Q: Dr. Scott, I’m 61 years old and my memory and concentration are really getting bad. Is there anything I can do nutritionally to help sharpen my mind?
A: Most of us don’t worry about brain health until we near our 50s. That situation changed when actor Michael J. Fox – who is still quite young – made the startling announcement that he had Parkinson’s disease.
The nutritional research that has been described in the past issues of our column indicates that years of accumulated free-radical damage eventually leads to aging and degeneration of the brain. Most neurological diseases do not become obvious until about 75 percent of brain cells in an affected area have died. The surviving 25 percent are extremely sick and cannot function normally, which is why treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is so difficult. By the time such a disease becomes clinically evident, there just isn’t much left for doctors to work with.
One of the most exciting findings in the science of gerontology is new hope for revving the engine of the aging brain. Numerous studies have shown that older people are chronically deficient in several important nutrients – especially vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid, numerous minerals and trace minerals, as well as the omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Often, these deficiencies are sub-clinical, meaning that while they do not produce obvious signs such as bleeding gums (vitamin C deficiency), bowed legs (vitamin D deficiency), or beriberi (vitamin B1 deficiency), the body is still unable to optimally function. In terms of brain function: mental confusion, decreased memory, declining cognitive skills, and decreased reaction times may be signs of the beginning of neurodegenerative disease.
Because the early changes in cognitive function, memory and social behavior can be so difficult to measure, researchers in the past have assumed that these deficiencies were of no consequence. But newer, more sophisticated and sensitive studies have shown this not to be true.
Get What You Pay For: Psychopharmacology and the Health Food Store
What are you paying for when you buy foods that should provide you with the nourishment the world has for you? What are you putting in your mouth – that port of entry into the golden city that is your body? What passes through there determines the quality of life you will live in that city. The currency of any city is money. If our intention is to spend money on food that will deliver nutrients to all our cells, organs, glands, tissues and bones, then those hard-earned dollars are best spent on healthy, whole, fresh food.
What are you paying for when you shop at the grocery store for food? Are you paying for a farmer to put organic seeds into a rich, well-fed soil and raise that food to the peak of freshness, then harvest it and bring it to market – where you can pay him for all the nutrients gathered from the good earth?
Or are you paying for a corporate farmer to sterilize the soil, force-feed the plant with synthetic chemicals, kill the bugs with more toxic chemicals, then deliver that harvest to a processing plant – where it’s cooked, dried and depleted of its nutrients, then fortified with synthetic nutrients, flavored with artificial flavors and sugar, chemically preserved, and finally packaged and delivered to the grocery shelf? In order for this food to sit on the shelf for a long time without rotting, it must be processed. What does that mean exactly? It means killing the living enzyme systems. But if it won’t rot, it won’t digest!
What really counts when buying food? The nutrient content. The more processed a food is, the less the nutrient content, and the less value that food passes on to you. Nutrient-rich food, however, supplies many benefits to you and your family.
For one, nutrients are protection against exposure to toxins in our environment, because they supply the digestive, endocrine, nervous and immune systems with the natural phyto (plant) chemicals necessary to cleanse, repair and defend the body.
Nutrients also protect mental health and well-being, because the brain is a physical organ in just as much need, if not more, of quality nutrient phytochemicals as any other part of the body.
Grocery money is a long-term health investment that you should start right now. You’ll feel better within minutes of eating a piece of fresh food, but the real benefit is the long-term gain. Imagine if you could do something today that would add not just 10 more years to your life but 10 good years? Think of your children not ever having to deal with heart disease or arthritis. Think of your grandchildren never having to be hopped up on drugs. Think of your own final 10 years being able to walk comfortably, mentally engaged with the world, at your own optimal level of health.
Otherwise you are investing in your illness, and theirs. Once you’re sick, you’re paying a lot of money to chase the symptoms and suppress them until the next onslaught. A constant runny nose, a constant dry cough, a persistent ache or pain, chronic indigestion or constipation, an inability to remember names and places – all of these are signs that a chronic condition, perhaps even a neurodegenerative disease, is developing.
Remember: the more packaged and processed a food item is, the less nutrition it will have for your brain and your body. Start with a fresh, raw ear of corn (or briefly parboiled, if you prefer). The juices burst from the kernels. The flavors are sweet and complex, and it digests easily. Now turn that corn into dried, crispy chips. There is not a drop of moisture or a shred of enzyme life left! Which form do you think will best nourish the growing bodies of your children and grandchildren or your own brain for that matter: the non-food corn chip or the fresh ear of corn?
Dr. Scott Cuthbert is the chief clinician at the Chiropractic Health Center in Pueblo, Colorado, as well as the author of three new textbooks and over 50 peer-reviewed research articles. PuebloChiropracticCenter.com.