Getting smarter with age

Posted on: 29th June, 2017

Category: Health

Contributor: Hannah Dare

Getting smarter with age’ is the title of an article by a doctor and health writer I follow called Christine Northrup. Surprised? So was I! But I was also intrigued, so I did some digging. My mother gave me one of Dr Northrup’s first books called ‘Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom’ when I was 20, and I have found it a great resource for over 20 years. So when she published a video that claimed we could all get smarter with age, I sat up and watched! And then I realised this was information worth sharing.

Many of us know someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or Dementia, or we are close to someone who has a family member who suffers. And from reading the newspapers you would think brain and memory decline is inevitable as we age, as it is certainly on the rise in many Western countries. However, Christine Northrup argues that we shouldn’t just accept that our mental sharpness will decline with age – she maintains we are in charge of our own lives and we can influence how our health develops into our older years.

In fact, her basic premise is that, contrary to popular belief, our brains can actually increase in size as we age, given the right conditions! Depending on our lifestyle, our hippocampus, which is our memory centre, can actually grow as we age.

‘Researchers have found that new growth in brain cells (called neurogenesis) is enhanced under the influence of a protein known as BDNF, which is produced in animals when they get aerobic exercise. We now have solid evidence that the same thing happens in humans.’ Dr Northrup is drawing on research carried out in the University of Pittsburgh in 2015 by Professor Kirk Erikson, which studied 120 adults over the course of a year. Half the group were given stretching exercises to do three times a week, and the other half we given aerobic exercises three times a week. After the year was up, the group was measured for three things relevant to brain function and memory, and the results were astounding. The stretching group were very flexible but their tests showed a reduction in the size of their Hippocampus, also called the memory centre, and a reduction in their memory. The group who did the aerobic exercise had increased the size of their Hippocampus, had improved their memory and had increased their blood levels of BDNF.

‘Aerobic exercise – which can be started at any age – increases the growth of new stem cells in the brain, which grow into fully functioning neurons and lead to better brain function,’ states Christine Northrup. Her recommendations are that we do some aerobic exercise six times a week for 20 minutes, and add a good DHA supplement to our diets, in order to give ourselves the best possible chance to prevent cognitive decline as we age.

‘Eat butter to protect your brain’. I don’t know about you, but I love butter. So I read on. Dr Northrup delves into the connections between carbs/sugar and inflammation, and inflammation and cognitive decline. She quotes Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist and author of ‘Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers’, who has discovered exactly what the title of his book suggests. Gluten, carbs, and sugar can affect your brain’s health.

‘Consuming large quantities of gluten and sugar-laden carbs, especially over a long period of time, may lead to conditions such as memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, weight gain, depression, sore muscles, insomnia, or anxiety, as well as neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or seizures’ claims Dr Northrup, who goes on to argue that the way to maintain a healthy brain is to follow a low carb, high fat diet. Dr Northrup claims that there is a growing body of medical evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s could be similar to type 2 Diabetes, which actually is very good news, as it means that there is something we can do about it.

Dr. Permutter reminds us that we need saturated fats…Even human breast milk is 50 per cent saturated fat! And the brain is comprised of 60 per cent fat. Doctors and scientists have now confirmed that you can rebuild your brain, simply by eating these healthy fats. Saturated fats found in butter, beef, and cheese have been made out to be the enemy for about 30 years but now research is showing that these fats are the friend of our brain.

When we were little we were told to eat sardines for the good of our brain. Now the list has gotten longer – avocados, coconut oil, grass-fed beef, wild fish, butter, and cheese are good foods for the brain, too, according to Dr. Permutter. I have to say this makes me very happy! But the list of what we need to cut out of our daily diet is much more challenging – carbs like pasta, potatoes, bread, cakes and biscuits; all foods containing sugar and high sugar fruits.

I know well that following a low carb, low glycemic index diet is not the easiest thing to do – I was on it for six months, and while I felt very well (and looked very well!) I also fell out of the habit quickly once I hit Christmas with all the Christmas treats! But having read these facts, I am going to try again. I have seen cognitive decline on both sides of my family – my maternal Grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and my paternal Grandmother had dementia. Having seen those situations unfold I think giving up sugars and carbs and getting some more aerobic exercise isn’t too big a sacrifice if it gives a chance of getting smarter as I age.

For more information on either of these two topics, you can look up www.drnorthrup.com. We also have a few copies of Grain Brain in stock in Organico, along with Dr. Permutter’s Cookbook to give you some ideas of what a low card diet looks like. Call in to Organico to have a look at the books or to discuss dietary changes or supplements for a healthier brain.

Organico Shop, Cafe and Bakery is open from Monday to Saturday from 9am – 6.15pm. Find us on Facebook (Organico Bantry) or online at www.organico.ie. Call us on (027) 51391. Email info@organico.ie. Or better still visit us on Glengarriff Road, Bantry. See you soon!

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