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Adult Nutrition and Cognitive Function: Memory

Dear JW,

JW, you are not alone, obviously! Many aging adults can relate to your experiences. Short and long-term memory loss is a by-product of aging, as are moments of cloudy thinking. Most of us, by the time we reach 40, experience at least a few of the signs of what neuroscientists call age-related cognitive decline (ARCD).

As the hairs start to gray and the skin begins to loosen and wrinkle, the light bulb upstairs starts to dim a bit as well. It's not that we are all of the sudden stupid. Our minds just simply aren't as nimble as they once were.

Occasional memory lapses are a natural part of living with a brain. But those embarrassing moments happen more frequently as we age, as one of those irreplaceable brain cells sputters and fails. Gradually, however, the slowing of mental function can affect the entire organ, affecting everything from reaction time to learning rate to the speed of recall, the very essence of brain function.

ARCD can be explained somewhat as the loss of brain function caused by the death or dysfunction of nerve cells in an aging brain. It occurs as a result of cumulative free radical damage to nerve cell membranes.

The less antioxidant protection you have, the faster ARCD occurs. This understanding is a key emphasis and priority for anti-aging medicine because when your brain goes, so goes your body.

Now that I have totally depressed you, I can report that there may be good news on the horizon. Anti-aging scientists are uncovering important secrets of cognitive function. Studies involving certain antioxidants and "smart pills" are showing great progress against ARCD.

If free radical damage causes brain cell destruction, it makes sense to utilize antioxidants in the diet and steer clear of free radical forming foods. Fresh foods, such as vegetables and fruits, contain good sources of antioxidants. Processed foods and highly cooked meats can form free radical activity in the body. Make health choices in your diet, please.

Taking supplements containing antioxidants, (such as CoQ10, Glutathione, grape seed extract, vitamin E), "smart nutrients" (such as phosphatidylcholine and serince,) and essential fatty acids, (especially the fat known as DHA) are especially important for protecting brain cells from harm.

Scientists are unlocking the secrets of cognitive enhancing nutrients and these discoveries are fast becoming a part of anti-aging medicine. Advances in neurochemistry and cell biology are unraveling the secrets of cell structure and leading to some historic breakthroughs in brain nutrition.

"Smart" nutrients can speed transmission of messages in the brain, amplify clarity, increase intellectual processes and upgrade memory. The nutrients are considered safe, derived from natural foods, and may be key ingredients in preventing ARCD.

One special nutrient is phosphatydlserine (PS). A product derived from soy, PS renews brain cells and can improve overall mental performance. PS supplements have been shown to reverse ARCD and are also used as preventive supplements in supporting cognitive health. PS is a "good" fat, known as a phospholipid. It is found in all membranes of cells naturally and is concentrated in brain cells. It enhances the membrane's integrity, keeping it from suffering from free radical damage.

It also assists in the synthesis, activity and release of neurotransmitters. PS is purported to boost learning rate, concentration and memory. It has been found to be safe, with no side effects.

You can help PS by taking B12, folic acid, and vitamin C. These nutrients will help PS to perform its function and are antioxidants as well. I would also consider taking Acetyl-L-Carnitine with the other nutrients. At the Wellness Store, we have recognized that a good formula for brain function can really make you a lot of friends, so we think we carry the best ones available. Click here to view the selection.

One of the most widely studied "smart nutrients" is an essential fat, known as Docosahexaenoic Acid (or DHA). This fat seems to be of particular importance for brain function, from the time we are born, (even before!) until we sign our name for the last time! DHA can be found in foods high in Omega-3 fats and is also available as a supplement. Click here for more on this product.

It may take a month or so to see improvement in memory from PS and several months to see peak results. Don't forget why you are taking it, in the meantime!

Other nutrients that are showing promise are DMAE, pregnenolone, phosphatidylcholine and several amino acids. Also, an exciting area of cognition and aging involves the advanced science of hormone replacement. One exciting innovation is the use of certain nutrients to promote the production of human growth hormone. This technique offers "anti-aging" benefits in areas of cognition, as well as other health benefits. I wish I had more room to discuss these innovations, but make an appointment and we can explore the various methods.

JW, we are living to an older age, but wish to enjoy those years and the memories of years past. With the advances in anti-aging medicine, our brain does not have to turn to mud. Through nutritional approaches with "smart" nutrients, we may have less senior moments and more senior smarts. Stop by today!

Questions about Health?
Ask "Mike"
For Consultation with Jerry "Michael" Casso R.Ph.
Phone: (504) 888-3077

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Stress: Taking an Alternative Approach

Dear Mike,

I am going through a stressful time in my life right now and have been feeling a little depressed. I just had a physical exam and I'm completely healthy, so I was just wondering if there are any vitamins or herbs I could try to help get me through this stressful time.

D. Mc., New Orleans

Dear D.Mc.,

A temporary, mild depression is often a response to stressful and anxious situations, but if it persists for an extended period of time or becomes more severe, then you should schedule another appointment with your physician. Some people choose to take antidepressants for this, which help to relieve depression by increasing certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine.

For mild depression, there are also natural alternatives such as nutritional supplements, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications that may help you during this difficult period. Let me share with you some information on vitamins such as the B complex and vitamin C, the amino acids L-Tyrosine and DL-Phenylalanine, 5-HTP , Phosphatidylserine, and herbs. I will also give you some helpful ideas on dietary and lifestyle changes.

Nutritional Approaches to Combating Anxiety and Depression

During stressful times, our bodies require more nutrients, especially the "stress vitamins," B complex and vitamin C. These water-soluble vitamins do not remain in the body for long, and are utilized more rapidly when the body really needs them. In addition, diuretic medications, caffeine, and alcohol will cause them to be excreted from the body more rapidly. Specific B vitamin deficiencies previously associated with cases of depression are vitamins B3 (Niacin), B6 (Pyridoxine), B12 (Cyanocobalamin), and Folic Acid. A B complex dietary supplement formula will help prevent deficiencies, and help promote a feeling of well-being.

Vitamin B3 is important to every cell in the body, and is especially important for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Deficiencies have been associated with depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Vitamin B6 plays a role in the formation of neurotransmitters, especially the important mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin. Healthcare practitioners commonly suggest this vitamin to help alleviate depression associated with Premenstrual Syndrome, and it has been found to be depleted by oral contraceptives. Many people taking contraceptives do experience anxiety and mild depression and this could be tied to the wide array of nutrients depleted by the medication.

A vitamin B12 deficiency may contribute to depression; supplementation has been found to help promote positive moods and support energy levels. A good quality B complex formula will provide adequate amounts of the B vitamins, but sometime an additional B12 supplement is helpful. Folic acid deficiencies have been noted to cause a disturbance in mood as well. If a severe deficiency is present, then high doses of this vitamin are needed to alleviate it.

Vitamin C deficiency is associated with many ailments, including depression and other psychological disturbances. During stressful periods, vitamin C is beneficial for immune system support. This is very important since stress has been found to affect the immune response.

People that are depressed and fatigued will often benefit from supplementing the amino acids L-Tyrosine and/or DL-Phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is a precursor to L-Tyrosine, which can form the excitatory neurotransmitter norepinephrine. This helps to enhance mood, alertness, and memory. Phenylalanine in the "DL-Phenylalanine" form has also commonly been suggested by health care practitioners to aid in pain relief due to its effect on endorphins in the body. These endorphins are also released during exercise, and greatly contribute to elevated moods and positive outlook.

People who are depressed and anxious have often found mood-balancing effects from supplementing 5-HTP (L-5-hydroxy-tryptophan), which is synthesized from tryptophan and is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is found in the brain, blood platelets, and cells of the gastrointestinal tract. Since serotonin is found in the brain and central nervous system it has many implications in cognition, mental health and sleep patterns.

Supplementation of 5-HTP has shown a distinct ability to increase serotonin levels. Since the FDA restricts the availability of tryptophan, many research scientists have discovered that 5-HTP compares favorably in modulating serotonin levels. This product is an extract from a natural plant seed and not from fermented tryptophan.

Phosphatidylserine, or PS, has been found to affect neurotransmitters to support a positive mood. It is also helpful for memory and concentration. This phospholipid is a constituent naturally occurring in soy lecithin, and is also sold as a dietary supplement in concentrated form. We carry an excellent product that combines the B vitamins with Phospholipid tableting base, known as NT Factor. You can click here to purchase this product and learn more about it.

Helpful Herbs

Valerian root and Passionflower are herbs that are known for their calming effects, therefore, they are helpful in relieving anxiety and insomnia. Valerian root is known to help relieve nervousness, and is commonly taken at bedtime because of its sedating properties. It is a rather mild herb and it very helpful to ease muscle aches and support the sleep cycle, especially when combined with Passionflower.

Those suffering from mental exhaustion may try Siberian Ginseng to help restore vigor and vitality. In addition, this herb has adaptogenic qualities, helps enhance concentration, and has been found to aid people under stressful conditions.

Your diet may be affecting your moods as well. Food allergies have been linked to poor concentration and depressive states. An elimination diet helps to pinpoint specific food allergies. High protein diets such as the Zone diet help to keep blood sugar levels balanced, which is important for balancing moods as well. When the blood sugar gets low it can cause mental confusion, anxiety, and depression. Protein snacks every few hours, while eliminating excess amounts of sugar in the diet, will help maintain stable blood sugar as well.

Exercise can have a profound effect on promoting a positive mood and is a great outlet for managing stress. As mentioned before, it stimulates the production of endorphins, important for feelings of well-being. One study showed that a brisk 10-minute walk causes a significant effect on elevating mood and relieving anxiety. You may even want to look into taking a class on stretching and relaxation techniques, or any other form of exercise that suits your needs. Energy levels will most likely be increased when exercising on a regular basis. Consult with your physician before beginning a new exercise program.

As you see, there are specific vitamins, amino acids, herbs, dietary factors, and healthy lifestyle changes, like exercise, that may help enhance your mood during a stressful period. I stress that it is very important to remain in touch with your physician when feeling depressed. Mild depression and anxiety disorders can turn into major problems and can be controlled through medication. If you are interested in counseling for nutritional and natural methods of fighting anxiety, contact me for an appointment. Perhaps together we can restore your energy and provide you with products targeted to support your efforts.

Get a Good Night's Sleep

This is a fast-paced world in which we live. We wake up on the run, speed up to survive our daily stress of job, family and finance, then try to unwind in the time left in the day, in order to get a good night's sleep. Between the stress of the day and the short amount of time to relax, it is no wonder that often we cannot sleep.

Over 50 million Americans suffer from various types of sleeping disorders. Physical and psychological influences affect our sleep patterns. Quality and quantity of sleep are of an individual nature, and it would appear that as we age, we require less of both.

Sleep disorders may be the result of anxiety. How many times have you remained awake past bedtime thinking about work problems or family issues? How many times do you awake too early making a list of the seemingly overwhelming amount of tasks to perform the next day? Stress and anxiety are indeed sleep killers.

Sleep disorders can appear out of the blue, and it is necessary to remedy them by addressing causes and symptoms underlying the condition. They may be environmental, nutritional, or emotional problems. They may be temporary, or possibly last a lifetime.

Sleep disorders may be caused by a biochemical reaction to foods, exercise or the overuse of sleeping medicines. The cause could be physical, related to disorders such as sleep apnea or Periodic Leg Movement Syndrome (or a close cousin, Restless Legs Syndrome.)

A temporary sleeping problem can start a cascade of fatigue during the day that continues the cycle of disruptive activity until there is chronic sleep disruption and this becomes a medical problem.

On the other side of the good night's sleep is a condition called narcolepsy, in which one falls asleep suddenly, in places other than the bed. The dangerous condition may also include sudden loss of muscle tone or partial paralysis.

Fatigue is also a consideration regarding the lack of sleep. If you are tired when you arise each morning, it could be a sign of fatigue. Stress related to work or family often can trigger fatigue, and the resulting lack of sleep. Just ask any parent!

Diet May Play a Role in Sleep Problems

Diet may play an important role in preventing sleep disorders. Intolerance to certain foods, such as caffeine, certain medicines and of course, recreational drugs and alcohol can all contribute to poor sleep.

Sleep problems can also be compounded by food intolerance. If an allergy appears with foods, the body releases histamines, which directly affect brain chemistry and may keep us awake.

Children may experience food allergies, a sign of an underlying problem. Children with ADD/ADHD very often have poor sleep habits and researchers believe there is a tie to food intolerance and allergies, both of which can cause poor sleeping patterns. Some common foods that may create an "allergy" to sleep include dairy, wheat, corn and chocolate. Excessive eating prior to bedtime can also create problems, so monitor your intake of calories and carbohydrates if diet is a concern in your sleep habits and consider a high protein snack at night.

Foods and Nutrients Helpful to Sleep

Foods that may help you sleep are also important to note. Foods high in L-tryptophan, such as turkey, milk or "green foods", have been shown to aid in sleep. Ever notice people scrambling for pillows after Thanksgiving dinner for an early nap? Now you know why!

There are, in addition to foods, various supplemental approaches to help with sleep cycles. For instance, calcium and magnesium are both relative to our sleep patterns and can help the body to relax and the mind to sleep. In particular, magnesium allows the muscles to relax, as well as the heart and circulatory system and has proven to be a safe and powerful sleep aid.

Using magnesium in your nighttime bath, in the form of Epsom salts, may also relax you toward the sleep cycle. Add a bit of Lavender oil and enjoy the calming effect this combination brings. Simply taking the time to prepare a bath can allow you to enjoy a few devoted moments to the process of relaxation.

There is a relationship to our energy metabolism and our relaxation. While we consider the B vitamins an important part of our energy systems, various B vitamins have a sedating effect on the nerves and can be used to help us relax. I would caution you against using a B complex supplement at night, as some of the vitamins stimulate energy metabolism and could disrupt sleep.

For those that sleep easy, but wake during the night and do not return to sleep, consider supplementing the diet with niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3), at bedtime. The important vitamin B6 is another helpful nutrient, as it helps to relax the nervous system and the heart.

If we are active during the day, we stand a better chance of sleeping at night, so eat foods or supplements that contain the energy vitamins, B-1, B-2, B-12 and folic acid.

If blood sugar problems are apparent, the trace minerals chromium and magnesium may be helpful. Diabetics often have sleep problems and studies indicate that most are deficient in these important minerals. Magnesium has been successfully used to aid Fibromyalgia sufferers with the sleep anomaly, as well.

While the amino acid L-tryptophan is considered helpful in sleep, the FDA has banned the supplement form in the USA, after a contaminated batch was suspected of causing a serious blood disorder. A close "cousin" to L-tryptophan, known as 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), is now available. 5-HTP plays a similar role in the serotonin chain and shows promising benefit in relaxation therapy.

Remember the Melatonin craze? This powerful antioxidant has been successful in many studies for insomnia, and not so good in others. It is said to affect our circadian rhythm and allow us to sleep when it is time to do so. Most of the studies indicate that melatonin is more useful in older individuals.

Herbal Considerations in Sleep

Herbal approaches to aiding in sleep may help, but should not be considered in the long-term strategy. They can be too easily depended upon, and can be as dangerous as sleep medications, when overused. For many, however, calming herbs have helped with sleep.

Among the most popular herbal approaches to sound sleep are the herbs valerian root, passionflower and lavender. Valerian root and passionflower both have long history as herbal calmatives and may help to relax the muscles, allowing for a calm sleep cycle.

The oil of Lavender is historically used for the purposes of sound sleep and small amounts of the oil may be applied to a cotton cloth and placed in the pillowcase or diffused through the bedroom. The smell is wonderful and the effect is quite sedating. As mentioned earlier, lavender is also great in the bath.

While sleep disorders can be a complex issue, eliminating any possible roadblocks to sleep involving the diet and lifestyle may solve the problem. Applying dietary and herbal measures is a safe and beneficial approach to begin. Finding methods to relax after a stressful day can help bring the body and mind into an attitude more conducive to sleep. (See The People's Primer to Dealing with Stress below.)

Please remember that herbal approaches to any problem may interfere with your physician's treatment plan, so it is a good idea to discuss these options with them. We are happy to help in this process, providing information to you and the physician about nutrients, herbs and methods of obtaining sound sleep.

Also consider any environmental factors. Is your bed comfortable? Are your pillows past their prime? Is the TV off when you try to go to sleep? Do you watch soothing TV or violent/action? It may make a difference not only in getting to sleep, but how you sleep and dream. Is your house well ventilated? All these factors may disrupt your sleep cycle. Contact me for more information about handling perhaps the most important part of your day, sleep! You can also check out a couple of products I recommend.

The People's Primer on Dealing with Stress

WHAT IS STRESS?

Are you tense? Do you feel anxious? Do life's demands seem to place a burden on you? You may be stressed. Some stress in life is unavoidable. Age, personality type, jobs, deadlines, behavior issues with family or friends…or the guy that just cut you off on the freeway. These are only a few of the reasons that stress plays a role in our life.

Have you ever noticed how some people can handle stress, even thrive on it, while others have problems with it that may cause physical changes. Symptoms of stress are considerable and include back pain, fatigue, headaches, heartburn, upset stomach, weight gain or weight loss, and high blood pressure. Sound like you? Well, you are not alone.

STRESS AND MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Stress is responsible for the majority of Americans' visits to the doctor. Many doctors are concerned that their office is filled with several people that have problems for which there really is no clear medical diagnosis. These may be the result of stress and our inability to cope. Stress is not necessarily a disease; it is a condition the body places upon itself as a response to certain stimuli. But it can lead to several diseases, in particular heart disease, the number one disease killer in the United States.

HOW STRESS IS DIAGNOSED

Your doctor may recognize stress as a cause or an effect of an underlying condition. Hypertension is an example. Stress may be creating a burden on your heart, elevating your blood pressure. The doctor may refer you to a stress-reduction class or suggest methods you can use to relax at home or the office. He or she may also suggest you modify your diet, quit smoking or drinking in excess, get exercise, or learn to meditate.

The following suggestions are courtesy of the Wellness Store and not intended to interfere with your doctor's orders. They should only serve as suggestions for you and your physician to consider.

COPING STRATEGIES

¨ Check-ups - Have a complete physical and use the information to become a healthier person. The healthier you are, the better able you are to cope with stress.

¨ Eat wisely - Spread your meals out, eat smaller portions, and avoid foods and drinks that are associated with stress, such as caffeine. Caffeine is found in coffee, black tea, chocolate, and soft drinks.

¨ Stop smoking - develop a plan that includes reducing the stress of withdrawal from nicotine. Your physician or pharmacist can help you decide which smoking cessation program is best for you.

¨ Be careful with certain supplements - Some nutritional supplements contain high levels of caffeine or herbal stimulants that can increase your stress burden. Consult with your pharmacist or physician about these products, as they could be dangerous with certain medications or conditions.

¨ Get some rest - Stressful times are usually times when the body has not had enough rest. If you are irritable, feel that you could sleep at any time, are tired when you awake each morning, or fall asleep right as you hit the pillow, chances are that you are sleep-deprived. Tips for sleeping include trying to block off eight hours a day to rest. Develop a sleep routine and try to sleep and wake the same time each day. Take a nap if you feel tired. A few winks during the day can be refreshing. If you can't sleep, rest. The body needs to rest during the day, so don't work during breaks, don't run errands when you eat, and recognize when you need to rest.

¨ Take time out for yourself - Find time throughout the day for exercise and relaxation. Consider a social activity, such as a hobby or club that does not relate to your job. There are many examples, such as a walking club, an art class, or charity work. Stopping and smelling the roses every day may help in reducing stress by giving yourself pleasure and balance in your daily activities.

¨ Deal with anger - Don't worry about things over which you have no control. Share your anger and resolve problems before they become stressful. Learn to say no, try to plan and be prepared for daily activities to avoid complications. If you are thrust into a stressful situation, recognize it.

¨ Listen to the quiet - Often, television and chaotic music can infiltrate our state of well-being. Consider time away from noise centers. Think about soothing music, rather than loud. Think about a book, rather than a television. If you work daily on the computer, consider time away from it at home. Relaxation and meditative activities can balance our fast-paced lives, if we let them.

¨ Exercise - One of the manners the body relieves pent-up stress is through exercise. Consult your physician about your condition and the types of exercise you can use to relieve stress. You may take up a sport, but be careful the competitive aspects of the sport do not create more stress. Walking 30 to 60 minutes a day may be the best exercise for you. There are other exercises that are very gentle, such as tai-chi or Qi-gong. These Oriental exercises are designed to help you reduce your stress levels without overtaxing your body. This is important if you have problems with mobility. A good idea is to exercise with other people because social contact helps relieve stress, too.

¨ Consider mental imaging - This relaxation technique is designed to help you relax different parts of your body. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie on the floor with your eyes closed, and imagine each body part individually relaxing. Do this for the forehead, the eyes, nose, face, jaws, neck, right arm, right leg, left arm, left leg, back, chest, stomach, buttocks. This can take five minutes to a half-hour. Try to do this twice a day.

¨ Don't forget to take the time to meditate – Prayer, meditation and breathing exercises are all proven to help us deal with the day's anxiety and stress. These activities can help you regain your center and keep your mind in a positive frame, in spite of the activities around you.

¨ Consider prayer and meditation - It is well-known that prayer and meditation can relieve stress. While prayer has a religious significance, meditation does not. To prepare for each, sit comfortably and close your eyes. Relax your body and begin breathing through your nose. The goal is to clear your mind of distractions and concentrate on helping your body relax. Breathe easily and follow one of the following techniques.

¨ Mantras - A mantra is a word or phrase that is repeated continually for the period of meditation. Using the mantra as a focal point will allow you to concentrate on your breathing and help to relax you. A mantra can be anything, from a single sound (Ommm) to a biblical verse (Thy Will be Done). Remember that the repetition of the sound helps the breathing, so keep it short and comfortable. Some people count to ten, over and over. Examples of sayings include "Bring joy to my heart," "I am at peace," or "My body is relaxed." Find the mantra that makes you feel good.

¨ Physical Focus - Many people meditate or pray while performing a physical activity like walking or swimming. Focus on your breathing or the repetition of your step or stroke, and you can obtain a meditative pace. Remember to listen to your breathing and concentrate on reducing the amount of breaths. This means the physical focus should not be strenuous.

¨ Visual Focus - Many people meditate and pray with a visual element, such as a candle or a cross. It can have a calming influence and should be used prior to the listening of the breath and the closing of the eyes.

¨ Music focus - Some people meditate or pray to music. Select a type of music that is soothing and make sure to keep the sounds soft and in the background. The foreground sound to help you concentrate is the sound of your breath. If the music is too loud, it will distract you.

¨ Develop a stress-free attitude - Reduce the importance you place on most things in your day. If you can, vary your waking routine, don't take things personally, put things in the perspective they deserve (is it a mountain or a molehill?), laugh more, talk out things that bother you, plan your daily activities including time away from your planner. Don't let stress rule your day; let your day rule out stress. Reducing your stress has no time element and may not work at first, but keep trying. Good luck!

It is our hope that you will have a long, happy and spiritual life, free of stress, anxiety and depression. If you think you could use a good coach to help, contact me for a consultation.

Mike Casso, R.Ph.