As we age our brains can actually start to shrink. From what I have researched it appears that it is not an absolute change but in most cases shrinking of the brain is often times dismissed and thought of as a natural process of aging.
However, there are studies that reveal some of the underlying causes of diminishing brain capacity that can help us in understanding some ways we can lower our risk for some diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
General Causes of Mental Decline
It is not surprising that some of the influences of problems and disabilities associated with the loss of brain function can be attributed to poor health. Inflammation is a root cause of many health issues and diseases within our body. This is also true for our brain.
What can cause our brains to become inflamed? According to Psychology Today, brain inflammation can be a result of a diet deficient in anti-oxidants and even something as common as a cold or flu.
Diminished Blood Flow
Our brains have tiny blood vessels that can become clogged up due to having high cholesterol. Like me, you may think about cholesterol as a problem on the heart, however, WebMD said that while the evidence is limited, studies show that high levels of cholesterol may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
Before you jump to any conclusions and think about a low fat diet, it’s important to consider that our brains contain 25% of the cholesterol in our bodies. Our brain uses it for a variety of bodily functions such as using it to produce vitamin D, progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. It also acts as an antioxidant as well as providing membrane function.
And recently, the data collected regarding what our brains needs leads us to the number one breakthrough. The first time I heard of it was on the Dr. Oz show.
Breakthrough #1 – The Natural Fat’s Our Brain Needs
There are far too many supplements that are recommended for maintaining good health. Just watching the Dr. Oz show for a few days and you can become overwhelmed by what you learn about vitamins, vegetables, fruits, nuts, herbs, and the list goes on and on and on.
However, one of the most important organs (if we can call it that) in our body is our brain. When our brains are infected or overrun by disease, we can lose our ability to think, speak, hear, see, move, and even breathe. So, this breakthrough may be one you want to pay attention to.
DHA or omega-3 fatty acids. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) actually makes up a very large percent of your brain tissues. Smaller brain size is linked to a lower DHA levels.
And DHA can take care of the two health issues mentioned above. It can lower inflammation and even help in combating plague buildup which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. DHA is benefits that help in forestalling and or preventing neurological ailments associated with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) depression and more recently lowering ricks of getting Alzheimer’s.
There are two studies I found that support what I learned on the Dr. Oz show. The Chicago and Rotterdam studies both showed a reduction in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease from eating fish and plant-derived omega-3 fatty acid.
There have been many studies that point toward significantly reduced incidences of both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as well as an improved quality of life for those who are already affected by dementia.
Breakthrough #2 – Stimulation of Rarely Used Brain Regions
“Use it or lose it” as the saying goes. Unused muscles will atrophy over time and our mental abilities will decline with low levels of activity or stimulation as well. In fact according to ALZ.org an Alzheimer’s association, people with a higher level of mental stimulation appear to have a lower risk of getting dementia or Alzheimer’s. It is believe this could be due to having a stronger connection between their brain cells.
It is not a difficult task to stimulate our brains either. Simply using your non-dominant hand to do things like holding your fork, brushing your teeth, and reaching to grab things you would normally grab with your dominant hand.
Other activities include things like writing backwards, playing games, working crossword puzzles, gardening and enrolling in local community college classes such as learning a new language. The goal is to get your brain to “think” about new brain-stimulating things.
Breakthrough #3 – Lowering Stress Levels – Finding Your Happy Place
Taking a little “me time” or “finding your happy place”.
We may laugh at those things but the reality is this, if we find ourselves in an emotionally taxing environment or we are consistently work under pressure without allowing our minds and our bodies to unwind or de-stress, we are living life on the edge.
And that edge is hanging over a time-bomb.
These things produce a lot of stress in our bodies and stress… is highly toxic to our hippocampus, the small region of the brain which in addition to being responsible for our center of emotion and the autonomic nervous system, it is responsible for our memory.
A little stress and some pressure can produce great results. Some people tend to work well when under pressure while others crumble. However, too much pressure can stress our bodies out beyond any type of productive results and actually lead to producing high levels of cortisol.
When the body is under a constant barrage of high cortisol levels it can cause the brain to atrophy as brain cells are destroyed and many of the brain cells become dysfunctional.
Taking time out to relax, meditate and even just taking a moment to find a quiet place to breathe in and out in slow methodical breaths can help get your cortisol levels under control.
So, take some “me time” and find yourself a quiet place, lower the lights and find your “happy place”. Focus on a calm spot in your mind. You don’t have to think hard. You can simple take long slow breaths and think, “Breath in…” then allow your breath to leave your lungs while saying in your head, “Breath out…”
Imagine yourself at the beach all alone walking in the sand with a warm breeze keeping you company. Breathing in and out slowly while thinking of nothing more than how relaxing it is to enjoy a little “me time”.
Something a friend shared with me the other day was her notebook full of things she is thankful for. Happy memories, happy moments in your life, these things can stimulate our minds back into a calmness that will lower our stress and help us refocus on more positive things.
Whenever my mind says something like, “I’m in so much pain…” I immediately repeat 10 to 20 times, “I’m not in pain, I am relaxed, I am happy…” things like this. This is more about affirmations than a breathing exercise, but it’s important that we turn our attention to a positive place rather than allow our minds to focus on things that only enhance and increase our stress levels.
Breakthrough #4 – Physical Activity May Reduce Age-Related Cognitive Decline
Before even considering this as a breakthrough I want to say that physical activity offers two very important health benefits to our brain. First, it is an obvious way to relax our mind while energizing our bodies. And the opposite is true. Exercise can also relax our bodies and stimulate our minds.
Today there are clinical studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as to whether or not exercise can delay Alzheimer’s disease in patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). So far the results from have shown improvement in patients engaged in walking.
Walking can induce the mind into problem solving or even simply enjoying the moment, reflecting on the past or considering endless possibilities for the future. So breakthrough #4 really helps stimulate the mind while engaged in physical activity which can also reduce stress which in turn reduces cortisol levels.
It seems like a win-win scenario here. Studies are great but this one really feels like a no-brainer… for lack of a brainier expression. 😉
Breakthrough #5 – Health Foods, Healthy Brains
Again, do we really need to be told that eating health will improve our brain’s ability to stave-off cognitive decline? Perhaps. Yes, I think it is so. Because when we read the details, when we see the facts staring us right in the face, it seems to dig deeper into our psyche.
So, with that in mind let’s consider the facts. The following studies are referred to on the NIA.NIH.Gov website. While research regarding how our diet effects cognitive improvement, prevention or or impairment is ongoing.
However, now is the time I want to add a note about the body’s ability to heal itself primarily through diet. And while there are ongoing studies that will clearly point toward diet improving and even preventing or forestalling diseases such as Alzheimer’s, there is a well-known fight between what the modern world of “health for profit” wants to avoid.
Drugs verses Herbs, Vitamins, Plants and Organic Foods
Our genes do play some part in how long we live, how strong our bones are, and how well our bodies adapt to our environmental influences. Sometimes our genes can be almost entirely responsible for some of the less common or rare diseases that effect a small portion of people on the planet.
Yet, there are solid facts that prove diet alone can help in both the lowering of risks regarding disease as well as even the prevention of diseases. Go to any library and or book store and you’ll find plenty of studies that support it.
Where Your Risk of Disease Runs High
So let’s recap and think in terms of what will increase your risk of obtaining diminishing cognitive function resulting in Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain related diseases.
- Use it or lose it. Sitting around watching TV and doing the same things over and over again out of habit will raise your risk for many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, anxiety, and an overall feeling of yuckyness all day long.
- Eating a high carb, fried food, fast food, and one with loads of sugar increases your risk for all sorts of diseases including the ones mentioned in the above paragraph.
Simple Ways to Raise Your Resistance to Diminishing Brain Function
If you want to lower your risk of disease, any disease, eat more fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, rice, and organic unprocessed foods.
If you strive to stay mentally awake, alert, and consistently improving your cognitive abilities, continue to push yourself by learning new things, participating in new adventures, and looking for ways to break mind-numbing habits such as driving a different way to work a few days a week or trying new ways to cook your favorite foods and learning new recipes.