Monthly Archives: October 2009

One Meal A Day with Others for Brain Health

I often am asked what one thing is most important for brain health promotion. I cannot answer this question because I do not believe there is such a thing. The human brain requires a comprehensive and integrated approach to health which is why I have developed my five part brain health lifestyle (see www.paulnussbaum.com).

I do believe that eating one meal a day with family members or even friends and those you may not know very well (be safe first) can be a major brain health activity. Sitting down to a meal helps you to slow down, you can listen to some music in the background, and tell stories over your meal. You can also use utensils that typically means you will eat healthier and eat less than when you eat with your fingers. These are several brain health boosts with one activity.

It is good to learn from Rasmussen Surveys that 65% of those surveyed by telephone eat with their family twice weekly. 38% eat a meal three times a week with their family and 27% report eating between two and three times weekly with their family. Only 22% do not eat with their family during the week.

I encourage everyone to carve out the special time necessary to sit down and eat a meal with your loved ones on a daily basis. Your brain and body will thank you.

Brainy Cities

A recent article in US News discussed the brain health of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States. An index that was comprised of diet (36%), physical health (25%), mental health (24%), and social well being (15%) was used to compare the states. Data was gathered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Health, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Results from the study revealed the following top ten brainiest cities:

1.    Washington DC
2.    Maryland
3.    Washington State
4.    Vermont
5.    Connecticut
6.    Colorado
7.    Massachusetts
8.    New Jersey
9.    Maine
10.  New Hampshire

It is important to be proactive in your brain health lifestyle. Dr. Nussbaum (www.paulnussbaum.com), Chief Scientific Officer for Fitbrains, Inc. underscores the importance of a brain health lifestyle that includes socialization, nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, and spirituality.

Internet and Brain Health

A recent study demonstrates daily surfing of the internet activates the brain of older persons. This is another example of how the environment in many forms can shape the brain and illustrates the power of neural plasticity.

24 neurologically healthy adults, aged 55 to 78, surfed the internet while their brains were being scanned by an MRI machine. Prior to the study, half the participants had used the internet daily while the other half had minimal experience. After the initial MRI scan, the participants were instructed to do internet searches for an hour a day for seven days in the next two weeks. Then they returned to the clinic for another MRI.

At baseline, those who had internet experience had much greater brain activation relative to those without internet experience. However, those who practiced on the internet during the study demonstrated significant activation in their brain to the point that they were nearly equal to the brains of the experienced internet users.

The idea of “use it or lose it” can really be taken a step further and the idea is to “use it in new ways” and novelty and complexity really is the foundation to brain health.

Football and the Brain

A recent study supported by the National Football League indicates that Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or related conditions involving memory deficits appear to occur more frequently in the league’s former players significantly more than the general population. Indeed, the study indicates former players suffer dementia 19 times more often than the normal rate for men ages 30-49.

The study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research is consistent with previous studies pertaining to NFL players and the effects of head injury. The study found that 6.1% of players age 50 and above reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis or 5x higher than the cited national average which is 1.2 %. Players ages 30 through 49 evinced a rate of 1.9% or 19 times that of the national average which is documented to be .01%.

Critics of the study question its methodology that reportedly used telephone surveys. However, research beyond the NFL consistently lists head injury as a risk factor for AD even though the exact mechanism for this relationship is not yet known.

Perhaps a more significant issue that the NFL/Dementia study underscores is the cumulative effect of head injury which likely begins with the sport of football well before any single player enters the NFL. Fortunately there are now sophisticated assessment protocols that provide each player in high school the opportunity to have his or her cognitive skills measured, thereby providing a baseline of their cognitive status. In the event a concussion occurs the player can obtain another assessment to measure the impact of the head injury that helps to keep the player off the field until his or her cognitive status returns to baseline.

It is most likely not a good idea to engage in any activity that has persistent striking of the head to any degree. Head injuries occur in football, hockey, and perhaps even soccer. The fact that the latter sport does not permit use of head bands or some type of head gear is amazing! The current study should alert the nation to re-consider youth sports as the cumulative effect of striking the head across the lifespan most likely contributes to the results reported. Equally significant is the idea that any child would be exposed to a potential head injury when his or her brain is undergoing critical development.