Free Radical Oxidation
When the body goes through a process called cellular respiration to produce energy for the body (in the form of ATP), free radicals are produced. Free radicals are considered damaging to the body. Naturally, free radicals are neutralized by anti-oxidants found in healthful foods like fruits and vegetables. Diets that are low in anti-oxidant rich nutrients predispose the body to a toxic burden of these free radicals.
In addition to cellular respiration, outside sources of free radicals are among us continuously. Pesticides, exhaust and solvents in the environment are continuous sources of free radicals the body can be burdened with. Maintaining a diet full antioxidant rich foods will help to reduce the burden of free radicals in the body. Antioxidant supplementation can be used when exposure to free radical producing substances are high like those who consistently work with chemicals.
When it comes to appropriate hormone balance it is important the entire endocrine system is taken into consideration including thyroid, adrenal and sex hormone levels. The endocrine system is so interrelated that when one piece begins to show dysfunction, there is likely to be dysfunction elsewhere.
Hypothyroidism, low thyroid, is associated with decreased blood flow to the grey matter of the brain, the part of the brain where memories and thoughts are processed. Monitoring thyroid levels at routinely can help to catch hypothyroidism early and can be treated through supplementation and medication.
Blood vessel health depends on an appropriate amount of testosterone. Without testosterone, blood vessel tone can vary from too soft to too rigid which creates a higher risk of stroke, hypertension or hemorrhage. Any change to the vascular integrity in the brain can lead to lack of oxygen and lead to a reduction in function.
Estrogen promotes positive mood supporting neurotransmitter production including serotonin and acetylcholine. Estrogen also increases blood flow and nourishment in the form of glucose (sugar) to the brain. When the brain is more nourished it is less likely to succumb to the damaging effects of oxidation from free radicals. Overall, estrogen acts like a protector of brain cells.
With high blood pressure being as common as 1 in 4 American citizens, it is a serious condition to monitor for and prevent. High blood pressure increases an individual’s risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney dysfunction. In addition to other co morbidities, elevated blood pressure can damage blood vessels that feed and supply the brain with vital nutrition. When blood flow is impeded in any way to the brain, cellular damage can occur, leading to or exacerbating dementia like disorders.
Protein rich foods contain an amino acid called methionine, which is then broken down into the amino acid homocysteine. From here, homocysteine is broken down into the amino acids glutathione and SAMe, both with health promoting properties including mood elevation and liver detoxification. When the body lacks the cofactors needed to convert homocysteine into health benefiting glutathione and SAMe, homcysteine will build in the system and can create damage to blood vessels due to its oxidative properties. When oxidation reactions occur in the body free radicals are formed and can degrade tissue, and in homocysteine’s case, specifically blood vessels. Seem intimidating? It’s really just nutritional biochemistry 101!
Damage to blood vessels can compromise the health of the vasculature of the brain leading to decreased blood flow to the nervous system. When the nervous system can not be nourished by appropriate blood flow, symptoms of dementia and memory loss can be exacerbated. Elevated homocysteine levels have also been shown to be associated with an increased risk heart disease risk.
What can be done to help to promote proper conversion of homocysteine? Ensure you are getting all of the cofactors through diet or supplementation. Specifically vitamin B12, B6, B2, folic acid, magnesium and zinc, all which can be measured through blood work to prevent deficiency.
Maintaining a balanced blood sugar has been shown to improve energy, memory and mood. I am sure we have all experienced the effects of hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. Lethargy, dizziness, inability to focus and irritability are just a few of the symptoms of low blood sugar. Consistent low blood sugar can starve the brain of vital nutrition, leading to damage and death of brain cells. Not a good for maintaining cognition!
On the other end of the spectrum, consistently elevated blood sugar can have a damaging affect on brain health. Consistently elevated blood sugar can cause red blood cells to become more stiff and sticky, thereby making them more able to form a clot and increasing risk of stroke. Small blood vessels that nourish the various lobes of the brain are at a higher risk of damage when blood sugar is elevated. Again, lack of blood flow can lead to nervous system damage and compromise.
The best way to maintain a steady blood sugar is through lifestyle. Consistently eating sources of fiber and protein through the day and getting regular exercise will help to improve blood sugar levels and keep them consistent.
With so many ways to improve cognition through natural means, it is worth investigating your risk and taking measures to prevent memory loss.