Tag Archives: aging

Eight nutrients to protect the brain

Brain health is the second most important component in maintaining a healthy lifestyle according to a 2014 AARP study. As people age they can experience a range of cognitive issues from decreased critical thinking to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In the March issue of Food Technology published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), contributing editor Linda Milo Ohr writes about eight nutrients that may help keep your brain in good shape.

1. Cocoa Flavanols: Cocoa flavanols have been linked to improved circulation and heart health, and preliminary research shows a possible connection to memory improvement as well. A study showed cocoa flavanols may improve the function of a specific part of the brain called the dentate gyrus, which is associated with age-related memory (Brickman, 2014).

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have long been shown to contribute to good heart health are now playing a role in cognitive health as well. A study on mice found that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation appeared to result in better object recognition memory, spatial and localizatory memory (memories that can be consciously recalled such as facts and knowledge), and adverse response retention (Cutuli, 2014). Foods rich in omega-3s include salmon, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds.

3. Phosphatidylserine and Phosphatidic Acid: Two pilot studies showed that a combination of phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid can help benefit memory, mood, and cognitive function in the elderly (Lonza, 2014).

4. Walnuts: A diet supplemented with walnuts may have a beneficial effect in reducing the risk, delaying the onset, or slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in mice (Muthaiyah, 2014).

5. Citicoline: Citicoline is a natural substance found in the body’s cells and helps in the development of brain tissue, which helps regulate memory and cognitive function, enhances communication between neurons, and protects neural structures from free radical damage. Clinical trials have shown citicoline supplements may help maintain normal cognitive function with aging and protect the brain from free radical damage. (Kyowa Hakko USA).

6. Choline: Choline, which is associated with liver health and women’s health, also helps with the communication systems for cells within the brain and the rest of the body. Choline may also support the brain during aging and help prevent changes in brain chemistry that result in cognitive decline and failure. A major source of choline in the diet are eggs.

7. Magnesium: Magnesium supplements are often recommended for those who experienced serious concussions. Magnesium-rich foods include avocado, soy beans, bananas and dark chocolate.

8. Blueberries: Blueberries are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity because they boast a high concentration of anthocyanins, a flavonoid that enhances the health-promoting quality of foods. Moderate blueberry consumption could offer neurocognitive benefits such as increased neural signaling in the brain centers.

via Eight nutrients to protect the aging brain — ScienceDaily.

Reference: Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). “Eight nutrients to protect the aging brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 April 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150415203340.htm>.

Dr. Court’s Comments:

This is a great list. I’d encourage people to consider adding some, if not all, of these to their diet. However, these alone will not be 100% protective. To get much closer to that elusive 100% mark, exercise must be included. The benefits of exercise on the brain are numerous. Exercise is inherently anti-inflammatory. It improves fuel delivery as well as waste removal in the brain. It increases neural feedback which preserves synaptic connections. Remember this fact; 90% of the information coming into the brain on a daily basis is from proprioception. That is, 90% of the information is from our muscles and our joints. A sedentary lifestyle reduces this flow of information, reducing the survivability of neurons in the central nervous system. Exercise also keeps the heart healthy, and a healthy heart means a healthy brain.

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See Where America Stacks Up In Life Expectancy

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The U.S. is lagging behind other high income countries in life expectancy despite spending more on health care than any other country.

A new report from the National Research Council finds that Americans can expect to live shorter lives than in other industrialized countries.  They council blames two things – smoking and obesity.

The popularity of smoking has gone way down in the last 20 years, but it was very popular from the 50’s and into the 80′.  The effects of smoking are not realized until much later in life and we are seeing now that it is affecting the life expectancy of the baby boomer generation and beyond.

The other factor, obesity, is an obvious one.  The U.S. has the third highest obesity rate in the world. Over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.  The only countries with higher rates of obesity are Kiribati and American Samoa.

See the list below and where the U.S. falls in life expectancy.

Women

Australia 83.78
Canada 82.95
Denmark 80.53
England and Wales 81.73
France 84.39
Italy 84.09
Japan 85.98
Netherlands 81.89
Sweden 82.95
United States 80.78

Men

Australia 79.27
Canada 78.35
Denmark 76.13
England and Wales 77.46
France 77.43
Italy 78.62
Japan 79.20
Netherlands 77.63
Sweden 78.92
United States 75.64

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Reducing Your Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease Naturally

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease

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As of next year the first of the baby boomers will reach 65 years old and by 2029 all of them will be at least 65.  This is significant because as we age certain diseases become more and more prominent.  One of them is Alzheimer’s disease.  This disease robs people of the faculties much too soon and causes heartache and financial hardship for families across the US.

Just How Big Is The Problem?

About 24 million people worldwide are known to be affected with dementia. This number is expected to balloon to 84 million by the year 2040.  These numbers include all forms of dementia, but up to 80% of dementia is caused by Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  In the US alone 5.3 million American’s have Alzheimer’s Disease and 96% of them are over the age of 65.  In just five years the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s will jump to 7.7 million and by 2050 the number is projected to more than double to 16 million.  The numbers truly are staggering.  As a matter of fact, AD has recently passed diabetes, yes diabetes, as the 6th most common cause of death in the US.  As our population continues to grow older because people are living longer, the problem is likely to get worse.  Current statistics show that just over 50% of people who are over 85 will go on to develop AD.

AD is also a very expensive problem for the United States.  In 2005, total Medicare spending was $91 billion and the total US cost was $172 billion for AD.  AD patients make up roughly 13% of Medicare enrollees but account for more than 1/3 of its spending.  The problem will only grow as our population ages.

So What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk?

The best way to treat AD is to prevent it in the first place.  There is very good research behind several nutritional supplements that can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia as you age.

Vitamin E

Here’s what one study found on vitamin E:

“Among MCI-AD patients, the longitudinal decrease in cellular vitamin E was associated with the deterioration in cognitive performance. These results suggest that accumulation of oxidative damage may start in pre-symptomatic phases of AD pathology and that progression to AD might be related to depletion of antioxidant defenses.”

-J Alzheimers Dis. 2010 Aug 6.

So what does that mean.  Basically what this study found was that among patients who has mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or AD, people with the lowest levels of vitamin E had poorest performance on mental testing.  Oxidative damage is the process by which our brain tissue is broken down in AD.  Vitamin E helps fight this process.

Another study concluded:

“In conclusion, high plasma levels of vitamin E are associated with a reduced risk of AD in advanced age. The neuroprotective effect of vitamin E seems to be related to the combination of different forms, rather than to alpha-tocopherol alone.”

-J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20(4):1029-37.

This is saying that higher levels of vitamin E in the blood were associated with a significant reduction in AD with advanced age.  It also says that when taking vitamin E you should be taking a combination of forms, not a singular type.  When you look at the back of your vitamin E supplement be sure that it says ‘mixed tocopherols.”  That will provide you with the most benefit.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the supplement of the hour right now.  It is being studied by everyone and just about everyone has found that it is critically important for overall health.  New research also shows it helps prevent AD.

“Vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was associated with all-cause dementia, Alzheimer disease, stroke (with and without dementia symptoms), and MRI indicators of cerebrovascular disease. These findings suggest a potential vasculoprotective role of vitamin D.”

-Neurology. 2010 Jan 5;74(1):18-26. Epub 2009 Nov 25

This study is telling us that vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was associated with higher risk for dementia and AD.  What this means is that even having levels that are slightly decreased (insufficiency) are associated with higher risk.  Keeping vitamin D levels up not only is important for bone health, cancer reduction and fall prevention but also reduces your risk of AD.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Another study on vitamin D found that:

“Clinical data suggest that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with an increased risk of several CNS diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, seasonal affective disorder and schizophrenia.  Overall, imbalances in the calcipherol system appear to cause abnormal function, including premature aging, of the CNS.”

– Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2009 Dec;34 Suppl 1:S278-86

This study is particularly interesting in that it shows that low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of several CNS or central nervous system diseases including AD.  It also concluded that imbalances in the calcipherol, or vitamin D, system causes premature aging of the brain and central nervous system.  Why is this problematic?  Remember, the number one risk factor for AD is aging.  If we can slow this process, particularly in the brain, we can slow the onset of AD.  Vitamin D can do this for you.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

“A plethora of in vitro, animal model, and human data, gathered over the past decade, highlight the important role DHA may play in the development of a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including AD. Cross sectional and prospective cohort data have demonstrated that reduced dietary intake or low brain levels of DHA are associated with accelerated cognitive decline or the development of incipient dementia, including AD.”

-Clin Interv Aging. 2010 Apr 7;5:45-61.

DHA is a particular form of omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil.  This study concluded that low intake of this particular fatty acid or low brain levels of it are associated with cognitive decline and accelerated development of AD.  This is of particular interest because of all of the wonderful other benefits that omega-3’s give us.  You can prevent or reduce the risk of many other diseases simply by supplementing with fish oil.

There was this study as well:

“Plasma DHA was associated with slower decline on BVRT (Benton Visual Retention Test) performances in ApoE-epsilon4 carriers only. EPA and DHA may contribute to delaying decline in visual working memory in ApoE-epsilon4 carriers.”

-Neurobiol Aging. 2010 Jun 4.

This study was done on people who have the gene that is linked to an increased risk of AD.  What it concluded was very exciting.  Basically it found that the higher the omega-3 DHA was in the plasma the slower the decline in memory in people that were genetically predisposed to getting AD.  That’s wonderful news!  Many people think that their genetics are their destiny, but this study showed otherwise.

In Summary

This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of research that is available on how to combat and reduce your risk of developing AD.  What we did not touch on in this article is that keeping your heart healthy and controlling your blood sugar is of utmost importance.  Do those things and take the supplements listed above and you can significantly reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

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4 Substances That Slow The Aging Process

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Anti-aging is a large field in medicine.  Most of the diseases that human beings suffer from significantly increase as we age.  The theory is that if we can slow down the aging process we can live longer, more disease free lives.

Individual cells can live forever in the laboratory.  It’s been done.  This is a fascinating fact .  However, human beings are multicellular organisms and each cell does not live in isolation.  Further, cells that live forever in the laboratory live in ideal conditions.  They are not exposed to chemicals, hormones or undergo the same physical stresses that we do on a day to day basis.  But, the fact remains – a biological system, given the best possible scenario, can live forever.  So what if there were things we could do to slow the aging process?  We may not be able to live forever, but could we significantly increase our life spans?  The answer is yes.  There are several known substances that have a positive effect on the aging process that are available to everyone in supplement form.

Aging

Aging is a genetic process and a free radical induced process.  First, our genes are important.  It is helpful if Mom and Dad lived to be 100, but it is not essential.  Our DNA is stored in each cell in the nucleus.  Within this nucleus are the chromosomes that contain all of the DNA we were born with.  We get 23 chromosomes from each of our parents for a total of 46.  Every single cell in the body has an identical copy of these genes.  Each chromosome is shaped roughly like an X.  The ends of these chromosomes are called telomeres.  These telomeres are interesting in that they shrink as we age.  There are known substances that slow the shortening of these telomeres and therefore slow the aging process.

Free radical damage is also another way that people age.  Free radicals are potent molecules that bounce around in our bodies and break down our cells.  The theory is that the human body can only repair so much and this damage begins to accumulate over time causing us to age.  Now, it would make sense if we just avoided these free radicals wouldn’t it?  It would if we could.  Some of the most potent free radicals are nitrogen and oxygen which happen to make up 78% and 21% of the air we breath respectively.  Our diets are designed to help us fight this battle because we can consume antioxidants.  This class of nutrients fights free radical damage but it cannot win the war.  There are, however, compounds that are known to be powerful free radical scavengers and should be consumed on a more regular basis to slow the aging process.

Supplements That Slow Aging

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a magnificent substance.  It is found in many things, but mainly in the skins of grapes.  It is also why red wine (in moderation) seems to have such great health benefits.  Resveratrol activates something called sirtuins.  Sirtuins are genes (known as SIRT1 though SIRT8) that function to repair breaks in our DNA strands that occur as we age.  These sirtuins also play a key role in maintaining the length of the telomeres discussed earlier.  Sirtuins also act to regulate inflammation in the body by inhibiting something called NF-KappaB.  This is a potent inflammatory enzyme that is responsible for many disease processes in human beings.  Resveratrol also decreases the production of adhesion molecules that attract inflammatory cells to our vessel walls and therefore inhibits atherosclerosis.  These adhesion molecules also promote the spread of cancer.  Taking resveratrol is easy but be sure when you buy a supplement it is of high quality and contains trans-resveratrol.  All other forms are useless to take.

Pterostilbene

This substance is very similar to resveratrol but it is found in blueberries.  It works with resveratrol in multiple complimentary mechanisms to limit NF-KappaB.  This is not available in supplement form, but you can certainly get it from eating as many blueberries as you’d like!

Quercetin

This magnificent substance protects against such diseases as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis.  It has also been shown to help modulate blood sugar levels in diabetics and non-diabetics.  Blood sugar control is extremely important for longevity.  Quercetin acts by also inhibiting NF-KappaB.  This is also available in supplement form and is sometimes paired into one supplement with resveratrol.

Grape Seed Extract

This helps to regulate pro-inflammatory cytokine activity in fat cells.  It helps combat obesity and type II diabetes.  It also triggers genes for glucose uptake.  This assists cells in the absorption and removal of glucose from circulation.  This substance is very readily available in supplement form.

The research into longevity is quite interesting and there are many substances that can slow the aging process, not just the ones above.  Of course, you must also watch your diet and exercise to get all of the wonderful benefits that the above provide.  If you do those things and take these life lengthening substances you will live and longer and happier life.

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The Fountain of Youth

Well kinda.  While I haven’t really discovered the fountain of youth, recent research points to some things that can significantly shorten your lifespan and make you look much older than you actually are.

A British study concluded that drinking, smoking, bad diet and inactivity all ages the body 12 years in total.  The findings are from a study that tracked nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years.  This information isn’t ground breaking and it’s in line with other research on the subject, but this is the first study to put a number on just how short these unhealthy habits can make your life.  These habits were defined as less than 2 hours of physical activity per week, less than 3 servings of fruits or veggies per day, drinking more than three alcoholic beverages per day for men and two per day for women and smoking.

Of the 5,000 people who were studied, 314 people had all four unhealthy behaviors. Among them, 91 died during the study, or 29%. Among the 387 healthiest people with none of the four habits, only 32 died, or about 8%.  They also concluded that the people who had most of these habit looked 12 years older than the people who did not.  The study will be published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The requirements for health in this study are not unattainable.  It is a simple prospect not to smoke and not to drink alcohol excessively.  Those can be eliminated relatively easy from someone’s lifestyle.

Get Your Fruit and Vegetable

Having a fruit or a veggie three times per day is also relatively easy to do.  I always recommend to my patients that they eat a fruit or a vegetable at every meal.  Most people cut this out because of lack of preparation.  First, you must always have fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator.  When you go to the grocery store, most of your cart should be filled with fruits and vegetables.  Many times people say they don’t like to buy fresh produce because it spoils so easily and they feel like they are wasting money.  There are two reasons for this:

  1. You are buying entirely too much at one time or
  2. You are not eating enough of the produce you buy

That may seem overly complex and that’s because it is.  Think about it.  If you ate fresh fruit or veggies at every meal you would go through a lot of produce.  The trick is to know how much you will eat.  With time you will be able to gauge it and not buy too much when you’re at the store.  On the other hand if your not buying that much and it’s still going bad, eat more of it!  It’s a simple concept that makes sense if you just apply it.

Secondly, not all fresh produce is “ready to eat.”  Sometimes it must be prepared.  Things like apples are great because they are ready to eat in their natural state.  But something like a carrot is not ready to eat and must be prepared.  That is something you need to take the time to do.  Spend 1/2 hour one or two nights per week cutting up fruit and vegetables so that when you need a snack or a veggie for a meal something is always ready to go.  You are much more likely to put this into your diet if it’s easy.  Preparation is the key to making this easy!

Exercise!

In this study they only asked that you had some sort of physical activity for a total of 2 hours per week to be considered healthy.  That’s only 17 minutes per day!  If you can’t find that in your day, you have to change your lifestyle!  My patients are always instructed to find an activity that they like for physical activity.  If you like doing it, you’re much more likely to make it a habit.  A survey of Americans found that 40% do no regular leisure-time physical activity.  That’s a total of 120,000,000 people who get no physical activity despite the enormous evidence that it’s great for everything from heart health to improving mood.

Now, what constitutes physical activity?  I tell my patients that you must be breathing hard for it to count.  You don’t need to be out of breath per say, but it should not be like you’re walking around that house.  I have patients tell me all the time that they walk the dog every morning and that’s their exercise.  While it is possible to get exercise walking the dog, if you’re like most people (myself induced) walking the dog is not a strenuous activity.  I see people walking up and down my street all day and most of them, unfortunately, are not doing something I would classify as exercise.  Keep this in mind when you’re exercising – it should be hard enough to get your heart rate up and your lungs working harder.  If your exercise requires the same energy expenditure as walking from the couch to the bathroom, it doesn’t count! Again, people will say they don’t have time to do this.  You have to make time.  Their is little “prep time” for this as there is in the fruit and vegetable eating.  You always have your body with you and you just need to make time.  Seventeen minutes is not that much time.  You could easily find that time if you cut out some TV time or got up 17 minutes earlier.

The trick to living longer and healthier is healthy habits.  Not smoking or drinking, eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise are those habits.  The only way to get there is to make them habits.  Doing them off and on does not provide the benefit.  Make it a part of your lifestyle and you’ll reap the rewards!

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Feed Your Brain!

The brain is the most important organ in our body.  Without it we can not survive.  Most people are aware of this.  However, we also know that altered states of brain function are connected with disability and death.  Alzheimer’s Disease is a perfect example of this.  Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder named for German physician Alois Alzheimer, who first described it in 1906.  Is a progressive and fatal brain disease. As many as 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s destroys brain cells, causing memory loss and problems with thinking and behavior severe enough to affect work, lifelong hobbies or social life. Alzheimer’s gets worse over time, and it is fatal. Today it is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States.

Because Alzheimer’s is considered progressive, the best treatment is to avoid getting it altogether.  There are several things you can do to protect yourself and reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The best start is to eat well.  Eating a healthy diet is associated with lower rates of dementia and there are several foods that you should focus on.  Below is a great list that I found on the AARP website.  Enjoy!

1) Vegetables

The latest news from neuroscience confirms what Mom always said: Eat your vegetables! For all the interest in individual vitamins and supplement formulas, the best advice is to eat a variety of colorful, cruciferous, and leafy green vegetables.

A recent federally funded study of 13,388 nurses that has tracked their eating patterns for 10 years found that women who ate more cruciferous and leafy vegetables in their 60’s including broccoli, cauliflower, green lettuces and spinach, had a lower rate of decline on a battery of learning and memory tests. The more of these vegetables they ate, the better they performed.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has long been promoted for its heart-healthy and cancer-fighting potential, so it’s not surprising that such a diet is also good for your brain. Vegetables and fruits are packed with antioxidants and other essential vitamins and minerals, are low in fat, and are generally low in calories.

2) Antioxidants

Of all the dietary factors that are being investigated for possible roles in staving off mental decline with aging, antioxidants have received the most attention. Antioxidants, which include vitamins C, E, and beta carotene (a form of vitamin A), reduce oxidative damage to cells.

Oxidation, which can be thought of as the biological equivalent of rusting, seems to contribute to aging and cognitive decline.

Human studies of antioxidant use have yielded mixed results. This is partly because our diets are generally quite varied, and it’s very difficult to prove that health benefits are the result of any one dietary factor. Animal studies, on the other hand, have shown consistent benefits for diets rich in antioxidants.

For example, a series of studies in beagles found that an antioxidant-rich diet prevented or slowed age-related declines in various learning tasks. The animals that were fed the special diet had improved performance on both simple and complex cognitive tests.

In fact, aged dogs that could not perform one of the more difficult tests at all in the beginning of the study could do so after three years on the diet. “We actually resurrected function out of the aging brain,” says Carl Cotman, a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives who led the study. “That just blew us away.”

A series of studies out of Tufts University has shown that animals fed diets high in blueberries had improved short-term memory and balance. The ingredient that gives blueberries their color appears to endow them with potent antioxidant properties.

Fruits High In Antioxidants
Berries (Cherry, blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, crowberry, blueberry, bilberry/wild blueberry, black currant), pomegranate, grape, orange, plum, pineapple, kiwi fruit, grapefruit.

Vegetables High In Antioxidants
Kale, chili pepper, red cabbage, peppers, parsley, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, spinach, lemon, ginger, red beets.

3) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s are a particular type of polyunsaturated fats that are found in fatty fish. Scientific literature indicates that omega-3s are important to maintaining brain function in early development and throughout life, and may help protect the brain from aging.

Fatty acids seem to work in part by counteracting free radicals that cause oxidative damage to brain cells, and some research suggests they may help improve the efficiency of nerve signal transmission at synapses.

The best sources of omega-3s are mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna, anchovies, whitefish, and sablefish.

4) B Vitamins

B vitamins are of interest because of their effectiveness in lowering levels of homocysteine, a blood protein that is associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease as well as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

In particular, scientists are investigating whether folate, or folic acid, may have a role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Folate and other B vitamins are currently being evaluated in a clinical trial for people with Alzheimer’s.

5) Multivitamin Supplements

Most experts are comfortable recommending that older adults take a daily multivitamin as a supplement to a healthy diet. Claudia H. Kawas, M.D., neurologist and expert in aging from University of California, Irvine, and also a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, says she is not at all opposed to multivitamins.

“I don’t think any of our diets are that good, and as people get older and are eating less, they may have diets that are lower in various nutrients,” Kawas explains. Still, the best advice, she says, “is to do what your mother told you to do: Eat all those healthy fruits and vegetables.”

These are simple ways to maintain and improve your brain health.  They will also reduce your risk of developing dementia.  Keep them in mind and you’ll be sharp as a tack well into old age!

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