The darkest hour is just before dawn. And that’s when the trouble really starts.
Previous posts looked at the decline in our collective intelligence, and the ways in which epigenetic programming will likely make that negative trend worse. Other posts considered our failing mental health, and the rising tides of anxiety disorders and depressive illness. The non-elites are being crushed, consumer confidence is at an all-time low (1), deaths of despair are at an all-time high (2).
If the recent China-Eastern crash is confirmed (3), pilot suicide is now the leading cause of civil aviation deaths (4); but whether you fly or not, Euro and other peons are all heading for a hard landing.
A substantial body of new evidence suggests that in those populations which no longer eat a traditional diet, increasing mental illness will likely contribute to an even steeper decline in our already low and failing collective IQ, because it predisposes to dementia.
The largest of these studies involved 1.7 million people, accounting for a third of the entire population of New Zealand. A history of mental illness was associated with an approximately 4-fold increased risk of developing dementia in later life and developing it, on average, 5.5 years earlier than those with no history of mental illness (5).
A smaller case control study of their Oz neighbours generated similar findings (6). The authors concluded, ‘Severe depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and alcoholic dependency disorder treated by specialists in psychiatric facilities in mid-life are important risk factors for late-life dementia.’
A third study, in Norway this time, came to the same conclusion. Researchers followed 30,000 Norwegians for an average 27 years, and found that a history of mid-life mental illness increased the risk of developing dementia by around 50% (7).
Chronic stress is one of the villains here.
The stress hormone cortisol becomes neurotoxic at high levels (8). Highly stressful experiences accelerate brain ageing dramatically (9), which is why chronic stress likely increases the risk of Alzheimer’s (8, 10, 11). As both anxiety disorders and depressive illness (and sleep apnoea) present with sustained elevation of cortisol levels, this provides one plausible mechanistic link between these conditions and dementia. The absence of plant-derived xenohormetics in today’s ultra-processed diet may be contributing to our crisis.
Schizophrenia is also associated with elevated cortisol levels (12, 13), but the raised risk of dementia associated with this condition probably has more to do with chronic use of neuroleptic drugs (14), many of which are neurotoxic (13,12); and the alcoholism-dementia link is self-evident.
Given today’s appalling public health, society’s overwhelming need to medicate / self-medicate with alcohol, antidepressants, tranquilisers (15, 16) and amphetamines (17), and also antiepileptics, antimuscarinics and antiparkinsonian drugs (18) – all of which are linked to neurotoxicity and dementia – means that even more of us are plunging into the cognitive abyss.
The recent decision by the US Preventative Services Task Force to screen all adults for anxiety and all children for depression, even if they don’t have any symptoms (19), will create a huge new phalanx of addicts/ captive customers for Big Pharma and bring the collective IQ down another few notches.
I am in two minds, though, about schizophrenia. A Chinese team of scientists recently found that schizophrenia increased by almost 50% between 2011 and 2015 (20). China is mid-range in the global league table of nations (21, 22) and this may be representative of a wider trend, but the rapidity and size of the increase points more towards diagnostic artefact.
There is not much good data to confirm this, or allow us to untangle the very different rates of schizophrenia reported in different countries (21, 22). In fact, these issues may never be satisfactorily confirmed, due inter alia to cultural and political biases and the varying efficiency of reporting systems (23).
Nevertheless, I suspect that schizophrenia rates really are rising, due to our generally deteriorating health. Forget the genetic variables, which are not well defined, and not particularly mutable either. Accessible risk factors such as maternal obesity during pregnancy, premature labor and possibly dysbiosis are all very much related to diet and lifestyle, and definitely are increasing (24, 25).
Scientists have already shown that the ultra-processed, pro-inflammatory diet disrupts normal development of infants’ brains in utero, making them vulnerable to neurodevelopmental problems (see previous post ‘Inflamed in the Membrane’).
New pre-clinical research suggests this diet-induced neuronal rewiring may also make those babies more prone to anxiety, depression and schizophrenia in later life (26, 27). If this is clinically relevant, dementia will be even more prevalent in the next generation.
The association between neurodevelopmental disorders and dementia is particularly complicated.
In one very large Swedish study, parents of an ADHD child were found to have a 34% higher risk of dementia and a 55% higher risk of Alzheimer’s (28). As the largest GWAS studies have not been particularly productive, these results point towards shared lifestyle factors such as obesity, stress, diabetes and chronic inflammation (ie 29-31). Rapidly increasing neurodevelopmental disorders (32-34) may therefore be another sign of more neurodegenerative diseases ahead.
Today’s unhealthy lifestyle is damaging adult brains in other ways too. Low and declining levels of physical activity (35), resulting in poor cardiorespiratory fitness, constitute another modifiable and growing driver of dementia (36-39); as does our ultra-processed diet (40-43), and the resulting epidemics of adult obesity and diabetes (44, 45).
The Covid lockdowns, which caused a predictable increase in diabetes (ie 46, 47), will provide another nudge downhill. The next generation will likely be even more affected.
Recent evidence of substantially slowed verbal, motor and overall cognitive development in children born during lockdown is deeply concerning. Will these children, whose cognitive scores fell by a stunning two standard deviations (48), ever catch up? They will almost certainly start to dement earlier (45, 49, 50), with the already disadvantaged being hit the hardest (48). See previous post, ‘Eloi and Morlocks’ (51).
Then there is social isolation, booming in the West due to bad politics and our obsession with e-stuff (52). Isolation is associated with a 30% increased risk of stroke (53) and a 50% increased risk of dementia (54, 55). Causation is probably primarily isolation -> inflammation -> stroke and dementia, but there is a reverse component also.
These negative trends explain why, despite a recent positive and one-off improvement due to smoking cessation and blood pressure reduction campaigns (56), expert groups predict that dementia cases will treble by 2050 (57). I believe this is a conservative estimate, because we also have to factor in the greying of grey matter caused by falling fertility rates, bad genetics and our increasing intakes of ultra-processed food.
Since 1950 global median age has risen from 25 to 33 years (58). This means that healthcare costs are rising (58, 59) and brains, at the population level, are sliding further down an age-related cognitive slope.
There are two more elephants in the room, the first of which is evolutionary drift.
The Victorian polymath Francis Galton noted that those with higher intelligence invested, on average, more time and energy in intellectual pursuits and less on mating and procreating, and predicted that intelligence would therefore fall over time in any population that did not actively select for and reward intelligence (60). As movie buffs know, this theory provided the foundation for the 2006 film ‘Idiocracy’.
Satoshi Kanazawa at the LSE has recently gone some way to confirming Galton’s hypothesis (61), as have other scientists including the brilliantly eccentric ecologist and evolutionary psychologist Michael Woodley of Menie.
Woodley and his colleagues found that simple visual reaction times (a good rough test of the brain’s ability to process information) have been slowing progressively since the 19th century (62), as has high-difficulty vocabulary usage. They also recorded that working memory scores have been falling since the 1930’s, colour acuity since the ‘80’s, and mental 3D rotation ability since the 70’s (63, which is a fascinating interview with Woodley).
The Flynn effect has been advanced as a counter-argument, but Richard Lynn resolved that by proposing that a real ongoing decline in the average intelligence of populations was being masked by training. In other words, neuronal machinery might be declining in overall quality but teaching / training was creating improvements in output capable of overcoming that decline, at least in the short term. He predicted that the Flynn effect would soon go into reverse, and this does indeed appear to be happening (64-66).
Lynn has been excommunicated, but it is hard to counter his science and impossible to counter the gentle evolutionary downdraft inside our increasingly addled heads. All the more reason, therefore, to hobble the second elephant in the room; our declining nutritional status.
Cheap and addictive industrial foods are invading our diets (67, 68), and their neuro-toxic effects are driving the pandemic of dementia even faster (68-76).
Among the 15,105 subjects tracked in the longitudinal ELSA-Brasil study, currently in its 14th year, those who consumed the greatest amounts of ultra-processed foods had a 28% faster rate of global cognitive decline and a 25% faster rate of executive function decline compared with those who ate the least amounts (76).
As the USA and the UK eat the most ultra-processed ‘food’ (77), we can expect the burden of dementia to hit these countries hardest; you can see it in the public discourse. Australia, many countries in South America and most of Western Europe will also be badly affected.
I haven’t even mentioned TV and its social media offspring, which are contributing further to our mental decline (78), as are our declining levels of physical activity (79).
There are so many red flags. The public health landscape is a sea of red flags. The majority of health indices are trending down. When healthcare is in the grip of an entirely corrupt pharmaceutical industry, a grossly mis-directed medical profession and a morally bankrupt political system, poor public health is baked into the cupcake.
Will this decline only stop once every man, woman and child has become medically dependent? When the money runs out, as it is doing now, finally, in the Empire of Lies? Or will enough folk wake from the pharmaceutical spell to realize, finally, that the drugs do not work (80-83) and that good public health can only be achieved via the food chain?
There has been a huge collapse of faith in the medical profession and drug companies due to the mishandling of Covid. Increasing numbers of doctors, generally the more experienced ones who have learned the limitations of the pharmaceutical model, are looking at pharmaconutrition. I speak with them almost every week, and change is in the air.
Systematic and structural change will not occur overnight, and our near-term collective future remains bleak. We can, however, take immediate steps to improve our own prospects, and the prospects of those we love.
The Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease (41, 84), as are higher intakes of phytonutrients (85-87), which exert multiple neuroprotective effects; though it must be admitted that the stats, with so many variables in play, are confusing (87).
Vestigial groups such as the Bolivian Tsimane demonstrate significantly less hippocampal atrophy with ageing (88) than do modern junk food consumers (76, 89, 90); and in Blue Zones such as Ikaria, dementia among over-85’s is claimed to be ‘rare’. I would expect the Health Protocol to be similarly protective.
Some scientists think recorded increases in dementia may be artefactual, created by improved diagnosis and/or availability of care. The laws of supply and demand certainly influence healthcare systems, especially the degraded USA system; but the rising tide of dementia drivers undermines this argument. The decline is real.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun our descent into Oblivion. If this is not your intended destination, take a moment to review the safety instructions in ‘Let Your Food be your Pharmaco-nutrition’, change your dietary path and secure your brain cells. Thank you. End quote. Repeat the line (91).
Next week: Why you need your little helpers, and how to help them to help you.
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