Various 2012 studies further clarified how excessively sweet, unhealthy foods affect the brain. An animal study out of UCLA found that diets high in fructose can impair cognitive function, which is reversible with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. High fructose consumption can induce some signs of metabolic syndrome in the brain and can disrupt the signaling of the insulin receptors and reduce the action of insulin in the brain. Other work published in JAMA suggests that fructose consumption modulates the neurophysiologic pathways involved in appetite regulation and encourages overeating. An October 2012 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported that a diet high in carbohydrates and sugar raises the risk for mild cognitive impairment in the elderly, while a diet high in fat and protein may reduce this risk. Logical yet simple enough, an “optimal balance” of carbohydrates, fat, and protein may help maintain neuronal integrity and optimal cognitive function, particularly in the elderly.
Mounting evidence in 2012 reinforces that high consumption of red meat increases stroke risk. The largest meta-analysis to date looking at the atherogenic effects of red meat found that the risk for total stroke increased by up to 13% for each increase in a single serving of fresh, processed, and total amount of red meat consumed per day. Earlier in the year another study found that processed and unprocessed red meat is associated with a higher risk for stroke, while poultry was associated with a reduced risk. One study found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, grains, and fish led to a 30% lower depression risk compared with a meat based diet. But, as pointed out last year, meat quality is a factor: Moderate consumption of unprocessed, free-range antibiotic free red meat may actually protect against depression and anxiety. Much of the livestock in the United States is raised on industrial feedlots, which increases saturated fat and decreases very important good fatty acids, whereas pasture-raised animals have a much healthier fatty acid profile.
Information derived from Medscape.
A study conducted in Spain reported that consumption of both polyunsaturated fatty acids, (found in nuts, seeds, fish, and leafy green vegetables), and monounsaturated fatty acids, (found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts), decreases the risk for depression over time. However, there were clear dose-response relationships between dietary intake of trans fats and depression risk, whereas other data support an association between trans fats and ischemic stroke risk. Trans fats are found extensively in processed foods, including many commercial chocolates, (hence, check that label when considering dietary intake of chocolate. Also, only the highest levels of dark cocoa contain healthy antioxidants, not milk chocolate). A deficiency in polyunsaturated fatty acids has been linked to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. Thanks to their high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, namely omega-3 fatty acids, fish can help fend off numerous diseases of the brain. A 2010 study correlated fish consumption with a lower risk for psychotic symptoms, and concurrent work suggested that fish oil may help prevent psychosis in high-risk individuals. Although data are conflicting, new research shows that the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid are beneficial in depression and postpartum depression, respectively, and other research suggests that omega-3 deficiency may be a risk factor for suicide. Oily, cold-water fish, such as salmon, herring, and mackerel, have the highest omega-3 levels. Keep in mind that Atlantic fish have elevated levels of mercury and PCB’s compared to Alaskan/Pacific fish, and that farm raised fish contain very little healthy omega 3 fatty acids, due to the confined breeding of farm raised fish.
2012 Neurology Game Changers, Which Foods Are Best for the Brain?
Dietary advice is common practice in cardiology and primary care, but recently food and drink have become important considerations for neurologists, too. Diet is inextricably linked to conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. However, what we consume also seems to have significant implications for the brain: Unhealthy diets may increase risk for psychiatric and neurologic conditions, such as depression and dementia, whereas healthy diets may be protective. 2012 saw coffee and berries warding off dementia, caffeine supplements improving motor function in Parkinson’s and the Mediterranean diet reducing the odds of developing Parkinson’s. Lycopene-rich tomatoes and the flavanones in citrus fruits were found to protect against ischemic stroke. As for what not to eat, a study published in January in Stroke supported previous work linking red meat consumption with higher stroke risk, while diets high in carbohydrates and sugar reportedly raise the risk for mild cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly. A 2009 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that people who follow Mediterranean dietary patterns — that is, a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and unsaturated fat, (common in olive oil and other plant oils) — are up to 30% less likely to develop depression than those who typically consume meatier, dairy-heavy fare. The olive oil-inclined also show a lower risk for ischemic stroke and are less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer disease, particularly when they engage in higher levels of physical activity.
All data derived from Medscape, 2012.
This week I would like to talk about exercise. For the most part the word exercise appears to be a foreign word lately. I started exercising when I was 13, and I haven’t stopped since. At the gym each day I see a myriad of individuals trying to stay fit, but in reality this is only a small minority of the population at large. Our society has now become so obtuse in their habits that getting an extra fifteen minutes of sleep trumps an exercise regimen. I hear excuses in my office all day long, from “I have kids”, to “my job doesn’t allow me the time”, and on and on. I have yet to hear a reason that is not merely an excuse to not have to exercise. Quite simply, these excuses are in reality a way of stating that exercise is just not a priority. The simple truth is that by not getting needed exercise, in effect, you are pretty much agreeing to a shorter life expectancy, which by the way, is predicted to be shorter for the first time in history with the upcoming generation associated with diabetes, hypertension and all of the syndromes associated with lethargy and poor eating habits. Humans were not put on this earth to sit and watch television and eat yodels. Genetically and historically, we essentially were out chasing food, or being chased as food. Because of technology, it is now quite easy to not have to move much during the day, and even easier to eat pre-made stuff full of preservatives and chemicals with no real nutritional value whatsoever. If you have already lost your health because of poor eating habits and lack of exercise, you should probably discuss any upcoming exercise plans with your doctor first. However, if you still have your health, doing anything is better than doing nothing. And the more fit you are, the higher the intensity should be your exercise. As an example of light exercise, when going to the market, rather than driving around stalking that close parking space, take a far one and walk. If you are able, jogging in place for several minutes is great exercise. Doing so in say 8 intervals of 20s of jogging with 10s of rest is extraordinary. Just three days per week of this would actually change your health as well as your body. If you do the math, that is 4 minutes, three days per week. Can you still honestly say that you do not have the time? Not if you are truly honest. For those interested in maximizing their fitness regimens, I have already published several articles on that topic which are readily available, (search word: HIIT), on the fitness page and in the articles section of my website.
Over the years I have authored several articles on vertigo, dizziness and imbalance, mostly pertaining to treatment, as treating these disorders is my specialty. So how do you avoid getting them in the first place? Well, not so easily for some, quite easily for others. Lets first talk about vertigo. The most common causes of vertigo simply cannot be volitionally avoided outside of recommending that you do not bang your head. Vertigo seems to attack everyone at some point or another, some being more predisposed to having repeat attacks. The good news however is that the disorder is quickly remedied, at least in my office. If you do get vertigo you do want to come in and get it treated quickly as it typically only gets worse, and more importantly it invariably leads to imbalance, which causes falls, which are much more difficult to recover from and often times you do not. So the longer you wait to get vertigo treated the more a fall becomes imminent. As some types of vertigo can be caused by swimming, particularly in lakes, cautions should be taken to avoid getting water in the ear canals. Dizziness, is actually different than vertigo, the latter having a rotary type feeling. Causes of dizziness are vast. It is the main side affect from any drug. High or low blood pressure can cause dizziness as can variations high or low in blood sugar. If you are taking drugs for high blood pressure, it is always a good idea to have a home unit so that you can monitor your pressure and maintain a log, which you can share with your doctor. If you gain or lose weight and your daily recordings start to change, you need to inform your prescribing doctor immediately as the drug dosages may require titrating upward or downwards. Similarly, changes in blood sugar are associated with diabetes, which if not kept in check will cause dizziness. Alternatively, a pre-diabetic state where there is simply too much sugar in the diet, hypoglycemia, (low blood sugar), which many people are susceptible to from skipping meals too long or eating poor quality, (low nutritional value), foods can also cause dizziness. If you do not have any of these conditions, it is a good idea to continue to do things in your best interest to keep it that way. Eat healthy and exercise regularly. See a doctor regularly to have your blood pressure checked and have blood work done annually. It would be appropriate to mention eye exams as well as changes in vision as well as ocular diseases are a cause of dizziness. Imbalance, is usually a side effect of vertigo or dizziness. However, it can occur without and typically does as we age although this needn’t be the case. Imbalance is typically associated with aging primarily because the eyes and spine work differently together as the spine becomes arthritic, which is inevitable as we age. If this is not corrected imbalance is the result. My office offers free screening exams for imbalance and the test only takes twenty seconds, and it is the standard in the industry for fall risk analysis currently. As with blood pressure and blood tests, fall risk analysis should be performed routinely every few months. There is no downside as there is no prep required for the test and results are immediately available. And if it means averting a fall the service is invaluable.
Metabolic syndrome, (obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia and hyperglycemia AKA diabetes), remains a concern in regards to increasing health risk within the United States population. For the first time in recorded history, our current generation is projected to have a shorter life expectancy than the prior generation. This is a projection from the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 based on the current epidemic. And things have only gotten worse since then. Metabolic syndrome with its associated cardiovascular disease, stroke, blindness, amputations, etc., accounts for the majority of healthcare dollars currently being spent. Still worse, current medical treatments focus only on symptoms, which actually make the syndrome worse. Hyperinsulinemia causes the pancreas to secrete increased amounts of insulin in response to elevated blood glucose. However, practitioners typically focus on glucose levels or hemoglobin A1c, and prescribe drugs which actually increase insulin levels even further. In a typical case, a patient would present with obesity, hypertension, diabetes and elevated blood lipids. The patient would be told to lose weight by eating more fruits and vegetables and to cut down on fats and cholesterol and to do some light exercise as a standard first-line therapy of lifestyle changes. This certainly stands the test of reason. The problem is that under this regimen, the syndrome actually worsens. Eventually antihypertensive medication is prescribed as are drugs for diabetes. Soon the patient finds themselves on 6 or more drugs with no improvement in their status. The underlying problem is that nothing has been done to address their insulin resistance. A more appropriate course of treatment in this scenario would be the use of a muscle sparing protein diet and more importantly carbohydrate restriction, consisting mainly of fiber and vegetables, keeping in mind that all carbohydrate, with the exception of fiber, will eventually be turned into blood glucose either quickly or slowly. By restricted carbohydrate intake, insulin secretion can be reduced and thus reducing insulin sensitivity/resistance. In doing this, weight loss can occur and the patient’s syndrome can actually reverse. If you suffer from any of the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome, you should consult with myself and/or your family physician before undertaking any therapeutic regimen as in extreme cases drug therapies may be appropriate to reduce risk of stroke and/or other consequential risks.
Each week I see patients who have recently been examined by their primary doctors and are told that have findings of high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar or both. They are ill advised to return for followup in 8 weeks for a second test. I am not suggesting that it is wrong to followup when you have such finings. It is however foolish to make no management recommendations and expect a different outcome on a subsequent visit. Often on the next visit medication will be prescribed as now there is a trend and not just a single visit finding which may have been just coincidence. It is necessary to show a trend vs. a single visit reading to prescribe drug therapies unless hypertension is severe. It is reasonable that if someone is found to have high blood pressure, or, blood work reflects elevation in blood glucose, that rather than simply recording such data for record keeping that lifestyle modifications would be immediately discussed and proposed as being not only appropriate but necessary. Again, it could be argued that simply having an elevation in blood glucose does not mean that you are diabetic. Currently the diagnosis of diabetes is based on a blood test called the Hemoglobin A1c. However, if your blood test is demonstrating elevation in glucose, you are currently in a prediabetic state that needs to be addressed, not just monitored until such point that you definitely have diabetes, as is the case with an enormous number of Americans. If you have either elevated blood glucose or high blood pressure there are definitive lifestyle changes that you need to be making, now, not later. These changes do not merely mean kicking back and awaiting a drug therapy. It is this combination of blood glucose elevation and hypertension that constitutes the metabolic syndrome, a leading cause of disabilities, stroke, heart disease and death in this country, and it is getting worse each year despite drug therapies. When I meet with my patients I routinely discuss all aspects of their health. Most patients come to see me for dizziness and balance problems as well as other brain based disorders, but this doesn’t mean that I can’t help them get their life back if they are dangerously hypertense or prediabetic. In fact, I believe it is my job.
High blood pressure affects about 1 in 4 American adults and is one of the most common worldwide diseases afflicting humans. It increases the risk of heart disease and stroke for those afflicted, so it’s important to know how to lower high blood pressure. High blood pressure, aka hypertension risk factors include obesity, drinking too much alcohol, smoking, and family history of hypertension. Hypertension is the most important modifiable risk factor for coronary heart disease (the leading cause of death in North America), stroke (the third leading cause), congestive heart failure, end-stage renal disease, and peripheral vascular disease.
Normal blood pressure with respect to cardiovascular risk is less than 120/80 mm Hg, (however, unusually low readings should be evaluated for clinical significance as well). Prehypertension is a new category emphasizing that patients with prehypertension are at risk for progression to hypertension and that lifestyle modifications are important preventive strategies. Home blood pressure predicts cardiovascular events much better than do office readings and can be a useful clinical tool. Anyone with hypertension should be monitoring their own BP at home. BP kits are available everywhere, and they are inexpensive. If your BP readings suddenly become low, you should tell your doctor to titrate downwards your medication so that you do not become syncopal, (passing out). The following are the ranges of BP:
Normal – Systolic, (top number) lower than 120, diastolic, (bottom number) lower than 80.
Prehypertension – Systolic 120-139, diastolic 80-99.
Stage 1 hypertension- Systolic 140-159, diastolic 90-99.
Stage 2 hypertension- Systolic equal to or more than 160, diastolic equal to or more than 100
Recommendations to lower blood pressure and thus decrease cardiovascular disease risk include the following:
- Lose weight if overweight. Even a few extra pounds will raise blood pressure.
- Google DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) for a reasonable diet, which is rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Limit alcohol intake to no more than 1-2 drinks/day.
- Increase aerobic activity (30-45 min most days of the week).
- Reduce sodium intake, learn to read nutritional information labels on products you purchase.
- Maintain adequate intake of dietary potassium, calcium and magnesium for general health.
- Stop smoking and reduce intake of dietary saturated fat and cholesterol for overall cardiovascular health.