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I hear it all the time:  “Doc, I feel like I’m not as sharp as I used to be,” or “What can I do for my memory?”  Often, the person is over 50 and feels as if they’re becoming a little more forgetful; usually associated with a little “brain fog” or less mental energy.  This group of symptoms is commonly known as Age Related Cognitive Decline.

I for one am not willing to take this lying down.  Instead, I have every intention of growing old (well into my 90’s) spry with my wits about me.  If you feel the same, and want to protect your brain from the ravages of aging or get back that mental step that you may have lost, there are several exercises and nutrients that show tremendous promise.

An interesting article in the June, 2008 Wall Street Journal makes a criticalBrain-blue point that scientists didn’t know even a decade ago: people generate new brain cells and new connections between brain neurons called synapses throughout life.  And experts believe the more mental reserves we build up, the better we can stave off age-related cognitive decline.  So how do we optimize the process of creating new connections and protecting the ones we already have? 

1) First: Mental exercise is important.  It causes our brain to create new connections, called synapses, between neurons.  These synapes contain new memories and instructions on how to perform new tasks, like learning to play an instrument or how to use a computer.  Studies show that those of us who have higher education, exercise their brains with continuous learning and who remain engaged socially, retain our memory and cognition better than those who don’t. 

2) Second: Physical exercise is critical for strength, heart health and circulation.  The brain requires a tremendous amount of circulation to supply the oxygen and nutrients it requires.  Therefore, anything we can do which is positive for heart and circulatory health is also important for memory.  Exercise also reduces the build-up of artery clogging plaque.  If this plaque builds up in the carotid artery (the one which supplies blood to the brain) we are in for some serious problems including loss of memory and cognitive function. 
**Exercise for at least a half hour 5 days a week.  Ideally, a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise should be employed.

3) Third: Reduce Stress; try to stay relaxed.  Too much cortisol (the stress hormone), actually kills brain neurons.  At the same time it slows muscle recovery.  So if you want to protect your brain and muscle cells please try and remain calmer and strive to keep a smile on your face.  Meditation and Yoga are two excellent choices for improvement in this area.

4) Lastly, support the brain with Healthy Nutrition so that it can function optimally.  Nutrient dense foods maximize the brains ability to rebuild itself, replenish utilized membrane components, generate energy and create neurotrasmitters.  Proper nutrition and appropriate supplementation supply the brain with antioxidants which offer protection from free radical damage that not only damages brain neurons but can cause amyloid plaques, the calling card of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Make sure to include lots of colorful fruits and vegetables (go heavy on the berries) to ensure that your brain has a plentiful supply of antioxidants and phytonutrients to ensure optimal brain/neuronal nutrition and protection throughout your life.

Top Brain Nutrients

When I think of brain nutrients, several immediately come to mind.  The first is the Omega 3 fatty acid: DHA or docosahexaenoic acid.  DHA is a basic structural building block of the cell membranes of all brain neurons.  In fact, 8% of our brain tissue should be DHA and at the synapse, the junction where one brain neuron “speaks” to another, the cell membrane should be 60% DHA.  This allows the membrane to be flexible and liquid so that neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, serotonin and dopamine can move swiftly and easily from one brain neuron to the next. 
fish oilThis is how neurons communicate with one another.  The process is complex and relies heavily on DHA.  Run a deficit of it and your brain can’t possibly function as it should.  Recent studies have shown that people (adults and children) think more effectively and preserve their memory longer when they consume higher levels of EPA and DHA.  In fact 2 recent studies, one out of the University of Pittsburgh the other just out of the Journal Neurology, August 2008, show that people who ingested more fish (high in EPA and DHA) had better MRI’s of their brains than those who ate little fish.  Countless studies indicate that omega 3's help children, teenagers, adults and seniors to enhance and maintain their memory and brain function.

The American Heart Association (AHA) points out that a healthy person should consume at least 500mgs per day of DHA and EPA.  They increase their recommendation to 1000-3000mgs for people with heart disease or high triglycerides.  Yet the Council For Responsible Nutrition (CRN) points out that the average American consumes less than 100mgs a day of DHA and EPA.  This gap is where the problem lies.  We need these nutrients, yet the average American isn't ingesting them.  This deficit creates tremendous problems for the brain, the heart, your circulation, inflammation levels in our bodies and much more.

Today the main source of DHA is from fish or fish oils.  Our ancestors got DHA from animal meats.  Hundreds of years ago the animals they hunted were free ranging and able to concentrate plant based omega 3’s into their muscle tissue (the meat).  Today the cows, chickens, turkeys etc are grain fed.   Grain is high in omega 6 fats and low in omega 3 fats.  This yields meat that is high in omega 6 fats and low in omega 3 fats.  To illustrate this point Dr Simopoulos points out in her book The Omega Diet, that a free range chicken egg has 20 times the omega 3’s found in a regular commercial chicken egg. 

Bottom line: We must supplement with omega 3's, especially DHA to get the high levels necessary for our brains to flourish.  My 2 favorites are EPA/DHA 950mg Omega 3 by Physiologics and Krill Omega Combo Formula by Purity Products. 

The second nutrient that comes to mind is a good phytonutrient drink with aFancy Grapesvariety of super fruits and vegetables.  It can be a greens, reds or purples drink.  They’re all good.  If I had to choose just one it would be a greens drink as long as it had some super fruits and berries included (ie. Triple Greens).   The studies on berries, fruits and vegetables for brain health are numerous and excellent.  Super fruits and vegetables such as barley grass, wheat grass, blueberries, cranberries, broccoli, kale, green tea, grape seed extract, etc… supply integral nutrients to the brain, but it doesn’t stop there...
They are also powerful antioxidants which protect the brain from free radical damage and inflammation.  A recent study at the British University of Reading showed that older rats fed blueberries were able to navigate a maze 26% better after supplementation and almost as well as young rats.  Another study performed by Dr. James Joseph of Tufts University, showed that not only were older rats able to perform mental tasks better than their peers after blueberry supplementation; they were also able to run faster and increase the time they were able to balance on a spinning rod by 100%.

A large study on 2,000 Chicago area seniors published in the Journal of Neurology last year found that those who ate more than 2 servings of vegetables per day had about 40% less mental decline that those who ate few or no vegetables.  I could go on quoting studies all day, suffice it to say, the phytonutrients from high potency fruits and vegetables are a linchpin in your journey to securing your memory and cognition as you age.  I mix Triple Greens, Super Reds and Perfect Purples together in a big container.  Using this mixture I add 2 scoops of this combo with a scoop of protein powder to water and drink it down as my snack between breakfast and lunch daily (a daily brain/muscle super energy infusion).  It tastes great and I look forward to it.

The final brain nutrient I would like to discuss is CoQ10.  When you think energy, think CoQ10.  As we get beyond our 35th year, we make less and less of this critical energy cofactor.  Indeed our cells can’t create energy without CoQ10.  If you want plenty of mental and physical energy, make sure to supplement with at least 50mgs of CoQ10 daily.  Another big benefit of CoQ10 is that scientist have found that it is one of the best antioxidants available and is an excellent heart nutrient.  Most of my patients find that 100 mgs. per day does the trick.  This is easily accomplished  by taking 1 CoQ10-Source Naturals 100 mgs capsule per day.  If you are over 50 or feel like you're losing a step mentally and you don't notice any difference with 1 capsule, try 2.  In any event, if you are going to notice a difference, it should happen within 2-4 weeks.

Follow these strategies to protect you memory and cognition as you get older or improve them if you are already noticing some deterioration in this department.  If taking all of the nutrients above seems overwhelming, than begin with just the fish oil as it is the most important of all (if you don’t notice any improvement give me a call or consult with your physician). 

Eat right, exercise, have a positive mental attitude and supplement wisely…That’s how we'll age gracefully, together.

In Health,
Dr. Neil Levin
Chiropractor practicing in East Northport, NY
(631) 651-2929

*These recommendations are not intended to diagnose treat or cure any medical conditions and should not replace the advise of your doctor.