(Notes from the Gardenside Lectures, June 2017)
There is one organ in your body that changes from the time you are born until the time you die.
Deepak Chopra, in his book Super Brain, calls it a “firestorm of electrical and chemical energy” with 100 million neurons and more connections than there are stars in the Milky Way. It is as mystical as it is physical and it interprets everything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and experience.
It is your constant companion, always on and always operating full tilt. It listens to you, learns from you, adjusts to your demands, and sends out energetic signals that literally change your body. All of this from that beautiful brain of yours which takes up a slight 2% of your weight.
But aging can bring harm to this small miracle. That is unless we intervene and give it a little help to keep it strong.
Here are some tips to help you:
# 1 – Eat Healthy Fats
I know. This goes against all conventional wisdom (see last month’s post) but we’ve been duped by a food industry anxious to keep us buying their “fat-free”, sugar-ladened concoctions and it’s all wrong.
Your brain needs fat and that includes cholesterol, your body’s own self-made source. David Perlmutter, Neurologist, expert on brain health and author of Grain Brain, cites study after study on the link between low fat and mental degeneration. He rails on the irony of statins which diminish cholesterol, a “critical nutrient essential for the function of neurons.”
Cholesterol nourishes and protects the brain. It also plays a fundamental role as a building block of cell membranes and in the production of vitamin D.
Cholesterol is not your enemy.
Your brain is 70% fat. Fat coats all of your neural connectors, speeding up your thought processes from a walking pace to that of a top-speed NASCAR – 150 – 260 mph, so you don’t spend too much time thinking before you remove your hand from that hot stove.
Focus on good fats including: olive oil, coconut oil, pastured (grass fed) meats and butter, ghee, avocados and avocado oil, nuts and seeds.
“Saturated fat plays a pivotal role in a lot of biochemical equations that keep us healthy. Every cell in your body requires saturated fats; they comprise 50% of your cellular membrane. They also contribute to the structure and function of your lungs, heart, bones, liver, immune system… Even your endocrine system relies on saturated fatty acids to manufacture certain hormones.” David Perlmutter, M.D.
#2 – Up Your Nutrients
Your brain needs nutrient-dense foods to thrive. Fast foods don’t qualify here.
Food is a powerful genetic modulator, influencing how your genes direct the workings of your body. The more nutrients, the healthier your genetic activity and the less likely you are to turn on some rogue disease gene.
Add more vegetables and especially greens daily. Add them to smoothies and shove more salads and green juices into your day. Even opt for a salad at breakfast.
Push in superfoods and spices like turmeric, cinnamon, oregano, garlic (raw), onions, beets, avocado, walnuts, spinach, sardines, berries, olive oil – all super great for your noggin.
#3 – Include Regular Physical Activity in Your Day
Professor Thad A. Polk, in his course, “The Aging Brain”, sums it up this way: “Engaging in regular physical activity is the single best thing you can do to maintain your brain health as you age.”
Here’s why. Physical activity raises your heart rate which increases blood flow to the brain which…..
- Increases blood vessels in the brain
- Creates higher levels of chemicals that grow new cells
- Creates more connections between brain cells
- Increases the size of your cerebral cortex
- Leads to growth of new memory cells
- Strengthens your resistance to brain damage.
- Increases “Klotho”, an age-suppressant gene which protects you from premature aging.
Build physical activity into your day. Walking, gardening, yoga, sports – anything to get you moving on a regular basis will do. Get your heart rate up and work up a sweat so you might even feel the blood moving.
#4 – Ditch the Sugar
Sugar is aging enemy #1 for both brain and body, and average consumption in the U.S. is about 22 teaspoons per day.
Sugar hogs space in your vascular system, diminishing the nutrients that make it to the brain. Worse yet, it sticks to proteins in the body causing “glycation”, a process that clogs up your neural circuitry and accelerates aging. It is a highly addictive drug found in virtually all boxed and packaged goods today.
There are many who say the only way to stop is to go cold turkey and do a sugar cleanse: no added sugar for 30 days. There are others that say tapering is best. Whatever works for you, remove it from your diet and don’t substitute no-calorie sweeteners which do not diminish your cravings and simply add toxic chemicals to the mix.
#5 – Sleep
Did you know that when you sleep the space between your brain cells expands by about 60%, allowing the brain to flush out damaging molecules associated with neurodegeneration? It is also believed this cleansing process may clear out some of the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s. Plus – bonus here – deep sleep activates a chemical in the brain called BDNF that encourages growth and regeneration of the brain.
Sleep does wonders for your brain. It stores your memories, cleanses the body, quiets inflammation, improves your creativity, sharpens your brain, helps with weight loss, reduces your stress levels and is one of your most important anti-aging rituals. Not too much, not too little. It is recommended that we get about 7 to 8 hours a night.
And one more detail: The Journal of Neuroscience did a study on the effect of sleep positions and found that sleeping on your side is the most efficient position for removing waste from the brain.
“Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It appears to be a completely different state,” Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc.
#6 – Check Your Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is your internal protector. It guards your nervous system and reduces inflammation, and many of us – especially in the Northeast – are low in it.
Low levels of vitamin D have been shown to contribute to depression, chronic fatigue, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. In one study of 498 women, those with the highest intake of vitamin D had a 77% lower risk of Alzheimer’s.
Be sure to check your blood levels before you add this to your list of supplements. Perlmutter suggests 5000 mg/day. Here’s what I use. (Use Code HCP1134220 to order).
#7 – Slow Down
Constant, chronic, daily stress not only shuts down your prefrontal cortex, it speeds up aging at the molecular level.
Scientists, interested in understanding the impact of stress on the body, set out to explore this by studying the salmon – a fish that swims hundreds of miles against fierce currents to return to its spawning ground to reproduce.
When they swim upstream, salmon release huge quantities of stress hormones, which leads to rapid aging and death within weeks of spawning. When scientists removed the adrenal glands, the hormone-producing organ, the salmon didn’t die but lived much longer lives. It wasn’t the journey that killed them, but the release of stress hormones that did them in.
Stress hurts. Aside from all the negative effects it triggers, like weight gain, digestive problems, heart disease, anxiety and depression, stress makes us old before our time.
Do something daily that gives you a sense of calm: yoga, a walk in the woods, meditation, an short afternoon nap. This will help to calm your nervous system and allow the body and brain some time to heal.
#8 – Turn off the News
In case you haven’t noticed there’s rarely good news. We are inundated daily with an onslaught of negative events the media throws at us because for some twisted reason, our minds are like “Velcro for negative news”.
Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing, warns that this constant flow of negativity literally rewires our brain and leads to stress, anxiety, fear, depression and even PTSD. All of this affects our mood, sleep, and our overall feelings.
Even worse, prolonged stress shrinks the brain.
Darren Hardy, one of my favorite mentors, sums it up succinctly: “Turn off your TV. Turn off your radio. Turn off your news subscription.” Pay attention to the areas of life that mean the most to you. You have no control over the rest.
#9 – Enjoy Your Morning Coffee
Bet you didn’t expect this one but coffee happens to be one of our top superfoods, loaded with antioxidants and nutrients. Just don’t overdo it. When consumed in excess it can become a hormone-twisting problem. Some even suggest a little food first to ensure that it has little impact on our hormones.
Look for high quality sustainable sources and don’t load it up with whipped cream, fake creamers, and tons of sugar. Black is best.
#10 – Go Back to School
Don’t’ take me literally on this one although, according to Margie E. Lachman, a Brandeis University psychologist who specializes in aging, education appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade – especially for those in midlife and beyond.
Be curious. Find something of interest to you. Study it. Learn all you can. Get good at it. Engage your mind in it. Your brain is endlessly adaptable and wants to grow. Put it to work by pulling out of your normal routine and teaching it something new. You’ll shake up all those neurons and restart things up there.
According to a 2007 study at the University of California, “short but repeated learning sessions” slows the development of plaques and tangles that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
You don’t have to be a kid to go to school.
#11 – Spend 5-15 Minutes With Bare Feet in the Grass
There is an entire science around the health impact of “Earthing”, the practice of sitting, standing, and walking barefoot on the earth.
The earth is like a huge battery, continually being replenished with solar energy to keep life in balance and provide a natural healing energy. Earthing has been shown to help cure the body, diminish inflammation, improve sleep, strengthen us – brain and all, and slow the onset of aging. It’s a rather easy thing to do so go outside and try it.
“Earthing is both a timeless practice and a modern discovery. It simply means living in contact with the Earth’s natural surface charge – being grounded – which naturally discharges and prevents chronic inflammation in the body.” (Earthing, Ober, Sinatra, Zucker)
#12 – Brush & Floss Regularly
Sarah Gottfried, M.D. and author of Younger, A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, tells us that we have more than 700 species of bacteria in our mouths and an increase in oral bacteria is associated with thickening carotid arteries and reduced blood flow to the brain. She states that flossing fosters longevity, and failing to do so increases risk of mortality by 30%.
A report out of Harvard Med School states that “Oral bacteria could also harm blood vessels or cause blood clots by releasing toxins that resemble proteins found in artery walls or the bloodstream. The immune system’s response to these toxins could harm vessel walls or make blood clot more easily.”
Gottried recommends using a powered tooth brush and bushing and flossing at least twice a day.
#13 – Stop the Negative Self Talk
If you’re one of those who self-criticize and carry on a fair amount of negative self-talk, you might want to shut it down.
This kind of thinking deepens the pathways in your brain that perpetuate it and may eventually put you into a state of constant worry and stress, ramping up damaging chemicals in the brain and shrinking the prefrontal cortex – your intelligence center.
I’m going to stretch here and guess that you would never speak to someone else the way that little voice in your head speaks to you. Am I right? If so, try this: Kamal Ravikant wrote a book entitled: Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It.” Get the book – it’s very short, only 59 pages, and practice what Kamal teaches in this book. Then let me know how you do.
# 14 – Try Intermittent Fasting
Fasting dates back thousands of years and was believed to be a means to rejuvenate, clear the mind, deepen awareness, and detoxify the body.
Intermittent fasting means either reducing food intake or eliminating it altogether for a short periods of time to give your body a rest. The benefits?
- Stimulates the production of certain proteins in the brain that promote growth of neurons, improves communication between neurons, and helps repair nerve damage.
- Gives the body time to clean up cellular waste and damaging plaques associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that cause neural connections to fail.
- Helps with weight loss
Here are 3 strategies you can choose from:
- Fast 3 hours between dinner and bed and 12 – 18 hours between dinner and breakfast once a week. For weight loss, do this twice a week. This is the one I follow most often. I stop eating around 7:00 in the evening and do not eat again until about noon the following day.
- The 5:2 approach limits caloric intake to 500 calories on 2 consecutive days. On other days eat a healthy diet of around 2,000 calories. Half a pound of chicken is about 500 calories. So a couple small pieces of chicken or other protein with veggies (which are almost devoid of calories) would make a 500-calorie day.
- Fasting one day a week for 24 hours.
#15 – Don’t Forget Your Water
Our bodies are 70% water; our brains 80%. Imagine the impact if your brain goes dry. Brain cells don’t do well in arid environments nor do their electrical signals travel well when water’s scarce.
Dehydration impairs your memory, depletes your energy, disturbs your moods, increases sensitivity to pain, and shrinks your brain.
Four to eight hours without water is considered mild dehydration; twenty-four hours is severe dehydration. And don’t forget the the 7 to 8 hours you’re in bed and without the stuff. Normal exhalation expels water, not to mention night trips to the loo.
Start each day with 16 ounces and shoot for a minimum of eight glasses a day.
Your brain is dynamic, innately intelligent, endlessly adaptable, and constantly changing based on the thoughts and input it gets from you. Feed it well. Work it. Exercise it. Give it rest. Give it some peace and quiet. And get out of its way now and then so it can clean up after you.
Remember disease and neurological disintegration take YEARS to develop and starts in our 20s. It is so much easier to prevent than to cure.
Listen to Your Body
This is a lot to remember and too much to put into practice all at once. Choose just one thing and try it. See how it feels. Listen to your body – your body knows. If a practice helps, makes you feel good, leaves you happier and lighter, keep it up and then try another. And if you need a little help or nudging, I’m as close as that cell phone in your pocket. Text me. Call me. Send me your questions, concerns, and aha moments. We all need a hand now and then and I love hearing from you!
Want to connect? Email me at email@example.com