September is Healthy Aging Month. Aging is not a popular topic in our culture. But aging is distinct from “old,” which is a physical state separate from age. There are old thirty-year-olds and young eighty year-olds. Dr. James Hillman, a Jungian psychologist and author, opens The Force of Character this way:
Aging is no accident. It is necessary to the human condition, intended by the soul. Aging is built into our physiology; yet, to our puzzlement, human life extends long beyond fertility and outlasts muscular usefulness and sensory acuteness. So why do we live so long?
…I cannot support the theory that human longevity is the artificial result of civilization, its science and its social networks, yielding a crop of living mummies, paradoxes suspended in a twilight zone… Instead, let us entertain the idea that character requires the additional years and that the long last of life is forced upon us neither by genes nor by conservational medicine nor by societal collusion. The last years confirm and fulfill character.
If aging is indeed necessary for the soul, I, for one, may need to live 100 years to fully develop my character. But I also know firsthand the challenges of living in a body that ages– one that responds to emotional, physical, and spiritual stresses, one that undergoes “oxidative stress” and “inflammation” and other reactive mechanisms in response to daily life. So how might we mortals preserve our health as time goes by?
Last month, I attended a seminar in Novato, CA, by Dr. Dale Bredesen of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. Dr. Bredsen is a leading researcher on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and has published two recent articles demonstrating significant reversal of cognitive decline through a multi-pronged approach, with dietary modifications being the foundation of his protocol. AD is considered a terminal illness, so Bredesen’s work is redefining how we understand and treat chronic conditions of older age.
Some pearls from his seminar:
- There are 5 different types of AD, based on mechanisms of disease (pathology)
- Beta-amyloid, the protein tangles found in AD patients, turns out to be a protective response; it is part of the innate (inborn) immune system reacting against a harsh environment.
- The hippocampus—the primary center in the brain responsible for emotion and memory that diminishes in AD patients—is “plastic;” in medical terms, this means it can regenerate, demonstrable on MRIs.
- Subjective cognitive impairment usually lasts one decade before “mild cognitive impairment (MCI)” can be measured and diagnosed by a doctor. This is the ideal stage to start lifestyle measures, as the reversibility has the greatest potential.
- Like many other chronic conditions (cancer, osteoporosis, etc), AD is a condition of imbalances between repair/regeneration and cell death/degeneration.
So what are the basics for maintaining brain health?
- Heal your gut. Digestion needs to be optimal for the brain to be optimal. Probiotics, prebiotics, stress reduction, tons of vegetables (greens, others colors, and sulfur-rich vegetables like onions and mushrooms), fiber.
- Keep your blood sugar down. Reduce carbohydrates, especially refined, processed grains and sweeteners. Consider short-term, intermittent fasts (overnight for 12-16 hours).
- Reduce your stress. Or learn how to reduce the effects of stress. Yoga, qigong, meditation. Dr. Bredesen likes the Neural Agility track on RevitaMind’s digital download, a program that uses sound waves to decrease stress hormones and improve memory/concentration.
- Reduce toxic exposures. Screen yourself for heavy metals, reduce exposures to indoor air pollution, do gentle detoxes with lemon juice or wheatgrass or green juicing.
- Check your hormones if you suspect them to be imbalanced.
- Supplement if/when necessary. Antioxidants like vitamin C and E and NAC, minerals like magnesium and zinc and selenium.
- Get off the couch and move. A body declines when it is not needed.
- Get more sleep. This might be the easiest task (unless you have insomnia or sleep apnea or another sleep disturbance; for those in that camp, work with a doctor to improve your sleep quality).
- Find joy. This is a very important factor for keeping healthy brain protein levels up.
At its basics, brain health is a reflection of body health. And body health is a reflection of brain health. By taking care of each other and the bodies we have been given, we might experience a renewed vitality of youth we have forgotten.