Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #87 on “5 Important Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies That Everyone Should Know”
My name is Andrea Samadi, and if you are new here, I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field, with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are an educator, or in the corporate space, to take your results to the next level. If we want to improve our social, emotional and cognitive abilities, it all starts with an understanding of our brain.
If you have been following this podcast, you will know that my husband and I had a SPECT image brain scan completed at Dr. Amen’s Clinics, to see if there was anything that we needed to be aware of, to make targeted improvements to our brain health and life, with the idea of preventing cognitive decline, and looking to see if we showed signs of Alzheimer’s that can be seen in the brain years before signs and symptoms show up. If you missed episode #84[i] where I revealed my results of the brain scan, go back and listen to this episode before you listen to this one.
If we want to take our results the next level, the best way to do this is by getting a clear picture of what is going on with the organ, your brain, that controls pretty much everything that you do. You might be like me and don’t have any signs or symptoms that you notice, that are giving you problems, but you want to be as healthy as you can to tackle life’s everyday challenges, with more ease. Or, you might be like my friend Doug Sutton, who shared on episode #82[ii] that he was experiencing brain fog and low energy. You can do what we did and get a SPECT image brain scan and follow the treatment plan based on what your scans show. Our plan begins with taking brain health supplements, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, improving our sleep and looking closer at our current health with blood tests. We are working closely with Dr. Creado, from Dr. Amen’s Chicago Clinic as we implement these new strategies for improvement. Many people begin to feel better subjectively and can feel mentally sharper from these strategies. I can say that some of the supplements that we began taking from Dr. Amen’s Brain MD[iii], like their Brain and Body Power Max, I felt an immediate difference with clarity and the ability to focus. After a year or more, many people choose to rescan their brain to see what changes occur physically from their treatment plan.
There is also another option for looking at your brain that I have recently learned about. I was contacted on LinkedIn, by one of my connections, another podcaster, Luke DePron,[iv] a former actor, turned lifestyle and fitness entrepreneur who told me that I needed to take a look at the WaveNeuro[v] Science Team. He sent me a link to the podcast he did with Dr. Erik Won and Navy Seal Ned Mason[vi], and when I listened to it, I was blown away with what they are doing. If you have been interested in our past few episodes where we talk about the importance of looking at the brain, to improve performance, you will know that this is not just something that is for those involved in Special Operations in the military, elite athletes, or for people who are struggling with a brain disorder. The WaveNeuro team is dealing more and more with mainstream people, like you and me, who are looking to improve their performance. Stay tuned, as I have on the radar, to interview Dr. Erik Won and Ned Mason, to dive deeper into how they are measuring the brain with EEG (electroencephalogram) that is designed to measure the electrical activity of the brain) to see what parts of the brain are cycling too fast or too slow, and then optimizing these parts from this data. To put it plain and simple, I was speaking with WaveNeuro’s Head of PR, Sean Bartlett, and he reminded me that “what gets measured, gets managed” or you may have heard it another way with measuring data “what we measure, we improve.” Before getting a SPECT scan, and looking at my brain, I had no idea what I was doing for my brain health. I was eating well, exercising, taking supplements, but still when I had my scan evaluation, Dr. Creado, from Amen’s Clinics, told me that “for someone doing a lot of things right, I don’t like how your brain looks” and now we can target certain areas to improve. But I wouldn’t know what to do, if I didn’t look. After speaking with Sean, over at WaveNeuro, I now have another angle or solution, for how we can look at and measure our brain health. I can’t wait to share what they are doing over there with their groundbreaking technology.
The case is clear that in order to move the needle the most with our health, there are some important areas that we can come to a consensus that are crucial to pay attention to. I decided to write this episode on the TOP 5 brain health strategies that we should all know, and why they are important for Alzheimer’s prevention after I watched Dr. David Perlmutter’s “Alzheimer’s: The Science of Prevention[vii]” program last week that dove deep into the strategies involved in preventing Alzheimer’s. I am working on getting Dr. Perlmutter on as a guest here, to dive deeper into these strategies, because I think this topic is of high importance for everyone to understand. We know that Alzheimer’s disease now affects “more than 5 million Americans and is the most common form of dementia, a term that describes a variety of diseases and conditions that develop when nerve cells in the brain die or no longer function normally.”[viii]
I was interested in learning more on this topic, since it was one of the reasons, we did scan our brain in the first place. The pattern of Alzheimer’s can be seen in the brain years before signs and symptoms show up, so when I saw Dr. Perlmutter’s Alzheimer’s Prevention series, I watched every episode to learn what brain experts across the country are saying about the top ways to prevent this disease, that currently has no know or meaningful treatment but I was given some hope when I learned that “you can change the direction of your cognitive destiny” (From Max Lugavere,[ix] Health and Science Journalist and NYT Bestselling Author, Genius Foods). Here is how we can take control of our health and future, with the TOP 5 health staples that I think we should all know and how they play a role in Alzheimer’s prevention.
Health Staple 1: Daily Exercise: This seems to be the solution for every single brain problem, so I think that this is the most important strategy, and the reason why I block out exercise time on my schedule as non-negotiable. If we can incorporate 30 minutes of brisk walking every day, we will be miles ahead with our brain health. It wasn’t until I started to measure my activity, that I started to see that 30 minutes of walking really did make a difference. I didn’t need to be running or working really hard (like I used to think I had to do) to notice a difference, but I did need to put in some effort to move the needle. The benefits of daily, consistent exercise “come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.”[x] If for some reason, this whole idea of exercising still doesn’t sound the least bit interesting to you, you might be surprised like I was, that household activities like vacuuming, or raking leaves, or anything that gets your heart rate up, like shoveling snow (something I haven’t done in years since I moved from Toronto)—but these activities can also fall into the category of moderate exercise. The idea is whatever you choose, that it remains consistent, so it eventually becomes something you do habitually.
ALZHEIMER’S PREVENTION THOUGHT FOR DAILY EXERCISE:
If exercise reduces insulin resistance and inflammation, it would make sense that it also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Studies show that “people who are physically active, have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly have improved thinking.”[xi]
Health Staple 2: Getting Good Quality Sleep: Making sure we are getting at least 7- 8 hours each night. I think that we have seen the importance of sleep with our interview with sleep expert Dr. Shane Creado, on episode #72[xii] and with Dr. Sarah McKay on episode #85.[xiii] It is clear that sleep deprivation causes poor health and performance because it’s not allowing enough time for the brain to wash and clean itself. With less than 7 hours of sleep each night, the “trash”[xiv] builds up in our brain, that leads us farther away from health. I learned from health expert Darin Olien from the Darin Olien Show[xv] --he’s the one who did the Netflix Docuseries with Zac Efron called “Down to Earth with Zac Efron[xvi]” that studies show that “almost all neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, are created when protein waste accumulates in the brain, which in turn slowly suffocates and kills the brain’s neurons.”[xvii] We also know that the brain shows lower functioning to important areas when it’s sleep deprived.
ALZHEIMER’S PREVENTION THOUGHT FOR THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP:
Dr. David Perlmutter, on his Alzheimer’s Science of Prevention Series, made a clear case for the fact that “sleep deprivation is directly linked to developing Alzheimer’s disease” and that “sleep plays an important role…impacting our risk for developing this condition.” He went on to remind us that “from a medical perspective, we cannot afford a bad night’s sleep” and that “sleep is essential if we want to retain optimal function of our body and our brains.”[xviii]
Health Staple 3: Eating a Healthy Diet: Eliminating sugar and processed foods. We hear this all the time and know intuitively what feels good when we eat it, and what makes our body feel tired, lethargic and just plain bad. The goal is to eliminate “the brain robbers that steal our energy and do what helps it, not hurts it.”[xix] There are two specific moments that I remember were life-changing when it came to my diet.
The first was around 2005 when I was seeing a foot doctor, Dr. Richard Jacoby, for foot numbness after exercise, and he asked me to eliminate sugar completely from my diet. I was looking for solutions to why I couldn’t feel the top of my foot during exercise, and I didn’t show any signs of diabetes, but this doctor was writing a book, that is now released called Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Reverse Nerve Damage and Reclaim Good Health[xx] and he was convinced that sugar intake was at the root of most health problems. He suggested that I take fish oil, and learn to avoid higher glycemic foods, and the results that occurred were so impactful, that I wished I had done this sooner. The benefits of cutting out sugar from my diet only snowballed my health for the better down the road. When I was ready to have children, I was a bit worried that I would have some challenges here, as I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in my late 20s and told that I might need to take fertility drugs to conceive, but surprisingly, after some tests, my doctor told me that I no longer had this condition, that it appears to have reversed, and she asked me what I had done. The only thing I did was exercise, take fish oil and cut out sugar.
The second life-changing Aha Moment around diet was focused around intermittent fasting, that I talk about in point #5, but it was also eye opening when I started to follow Dave Asprey, the author of the NYT bestseller The Bulletproof Diet: Lose Up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Focus, Upgrade Your Life[xxi] and creator of Bulletproof Coffee[xxii]. Who would ever have thought that putting butter, coconut oil or MCT oil in your coffee would help you to increase your energy and stay lean? I heard this idea first from bodybuilder and fitness expert Jason Wittrock[xxiii] from watching his YouTube channel where he explains exactly what goes into a keto coffee, and why it’s good for your energy levels. He explains the science behind the keto diet and was a great resource for me when I was learning that eating fats, won’t make me fat. Thomas DeLauer[xxiv] is also a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about intermittent fasting, or the ketogenic diet.
ALZHEIMER’S PREVENTION THOUGHT FOR EATING A HEALTY DIET:
Did you know that sugar in the brain “looks like Alzheimer’s” in the brain, and that “60% of cognitive decline is related to how you handle blood sugar?”[xxv] There was a study that followed “5,189 people over 10 years and found that people with high blood sugar had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar—whether or not their blood-sugar level technically made them diabetic. In other words, the higher the blood sugar, the faster the cognitive decline.”[xxvi]
Did you know that with Type 2 Diabetes, you have almost double the risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, that has no known treatment? If you have type 2 diabetes, your goal would be to do everything that you can to manage your blood sugar, by eating good carbs[xxvii] (complex carbs with fiber), eat lower glycemic foods[xxviii] that balance your blood sugar levels, instead of throwing them off balance with high levels of sugar.
Above is an image of a healthy brain, from Dr. Amen’s Clinics, showing even, symmetrical and smooth blood flow to all areas in the healthy brain, and the Alzheimer’s brain shows a drop of blood flow to the important parts of the brain
Health Staple 4: Optimizing our Microbiome: Did you know that your gut is made up of trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes. This microbiome plays an important role in your health by helping to control digestion and benefitting your immune system. Taking a probiotic daily, remaining active, eating a healthy diet and avoiding foods that disrupt our microbiome[xxix] (processed fried foods, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners, are important for our gut/brain health.
ALZHEIMER’S PREVENTION THOUGHT FOR OPTIMIZING YOUR MICROBIOME:
There does appear to be a hidden relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and the microbiome in our gut and that “an imbalanced gut microbiome (dysbiosis) could lead to Alzheimer’s disease and wider neuroinflammation through the gut-brain-axis. Promoting ‘good bacteria’ relative to ‘bad bacteria’ in the gut may be important in maintaining good digestive, immune and neurological health.”[xxx] This is still a developing field but taking prebiotics and probiotics[xxxi] are the best way to promote a healthy gut/brain balance.
Health Staple 5: Intermittent Fasting: Has many health benefits[xxxii] that you might have heard of, like the fact it reduces belly fat. I started intermittent fasting around 3 years ago when I was looking to take my health to the next level, and was following some of the well-known body builders, to see what they were doing for their health and fitness. I started the 16-8 program where you fast for 16 hours, and only eat foods in an 8-hour window. I just picked 4 days a week (Sunday to Wednesday) to do this, to see what happened, and the results were obvious. I was able to quickly get down to my goal weight, where I was stuck, and not able to move the needle with exercise alone.
ALZHEIMER’S PREVENTION THOUGHT FOR INTERMITTENT FASTING :
Intermittent fasting has so many other health benefits tied to this practice, like the fact it “fights insulin resistance, lowering your risk of type-2 diabetes, reduces inflammation in the body, is beneficial for heart health, and may prevent cancer.”[xxxiii] If it is fighting insulin resistance, then it is also fighting your risk of Alzheimer’s.
REVIEW AND ACTION STEPS:
Health Staple 1: Daily Exercise
Health Staple 2: Getting Good Quality Sleep
Health Staple 3: Eating a Healthy Diet
Health Staple 4: Optimizing our Microbiome
Health Staple 5: Intermittent Fasting
Wherever you are with your current health, there is always a way to take your results to the next level. You also don’t need to get bogged down with implementing these ideas in a rush and stressing yourself out in the process.
To get started, pick one area that you want to improve, and work on that one area for the next 90 days.
1. WHERE TO BEGIN WITH DAILY EXERCISE:
If you want to improve your daily exercise, but have no idea where to begin, I would start with walking.
Beginners: I remember after a surgery I had that I could barely walk to the bottom of my driveway and remember thinking how frustrating that was. Listen to your body and start with short distances. I would wake up early, at 4am (since I didn’t want the whole world watching me struggle to walk short distances) and I could walk from the bottom of my driveway to the end of the street. I did that every day for a week and then added a longer distance that lasted 15 minutes. After a few weeks, I was walking longer distances and longer amounts of time, showing me that progress is possible, with regular, consistent activity.
Moderate to Advanced: If you have plateaued with your current exercise routine, have you tried working with a trainer? Many are available for zoom/video calls during this time if your gym is still closed, or if you don’t have one. The key is to do something that you have not done before, to get new and different results.
2. WHERE TO BEGIN WITH GETTING A GOOD QUALITY SLEEP
Have you watched our interview with sleep expert Dr. Shane Creado, on episode #72[xxxiv] and with Dr. Sarah McKay on episode #85?[xxxv]
If you are waking up and feel tired, or not rested, have you considered getting a sleep study to test the quality and quantity of your sleep?
Take inventory of your sleep. Are you getting at least 7-8.5 hours/each night?
Have you ever used an app to measure your sleep?
3. WHERE TO BEGIN WITH EATING A HEALTHY DIET
Do you avoid processed foods?
Have you ever thought about cutting out sugar?
Do you choose healthy carbs and fats?
Do you choose whole foods vs processed foods?
4. WHERE TO BEGIN WITH OPTIMIZING YOUR MICROBIOME
Do you take a probiotic?
Do you know what foods help/hurt or damage your microbiome?
5. WHERE TO BEGIN WITH INTERMITTENT FASTING
If fasting for 16 hours with an 8 hour eating window seems too much, try 12 hours fasting and 12 hours eating to begin. Try it for a few days a week, and just see if you feel better fasting than when you eat like you normally would. If you feel better, you can always experiment with different fasting methods, and see where you feel best.
I hope you have found this episode helpful, and I that you did learn something new. Please do send me a message on social media and let me know what you think. I really do believe that if we want to improve our social, emotional and cognitive abilities, it all starts with an understanding of our brain, and these TOP 5 strategies seem to move the needle the most, especially when it comes to preventing Alzheimer’s and other diseases that I know we all want to avoid.