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Don’t just reach for that supplement you “heard” may be helpful.

Know what you are doing when you reach for that Bacopa, Lion’s Mane, Gingo, Cat’s Claw, Tumeric….. A friend of mine, whose mother had Alzheimer’s, told me she tried a Bacopa monnieri supplement as it had been touted for its neuro-protective benefits  (Walker & Pellegrini, 2024).  Instead, she had dangerous adverse reactions.  She lost 7 pounds without trying, had beginning signs of thyroid hyperactivity, and her stools lost color.  Such problems can actually hasten cognitive decline rather than improve it.  

  • A hyperactive thyroid can cause brain swelling (encephalopathy)
  • Significant weight loss robs us of nutritional support for our nervous system
  • The lack of stool color indicates a severe digestive disorder in which the body is unable to release bile to break down protein and fat.  This not only also robs us of nutrients, but the bile backs up in the liver, preventing this important detox organ from doing its job of cleaning our blood.  

Another friend, also with an Alzheimer’s family history, told me she picked up some Lion’s Mane as her sister told her it would prevent cognitive decline.   Many of us buy supplements for exactly this reason – a friend or a family member recommended it, and we figure it can’t hurt us to try.  Even, I myself am not immune from our culture of a “pill for every ill – my  cupboards are stocked a plethora of supplements that I’ve tried at various points.  I can honestly say that only a few, used in the proper way, at the proper time, have led to substantial shifts in my overall well being  The causes of cognitive decline are multi-factorial.  This is why we must first build the foundation of our health by strengthening  the lifestyle pillars shown to be most correlated with preventing cognitive decline.  While the right supplement can be supportive, these lifestyle factors are fundamental in reversing the causes of cognitive decline: 

  1. Diet
  2. Exercise 
  3. Sleep
  4. Stress reduction  (Rao et al., 2023). 

I would add the avoidance of biotoxins as an increasingly important lifestyle factor  (Manuello et al., 2024).   Although it may not be common to suffer as many supplement side-effects as the first friend I mentioned, supplements can cause adverse effects, especially if it’s not the right one for your body. 

Good quality supplements are expensive but powerful

Before trying one, you want to make sure it is the right supplement for you.   We only know this from getting a careful history, studying your physiology and your genetics, examining your lab tests, and giving you a “trial” of a supplement to ensure you are tolerating it and getting the  benefits you expect.  We decide as a team if it is the right supplement for you, and we track your progress to know when to adjust the dose or stop the supplementation. 

This is what individualized care is all about.  

To hear more about our individualized approach to preventing or reversing cognitive decline, call us.   Manuello, J., Min, J., McCarthy, P., Alfaro-Almagro, F., Lee, S., Smith, S., Elliott, L. T., Winkler, A. M., & Douaud, G. (2024). The effects of genetic and modifiable risk factors on brain regions vulnerable to ageing and disease. Nature Communications, 15(1), 2576. Rao, R. V., Subramaniam, K. G., Gregory, J., Bredesen, A. L., Coward, C., Okada, S., Kelly, L., & Bredesen, D. E. (2023). Rationale for a Multi-Factorial Approach for the Reversal of Cognitive Decline in Alzheimer’s Disease and MCI: A Review. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 24(2), 1659. Walker, E. A., & Pellegrini, M. V. (2024). Bacopa monnieri. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. And here is another on GI and brain health Leaky gut? Leaky brain? If you have gut problems in addition to cognitive difficulties, your functional medicine provider might start with treating your gut. Why is this? “A leaky gut causes a leaky brain” is a common statement heard among functional medicine providers, but it’s not commonly discussed in the world of conventional medicine. So, how connected are the brain and the gut?  We can start by understanding that there is indeed bidirectional communication between the gut microbiome and the brain. This communication happens via the vagus nerve, the body’s superhighway that sends electrical signals both to the brain and to other organs in our body — including the gut. We also know that a disordered gut is associated with many chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, types 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and inflammatory bowel disease (Vijay & Valdes, 2022; Wang et al., 2021).

Doctors widely acknowledge these connections between the gut and the brain. For example, doctors may even prescribe medications like antidepressants, which act on neurotransmitters found in the brain (and the gut), for many chronic gut concerns. But does this gut-brain relationship work in the other direction? Can the health of the gut affect the health of the brain? Could gut issues be the root cause of common mental symptoms such a brain fog, forgetfulness, or trouble completing tasks? The answer is “yes” – this gut-brain relationship works both ways. There is growing evidence that dysbiosis, or the imbalance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in our guts, leads to inflammation that affects our brains and may even cause Alzheimer’s (Grabrucker et al., 2023).

Our brain’s “clean-up crew,” known as microglia, cannot effectively resolve the inflammation caused by this imbalance, especially for those genetically susceptible (Bellenguez et al., 2022). Furthermore, gut dysbiosis produces fewer of those substances (such as butyrate) that typically help us resolve inflammation throughout our bodies (Liu et al., 2018). We also know that a condition known as “leaky gut,” in which the mucosal barrier in the intestines becomes disrupted, causes substantial inflammation. I like to think of the gut as a filter, which must allow for the diffusion of nutrients, but which should not allow larger molecules to pass. In a “leaky gut,” larger-than-normal proteins can escape our intestines and enter our bloodstream, where they are difficult for our bodies to manage.

Our natural immune response to these unusual proteins can lead to auto-immune illnesses and allergies. This may be why certain people develop novel sensitivities to foods that previously didn’t bother them: particles of those foods are escaping through the broken membranes in their “leaky gut” and triggering new  immune reactions.  Additionally, “bad” bacteria, such as e. Coli, can escape into the bloodstream through these broken mucosal walls. Although our immune system typically manages this, it causes further inflammation and leads to an even leakier gut, due to physical damage caused by lipopolysaccharides (LPS) in the bacteria’s cells. Let’s review:

  1. There is bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain.
  2. Many chronic diseases are associated with gut dysbiosis (an imbalance of good and bad bacteria).
  3. Gut dysbiosis leads to inflammation and produces damaging byproducts that can cross the blood-brain barrier.
  4. Genetically susceptible individuals have a reduced ability to “clean up” this inflammation, which causes damage to the neurons.
  5. A leaky gut allows proteins and gram negative bacteria into the bloodstream, which causes inflammation and produces substances that further damage the blood-brain barrier. 

With all this information available, it makes sense to “start with the gut” when healing cognitive problems!  The good news: we now have testing that can identify dysbiosis, markers for leaky gut, and LPS in the intestines. Find out more about gut healing and why it might be right for you: Send up a message in messenger or contact us at Bellenguez, C., Küçükali, F., Jansen, I. E., Kleineidam, L., Moreno-Grau, S., Amin, N., Naj, A. C., Campos-Martin, R., Grenier-Boley, B., Andrade, V., Holmans, P. A., Boland, A., Damotte, V., van der Lee, S. J., Costa, M. R., Kuulasmaa, T., Yang, Q., de Rojas, I., Bis, J. C., … Lambert, J.-C. (2022). New insights into the genetic etiology of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Nature Genetics, 54(4), 412–436. Grabrucker, S., Marizzoni, M., Silajdžić, E., Lopizzo, N., Mombelli, E., Nicolas, S., Dohm-Hansen, S., Scassellati, C., Moretti, D. V., Rosa, M., Hoffmann, K., Cryan, J. F., O’Leary, O. F., English, J. A., Lavelle, A., O’Neill, C., Thuret, S., Cattaneo, A., & Nolan, Y. M. (2023). Microbiota from Alzheimer’s patients induce deficits in cognition and hippocampal neurogenesis. Brain, 146(12), 4916–4934. Liu, H., Wang, J., He, T., Becker, S., Zhang, G., Li, D., & Ma, X. (2018). Butyrate: A Double-Edged Sword for Health? Advances in Nutrition, 9(1), 21–29. Peng, X., Luo, Z., He, S., Zhang, L., & Li, Y. (2021). Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption by Lipopolysaccharide and Sepsis-Associated Encephalopathy. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, 11. Vijay, A., & Valdes, A. M. (2022). Role of the gut microbiome in chronic diseases: A narrative review. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 76(4), 489–501. Wang, X., Chen, Z., Geng, B., & Cai, J. (2021). The Bidirectional Signal Communication of Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis in Hypertension. International Journal of Hypertension, 2021, 8174789.   As someone with a lifetime love of exercise, but also at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease, I have counted on exercise to protect my brain.  As a cardio junkie (I used to love to run, bike, and now swim), I thought that was all I needed.  And, there is a lot of research which suggests regular exercise can help strengthen brain cells, activate neural pathways, and reinforce connections in the following ways:

  •   Exercise increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is called “miracle gro” for the brain.  It creates new nerve cells and bulks up the brain (How Exercise Affects the Brain, 2021) (Lee et al., 2023).
  •   Promoting neural connections. Exercise grows not only new neurons but strengthens the connections between neurons (Ding et al., 2006).
  •   Increasing endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that can help reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness, which can help with focus and mental sharpness (Exercising to Relax – Harvard Health Publishing, 2011)
  •   Decreasing inflammation.  Exercise has been shown to decrease inflammation in the brain and help the microglia, our brain’s housekeepers, protect our brain by removing the sticky plaque build-up characteristic of Alzheimer’s. (Mee-inta et al., 2019)