Preventing Neurodegenerative Diseases
Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m having a senior moment”, as their trying to recall something? Perhaps you have had one of these “senior moments”.
By calling these moments of forgetfulness “senior moments”, we are eluding to the fact that as we get older our brains tend to deteriote in their function. This has become accepted by most as the “normal”.
The latest research on neurodegenerative disease shows that not only can you prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons, but you can also slow their progression and even reverse them.
Here’s the catch. You have to start early! (But you can see improvements at any age).
By the time a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, they have already had the disease process “brewing” for about 20-30 years. This is why prevention is so important when it comes to brain health.
The two main factors that lead to neurodegenerative disease are inflammation and oxidative stress. [1. Markesbery, W. Damage to Lipids, Proteins, DNA, and RNA in Mild Cognitive Impairment. Arch Neurol. 64(7):954-956; July, 2007]
If fact, these two factors are present in almost all chronic degenerative diseases.
Inflammation occurs when bad fats and refined and processed foods are consumed on regular basis. This SAD diet (standard American diet) is loaded with pro-inflammatory fats such as trans-fat and arachadonic acid. These fats promote inflammation in the body.
The other factor leading to neurodegenerative disease, is oxidation. Oxidation is to the body what rust is to metal. When tissues get oxidized, they slowly get damaged and eventually decrease in function. Excess oxidative damage can occur in the body when there
is a lack of antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, CoQ10 and others.
How Can We Prevent Neurodegenerative Disease?
There 3 main interventions that the latest research has shown to protect the brain and the entire nervous system.
1. DHA: DHA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is found in fish and algae. Our body can synthesize DHA from alpha-linolenic-acid (found in plant foods such as flax), however is does this very slowly and inefficiently.
The brain is made up of 60% fat and of that, 8% is DHA. DHA is responsible for keeping the system from degenerating by giving it the raw materials to continue its dynamic process of cellular turnover. [2. Iris Shai, R.D. Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet. N Engl J Med 2008; 359:229-241 July 17, 2008]
2. Caloric Restriction: We once thought that the brain didn’t change much over a lifetime. In the past decade we’ve come to realize that the brain has a tremendous ability grow, repair, and change. This is called neuroplasticity. (The book The Brain That Changes Itself outlines the latest research on neuroplasticity of the brain.)
One of the key factors for the brains ability to regenerate, is growth factor called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates neurogenesis and has been shown to increase when calories are restricted.
Memory improved by 30% after 3months of a calorie restricted diet (see below). [3. PNAS January 27, 2009 vol. 106 no. 4 1255–1260]
3. Exercise and Meditation: If pharmaceutical companies could encapsulate the effects of exercise and/or mediation, this drug would be the world’s top seller.
Exercise and meditation are lifestyle interventions that also increases BDNF. The best part about exercise and meditation is that it’s free for everyone.
With that, here are my final recommendations, eat fish, practice Hara Hachi Bu, move and relax, and you’ll be sharp as a tack for years to come.