By Sarah A LoBisco, ND

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Due to the aging baby boom population, “sandwich” generation members, who are taking care of their parents while tending to their own children, are on the rise.  These middle-agers are not only witnessing their parent’s distress from their illness, but are personally impacted emotionally and physically by it. “Double caregivers” may find themselves juggling between their  feelings of loss while dealing with their own family issues. This scenario brings the notion of how our relationships have an impact on our own wellness to a heart-tugging level.

Due to this emerging “family normal”, there is a growing societal concern for quality of life issues, and rightly so. The United States is not exactly thriving in their health and wellness reports. According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s preliminary 2011 report:

  • Overall death rates increased
  • Infant mortality rates remain high ( vs. other industrialized countries)
  • Life expectancy remains stable despite overall decline in age-associated disease rates (people per 100,000 die)
  • Brain diseases account for three out of the fifteen leading causes of death in 2011 (Cerebrovascular Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease)

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is having a significant impact on society and its “sandwich” generation:

  • Dementia is the second largest contributor to death among older Americans, second only to heart failure
  • Although, there are eight types of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent at 60-80% of causes. It is the sixth leading cause of death overall and the fifth leading cause of death in those 65 or over.
  • Due to the physical and emotional toll of caregiving, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $9.1 billion in additional health care costs of their own in 2012.
  • In 2013, the direct costs of caring for those with Alzheimer’s to American society will total an estimated $203 billion, including $142 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Average per person Medicare costs for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are three times higher than for those without these conditions.

To watch someone suffer from an illness is hard enough, but to witness them lose their identity with it can add to the pain. This grief, combined with the above statistics, can set one up to worry and be fearful of aging. This can lead to chronic stress on the body and can contribute to the disease risks these caregivers are subject to.  In medicine, this is called a negative feedback loop. This means the results from the cause create more detrimental impact and “feed into the negative cycle”.

One person stands holding the word Courage, having conquered his fear, while others around him succumb to Fear and are defeated and crushed by the word Stock Photo - 9748121

Information on prevention can lead to empowerment vs. focusing on future disease risk. In my previous blog on the topic of Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia, I listed some action tools to incorporate to protect our brain health. I felt it was an important topic to revisit this week, because although there is no conventional cure for Alzheimer’s or Dementia, there are things we can do to boost brain power!

I’ve been reviewing my recent training lectures from the Institute of Functional Medicine and have listened to a few experts on Lisa Garr’s Neurosummit on the power of lifestyle medicine for cognitive wellness.  I’m continually fascinated by how much power is in our minds to heal and how biochemistry, quantum physics, and mind-body medicine are uniting to push through the conventional mindset that we are supposed to feel lousy and fear old-age!

Just recently, I read two articles on how physical movement changes the methylation of genes! Specifically, this means that exercise influenced the expression of genes to optimize weight, blood sugar, and brain health! The implications for caregivers to use exercise for stress effects are therefore very powerful!

New York Times summarized these findings (emphasis mine):

Methylate those Genes!

One powerful means of affecting gene activity involves a process called methylation, in which methyl groups, a cluster of carbon and hydrogen atoms, attach to the outside of a gene and make it easier or harder for that gene to receive and respond to messages from the body. In this way, the behavior of the gene is changed, but not the fundamental structure of the gene itself. Remarkably, these methylation patterns can be passed on to offspring – a phenomenon known as epigenetics.

What is particularly fascinating about the methylation process is that it seems to be driven largely by how you live your life. Many recent studies have found that diet, for instance, notably affects the methylation of genes, and scientists working in this area suspect that differing genetic methylation patterns resulting from differing diets may partly determine whether someone develops diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

But the role of physical activity in gene methylation has been poorly understood, even though exercise, like diet, greatly changes the body. So several groups of scientists recently set out to determine what working out does to the exterior of our genes.

The answer, their recently published results show, is plenty.

By the end of that time, the men had shed fat and inches around their waists, increased their endurance and improved their blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.

Less obviously, but perhaps even more consequentially, they also had altered the methylation pattern of many of the genes in their fat cells. . .

The genes showing the greatest change in methylation also tended to be those that had been previously identified as playing some role in fat storage and the risk for developing diabetes or obesity.

As far as brain health, exercise was also found to mitigate Alzheimer’s risk, according to Science Daily (emphasis mine):

Memory loss leading to Alzheimer’s disease is one of the greatest fears among older Americans. While some memory loss is normal and to be expected as we age, a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, signals more substantial memory loss and a greater risk for Alzheimer’s, for which there currently is no cure.

The study, led by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, provides new hope for those diagnosed with MCI. It is the first to show that an exercise intervention with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (average age 78) improved not only memory recall, but also brain function, as measured by functional neuroimaging (via fMRI). The findings are published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

There are many other ways to modulate your risk, which I continue at my blog.

So, no fears if you fear you are losing your mind! You have the resources to do something right now if you choose to!

After all, BREAKFREE Medicine is about moving wellness seekers away from paralysis over fear-induced-over-analysis. One way to accomplish this is by providing positive evidence-based information on cutting- edge epigenetic lifestyle modulations. New discoveries are being made every day on how we choose to eat, think, rest, form relationships, and move all affect our cellular environment and the expression of wellness in that environment.

I pursued Naturopathic and Functional Medicine with first-hand experience on experiencing the miraculous power of nature. I was able to regenerate feeling in my sciatic nerve after a major disc herniation surgery with the use of a variety of integrative and natural healing modalities. My mission to enhance other’s well-being and health through individualized and functional medicine is integrated in my Naturopathic training and philosophy. I hope this blog contributed a little bit to this mission.


Hoyert, D & Xu, JQ. National Center for Health Statistics. Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011: National Vital Statistics Report. Vol 61(6). Hyattsville, MD: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. October 2012. Available at:

Kliff, S. Graph of the day: The United States has a really high infant mortality rate. Washington Post. January 9, 2013.

Alzheimer’s Association. 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. March 2013.

Lisa Garr’s 2013 Neurosummit: The Neuroscience of Happiness and Wealth. August 5-9, August 12-16.

Institute for Functional Medicine. IFM’s 2013 Annual International Conference. May 31-June 2, 2013. Dallas, Tx.

Reynolds, G. How Exercise Changes Fat and Muscle Cells. New York Times. July 31, 2013.

Ronn, T, et al. A Six Months Exercise Intervention Influences the Genome-wide DNA Methylation Pattern in Human Adipose Tissue. PLoS Genet. 2013 June; 9(6): e1003572.  Published online 2013 June 27. doi:  10.1371/journal.pgen.1003572. PMCID: PMC3694844

Barres, R., et al. Acute exercise remodels promoter methylation in human skeletal muscle. Cell Metab. 2012 Mar 7;15(3):405-11. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2012.01.001.

Science Daily. Exercise May Be the Best Medicine for Alzheimer’s Disease. Science July 30, 2013. Blog (Protecting Your Brain from Decline) References links:

Amen, D. A Reason to Celebrate – Dancing Keeps You Smart. Dr. Amen’s Blog. July 29, 2013.

Doyle, K. Older Adults’ Anemia Linked To Dementia Risk. Reuters. July 31, 2013.

Mercola, J. Brain Exercise Provides Benefits at Any Age. August 1, 2013.

Zollinger-Reed, P. Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush: Oral Hygiene Linked to Dementia. 2/8/2013.

Marchione, M. Study Ties Higher Blood Sugar To Dementia Risk. Associated Press ( August 7, 2013.

Seaman, A. Cocoa Tied To Improved Brain Function In Some Elderly Retuers ( August 07, 2013.

Mercola, J. Coffee May Reduce Your Suicide Risk, Study Finds. August 08, 2013.

Kennedy, D. et al. Effects of resveratrol on cerebral blood flow variables and cognitive performance in humans: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover investigation. Am J Clin Nutr June 2010 vol. 91 no. 6 1590-1597.

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