Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How to keep-your-brain well into the golden years

Contrary to popular belief, recent studies have found that there are probably ways to regenerate brain matter.

Animal studies conducted at the National Institute on Aging Gerontology Research Center and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for example, have shown that both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting along with vitamin and mineral intake, increase resistance to disease, extend lifespan, and stimulate production of neurons from stem cells.

In addition, fasting has been shown to enhance synaptic elasticity, possibly increasing the ability for successful re-wiring following brain injury. These benefits appear to result from a cellular stress response, similar to that of the muscular regeneration that results from the stress from exercise.
Additional research suggests that increasing time intervals between meals might be a better choice than chronic calorie restriction.
But if your not keen on starving yourself, there are other options. Another recent finding, stemming from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and Iwate University in Japan, reports that the herb rosemary contains an ingredient that fights off free radical damage in the brain. The active ingredient, known as carnosic acid (CA), can protect the brain from stroke and degeneration of the neurons such as in Alzheimer’s disease.
Although researchers are patenting more potent forms of isolated compounds in this herb, unlike most new drugs, simply using the rosemary in its natural state may be the most safe and clinically tolerated because it is known to get into the brain and has been consumed by people for thousands of years. 
Another brain booster that Bruce N. Ames, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, swears by his daily 800 mg of alpha-lipoic acid and 2,000 mg of acetyl-L-carnitine. These chemicals are said to boost the energy output of our cells. In a study of elderly rats, those on these supplements had more energy and ran mazes better.
Omega-3s fatty acids found in walnuts and fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines, and lake trout) are thought to help ward off Alzheimer's disease. In addition, they likely help prevent depression and have been shown to help prevent sudden death from heart attack--all good news.
Turmeric, typically found in curry, contains curcumin, a chemical with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In India, it is even used as a salve to help heal wounds. East Asians also eat it, which might explain their lower rates (in comparison to the United States) of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and various cancers. If curry isn’t part of your favorite cuisines, there are curcumin supplement of 500 to 1,000 mg.
Physical exercise may also have beneficial effects on neuron regeneration by stimulating regeneration of brain and muscle cells via activation of stress proteins and the production of growth factors. However, some research suggests that not all exercise is equal. Interestingly, some researchers found that exercise that was considered a drudgery to the participant was not beneficial in neuronal regeneration. On the other hand, physical activity that was "fun", even if equal time was spent and equal calories were burned, resulted in neuronal regeneration.
Exercise can also help reduce stress, but any stress-reducing activity, such as meditation and lifestyle changes, can help the brain. There is some evidence that chronic stress shrinks the parts of the brain involved in learning, memory, and mood. 
It should go without saying that short-term cognitive and physical performance is not boosted by fasting, due to metabolic changes including decrease in body temperature, decreased heart rate and blood pressure and decreased glucose and insulin levels, so don't bother planning a marathon or a demanding work session during a fasting period.
As part of a healthy lifestyle moderate food intake, exercising, and eating anti-oxidant rich foods, has long been known to boost longevity, but it’s good to know that we can bring our brains along with us as we make it into those golden years.

Anson, R. M., Guo, Z, de Cabo, R., Iyun, T., Rios, M., Hagepanos, A., Ingram, D. K., Lane, M. A.  & Mattson, M. P. (2003, April 30). Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.
Duan, W., Guo, Z., Jaing, H., Ware, M., Li, X-J., & Mattson, M. P. (2003). Dietary Restriction Normalizes Glucose Metabolism and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Levels, Slows Disease Progression and Increases Survival in Huntington Mutant Mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.
Jaret, P., & Martin, A. (2003). Miss a meal, add years to your life. Health, 17(9), 41-44.
Von Bubnoff, A., & Lloyd, J. (2006). Prevention's anti-aging guide: How to take off 10 years or more. Prevention, 58(9), 166-213.

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