Are High-Carbohydrate Diets Bad for Your Brain?

March 26 2013 | Brain Health

Want better brain function? Maybe you should lay off the carbs, especially sugar and processed grains. 

Recent research from Tufts University links high carbohydrate intake to greater risk of mild cognitive impairment. Diets heavy in sugar and complex carbohydrates, such as processed grains, could particularly contribute to risk by affecting the body's glucose and insulin metabolism.

"Cognitive deficits have been observed in older people with impaired glucose tolerance, and insulin insensitivity and diabetes are risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia," said Tammy Scott, PhD, a scientists at Tufts HNRCA Nutrition and Neurocognition Laboratory. "We're not certain about the mechanisms, but possibilities include increased oxidative stress and impaired transport of glucose to the brain."

Related Infographic: 13 Super Brain Foods You Can Find in the Grocery Store.

Related Product: Carbo Grabbers with Chromium

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, reported that people 70 and older who ate the most carbs in relation to protein and fat were at nearly four times the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. Risk also rose with a diet heavy in sugar. on the other hand, study participants who consumed more protein and fat relative to cars were less likely to become cognitively impaired. 

"We think it's important that you eat a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat," Roberts said, "because each of these nutrients has an important role in the body."

In this study, not everyone with mild cognitive impairment went on to develop Alzheimer's disease or other dementias, but many did.

"If we can stop people from developing mild cognitive impairment, we hope we can stop people from developing dementia," Roberts said. 

Participants in the study who reported the highest carbohydrate intake at the beginning of the study were about 2 times likelier to develop mild cognitive impairment. But those with diets high in fat were 42% less likely to suffer cognitive impairment. And those with a higher intake of protein had a relative reduced risk of 21%.

Which Carbs Contribute Most to Cognitive Decline?

 

  • High carbohydrates impact your glucose and insuling metabolism. "Sugar fules the brain -- so moderate intake is good. however, high levels of sugar may actually prevent the brain from using the sugar, similar to what we see with type 2 diabetes," Roberts said.
  • Simple carbohydrates that are low in fiber, such as pasta, white bread and other refined grains, cause spikes in blood sugar because the body quickly converts them into glucose.
  • Whole grains, beans and vegetables retain the fiber and nutrients of the grain's bran and germ, which are lost in processing. Because these carbs are digested slower, they have a less dramatic effect on blod sugar -- and thus may be better for the brain. 

 


Why Exercise Makes You Smarter [infographic]

February 19 2013 | Brain Health | Children's Health | Exercise | Infographic

Exercise might be as crucial for your brain as diet is. In fact, studies show a lack of exercise doesn't just affect the body. It also has significant affects on growing brain cells. Mice that ran 3 miles each night doubled their hippocampus size over time.

OnlineCollegCourses put together a nice graphic to show how exercise increases the performance of the brain, especially in youth. Some of the stats below include:

  • In elementary kids, 40 minutes of daily exercise caused an average IQ increase of 3.8 points.
  • The fittest students scored 30% higher on tests than average students (less-fit students scored 20% lower)
  • Those who regularly play sports show a 20% improvement in math, science, english and social studies
  • Fit 18 year olds were more likely to go onto higher education
  • Students who worked out before class improved test scores 17% on average
  • Employees who exercise regularly are 15% more efficient


How Working Out Can Make You Smarter Infographic


13 Super Brain Foods You Can Find in the Grocery Store [Infographic]

February 15 2013 | Brain Health | Infographic

A fast-paced world requires us to stay mentally sharp.  But the average American diet is doing all it can to keep our brain synapses from firing on all cylinders.  

While life demands more and more from your brain, the food you eat may be giving you a lot of calories without the nutrients you need to meet those demands.

Fortunately, it isn’t hard to find the nutrient-dense foods your brain is craving. So, next time you’re at the grocery store, pass up the processed, sugary items for some of these brain-healthy (and delicious) alternatives:

In general, you want foods that provide 4 things:

  • Omega-3s 
  • Antioxidants
  • Anti-inflammation
  • Blood circulation
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Why Omega-3s for the Brain

Your brain is mostly composed of fat, and it needs fatty acids to process information and for brain cells to communicate.  Omega-3 fatty acids – particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – play an essential role in allowing brain cells to transmit signals properly. Lack of DHA can cause brain signals to become garbled and difficult to read. The harder it is for your brain cells to talk to one another, the harder it is for you to control mood, concentrate, and remember things. 

Research also suggests that DHA can actually help you feel happier by prompting your body to release serotonin, the chemical the body uses to boost mood and relieve depression. 

Why Antioxidants for the Brain?

Eating foods rich in antioxidants helps control the buildup of free radicals. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and halt the damaging effects they have on the body. Berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, goji berries, and many others are a great source of antioxidants, as are a variety of nuts and seeds.

Why Blood Circulation for the Brain?

While only making up two percent of total body weight, the brain consumes 20 percent of the oxygen your body takes it. Your brain needs oxygen, and your blood is what delivers it. Having a healthy blood flow means that oxygen and nutrients can keep the brain going at full power.  Foods like goji berries naturally promote circulation. 

Why Anti-Inflammatory Foods?

Various factors contribute to the gradual decline of mental acuity as we age. Recent studies suggest  that inflammation, high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, obesity, arterial inelasticity and a condition known as metabolic syndrome are all risk factors and can lead to a decline in brain health.

13 Super Brain Foods:

Fish: Salmon, anchovies, mackerel, tuna

Awash with nutrients, coldwater fish like salmon are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in strengthening synapses in your brain, strengthening brain function and memory. One concern that many have about consuming fish are the levels of mercury that accumulate through the food chain and residing in salmon. To avoid contaminates, experts recommend eating wild salmon. Wild Salmon is also an excellent source of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two potent omega-3 fatty acids that douse inflammation. Sardines, anchovies, and mackerel are also packed with brain-healthy omega-3s, but have lower levels of mercury that may be found in other fish. They’re easy to find canned in grocery stores and you can easily make them an ingredient in snacks and meals. 

Turmeric

This Asian spice Turmeric is commonly found in pre-mixed curry powder and contains a powerful, non-toxic compound called curcumin. Studies found that turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects are on a par with many potent drugs yet has none of their side effects. Although we don’t recommend substituting anything in place of a doctor’s advice. 

In studies, Turmeric upregulates LDL receptor activity. 

Mushrooms: 

For thousands of years, the Chinese have revered mushrooms, specifically Shiitake, Cordyceps, and Reishi, for their immune-boosting properties. Mushrooms may reduce platelet aggregation, increase blood flow, and supports lower cholesterol levels. See also: Why Mushrooms Might be the Ultimate SuperFood.

Avocado

Many consider avocadoes to be the food of the gods. This nutrient-packed fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit) is high in monosaturated fat, which helps lower cholesterol and improve blood flow. Since the brain uses 20% of all oxygen the body consumes, it’s vital to have healthy blood flow to carry oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Avocados are a good source for omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E, which functions as an antioxidant and promotes healthy brain activity. 

Go Nuts!

Researchers have linked tree nuts to a decreased risk of many diseases. Now there’s evidence that they also improve cognition. Most have high concentrations of vitamin E, B vitamins, antioxidants, magnesium, minerals and Omega-3s. All support the nervous system.  

The walnut’s shape resembles a brain, so why shouldn’t it be a brain food? It is! Rich in both omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, walnuts offer a variety of benefits for brain health.  Since omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in meats, walnuts provide a great non-meat alternative. They can help you concentrate and protect your brain against the effects of aging. Walnuts have also been shown to improve mood by influencing the brain’s serotonin levels. For those who suffer from depression, insomnia, or related issues, walnuts may be a helpful food to munch on.

Almonds may help save your memory. In studies on laboratory mice, the rodents rendered temporarily amnesiac were more apt to remember their way around a maze 24 hours later if they first consumed an almond paste. The evidence suggests that almonds slow the decline in cognitive abilities linked to Alzheimer's disease. Investigators attribute the memory effects to the presence of the essential amino acid phenylalanine and L-carnitine, believed to boost neurotransmitters essential to memory.

Brazil nuts can spare the obese the vascular damage associated with adiposity. An excess of fat tissue stimulates low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which can lead to cardiovascular disease.

With high levels of unsaturated fatty acids and bioactive substances that combat inflammation--selenium, phenolic compounds, folate, magnesium among them--Brazil nuts improved microcirculation, lowered cholesterol levels, and normalized blood lipid profiles without causing weight gain in 17 obese female adolescents.

Green Tea

China’s favorite drink has been shown to provide many benefits for memory and spatial learning, and may impact cellular mechanisms in the brain. The organic chemical, EGCG (epigallocatechin-3 gallate) that is also found in green tea extract, is a key property of green tea and is a known antioxidant. EGCG is also found to boost the production of neural progenitor cells, which like stems cells can adapt, or differentiate, into various type of cells. In laboratory studies, EGCG enhances learning and memory by improving object and spatial memory. 

Seeds: Flax, Chia, hemp, sesame

These small seeds provide big benefits for both the body and the brain. An even more potent source of omega-3 fatty acids than walnuts, and also a source of B vitamins, eating flaxseeds can be a great way to give your brain cells what they need for improved cognitive function and memory. Flaxseed is also a source of manganese, which acts as a powerful antioxidant.  It’s best to grind flaxseed before eating it, since the body has difficulty absorbing the seed’s nutrients when left in its natural state. 

Chia seeds are a super-food that the ancient Mayans and Aztecs heavily relied upon. These seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and contain more antioxidants than blueberries. Add chia seeds to your diet for improved concentration, memory, mood, and protection against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. 

Sesame and hemp seeds contain plant sterols that help modulate the immune system and bring down an overreaction. 

Quinoa

Quinoa is an all-around good grain. It makes up a complete protein, containing all nine of the essential amino acids. Quinoa is also an excellent source of iron, which is needed to produce energy for the brain’s neurons. It is also rich in riboflavin (or vitamin B2), which is another important energy source. Since the brain consumes such a large amount of the body’s energy, it’s important to eat the right foods to supply it. Riboflavin also functions as an antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Cruciferous Vegetables: Broccoli, Kale, Spinach, Collard Greens, Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower, and cabbage

Kids may not consider this the world’s best-tasting food, but broccoli has become highly regarded for being a great source of nutrients. One thing that it’s rich in is Vitamin K, which has been shown to prevent arterial calcification in the brain, which may be linked to Alzheimer’s. Vitamin K also plays a role in creating important fats that the brain needs to perform properly. Other good sources for Vitamin K are kale, spinach, collard greens, and brussels sprouts. Broccoli also contains sulforaphane that helps the body get rid of potentially carcinogenic compounds. In studies, broccoli, red cabbage and sulforaphane have been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.  

Sweet Potato

A good complex carbohydrate, it’s also a good source of beta-carotene, manganese, vitamin B6 and C as well as dietary fiber. Combined, these are powerful antioxidants that support inflammation in the body.

Berries: Blackberries, Blueberries, Goji Berries, StrawBerries, Cranberries -- there is no bad berry

Adding berries to your diet can help your brain better process information stay mentally sharp. Loaded up with polyphenols and antioxidants, berries can help reduce inflammation in brain cells, making it easier for them to talk to each other. Polyphenols found in blackberries also help reduce accumulation of toxins in the brain. 

Some evidence suggests blueberries, strawberries and cranberries can improve metabolic syndrome through lessoning inflammation. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to slow brain aging. Virgin olive oil is Mediterranean’s secret to longevity. Its rich supply of polyphenols protects the heart and blood vessels from inflammation. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are also turned into anti-inflammatory agents by the body that can lower occurrences of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Water

Don’t forget this important nutrient. Water makes up 85% of brain weight. A study in Neurology found that dehydration decreases brain volume, and rehydration increases cerebral volume significantly. 

Sources: 
Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods You’ve Got to Know http://theconsciouslife.com/top-10-anti-inflammatory-foods.htm
Brainy Beverage: Study Reveals How Green Tea Boosts Brain Cell Production to Aid Memory http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/09/120905083852.htm
Influence of dietary blueberry and broccoli on cecal microbiota activity and colon morphology in mdr1a(-/-) mice, a model of inflammatory bowel diseases http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22113065
Research reveals a broccoli boost for arteries http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_4-9-2009-15-8-42
Strawberries, Blueberries, and Cranberries in the Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Perspectives. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22082311
Curcumin up-regulates LDL receptor expression via the sterol regulatory element pathway in HepG2 cells. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1870488
Tweaking dietary fat intake could help slow brain aging, study suggests http://www.boston.com/dailydose/2012/05/18/tweaking-dietary-fat-intake-could-help-slow-brain-aging-study-suggests/OO7tmvxhB2E8V0algT7DlL/story.html
Time to go nuts: Nuts may extend brain and body power http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-04-04/lifestyle/sns-201204031830--tms--premhnstr--k-i20120404apr04_1_brazil-nuts-acids-vitamin
Dehydration confounds the assessment of brain atrophy http://www.neurology.org/content/64/3/548.abstract
Why Mushrooms Might Be The Ultimate Superfood  http://www.naturessunshine.com/blog/post/mushrooms.aspx

 

 

 

 

 


Understanding and Strengthening Nervous System Health [Slideshow]

February 14 2013 | Brain Health | Nervous System

The health and function of the entire body is dependent on the health of the nervous system. A variety of factors, including diet, environmental toxins, stress and emotion can affect the nervous system. Watch this slideshow to understand how your nervous system works and how you can help it stay healthy.

See the slides below, or view the entire webinar with audio here: Nature's Sunshine Webinars


You are Electric

Everything in your body is connected:

  • Nerve cells
  • Electrical impulses
  • Chemical messengers

The nervous system “wires” us together!

Your Brain is Complex

Your brain:

  • Houses 98% of your body’s neurons
  • Makes up only 2% of your body weight
  • Consumes 25% of your oxygen
  • Consumes as much as 20% of your sugar

Let’s take better care of our brain and nervous system!

You are What You Eat

This phrase particularly applies to the brain. A “junk food” diet short-circuits your mental attitude and your emotional responses creating a “trashy” brain. With the poor diet of most Americans, nervous system disorders like stress, depression, anxiety and insomnia are on the rise 

Understanding the Nervous System

The nervous system consists of conscious and unconscious areas:

  • Brain
  • Spinal column
  • Peripheral Nerves

Conscious/Voluntary

  • Perceive through senses
  • Move skeletal muscles
  • Regulate conscious actions
Unconscious/Involuntary
  • Known as “Autonomic”
  • Keeps your heart beating
  • Digests your food
  • Regulates temperature
  • Makes sure you breathe
  • Takes care of everything you don’t have to think about!
  • Autonomic is divided into 2 parts

 

Autonomic Nervous Systeem


This is divided into the Sympathetic , which gets us charged or "wired up" and the Parasympathetic, which helps us wind down and relax. 

The Sympathetic Nervous System -- When we're excited, stressed or scared, the sympathetic nervous system:

  • Tenses our muscles
  • Makes our heart beat faster
  • Moves blood away from digestive organs
  • Shuts down elimination
The Parasympathetic Nervous System -- As we relax and unwind, the parasympathetic nervous system:

  • Moves blood to the digestive organs
  • relaxes muscles
  • Aids elimination
  • Initiates healing and self repair

Care For Your Brain and Nerves

The nervous system is probably the most nutritionally sensitive system in the body. Long before you feel physical conditions, you’ll notice mental and emotional conditions from poor nutrition, such as:

  • Fuzzy thinking (brain fog)
  • Absentmindedness
  • Mental confusion
  • Nervousness

These can lead to chronic insomnia, anxiety, depression and memory loss.

Other Facts about the brain:
  • The brain is 70% water,  so it is sensitive to dehydration
  • 50-60% of the “dry” weight of your brain is fat, 35% being omega 3
  • DHA is most abundant type of omega 3 in the brain
  • B-vitamins are essential to lower risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia

The Brain and Blood Sugar

Your brain consumes the most glucose of any organ. But, if you get too much sugar, you might experience:

  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness

If you don't get enough sugar, you may experience:

  • Hypoglycemia
  • Mental confusion
  • Shakiness
  • Fatigue

 

But just because your brain needs sugar, doesn't mean you should fill it with candy. Simple sugars contribute to brain fog. Complex sugars found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains stabalize blood sugar and nourish the brain. And try to include protein and good fats with your meals. 

Toxins and the Nervous System

Toxins pose a significant threat to the nervous system. Some of the toxins we're exposed to frequently include:

  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Chemical solvents
  • Pesticides & herbicides
  • Excessive caffeine
  • Refined sugar
  • White flour
  • Hydrogenated oils

How Stress and Anxiety Affects the Brain

  • Stress response is healthy and normal - too much is hurtful
  • Sympathetic nerves are activated (wind-up)
  • Parasympathetic are inhibited (relax)
  • Blood shifted from digestive organs to muscles

Consequences of Long-term Stress

  • Most dangers aren’t physical, but feel like a threat to our survival
  • Continuous activation of the stress response can lead to “burn out”
  • Many people live with emotional and nervous exhaustion

5 Helpful Ways to Manage Our Stress

  1. Stop and Take a Deep breath -- Fastest way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This can restores calm and clear thinking. Breathing slow and deep counteracts the effects of stress
  2. Use Adaptogenic Herbs (Adaptamax) -- Adaptogens mediate the output of stress hormones, which gives you clearer thinking and helps you feel calmer and more relaxed.  
  3. B-Vitamins Help You Be Calm -- B-vitamins are vital for the nervous system. When depleted, refined carbohydrates increase anxiety and nervousness. Look to whole grains and take a good anti-stress vitamin and mineral supplement like Nutri-Calm.
  4. Get Physical and Active -- Stress hormones prime the body for action. Even taking a walk when stressed clears your head.
  5. Pamper Yourself -- Pleasurable experience does more good for the body than a stressful one does harm. Pleasure enhances health, energy, and emotional well being. Get a massage, engage in a hobby or activity. Take a relaxing bath, listen to beautiful music, and surround yourself with pleasant fragrances.  

Depression And the Nervous System

  • 18.8 million American adults suffer from depression
  • Anti-depressants are used to artificially increase serotonin
  • Complex sugars help increase serotonin naturally without the “letdown”

Age Related Memory Loss

  • Mostly associated with oxidative stress
  • The brain is sensitive to inflammation and free radicals
  • Feed the brain with antioxidant-rich foods
  • Thai-Go and Super Orac are other great ways to give the brain antioxidants
  • Brain Protex is another product designed for longevity and overall wellness that provides protection against free radical damage, and may help block the enzyme responsible for the breakdown of acetylcholine.

How to Protect Brain Health for Meaningful and Healthy Aging [Science Update]

February 13 2013 | Brain Health | Nervous System

Brain Preservation

Protecting brain health is imperative for meaningful and healthy aging.

Scientific and medical wisdom suggest that some degree of cognitive decline is part of the aging process. The possibility of living longer and healthier lives is within reach, but brain health must be preserved while achieving this goal.

For this reason, it’s quite encouraging to learn that scientists have discovered that neurological structure and function can be preserved and even restored. We can now offer scientifically substantiated approaches to enhancing our cognitive health.

Factors That Lead to Mental Decline

Various factors contribute to the gradual decline of mental acuity as we age. Recent studies suggest that inflammation, high blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, obesity, arterial inelasticity and a condition known as metabolic syndrome are all risk factors and can lead to a decline in brain health.

Anxiety and depression can also predispose an individual to a deterioration of brain health. A good strategy for preserving brain function starts with preventing illnesses that are known to contribute to cognitive decline. The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” definitely applies here. Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are obviously beneficial to brain health and a great place to start. A healthy neurological system is also dependent on keeping blood pressure and body weight in check, avoiding diabetes and its precursor metabolic syndrome, as well as treating depression and anxiety disorders.

Supplements that Support Brain Health

A number of well-known dietary supplement ingredients support brain health. Nerve cells (neurons) have a high-energy demand, and hence free radicals are abundant due to a high level of oxidative metabolism within neurons. Antioxidants scavenge these free radicals and thus minimize neuronal damage. Alpha-lipoic acid is quite valuable for neuronal protection because of solubility characteristics that allow considerable free radical-neutralizing activity within nerve cell mitochondria.

Inflammation is implicated in a wide variety of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease. Ginkgo biloba leaf extract (GBE) is well known for its neuroprotective effects mediated through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action. GBE has been used extensively for memory enhancement as well as in a wide variety of dementias. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), have been used quite frequently to combat neurological damage and inflammation.

Phosphatidylserine (PS) and related phospholipids are integral components of every cell membrane and are particularly abundant in brain neuronal membranes. In Europe and Japan, PS is sold as a prescription drug to remedy memory loss and learning deficits. We have known for years that declining levels of the essential neurotransmitter acetylcholine is responsible for a wide range of cognitive deficits(1). 

By boosting acetylcholine levels in the brain, cognitive deficits are reversed. One approach to increasing brain acetylcholine levels involves inhibiting acetylcholine esterase, the enzyme responsible for acetylcholine metabolism or breakdown.

Many of the prescription drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias act as cholinesterase inhibitors. Huperzine A is a naturally occurring cholinesterase inhibitor sold as a nutritional supplement. This alkaloid is isolated and purified from extracts of the Chinese club moss, Huperzia serrata. Huperzine A has been found to be both potent and effective in elevating brain levels of acetylcholin(2).

I have always thought of progesterone as having an important role in female health. It has been known for quite some time that progesterone is also produced by males but at much lower levels. Recently, it was discovered that progesterone is synthesized in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves from the precursor molecule pregnenolone (3). 

I was surprised to learn that within the brain and the nervous system in general, progesterone offers neuroprotection and is intimately involved with the formation of myelin sheaths. These findings suggest that progesterone, now referred to as a neurosteroid, has the potential to preserve cognitive functions because of these neuroprotective and promyelinating effects. Very recently, animal studies revealed that progesterone inhibited the inflammatory response and enhanced the recovery from traumatic brain injury and stroke (4). 

Conclusion

At this point, the conclusion is that progesterone supports brain health and combats neurodegeneration that may occur during the aging process. The brain, like any other organ or system in the body, is subject to the aging process. During this process, physical and biochemical changes in brain cells can lead to various degrees of cognitive impairment. This loss of brain function as we age is not inevitable. 

Scientific research has demonstrated mechanisms that explain cognitive decline as well as nutrients/supplement ingredients that can slow and even reverse the progression of age-related brain degeneration. Natural supplements provide a smart option for maintaining optimal brain health throughout life.

By Dr. William J. Keller

 

Download a PDF version of this article here.


 

 

References

1. Bartus RT, Dean RL, Beer B, Lippa AS. The cholinergic hypothesis of geriatric memory dysfunction. Science. 1982 Jul 30;217(4558):408-14. Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7046051

2. Jellin, JD. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. 2010. pp. 926-929.

3. Schumacher M, et al. Local synthesis and dual actions of progesterone in the nervous system: neuroprotection and myelination. Growth Hormone IGF Research. 2004 Jun;14 SupplA:S18-33. Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15135772

4. Wang J, et al. The protective mechanism of progesterone on bloodbrain barrier in cerebral ischemia in rats. Brain Research Bulletin. 2009 Aug 14;79(6):426-30. Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19477244.

 


7 Factors that Cause Cognitive Decline

February 6 2013 | Brain Health | Nervous System

 

Cognition is a group of mental processes that includes attention, memory, producing and understanding language, learning, reasoning, problem solving, and decision making. Nervous system decline can lead to cognitive impairments, ranging from mild memory loss to dementia.

Recent studies have pointed to various factors that may contribute to the gradual decline of mental acuity as we age. The good news is that these factors are at least somewhat preventable when we apply knowledge, good nutrition and healthy habits. Some of those factors that can lead to cognitive decline include: 

Go here to learn more about nervous system health and here to see some herbs for the nervous system.

Factors the Lead to Cognitive Decline


1. Inflammation. Inflammation is a protective process that the body uses to fight off pathogens and to respond to injuries. However the inflammation process can become a chronic condition in which the inflammation process occurs regardless of infection or injury. Chronic inflammation is associated with many health issues from allergies to arthritis. New research also suggests that chronic inflammation can lead to cognitive decline, most likely due to the way inflammation disrupts the integrity of the blood-brain barrier.

2. High blood pressure. Your brain relies on a constant, nourishing blood supply. High blood pressure can narrow and block the arteries supplying blood to the brain, which can lead to cognitive problems. Evidence suggests that high blood pressure occurring as early as middle age can increase the risk of dementia later.

3. Insulin levels. Both high blood glucose levels and high insulin levels have been linked to cognitive dementia.

4. Obesity. Particularly in middle age, obesity is strongly correlated with later dementia. Research conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. found that individuals who were obese (as measured by the body mass index) in their 30s and 40s were 74 percent more likely than those of a healthy weight to develop dementia.

5. Arterial inelasticity can lead to vascular dementia, a term for cognitive impairments associated with impaired blood flow in the brain. Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, behind Alzheimer’s.

6. Metabolic syndrome is a name given to a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and accelerated decline in brain health. The symptoms of metabolic syndrome are strongly correlated with obesity, including accumulation of fat concentrated around the waist, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar levels.

7. Anxiety and depression are linked with increased risk of cognitive impairments, possibly as a result of the high levels of cortisol released through chronic psychological distress.

You can develop strategies now to preserve brain function. The maxim, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is good advice.

Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are beneficial to brain health and should be part of a daily health routine. A healthy nervous system is also dependent on keeping blood pressure and body weight in check, avoiding diabetes and its precursor, metabolic syndrome, as well as treating depression and anxiety disorders.

 


15 Surprising Facts About the Human Brain [Infographic]

February 5 2013 | Brain Health | Infographic | Nervous System

Did you know your brain has 100,000 miles worth of blood vessels, enough to circle the Earth four times? Did you know there are 100 billion neurons? Did you know 20% of the oxygen you inhale is used by the brain?

Science is still trying to unlock all the mysteries of the human brain, which is much more than a fascinating organ and a remarkable computing device. Check out OnlineSchools.org graphic revealing 15 surprising facts about the most important organ of the body:


15 Things You Didn't Know About the Brain

How the Nervous System Works and Affects Everything in the Body

February 4 2013 | Brain Health | Nervous System

The human nervous system is an amazing network of organs, nerve cells (neurons) and and neurotransmitters, connecting the brain and spinal cord to the entire body.

It runs on electricity, sending and receiving signals at lightning speed to keep every part of the body functioning effectively.

The nervous truly helps regulate everything happening in your body, whether it’s occurring consciously or unconsciously. It is divided into two branches: 

  • Conscious/voluntary — controls perception, analysis, memory, movement
  • Unconscious/involuntary (also called Autonomic) — takes care of all of the things you don’t think about, such as your heartbeat, digestion, regulating body temperature, breathing, etc.

Your Autonomic branch is further divided into two smaller branches:

  •  Sympathetic 
  • Parasympathetic

The Sympathetic nervous system gets you prepared for activity. It increases mental activity, heart rate and blood pressure, dilates the bronchials, slows or halts digestion, stimulates the release of stress hormones, makes goose bumps on the skin and more. When we’re excited, stressed or scared, the sympathetic nervous system gears us up for action (fight or flight) but shuts down digestion and elimination.

The Parasympathetic nervous system helps you wind down, relax and digest your food. It relaxes mental activity, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, increases the flow of blood to the extremities, constricts bronchials and stimulates digestion. As we relax and unwind, the parasympathetic nervous system moves blood to the digestive organs, relaxes muscles and allows elimination.

Nervous System Sending Messages

A stimulated nerve cell fires an electrical impulse that moves across the cell. At the end of the cell, this electricity triggers the nerve to squirt neurotransmitters (specialized chemicals) into the gap between this cell and the next one. These chemicals fill the space and either stimulate the next cell or prevent it from firing another electrical impulse, depending on what is needed.

Neurotransmitters control or regulate all kinds of things, including depression, addictions, mood, appetite, sleep, certain diseases of the brain and nervous system, and ADHD. Key neurotransmitters include:

  • Serotonin helps control mood, hunger, sleep, pain response and more.
  • Acetylcholine aids in memory and muscle movement. When the brain is short on acetylcholine, memory suffers.
  • Dopamine is responsible for sexual arousal and muscle coordination. Parkinson’s disease sufferers lack this neurotransmitter.
  • GABA helps prevent anxiety and increases mental clarity.
  • Epinephrine is released during times of stress. It can raise blood pressure and heart rate. It also opens the bronchioles to help restore normal breathing.
  • Norepinephrine helps maintain constant blood pressure when levels get too low.

As you can see, the vast network of the human nervous system affects or controls EVERYTHING in the body. It pays to take great care of your nervous system with a healthful diet, the right supplements and plenty of rest.

Go here to learn more about nervous system health and here to see some herbs for the nervous system.   

 


Why the Best Medicine Might Be Your Right and Left Feet

January 16 2013 | Brain Health | Exercise | General

Put your left foot in front of you right, and then your right foot in front of your left, and then repeat.

That's called walking. And it could be the best thing for your overall health. 

The historian Geroge Mcaulay Trevelyan wrote in 1913 that his two doctors were "My left leg and my right." 

The truth in that statment is coming to light every day with new studies and reports. The Guardian published an article titled, "Walking could protect brain against shrinking," based off research published by U.S. neuroligitsts who monitored 300 volunteers over 13 years. The report says walking may ward off a variety of conditions, such as Alzheimer's and dementia.

In the study, those who walked the most cut their risk of developing memory problems by half. And it suggested people try to walk 9 miles a week, the optimum distance for "neurological exercise."

Those that walked about 9 miles a week had larger brains and dimentia or cognitive impairment was 50% greater on those who only walked short distances. 

"Our results should encourage well-designed trials of physical exercise in older adults as a promising approach for preventing dementia and Alzheimer's disease," Dr Kirk Erickson, of Pittsburgh University, who led the study said. "Brain size inevitably shrinks in late adulthood, which can cause memory problems. "But if regular exercise in midlife could improve brain health, thinking and memory in later life, it would be one more reason to make regular exercise in people of all ages a public health imperative."

Why Sitting is Killing Us

 

Image via http://visual.ly/sitting-killing-you

The dangers of sitting might be equal or greater than the benefits of walking. 

In a Gizmodo article, "Sitting Is the Smoking of Our Generation," Nilofer Merchant lays out the case against sitting on our tush all day. Merchant writes:

"After 1 hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat declines by as much as 90%. Extended sitting slows the body's metabolism affecting things like (good cholesterol) HDL levels in our bodies.

"Research shows that this lack of physical activity is directly tied to 6% of the impact for heart diseases, 7% for type 2 diabetes, and 10% for breast cancer, or color cancer. You might already know that the death rate associated with obesity in the US is now 35 million. But do you know what it is in relationship to Tobacco? Just 3.5 million.

"The New York Times reported on another study, published last year in the journal Circulation that looked at nearly 9,000 Australians and found that for each additional hour of television a person sat and watched per day, the risk of dying rose by 11%. In that article, a doctor is quoted as saying that excessive sitting, which he defines as nine hours a day, is a lethal activity."

Physical inactivity has also been labeled a public health issue, and the health risks of physical inactivity are similar to smoking, according to the US National Library of Medicine

So, what can you do to move your body? 


A good start might be to putting your left foot in front of your right foot more often. Get to the gym. And when you're not in the gym, hit the stairs instead of the elevator. Interrupt sitting whenever you can.  Stretch more. Walk around at lunch time. On a phone call? Pace around the room instead of plopping down on the chair. Look for every excuse to move your body. Stand up for your right to stand up.  

Need more motivation? 


Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, wrote: "Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, too, put his health down to shoe leather, writing: "I measure your health by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you have worn out."

 


13 Tips For Healthy Aging

December 11 2012 | Brain Health | Exercise | Family Health | General | Nutrition | Sleep

The fountain of youth … a magical elixir that prevents aging, illness and death. 

It sounds great, but for those of us with a more realistic outlook on life, we can do simple things right now to feel good and to help give our bodies their best shot at longevity.

Here are 13 of them:

 

13 Ways to Age Healthy

 

1. Stay active. Keep moving. Walk, work in the garden, play tennis or golf. Do anything that sounds fun if you can. Not all of us will be skydiving on our 80th birthday, but regular activity keeps the circulatory and respiratory systems in better shape, burns calories, warms us up, and helps lower the risk of debilitating diseases. And it’s good stress therapy.

2. Use your brain every day. Do mental math, crossword puzzles, jumbles, etc. Keep those neurons firing and active to help preserve healthy neural pathways. Also eat brain foods and brain supplements known to support brain health and function.  

3. Antioxidants. Fight cellular damage to your skin, eyes and circulatory system by getting plenty of antioxidants in your diet. These nutrients have extra electrons that neutralize dangerous free radicals caused by sunlight, pollution, radiation and other things in our environment. Choose colorful fruits and vegetables, including leafy greens like spinach, purple and red fruits, orange and yellow veggies, tomatoes, dark chocolate and more. Or drink your antioxidants in a potent beverage like Thai-Go® or in a supplement like Super Orac.

4. Put things on your calendar. Look forward to a concert, a family gathering, lunch with friends, etc. Australian researchers found that elderly people who are more social live longer compared to those with fewer friends.

5. Drink plenty of water. Proper hydration keeps blood and waste moving and helps the kidneys flush toxins and waste out of the body.

6. Take a nap! Naps may help combat stress in the body. One study of 24,000 people found that those who take a nap regularly are 1/3 less likely to die from heart disease than those who don’t get regular naps. 

7. Go fishing. At the dinner table that is. Fish provides important essential fatty acids, including omega 3s and 6s, that are often lacking in our diets. These EFAs support circulation, heart health, brain health, blood pressure and more.

8. Eat less. Cutting back on calorie consumption by 20–25% is enough to increase your lifespan markedly. Instead of filling your stomach, fill your time with learning, moving and socializing.

9. Get a little nutty. Adding uncooked nuts and seeds to your diet adds important trace minerals like selenium and the essential amino acid tryptophan. The former helps quench free radicals and eliminate heavy metals, and the latter helps with both mood and sleep.

10. Pray. A 12-year study of adults over 65 shows that people who attend religious services more than once a week had stronger immune systems that those who did not attend services. They were also less likely to die. Worshipping together creates strong social bonds between friends, which may boost health.

11. Sprinkle on the seasonings. Shakespeare was right. Rosemary is for remembrance. Cooking with herbs like rosemary, sage and turmeric can help improve mood and memory.

12. Watch your waistline. Being overweight puts you at risk for heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis and other unwelcome conditions. Stay active and eat smart to keep your weight in check and disease at bay.

13. Invest in a healthy future. Get a physical once a year, and stay on top of your recommended health screenings.

 

Sources: WebMD

http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/food_coach&id=8909209


 


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