Monthly Archives: April 2012

Lifestyle and Brain Health

There was a conference held in Washington DC recently that dealt with prevention of dementia. This was an important event, as our society tends to approach health quite reactively. Indeed, the first Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia was held in mid April and lifestyle was highlighted as an important factor in both the etiology and potential protection against dementia.

As my work over the past decade or more has been focused on a proactive and comprehensive brain health lifestyle ® to build brain resiliency, it is easy to understand how pleased I am to see such conferences and discussion. I have been working to promote a comprehensive lifestyle approach that includes nutrition, socialization, mental stimulation, physical activity, and spirituality to build brain health across the lifespan (see www.paulnussbaum.com).

I was pleased to serve as guest editor of Generations, the official journal of the American Society on Aging (www.asaging.org) that published a special issue on the latest clinical research on brain health and lifestyle (Generations, 35, 2011). The information was then presented at the recent Annual Conference of the American Society of Aging-Brain Health Forum. Interestingly, the event was also held in Washington DC. Perhaps the one-two punch on brain health and lifestyle will generate some interest in the legislative world where it can help to prioritize a national proactive and lifelong effort for brain health.

A brain health lifestyle ® needs to begin in the womb and to be prioritized across the entire lifespan. Delaying or withstanding the effects of the neuropathological markers of the disease can have an enormous benefit for both quality of life and the economics of Alzheimer’s disease. There is nothing wrong with ongoing study for an intervention that will halt or cure the disease. However, it is simply foolish to ignore the robust literature on the relationship between lifestyle and brain resiliency. It is the resiliency of the human brain that is at present perhaps our best approach to confront and combat potential dementia.

Most important, the proactive brain health lifestyle ® (see Nussbaum-Save Your Brain at Amazon.com) needs to be started at the earliest of ages, prioritized in our lives, and understood from a deeply personal level.

Love and the Brain

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found a strong relationship between maternal support and nurturing in early childhood and the size of the hippocampus by school age. This is particularly interesting since so much recent study has focused on the power of the environment in shaping the structure and the function of the brain.

Children who obtain loving and nurturing care from their parents and particularly their mother (per this study) demonstrate larger hippocampal volume years later. The hippocampus is a structure in our brains critical for new learning and for processing stressful input. Chronic stress has been shown to negatively impact the structure and function of the hippocampus. This is why persons with chronic anxiety have memory problems.

On the positive side, a larger hippocampus not only helps us cope more effectively with daily stress, it also relates to reduced risk of mental illness and even to reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Once again, early life interventions, in this case understanding the importance of loving our children, can have lifelong health benefits.

We need to continue to appreciate and respect the enormous import that factors such as attitude, positive spirit, faith, and love have on our health and wellbeing. These things do not come in a pill or liquid, but they represent the best medicine we have and we should all prescribe ourselves a daily dose.