My Brain Hurts! The Possibility that "Senior Moments" Should not be Moments at all.
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
Would you believe that misplacing your car keys is not normal? What if forgetting what you had for breakfast or struggling to recall the directions to a local business were not just “senior moments”? These “small” indicators are actually symptoms of a much graver state of poor health: neurodegeneration, also known as: your brain is unwell. Typically, those with neurodegeneration don’t realize what is happening or laugh it off as inconsequential. After all, our brains don’t throb like a broken bone when they’re declining in function and our society tends to misunderstand moments of brain fog as normal daily occurrences.
However, for your own neurological health, you should know that several of the typical first signs of brain degeneration are:
1. Brain fatigue/fog
3. “Minor” lapses such as handwriting changes, needing to write down things to recall them, and difficulty recalling faces, names, directions.
Causes of neurodegeneration are numerous. However, when looking at our typical American lifestyle, taking care of the basics is of utmost importance for nourishing your most valuable asset. Those things which were once foundational to daily life have now become luxuries. I’ve even heard people boasting about how little sleep they get and still make it through the day, or how busy they are that they never have time to rest. It seems almost like an American epidemic, where strength and power are defined by how poorly we treat our bodies and our brains.
Firstly – If your body is inflamed, your brain is inflamed. Processes in the body such as the NFKb-TNFa inflammatory loop, chronic infections, chronic poor diet, lack of sleep all foment inflammation in your body. But, what many people do not realize, is that inflammation directly impacts your brain health. There is a very thin line of defense called the blood-brain barrier that physically separates your brain. However, stress hormones and chemicals can cross that barrier and instigate an inflammatory storm. So, when you feel tired from getting five hours of sleep last night, consider how that may be impacting your precious noggin.
Secondly – The basics of health and self-care also are the basics of keeping chronic inflammation at bay. These include the perennial items such as: sleep, down time/rest, relationships, diet, and mitigated technology.
Thirdly – Beyond the basics, you may need to look for deeper root cause issues that are triggering neurological decline. While many believe all symptoms of decreasing brain function are genetic, I think a look at the research might surprise you. (Check out pubmed.com for free scientific research articles!) Diseases and chronic infections can smolder in the body and impact brain fog, making your day a blurry struggle to get through. One of these processes that is seen so commonly these days is autoimmunity, which brings us to…
Fourthly – Autoimmunity is directly correlated with neurodegeneration. It may even be analogous to that chicken or the egg conundrum. For instance, when I have a flare-up of my Hashimoto’s, I immediately notice the impact on my memory, clarity of thoughts, ability to reason, and ability to function on a normal amount of sleep. That, in turn, inhibits proper brain-direction of my thyroid, as the brain puts out numerous substances such as hormones to stimulate and regulate the body and its organs. Unless I get hold of the flare-up and the inflammatory storm, this vicious cycle will continue and even worsen.
This all leads us to the question: What can I do? And especially, what can I do today to take care of my brain? Three main items come to mind...
Working with a functional medicine or nutrition practitioner to truly assess and mine those root cause issues is key, as issues such as autoimmunity might be derailing your best efforts to eat well and implement self-care. Also, many of us are walking around as closet addicts. Perhaps we do not even know it ourselves. But those things which give you a dopamine fix such as screen time, or which trigger opioid receptors in the brain such as dairy and gluten, or even an addiction to stress because it keeps you going all day on adrenaline – all of these are serious areas for introspection and decisions to make smart changes: specific, manageable, accountable, realistic, and time-based changes. Which brings us to the third call to action: making choices. The choices you make today will impact your health, your neurological function, your future, and the chances you have of proceeding into disease states such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
If you would like to dive into how to start accessing and boosting areas of the brain that help you make good choices (like the frontal cortex) and live a life oriented around deeper meaning and purpose, I’m posting an excellence resource below by Dr. David Perlmutter, neurologist and functional medicine practitioner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dvc3IlvBU2Y&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR323QDkVeowKkNAUCXM5pu2APL0W-UVu67u87oaLENEMZ0Y3KnNbXsK76k
And for those of you who missed the reference in this blog’s title, here is a lovely snip of Monty Python’s Flying Circus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_AOfzrQYV0