Stay Mentally Sharp As Time Goes By
It’s bad enough to decline physically. Even worse is mental decline. The idea of losing cognitive power
frightens everyone. It’s especially frightening if you’ve witnessed anyone descend into the abyss of
Alzheimer’s. Our ability to think makes us human. Our memories are the record of our life. When dementia robs
a person of these, they’ve lost something truly precious.
Take the case of Edith, one of my elderly patients. She had a shuffling gait and a vacant gaze. Because of her
live-in caregiver, she was neatly dressed and groomed. As she sat, she looked at the woman next to her, her
daughter, and asked: “Where’s Kate? Do you know where Kate is?” “I’m here Mom. I’m Kate.” “No you’re not, my
Kate is a little girl. Where’s Kate?”
Sadly, I’ve seen too many people like Edith. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to happen. You can stay mentally clear
and crisp well into old age. You know this to be true – you’ve seen it. I’m sure at some point you’ve met a person
with plenty of years who was still sharp as anything. Aren’t those people a delight? Don’t they exude life?
It’s possible to grow old and age minimally. But it doesn’t happen by accident. Habitual choices carry
long term consequences. Research gives us some pretty strong suggestions on how to stay sharp as we grow old.
Here’s a quick run down of some ways to maintain your mental edge over time. You’ll see some familiar
recommendations. A healthy lifestyle benefits all of you, including your brain.
People who are active are at lower risk for mental decline. Some studies even show improved mental function in
elderly people who start a walking program after years of being sedentary.
Obviously, there are a lot of other reasons you should exercise. Maintaining your wits just emphasizes the
importance of an exercise program. You can read about several effective, efficient exercise programs in Total
Health Breakthroughs. Pick one and stay with it.
Eat a healthy diet, especially one high in fruits and vegetables. The antioxidants and micronutrients they
contain go a long way toward protecting brain function. Researchers are looking at the effects of many different
foods. Here are some of the findings.
The type of fat in your diet affects brain function. Omega three fatty acids are an
important component in all neural tissue. A diet high in omega 3 fatty acids leads to lower levels of inflammation
and improved brain function. Fish are a good source of these types of fats. Unfortunately, in today’s world you
need to be concerned that contaminants such as heavy metals and PCBs taint fish. Even so, I still eat salmon at
least once a week and take fish oil supplements daily.
Other fats affect brain function as well. It turns out that fats that help your heart also help your brain.
Researchers in Italy examined people several times over an eight year period. Those who ate less saturated fat and
more monosaturated fats (like olive oil) showed significantly better cognitive function at the end of the study. In
other words, the Mediterranean diet helps your brain and your heart.
India has a low incidence of dementia. The obvious question is why. The answer may be
in the diet. A study from the National University of Singapore documented a much lower rate of dementia in people
who ate curry regularly as opposed to those who ate it rarely.
One reason curries may be helpful is that they often contain turmeric. Turmeric has high levels of curcumin,
which has significant anti-inflammatory action. It’s actually been shown to reverse plaque formation in animal
models of Alzheimers.
Other spices in curries, such as ginger, cinnamon and garlic, have health benefits as well. All in all, it’s a
reason to develop a taste for Indian food.
Blueberries contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit. In
animal studies, adding blueberries to the diet protects against brain aging and the impairment in learning ability
and memory that goes with it.
A study from Japan has shown that people who drink two cups of green tea a day had
a 50% lower risk of dementia compared to those who drank less than 3 cups a week. Black tea and coffee failed to
show this benefit.
Stress raises levels of hormones that inhibit brain function and actually damage
brain cells. Therefore it’s important to learn techniques to deal with stress that defuse this risk. Practices such
as meditation, guided imagery and especially HeartMath all help in this area
Physical exercise is good for you, and so is mental exercise. The brain is
remarkably “plastic” even into old age. This means that new connections can be formed between brain cells at any
age. You can stimulate this type of growth by doing new things.
Dr. Willis and her colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania showed that cognitive training improved function
and that the improvement persisted over the five years of the study.
Learning a foreign language, working on challenging puzzles, reading fascinating books all stimulate cognitive
development. Not to mention the fact that they make life more enjoyable.
I believe your diet should be your main source of nutrients. Having said that,
consider these supplements to give yourself an extra edge.
As I mentioned, omega three fatty acids are critical for brain function. They suppress inflammation, which is
partly responsible for deterioration of the brain as well as a lot of other problems. There are several good
reasons to supplement with fish oil, and helping your brain is one of them.
This herb has had a lot of publicity as a memory aid. It seems to work by improving blood flow. Most studies have
shown moderate effectiveness and it has a good safety profile.
If you can’t develop a taste for curries (my recommendation), curcumin is available
as a supplement.
Alpha Lipoic Acid and Acetyl L Carnitine
Alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant. Acetyl
L carnitine protects the mitrocondria (the energy producing “powerhouses” of the cells) from age related damage.
Together, they protect the brain.
Another supplement that has generated a lot of interest is
phosphatidylserine. Acetylcholine is an important neurotransmitter that is reduced in Altzheimers and other forms
of dementia. Phosphatidylserine is a precursor of acetylcholine. Taking it as a supplement improves acetylcholine
levels and has shown benefit in both animal and human studies.
Do you think you might be able to develop a taste for green tea? And would it be possible to keep some
blueberries to your diet? Small changes can have large benefits.
I’ve given you many suggestions to consider. As you can see, there’s a lot you can do to stay sharp as you age.
Following these suggestions will do more than just help your brain. You’ll improve your overall levels of vitality
while reducing your risk of disease.