In the US, at least 5 million people have dementia (a blanket term for a decline in cognitive performance that includes Alzheimer's disease). Because cognitive decline touches so many people, preventing and treating it has become a main focus in the scientific community.
Doctors have long preached that "prevention is the best medicine," and distinguished integrative health expert and How Healing Works author Wayne Jonas, MD, says he strongly believes the best way to prevent cognitive decline is through diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits such as getting enough sleep, managing stress, and limiting exposure to environmental toxins. But in addition to the usual prescription of healthy lifestyle habits, top scientists and researchers are dedicating their careers to developing cutting-edge ways to protect your brain.
Scroll down to see the latest science-backed ways to prevent cognitive decline.
At-home testing kits are giving insight into how to prevent "leaky brain"
First things, first. Why, for so many people, does the brain give up before the body? To help explain, scientists are putting a new spin on a familiar term: Leaky gut is when the gastrointestinal tract becomes permeable—meaning bacteria and other toxins can enter the blood stream; “leaky brain” follows the same idea. "Part of your immune system is actually in your brain,” says Tom O'Bryan, DC, author of You Can Fix Your Brain. “There are blood proteins called antibodies that try to protect you from anything harmful that could damage your brain cells by neutralizing any foreign invaders. What happens is, the immune system will attack [the foreign substance] and form a wall around it, so that if it survives or tries to come back, it's trapped in this wall." But these walls, just like your gut lining, can break down.
According to Dr. O’Bryan, the brain cells’ walls can be damaged by any number of “triggers,” which could include the food you eat (he names gluten, wheat, and dairy as examples), “phthalates in the plastic lid on your coffee that you drink from every day, or the pollution from the city you live in." “It’s different for everyone,” Dr. O’Bryan says, which is why he recommends undergoing a blood test to find the biomarkers that point to your greatest risks.
How it works is that doctors look for specific genes in your blood that have an associated risk with cognitive decline (biomarkers). Then you can work with your doctor to figure out what foods or environmental factors might be triggering that gene. There's also biomarkers directly linked to brain diseases such as anxiety and depression. Knowing your biomarkers arms you with the best knowledge you can have—and at-home genetic testing makes gaining this info easier than ever before.
New supplements are designed to give your brain a boost
Brain health is taking over the supplements space, too, building off of what scientists know about how certain nutrients in food contributes to a healthy mind. First, brain-conscious consumers took omega-3 supplements because their anti-inflammatory properties were shown to help with mental health issues like depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); then, nootropics arrived on the scene to help reduce brain fog and stress. Now, new supplements are specifically formulated to improve the signals firing between your brain cells and the rest of your body, which is exactly what stops working well in old age.
One of the newest and buzziest is a line called Liveli, which was formulated by the power-couple team of James Lee and Tess Mauricio, an anesthesiologist and dermatologist, respectively, after Dr. Lee experienced sharp cognitive decline caused by a brain tumor. “The biggest thing you can do to prevent dementia is increase blood flow to the brain though exercise and getting nutrients that help like vitamin K, calcium, and resveratrol,” Dr. Mauricio says. Liveli's blend includes 70 nutrients the brain needs, including all 13 vitamins as well as magnesium, zinc, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Another new-to-the-market brain supplement is by Omax."We started looking at all the research on [brain health] and came up with this matrix on what we need daily to stave off cognitive decline, to really improve neurotransmission, cell-to-cell communication, all the things that start to diminish as we get older," Evan DeMarco, the brand's lead product innovator says, who added their blend was based off of 30 years of clinical research. So what's inside the capsules? Primarily, two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), as well as l-alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine (Alpha-GPC), which has seen promising results in treating Alzheimer's.
Dr. Jonas, however, warns against depending on supplements for omega-3s and other brain boosters, saying that clinical trials of omega-3 supplements have not shown to have the same positive effects as when you get the nutrients through food. "When you eat the food...you’re getting multiple components that appear to work together in what’s called a synergistic fashion—they work individually together," he says.
Bank your healthy cells now to use 'em later
The most innovative way to take charge of your brain health is by saving your healthy stem cells, AKA unspecialized cells that have the potential to multiply and grow into many different types of cells throughout the body (including brain cells), for later, which you can now do with Forever Labs. "Banking yourself basically creates a pool of young biology that doesn’t experience the wear and tear of life," co-founder Steven Clausnitzer says. When your cognition begins to fail—either gradually or suddenly, due to a catalyzing event like a stroke—you can reintroduce these young cells into your body so they can repair the brain damage and multiply, growing healthy cells.
"Billions of dollars are put into researching medicine for Alzheimer's and other brain diseases, and the reason why [there hasn't been a definitive 'cure' yet] is because, by [the time you have the disease], it's too late," says Forever Labs co-founder Mark Katakowski, PhD, who studied stem cell therapies for 15 years before launching the company. "Slowing the loss of stem cells in the body by augmenting with your younger self may help the body stave off these things that lead to decline."
While Katakowski is right, there isn't a "cure" for dementia and other brain diseases related to cognitive decline yet, promising research is emerging. Currently, there are five drugs approved by the FDA to help with treatment. While they help with the symptoms, the search is still on to treat the underlying causes of the disease.
Even if you're not ready to go all-in with treatments that sound straight sci-fi, knowing that you can make choices now that could give your mind the best chance can be reassuring. As Dr. Jonas estimates, 80 percent of disease prevention comes from things you can control.
Exercise plays a role in preventing cognitive decline, too. Here's what's been proven to add years to your life. And these are the personality traits that might help you live to 100.
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