Hey friends, how are you feeling these days…with work, family or the holiday season upon us? If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, maybe it’s time to take a breather and add intentional steps to alleviate stress.

By now you probably know that meditation and other recommended stress reduction techniques previously considered “new age” really work. Many high performers incorporate various forms of meditation into their daily lives because it works (and are a heck of a lot better than drugs & those nasty side effects).  There are many forms meditation from walking in nature, guided meditations (especially good if you have an active monkey brain like me), breathing exercises (try inhaling completely for 4 seconds, hold 7 seconds, exhale completely for 8, repeat 9 more times), or simply enjoying the love & affection of a pet. Try them out and see what suits you best.

Why is it important to work on controlling/limiting or reducing stress? Because with chronic stress, the brain atrophies…which means it gets smaller and less effective. When you are stressed, you release cortisol. With elevated cortisol, your brain begins overload and …then begins to degenerate.  The parts most affected are the areas of the brain associated with dementia/long term memory. 

There are also vascular impacts of stress on our brains due to the flight or fight response. This response releases hormones that decrease blood flow to our brain. Chronic stress has long term effects on our brains. 

What else happens? Well, elevated cortisol can also decrease circulation. That’s why it makes sense then to engage in an activity that causes an increase in circulation. Exercise increases your heart rate and oxygen to the brain. On the opposite side of the spectrum, long term sedentary activity decreases blood circulation all over the body.  Then, if you add a stress response to being sedentary and possibly a thyroid issue, all these factors impact the health of our brains. 

Public service message: The more intense the exercise, the better the benefit because your heart has to pump harder. Try intervals  or short bursts of increased energy/effort for 10-30 seconds, 10-15 times.   

To recap, we have the impact of stress and a sedentary lifestyle impacting our brains.  Now, let’s talk diet.  “Type 3 diabetes” is now used to describe dementia because if we indulge in sugar or processed carbs, we get too much insulin. Seriously, our bodies were not made to consume the sugar we load into them daily. Chronic surges of insulin also cause damage to the brain. I’m saying this with a lot of love….so hear me when I say, “If you are tired after meals, it’s time to review what you are eating.”  A normal response after a meal should be your hunger is vanished – NOT an energy surge – or an energy drop.

Small changes in our diets can make a HUGE difference with our brain health (& overall health & weight)! 

When it comes to gluten…there is a high correlation between neurological symptoms and gluten antibodies – most specifically with wheat gluten.  So if you have an inflammatory diet, you are inflaming your brain. It WILL begin to degenerate.  As these various factors (stress, blood sugar instability and/or surges, sedentary lifestyles, lack of circulation, poor diet) add up, we will begin to feel foggy. That “fog” is brain degeneration. You have a thought but can’t get to it. 

What would a balanced brain focused diet consist of?  The key is to eat a diversity of vegetables/plant fibers along with healthy fats and LIMITED sugar/processed carbs. Proteins can also be inflammatory with most inflammatory proteins being milk protein, egg protein, and soy protein. Experts suggest a diet that is A.) gluten & dairy free, B.) one that includes flax seed & fish oils (healthy fats), and for sure, C.) a diet low in sugar and processed carbs to prevent sugar surges, and D.) a diet FULL of diverse vegetables.

The bottom line is that anything that causes inflammation to the body has an effect on the brain.

That would include stress, diet, sedentary lifestyle, arthritis, food allergies,  auto immunity diseases, etc.  What’s the best way to support our brains?Ultimately, what we should do for a healthy lifestyle and weight is what we should do for our brain: eat properly, exercise with intensity to increase our heart rates, and supplement with dietary flavonoids like turmeric, resveratrol, and polyphenols.   Last, try meditation or breathing techniques to lower stress. Laugh. Help others. Try inversion. Get a pet. And educate yourself because you are worth it.  Some of my favorite recent reads include:

The good news is EVERY little bit helps and most of what helps is in our control.  Isn’t it nice that the things we can do to remain healthy, fit and active will also serve our brains well?

I think today is a great day to take action.  A friend of mine likes to ask, “What have you got to lose?”  Well, my friends, taking no action WILL lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when”.  I think a better question is, “What have you got to gain?”

A long, beautiful, and healthy life.

Today IS some day.

Carpe Diem.

I spent the better part of the last year immersed in reading, researching and trying to better understand what we call the “aging process” as it relates to health. What I learned is: the term “aging” is really more a misnomer…

The truth is, 80% of disease/illnesses “attributed” to aging are environmentally based. In other words, WE can choose and control most of what impacts our health and longevity. That’s pretty powerful, right?

Some folks may not want to hear this. Changing habits may mean letting go of fast food, cheap convenience and hours of blue screen entertainment. I have one thing to say about that: choosing that crap (and it IS crap…) is choosing weight gain, metabolic syndrome, creeping obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and a slew of other health challenges. If you find yourself a bit reluctant to change habits, then consider the people you love. What I mean is… illness is expensive. It causes financial drain. It causes physical and emotional stress on the caretaker. If you don’t care enough about yourself, consider the impact your choices have on the ones you love. 

Today, let’s talk about Alzheimer’s. So, what is Alzheimer’s exactly? The short answer is it’s a disease resulting from a protective response from different insults and is sometimes referred to as “type 3 diabetes”.

“Cognitive decline is a major concern of the aging population, and Alzheimer’s disease is the major cause of age-related cognitive decline, with approximately 5.4 million American patients and 30 million affected globally [1]. In the absence of effective prevention and treatment, the prospects for the future are of great concern, with 13 million Americans and 160 million globally projected for 2050, leading to potential bankruptcy of the Medicare system. Unlike several other chronic illnesses, Alzheimer’s disease prevalence is on the rise, which makes the need to develop effective prevention and treatment increasingly pressing. Recent estimates suggest that AD has become the third leading cause of death in the United States [2], behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Furthermore, it has been pointed out recently that women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s epidemic, with 65% of patients and 60% of caregivers being women [3]. Indeed, a woman’s chance of developing AD is now greater than her chance of developing breast cancer [4].  (Link to abstract if you want more!) 

Those are alarming stats. How lucky we are that we can take positive steps NOW to help reverse and prevent brain health and so called “aging”. If we are to combat Alzheimer’s, then we must identify the “insults” causing inflammatory responses within our bodies. While one size doesn’t fit all, there are common inflammatory causes to consider (or test for).  For example, you may be more affected by mercury. If so, remove the fillings, cease eating fish high in mercury and get assistance from a holistic/functional doctor to cleanse your body

The biggest factor impacting most of us is insulin resistance because our bodies were not made to take in the amount of simple carbs we’ve been ingesting.

Insulin resistance leads to metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and other health challenges.  Another possibility is chronic inflammation from other organisms. Until those are addressed, that inflammation is negatively impacting your brain. For other folks, hormonal imbalance (vitamin D levels, testosterone, thyroid, etc.) is a contributing factor.

If you are starting to think about the costs of multiple tests…stop. Many of these can be done at home or through the mail. It isn’t likely you need an entire battery of tests. HOWEVER, when you consider the financial cost of long-term care, spending a few dollars on a test or two hardly compares. And that’s not considering the impact on loved ones. According to national averages, long term care costs about $250/day or $8,000/month. Spending well under 1% on tests hardly compares. Even without testing, you can take steps NOW to avoid/address the things that cause bodily harm and work on enhancing your immunes system.

  • Enhance your diet by reducing sugar (avoid processed carbs like rice/pasta/breads/crackers/gluten)
  • Enhance your sleep (if you have apnea, get it checked out now) and let’s not forget blue light impact
  • Lower stress (meditation, community)
  • Exercise
  • Ayurveda trio including Ashwagandha

To increase knowledge and offer solutions to improve brain health, these are my top three book recommendations:

Isn’t it great that we live in a time with so many resources available to help our quest for better health—and much of it for little or no cost? Find a website or like-minded community and commit to your health quest today.

Here is some candor: you have time for what’s important.  If you are full of excuses, let’s face it… health is NOT a priority for you. I’m not saying there won’t be challenges, but you can choose to seek alternatives & options – or use those challenges as an excuse.

The thing is…to be healthy long term, we must address chronic “insults”. This is a different approach from 20th century medicine because it gets to the underlying causes & addressing them now vs. waiting until there is illness/disease and then addressing those symptoms. Trust me, early reversal is the way to go. You and your health are worth it.

There may be some trial and error along the way, but isn’t that life?  A healthy lifestyle is a journey and a science that isn’t perfect. Like any journey, it starts with intention.

It’s time to be personally accountable. We are giving ourselves diseases…through our day to day exposures and choices. I think it is liberating to know that WE can positively impact our health. The bullet list above will impact more than our brains…optimizing those components will positively impact aging and a host of other diseases, as well. Why would we not embrace this opportunity?

We have time for what is important.

Every minute is an opportunity for self-improvement and finding time IS possible.

Each day, we get the opportunity to do better, to forgive our mistakes, to love more, laugh more, learn more, and to LIVE.

What a gift!

Recent neuroscience studies have proven that what we eat and how we live can have huge impacts on our brains. Neurogenesis, or the process of making new brain cells, is the topic of today’s blog. This is fascinating stuff on so many levels! Old think was that we quit growing brain cells in our 20’s and then we just went downhill from there. In the late ‘90’s, scientists discovered we can actually make new brain cells our entire life. The rate of neurogenesis (brain cell development/growth) is an important biomarker of brain health –which ultimately impacts the quality of our lives, as you can imagine!
 
It makes sense that a low rate of making new brain cells is associated with cognitive decline, anxiety, memory problems, stress/depression and lower immunity.  While on the other hand, people with a high rate of new brain cell growth have cognitive enhancements, faster problem solving, protection against stress/anxiety, etc. Even more interesting is that people can increase the rate of neurogenesis at least 5 times. Holy cow. Now you see how the rate of neurogenesis can have a big impact on the quality of your life? FIVE TIMES!! (Dayam Daniel!)
 
What can we do? Well, first of all, understand that the best results come from multiple ways to create a synergistic effect. An analogy Dr. Cortright uses is that if you want to build a beautiful house, you have to use high quality materials.  Seems simple enough.  In his book, “The Neurogenesis Diet & Lifestyle”, Dr. Cortright tells us what mental activities we can do to increase neurogenesis, along with spiritual things we can do, active things we can do, and of course, DIETARY things we can do.  In a nutshell, the dietary piece is twofold: we want to decrease the things that are neurotoxic because they slow down the rate of brain cell development AND at the same time increase the things that enhance neurogenesis.
 
Here are a few points made in his book:

 

  • Neurotoxins to avoid include bad, unhealthy fats and sugar/carbohydrates. We can thank the government since the 60’s for their recommendations that fail to distinguish good fats from unhealthy, oxidized (trans) fats. When bad fats get into blood stream, it produces a host of problems. The good ol’ outdated food pyramid was heavy on carbohydrates. Don’t’ cook with vegetable oils. Instead cook with coconut oil, butter, or ghee. Avoid eating fried foods. 
  • Include good fats from avocados, nuts, grass fed beef, pastured chicken/eggs, wild caught fish, etc. Omega 3’s fatty acids are the bomb (especially DHA since 1/3 of our brains are made up of this stuff). Taking 4-5 grams a day of omega-3’s that are molecularly distilled (to avoid mercury which is a neurotoxin) is recommended by Dr. Cortright.
  • Green tea (ECGCs) are beneficial, as is
  • Quercetin, and      
  • Ginseng

 

The book is full of more detailed information, as is his website: www.BrantCortright.com. I really can’t do it justice in one blog entry. Just know how important it is to reduce inflammatory responses within the body/bloodstream. Repeated inflammation literally chews up the inside of our blood vessels. Because your brain gets 20% of your blood, when you ingest/expose bad fats/sugar/toxins, that junk literally goes to your head.  Say you eat a burger and fries…the fries supply nasty fat/carbs and the bread supplies additional easily digested carbohydrates. Congrats, you just flooded your bloodstream with one big inflammatory responses. Do that throughout the week/month/year….well you get the picture. A high sugar diet will cut the rate of brain cell building in HALF. Scientists have tracked cognitive decline directly with sugar intake and alzheimers is now dubbed Type 3 Diabetes.  Things that make you go, hmm..!
 
Today, about 80% of the American population has some degree of glucose intolerance, meaning they have higher levels of insulin than is healthy, creating toxicity in every organ of the body. Accelerated aging, or glycation, begins to occur whenever sugar/glucose enters the body. So yeah, I’m sitting here thinking about the handful of peanut M&M’s I grabbed off an associate’s desk last week!  (Sidebar: a blood test called a “hemoglobin A1C” can show the levels of glucose from the past 3 months.)  High fructose is a nasty culprit in a lot of foods.
 
But, I digress. There’s so much good information in this book!  I’d like to share his information regarding antidepressants, as well. But, that’s a dialogue for another day.
 
To wrap this up, here are the take-aways:

 

  • A high sugar diet will cut the rate of brain cell building IN HALF. We live in such a neurotoxic world and most of our brains are functioning well below what is possible. With our bodies lasting longer, why kill brain cells when we can enhance cognitive development so we don’t become a statistic? Right now, 1 in 3 Americans develop Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia.
  • We can enhance brain cell building FIVE times, maybe more, with the right activities (dietary, movement, spiritual).
  • Read the book.

 

What have you got to gain? Just cognitive enhancement, mood elevation and an enhanced quality of life!
Until next time, choose fit, laugh often, reduce sugar, & add omega-3’s.
 
~Lisa