One of the powerful attributes that we admire (or even marvel at) among many elderly, age 80, 90, and older, is the “youthfulness” of their mind. Unfortunately, not every one of them is gifted with senior brain power or brain youth when they reach 70 or older, and some have significant physiological “cerebral handicaps” even before they reach 70.
A generation ago, these senior “disabilities” (forgetfulness, diminished cognitive power, reduced mental “energy” in general) were considered normal and inevitable. Today, with the advancement in medical science and technology, we know that many of these “age-related” changes in the anatomy and physiology of the brain are treatable, and many of them even preventable. Science now believes that even Alzheimer’s could be significantly slowed down, if not prevented.
An article in the New York Times asks “Is there hope for your hippocampus, a new lease for your temporal lobe?” Funny as it might sound, this is serious stuff.
Brain calisthenics is in! All over the United States, brain health programs are now a craze, whose objective is to provide “cognitive fountain of youth.” There are now brain gyms on the web, and brain-healthy foods on the shelves of natural nutrition and herbal stores. There are also mental exercise programs and physical activities for the elderly at home and at assisted living centers. All of these are aimed at preserving a healthier mind by slowing down loss of brain cells and ward off the onset of dementia. We want a sharp cerebrum and an alert, youthful, happy, and playful brain, even at age 101.
"This is going to be one of the hottest topics in the next five years,” said Nancy Ceridwyn, co-director of special projects for the American Society on Aging. "The challenge we have is going to be a lot like the anti-aging industry: how much science is there behind this?"
Let’s take Alzheimer’s for example. It is a dreaded condition among the elderly. a severely devastating disease of the brain that, in an instant, totally robs and erases the person’s memory, a nightmare everyone fears. When it occurs, it happens so fast like transforming a well-lit room into total darkness with a flip of a switch. The entire memory bank is emptied, turning even a great, talented mind and a charismatic communicator, like the late President Ronald Reagan, one of the best presidents the United States has ever had, into a confused, non-verbal, totally dependent and helpless stranger, oblivious of his environment, his loved ones, and even of his own self. If we could slow this process down with a “wonder” drug and brain calisthenics, it would be one of the greatest medical discoveries of our time.
Currently, there are a lot of simultaneous activities and programs all over the United States addressing this issue. Alzheimer’s Association and its “Maintain Your Brain” workshop at Apple Computer and Lockheed Martin; MetLife’s 61-page “Love Your Brain” book; Humana’s $495 brain fitness software and “brain fitness camps,” and many others. On the web, we have HappyNeuron.com and MyBrainTrainer.com “for those who wished you could be a little quicker, a little sharper mentally.”
The post-mortem pathology found among Alzheimer’s patients is the abnormal and extensive build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain, which damages the nerve cells and their connections, resulting in memory loss.
The brain exercise we can do daily may include reading, doing cross word puzzle or sudoko (logic), or solving puzzles and riddles for mental agility, watching stimulating shows, like Discovery, National Geographic, Jeopardy, Millionaire, etc. frequent interaction with family and friends, and indulging in philosophical thinking about our environment, nature, universe, etc.
So, while it makes sense to do physical exercises daily and take cholesterol-lowering drug, fish oil, multivitamin and minerals, prescribed by our physician, Gingko Biloba, coffee, tea, and other antioxidants, and abstain from alcohol abuse and tobacco, doing regular mental calisthenics or brain exercises will allow us to maximize the health benefits of those medications listed above. A healthy lifestyle now includes activities geared towards the preservation of our brain power, our cerebral health, our brain youth, even in our senior years.
CGCG From Green Tea
A new study from the University of South Florida (USF) which came out September 2005, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, reported that high doses of an antioxidant ingredient in green tea, called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), significantly reduced by 54% the formation of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain of laboratory mice that were first genetically induced to develop Alzheimer’s for this particular experiment, and then treated with high doses of EGCG.
This substance is among antioxidants called flavonoids found in plants. Abstinence from red meat and eating a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits are known to protect active people against heart attack, stroke and cancer.
Drinking Green Tea Not Enough
There are a variety of antioxidants in green tea, and some of these have been found to decrease the ability of EGCG to reduce beta-amyloid production. So, drinking green tea alone is definitely not enough to ward off Alzheimer’s. There is obviously a need to selectively concentrate the EGCG antioxidant to override the negative effects of the other flavonoids in green tea.
More extensive studies in the laboratory are needed to confirm the efficacy and safety of EGCG, followed by clinical studies in humans, before we get the final word on this issue. But certainly, green tea is a healthier beverage compared to the colas, alcoholic drinks and to the so-called “energy drinks” that are now flooding the market and are potentially dangerous to health, with their irresponsible and baseless claims.
Fatty Acids from Plants Show Promise
A fatty acid in safflower, corn, and sunflower oils may help prevent Alzheimer’s in some people, according to Sara M. Debanne, PhD, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.
“In people who did not have the inherited Alzheimer’s risk factor gene (ApoEe4), eating a diet rich in linoleic acids reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by about 50%. But in those who carried the disease-causing gene, linoleic acids appeared to raise the risk of developing the mind-robbing disease even further”, says the researcher.
A healthy lifestyle that includes physical and brain exercises and stress management are essential to our overall health and well-beong.