Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Most people think of aging in association with a decline of the brain and body. While it’s true that your body systems tend to breakdown faster the older you get, this is not out of your control. You do not have to allow your physical or mental capacities to weaken with time. You can do something about it and keep your Brain Fit.

Befriending Grandfather Time

It’s not about trying to prevent aging, that’s impossible. But you do have a lot of control over how gracefully you enter your older years and you can work on your brain at any age, in fact, the sooner the better.

While there is no magic elixir of youth, many nutrients show a benefit of keeping minds sharp throughout life. A couple of new studies highlight a few of these nutrients in particular.

Eat your spinach

One nutrient, folate, has long been suspected to provide benefit to the brain. It’s known that folate is a crucial nutrient during pregnancy for appropriate neurological development, but it seems to play a significant role in the older adult brain as well.

Several studies show that people with higher levels of folate in their blood do better on cognitive tests. Now, new data using a large population of participants from 60 to 90 years old, add fuel to that argument.

Researchers studied over a thousand older adults by looking at their folate levels, performance on cognitive tests and brain scans to determine how all of these related. They found that higher folate levels associated with better performance on mental tasks, especially related to processing speed.

They also found that higher folate levels associated with fewer breakdowns of white matter tracts in the brain. White matter is like the ‘wiring’ that connects different parts of the brain together. So maintaining your white matter ‘wiring’ literally allows you to connect your thoughts.

What foods are high in folate? Spinach, asparagus, lentils and garbanzo beans are some of the best folate sources. A half cup of all these foods provides about 200 micrograms, which is half of your minimum daily requirement of 400 micrograms.

Teaching old dogs new tricks

Another couple of nutrients, alpha-lipoic acid (LA) and acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), also received recent high marks in brain research recently. This study used dogs and provided some insight into the brain boosting benefits of these two nutrients. While dogs are not people, they provide a good model for studying certain aspects of cognitive decline.

LA and ALC have been implicated in brain health in the past, both individually and as part of complex food mixtures. They most likely work by protecting the health of your mitochondria, which are the power plants in all of your cells. Brain cells in particular require a lot of energy to do their job and mitochondria are very important.

The new study looked at LA and ALC acting together, given as supplements. The results showed that old dogs that received the supplement had a striking improvement in the ability to learn new tricks, especially related to spatial learning.

Wide varieties of animal and plant sources contain these nutrients. LA is high in kidney, heart and liver as well as spinach and broccoli. A form of ALC is high in beef, chicken and dairy. But this mostly lacks the acetyl part, which is good for making brain chemicals involved in memory. The best source of the right form of ALC for brain health is probably supplements.

You are what you eat

These studies don’t suggest that you can just start popping supplements in order to ensure life-long brain health and fitness. However, they do support the notion that some nutritional supplements can help, especially if combined with a healthy diet and regular moderate exercise.

The old adage that ‘you are what you eat’ applies to your brain as well. In fact, it probably applies to your brain more than anything else since the brain uses 5 to 10 times it’s share of the energy that you get from your food. Even though the brain only weights about 2% of your body, it uses 10 – 20% of the calories that you consume.

Your diet literally goes to your head.

Copyright (c) 2007 The Brain Code LLC