Ultimate Brain Hack: How to Avoid Losing Your Mind

“To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” ~ Buddha

Recently I was fortunate to attend a workshop on brain health run by Jenny Phillips of Inspired Nutrition. Jenny did a popular guest blog a while back for rhapsody in words on breast health and screening, and as a cancer survivor has written a book everyone should read: Eat to Outsmart Cancer.

With alarming rates of early onset dementia and an ever increasing number of the population suffering with Alzheimer’s disease, she has been fascinated by recent research from the US showing that early cognitive decline can be reversed.

Jenny has a proactive attitude towards health that I wholeheartedly share. Her aim is to help others proactively adopt a lifestyle that will reduce the risk and help to prevent cognitive decline. If we can optimise our biochemistry we can influence the expression of our genes for a positive outcome.

Although Alzheimer’s disease mainly affects older people, according to the WHO it is not a normal part of aging.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, the umbrella term for a group of neuro cognitive disorders (NCDs); characterised by a decline in cognitive functioning. Symptoms include memory loss, difficulty with language, thinking and problem solving. In severe cases it has the potential to steal our independence and personality. Alzheimer’s was named after the man who discovered this cognitive condition, Dr. Aloysius Alzheimer (1864 – 1951).

From Jenny’s brain health manual:

AD is caused by parts of the brain shrinking (atrophy), which affects the structure and function of particular brain areas. People with AD may have abnormal protein deposits in their brains (amyloid plaques), neurofibrillary tangles (containing tau, an important brain protein), imbalances in a brain chemical called acetylcholine and vascular damage. This affects communication between neurones and results in cell death. Over time the damage spreads and symptoms progress.

The first area of the brain that is usually affected by Alzheimer’s is the Hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores, retrieves and makes our memories.

Early onset of Alzheimer’s can very often cause difficulty in forming new memories or recalling recent actions and events. Older, childhood memories tend to remain longer as they are stored in different parts of the brain. We should be able to remember at least 6 numbers or more as a sign of a healthy memory.

There are 3 stages of Alzheimer’s Disease: early – middle – late. Ideally, we should put in place strategies before any early signs appear.

The role of genes

Jenny talked about increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s for those that have the ApoE4 gene and how it is expressed according to environmental influences. She pointed out that if anyone has a history of dementia in their family it might be worth getting a genetic profile done. Knowledge is power, so armed with this information it may encourage people to take their health more seriously and adjust their lifestyle accordingly, to stack the odds in their favour.

Prevention is always preferable to, and easier than cure. There are many ‘hidden’ costs associated with cognitive decline; such as not being able to work, the emotional, physical and mental strains on the individual as well as their family and friends, being unable to perform activities such as driving and many other actions/interactions we may take for granted.

According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), “There is no treatment currently available to cure dementia or to alter its progressive course.”

This view is perhaps a touch pessimistic, and Jenny gave us hope by sharing the latest research. She carefully presented the facts and managed to make a complex subject easy to understand with her relaxed and logical teaching style.

We each inherit 23 pairs of chromosomes from our parents, the blueprint of our genetic makeup; ‘the recipe book of you’ as Jenny calls it. If there are mutations or spelling mistakes this can cause trouble later in life if we are not diligent in managing our lifestyle.

Jenny covered three main areas where we can impact our brain functioning: root cause resolution, optimal performance and protection.

Root cause resolution:

We covered the ingredients for a healthy brain; the raw materials that make it grow.

“For the brain to flourish you’ve got to nourish.” ~ Jenny Phillips

Our brains are 60% fat, which means they need replenishing with essential fats such as omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). In addition to diet I personally supplement with Dr. Mercola’s krill oil as it’s high in these nutrients and sustainably sourced.

Healthy dietary fats include coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil (uncooked), and butter. The trans-fats that are in margarine and other oils cause oxidative damage to our cells and should be avoided at all costs.

B vitamins help the brain make and use neurotransmitters. The brain also requires amino acids, vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, which has been dubbed the ‘master mineral’ as it is a co-factor in every process in the body. Good digestion and gut health is also fundamental to brain health (as I will elaborate on in a future post).

Optimal performance:

The brain’s main source of energy is glucose. For those in varying degrees of metabolic syndrome (waistline and weight is an indicator), and who have developed insulin resistance this is significant for the brain, as it can’t get the glucose it requires into the cells, as insulin takes sugar into the cells. Anyone with a diet high in sugar and refined, processed foods is at risk. Treatment of insulin resistance may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Lowering sugar intake, insulin regulation and energy from nutrients such as healthy fats, magnesium and CoQ10 all contribute towards brain health.

An alternative source of energy is when the body breaks down fat into ketones, known as ketosis.

Another risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s is poor oral hygiene. Gum disease arises when there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the mouth, and is linked to increased inflammation. The cold sore virus can also cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress

When we are feeling stressed our body produces the hormone cortisol, and lengthy periods of un-managed stress means that we are living off our adrenals and this is bad news. Long term high levels of cortisol increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Jenny suggested meditation as a great way of reducing and managing stress. I have found meditating for over a decade has been invaluable. I meditate for an hour a day with Holosync, but there are other similar programmes, and even half an hour a day of clearing your mind in whatever way suits you best will be of benefit.

Use it or lose it

The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ applies to the brain, (our mental muscle), so it’s important to undertake activities that give your grey cells a workout; such as playing a musical instrument, hobbies that induce relaxed concentration like chess, puzzles, crosswords, sudoku, knitting, writing, reading, any kind of crafts or brain training games.

Exercise

Regular physical activity  is crucial to brain health and overall well-being. Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, such as walking, dancing or an active hobby. I’m aware that as a writer I am sitting for long periods, so I have to be consciously moving around every 2 hours.

Office work can also lead to a sedentary lifestyle which is something our early ancestors never had to deal with due to a radically different way of life.

Sleep

This one area where I struggle to get enough hours of pushing out the zeds! Jenny recommended a minimum of 7 hours per night to give your body a chance to heal, repair and rejuvenate and distribute Human Growth Hormone (HGH), so that we can function to the best of our ability the next day.

Protection:

Jenny talked about the dangers of high levels of homocysteine in the blood, an aggressive molecule strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. We should look to increase our intake of vitamin B12 (liver is a rich source), folate and glutathione. High alcohol intake robs our body of B vitamins and also destroys helpful bacteria in the gut.

Jenny advised that we can’t go wrong by eating the rainbow, a diverse range of fruits and vegetables of all colours. Bone broth can be made in the slow-cooker and is incredibly nutritious for maintaining the integrity of the gut lining and supporting digestion.

Toxicity in the body strains the liver so powerful antioxidants are needed to combat aging and free radicals that cause cellular degeneration.

Diet concerns:

  • Dependency on refined foods and simple carbohydrates
  • Not enough fresh vegetables – limit or cut out processed/shelf stable foods
  • Confused about facts (e.g. misleading information from government bodies about a low fat diet). Jenny recommended a book: Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill
  • Too much alcohol
  • Sodium : potassium ratio needs to be in balance

Sadly, the food industry as a whole isn’t concerned about health, it appeals to your taste buds with sophisticated marketing. Labels can also be misleading and you should read the ingredient list carefully. Interesting article on junk food.

21st century life has solved many challenges for humanity, but in doing so, our drive for a more convenient life has unwittingly created other problems. Diet is a biggie, hence the rise in obesity, diabetes, digestive, auto-immune disorders and cognitive decline.

It’s worth having an individual genetic test to assess your risk factors. This could give you peace of mind about what you are already doing or motivate you to make any necessary changes.

Cognitive decline does not happen overnight but is a result of environmental factors influencing the way your genes express themselves. Our daily habits hold the key to health and longevity.

Jenny gave us some very promising data that was being garnered by Professor Dale Bredesen and his colleagues at the Buck Institute, who, unencumbered with the need for funding and the hidden agendas that usually accompany such investment, are working on solving problems of the aged. He speaks of Alzheimer’s disease being akin to a ‘roof with 36 holes’ – where no one therapy will ever come close to plugging all the gaps.

Reversing Alzheimer’s Disease – Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD:

Bredesen wrote a 2014 paper: Reversal of Cognitive Decline around the results he achieved with his patients using his MEND therapeutic programme, which included discreet eating and the lifestyle indicators Jenny spoke of.

7 Pillars of Brain Health:

  • Nutrition
  • Fasting
  • Gut health
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Stress Reduction
  • Brain stimulation

After the study section of our workshop was completed Jenny treated us to a healthy home-made juice with pineapple, spinach, ginger and celery, followed by a delicious, nutritious lunch of salmon, avocado, sweet potato and a beautiful salad with a choice of brain healthy dressings.

We were also given a short manual that recapped on what we had learnt with helpful dietary advice and the best brain healthy foods. Included at the back was a health dashboard to enable us to focus on the fundamental elements of brain health and overall well-being and write any notes about what we decide to put into action along with results.

I’m very grateful to Jenny for sharing her knowledge! We left feeling empowered to implement the changes we each needed to reduce our risks of developing a neuro degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s.

For more information about future brain health workshops, nutrition and advice on brain health contact Jenny via her website.

Other useful websites:

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