This story is about Arnold. Arnold has been working for 45 years. He grew up in a low-income family, and when he was young he had to work several jobs to put food on his table. When he got to his 30s he was able to save enough money to put up his own company. Times were hard in the beginning and he didn’t have any money, but he persevered and was able to grow the company to provide for his family. Currently, Arnold is an old and accomplished man. He has his wife, children, and grandchildren plus a profitable company which his grandchildren run.
Arnold is currently retired and should be enjoying the fruits of his labor. The only problem is, he can’t remember anything. He struggles to remember doing something he did earlier or the names and faces of his loved ones. The story of Arnold is not an uncommon one, it’s has become so common that we associate old age with a fading memory. Most of us have accepted the fact that our memory has a self-erasing calendar as we grow old.
Perhaps you know someone like Arnold or you have a loved one who is suffering from memory loss, or worse Alzheimers. What I’d like to share is that memory loss can be prevented, reversed and should NOT be part of growing old. Similar to past articles, the best way we can protect ourselves from mental disorders and memory loss is to understand the root cause. A lot of the information below is based on the book Power Foods For The Brain by Dr. Neal Barnard, (Yes, he also wrote the book Reversing and Preventing Diabetes.) I highly recommend everyone pick up this book if you want to learn more about memory loss, Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc. and how you can prevent them. Here are 9 Things About Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s You Need To Know.
# 1 Heavy metals build-up in the brain is one of the main causes of mental disorders and memory loss.
Did you know that researchers found plaque within the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia? Upon further investigation, the plaque found had high amounts of copper, iron, and zinc. We get these minerals from the food we eat as it is essential for building enzymes and other healthy functions. In reality, these minerals or “metals” are highly unstable. Take for example a copper coin, this bright shiny coin soon darkens and rusts as does other metals. This is called oxidation, and it causes havoc to our brain. When the metals we consume begin to oxidize inside our brain it causes free radicals to form which then attack our brain cells.1 Imagine that exact copper coin beginning to rust inside our brain, not very pleasant, but this is exactly what happens when we consume heavy metals.
#2 Metals in food such as iron, copper, and zinc can contribute to heavy metal build-up in the brain.
So are these metals bad for us? But these are minerals! That’s what I thought, too. Let us take iron as an example. We were always told that iron is supposed to be good and essential to the body, so what’s the problem? The key is to understand the difference between the two types of iron– non-heme iron and heme iron. Non-heme iron is found from dark green leafy vegetables, beans, and other plant-based foods. Nonheme iron has a very special function in where it auto-regulates its consumption. Meaning, it becomes extremely absorbable if you are low on iron, and at the same time, if you have plenty of iron in your blood stream, your body is able to lower the absorption, ensuring you only get the adequate amount.
The problem is when we consume a lot of the other type of iron, which is the heme iron. Heme iron is difficult for the body to regulate, and we cannot turn down the absorption even if we already have a lot of iron in our system. As Dr. Barnard puts it, it’s like an uninvited guest barging into your party that you can’t get rid of.
Where do we get heme iron? Heme iron is mostly found in animal protein and artificial vitamins. Take for example a cow who gets iron from grass, as Dr. Barnard explains in his book. When we eat the cow, the iron we consume is super concentrated and it ends up being more than we need. For other minerals, plant-based sources have a natural substance called phytic acid which limits the absorption of copper and zinc, thus, making sure we do not over consume them. 2 Metals such as copper, iron, and zinc are essential to the body but when we overconsume them, it can have a toxic effect in our brain.3
How much of these minerals do we really need? For copper, just .9 milligrams per day for men and women, iron is 8 milligrams per day for adult men and for women over fifty and 18 milligrams for women between nineteen and fifty. Zinc, 11 milligrams per day for men and 8 milligrams per day for women. Check out the graph below showing the rates of memory loss and Alzheimer’s corresponding to heavy metals in the body. As you can see those who average 2.75 milligrams per day did not do so well in terms of cognitive health. 9,000 people volunteered for the Chicago Health and Aging Project, and the study showed that the participants who have a fair amount of copper along with saturated fat from animal products showed loss in mental function that was equivalent to extra nineteen years of aging.4
#3 It would be best to check our multivitamins for minerals as they can lead to heavy metal build up. These minerals are iron, copper, aluminum, etc.
According to Dr. Neal Barnard, we have to be careful with the choice of our multivitamin supplement. Most multivitamin supplements contain the minerals iron, copper, and zinc. As we learned earlier, over-consuming minerals can have negative effects on our brain. Most vitamins for the elderly already exclude iron but still include copper and zinc, so it would be wise to choose a supplement without minerals and containing only vitamins. It would also be wise to check the labels of antacids and use only aluminum-free versions. Several antacids have aluminum hydroxide that can deliver thousand times worth of aluminum than what the body needs, wrecking havoc in the brain. All of these minerals can be found from whole food sources and we have no need to get them from artificial supplements.
Whole food plant-based sources such as dark leafy greens including spinach, pechay, beans, nuts, whole grains, sesame seeds and mushrooms are high in copper, iron, and zinc. Obtaining minerals from whole food sources also ensures that we won’t consume excess heavy metals due to plants’ natural auto-regulating absorption of them.
#4 Check if your cookware has certain metals on their cooking surface. These metals can easily oxidize and build up in our brain.
A big contributor to the heavy metals build-up in the brain is the cookware we use every day. If possible, request for the cookware that is free of copper and iron on their cooking surfaces. Avoid as well aluminum cans such as those used in sodas. Although these cans have a lining to prevent the aluminum from seeping into the soda, it is still not entirely effective, as the longer the soda sits in the can, the more aluminum may pass into it.
#5 Consuming a diet rich in cholesterol and saturated fats not only threatens our heart’s health but also our brain’s health.
Saturated fat typically from animal protein, dairy, and hydrogenated oils causes our cholesterol level to rise. When cholesterol level rises, plaques begin to form in our heart’ arteries. These arteries connect the heart and the brain and when the plaque begins to form, it gradually pinches off the supply of blood to the brain. A failure in the blood supply of the brain is one of the main causes of stroke, which is one of the leading causes of memory loss. Cholesterol also increases beta-amyloid, which is a compound that ends up as beta-amyloid plaques that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
You may or may not have heard of the dreaded Alzheimer gene which is the APOE e4 gene. Those who have the APE e4 gene of Alzheimer’s are at a high risk when consuming a high cholesterol diet as people with this gene absorb more cholesterol easily than people without. The cholesterol carried by the APOE-e4 gene encourages the production of beta-amyloid, which in turn is aggravated by the heavy metals consumed in the diet thus, making the free radicals and plaques that destroy brain cells. 5 In the Chicago project, researchers found out that saturated fat is harmful all by itself. Over a four-year period, people who got around 25 g of fat each day had at least twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.6
#6 Several medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs have been found to have direct effect on memory
Statin or cholesterol-lowering drugs have been found to have negative effects on memory. In a study made by the University of California at San Diego, 171 cases of people were reported with cognitive problems while taking statin. In 90 percent of the cases, stopping the cholesterol-lowering drug fixed the problem. People were mistakenly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but after removing the cholesterol-lowering drug, the diagnosis did not apply anymore. Some resumed the cholesterol-lowering drug and found that memory loss symptoms returned each time. The higher the dose of the cholesterol drug, the more likely the people in the test were found to have cognitive problems. The cognitive problems associated with the study were usually confusion, disorientation, and memory gaps.7
#7 Other sources of heavy metals such as antiperspirants can be a contributor to heavy metal build up in the brain
Common antiperspirants contain aluminum that can unsuspectingly pass through your skin and into your bloodstream. Check your antiperspirant’s ingredients list to see if it is aluminum or alum free. Check as well your skin care items for metals such as aluminum, copper, zinc, and iron.
#8 Incorporate physical and mental exercises for mental health. Just light and simple aerobic exercise can do wonders for your mental health. With aerobic exercise, blood flow is stimulated towards the brain. Other activities like brisk walking, biking, light jogging or any aerobic endeavor stimulate oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Another benefit when your heart gets pumping is that new connections and brain synapses grow between brain cells. This is even true for people with the APOE e4 gene. 8 Mental exercises such as learning a new language or cognitive challenges have been shown to build brain circuits that enhance the cognitive reserve. Even simple activities such as reading a newspaper article or working a crossword puzzle are known to activate the brain neurons and get them firing. 9
#9 Incorporate a plant-based diet or eat more plant-based foods for peak mental health.
Oftentimes, people mistake that by exercising, one can indulge in toxic foods and solve all of their health problems. The reality is you can’t exercise cholesterol or heavy metals away. Let exercise add to the benefits of eating healthy rather than be a replacement. Eating a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to have peak mental health as we grow old. Well, what if you happen to have to APOE-e4 Alzheimer’s gene for example? According to Dr. Neal Barnard, if you can adopt a plant-based diet or consume more plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, your body will produce less cholesterol, your absorption of heavy metals would diminish, and your risk would fall despite having the genes that would predispose you to have Alzheimer’s or other mental disorders. 10
There you have it, I hope this article showed a clear glimpse on what causes memory loss and mental disorders. By understanding what causes it, we can avoid it and never miss a memory in our lives. The best way for long-lasting optimum mental health or reverse mental disorders is to consume more plant-based foods or adopt a plant-based diet. At the same time, incorporate a holistic approach by avoiding heavy metals in cookware, personal care, and in food. Finally, exercise the mind as well as the body to supplement the diet.
The topic of mental heath and Alzheimer’s is huge and very detailed so I highly suggest that if you’re interested in exploring the details of the information, go get the book of Dr. Neal Barnard Power Foods For The Brain. You can also hear him talk about it in this video. Feel free to share the article if you found useful or leave a comment in the section below.
Power Foods for the Brain: An effective 3-step plan to protect your mind and strengthen your memory. Neal D. Barnard, M.D. Grand Central Life & Style, 2013 1 Stankiewicz JM , Brass SD. Role of iron in neurotoxicity: A cause for concern in the elderly? Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009;12:22-29 2 Hunt JR. Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. AM J Clin Nutr. 2003;78(suppl):633S-39S 3 Hunt JR, Vanderpool RA. Apparent copper absorption from a vegetarian diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001;74:803-7 4 Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, et al. Dietary copper and high saturated and trans fat intakes associated with cognitive delcine. ArchNeurol.
2006a;63:1085-88. 5 Anoop S, Anop M, Meena K, Luthra K. Apolipoprotein E polymorphism in cerebrovascular and coronary heart disease. Indian J Med Res. 2010;132:363-78 6 Morris MC, Evans EA, Bienias JL, et al. Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. 2003;60:194-200. 7 Evans MA, Golomb BA. Statin-associated adverse cognitive effects: Survey results from 171 patients. Pharmacotherapy 2009;29:800-811. 8 Hamer M Chida Y. Physical activity and risk of neurodegenerative disease: A systematic review of prospective evidence. Psychol Med. 2009;39:3-11 9Chertkow H, WhiteheadV, Philips N, Wolfwon C, Atherton J, Bergman H. Multilingualist (but not always bilingualism) delays the onset of Alzheimer disease: Evidence from a bilingual community, Alzheimer Dis Assoc Discord. 2010; 24:118-25 10 Morris MC, Evans EA, Bienias JL, et al. Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. 2003;60:194-200.