Animal studies conducted at the National Institute on Aging Gerontology Research Center and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for example, have shown that both calorie restriction and intermittent fasting along with vitamin and mineral intake, increase resistance to disease, extend lifespan, and stimulate production of neurons from stem cells.
In addition, fasting has been shown to enhance synaptic elasticity, possibly increasing the ability for successful re-wiring following brain injury. These benefits appear to result from a cellular stress response, similar in concept to the greater muscular regeneration that results from the stress of regular exercise.
Additional research suggests that increasing time intervals between meals might be a better choice than chronic calorie restriction, because the resultant decline in sex hormones may adversely affect both sexual and brain performance. Sex steroid hormones testosterone and estrogen are positively impacted by an abundant food supply. In other words, you might get smarter that way, but it might adversely affect your fun in the bedroom, among other drawbacks.
But if your not keen on starving yourself, there are other options. Another recent finding, stemming from the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and Iwate University in Japan, reports that the herb rosemary contains an ingredient that fights off free radical damage in the brain. The active ingredient, known as carnosic acid (CA), can protect the brain from stroke and neurodegeneration such as Alzheimer’s and from the effects of normal aging.
Although researchers are patenting more potent forms of isolated compounds in this herb, unlike most new drugs, simply using the rosemary in its natural state may be the most safe and clinically tolerated because it is known to get into the brain and has been consumed by people for over a thousand years. The herb was used in European folk medicine to help the nervous system.
Another brain booster that Bruce N. Ames, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, swears by his daily 800 mg of alpha-lipoic acid and 2,000 mg of acetyl-L-carnitine, chemicals which boost the energy output of mitochondria that power our cells. Mitochondrial decay is a major factor in aging and diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes. Elderly rats on these supplements had more energy and ran mazes better.
Omega-3s fatty acids DHA and EPA found in walnuts and fatty fish (such as salmon, sardines, and lake trout) are thought to help ward off Alzheimer's disease. (In addition, they likely help prevent depression and have been shown to help prevent sudden death from heart attack).
Turmeric, typically found in curry, contains curcumin, a chemical with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In India, it is even used as a salve to help heal wounds. East Asians also eat it, which might explain their lower rates (compared to the United States) of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, in addition to various cancers. If curry isn’t part of your favorite cuisines, you might try a daily curcumin supplement of 500 to 1,000 mg.
Physical exercise may also have beneficial effects on neuron regeneration by stimulating regeneration of brain and muscle cells via activation of stress proteins and the production of growth factors. But again, additional research suggests that not all exercise is equal. Interestingly, some researchers found that exercise considered drudgery was not beneficial in neuronal regeneration, but physical activity that was engaged in purely for fun, even if equal time was spent and equal calories were burned, resulted in neuronal regeneration.
Exercise can also help reduce stress, but any stress-reducing activity, such as meditation and lifestyle changes, can help the brain. There is some evidence that chronic stress shrinks the parts of the brain involved in learning, memory, and mood. (It also delays wound healing, promotes atherosclerosis, and increases blood pressure.)
It should go without saying that short-term cognitive and physical performance is not boosted by fasting, due to metabolic changes including decrease in body temperature, decreased heart rate and blood pressure and decreased glucose and insulin levels, so you’re better off not planning a marathon or a demanding work session during a fasting period.
As part of a healthy lifestyle the prescription of moderating food intake, exercising, and eating anti-oxidant rich foods is what we’ve long known will boost longevity, but it’s good to know that we can bring our brains along with us as we make it into those golden years without being the 1 in 7 who suffers from dementia. Keep your fingers crossed and eat some rosemary chicken.
Posted by Rebecca Sato
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Anson, R. M., Guo, Z, de Cabo, R., Iyun, T., Rios, M., Hagepanos, A., Ingram, D. K., Lane, M. A. & Mattson, M. P. (2003, April 30). Intermittent fasting dissociates beneficial effects of dietary restriction on glucose metabolism and neuronal resistance to injury from calorie intake. National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.
Duan, W., Guo, Z., Jaing, H., Ware, M., Li, X-J., & Mattson, M. P. (2003). Dietary Restriction Normalizes Glucose Metabolism and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Levels, Slows Disease Progression and Increases Survival in Huntington Mutant Mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition.
Jaret, P., & Martin, A. (2003). Miss a meal, add years to your life. Health, 17(9), 41-44.
Von Bubnoff, A., & Lloyd, J. (2006). Prevention's anti-aging guide: How to take off 10 years or more. Prevention, 58(9), 166-213.
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