This article is republished by kind permission of leading brain/nutrition researcher David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM, author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Grain Brain - The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain's Silent Killers
By David Perlmutter, M.D., FACN, ABIHM (Spring, 2014)
We've all come to accept the notion that our brain will continue to shrink as we age.
And nowhere is this decline more impactful than in the hippocampus, the brain's memory center, one of the primary brain areas that's first to decline in Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers measuring the size of the hippocampus using MRI scans demonstrate a clear correlation
between shrinkage of the hippocampus and declining cognitive function.
So, at least as it relates to the hippocampus, size does matter.
About Dr. Perlmutter
David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM is a Board-Certified Neurologist, and widely recognized leader in the field of nutritional influences in neurological disorders.
He's alerted the public that brain problems including Alzheimer's disease, other forms of dementia, depression, and ADHD may be prevented with lifestyle and diet changes.
Dr. Perlmutter serves as an Associate Professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine, and is a frequent lecturer at medical institutions like Harvard, the University of Arizona, Scripps Institute, NYU, and Columbia University.
His many books include: The Better Brain Book, Power Up Your Brain, and the #1 New York Times Bestseller, Grain Brain - The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain's Silent Killers.
Dr. Perlmutter has also made many TV appearances, including ABC 20/20, CNN, Fox News, The Today Show, Oprah, and the Dr. Oz Show, for which he is medical advisor.
“David is an absolute leader in the treatment of neurologic disorders. He can help change the way we practice medicine.”
– Mehmet Oz, MD
Challenging the status quo notion that loss of hippocampal function is inevitable is new and exciting research showing that we have the potential to actually grow new cells in this vitally important area of the brain, expanding the hippocampus in size and enhancing memory function.
The growth of new cells in the brain, neurogenesis, is enhanced under the influence of a specific protein called BDNF.
And while there is no pharmaceutical approach to increasing BDNF, animal research shows that aerobic exercise causes a robust increase in BDNF levels and increases both the growth of new cells in the hippocampus and memory capacity.
But this relationship has been only recently demonstrated to occur in humans.
Half the group was given a stretching program to perform 3 times each week while the other half engaged in 3 days of aerobics.
After one year, the 2 groups were evaluated looking at 3 parameters:
First, using MRI scans, the change in size of the hippocampus was calculated.
Second, serum measurements before and after the trial were measured.
Finally, the study actually measured memory function at the beginning and end of the trial.
The results were breathtaking.
While the group doing the stretching program manifested a decline in memory, hippocampal size and BDNF levels, the aerobics group showed not only improvement in memory, but an actually increase in the size of the hippocampus accompanied by an increase in their blood levels of BDNF.
The authors concluded: “These results clearly indicate that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective and that starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume.”
What's more, research just published several weeks ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association
showed that blood levels of BDNF almost perfectly predict future risk for developing dementia as long as 10 years in the future.
The results of these studies have huge implications.
There is no effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease and yet, simple aerobic exercise can turn on the genetic machinery to manufacture BDNF, the brain's “growth hormone,” creating new neurons in the brain's memory center and actually improving memory.
Despite the lack of any pharmaceutical development to enhance this process, you have direct control of your BDNF levels and thus the fate of your brain.
You can increase your BDNF levels and enhance the growth of new brain cells and memory. Here's how:
- Engage in regular aerobic exercise. I recommend 20 minutes per day, 6 days each week. A good target heart rate is around 180 minus your age. Your specific target rate will depend on your level of fitness as well as medications you may be taking.
- The omega-3 DHA, like aerobic exercise, has been shown to activate the genes that turn on BDNF production. So take a supplement that contains DHA.