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THE BRAIN AND AGEING
No organ is more critical than our brain, which means the wear and tear of ageing will show up first in thought function; we begin to get slower in our movement and manners, easily muddled, more forgetful and eventually a little silly. Shakespeare summed up the final stage well in his Seven Ages of Man: we go back to a kind of second childhood, where we are not fully capable mentally. This may be quite mild, where the patient is known to be a little dotty (short for dotage), or as severe as full-blown dementia. The "Seventh Age" applies to women also. In fact women tend to suffer more from the dementias, a fact we attend to in the section of memory.
You do not want to enter this finale stage, for sure. Many people dread losing their faculties as they get older and even, half jokingly, ask someone to put a bullet to their head, rather than allow this to happen, so great is the abhorrence of becoming mentally inept. We urge you to follow the advice given throughout this book and with luck you never will. Age-related deterioration of the brain is not inevitable, as many lucid centenarians prove, so donít buy into this mind set. Treasure yourself and be determined to go on and on, enjoying life to the full, right to the very end.
FACTS YOU MAY NOT KNOW
The human brain has been described as the 3 pound universe, meaning that all our thoughts, actions, perceptions, emotions, desires and dreams are contained in an organ weighing no more than 50 ounces, lodged inside the skull! There are approximately 100 billion brain cells (neurones), each making between 5,000 and 50,000 hard-wired connections or synapses. That means around 4 quadrillion connections! This awesome power needs a great deal of energy (a total of 25 watts, for those who are technically minded). In fact our brain, which is only 2% of body weight, requires over 25% of our nutritional energy output. That makes the brain very vulnerable to damage and degeneration, from lack of oxygen, poor nutrition, toxic overload and chemical deposits, including drugs. It means we have to look after our brain with extra care.
At the age of 75 you still have 85% of the brain cells that you were born with, and the good news is that scientists at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California have now proven that brain cells can replace themselves. Previously it was always thought that loss of brain cells was permanent, but we can now potentially regenerate and revitalize our brains. This is great news.
Therefore, the more we can look after our diet, take the right nutrients and keep our minds active, the better our brains will work.
YOUR BRAIN: USE IT OR LOSE IT
The first point to grasp is that your brain thrives on activity! It's a use it or lose it thing. Science has shown that the number of connections in the brain can be increased, no matter the starting point, by simply making demands of the mind. More connections mean more brain power. Any kind of stimulus is valid, be it crosswords, conversation, creative hobbies, sports or the arts, but doing what you love has the most benefits.
Which brings us to the point that smiles and laughter produce endorphins which help raise our mood. Robert Holden founder of The Happiness Project gives a simple technique you can use every day: smile at yourself in front of a mirror! It's amazing how gratifying and cheering the sight of yourself grinning with delight can be. Try on all kinds of happy facial expressions, until one makes you smile for real. Itís the easiest and one of the best live-long techniques weíve got for you!
Daily exercise is also important. It stimulates and tones up both body and mind. You know the old saying ìhealthy body equals healthy mindî. We couldnít agree more. Exercise releases endorphins, increases circulation and therefore oxygen supply to the brain. Endorphins are natural fell-good substances in our bodies. Donít just think in terms of swimming, jogging or cycling. Walking is very good and non-stressful. Dancing is even better, since it has the added joy element, which reminds us we are young at heart and that life after all is great!
Balancing your hormones can return brain function to more youthful levels. See under Hormones and the related sections.
Foods To Feed Your Brain.
Oily fish, flax seeds (linseeds) are rich in Omega 3 fats which nourish nerve fibres. Eat oily fish at least twice weekly. Linseeds can be sprinkled over cereals, into desserts or blended with fresh juices.
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables which are high in anti-oxidants that protect the brain from degeneration.
Dark blue foods, such as blackberries, blueberries and bilberries, are rich in particularly powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins. Scientists at Tufts University in Boston recently found that eating a half a cup of fresh blueberries daily helps to reverse brain ageing thanks to their high anti-oxidant activity.
Green tea is also high in anti oxidants but black tea also has plenty of catechins, which work as antioxidants. Recent studies have shown it has anti-cancer properties, too.
Foods to Eat less of
Sugar over excites brain cells until they become exhausted, at which point sweet foods no longer give you an energy boost but make you feel tired. This includes all sugars- maltose, dextrose, white and brown sugar, and honey. (more on sugar)
Eliminate all refined white flour cakes, waffles, pancakes, breads, and junk take away meals, most of which are high in sugar, fat and salt ( and sugar turns to a hard fat if not burned up during exercise. )
At all costs eliminate sweeteners such as Aspartame which is found in 3500 foods and drinks. These substances over stimulate the brain, which can trigger insomnia, anxiety and feelings of tension. They also place a strain on the liver which can exacerbate weight gain in the long term.
Avoid or cut down on caffeine which is a powerful brain toxin. Excess amounts can trigger headaches, insomnia, palpitations and in extreme cases convulsions. We suggest adults should take no more than 300mg a day- this is equivalent to 3-4 cups of strong coffee. A can of cola contains 60-80mg of caffeine.
Reduce alcohol intake. In small quantities, it is a boon, increasing social contact and bonhomie, which is good for the brain and our emotions. But we must remind you, as always, excess alcohol can be very damaging.
Any foods which are bad for your arteries are bad for your brain, which depends on an efficient blood supply for essential nutrients. (see section on arteries)
The star nutrient is the antioxidant glutathione, a naturally occurring amino acid within the body. It is a powerful brain and liver food, which helps those organs detoxify and take care of themselves. But as we age glutathione levels fall, and toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides reduce levels even further. Glutathione is manufactured in our cells from a number of precursors such as Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA); Acetyl-L-Carnitine and N Acetyl Cysteine (NAC).
In a 2002 published study, rats fed on extra ALA and Acetyl-L-Carnitine lived 50% longer than normal rats and enjoyed greatly improved overall health. The animals were so vigorous that media headlines referred to the "dancing rats". The evidence is so convincing that the scientists concerned have patented the mixture but there is nothing to stop you benefitting personally from this breakthrough. After the age of 50 we suggest you take 200mg of ALA, and 500mg of either NAC or Acetyl L Carnitine on a daily basis.
Phosphatidyl serine and phosphatidyl choline help to protect nerve fibres and keep the brain fit and sleek - take a minimum of 50mg daily or either, or both. Lecithin ñ derived from soya beans - is rich in phosphatidyl serine and choline. A teaspoon of the granules daily (make sure they contain at least 30% PS or PC) not only helps increase memory but also reduces LDL, the ëbadí cholesterol.
Ginkgo Biloba, a herb proven to improve memory, increase circulation and acts as a brain stimulant. 500mg of standardized extract daily. Remember that herbs are potent medicines and not always without side effects - take for 6 weeks, then stop for a month and then begin again.
This plant extract contains many good things to feed the brain. Special glycosides improve cerebral blood flow and work as stimulants of certain neurotransmitters, chemical messengers the brain uses to send out signals.
Ginseng helps regulate blood sugar and so is of benefit in reducing the insulin resistance-diabetes progression. It also has benefits for the thymus gland and spleen, thus making it a great all-round anti-ager. Ginseng is taken as teas, powders and capsules; the quality varies reatly.
Avoid its strong tone-up action if you already have blood pressure or heart disease (go for kava instead, which is a relaxant).
This substance is an extract of the wonder plant Vinca minor (periwinkle); from the same source we also get two anti-cancer chemo-therapeutic agents (vinblastine and vincristine). In humans vinpocetine has been shown to:
- dilate brain arteries (more nutrients)
- reduce the tendency of blood to clot (thus protecting against heart disease and stroke)
- speed up brain metabolism
- act as an antioxidant
- aid recovery after stroke
In a 1985 Japanese study, vinpocetine helped two thirds of stroke patients recover rapidly, even when administered years after the original stroke. A 1987 study in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society showed unequivocally that vinpocetine protects against dementia and improves those who already have it. Good enough reasons for vinpocetine to be classed as a major anti-ageing substance.
All health and recovery plans work better when there is general sound nutrition. Never forget to add a multi vitamin/mineral formula that contains at least 500mg of vitamin C, 25mg of B6, 25mg of B1 and 100mcg of B12.
Also 300mg of magnesium which is known as Nature's Tranquillizer. A deficiency of magnesium has a detrimental effect on a huge array of enzyme reactions which take place in our bodies, many of them related to the energy-building cycle of metabolism that takes place in the mitochondria. The brain is one of the first organs to feel the lack. Magnesium also helps prevent diabetes, blood pressure, irregular heart, headaches, osteoporosis and many other conditions you would recognize simply as a catalogue of ageing!
IS IT BRAIN FOG OR EARLY DEMENTIA?
Alternative allergy doctors, who recognize food intolerance, multiple allergies and chemical sensitivity have long known that the brain may be affected by these conditions. The result can be mania, violence, hallucinations or even inappropriate sexual arousal when the brain is off key. But the most common reaction by far we call "woolly brain syndrome" or simply "brain fog". It is a mixture of fatigue and slow cloudy thinking, very distinctive to those who suffer it.
The point here is that it can seem very like the early stages of dementia. Individuals who are accustomed to using their minds - entrepreneurs, professional or skilled people - suddenly find themselves forgetting simple everyday things, like phone numbers and peoplesí names. It can be scary and often leads to fears of premature ageing and loss of faculties. The good news is that this condition is almost entirely reversible.
Before you sink into melancholy and anxiety that your ìmind is goingî, as people sometimes put it, make very sure you test and correct for this condition. Professional help from a holistic doctor may be called for, but if you find yourself facing it alone, here is what you can do:
- A short-term (10-day) detox diet, consisting only of fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, herb teas and spring water. You can eat as much as you like but avoid completely grains and flour (bread, cakes, biscuits, pastry, pasta etc.), dairy produce (milk, cheese, cream, butter, yoghourt), no stimulant drinks (no tea, coffee or alcohol and absolutely no manufactured foods of any kind ñ no packets, tins or jars of anything. No sugar is allowed but then nothing on this diet plan needs sweetening. This a brief description of the so-called Stone Age Diet. You can work the rest out be imagining what a cavemen would have eaten and sticking only to that.
- A chemical-free environment. This is impossible to achieve fully but you must make sure you are not exposed to house gas, petrol fumes, pesticides, strong cleaning agents, paints, cosmetics and all other artificial chemicals in the home and at work. An amazing number of people react badly to these substances but never question it and so are unaware of where their foggy brain is coming from. Look out for gas leaks in the home and car exhaust fumes; get the problem fixed
- Try to avoid as many drugs and medicines as possible. You will need to talk this over with your doctor but it is important to realize that much of the pollution we face is medicinal in nature, from pills and potions, to antiseptics, creams, patches and inhalers. They could be making you groggy.
- Stick to this programme for a minimum of 10 days. If you start feeling great sooner than that, so much the better. You have shown it is reversible brain fag and not ageing. Then try to reintroduce things, one at a time, and figure out which are the real culprits.
Finally, we cannot close this section on the brain without reference to chelation. We recommend this safe and effective treatment unequivocally; both authors have experience of its effectiveness, despite any controversy you may encounter.
Basically this technique requires intravenous infusions, in which are delivered multiple nutrients and a chelating substance known as EDTA (there are others). Chelation means to grab the toxic metals and get them out of the body. This in turn quenches damaging free radicals. Metals are among the most poisonous substances in our environment; almost none of them belong there and certainly not in the kind of quantities encountered in industrial society. Certain metals are already known to cause cancer. Aluminium and mercury have been implicated in Alzheimers.
Getting rid of the toxic metal overload has a number of benefits, one of which is improving the condition of the arteries. This was formerly thought to be due to taking away calcium in atheroma plaque. Few doctors think that today but whatever the mechanism there is no denying the health benefits of chelation. We have seen strokes reversed and dementia patients come back into play. This is only logical, since brain performance is entirely dependent upon nutrient supply from the blood. Even a tiny degree of narrowing of the blood supply to the cranium can have adverse consequences and, like hardening of the arteries, this can creep up on one.
By adding intravenous glutathione, this can reach sometimes miraculous outcomes, in which Parkinson's patients can walk again, motor neurone disease and MS are bettered, and poor brain performance is reversed, at least in part. Remember also, glutathione is a powerful liver detox aid.
This is an exciting area and research is continuing apace. Hundreds of papers are being published every month on the importance of glutathione levels in the brain. Predictably, mainstream medicine is slow in bringing the benefits into clinical practice, but some pioneer doctors have been forging ahead for years.
- Forty Something Forever by Arlene and Harold Brecher
- BrainRecovery.Com (that's the book title!) by David Perlmutter.
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