It goes without saying that the health of our brain is mission critical for EVERYTHING and should be a top priority when considering health and wellness. Yet the current statistics for the risks of dementia are sobering. Between 2000-2017 in the US, deaths from heart disease decreased by 9% yet deaths from Alzheimer disease increased by 145%. Worldwide around 50 million people have been diagnosed with some form of dementia and approximately 10 million new cases diagnosed each year. With the first stages of brain decline occurring up to 20 years before symptoms begin, we have to figure out how to slow or more ideally stop what seems to be a runaway train. For anyone, including myself, who has lost a loved one to some form of dementia, figuring this out becomes very personal. There’s a lot we still don’t know or understand but here’s some of what we know so far and what we can start doing today to protect our brain moving forward.
Believe it or not, this is the current number one “prescription” by top neurologists involved in the most current research. The medications available do little to prevent or slow the progression of dementia. Yet exercise shows an immense amount of promise in regards to prevention of disease as well as slowing down the “train” once it’s left the station. Research is showing that not only does exercise help increase blood flow to the brain but it increases the production of growth factors, creating new brain connections and cell growth. It decreases systemic inflammation, helping prevent or improve other dementia risk factors such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, chronic stress and depression. Research has shown the most positive impact with moderate aerobic exercise, 150 minutes a week. This means an activity that gets your heart rate up a bit and makes you sweat. My belief is you aim for that aerobic exercise but also figure out what you love. Work on creating a habit of “movement” every day, no different from brushing your teeth.
There’s a saying that goes something like “you can’t exercise away a bad diet.” Exercise may be the #1 prescription for brain health but a poor diet is one of the major risk factors for developing dementia. The most research has been on the positive impacts of a mediterranean diet and brain longevity. This is a vegetable heavy, small amounts of meat and dairy such as fish and chicken, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil and a SMALL amount of wine. There’s also a lot of research being completed on the positive impacts of a ketogenic diet (low carb, high fat) This diet is not new to neurologists, being utilized for years to help treat some seizure disorders and is now being looked at more closely to also assist with dementia. Due to its more “extreme” nature, this diet is controversial and an entire topic onto itself. It’s not necessarily the right choice for everyone and can be easily done in a non-healthy manner so professional guidance and support is recommended.
Good sleep, stress management, having positive social connections, and taking care of your mental health are all critical in keeping your brain running healthy and happy. Meditation and having a gratitude practice have both been shown to help decrease stress, improve sleep, lower inflammation and improve mood which in turn improves brain health. Supplements such as omega 3’s and turmeric help lower inflammation and omega 3’s also help to preserve cell membrane health while improving the communication between brain cells. And we can’t forget the tried and true adage, “use it or lose it.” When it comes to your brain, work on challenging it on a regular basis. This can be as simple as brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand or as challenging as teaching yourself a new skill.
Its never too late to make a positive impact on your brain health so I hope I’ve empowered you to start now. The doctors at True Health Medicine, PC are here to support you every step of the way.