Don’t Retire Your Brain
by Mark J Kaylor
Want to save some time reading this article, then here are two fundamental and important points that sum it up; in order to have a healthy brain and an active mind, you need to create a healthy and active body. Since your brain is holistically connected to every system and cell in your body it only makes sense that our brain would reflect our body. Even the idea of a separate mind and body simply makes no physiological sense. The second essential truth for a healthy brain is prevention; it is far easier to prevent brain malfunction and dysfunction than it is to correct an already existing problem.
While our brain is obviously one of, if not the most, vital organ of our body, ironically, it is the least understood. This is clearly seen in our overall lack of knowledge in the workings of the brain and our ineffective remedies for alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Further complicating things is the fact that what little we do know is confusing and often contradictory. This is by no means an indictment of all the amazing researchers and practitioners that are working with alzheimer’s; it is more a reflection of the complexities and intricacies of our brain and the disorder of dementia. It is no surprise that many of us are concerned or worried about the health and functioning of our brain; a new case of dementia is being diagnosed every 7 seconds, almost half of everyone over the age of 85 has alzheimer’s, and upon diagnosis one has an average lifespan of eight years.
Thankfully there is much we can do, but the key is to get as early a start on things as possible, think prevention.
Until recently it was widely held that from the age of three or so, we would lose brain cells every year. Thankfully this has now been disproven, we continue to grow new neurons throughout the entirety of our life. One thing we can do to encourage this process, is exercise. Research shows something as simple as walking a total of three hours a week can cause new neurons to grow and actually increase our brain size. These new neurons are able to replace damaged ones and to tie into existing networks thereby increasing the number of connections and improving brain plasticity. These two actions make for a healthier more resilient brain. Exercise’s mood enhancing ability also increases the levels of essential neurotransmitters. And in children, exercise has been shown to help children learn faster, be smarter and improve symptoms of attention deficit disorder.
I know many of us would prefer to take a pill, drink a drink, or eat a food but the reality is that no such pill, drink or food can all by itself give us a healthy brain. The best and most effective approach is a complete and holistic one, including the appropriate supplements, diet and lifestyle; this is where the profound changes occur. There are three types of exercise that are important to your brain (and body). The first is cardiovascular, second is weight resistant, and third is mental.
Thousands of studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise: cardiovascular health, blood sugar and insulin balance, reversal of aging, more energy, reduced stress, positive affects on our genes, and increased blood flow to the brain. Exercise can even make you smarter. What the first two types of exercise are is self-evident but what is the most effective way to mentally exercise? The key to exercising the brain is as simple as trying new things, challenging your brain to do something new, different, or demanding. It can be a simple as brushing your teeth with the opposite hand or driving a new way to work. Learning a new language or musical instrument are particularly effective ways to keep your mind sharp and healthy.
Supplements for the brain
Several nutrients and botanicals show promise for prevention and as components of a holistic protocol for optimal brain health. Acetyl L. carnitine (ALC) is one such nutrient with many brain benefits. ALC is central for the proper functioning of the mitochondria that provide energy for brain cells, protects neurons, and even reverses some age-related cellular changes especially within the cell membrane. Recent research suggests cell membrane and mitochondrial malfunctions play an important role in the development of alzheimer’s. One gram of ALC a day should be effective for most of us with therapeutic dosing doubling or tripling this amount.
Research out of the University of California, Berkeley demonstrated a powerful synergy between ALC and alpha lipoic acid. Mice studies using this combination led to a dramatic reversal of the aging process, significantly enhanced mitochondrial function and improvements in learning and memory. The improvement in older mice was so dramatic that one researcher reported that the mice got up and did the Macarena.
Another promising supplement with possible synergistic actions with ALC is Amyloban, a recently discovered component from the Lion’s Mane mushroom. Amyloban is able to increase the production of nerve growth factor while ALC increases the effects of that nerve growth factor (NGF) by many times. Research performed a few years ago demonstrated the ability of NGF to slow or reverse the progression of alzheimer’s. The problem with this approach is that NGF does not cross the protective blood brain barrier so would need to be pumped directly into the brain, clearly not a safe or plausible option in the long run. This began the search for substances that would increase NGF and cross the blood brain barrier. Lion’s Mane was discovered to be such a substance.
Initial research with rats confirmed that Lion’s Mane was able to significantly increase nerve growth factor, cross the blood brain barrier, and slow or reverse the progression of alzheimer’s with measures of learning and memory improving dramatically. Small human clinical trials, with a larger multi-clinic study ongoing, established that Amyloban did indeed increase NGF in the brain and appreciably benefited patients with alzheimer’s. Improvements were seen in memory, functional independence, perceptual qualities, and quality of life.
Probably the most compelling evidence for Amyloban’s benefits is in a case study of an 81 year old women who had been hospitalized several times, all to no avail, just more and more ineffective drugs. After just 2 months of Amyloban use she went from moody, anxious, and depressed back to her natural calm temperament; from being able to name only four vegetables to naming as many as you want; and fully capable of caring for herself. Cognitive function and quality of life drastically improved.
Stress kills memory
As it seems with virtually every area of health and disease, stress is a contributing element affecting brain health and function. Prolonged elevated levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) can affect your brain’s ability for learning and new memories. Even physiologically, stress has a significant impact by hindering the process of neuronal “sprouting” that allows the brain cells to make the necessary connections. One long-term study found that the most stressed were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Mother Nature has provided us with an amazing class of herbs called Adaptogens or tonics. Two adaptogens and brain tonics of special note are Reishi and Gotu kola. Reishi is a complete body tonic/balancer that supports and nourishes the central nervous system, balances out stress, and improves memory over the long run. Early research shows promise in prevention and possibly treatment of dementia. The Ayurvedic herb Gotu kola was traditionally employed for nervous system disorders and to improve memory. Research demonstrates improvements in learning, intelligence, memory, cell membrane function, anti-oxidant protection, and increases in brain cell outgrowth and branching.
If you are looking for a more immediate boost in brain power, say you have a test coming up or an important presentation to make, then try Green tea, American Ginseng, Panax Ginseng, Rosemary, Vinpocetine, Sage, DMAE, and especially a good night’s sleep. And for the slightly longer run (weeks or months) Choline, Phosphatidylcholine, Phosphatidylserine, B Vitamins, Ginkgo, Bacopa and Huperzine A.
It’s Not Inevitable
So much of what we are discovering today has stood long held medical beliefs on their head. While we may hear over and over that there is no cure for alzheimer’s, I for one don’t accept that, and I don’t believe you should too. The brain and the human body is virtually unlimited in its ability to heal; with the brain being so much more resilient, creative, adaptable, changing, and flexible than we ever thought. Even simple changes can have huge impacts. We know that nutrition, exercise, supplements, and stress relief have the ability to change our physiology all the way down to our DNA. So don’t retire your brain, make the necessary changes for a healthy body and mind and find out for yourself the power of your healing path.