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Your Blissful Brain

Your blissful brainIf you think you are too young and healthy to experience memory loss, think again: after age 20, memory decreases by 1 to 2 % per year. (For those of us who partied hard, memory may have decreased even more.)
Fact is, everyone over 30 has some degree of memory loss, which usually becomes significant by age 45. 76 million American baby boomers comprise the most rapidly increasing age group at the greatest risk of developing memory loss, including mild cognitive impairment (MCI), dementia, and mind-robbing, physically ravaging Alzheimer’s disease. Government figures predict that 16 to 20 million people will have developed Alzheimer’s by 2050 if no health interventions are made. This seems inevitable given that more than half of all Americans are overweight and most causes of excess weight (high fat diet, sedentary lifestyle, etc.) are correlated to sub-optimal cognitive function.

While some medical experts are predicting that nursing facilities will soon be warehousing millions of folks who are missing their marbles, there is also some good news for 21st century brains. “Evidence-based medical research has revealed numerous ways to help “age-proof” the mind. There is a medically proven lifestyle that keeps the mind strong and supple while protecting the brain against cognitive deficits,” says Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., founder and medical director of the Tucson-AZ. based Alzheimer’s Prevention Foundation International (APFI).

An anesthesiologist and internationally recognized authority on brain matters, Dr. Khalsa has testified before U.S. Congress regarding integrative medical strategies for brain longevity and Alzheimer’s prevention. “While genetics are important, research indicates that in large measure, it is now possible to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, senile dementia and MCI,” he claims.

The author of the health best-sellers “Brain Longevity” and “Meditation as Medicine,” Dr. Khalsa notes, “The four pillars of a neuro-protective lifestyle include low-fat diet replete with brain-nurturing foods, daily physical and mental exercise, stress management (notably certain types of yoga and meditation), nutritional supplementation, and in some cases, pharmaceutical drugs.” Adequate sleep and a healthy environment also enhance and protect cognitive function, and regular sexual activity is another effective (and blissful) brain booster. “Sexual activity helps reduce stress, which promotes better brain health,” says Dr. Khalsa.

In case you’re wondering about the differences between cognitive conditions, here are the facts. According to Dr. Khalsa, “The main symptoms of early AD are: short-term memory loss, judgment impairment, personality disturbances, some form of other neurological difficulty (language, a problem with motor activity, a problem with sensation, or difficulty performing executive functions), and some loss of long-term memory.” (4.5 million Americans are afflicted with AD.)

Senile dementia is progressive decline in cognitive function due to damage or disease in the brain beyond what occurs from normal aging. Particularly affected areas often include attention, language, memory and problem solving. In its later stages, patients may not know who they are, what day, week, month or year it is, or where they are.

MCI involves impairment of areas of the brain that process memory and language, and maintain attention and focus. Symptoms of MCI are far less severe than the profound memory impairment, loss of reasoning skills, and personality changes that accompany Alzheimer’s disease. While memory and cognition are impaired, these deficits are not severe enough to be considered dementia. Approximately 70% of patients with MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease within 10 years. Generally, MCI patients demonstrate the same risk factors as Alzheimer’s disease patients. Nearly 8 million Americans suffer from MCI.

Erminia M. Guarneri, M.D., F.A.C.C., medical director and founder of the Scripps Clinic for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California makes the important point that, “Memory loss, just like cardiovascular disease, can begin as early as age 30.” The author of “The Heart Speaks,” (Simon & Schuster, February 2006), Dr. Guarneri elaborates: “The brain is flesh and blood. Like your heart and all the vasculature in your body, your brain responds positively to the good things you do for it.”

So, the brain-healthy lifestyle and heart-healthy lifestyle are one and the same, and they comprise a synergy of multiple strategies. Here’s a guide to some of the best ones, along with neuro-protective action plans.
noggin nutrients

Living smart for head and heart can be excellent insurance against future cognitive decline. “There is solid scientific evidence that compares dietary habits, exercise, lifestyle, hypertension, stress management, cholesterol levels and obesity to show the things we can modify to help us avoid or postpone memory impairment,” says Yogesh Shah, M.D. of the Mercy /Mayo Clinic in Des Moines, Iowa.

This is especially true regarding fat intake. “To insure brain and heart health, fat should comprise less than 30 percent of your total daily calories,” says naturopath and certified clinical nutritionist Theresa Dale, Ph.D., C.C.N., N.D., founder and Dean of the California College of Natural Medicine in Santa Cruz, CA. “If you’re eating 2,000 calories every day, that means consuming a maximum of 65 grams of fat per day. It’s best if the fat is from vegetable sources.”

Fat profoundly affects mental performance because the brain is mainly comprised of fat: even the skinniest sadhu’s brain neurons are almost 60 percent fat. A fat-heavy diet reduces cerebral blood flow while creating millions of free radicals, chemicals that quickly weaken brain neurons and eventually kill them. This leads to impaired concentration, thought-processing speed and memory capabilities.

“The worst fats are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated varieties,” Dr. Khalsa continues. “Found in margarine and most processed breads, crackers, chips and cookies, these fats and oils mutate into brain and heart threatening trans-fatty acids (TFAs).” TFAs accumulate in brain and other cells and can severely impair normal cellular function, acting as mental dimmer switches.

Other fats to avoid include saturated fat, found in lard, and polyunsaturated fat, which is in sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils. Monounsaturated fats are the least damaging because they are less likely to become free radicals while enhancing brain, heart and body system health. Olive, fish, flaxseed and macadamia nut oils are all monounsaturated oils.

Other healthy fats are omega-3s containing EPA and DHA, advises Steven Pratt, M.D. Dr. Pratt, a senior staff ophthalmologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California and the author of “Superfoods RX” and “Superfoods Healthstyle” (Simon & Schuster, October 2005), says, “Omega-3s are found in borage, flaxseed, olive, walnut and hemp oils, nuts, avocados and cold water fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. “Omega-3s help support neural tissue repair, hormone synthesis, and improve insulin sensitivity while raising levels of good cholesterol.”

As you may already know, consuming detoxified fish oil supplements is widely believed to be healthier for brain, heart and body systems than eating fish. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised that pregnant women, women of childbearing age and young children should avoid eating swordfish, king mackerel and tile fish because of their high mercury content. Dangerously high concentrations of PCBs have also been found in Alaskan wild salmon, according to recent news reports. (Used in electrical and other product manufacturing, PCBs are chemicals that come in 209 types. While some mimic hormones, others act as nerve poisons or alter the immune and nervous systems.)

“Omega-3 fish oil capsules are great alternatives,” says Dr. Pratt, “and another easily available brain-building substitute for fish is vegetarian-fed eggs. These contain the same omega-3 oil found in marine sources of this wonderful fatty acid.” Dr. Pratt also endorses blueberries for brain longevity. “Blueberries improve neuronal health by stimulating growth of new neurons in the neuronal cortex,” he explains. “They also act as antioxidants and decrease oxidative stress as well as enhance connections between the brain and peripheral muscles of the body. Eat 1 to 2 cups a day, on oatmeal for breakfast, in yogurt for lunch, as snacks and as a dessert.”

Because we need more than blueberries to thrive, Dr. Pratt offers the following suggestions for yummy, neuro-protective meals:

Breakfast: drink a cup of green tea for antioxidant and brain-boosting polyphenols. Drink 4 oz. of pomegranate or orange juice. Have some oatmeal with blueberries and soy milk, plus 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of flax seed meal on top.

Midmorning snack: Slice a red delicious apple into a few pieces (this apple type contains the most phytonutrients) and spread about a teaspoon of peanut butter on top. Drink a cup of green tea.

Lunch: On whole grain bread, spread a little mayonnaise and mustard, romaine lettuce and slice up a quarter of an avocado for filling. Season with Veg-it and black pepper. Make a small spinach salad with chopped red onions, garbanzo beans and 4 walnuts (chopped). Toss with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Afternoon snack: Enjoy one whole kiwi fruit for its vitamin C and plant nutrients, or eat a few dried prunes or 4 baby carrots. Drink a cup of green tea.

Dinner: Grill 3 to 4 ounces of wild salmon. If you choose not to eat fish, have some brown rice cooked with plenty of diced red, yellow and orange bell peppers and a serving of your favorite beans. You may also enjoy a baked sweet potato. Drink 4 to 6 ounces of grape juice or dark red wine with the meal for antioxidant value. For dessert have a fruit salad containing blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, black berries and purple grapes.
neuroprotective supplements

While Dr. Khalsa notes that, “Everyone’s brain is different and people have varying needs, much persuasive research suggests that there several natural medicinal tonics that promote brain longevity.” While you should check first with your doctor before taking nutritional supplements, Dr. Khalsa offers the following recommendations and daily dosages.

Ginkgo biloba: 60 – 320 mg (derived from the ginkgo tree; increases cerebral blood circulation)

Phosphatidyl choline (derived from lecithin): 1,500 0 10,000 mg. (repairs and maintains neurons)

Phosphatidyl serine: 100 – 300 mg. (a naturally occurring form of fat or phospholipids, this helps brain cells receive nutrients and dispose of wastes; it also helps brain cells conduct nerve impulses and release adequate amounts of neurotransmitters.)

Acetyl L-carnitine: 250 – 1,500 mg (a naturally occurring substance that aids cognition, ALC improves the energy metabolism in the brain’s mitochondria or “power plants.”)

Co-enzyme Q-10: 100 mg (increases the energy-generating potential in each of the body’s cells, including the neurons; like ALC, it also helps the mitochondria produce energy. Co Q-10 is also a nutritional adjunctive therapy for congestive heart failure.)

Ginseng: 750 – 1,500 mg (heightens cognitive function and effectively stops the overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, which when regularly released corrodes the brain.)

“Green juice” products: one serving (rich in the nine essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body. These also contain micronutrients sourced from plants, algae, bee pollen, etc. that are transformed by the body into neuropeptides, chemicals that form beneficial links between mind and body )
exercise

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that, “Exercise is the most effective anti-aging pill ever discovered.” It’s also a stress-manager for the brain. By releasing endorphins, some of the body’s natural painkillers, exercise reduces stress and depression. Even as little as thirty minutes a day of exercise will increase blood and oxygen flow throughout the body and the brain, pumping it up with much-needed resources. Working out also raises levels of the hormone norepinephrine, a key substance for maintaining positive mood. You want to work out as much as possible given that norepinephrine functions as a neurotransmitter that helps create new memories. It is is essential for moving them from short-term to long-term storage.
pharmaceuticals

According to Dr. Khalsa, “One baby aspirin a day may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 55 percent. It also has a unique blood-thinning ability, which helps to prevent stroke and heart attacks.”

Ask your physician about anti-inflammatory medicines or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), clinoril (Sulindac), or indomethacin (Indocin). “After two years of regular use at the proper dose, NSAIDs may decrease your risk of developing AD by 50 percent,” says Dr. Khalsa. “However, NSAIDs do not reverse memory loss.”
mind mapping technologies

More effective strategies for people wishing to optimize their mental edge include baseline cognitive assessments and/or SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography) scans. While cognitive assessment is offered by various doctors and is covered by some insurance companies, you may experience it online at www.cognitivecare.com for far less than what many doctors may charge. This simple computerized test provides an objective measure of memory, attention, decision-making and mental quickness in less than 5 minutes. Results can be used to detect early stages of decline, as a baseline for annual follow-ups, or to chart treatment, dietary or nutritional impact on memory.

As for SPECT scans, these produce a picture of how the brain is physically functioning and indicate damaged areas. SPECT scans are perhaps the most powerful tool in the brain longevity arsenal as they reveal warning signs of cognitive decline, years before disease manifests. “We can detect Alzheimer’s disease in a SPECT scan nine years before symptoms arise,” says psychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D., founder and medical director of the Amen Clinics, which are located in Newport Beach and Fairfield, CA; Tacoma, Washington and Reston, Virginia. “I recommend most people get their first one at age 50,” he says. “If you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s, get a baseline scan earlier.”

A SPECT scan can also help to evaluate those who may be at risk for dementia, Dr. Amen continues. “The brain starts to change long before people show symptoms of dementia.” Over 83 studies with 4500 patients indicate that SPECT scans can also help to differentiate between types of dementia: AD, frontal temporal lobe dementia, Lewy body dementia and multi-infarct dementia each exhibit distinctive patterns early in the disease process. Regularly undergoing follow-up SPECT scans helps individuals see how lifestyle or drug interventions may be improving brain function.
medical meditation & yoga for the brain

While studies done by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts confirm that meditation can restore mental peace and clarity even when stress levels are so severe that tranquilizers are normally prescribed, science is just beginning to reveal how simple meditations help maximize brain function.

Before and after SPECT scans have proved that the Kirtan Kriya meditation from the Kundalini yoga tradition as taught by the late Yogi Bhajan produces measurable increases in attention, concentration, and short-term memory, while calming the brain’s left parietal lobe (a finding consistent with having a spiritual experience). The Kirtan Kriya study conducted by the APFI in association with the Universities of California at San Diego and Irvine at the Amen Clinic in Newport Beach, Ca. also found that along with increasing cerebral blood and oxygen flow, the meditation illuminates the brain with electromagnetic energy while upgrading functions of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers of the brain that communicate with the body).

This meditation involves chanting and mudras (hand gestures). Sa Ta Na Ma translates as “birth, life, death/completion/rebirth.” To do the mudra as you chant, lightly touch thumb and forefinger on “Sa;” thumb and middle finger on “Ta;” thumb and ring finger on “Na;” and thumb and pinkie finger on “Ma.”

Repeat “Sa Ta Na Ma” and mudra with eyes closed while sitting with straight spine; focus mental energy between the brows. For two minutes, chant in a speaking voice; for the following three minutes, whisper. For the next three, chant silently. Then reverse the order; whispering two minutes and chanting mantra aloud for two minutes. Congratulations: you’ve just maximized your mental function in twelve minutes.

If you’ve ever wondered about how to maintain your mental edge, now you have a medical action plan to protect your brain. “If a person starts living a brain-nurturing lifestyle in time,” Dr. Khalsa explains, “the chances of developing MCI and dementia may be reduced. Most important, the development of Alzheimer’s can be delayed by several years, and therefore the chances of them ever experiencing the effects of the disease in his or her lifetime can be virtually eliminated.”
resources for age proofing your mind

Several organizations, products and evaluations offer authoritative information on how to evaluate the health of your brain as well as guidelines for how to lead a brain longevity lifestyle and prevent or slow cognitive deficits. Here’s an overview of the most user-friendly and medically helpful resources.
for information on brain imaging and how to get a SPECT scan of you brain: http://amenclinic.com
online memory screening: http://leezasplace.org/memoryTest.html
This medical Memory Screening takes 10 minutes. It is 94% sensitive at detecting initial signs of a memory problem, fostering early diagnosis and treatment for AD and related disorders.

mental skills test:http://leezasplace.org/memoryTest.html
This offers objective substantiation of memory problems detected by the Memory Screen. (It is derived from the CERAD battery, the most extensively validated battery of tests for discriminating between normal aging and dementia.) It is 98% sensitive in detecting very mild to moderate impairment and 97% sensitive in correctly identifying normal aging. This test is administered over the telephone by a trained nurse and takes 15 minutes. The final report provides an objective measure of performance compared to a large database of demographically similar test takers. The test costs $75.

online AD prevention program: http://leezasplace.org/memoryTest.html
This 5-10 minute online questionnaire generates your risk profile and then creates a customized prevention strategy. AD begins an average of 30 years before first symptoms appear, therefore it’s vital to find out what preventative steps you can take now to prevent or delay AD. General preventative suggestions are free; a personalized report costs $20.
medically proven information on brain Longevity www.alzheimersprevention.org
This site reports on cutting-edge cognitive research and offers info on all types of cognitive deficits and how evidence-based medicine can be used to manage or reverse them. Extensive links to organizations help patients, caregivers and others are also here at www.drdharma.com

The Better Memory Kit by Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D, $19.95;

Contains medically proven strategies for maximizing mental function and preventing/ reversing all types of memory loss. A booklet and CD cross train the brain to reach peak mental performance; 33 memory exercise cards help you practice what Dr. Khalsa calls “brain aerobics.”

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