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10 Tips for Brain Health

photo illustration suggestive of a human finger activating brain activity

Here are my top ten tips for better brain health:

  • Learn new skills. Brain stimulation and activity can delay the onset of the neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s dementia. The acquisition of a new skill, both mental and physical promotes neurogenesis or the formation of new neurons and forges intra-neuronal connections. Flex you “mental muscle” daily.
  • Strength train 2-3 times/week. Strength training exerts its effects through a variety of mechanisms. It induces the synthesis of BDNF, a brain-derived chemical messenger which enhances synaptogenesis and neurogenesis, increases cerebral blood flow (potentially washing out toxic metabolites), improves insulin sensitivity and positively affects one’s lipid profile. Stick with basic exercises such as the squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press and pull/chin-up.
  • Don’t sweat stress. There is such a thing as good stress, such as the acute bodily stress involved in strength training. Chronic stress however inclusive of toxic work and personal relationships, poor dietary habits, and lack of sleep, are deleterious to one’s health and in particular to the brain. Include a stress reduction modality in your daily regimen. Take a short nap. Meditate. Take a yoga class. Eliminate negative relationships.
  • Fuel a better body and brain. A healthy balance of food and activity is good for the entire body: the heart, skeleton, muscles and brain. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet with emphasis on omega-3 fatty acid (FA) consumption, high protein content and non-vegetable carbohydrates.
  • esist insulin resistance (IR) at all costs. Insulin resistance or pre-diabetes is significantly associated with Alzheimer’s dementia. High circulating levels of insulin (an inflammatory hormone), are toxic to the vascular system and the brain in particular. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is referred to as “Type III diabetes.” Exercise and low glycemic index carbohydrate consumption, ultimately resulting in a lean body habitus, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the incidence of ALL age-related disease. In this context, one may consider the usage of metformin (IF one can convince his or her doctor of its anti-aging properties).        
  • Supplement with omega-3 FA:  3,000-5,000 mg/day. They provide both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and by virtue address two of the underpinnings of AD (inflammation and free-radical damage).
  • Use aspirin regularly: To thwart the development of age-related disease such as AD, use aspirin regularly. Inflammation as stated above is a key component in the genesis of disease. In fact, ALL diseases have an inflammatory component. Inflammation primes the system for disease. Once touted for its anti-platelet (blood-thinning) effects, aspirin more likely works through its anti-inflammatory properties. It dramatically reduces the incidence of various types of cancers.  Aspirin should only be used in patients without a contraindication (bleeding disorder, active peptic ulcer disease, for example).
  • Obtain 7-8 hours of sound sleep nightly: Sleep “washes” the brain of potentially toxic metabolites that have accumulated during the day. Good sleep hygiene also lowers blood cortisol levels. Chronic elevations in cortisol (stress hormone) are associated with accelerated development of age-related disease (including AD). Sleep is paramount to health of the entire body. [These diseases are very similar, and in my mind, fall on a spectrum. The only difference is one of geography.]   
  • Optimize your hormones: Age-related disease is inter-related with hormonal decline. Progesterone, testosterone and estrogen exert rejuvenative effects on the brain.  Unfortunately, as we age, bodily production declines and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease increases. Causation? Unclear. There are data suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease may be a disease of progesterone deficiency. In fact, head-injured patients are being given progesterone (during their hospitalization) to reduce resultant brain damage. Have your hormones checked to assure that they are at optimal levels.    
  • Consider nootropics (“smart drugs”): Some pharmaceuticals may help enhance cerebral blood flow and increase concentration, including Hydergine, Deprenyl and Prozac. Discuss these with your doctor. There are also over-the-counter (OTC) smart drugs to consider. Piracetam is one of the oldest and has been shown to have a variety of positive effects in patients with cognitive disorders like dementia and epilepsy. Vinpocetine has potent anti-inflammatory effects. You may also want to check out gingko biloba and pregnenolone.