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5 Ways to Slow Down Brain Aging

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Aging is a natural process that can occur without disease in the brain or body. However, with increased age comes the increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Do you want to avoid the lapses in memory that come with age, and maybe even help reduce your risk of dementia? Here are five easy ways to slow down brain aging, and keep your brain sharp!

The process of aging is, in large part, due to increased free radicals which damage cells.[1] When it comes to brain aging, it appears that free radicals could also lead to cellular damage associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. Microglia are cells that function as the primary immune defense for the brain. Researchers have found that diseased microglia, which come with aging, produce large amounts of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) which cause inflammation and damage in the brain.[2] This same free radical activity can lead to the deposition of the protein amyloid β.[3] Both neuroinflammation and amyloid plaques are associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and poor cognitive function.[4] However, this can be addressed with:

1. Diets rich in antioxidants, EPA, and DHA

Antioxidants fight the damaging effects of free radicals and they can be helpful in maintaining healthy cognitive function. MCI, or mild cognitive impairment, is a decline in a person’s memory or ability to think. People with MCI have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other dementias. However, research has found that antioxidant consumption in patients with MCI reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.[5] Vitamin E has specifically been found to protect neurons from oxidative stress.[6] Other antioxidant nutrients you may want to include in your diet or through supplementation include vitamin C, vitamin A, and N-acetyl-cysteine.

EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for brain health. EPA and DHA both decrease inflammatory responses from microglia cells, and increase anti-inflammatory activity in the brain.[7] DHA supplementation can also increase the amount of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) in the brain.[8] BDNF supports neuronal health and stimulates the growth of new neurons.

2. Propolis

Propolis is a natural remedy, which is promising in its effects on brain aging. It is a resin that honey bees collect from conifer trees and other plants.[9] Studies show propolis to have several medicinal properties.[10] In regards to healthy brain aging, propolis reduces inflammation and acts as an anti-oxidant.[11] Recently, researchers found that propolis inhibits the release of inflammatory mediators and reduces the production of reactive oxygen species from microglia cells.

3. Exercise

Brain aging is not only the result of neuronal damage, it is also related to changes in the neurovascular system, which delivers oxygen to the brain. The brain has a very high demand for oxygen. It is sustained by a network of tiny blood vessels, or microvessels, which add up to a length of about 600 kilometers![12] Studies show that aging dysregulates microvascular function.[13] Furthermore, a dysregulated microvascular system is associated with neuroinflammation and age-related cognitive impairment.[14],[15]

There is a saying that goes, ‘What’s good for the heart is good for the brain’. It is proposed that exercise improves cognitive function by:

  • Reducing inflammation in the CNS[16]
  • Increasing the growth of new microvessels and increasing blood flow[17]
  • Promoting the growth of new neurons and increasing BDNF[18],[19][RR1]

Physical activity has been found to reduce inflammation and prevent decreased cognitive function in aging mouse models.[20],[21]

Getting some exercise in could be as healthy for your mind as it is for your body!

4. Cognitive Training

Another promising method for slowing brain aging is cognitive training. The aim of cognitive training is to increase brain activity in aging adults through directed focus and memory tasks. Randomized, controlled studies in the past have shown that cognitive training can improve cognitive function.[22] Until recently it was unclear how this training affected the brain, or if it helped cognitive function in unrelated tasks. However, some exciting new fMRI research shows that cognitive training results in measurable changes in the cerebral cortex. The fMRI images of older adults who used cognitive training showed a reduction in certain types of brain activity associated with brain aging.[23] Furthermore, these positive changes were also significantly related to improvements in attention and memory following cognitive training.[24]

5. Stress Reduction

However, before you panic and try to join a gym or begin a cognitive training program as soon as humanly possible—remember that reducing your stress is very important for brain health. Glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, are adrenal hormones that are released during a stress response.[25] These hormones can enter the brain and affect cognition, most notably, in the hippocampus, an important brain region associated with memory and learning. [26] Excess glucocorticoids can be neurotoxic in this region and are associated with age-related reduction of cognitive abilities.[27]

So, relax, get some exercise, train your brain, and eat antioxidant nutrients to keep your brain young and healthy!

[1] Mora F. (2013). Successful brain aging: plasticity, environmental enrichment, and lifestyle. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 15(1):45-52.
[2] Wu Z, Yu J, Zhu A, et. al. (2016). Nutrients, Microglia Aging, and Brain Aging. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, doi:10.1155/2016/7498528
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Mora op. cit.
[7] Wu Z, Yu J, Zhua A, et. al. op. cit.
[8] Mora op. cit.
[9] Tiveron AP, Rosalen PL, Franchin M, et. al. (2016). Chemical Characterization and Antioxidant, Antimicrobial, and Anti-Inflammatory Activities of South Brazilian Organic Propolis. PLoS ONE 11, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165588
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Deak F, Freeman WM, Ungvari Z, et. al. (2016). Recent Developments in Understanding Brain Aging:

Implications for Alzheimer’s Disease and Vascular Cognitive Impairment. Journals of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, Vol. 71, No. 1, 13–20.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Deak F, Freeman WM, Ungvari Z, et. al. op. cit.
[15] Laitman BM & John GR. (2015). Understanding How Exercise Promotes Cognitive Integrity in the Aging Brain. PLoS Biology 13(11): doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002300
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Laitman BM & John GR. op. cit.
[19] Mora op. cit.
[20] Deak F, Freeman WM, Ungvari Z, et. al. op. cit.
[21] Deak F, Freeman WM, Ungvari Z, et. al. op. cit.

[21] Laitman BM & John GR. op. cit.
[22] Li T, Yao Y, Cheng Y, et. al. (2016). Cognitive training can reduce the rate of cognitive aging: a neuroimaging cohort study. BMC Geriatrics (2016) 16:12 doi: 10.1186/s12877-016-0194-5
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Mora op. cit
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.

 

Clinical Contributor

[starbox id=”mbraine”]

Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard graduated with honors from the University of California with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and graduated summa cum laude with a Master’s Degree in Health and Nutrition Education. She also holds a Standard Designated Teaching Credential from the State of California, is a California state-certified Nutrition Consultant and a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.

Ramona has participated in nutrition education in both public and private venues, including high school and college presentations, radio and public speaking for the past 20 years. She is the owner of Radiance, a nutrition consulting company, the Director of Education for Sanesco International, and a medical technical writer.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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