What is your mind worth to you? If the rest of your body is strong, but your mind is failing, of what value is your strength? If you have enormous wealth, but lack the presence of mind to enjoy it, is your wealth worth anything?
Your mind functions because of the complex machinery in your brain. Guarding your brain vitality throughout life may be your most important area of health to focus upon, yet few of us plan for brain health later in life. In our early years, we have enough spare brain capacity that we don’t notice if we are killing off neurons with our lifestyles. In our latter years, when we want all the extra brain capacity we can get — that’s when we will miss those neurons.
The good news is that you can focus on both your body’s and your brain’s health, because they are together. Your body includes your brain. What’s the number one sign of disease developing in your body? That would be chronic inflammation. Getting inflammation down by removing the triggers for it helps your brain as much as it does the rest of you. And what’s a trigger of chronic inflammation? Well, we know there are many, and at the top of the list is mental stress. But there is one stressor that, simply by being there, continually triggers inflammation — that is excess body fat.
We need some fat (also called adipose tissue.) It is an energy store, it surrounds and cushions our organs, and the fat under our skin cushions us from the hard knocks of our external environment. It provides thermal protection, insulating us from temperature shocks. Fat is important in vitamin management, and it is an emergency location where the body can park toxins. Fat is a valuable part of the body, but only in the right proportion. Once the fat level rises above that level, it becomes a drag on our metabolism, providing an ongoing challenge to the immune system.
The sum total of the adipose tissue in the body comprises the biggest organ of the body. As an organ, it works together to do certain functions, part of which is the production of various cytokines and releasing bioactive substances into the body which help regulate it. Adipose tissue produces special cytokine types known as adipokines. Cytokines, as you may remember, are warrior immune cells that are vital to fending off disease, but their action causes collateral damage which triggers inflammation. Each fat cell pumps out very small amounts of adipokines, which are in proper balance in the body when the fat levels are appropriate. But too much adipose tissue means overproduction of these adipokines, which leads to unnecessary inflammation.
Inflammation impacts all the body, including the brain. In the rest of the body, inflammation causes symptoms such as aches and pains, but in the brain, inflammation does not cause pain. Instead, it shows up in poor brain functioning, and if sustained, causes damage to the cells of the brain. Since chronic inflammation is damaging to the brain, and fat causes overproduction of inflammation-triggering cytokines, we can then say that excess fat is harmful to the brain.
All fat is not created equal
You have different types of fat in your body. The first is obvious: what is called subcutaneous fat is the fat just under the skin. This type is the majority fat in your body. It is composed of different fat cell categorizations, known simply as brown, beige, and white fat cells. The other type of fat in your body is known as visceral fat, which is stored around your major organs. This fat cushions the organs and is made up of just white fat cells.
The brown fat cell type breaks down blood sugar and fatty molecules to create heat and help maintain body temperature. Brown fat is activated by cold. Newborn babies have extra brown fat to help protect them against cold, partly because they lack the ability to shiver, which is another way to cause production of heat. This kind of fat is not particularly burdensome to the body and it is unlikely that you have excessive amounts of “baby fat.”
White fat is where most of the trouble comes in. Too much white fat equals chronic inflammation. Since visceral fat is all white fat, excess of visceral fat is particularly dangerous, and also harder to detect because it is hidden deep inside your body, behind muscle. It can only be accurately measured with MRI testing, but generally it shows up as an expanded midsection, around the belly. As a general guideline, the Harvard Medical School considers that men with a waist circumference over 35 inches, and women with waist girth over 40 inches, are at high risk of having excess visceral fat. A BMI (body mass index) gives a good indication of overall fat levels, and any significant excess fat is a health risk.
The brain barrier won’t stop this
While the brain is very much a part of the body, some of its needs are different from the rest of the body. Therefore, a blood-brain barrier (BBB) exists which is meant to limit what comes through to the brain. This provides protection from the cytokines of the body, so long as it is intact. Unfortunately, it can be easily compromised and develop leaks, much the same way the intestinal barrier can develop “leaky gut.” So the brain is susceptible to inflammation from the body. Further, the conditions which lead to excess fat — excess sugar management and especially diabetes — can cause the brain’s own immune system to fire as well as degrading the BBB. Since the brain cannot convey pain, the signs of brain inflammation are forms of cognitive impairment, such as “brain fog” or trouble thinking clearly.
Studies show the link between excess fat and poor brain function, even though not all the mechanisms by which this happens are known. Published in JAMA Open Network, researchers at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University studied 9,166 participants for a body fat and cognitive decline correlation. All participants received a BMI assessment to determine total body fat, and further, about two-thirds also received MRI testing to see how much fat was visceral. They went so far as to compensate for effects of diabetes and high blood pressure, and they still found a significant reduction in cognitive function when fat levels were high. Specifically, for each 9.2% increase in overall body fat or additional 36 mL of visceral fat, there was a reduction in the cognitive score equivalent to 1 year of cognitive aging. In other words, they detected brain damage as though the person had aged an additional year for each 9.2% of additional fat, with the impact of visceral fat around the internal organs being even more impactful.
In a review of multiple studies, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed data which collectively showed strong correlation between inflammation and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Their conclusion was that a number of pathways were involved whereby inflammation promoted AD. This statement sums it up: “Taken together, the above observations suggest that AD may be triggered by a number of mechanisms of which inflammation could be a direct cause or contributing feature to the pathophysiology of the disease.” They found “strong support for a relationship between systemic inflammatory markers and cognitive decline.” The various studies that they reviewed suggested different ways that inflammation contributes to AD, but the consensus was that its contribution is major.
And tying inflammation to fat tissue, particularly white adipose tissue (WAT), in a study published in The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association, researchers reviewing multiple studies determined that the “major source of inflammation associated with obesity is the WAT.” They explained that adipocytes (adipose tissue cells) fill with lipid in the form of triacylglycerol, and that excess energy storage over time leads to adipocyte dysfunction and inflammation. These adipocytes are a huge store of energy, and during endurance exercise in particular, the body relies more on fatty acid utilization for energy and the adipocytes shrink, restoring normal operation and reducing inflammation.
What to do
Virtually every study on this topic suggest the same remedy: diet and exercise to reduce body fat. The Missouri State University study stated that exercise mitigates WAT inflammation — visceral fat is particularly susceptible to exercise. Also, the Missouri study found that, even in the absence of weight loss, that exercise still interrupted the inflammatory process of WAT.
Unspoken in these studies is the need to recognize excess fat as an enemy, a danger to your health that includes your brain. Don’t laugh off excess weight, especially belly fat, because it is a greater risk than you probably realize. This is not a matter of “fat shaming”. If you carry excess weight, your brain is in danger.
Diabetes is a direct assault on your whole body’s health. But pre-diabetes, which is simply poor sugar management brought on by too much sugar too often for your body to manage properly, will silently kill neurons and age your brain, perhaps without obvious symptoms. Excess body fat will do likewise simply because it is inflammatory. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially if it’s yours!
Dr. Nemec’s Review
Fat is a wonderful molecule of energy. It has twice as many energy units as carbohydrates and proteins. This is why the body was designed to fast. When one goes a long time without food (over 24 hours) then the metabolism kicks into a fat burning, which just makes common sense. If you have some stored fat, which is natural to everyone (this is not a big belly or being overweight), then if you had to go a month without food you would not die — you would live off fat storage around your organs and other cushion absorbing fat that everyone has, even normal weight and thinner people. So fat was designed for survival, to be able to go without and survive. Now let us fast-forward to today. Most Americans are not in survival mode, but feast mode, and have high a Body Mass Index or BMI,which means they are carrying too much fat. Any visible fat on the body is too much. If you can pinch more than an inch in your waistline you have excessive fat. Well that is about 80% of the population. What does that mean? That means 80% of the population is secreting inflammatory cytokines from those excessively filled fat cells and that inflammation is inflaming all cells, tissues, glands, and organs — including the brain. If the brain gets inflamed then it will eventually damage brain cells including memory cells, and you will go down a path you do not want to go: brain fog, mild memory loss, significant memory loss and finally varying level of dementia. This has to be the worst disease because when you forget who you are then life is over, purpose is finished and you are nothing more than a stress on other family members who have to care for you. What is the answer? Be proactive now. Cut out the sugars and carbs and processed foods, start exercising every day of the week for at least 30 minutes, and remember you are responsible to yourself and your family members to take care of your body. Do not burden others with what you can do yourself — if you do not wait too long.
Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:
- Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
- Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
- Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Total Health Institute but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
- Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Total Health Institute along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.