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Navigating Neurodegenerative Disorders with Functional Medicine

Concerned about Neurodegenerative Disorders and wondering what can be done to treat them? 

In this blog post, I’ll be covering the Functional Medicine approach, taking a closer look at the dietary, supplementation and lifestyle changes you may want to consider in the fight against neurodegeneration. 

My previous blog post on Understanding Neurodegenerative Disorders highlighted the complex causes of diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, alongside lifestyle adaptations that could reduce the risk of their onset.

Crucially, it is vital to focus on the fundamental factors that precipitate neurodegeneration and understand the initial triggers of these conditions. This methodology of tracing and targeting the "root cause" encapsulates the Functional Medicine approach to managing neurodegenerative disease treatments.

What is Functional Medicine?

Functional Medicine is a medical practice centred on pinpointing and tackling the root causes of diseases. This approach considers the body as an integrated system, acknowledging each individual's distinct makeup.

Rather than merely alleviating symptoms, practitioners of Functional Medicine adopt a holistic strategy to discover the origins of an ailment, taking into account genetic, environmental, and lifestyle influences. They often merge traditional medical treatments with alternative therapies to enhance overall health and well-being.

The Functional Medicine Approach

Functional Medicine adopts a tailored and systemic strategy for the management of intricate conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It delves deep to identify potential genetic, environmental, or lifestyle roots of neurodegenerative diseases.

The approach takes into consideration the individual health characteristics of each patient, leading to customised treatment plans that frequently stress the importance of nutrition for overall well-being. It advocates for a diet rich in whole, nutritious foods, including a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats from fish and seeds.

This methodology recommends reducing consumption of processed items, sugars, artificial additives, and unhealthy fats. The aim is to bolster the body's inherent recovery mechanisms, curb inflammation, and encourage cognitive health proactively and remedially.

This comprehensive strategy focuses not just on controlling the progression of neurodegenerative illnesses but also on improving the overall quality of life for patients.

Why Does Diet & Supplementation Matter?

Research suggests that in the case of many neurodegenerative disorders, chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and impaired detoxification pathways may play significant roles in their development and progress. [1]

Nutrition can impact all of these factors [2] and so a Functional Medicine Practitioner may create a personalised food plan that emphasises antioxidant-rich foods, anti-inflammatory compounds and essential nutrients. This could include certain fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins, all of which support brain function. [3]

Various nutritional supplements have been shown to offer neuroprotective benefits, including vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) and anti-oxidants such as curcumin, resveratrol, blueberry polyphenols, sulphoraphane and salvianolic acid. [4] [5]

A Functional Medicine Practitioner will have a thorough understanding of how these work alongside other nutrients and will be able to create a personalised supplement plan.

What About Herbal Medicines?

In addition to dietary supplements, herbal medicines and plant extracts have been used for centuries to support brain health and cognitive function. For example, Ginkgo biloba, Bacopa Monnieri, Ashwagandha, and Rhodiola rosea are among the herbs with neuroprotective properties that may be incorporated into a comprehensive treatment plan for neurodegenerative disorders. [6]

Functional Medicine Practitioners carefully evaluate the scientific evidence supporting the use of botanical medicines, distinguishing those with a strong evidence base from those without.

Factoring in Lifestyle Modifications

In addition to dietary interventions, there are many lifestyle modifications that can have a protective effect on brain health. These include aerobic exercise, strength training, yoga, tai chi, relaxation exercises, dancing, listening to music and socialising.

Sleep quality can have an impact on brain health and sleep disorders can lead to a higher risk of dementia.

Functional Medicine Practitioners assess patients' sleep patterns and address any underlying issues contributing to sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnoea, insomnia, or circadian rhythm disruptions. Fortunately, most sleep disorders are treatable and a Practitioner will be able to look at numerous factors that could be contributing to poor sleep, including a wind-down routine, creating a suitable sleeping environment, relaxation techniques, journalling and nutrition plans to support sleep.

A Note on The Gut-Brain Axis 

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the gut microbiota could play an important role in the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, via an interaction known as the gut–brain axis (GBA). [7]

While this area of study is still in its early stages, Functional Medicine looks to assess gut health and diagnose conditions such as leaky gut syndrome. Your Practitioner may recommend interventions such as probiotics, prebiotics, dietary fibre and fermented foods to support a healthy gut microbiome and promote brain health.

Final thoughts

Functional Medicine offers a comprehensive, evidence-based and integrative approach to managing neurodegenerative disorders by addressing underlying root causes, optimising nutrition and lifestyle factors, and supporting the body's natural healing mechanisms.

By taking time to understand their patient’s individual needs and adopting a personalised approach to healthcare, functional medicine practitioners empower individuals to take control of their health and improve outcomes in the management of neurodegenerative diseases.

It is also essential to note that Functional Medicine Practitioners work alongside medical professionals such as doctors and other specialists and the care described here should not be interpreted as an alternative to medical advice.

Keep an eye out for my next blog post which will be on a fascinating group of compounds called plasmalogens that could be a potential tool in the fight against neurodegenerative disorders.

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