May 2017, Edition 1, Issue 1
What is Brain Health?
By Dr. Daniel Yadegar MD, FACC, RPVI
When we talk about "Brain Health,” also known as cognitive health, we are referring to a proactive approach to our brain that allows for its optimal function over time.
What happens to our Brains as we age?
The sobering truth is that after our 20s, we start losing neurons, the cells that make up the brain, and after our 60s our brains can actually start shrinking. These changes, which affect everyone, can result in a "processor" that is slower. Now that people are living longer it is becoming increasingly important that we keep our brains as nimble and sharp as possible. Fortunately, we have ways to achieve this!
How can we achieve optimal brain health?
Modern medicine and technology continue to advance at quantum speeds. We use these technologies as part of our pro-active approach for early detection so that we can formulate treatment plans that keep our patients living a long, healthy and active life. Technology such as carotid sonography (direct visualization of the carotid arteries that provide blood flow to the brain) and CT-scanning of the head can help us detect risk factors and disease before they become clinically manifest. For example, patients with plaque in their carotid arteries have a higher risk of future strokes, and we can take measures to reduce this risk. We also use biomarkers from the blood to inform us on how we can improve overall health and cognition. For instance, we know that inflammation is a major underlying cause of cognitive decline, as well as other disease states. We can measure inflammatory markers, like c-reactive protein (CRP), to assess our patients' risk. Other biomarkers we can measure and have an impact on include:
Homocysteine (an amino acid found in the blood, which at higher levels increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and heart disease)
Advanced Cholesterol Panel (increased cholesterol and new markers like LPa, correlate with higher cardiovascular and stroke risk)
HgA1c (traditionally, this is a measurement used in monitoring diabetes. However, we are now understanding that elevated blood glucose and pre-diabetic states can increase our risk for brain volume loss and mental decline. Medications like Metformin, which is first line treatment for diabetes, can help achieve optimal glucose levels and thereby decrease long-term risk.
Micronutrient levels (optimizing Vitamin D, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 and Folic acid levels, for example, have favorable outcomes for brain health and preventing Alzheimer's and age-related dementias)
What are 5 things we can do to protect our brains?
1) Decrease Stress- Prolonged exposure to stress hormones, namely cortisol which is created by the adrenal glands, can cause the brain and its memory centers to shrink. Regular use of mindfulness practices, like transcendental meditation (TM), can decrease cortisol and has been shown to improve cognitive function.
2) Brain Protective foods - Eating a diet that is replete with brain protective antioxidants and nutrients is essential. Some of these superfoods includes: • Blueberries • Turmeric • Green Tea Matcha • Omega-3 rich fish (Salmon, Mackerel) • Cinnamon • Avocados • Leafy greens (spinach, kale) • Raw Almonds • Tomatoes • Dark Chocolate (Cacao) • Probiotic & prebiotic foods
3) Exercise - We all know that exercise is good for the heart. The same holds true for the brain. Research out of Harvard's school of public health has shown that 120 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week (that's less than 20 minutes of exercise a day) improves memory and thinking skills and is correlated with increased brain volume. Examples of moderate intensity exercise include:
• Stair climbing
• Power walking
4) Continued learning & brain plasticity - The brain is very adaptable and is capable of making new connections even as we age. By immersing ourselves in continued learning (for example a new language), or using brain training exercises (like the one offered on lumosity.com), we can keep our minds sharp and slow down cognitive decline.
5) Sleep - Sleep is one of the unexplored frontiers in medicine. While it's long been known that good sleep helps us feel recharged and refreshed, new research shows how important restorative sleep is for cognitive health. For instance, patients with sleep apnea, who have sleep patterns with shallow breathing or pauses, have an increased risk of memory loss and cognitive decline. Additionally, human growth hormone, which is considered by many as the master "anti-aging" hormone, is only produced by your brain during stages 3 & 4 of deep sleep. Focusing on sleep hygiene and restorative sleep, therefore, can have a positive impact on overall brain health.
HIH Featured Recipe
Blueberry Brain Booster
8-10 ounces-Unsweetened Almond Milk
1 Big Handful-Organic Baby Spinach
3/4 Cup-Frozen Organic Blue Berries
1 tbsp.- Flaxseed
1 tbsp.- Almond Butter
1 scoop- Vegan Protein Powder
Optional: 2 tsps. of raw unsweetened cocoa powder or 2 tsps. of matcha powder