Just this week in the news one of the brain exercise programs announced some great results with brain training games. The current study was a re-analysis of former data collected over a ten-year period observing almost 3000 healthy older adults. The group who did the speed-of-processing training, now available through Posit Science’s BrainHQ.com brain training program, showed 33% reduced rate of developing dementia.
My point is not that you should all run out and start doing that program (although that would be fine), but instead that we are going to be reading news about Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment on a regular basis as more and more baby boomers realize it’s a significant future risk. I talked about balance in Part 2 and that will be part of your future balancing act: figuring out how to be open and curious to incoming news without getting completely distracted with each little tidbit of information. (Just this morning, WebMD: “Can red wine prevent Alzheimer’s?”)
If you stick to the information in the first two parts of this series, you will be doing all the heavy lifting and for most people it will make a difference in their general health. Let’s get to the last details, the ones that show particular promise for brain health and that might not be so obviously a part of general health improvement.
Fine Tuning Brain Health
Reduce the effects of life's stressors.
Here’s one everyone can do, and reap the benefits throughout their life: reduce the impact of stress on your life. We all encounter stress in our lives, and for many of us it is the kind of stress to which we humans are not well-suited: namely, ongoing low-level stress. Constant worries about health, or wealth, or work—we just didn’t evolve with equipment suitable for incorporating those stressors. Our bodies function efficiently around time-limited episodes of stress: a wild animal jumps out in our path and we must respond! Once that’s passed, we should emotionally settle back down to calm. We are not suited to be dodging traffic along a crowded freeway for hours at a time.
So here’s the trick: we cannot eliminate stress but we can accept that and find strategies to reduce the impact of the stress on our body. Here’s a quick one that I learned from Dr. Andrew Weil. Sitting comfortably, place the tip of your tongue at the base of your upper teeth. Breathe in through your nose slowly to a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and “whoosh” your air out for a full count of eight. Repeat for four full cycles, you’ll get the hang of it. Do two sets, four cycles each, daily for a month, no more and no less. After the month, you “own it!” and can use it whenever and wherever you like to help reduce your body’s stress level.
Check in on your gut.
What’s your gut feeling about your gut? Any digestive disturbance, from the mouth to the throat, small intestine, or colon, can add a physical stress to the health of your body. Do you burp, burn, bloat, rumble or fart more than you used to? Ask your doctor to check out what might be going on, and keep the treatment as natural as possible. No acid-blocking drugs, please!
Do you snore?
Ever been told you snore? Stop breathing in the middle of the night? Sleep apnea reduces the oxygen available to your brain. Ask your doctor help you check that one off your list if you’re concerned.
Another ask of your doctor might be a heavy metal screen: mercury (do you eat much fish), lead and cadmium can all be toxic to cells in our brain.
Your brain loves ketones
One more readily available supplement is something you may have read about in the popular press: coconut oil, or more helpfully, coconut oil derivatives that supply medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) to the brain. MCTs are rapidly processed by the liver to produce ketone bodies which are actually the brain’s favorite food. Have you ever gone without food for long enough to have that “high” associated with fasting? That’s your brain on ketones! There are several easy ways to get ketones in your brain.
- Avoid eating for three hours before bed, and a total of 12 hours between the end of dinner and the beginning of breakfast. Not only will lowered blood sugars inspire your liver to make ketones, but a "break" in gut activity allows cell regeneration in your brain and throughout your body.
- Coconut oil itself, 1-2 Tbsp one to three times daily
- MCT oil, same doses: but start with lower doses to avoid, as they say, “disaster pants!”
- Axona is a prescription form of bio-available ketones, spendy but effective.
- There are many emerging ketone supplement products: NOT raspberry ketones, but others such as Ketonix. (Look for an upcoming article. I’ll also talk about the more refined forms of MCT oil, a bit gentler on the gut if you need that.)
Brain supplements. High level supplements perform specific actions in the brain. Not all will be needed by everyone, see if any of these particularly appeal to you.
- H. erinaceus or Acetyl-l-carnitine increase neurotrophic growth factor, part of the brain’s ongoing recovery system.
- Citicoline and DHA (in your fish oil) help with structural components of the brain.
- Antioxidants can be helpful in the brain, just like other places in the body:
- Vitamin E is usually sold as the worst form of vitamin E: look for a product that has mixed tocopherols and/or tocotrienols.
- Selenium from one to two Brazil nuts daily or selenomethionine 200 mcg daily.
- Eat blueberries!
- N-acetyl cysteine and alpha lipoic acid help your body make more glutathione, the body’s “master anti-oxidant”
- Last but not at all least: ubiquinol (a more absorbable form of CoQ10) at 100 mg twice daily is good for your brain and your cardiovascular system. You can find it in food if you eat organ meat: the heart is rich in CoQ10 and is a delicious and relatively easy to prepare choice!
Whew! If you've read through this three-part series, and remember bits from each part, you don't have Alzheimer's. There is still real value in putting a bit of effort into prevention, in whatever form that takes. Do you like to play mind games on the computer? Try BrainHQ.com or Lumosity, whichever you like better and will keep doing! Are you still working and enjoying it--that is another highly effective way to keep your risk of dementia low: keep working!
And stay tuned: there will always be news tidbits, and I'll try to be selective about reporting on only the most promising bits of news.
The treatment paradigm of the future will evaluate people in all relevant parameters, and more yet to be discovered. Each person will receive a personalized report and recommendations for action items. Your health care team will provide the support needed and ongoing oversight to help you stay on your program.
I actually think that paradigm is already in place, through the Buck Institute's MPI Cognition Program. I'm excited to be headed to their practitioner's course this weekend and will let you know if the future is indeed here and how you might access the full program if you are interested.