Get tested for insulin resistance (aka “pre-diabetes”). Insulin resistance has been identified as a key cause of most cases of garden-variety Alzheimer’s disease. It also contributes to symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders. If you are insulin-resistant, take immediate steps to lower your insulin levels with diet and exercise. While there are many ways to accomplish this, low-carbohydrate diets can be particularly effective weapons against insulin resistance and tend to be easier to sustain than low-fat or low-calorie diets. As an added bonus, addressing insulin resistance can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk for chronic medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.
2. Get tested for iron deficiency. The brain needs iron for neurotransmitter production (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine), generation of brain energy, hippocampal function (memory), and cell signaling. If you are iron deficient, increase your intake of red meat, organ meats, and/or shellfish, and decrease your intake of plant foods that interfere with iron absorption. Phytates (found in beans, nuts, seeds, and grains), oxalates (found in spinach, cocoa, beets, sesame seeds, rhubarb, sweet potato, coriander, and currants) and tannins (found in legumes, nuts, cocoa, wine, tea, berries, pomegranates, and many other fruits) all reduce the brain's access to iron(link is external). Plant foods also happen to contain a form of iron that is more difficult for the human body to utilize. Iron supplements may be necessary in some cases, and may be particularly important for those who choose to eat a plant-based or high-plant diet.
3. Get tested for vitamin B12 deficiency. Without this essential vitamin, the body cannot synthesize DNA, RNA, red blood cells, or myelin (the substance that wraps around and insulates our brain circuitry). Not surprisingly, B12 deficiency can cause a host of serious psychiatric problems, including depression, psychosis, memory problems, mania, and changes in behavior or personality. Make sure your health-care provider knows how to properly evaluate your B12 status; accuracy can be improved by including additional tests, perhaps most importantly a methylmalonic acid level. If you have a simple nutritional B12 deficiency, increase your intake of red meat, shellfish, and/or organ meats. Supplements may be necessary in some cases, and are mandatory for those choosing a plant-based diet.
4. Find a form of exercise you enjoy and make it part of your life — nearly every day, if you can, but at least three times a week. Strength or resistance training that builds and tones muscle seems to be superior to aerobic exercise (walking, running) in preventing and managing insulin resistance.
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