New research finds the microbes in your gut may play a major role in escalating the chronic brain disease.
A raft of recent studies has shown that the microbiome is a factor in the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular disease. Now, we can add Alzheimer’s disease to the list.
A new study, published in Scientific Reports, has shown that certain gut microbiota may speed up the development of the chronic brain disease.
Researchers studied both healthy and diseased mice and found that those with Alzheimer’s had a different composition of gut bacterium. Healthy mice also had a lower level of beta-amyloid plaque in their brains than the mice with Alzheimer’s. (Beta-amyloid plaques are the lumps of protein fragments that form at nerve fibers, creating tangles leading to neuroinflammation.)
To further test the connection between intestinal flora and Alzheimer’s disease, researchers placed microbes from mice suffering from Alzheimer’s into germ-free mice. The result? The germ-free mice given the gut microbes from the mice with Alzheimer’s developed more beta-amyloid brain plaques than those who received bacteria from healthy mice.
“The results mean that we can now begin researching ways to prevent the disease and delay the onset,” researcher Frida Fåk Hållenius, PhD, of Sweden’s Lund University Food for Health Science Centre, says in a press release. “We consider this to be a major breakthrough as we used to only be able to give symptom-relieving antiretroviral drugs.”
‘TAKE CARE OF YOUR MICROBIOME, IT’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU’
The findings open the door to testing new preventive and therapeutic strategies — such as dietary modification — on bacteria’s role in Alzheimer’s disease development.
In November 2016, for example, Iranian researchers found that probiotics helped improve memory in people suffering from severe Alzheimer’s disease. Although the sample size was small (60 participants) and the study lasted only 12 weeks, the results indicate that eating microbiome-boosting foods may improve memory in those who are cognitively impaired.
“If you take care of your microbiome, it’ll take care of you — and that’s all the way up to your brain,” says leading Alzheimer’s researcher Rudolph Tanzi, PhD.
To reduce your Alzheimer’s risk, Tanzi advises avoiding eating processed and other inflammation-promoting foods, which negatively affect gut microbial communities, and focusing on real food.
People who worked out on a bike, a treadmill, or the elliptical showed improvement in their memory and problem solving skills after six months, a new study found.
Working out is good for you in more ways than we can count, but a new study may have uncovered a new perk for people with memory problems.
Researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine found that aerobic exercise appears to boost thinking skills and brain volume in adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that sits in between normal age-related memory decline and more serious dementia. Stretching routines also increased brain volume over a six-month period, but had no noticeable impact on brain function.
The study was presented today at an annual meeting of radiologists in Chicago, and hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed or published.
Researchers used a new MRI technique to measure both volume and shape changes in specific areas of the brain, which are both important indicators for tracking the development of dementia.
At the start of the study, the researchers performed MRI scans on 35 people with mild cognitive impairment, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The participants were then divided into two groups and assigned to four weekly sessions of either stretching exercises or aerobic activity—walking on a treadmill, cycling on a stationary bike, or training on an elliptical machine. After six months, the researchers did a second MRI scan and compared the two sets of scans.
Both groups showed increases in most gray matter regions of the brain, including the temporal lobe, which supports short-term memory. But those increases were greater in the group that walked, pedaled, or spent time on the elliptical.
“Even over a short period of time, we saw aerobic exercise lead to a remarkable change in the brain,” said lead investigator Laura D. Baker, PhD, associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest, in a press release.
People in the stretching group had less total brain volume increase, and their brain scans also showed signs of “directional deformation”—shape changes possibly related to volume loss—within the brain’s white matter. The researchers believe these hard-to-detect signs could be early indicators of dementia. “Directional changes in the brain without local volume changes could be a novel biomarker for neurological disease,” co-author Jeongchul Kim, PhD, said in a press release.
In an abstract presented at the conference, the researchers concluded that aerobic exercise “could preserve or possibly even improve brain volumes” in people with early cognitive problems.
What’s more, the researchers also reported that over a six-month period, participants in the aerobic exercise group improved in tests that measure executive function—a set of thinking processes that include working memory, reasoning, and problem solving—while the stretching group showed no change.
That doesn’t mean stretching didn’t help in some way, the authors say, especially when compared to completely sedentary behavior. It does suggest, however, that aerobic activity may be a better bet for overall brain functioning.
Plenty of previous research has tied exercise to better brain outcomes in older adults; a 2014 Canadian study, for example, found that brisk walking (but not resistance training, balance exercises, or muscle toning) was associated with enlargement of the hippocampus. Aerobic exercise may have some competition when it comes to brain health, however. Last month, an Australian study found that women who lifted weights regularly had better cognitive function than those who did regular stretching and calisthenics.
This newest study, although small and preliminary, is in line with previous research suggesting that “any type of exercise can be beneficial,” said Kim—good news for older adults who perhaps can’t get out and walk, ride, or otherwise break a sweat. However, he added, “If possible, aerobic activity may create potential benefits for higher cognitive functioning.”
Study suggests a full schedule may enhance your mental prowess
By Amy Norton HealthDay Reporter WebMD News from HealthDay
TUESDAY, May 17, 2016 (HealthDay News) – Although people complain when their schedule gets too busy, new research suggests that being overbooked might actually be good for the brain.
The study of older adults found that those with packed schedules tended to do better on tests of memory, information processing and reasoning.
Researchers said the findings don’t prove that “busyness” makes us smarter. For one, sharper people may seek out more mental stimulation. These people may also have more resources, such as higher incomes, that allow them to lead active lives.
On the other hand, past research has found that learning new skills can improve older adults’ overall mental acuity, said study leader Sara Festini.
“We think it is likely that being busy is good for your cognition,” said Festini, a researcher with the Center for Vital Longevity at the University of Texas at Dallas.
She and her colleagues reported the findings in the May 17 online issue of Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
The results are in line with those from many previous studies, the researchers said.
Past research has found that older adults who are more active — mentally, physically or socially — tend to have better mental function and a lower risk of dementia. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association recommends all three types of activity for maintaining better brain health.
According to Festini, busyness could be a proxy for people’s “cognitive engagement” in daily life.
For the study, she and her colleagues had 330 men and women rate their “busyness” levels — asking questions such as, “How often do you have too many things to do each day to actually get them all done?” The study volunteers were between 50 and 89 years old.
The researchers also gave the volunteers a battery of tests that gauged memory, information processing speed, reasoning and vocabulary.
Multi-ethnic group of adults practicing tai chi in park. Main focus on senior man (60s).
Overall, the study found, the busier people were in their daily lives, the better their test performance — especially when it came to remembering specific events from the past. The findings were not explained by age or education level.
Still, there are other potential explanations for the connection, said Debra Fleischman, a professor of neurological and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago.
“Occupation, income, ethnicity and race are all important factors that can influence accessibility to resources that support an active lifestyle,” said Fleischman, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Plus, she added, people’s health – physical and mental – could affect both their daily activities and their scores on tests of memory and thinking (“cognition”).
Festini said she was interested in studying the subject because people often talk about their tight schedules, but there’s little research on how our “busyness” relates to health.
On one hand, a packed schedule could cause unhealthy levels of stress; on the other, busy people may have more “effortful engagement” with life, the researchers suggested.
According to Fleischman, it would be interesting to know whether the busy study participants were stressed out by their schedules. And that, she noted, could vary by age.
Older adults might tend to see a hectic schedule as a good thing – a sign that they have purpose in life, Fleischman said. But, she added, it’s possible that younger people could view busyness in a more negative light.
The current findings say nothing about the types of activities that are related to sharper mental skills, Fleischman pointed out. But past studies have already shown there may be benefits from physical exercise, mental tasks — such as crossword puzzles and reading — and social activities, she said.
“Daily activity is important to promote cognitive health in people over age 50,” Fleischman said.
Festini agreed. “[This study] provides further motivation to seek out additional activities and to keep learning new skills throughout adulthood,” she said.
Article Sources SOURCES: Sara Festini, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher, Center for Vital Longevity, University of Texas at Dallas; Debra Fleischman, Ph.D., professor, neurological and behavioral sciences, Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; May 17, 2016, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, online
For decades, scientists have viewed food as fuel, but the latest research suggests what you eat impacts your brain, too. In fact, study after study suggests adding certain foods to your plate can sharpen your mind, build new brain cells and may even help you remember where you left your keys.
With that in mind (pun intended), researchers at Rush University in Chicago developed the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, which is basically a combination of the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet. The main difference: MIND stresses the importance of brain-boosting power foods, including nuts, berries and fatty fish. And research shows it’s remarkably effective.
According to the study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, seniors who closely followed the MIND diet slashed their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by a whopping 53 percent. Even those who only did a so-so job of following the plan had a 35 percent lower Alzheimer’s risk.
So, consider stocking up on these 7 brain-boosting staples to gain the MIND advantage:
1. Fish: This nutrient powerhouse boasts high-quality protein, important minerals, including iron and zinc, and heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show these powerful fats help reduce inflammation, increase blood flow to the brain and build new brain cells.
2. Olive oil: Thanks to a healthy dose of monounsaturated fats, olive oil is a simple and tasty way to boost brain cell activity and slow down an aging brain. A bonus: monounsaturated fats also help reduce plaque buildup on the inside of the arteries, ensuring your brain gets the blood it needs to perform at its best.
3. Nuts: Like olive oil, nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, but they also contain vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant linked to improved brainpower.
4. Berries: An anti-aging superstar, berries are loaded with disease-fighting compounds that improve brain function. Blueberries in particular seem to slow down the memory loss that goes with aging.
5. Leafy green veggies: Research shows people who load up on produce, especially those with deep, rich colors, have better focus and mental sharpness compared to those who skimp on fruits and vegetables.
6. Wine: Don’t drink? There’s no reason to start. But if you enjoy an occasional glass of wine, go for red—it packs greater brain benefits than white. Just be sure to resist a refill. People become more susceptible to the toxic effects of alcohol with age.
7. Beans: Loaded with fiber and protein, beans provide sustained energy and keep blood-sugar levels on an even keel. That not only keeps hunger pangs at bay, but improves mental focus, too.
On the flip side, foods to limit or avoid due to their potentially harmful effects on your brain function include fatty red meat, butter or stick margarine, cheese, sweets, and fried or fast foods.
The takeaway? The MIND diet is similar to other successful, healthy eating plans in this important way — eating whole, minimally processed foods, free of added sugar, sodium and harmful fats, is key to both a healthy mind and body.
Patricia Jurek, RD, MBA, is the manager for Henry Ford Macomb Hospital’s Center for Weight Management. Passionate about preventive disease management, Pat became a registered dietician to help people live long, healthy lives.
For more tips on healthy eating and more, visit our health and wellness blog at henryfordlivewell.com and subscribe to receive a weekly email with our latest posts.
This belief about ageing may protect against memory loss linked to Alzheimer’s.
Holding more positive beliefs about ageing may protect against Alzheimer’s disease, a new study finds.
The results come from one of the longest-running studies of ageing in the US.
People who thought of the old in negative terms, such as being decrepit, were more likely to show signs of Alzheimer’s themselves.
Dr Becca Levy, who led the study, said:
“We believe it is the stress generated by the negative beliefs about aging that individuals sometimes internalize from society that can result in pathological brain changes.
Although the findings are concerning, it is encouraging to realize that these negative beliefs about aging can be mitigated and positive beliefs about aging can be reinforced, so that the adverse impact is not inevitable.”
Brain scans of participants found that those with negative ageing beliefs had smaller hippocampi.
In fact, those with negative beliefs had the same decline in three years as those with positive beliefs had in nine years.
The hippocampus is an area of the brain vital to memory.
Shrinking of the hippocampus is a sign of Alzheimer’s.
Autopsies also looked at two other signs of the disease.
Researchers found that those with more negative beliefs about ageing also had more amyloid plaques and tangles of proteins in the brain.
Both are also indicative of Alzheimer’s.
The results tie in with previous studies findings that negative stereotypes about age are linked to worse memory and even cardiovascular problems.
Negative stereotypes about age can even affect people’s senses the same as their cognitive abilities.
Professor Alison Chasteen, author of a recent study which confirmed the link, explained:
“People’s feelings about getting older influence their sensory and cognitive functions.
Those feelings are often rooted in stereotypes about getting older and comments made by those around them that their hearing and memory are failing.
So, we need to take a deeper and broader approach to understanding the factors that influence their daily lives.”
The study was published in the journal Psychology and Aging.
Ginger is a treasure in Asian cuisine, where it’s cherished for its unique ability to bring a touch of tanginess to dishes. Its distinctive lemony aroma and touch of spiciness can awaken the flavors of favorite recipes.
But ginger’s amazing role in cooking is just the start — the spice is also well-known for its many medicinal benefits. For centuries, ginger has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat colds, stomachaches, nausea, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea.
In traditional Chinese medicine, sliced or grated ginger is boiled in water as a soup to help fend off early signs of a cold. And it’s often the last resort for those who suffer motion sickness when pills won’t work. (A freshly cut ginger slice is either placed in the mouth or on the belly button with a Band-Aid.)
Right into the modern age, ginger is still the go-to herbal remedy for those who believe in natural healing.
And science is now catching up. Here are some of the research-backed revelations about the powerful benefits of this exotic spice:
1. It’s anti-inflammatory.
Ginger contains dozens of the most potent natural inflammation-fighting substances, like gingerols. The ability for food to reduce inflammation is important, as inflammation contributes to many chronic conditions including obesity, diabetes, pain, and heart disease.
2. It’s anti-aging.
Ginger also has powerful antioxidant effects. It raises levels of the master antioxidant glutathione in the body. And by fighting oxidative stress, ginger helps control the process of aging.
3. It reduces pain from exercise.
One study found that eating ginger before cycling reduced quadriceps muscle pain, likely thanks to its anti-inflammatory effects.
4. It assists with weight loss.
Research shows that ginger tea helps prevent metabolic disorders and reduces the feeling of hunger, meaning it plays a role in weight management.
5. It helps treat anemia.
Ginger and its bioactive components, such as gingerols and shogaols, stimulate the production of blood cells in the body and can improve anemia symptoms.
6. It can help manage diabetes.
One study showed that ginger can improve fasting blood sugar in type 2 diabetes patients. And scientists have discovered that combining honey and ginger reduces oxidative stress as well as the complications of diabetes.
This is especially important, given that the number of people with diabetes across the world is predicted to increase from 171 million in 2000 to 552 million by 2030.
7. It helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Since ancient times, natural compounds of ginger have been appreciated for their use in preventing various age-related ailments, including brain aging and neuro-degeneration. Recent studies have emphasized ginger’s benefits in treating Alzheimer’s disease.
8. It can ease symptoms of osteoarthritis.
In traditional Indonesian medicine, red ginger has been prescribed to relieve arthritis pain.
Now, an unprecedented study has found that topical ginger treatment using either a traditional manually prepared ginger compress or a standardized ginger patch could relieve symptoms for people with chronic osteoarthritis.
9. It can prevent liver disease.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common liver disease that’s quickly turning into an epidemic. Insulin resistance is a major feature in patients with NAFLD.
But research has shown that gingerols, the active component of ginger, could help improve insulin resistance, serving as a natural way to prevent NAFLD.
How to Spice Up Your Life with Ginger
Shop for whole ginger root in the vegetable aisle, looking for ginger that is firm to the touch and not wilted, dried out, or moldy. To use fresh ginger, remove the skin and cut a section of the yellow root. Finely chop the ginger, and it’s ready to use.
You can also make fresh ginger tea by adding finely chopped ginger to boiled water, letting it steep for two to three minutes, and then straining out the ginger.
Everything from how you cook meat to what you eat for dessert
can play a role in your brain health.
Here, how to eat to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.
by Kenneth S. Kosik, MD
There is no one best dietary pattern when it comes to eating for optimum brain health. Nor is there one magical food or supplement. Instead, a wide range of eating patterns—Asian eating, the MIND diet, the Mediterranean diet, vegan eating—has been shown to protect your brain. Although those eating patterns vary—for example, some include meat, others don’t; some place a heavy emphasis on fish, others suggest no fish—they all tend to have one thing in common: a preponderance of antioxidant-rich plant foods.
Plants manufacture antioxidant chemicals to protect themselves from ultra- violet light and disease. When we eat these plants—in the form of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and grains—we consume this built-in protection, and their antioxidants can then protect our cells from disease, too. This includes disease protection for cells in the brain, and we know this, in part, thanks to beagles.
Carl Cotman, a professor of neurology at the University of California, Irvine, and other researchers have studied how kibble enriched with tomatoes, carrots, citrus, spinach, and antioxidant supplements (vitamins E and C, lipoic acid, and carnitine) affects the brains of beagles. He and his team divided the dogs into four groups. One control group ate a regular diet. A second group ate the enriched kibble that included the equivalent of six servings of fruits and vegetables. A third group ate regular kibble but were offered the canine equivalent of daily school education: an abundance of exercise, playtime with other dogs, and access to novel toys. The final group ate the enriched kibble and went to dog school.
Brain Smart eating isn’t about gorging on just blueberries or chia seeds or some other healthy food du jour. Many different foods and different dietary patterns have been shown to protect us from Alzheimer’s disease.
As the study progressed, the researchers repeatedly tested the dogs with increasingly difficult learning problems. In one, the dogs had to learn whether a treat was hidden under a black or a white block. Overall, the dogs in the combined group—the ones who played, exercised, and ate fruit-and-veggie-packed kibble—did the best on the learning tasks. No surprises there, as playtime and intellectual enrichment are just as powerful Brain Smarts as good nutrition. But even the dogs who only ate the enriched kibble and who were not offered extra playtime performed better than the dogs who only ate regular kibble. Sixty percent of them were able to continually find the hidden treat, whereas only 25 percent of the dogs who ate regular kibble could do the same.
Antioxidant-rich foods are just one important component of a Brain Smart eating pattern. In addition to antioxidants, many foods also contain substances that lower inflammation throughout the body and brain, as well as nutrients needed for cells to do their jobs.
All of these nutrients seem to work together to create good health. It’s for this reason that there is no one food or beverage to consume for good health. Brain Smart eating isn’t about gorging on just blueberries or chia seeds or some other healthy food du jour. It’s not even about just one specific eating pattern. It turns out that many different foods and different dietary patterns have been shown to protect us from Alzheimer’s disease, and this is great news for all of us. It allows us the freedom to tailor our Brain Smart food choices to our personal tastes and lifestyle. Consider embarking on one of the following Brain Smart eating patterns—or perhaps even a combination of them.
1. Fill up on fewer calories: Start your meals with veggie-packed salads or soups, or use small plates to trick your brain into thinking your meals look bigger than they actually are. Filling up on fewer calories allows you to shed pounds, which can help reverse other risks for Alzheimer’s disease, including sleep apnea, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Cutting your daily intake of calories by 30 to 50 percent also reduces your metabolic rate and therefore slows oxidation throughout the body, including the brain. It lowers blood glucose and insulin levels, too.
2. Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Higher vegetable consumption was associated with slower rate of cognitive decline in 3,718 people aged 65 years and older who participated in the Chicago Health and Aging Project. Study participants filled out food logs and agreed to undergo tests of their cognitive abilities periodically for six years. All of the study participants scored lower on cognitive tests at the end of the study than they did at the beginning, but those who consumed more than four daily servings of vegetables experienced a 40 percent slower decline in their abilities than people who consumed less than one daily serving.
3. Use spices liberally. Herbs and spices add flavor to food, allowing you to cut back on butter, oil, and salt. Because they come from plants, many herbs and spices also contain antioxidants and offer many healing benefits, including Alzheimer’s prevention. Several different studies show that curcumin, for example, helps to reduce the risk of cancer, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Just a quarter teaspoon of the spice twice a day has been shown to reduce fasting blood sugar up to 29 percent in people with type 2 diabetes. This is important, because type 2 diabetes can raise your risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Marinate meat before cooking. When fat, protein, and sugar react with heat, certain harmful compounds form called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). They are found in particularly high levels in bacon, sausages, processed meats, and fried and grilled foods. The consumption of high amounts of AGEs has been shown to cause harmful changes in the brain. But there’s an easy way to slash your AGE consumption: Make your food (especially meats) as moist as possible. By boiling, braising, poaching, or marinating meat and fish before grilling or broiling, you allow moisture to permeate their flesh, dramatically reducing the AGEs.
5. Eat coldwater fish once a week. Fish that swim in cold waters tend to develop a layer of fat to keep them warm. Called omega-3 fatty acid, this type of fat has been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body when consumed by humans. In a study of 815 people, people who consumed fish at least once a week reduced their Alzheimer’s disease risk by 60 percent compared to people who rarely or never ate fish.
6. Snack on nuts and seeds. In addition to being a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, nuts and seeds also provide a good dose of selenium and vitamin E, two other nutrients that may promote brain health. Walnuts may be a particularly potent source of edible brain protection. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are rich in antioxidants that have been shown to reduce Alzheimer’s disease in mice.
7. Drink several cups of tea a day. Black and green tea are rich sources of antioxidants called catechins that may fend off oxidative damage throughout the body, including the brain. Green tea is also a rich source of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to reduce beta-amyloid plaque and tau tangles in mice. Tea has also been shown to drop blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
8. Enjoy coffee in the morning. Caffeine consumed too late in the day may disturb your sleep. But coffee consumed in the morning and perhaps the early afternoon, depending on your personal caffeine sensitivity, may reduce risk. Coffee contains a chemical called eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide (EHT) that, in studies done on rats, has been shown to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. The caffeine itself may also be protective: Mice developed fewer tau tangles in their brains when their drinking water was infused with caffeine. In humans, Johns Hopkins researchers have shown that 200 milligrams of caffeine—the amount in one strong cup of coffee—can help us consolidate memories and more easily memorize new information.
9. End dinner with dark chocolate—not chocolate cake. Most desserts are rich in blood-sugar-spiking sugar, and recent research has linked high blood sugar levels with oxidative damage as well as an elevated production of beta-amyloid protein plaque. Chocolate, however, may be one exception. Chocolate contains antioxidant chemicals called flavonoids, protective substances also present in many brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Baby boomers who consumed chocolate-rich drinks twice a day for three months performed as well on memory tests as did people a few decades younger. In part of the same study, tests revealed that the chocolate drinks also seemed to improve blood flow to the hippocampi regions of the brain.
Aug 2, 2015 By Henry Emmons, MD and David Alter, PhD
We have all heard that curiosity “killed the cat.” But is curiosity really bad for our health? Cats may be able to risk losing a life or two, as they’re said to have nine, but this isn’t the case for us humans. We have to make the best of the only life we have. The juggernaut of age-related diseases, with Alzheimer’s disease topping the list, represents a major challenge facing the 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day for the next 20 years. Thankfully, cultivating curiosity is among a handful of accessible practices shown to preserve mental functioning well beyond the age that mental decline was presumed to be inevitable. Research efforts backed by billions of research dollars are gradually progressing in their quest to slow or reverse Alzheimer’s disease and other aging-related diseases. But aging Americans aren’t content awaiting the arrival of brain deterioration just to learn how to slow it from advancing further. They are interested in remaining vital throughout the second half of their lives. Are you curious how?
Carl Jung, the great 20th century miner of the mind said, “[The] afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different.” He was right. The demands of the afternoon of life (older age) are different than those of the morning. Modern neuroscience, when combined with ageless practices, shows just how life’s afternoon can be spent to preserve a youthful brain well into life’s second half. Long-term brain health has been shown to be strongly influenced by intentional choices made by a well-tuned and attentive mind. Without the capacity to focus and sustain attention, little can be accomplished, including maintaining a youthful brain.
A review of the literature on activities that support brain vitality fall into three overlapping and mutually reinforcing categories:
Practices that support the physical body (movement, nutrition, and sleep)
Polishing the cognitive lenses through which we view our future and sharpen our minds (curiosity, flexibility, and optimism)
Activities that deepen our social network through accessing our deepest sense of mission and purpose (empathy, social connectedness, and living our lives “authentically”)
While the importance of movement, nutrition, and sleep to overall health has long been recognized, emerging evidence in neuroscience clearly highlights how it is also central to maintaining a healthy brain into older adulthood. Less well-known is that curiosity, flexibility, and optimism are a triad of cognitive lenses with an equally potent impact on long-term brain health. Each lens builds on and supports the others. A curious mind isn’t satisfied with the status quo. A curious mind seeks novelty. Going beyond what is known to discover or create something new and different is the hallmark of a curious mind.
Exploring ideas, people, and places in new ways exposes the brain to a continuous stream of the unfamiliar and the unexpected. This results in a brain that is constantly bathed in surprise, allowing it to tap into its neuroplastic potential to rewire, and broadening its ability to respond to life with expanded flexibility. The ability to respond to the unexpected with flexible courage generates stress resilience and reduced anxiety. Curiosity and flexibility encourage the brain to formulate a more optimistic attitude about the unknown, and to access the courage necessary to engage in life’s opportunities and challenges on your own terms with deeper trust and enduring faith. Optimism is what permits us to persist in our commitments in spite of near-term frustrations and setbacks. An optimistic brain isn’t a self-deluding brain. Instead, when optimism is exercised, we actually become more realistic, more grounded, and intimately engaged in the nuances of daily life. We recognize “what is now ” but remain open that “what is” can be changed in positive and helpful ways moving forward. These core brain-building skills are a powerful buffer against daily stress, and the more potentially ravaging effects of depression and runaway anxiety. From the perspective of an aging but still youthful brain, these well-honed practices muster the perseverance to curiously, flexibly, and optimistically keep exploring the possible even when simple and short-sighted logic might argue otherwise.
There is another question to ask, and perhaps it’s the most important question to consider when exploring how to maintain a youthful brain into older age: Toward what end are we laboring to maintain a healthy brain?
Silly question? Not really. When you look at the enormous energy, money, and industry that is poured into efforts to preserve youth forever, it is apparent that for many of us, the goal is not to age well — it is to not age at all!
Success in maintaining a youthful brain doesn’t equate to being 20 again. Instead, it entails success at building a specialized, brain-based time machine. A vital brain doesn’t mean we turn the clock back in time. This machine helps us become “timeless” by making our lives matter so that our legacy is one that survives us and that leaves the world better than when we came into it. As Jung said, the purpose of the afternoon of life differs from the morning’s purpose. Maintenance of a youthful brain and a vital mind is what enables the afternoon’s purpose to be achieved. Nigerian poet Ben Okri captured that purpose when he said, “The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering.” That directive is not for the faint of heart. But, then, living a full and meaningful life isn’t either. By forging a life path that regularly and consistently attends to nourishing the body and mind, and developing an awakened heart, the odds that life’s rolling of the dice comes up in our favor is maximized.
Source: Henry Emmons, MD and David Alter, PhD, Authors of Staying Sharp: 9 Keys for a Youthful Brain through Modern Science and Ageless Wisdom . Simon & Schuster, September 2015.
Henry Emmons, MD, is a psychiatrist who integrates mind-body and natural therapies, mindfulness, and compassion practices into his clinical work. He is the author of three previous books: The Chemistry of Joy, The Chemistry of Calm, and The Chemistry of Joy Workbook. He is also a popular speaker, workshop presenter and retreat leader for both health care professionals and the general public.
David Alter, PhD, is a clinical psychologist whose 30-year practice combines mind-body medicine, strategic therapeutic interventions, and clinical hypnosis to address the physical, mental, and relationship-based concerns of his clients. He integrates health psychology, neuropsychology, and clinical hypnosis to bring a holistic perspective to his clinical work. He conducts his practice at Partners in Healing, the center for holistic health that he co-founded, and the Institute for Brain-Behavior Integration, which he founded to study and treat issues involving brain health.
By Camille Noe Pagán WebMD Feature Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD
Want another great reason to eat healthy? The food choices you make daily might lower your odds of getting Alzheimer’s disease, some scientists say.
Researchers have found that people who stuck to a diet that included foods like berries, leafy greens, and fish had a major drop in their risk for the memory-sapping disorder, which affects more than 5 million Americans over age 65.
The eating plan is called the MIND diet. Here’s how it works.
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It’s similar to two other healthy meal plans: the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet.
But the MIND approach “specifically includes foods and nutrients that medical literature and data show to be good for the brain, such as berries,” says Martha Clare Morris, ScD, director of nutrition and nutritional epidemiology at Rush University Medical Center.
You eat things from these 10 food groups:
Green leafy vegetables (like spinach and salad greens): At least six servings a week
Other vegetables: At least one a day
Nuts: Five servings a week
Berries: Two or more servings a week
Beans: At least three servings a week
Whole grains: Three or more servings a day
Fish: Once a week
Poultry (like chicken or turkey): Two times a week
Olive oil: Use it as your main cooking oil.
Wine: One glass a day
Red meat: Less than four servings a week
Butter and margarine: Less than a tablespoon daily
Cheese: Less than one serving a week
Pastries and sweets: Less than five servings a week
Fried or fast food: Less than one serving a week
One study showed that people who stuck to the MIND diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 54%. That’s big. But maybe even more importantly, researchers found that adults who followed the diet only part of the time still cut their risk of the disease by about 35%.
On the other hand, people who followed the DASH and Mediterranean diets “moderately” had almost no drop in their Alzheimer’s risk, Morris says.
Scientists need to do more research on the MIND approach, “but it’s a very promising start. It shows that what you eat can make an impact on whether you develop late-onset Alzheimer’s,” which is the most common form of the disease, says Cecilia Rokusek, a registered dietitian at Nova Southeastern University.
Should You Follow the MIND Diet?
Even if you don’t have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or other risk factors, you may still want to try this eating plan. It focuses on nutritious whole foods, so “it’s not just good for your brain. It’s good your heart and overall health, too,” says Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD. He is the chairman and CEO of the Memosyn Neurology Institute.
One of the best things about the plan is that you don’t have to stick to it perfectly to see benefits, Rokusek says. “That makes it more likely you’ll follow it for a long time,” she says. And the longer people eat the MIND way, the lower their risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, Morris says.
If you do decide to make your diet more MIND-like, Rokusek recommends you take a few extra steps. “Keep your portions in check, and be careful about how food is prepared. Sauces, breading, and oils can add extra calories and hidden ingredients like sugar,” she says. “Make a point to drink several glasses of water a day, too.”
Last, understand that even though diet plays a big role, “it’s only one aspect of Alzheimer’s disease,” Fotuhi says. So get regular exercise and manage your stress to lower your risk even more, he says.
CTVNews.ca Staff Published Wednesday, October 9, 2013 10:00PM EDT
After studying the effects of ginkgo leaves, vitamin E and painkillers on Alzheimer’s — a disease that affects about 30 million people globally — researchers at the University of South Florida have turned their attention to another possible natural remedy: coconut oil.
In what’s believed to be the first clinical trial of its kind, the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute enrolled 65 individuals with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s to measure the effects of coconut oil — versus placebo – on the disease.
The research was sparked by the five-year efforts of Dr. Mary Newport, who hopes to have results of the study within a year.
Dr. Mary Newport and her husband, Steve, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 51.
Dr. Mary Newport says she began seeing improvements in her husband’s Alzheimer’s after she started giving him four teaspoons of coconut oil per day.
Coconut oil benifits
A doctor whose husband suffers from Alzheimer’s has seen a dramatic improvement after adding coconut oil to his diet.
While there is currently no clinical data showing the benefits of coconut oil on the prevention and treatment of dementia, Newport – whose husband Steve was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 51 – said she began to see improvements after starting him on four teaspoons of coconut oil per day.
“Before the coconut oil, he could not tie his shoes. His weird slow gait … That improved. He walked normally and he was able to start running again. He was able to start reading again, his conversation improved dramatically and then over several months we saw improvements in his memory,” Newport said.
Prior to starting him on coconut oil, Newport said none of the existing medications were working.
“He got to the point that he had a tremor when he tried to eat or talk,” she said.
That’s when she began looking into ketones: molecules of organic fuel produced when your body burns fat.
“Our brains rely on glucose from carbohydrates. But if that isn’t available, because we haven’t eaten anything or are on a low-carbohydrate diet, then our brain cells switch to using the energy from our fat. This energy comes in the form of small molecules called ketones,” Newport explained.
And according to some scientists, coconut oil is a source of food that the body can easily convert into ketones.
Canadian researcher, Stephen Cunnane studies brain metabolism at Universite de Sherbrooke. His question: How do you revive aging or diseased brain cells in the elderly and those with Alzheimer’s?
Using PET scans, he found that ketones are indeed a possible alternative brain fuel, sharing similar excitement to Newport.
“The reason it is exciting, it suggests the brain is starving as you slip into Alzheimer’s disease. If you can provide an alternative fuel there may be an alternative to resuscitate parts of the brain,” said Prof. Cunnane.
But he is also urging caution – and for more research to get underway quickly. With a huge list of failed treatments for dementia, he knows families are searching for new options that have scientific backing.
“We don’t want to give a wrong impression that we have a magic solution … and we have to understand why the coconut oil might be beneficial and at what doses,” said Cunnane.
The USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute has already tackled other, out of the box ideas for stalling the mental decline of Alzheimer’s — like Ginkgo biloba, Vitamin E or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, finding no benefit.
After five years of resistance from the medical community, Newport was able to convince the Institute researchers to launch this one-of-a-kind study of coconut oil, after receiving a $250,000 grant from a private foundation.
“Mary has been very persistent in asking us to move forward with this and as a scientist I like to find out if there is any real scientific basis,” said Dave Morgan, CEO of the Institute and professor of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, and director of Neuroscience Research at the University of South Florida.
The pharmaceutical industry is in this – of course to make money for their companies, and of course they want to help people theoretically – but at the end of the day it is about dollars and sense, and so money gets invested in things that are new or patentable rather than things that are sitting on the shelf already,” said Amanda Smith, Medical Director, University of South Florida (USF) Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, Tampa Florida.
”There is no one who really stands to benefit from this except the patients. For us that is enough, that is our mission, that is who we want to help,” she explained.
The Florida researchers hope to have results within a year.
“I am thrilled they are open-minded enough thinking outside the box that this is possible and that they are embarking on a study. Physicians will start to recommend it to patients if they see results so we can only hope that they start to see results,” said Dr. Newport.
Steve Newport has since suffered a setback, and his health has declined in the past year. His wife Mary says Alzheimer’s may ultimately win, but his case has given medicine a new clue.
“Given what else is out there – which is nothing right now – hopefully this is something that people can incorporate into their diet that can delay the onset of the disease or slow down progress of the disease for several years said,” said Newport.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip