Research & Education

Dementia: Risk Factors & Nutritional Support


Dementia is the progressive deterioration of cognitive function and the ability to process thought beyond what might be expected from normal aging. The symptoms are severe enough where the loss of mental facilities can greatly impact one's quality of life and everyday duties.

Symptoms can include loss of memory language perception judgment or reasoning.  Sufferers may lose emotional and behavioral control develop personality changes and have problem-solving abilities reduced or completely lost.

The condition can be static the result of a global brain injury  or progressive resulting in long-term decline due to in many cases organic conditions such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases. Although dementia is far more common in the geriatric population it can occur before the age of 65 in which case it is termed early-onset dementia.

Dementia can be further classified into two primary subtypes depending on the area of the brain affected. Cortical dementia affects the cerebral cortex of the brain while subcortical dementia results from dysfunction in the parts of the brain beneath the cortex.

Risk factors

There are a variety of risk factors that have been shown to increase the risk of developing dementia which also include genetic factors.

People with diabetes appear to be at a significantly increased risk of developing dementia.  This includes Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia such as vascular dementia which occurs when there is damage to blood vessels eventually depriving the brain of oxygen. Insulin sensitivity appears to be an additional specific factor in mental decline as well.

Obesity which carries with it a plethora of associated co-morbidities also has been shown to increase dementia risk.

Patients over the age of 65 taking benzodiazepine a popular drug used to treat anxiety and insomnia are at approximately a 50% increased risk of developing dementia within 15 years compared to those who never use the drug.

It appears that in general many of the factors associated with metabolic diseases have a dramatic impact on brain health and cognition. Also lifestyle factors such as smoking can cause the brain to lose volume and develop lesions secondary to presumed vascular injury.

Nutrition support

Nutritional and complementary medicine can play a significant therapeutic role in the mitigation of a variety of cognitive disorders including dementia.

The scientific literature is replete with evidence that supports the use of the spice extract curcumin as a powerful brain- and neuro-protector. It has been shown to decrease beta-amyloid tangles a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

Magnesium-L-threonate is a highly bioavailable form of magnesium that crosses the brain blood barrier. This specific form has been shown to increase learning abilities working memory and short- and long-term memory in animal studies by enhancing neuroplasticity and synaptic complexity.

Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia. Antioxidants such as vitamin E and C can have powerful effects on brain health as oxidative stress is a common participant in the pathophysiology of many common brain disorders.

Folate deficiency is another common finding in many neurodegenerative conditions including dementia and certainly should be evaluated and addressed during the course of a comprehensive therapeutic protocol.

The use of the medicinal herb ginkgo biloba was shown to be more effective than donepezil a common medication used to treat Alzheimer's-related dementia.  

Ginger like curcumin has many functional properties which include the ability to improve memory and cognitive function at least in normal healthy middle-aged females according to one study. This may show ginger's ability to be considered as a potential prophylactic cognitive compound.

Prevention therefore may be the best form of treatment. Focusing on lifestyle changes that include diet mental and physical stimulation socialization and familial integration are all aspects of an all-inclusive program that can help mitigate dementia before it begins.

by Michael Fuhrman D.C.