I remember when I was little, visting my great grandmother in the retirement village. Grannels, as we called her, suffered from dimentia and had lost her memory completely, she had no recollection of the amazing life she had lived. Because I was so young, I didn’t quite comprehend what was wrong with her and thought it was quite funny when she would ask my mum if she had tied the horses up out the front. She didn’t know who my mum was and was confused by all these strangers in her room.
I can now only imagine the sadness my grandmother felt as her own mother couldn’t recognize her anymore. I hear people talk about their family members that developed signifigant memory loss in old age. They often say we lost them before we actually physically lost them, as the loved ones they knew and cared for could no longer remember who they were or anything that happened in their lives. To me this is such a cruel thing to watch your loved ones slowly forget who they are and who you are as the years go by.
The great news is that researchers have discovered something you can do to not only prolong the effects of memory loss but actually reverse it. And the best thing of all…it’s free.
The human brain is the most complex structure known to human kind. If you could look into the brain of someone who has Alzheimers, what you will see is that in between the brain cells are these unusual looking structures called beta amolode protein which comes out of the cells and accumulates in these little meatball like structures. These structures shouldn’t be there and they are a hallmark of Alzahemers disease which affects 80% of the human population. Alzhemiers is usually caused by old age and genetics, the gene is called Apolipoprotein. If you have this gene from one parent your risk is tripled of getting Alzheimers and if you get it from both parents your risk is 10–15% times higher than it was before.
You can’t change your parents, but it turns out, you can change your destiny. In Chicago, researchers started something called the Chicago health and aging project. They looked at what Chicago people were eating and did very careful dietary records in hundreds of people and recorded which participants stayed mentally clear and who got dimentia over the years. What they found was that the risk of developing Alzheimers was three times higher with the participants who consumed high saturated fat diets than those who ate low or very little saturated fat. Saturated fat is bad fat and is found most commonly in dairy and meat products. However they also found that trans fat, the fat you find in pastries and donuts, has the same pattern.
People that were avoiding the trans and saturated fats were actually avoiding them for cholestoral and heart disease purposes, but what they didn’t realize was that they were experiencing a positive side effect that was affecting their brains.
Researchers from Finland took it a step further and studied a condition called mild cognitive impairment. This is a disease where you are still you, your personality is still in tact, but you are having mental lapses mainly for remembering names and words. They studied the diets of over 1,000 adults with the average age of 50 over 21 years and looked to see who overtime developed mild cognitive impairment. Fat consumption varied between participants, some ate very little fat and some ate a fair amount of fat. After looking at who’s memory started to fail, they found the exact same results as the Alzheimers study. In other words, it’s not just will you get alzheimers, it’s will you get old age memory problems.
They did the study again and focused only on the people in the group who had the alzheimers gene and found the same results. If you are avoiding the bad fats, even if you have the gene, your risk of developing memory problems is cut by 80%.
Researchers also found a correlation between Vitamin E and brain health. There are plaques in the brain that not only contain B-amyloid protein, they also contain Iron and copper. We get alot of these metals through the food we consume. If you have a cast iron pan or have copper pipes you may actualluy be consuming too much metal, beacuse Iron and copper oxidise in your body and as they do, they cause the production of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are swimming around in your blood stream and get into your brain and act like sparks that singe through the connections between one cell and the next.
Using your iron cast once a month is fine, but if you are using it everyday you are getting more iron than the body needs and they start producing these free radicals that go to the brain. We used to think the amounts of iron and copper in meat was great for us until it was discovered that iron is a double edged sword. You need a little bit, but if you have too much it becomes toxic.
That’s the danger with Vitamin manufacturing companies and why I’m personally against taking vitamins and supplements. Unless you are that rare percent of the population who is truly vitamin deficient, you don’t need them. Vitamin companies will throw in iron and copper to their multivitamins, because they think we need them, not recognizing we are already getting enough through food and adding them to your supplememt means you are getting way too much.
Researchers have found that getting enough Vitamin E can help reduce these free radicals. Vitamin E is an extremely powerful antioxidant, and you can find Vitamin E in many foods including spinach, mangos, nuts and seeds. A study out of Chicago showed that people getting 8mg a day of Vitamin E, reduced their risk of getting Alzheimers by half, compared to people who were getting less than that. But before you run to your nearest Duane Reade to get some Vitamin E supplements, keep reading.
Nature has eight forms of Vitamin E. It is found naturally in a variety of nuts and various plants and fruits. Vitamin manufacturers only have to include one form of Vitamin E to legally call it a Vitamin E supplement, as dietary supplements are not regulated. This is a problem beause if you are consuming only one form of Vitamin E it actually reduces your absorption of all the other forms. So you definitely want to get it from your food, as this is what nature intended and how we have elvolved to consume it.
Researchers of Cincinnati took all this research a step further and looked into the color of foods we consume, looking mainly at blueberries and grapes. The beautiful blue color of blueberries and grapes are not to just to look pretty, they are called antho cianines. These powerful antioxidants not only give the fruit it’s purple color, they protect them against extreme temperatures.
When you consume them, they go into your bloodstream and as in Vitmain E, also act as a powerful antioxidant against free radicals . Researchers studied a group of participants with an average age of 78 who were already experiencing memory problems. They asked them to drink a pint of grape juice a day and after three months, every participants memory and recall improved.
In 2009 the physicians commitee for responsible medicine went to the department of Agriculture to convince them to throw out the food pyramid. They argued that meat and dairy should be taken out because of all the research that has shown people who don’t consume meat and dairy are much healthier than people that do. So they devised a plate that comprised of fruits, grains, legumes and vegetables. The government years later agreed and in 2011 replaced the food pyramid with My Plate as the new US government policy.
There is no longer any meat section in federal guidelines and the dairy section is to the side of the plate and very small. So when it comes to keeping your brain healthy and to delay the effects of memory loss, make sure you are staying away from the trans and saturated fats and sticking to a mainly plant based diet, eating an array of colorful fruits and veggies and getting your Vitamin E intake through your food.
Now just when you thought it couldn’t get better, it does. If you couple your healthy diet with a regular exercise regime, you will have one powerhouse of a brain.
University of illinois researchers studied 120 adults who were told to go on a brisk walk three times a week. After a year, participants went into the laboratory for a brain scan. They measured the hippocampus, which is at the centre of the brain and is the seat of memory. This part of the brain sits deep in the temporal lobe and is a key structure critical for your ability to form and retain long-term memories for facts and events. It literally decides what should be let through into memory and what shouldn’t be. What researchers found was that this organ, which is gradually shrinking in older adults suddenly stopped shrinking. Simply by exercising, participants found their hippocampus was getting bigger and actually reversed brain shrinkage and they did substantially better on memory tests.
They increased walking time every week by five minutes until participants were at 4o minutes of brisk walking three times a week. They concluded that this is all you need to to improve memory and reverse brain shrinkage.
There is so much literature on the positive effects on the brain with exercise. Wendy Suzuki who is a professor of neuroscience, decided to completely switch her research program after experiencing first hand the brain-changing effects of exercise on her own brain and knew this information could change so many peoples lives.
After several years of research she came to the conclusion that exercise is the most transformative thing that you can do for your brain today. She discoverd that exercise has an instant effect on your brain, a single workout that you do will immmediately increase levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline, which automatically increases your mood. Her lab also showed that a single workout can improve your reaction times and your ability to shift and focus attention and that focus and improvement will last for atleast two hours.
Increasing your cardiorespiratory function through exercise has long lasting effects because exercise actually changes the brain’s anatomy, physiology and function. Wendy Suzuki says to think of your brain like a muscle. The more you’re working out, the bigger and stronger your hippocampus and pefrontal cortex gets. That’s important because the pre frontal cortex and the hippocampus are the two areas that are most susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and normal cognitive decline in aging. So with increased exercise over your lifetime, you’re not going to cure dementia or Alzheimers disease, but what you’re going to create is a stronger, larger hippocampus and pre frontal cortex, so it wil take longer for these diseases to actually take effect.
Adding extra exercise throughout your day is easy, you just have to change your habits. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, if your destination is walkable, walk instead of driving, don’t watch that extra Netflix series, go for a walk around the block or get off the couch and do a quick floor workout.
This research shows that your genes are not your destiny. Incorporating a healthy diet and exercise regime into your life will protect your brain from incurable diseases and in this way will change the trajectory of your life for the better.
I am sure your family will support you on a journey that will not only give you a healthier, happier life, but will also enable you to enjoy time with them ,with a clear, strong mind for many more years to come. I don’t know about you, but for me, that is worth every step.