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How To Prevent Aging Brain - Cognitive Decline & Brain Fog [E032]

How many times have you felt like you couldn’t get your brain fire at the level you wanted? Or a cloud of brain fog, leaving you to feel like you are unable to remember things as simple as peoples names. In this episode, we are going to go deep into the Aging Brain and how it can lead to brain fog or Alzheimer’s. Function Medicine Doctors, Dr. Olivia Joseph, and Dr. Anthony Pasek decode how you can start turning that ship around before it is too late.

Table Of Contents

An Introduction To Aging Brain

An Introduction To Aging Brain

Dr. Bryan: Welcome to The Wellness Connection Podcast, giving hope, igniting health, and shaping a brighter future. It’s time to get connected.

Dr. Bryan: All right. How many times have you felt like you couldn’t get your own aging brain to like fire at the level that you wanted it to fire or like just had this cloud that people refer to as brain fog or feel like you’re starting to forget names and forget things? This is what we plan to cover today. This is Dr. Bryan Joseph as usual hosting The Wellness Connection Show. This is episode 32 and we’re going to hit today on a subject matter that’s becoming massively prevalent, and that is the topic of the aging brain and brain fog, cognitive decline, and how it can even lead to things like Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Bryan: So today, we’re going to go deep in the functional medicine spectrum with a couple of our experts, Dr. Olivia Joseph.

Dr. Olivia: Hello. Hello.

Dr. Bryan: And Dr. Anthony Pasek.

Dr. Anthony: Hi there, Dr. Bryan.

Dr. Bryan: So welcome to both of you again. And this is a subject matter that both of them have spent quite a bit of time and energy and money trying to continue to gather information on why patients keep coming in with a challenge of brain fog, sluggishness, forgetting things, can’t concentrate, and so on and so forth. So today, we hope to kind of share some of the factual information on why these things are happening, and then what are some things to start turning the ship around before it’s too late. So let’s kick this off.

Dr. Bryan: First of all, how often are you guys hearing that same thing?

Dr. Anthony: Every day.

Dr. Anthony’s expertise in neurology

Dr. Bryan: On that note, why don’t you just share with the people that may not be aware when she says that’s your expertise, why is your expertise? What have you trained that makes you an expert in it?

Dr. Anthony: Sure. During school and afterward, chiropractic school, I did a lot of post-graduate training on neurology, specifically, and looking at even just in recent years more of a function approach to cognitive decline and dementia in particular. So it’s just kind of one of my favorite topics kind of stemming from my experience working in assisted living homes from all the way back into high school. So it’s one of the reasons I got into healthcare in the first place.

Dr. Bryan: I remember off the record you and I having a discussion about just how often you would see the aging population deal with struggle with memory.

Dr. Anthony: Yeah, definitely, and then really the benefit of this approach is that there are alternative ways to treat things like cognitive decline and dementia that can be game changing compared to just the conventional medical model.

Dr. Bryan: So when I’m talking with patients, whenever I have a conversation and I would imagine you guys hear something very similar. But when somebody says, “Listen, one of my symptoms is I just can’t finish sentences. I don’t remember people’s names the same way I used to, or I just feel sluggish. No motivation or aging brain fog.” But it’s always categorized but it’s part of getting old.

Younger generation is getting affected

Dr. Olivia: Yeah, but the thing is is you’re seeing it in younger and younger populations. And that’s one of the reasons I try to avoid this demographic, and Dr. Anthony worked in assisted living. He works with a majority of our type two diabetics. He’s working with an older demographic, but yet I’m seeing this complaint in people in their 40s or 50s. And that’s one thing before we got live on this podcast, Dr. Anthony and I were talking about is we’re seeing people 40-42 years old complaining of cognitive type symptoms. So it’s not a sign of aging when we’re living longer than ever before. People are living well into their 90s, but these symptoms are starting in their 40s. That is really scary, and we have to look at the big picture.

Dr. Anthony: And even younger than that with some of the demographics we’ll talk about, but thyroid and autoimmunity, people in their 20s or less are like, “I’m not firing in all cylinders,” which is scary.

Dr. Olivia: Right. Well, neurologic conditions are becoming more prevalent in children too. So aging brain dysfunction is a huge issue among all ages.

Dr. Bryan: So we can expand on that another time. Not for today. But yes, it’s funny that you answered it that way because when people do tell me, “Hey, it’s just part of aging,” I’ll look down at their paperwork and kind of smirk and be like, “Listen, you’re only 36. How are we defining aging right now?” Right? And really do you think the creator that created us intended our brains to stop working effectively in our 30s?

Dr. Anthony: No.

What’s Causing The Cognitive Decline: 3 Categories

What's Causing The Cognitive Decline: 3 Categories
Photographer: Paweł Czerwiński | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: So let’s get into some of the reasons that you’re both aware of as to why people’s aging brain… Why people are feeling this way, and what’s really happening to their brains that could be causing this?

Dr. Olivia: Yeah, so Dr. Anthony did a great job. He categorizes it as hot, cold, and toxic. So if we break it into those three categories, first thing let’s talk about hot, which is inflammation. So we know inflammation affects the brain. Dr. David Perlmutter, who I’ve mentioned before on the gluten podcast, wrote a book called Grain Brain, and he has done so much research on this literally showing how our diet affects inflammation in our aging brain. It’s called inflamm-aging, which means when you have chronic inflammation, you will age at a faster rate, right? We’ve talked about cellular age and biological age. Well, same thing is true for the aging brain. So when we talk about inflammation diet is a big component, eating an inflammatory diet, having high inflammatory markers, and I’m going to let Dr.-

Dr. Bryan: Which are, what? Because I hear you guys talk about those.

Dr. Olivia: Yeah. The big one for brain is homocystine. So the brain really needs folate, and if it doesn’t get it, it can cause major dysfunction. So when you see high homocystine, it’s an indication that the blood vessels in the aging brain are not getting the nutrients they need, and they’re getting inflamed do to a deficiency. So that’s a hot or inflammatory one.

Hot Category: Inflammation and Relation To Brain Fog

Hot Category: Inflammation and Relation To Brain Fog
Photographer: Janita Sumeiko | Source: Unsplashf

Dr. Bryan: So the very first contributing cause, what I’m hearing you say, is as we’re calling it hot, but hot basically means inflammation, excessive inflammation in the body, and that’s causing the brain to be able to not function at the level it’s meant to-

Dr. Olivia: And honestly we’re exposed to more environmental toxins than ever before. So we know certain toxins like metals, in particular, are very, very toxic to the brain. And our amount of exposure has not decreased, not in the last decade or two. It’s actually increased. So different type of toxins can and will affect the abrain. There’s a whole category of neurotoxins found in food from artificial sweeteners to gingartificial colors to MSG, things of that nature, even outside the category of metals and things of that nature. your brain going to start to fail here.

Dr. Bryan: So you just mentioned one of the previous episodes that we did. So anybody that heard that that may not have heard the episode, he’s referencing episode seven, which was about a conversation around reversing type two diabetes. So you can find it there if you’d like to listen to it.

Dr. Anthony: So Dr. Olivia mentioned diet. Certainly that’s the first thing we look at, what inflammatory things that you’re putting in your mouth could be contributing to it, but also just gut inflammation in general from like any kinds of infection or bacterial overgrowth or fungal infection or whatever. One of the things I see along those lines a lot, it’s related to brain function, but things like depression, anxiety, other type of like mood disorders that are often related to the gut, to diet, to some kind of imbalance there.

Environmental toxins can affect the brain

Dr. Olivia: And honestly we’re exposed to more environmental toxins than ever before. So we know certain toxins like metals, in particular, are very, very toxic to the brain. And our amount of exposure has not decreased, not in the last decade or two. It’s actually increased. So different type of toxins can and will affect the aging brain. There’s a whole category of neurotoxins found in food from artificial sweeteners to artificial colors to MSG, things of that nature, even outside the category of metals and things of that nature.

Dr. Anthony: But then also when we look at just metal exposure from things like mercury fillings and cigarette smoke contains heavy metals.

Dr. Olivia: Deodorant.

Dr. Anthony: Yeah. That’s a good point. Automobile exhausts, stuff like that. Lead in-

Dr. Bryan: You know on that topic, what’s wild around here we’ve had so much rain recently, and it’s interesting that a lot of the landfills or a lot of the places where traditionally there’s not much water and there’s a lot of junk or metal that’s being put into the ground. Right now with all the flooding and the rain that we’ve had, a lot of that water has pushed a lot of that metal into the ground or flooded those areas, therefore trickling some of these harmful toxins and metals into our water stream.

Dr. Olivia: Drinking water.

Dr. Bryan: Yeah. I’ve heard so many people including myself say I can taste metal in my water recently.

Dr. Anthony: Yeah. When it rains really hard, my dad has one of those metal Berkey filters, and it takes about two or three times as long to filter after a heavy rain as before, and that’s on city water.

Cold Category: Thyroid & Hormones

Cold Category: Thyroid & Hormones
Photographer: Hamed Foroutan | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: The second one is cold, a cold category that you referenced. So what’s meant by a cold category that could be causing this dysfunction?

Dr. Olivia: Yeah. My favorite thing to talk on is thyroid, right? One of the thyroid’s jobs is to bring oxygen to every cell, including your aging brain cells. So one of the major complaints who get in people with low thyroid function or inflammation in the thyroid due to Hashimoto’s or elevated antibodies is brain fog. It is probably the number one complaint.

Dr. Olivia: So low thyroid function, for sure, is one.

Dr. Anthony: And then one that I’m seeing more and more, especially when we look at more advanced hormone testing, is just a decrease in sex hormones. So estrogens, progestins, but certainly probably testosterone and DHEA, I tend to see a bigger connection between that. But one of the biggest risk factors would be if you are a woman and you had a hysterectomy at an early age, and you have a much longer time of not having any hormone supply to your brain. I’ve seen many patients that was definitely a contributing factor to significant brain decline.

Dr. Bryan: All right. When we have these deeper level like functional medicine discussions or nutritional discussions, I just want to make sure that everybody’s really following what’s being said because we live in a world where a lot of this language is part of our norm. But hot, we’re referencing as too much of something in your body.

Dr. Anthony: Right.

Dr. Bryan: Cold, we’re referencing as not enough of something.

Dr. Anthony: Too little.

Dr. Olivia: Exactly.

Dr. Anthony: You got it.

The brain needs hormones

Dr. Olivia: Yeah. So we have estrogen receptors on our aging brain, and our brain needs testosterone. So essentially what Dr. Anthony’s saying is we have research that shows if you turn off your hormone system too young, it will lead to early brain dysfunction. So we see it happening in younger and younger populations, but when you get a good history, sometimes you can trigger it back as to why or what triggered it.

Dr. Anthony: And I see a lot of times just medications that they’re taking are just shutting down their production of those hormones too, which is kind of unfortunate because that’s sort of treatment induced brain fog, dementia. Just got to-

Dr. Olivia: Well, a big one is cholesterol medicine and satins. It’s so many people are on it, and when you lower cholesterol, you lower the amount of fat getting to the brain, and that’s one of our topics to discuss today is how important fat is to the brain. So if the brain doesn’t get enough fat, it cannot function.

Dr. Anthony: Totally agree. Yeah. Cholesterol’s the building block of essentially all of the structure of all of the cells in our body.

Dr. Bryan: All right. So the aging brain-

Dr. Anthony: Super important.

Toxic Category: Other Toxins Apart From Metal

Smoke trails
Photographer: Jules D. | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: So if there’s any dysfunction to the operating system or the nervous system, then we know that there’s a bigger problem going on. And the bigger problem oftentimes can be too much of something, not enough of something, or, as you just said a minute ago, toxicity in some capacity. You’ve been poisoned inevitably. So what are some of the forms of toxicity in addition to metal that you mentioned?

Dr. Anthony: Well, if Dr. Olivia’s favorite topic is thyroid, I’m really into the mold situation. They call that inhalational Alzheimer’s. So you can literally breath in mold spores from water damage in your house, and it can essentially attack your brain. The interesting thing there is your brain’s really trying to protect itself by essentially shrinking and shutting off these functions just to keep you alive. So it’s like you shut off certain parts of your operating system to keep you running and going. But mold is a big one. We see that in all kinds of age groups with brain fog as a contributing factor. Also things like Lyme disease and some other viruses and stuff, but mold is probably the biggest one for sure.

Dr. Bryan: All right. So toxicity. So here’s at least the metaphor or the image that comes in my mind when I hear you have this discussion is I think of all of us have had a plant in our backyard at some point or a flower that’s in a pot, and think about it, for that plant to be healthy… If you gave it too much of something, whether it be a flood or too much water, too much nutrients, then inevitably, it’s probably not going to be as healthy as it could be.

Other Causes of Cognitive Decline

Other Causes of Cognitive Decline
Photographer: Cassi Josh | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: So in addition to those three causes, I know there’s some other causes that you mentioned. What would they be?

Dr. Olivia: So, Touching on genes for a log period of time doesn’t make sense because the reality of it is the percentage of people with cognitive decline that have a gene mutation for dementia is so low. It’s such a small percentage. It’s so much more lifestyle driven, such as sleep, exercise, healthy fat in your diet, healthy blood sugar. Those things are such bigger impacters than your genes in this category.

Dr. Bryan: So genes are not it. What else is another contributing factor?

Dr. Anthony: Certainly blood supply. When you talk about having enough or too much of something, you got to have blood and oxygen to your aging brain. So if you had something like a stroke or had narrowing of your blood vessels or something like that, that could be a contributing factor. And then also just trauma. So if you had repeating concussions and this whole idea of getting punch drunk and football, athletes going crazy in their early 50s and things like that. So multiple head wounds can also be a contributing factor for that too. But those are a little different.

Dr. Olivia: And there’s testing too that you can do on the blood brain barrier. So essentially if you have a concussion or a trauma and your blood brain barrier is left open, you’re more sensitive to diet, inflammation in your diet, nutritional deficiencies. So those things are a bigger deal in someone with an open blood brain barrier than a closed blood brain barrier. So from the neurologic standpoint combined with diet, nutrition, gut health, that’s something that we’re looking at.

How To Reverse Or Halt Cognitive Decline

How To Reverse Or Halt Cognitive Decline
Photographer: Louis Hansel | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: All right. Let’s turn the corner a little bit. We now identified some of the reasons why somebody might potentially have brain fog or poor concentration or early dementia or cognitive decline. What can they do about it? I mean, is this something they’re stuck with forever or can we actually halt or reverse the aging process of the brain?

Dr. Anthony: Absolutely. Yeah. So all the things we’ve touched on physical activity, sleep, but certainly getting into things like ketosis and helping with insulin resistance through causes of those things are important. But definitely fasting as well, and that’s something that we haven’t really touched on. But intermittent fasting can be very beneficial for that.

Dr. Olivia: Yeah. So I think that taking things like DHA, we really have to supplement with essential fatty acids. You cannot get enough in your diet, and the reason you can’t get enough in your diet is people are more aware that they need to eat fat. But they’re also still getting exposed to unhealthy fat. Like one french fry, not one order of french fries. One fry enough bad fat to where you really need to supplement with the good fat for your brain to keep those ratios balanced.

Exercise exercise, exercise

Dr. Olivia: So supplementing with DHA, keeping an eye on your vitamin D and homocystine levels, getting the vitamin D in the sweet spot, using B12 and folate to help lower homocystine if and when needed. Checking on things like c-reactive protein using turmeric, which is very good for the brain as well. Exercise, because exercise is going to bring blood flow to the brain. It’s going to exercise the brain, but it’s also going to improve your insulin receptor sensitivity where we’re about to get a new diagnosis passed. Type three diabetes, which is cognitive decline. So we cannot ignore sugar. It has to be addressed. Those insulin levels really have to be in the sweet spot, which is less than six.

Dr. Olivia: So keeping an eye on those things can have a profound impact. But really it comes down to prevention because right now we don’t have a single medication for cognitive decline that works. None. The closest thing we have to it is Namenda, which is an MND receptor, but here’s the problem, you don’t get that drug until it’s too late. So people who really needed it, if you gave it to them 20 years earlier, it might actually make a difference. But giving it to somebody who already has 20 years of degeneration in their brain, way too late. This is why nothing works traditionally or conventionally when it comes to this disease.

Cognitive decline can now be diagnosed

Dr. Bryan: I know Dr. Anthony and I went to a conference and they had talked about some of the diagnostic technology that’s available for someone’s brain is going through this degenerative process that you just mentioned, there’s brain MRIs and there’s software that can measure whether or not your brain literally is downsizing and shrinking because of some of the reasons we mentioned.

Dr. Anthony: It’s pretty cool to see. I mean, it wouldn’t be cool if you’re the patient. But it’s cool as providers to be able to have access to that to say, “Wow. You’re at the fifth percentile for your age for your overall brain volume. That’s not okay.”

Dr. Bryan: And the wild part-

Dr. Anthony: You’ve got to fix this

Dr. Bryan: The really cool part is we’re housed out of Saint Louis, and then we have access to this software. It’s not everywhere yet. But there happens to be imaging centers that have this software in Saint Louis, which gives us a great advantage to be able to help to help the population to know whether or not they’re dealing with these types of things.

Dr. Anthony: Definitely.

Dr. Olivia: And the one thing about testing is if you have a high family history and risk factors is earlier is better because you always want more than one test. You want to get a comparison, almost a before and after. So we know people that have two parents that have had dementia, that have died at a very young age, been affected. You almost want to get that first screening like 40s or 50s at the latest.

Prevention is better than cure. Start now

Dr. Olivia: You don’t want to wait until the symptoms are there because symptoms can show up 10-20 years after the problem has been there and that’s with everything. When we talk about diabetes, that insulin resistance has been there for 10-20 years. When we talk about thyroid disease, those antibodies have been elevated for 10-20 years. So the only way to truly be healthy is to catch problems when they’re small. I mean, it’s never too late to start. There’s always something you can do.

Dr. Bryan: I would agree, and that’s the need for prevention and preventative checkups have a lot of value as opposed to wait until it’s broken. How about this one, you hear so often, I love this, it’s that principle of use it or lose it. Like I know a lot of people as of aged, “Well, I’m not as actively pursuing my work or my career as I once did. I’m retired. So I have to do crossword puzzles or Sodoku to be able to make sure that I’m keeping my brain exercised.” Do you think there’s value and truth to that or what’s your thoughts on that?

Dr. Anthony: Yeah, but you can’t out think some of these things. Right? So that’s one tiny piece of the puzzle. If you’ve got toxicity and insulin resistance and inflammation and you’ve got no hormones, you can do all that all you want, but it’s not going save you at the end of the day.

Dr. Bryan: That’s a great answer, and I think that we also learn that the environment that you put yourself in on a regular basis has a chance to change your brain chemistry or the outcome.

Neurogenesis: The Antithesis Of an Aging Brain

Plasma is beautiful.
Photographer: Josh Riemer | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: Can you just… As we come to a conclusion on this podcast and wrap things up, I don’t think that a lot of people are familiar with the term neurogenesis. Like what the brain is capable of doing. Like even though there’s been a shrinking or a downsizing or a lack of function of your brain, it’s possible to turn it around, correct?

Dr. Anthony: Absolutely. Yeah.

Dr. Bryan: Can you define neurogenesis?

Dr. Anthony: Basically growing new neurons. So we used to think that once you were, I don’t know, five or six or 10, you just didn’t grow and you didn’t learn new things. You didn’t make new connections, but we know that’s not the case at all. It’s a constant balance between creation and destruction in your brain or new neurons and killing them. So you just have to outpace the destruction by creating news one. So that’s a piece of the puzzle for sure.

Dr. Bryan: So personally, I love that because it’s the antithesis of aging. In our own minds, we’re like, “Well, it’s just things are going to break down. They’re not going to work as well. My body doesn’t work as well. My brain doesn’t work as well.” You know what, there’s a chance you can turn that around, and your brain, your nervous system is so smart that it can start to recreate and regrow tissue in a healthy way.

How to improve neurogenesis

Dr. Olivia: If you can get water, fat, and oxygen to the brain, it’s going to exercise your brain. And there’s a lot of things within your lifestyle that you can do to improve neurogenesis. Now what you just said, that comment that you just made, be it arthritis in your knee or arthritis in your brain, dementia, you’re talking about scar tissue. And that scar tissue maybe a very real thing that we want to ideally prevent if we can or catch super, duper early. But those good things still do good things to the brain.

Dr. Anthony: Yeah.

Dr. Bryan: So let’s wrap with this, I’m out there, and I’m listening to this on the opposite side of this podcast recording, and I’m the listener, and I’m the one that’s experiencing brain fog. Where do I start?

Dr. Anthony: I’m going to answer that a little differently. Meaning I think it’s, you alluded to this earlier, it’s easy to fall victim to sort of that bandwagon mentality of like, “Oh well, it’s common. So I must be normal.” Well, gosh look around you. Are there more people that are overweight?

Dr. Anthony: Are there more people that are sedentary that have skin problems, that have thyroid problems that are taking more and more medications, and then oh yeah, well I’ve got brain fog too and all my friends do as well. It’s not normal. So just having that knowledge and that perspective of, “Gosh, maybe this is not just inevitable. Just because everyone else is suffering from this, well I guess I’m just doomed to as well.” So just kind of flipping that paradigm or maybe we need to define what normal is and start to investigate that a little bit deeper.

Lifestyle change is a must

Dr. Olivia: You’re totally, totally right. I would say lifestyle wise, sleep, detox, reduce inflammation in your diet, fast, supplement, spend time outside, and have a sense of community because the more isolated you are, the more quickly these things progress. So we see among older populations, they age at a slower rate when they have a sense of community and a sense of purpose. So I think that that emotional component is very much a part of it, which does go back to your social groups, right? If you want to be thin, you want to hang out with thin people. You want to be happy, you want to hang out with happy people. When you have those pods of people together, that social structure influences your lifestyle so profoundly. So take that into mind.

Dr. Anthony: And I guess we have to stop eating fries, Dr. Bryan.

Dr. Olivia: Limit them. Depends on the oil it’s fried in. Take your fish oil.

Dr. Bryan: Yeah, if you’re going to eat fries, you better dump a bunch of fish oil in to follow it up for dessert.

Dr. Anthony: Sounds disgusting.

Dr. Bryan: Yeah. All right. Thanks, guys, so much for joining on this topic. Obviously you guys are a breath of knowledge and wisdom when it comes to all these different conditions that affect the body and how we can help to understand them and heal them. I know a lot of people, as we mentioned in the beginning of this podcast, are dealing with these types of issues. Again, that’s the whole purpose that we record these things is try to help more people get well and stay well naturally whenever there is a solution naturally.

Connect with us!

Dr. Bryan: And thank you so much for sharing these podcast episodes the way that you’ve been. We love the feedback. We love the comments. We love everybody that’s offered suggestions for what topic you want us to discuss next. So if there’s something in mind you want to hear from us, please make sure that you reach out to us. You can find us on thewellnessconnection.com. You can find this episode at thewellnessconnection.com/e32. Until next time, stay well.

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