellness, please take our Cognitive Quiz and get a quick assessment of the strength of your cognitive functions.

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Together, We Got This

Joan