By Dr. John Thomas
Neurocognitive disorders go beyond Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and memory loss. They also include Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Developmental Disability (DD), hyperactivity, dyslexia, and even depression.
Neurocognitive disorders may be marked by an inability to remember things, difficulty learning, and understanding, or more complex symptoms such as a catastrophic disassociation from reality. We tend to think of neurocognitive disorders as only occurring in individuals who are advancing in age, but they can impact people of all ages—even children.
The underlying causes of these disorders such as trauma (concussions and infections) and degeneration are well documented. However, many don’t realize that substandard overall health can put people at a much higher risk for neurocognitive disorders.
Being proactive with natural strategies can reduce this risk.
Nutrition impacts our brain health and cognition more than we once believed. Pharmaceuticals directly targeted at a neurocognitive disorder may reduce the intensity in some of the symptoms, but they aren’t a long-term solution or an outright cure.
Nutrients found in food work synergistically as cofactors within our body and its pathways. A good example of this is vitamin D and how it relates to bone health. In general, most people get plenty of calcium through their typical diet, but if the body isn’t metabolizing vitamin D into D3, then calcium, even when levels are plentiful, won’t get distributed fully throughout the body.
Nutrients and compounds that play critical roles in human cognitive health include:
Vitamin B and folate
Studies have shown that with sufficient levels of vitamin E, especially in conjunction with vitamin C and carotenoids, cognitive decline is reduced. Furthermore, low folate levels and higher homocysteine levels are associated with increased risk for dementia.
Patients and practitioners who want to prevent neurocognitive disorders should start by making sure nutrient levels and nutrient absorption are fully optimized.
Other Deficiencies That Contribute to Neurocognitive Disorders
Iodine deficiency is on the rise, and many consider this to be one of the bigger world health issues facing today’s population.
Iodine has massive influence over thyroid health and fibrocystic cancer. In addition, maternal iodine deficiency puts millions of children at risk each year for intellectual disabilities and brain damage. Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable intellectual disability. Because of this, sustainable elimination of iodine deficiency was the principal goal at the 1990 World Summit for Children. Thirty years later, the problem hasn’t been solved.
The thyroid gland needs iodine to convert iodide into thyroxine and triiodothyronine, which is partially responsible for organ growth, and in particular, brain growth. It plays a significant role in with neuroreceptors as well, acting as a cleaning agent. Essentially, iodine helps the cells in the human body communicate with one another.
Unfortunately, iodine has slowly disappeared from our daily diet. Bread used to be fortified with iodine, but commercial bakers use bromide (a fire retardant and preservative) instead. We need iodine in our systems, but it’s been replaced with bromide, fluoride, and chloride. Connections to sufficient iodine intake and diet are easily found. Incidences of breast cancer tend to be much lower in places such as Japan, where iodine-rich foods like kelp and seaweed are dietary mainstays. Less developed nations in Asia and Africa, where standard diets include fewer processed foods, also show lower levels of breast cancer than North America and Europe, where diets typically include higher amounts of processed foods.
You may have noticed that many of the elements above play major roles in detox pathways. Vitamins B, C, and E have antioxidant properties and slow the onset of disorders like Alzheimer's disease by reducing damage caused by amyloid-beta peptides and oxidative stress. They may also aid in reducing the extraneuronal plaque associated with neurocognitive decline.
A healthy gut microbiome helps to detoxify our bodies of environmental contaminants. It also produces hormones such as serotonin, which has a massive impact on neurocognitive issues like depression. So, getting the gut working in harmony with the rest of the body is a top priority as a natural strategy from preventing neurocognitive disorders.
Along with gut health, ADK and DIM supplements might help optimize the detox pathways for some. ADK works as detox support, and DIM can help regulate excess hormones. But many of these benefits can be achieved through a healthy diet that promotes cleaner living. It will give the body more of the nutrients that it needs to help combat neurocognitive disorders and reduce the number of pollutants the body has to work so hard to get rid of.
Rest and Exercise
Eating healthy is a necessity, but another issue that can wreak havoc on your mental acuity is poor sleep. When you aren’t getting enough good sleep, the regenerative paths of your brain don’t take place. This has a compounding effect; more damage and more deposits are piled on, becoming harder to repair. When this happens, cell-to-cell communication suffers. This is especially true when insufficient rest is ongoing.
Stress-related sleep issues are commonplace, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress levels. Is it blowing off steam and excess energy through exercise or taking a few moments each day to practice mindfulness that calm your nerves? Finding a method to manage stress that works will increase your chances of restful sleep.
Natural strategies for neurocognitive prevention can be boiled down to nutrient and mineral deficiencies, gut health, the body’s daily detoxification abilities, and rest. A good functional medicine practitioner will create an actionable cognitive health plan by first determining where any deficiencies lie. Then, they’ll help correct them through dietary changes, high-quality supplements, balancing the gut microbiome, and suggesting lifestyle changes that will help manage stress and improve rest. Unlike pharmaceuticals, which only abate the symptomology, functional medicine deals with neurocognitive disorders upstream of the problem.