By Marianne Vicelich
World renowned clinical neuroscientist and psychiatrist, Dr Daniel Amen, who is also the author of Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Look, Feel and Think Younger Everyday says, “only 5 to 20 per cent of the aging process has to do with our genes – the rest has to do with how we treat our bodies, which can slow down the aging process.”
On average the adult brain loses about 85 000 neurons a day – although we expect impeded brain function as a normal side effect of aging, we can certainly learn how to strengthen our brains.
Dr Amen lists the following to avoid as a foolproof strategy to stave off the aging process.
The intake of harmful toxins is one of the biggest culprits for accelerated brain aging. A recent study of brain SPECT scans, led by Dr Amen, evaluated more than 30 000 people from the age of nine months to 105 and found that the major contributors of accelerated aging was alcohol abuse, cannabis use, prescription drugs (such as benzodiazepines and painkillers), as well as high levels of caffeine (more then three normal sized cups per day).
Other toxins to be avoided says Dr Amen are environmental such as pesticides, solvents, phthalates, and mould. These toxins cause irreparable damage to your DNA, and accelerated aging.
Free Radicals, Inflammation, and DNA Damage
Chronic inflammation is thought to be a root cause of a variety of diseases that develop with age, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. “Free radicals attack our cells, damage our DNA and accelerate aging,” says Dr Amen. This can be avoided by eliminating processed food, trans fats, and sugar. Dr Amen recommends a “Mediterranean diet based on fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils, grains, and little meat” which is critical in reducing inflammation. He also encourages the inclusion of a high-quality “super green” or “superfood” type powder as part of your health regime, to boost brain health, energy, and longevity.
Exercise is another way to lower inflammation. Dr Amen says, “aim for a moderate amount of steady exercise like walking, swimming, or biking for 30 to 45 minutes, five days a week.” Inflammation can also be related to low levels of vitamin D, omega fatty acids, high levels of omega-6, diabetes, and stress which leads to the eroding of protective telomeres, which shorten cell life span. As we age shorter telomeres indicate a “three times greater incidence of heart disease, and an eight-fold increase in death from an infectious disease,” says Dr Amen.
When a large quantity of sugar mixes with proteins and fats, the process forms molecules called advanced glycation end (AGE’s), which promotes aging. Dr Amen adds that “women should aim to consume no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars, and for men, no more than 150 calories per day.” Ultimately, we should be leaning towards high fibre, low glycemic foods instead.
Being under constant pressure initiates the release of a variety of stress hormones that make your pulse race and cause your blood pressure to rise. The hormone cortisol gets released to lessen these effects, but if the stress is constant, and cortisol stays chronically elevated it can shrink a part of the brain called the hippocampus, essential for long term memory. It can also lead to the accumulation of belly fat, causing inflammation and insulin resistance. Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing or yoga can manage the impact of elevated stress, says Dr Amen.
Mental Health Issues
In a SPECT study of more than 30000 individuals at the Amen Institute findings noted a link between accelerated aging and various brain disorders. For instance, schizophrenia, was associated with an average of four years of premature aging, followed by bipolar disorder and ADHD.
Brain aging influences can include negative thinking patterns, elevated anxiety levels, and impulsive or thrill-seeking behaviour. Managing our emotions can help limit neurodegeneration, while slowing down brain aging. Ultimately, your belief system also largely determines how healthy your brain is, and how well it will age. Start by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, through meditation and your daily thought patterns – afterall your mindset is what will make all the difference.