23 May Protecting Your Brain
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are on the rise and research suggests that changes in the brain which are associated with declines in memory can begin up to three decades prior to the first signs of memory problems! That means working to protect your brain today will reduce the likelihood of developing changes in memory, thinking, reasoning, and personality as you age. In this newsletter, we’ll focus on some risk factors of dementia and what you can do to reduce those risks starting now!
A whopping 16% of females and 11% of males aged 71 and older have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Some interesting facts:
Alzheimer’s disease affects women disproportionately. This may be because of that extra X chromosome or hormonal factors, depression, stress, or inflammation; we just don’t know, but finally, researchers are starting to look at this piece of the puzzle.
The gene APOE4 is associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The gene is found in 20-25% of the population. Having one copy can increase the risk of the disease two to threefold. Having two copies ups that risk to twelvefold. That said, not everyone with APOE4 develops Alzheimer’s disease.
Two hallmarks of the Alzheimer’s brain are plaques (caused by clumping of a protein called beta-amyloid) and tangles (caused by a protein called tau). That said, some people do not suffer memory decline when these two proteins accumulate in their brains- their presence is found incidentally on autopsy. Nearly all drugs targeting these two proteins have failed (possibly because they do not address damage done by the proteins in the early stages of the disease).
Some risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease include:
Insulin resistance or diabetes
Family history of dementia.
So what can you do to protect your brain?
1) The MIND Diet:
The MIND diet incorporates dietary principles of the Mediterranean style diet and the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet. It’s high in plant-based foods and healthy fats, and limits animal proteins and sugars. A 2015 study found that participants adhering to the MIND diet significantly reduced their rate of cognitive decline; the equivalent of 7.5 added healthy brain years!
Here’s a summary of the MIND Diet (and note that we could also call it the “Overall Healthy Diet”):
At least six servings of leafy green weakly
At least one serving of other veggies daily
At least five servings of nuts a week
Two servings of berries weekly
Three servings of beans weekly
Three servings of whole grains daily
One serving of fish weekly
Two servings of poultry weekly
Olive oil as the primary oil
Wine- preferably red- one serving daily.
I’d also add that incorporating spices/ herbs (particularly turmeric), green tea, and 80% + dark chocolate may also be helpful.
Keep the diet very low in sugars and refined carbohydrates. Even slight elevations in blood sugar can profoundly affect dementia risks.
2) Exercise your Mind:
Both physical and mental exercise are helpful for the brain.
Aerobic exercise increases the volume of the brain’s cortex and protects the hippocampus (both crucial for memory and cognition). Exercise also stimulates neurogenesis (the birth and growth of nerve cells) and increases blood flow to the brain.
Yoga has been found to have tremendous benefits for brain health. It reduces stress and thereby protects the brain from the harmful effects of excess stress hormone (cortisol). Cortisol can cause shrinking of the hippocampus and inflammation linked with neuronal damage.
3) Brain Training:
Learn something new every day! Learning expands neural connections that can slow brain aging. Focus on activities which require complex mental processing (as opposed to just doing that crossword puzzles or Sudoku). Aim to spend at least an hour a day on mentally stimulating activities. Making those activities social also helps to build new neural networks.
4) Give your Brain a Rest:
Good quality sleep for 7 to 9 hours a night allows us to “clean the brain”, thereby reducing beta-amyloid build up. Sleep is also crucial for consolidate memories.