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About 60% of people studied in the late-middle-age range showed signs of significant brain aging. (1) For years, these changes have been considered just benign age spots on the brain, but new research has revealed their cognitive impact.
Once called simply “age spots,” these changes are now officially termed leukoaraiosis, meaning “bright spots in the white matter of the brain,” and are now believed to be a very early warning sign of problems to come.
White matter makes up much of the brain volume, running like roads throughout the brain and linking one region with another. When the white matter is damaged, executive functions like memory, processing, decision making and priority setting – along with motor function, balance and maintaining a normal gait – go south. (2)
How do Leukoaraioses Form?
While the cause is not completely clear, researchers believe that a lack of blood supply from the small vessels and capillaries to the brain may be the cause. This lack of blood means the brain may not be getting the oxygen it needs to support optimal function. When the blood/oxygen levels get too low, a form of scar tissue appears as white spots in that area of white matter. (3)
While some reports show that 50 – 95% of healthy individuals over fifty with white matter hyperintensities have no symptoms, over time, more serious brain function issues can manifest. (3)
How Blood Supply to the Brain Decreases
There are a handful of reasons why the blood and oxygen supply to the brain can decrease. These include blood pressure, arterial health, aging, and thicker blood or what is called platelet aggregation. (2)
One other possible cause is high homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is involved with the health of the walls of the small arteries. High homocysteine levels – which can be tested for with a standard blood test – are linked to an increased risk of white matter hyperintensities. (2)
Vitamin B-12, which can support healthy homocysteine levels, is also linked to a “shrinking brain” when there is not enough of it in the system. In the case of a shrinking brain, the brain volume actually decreases. Check out my article titled, “Is Your Brain Shrinking?”.
Getting Brain Volume and Oxygenation Up to Speed
Don’t worry! The good news is that with increasing the intake of B12 (preferably in sublingual form for better absorption), the brain volume returns to normal.
In Ayurveda, many therapies are used to increase brain oxygenation. Breathing exercises –called pranayama, yoga postures and meditation are all supportive of optimal brain function, youthfulness and brain oxygenation. In one study, exercise was also shown to decrease risk of certain cognitive factors by 36 – 58% in people with leukoaraiosis. Of course, in Ayurveda we suggest breathing through the nose during exercise which, as preliminary studies indicate, may increase blood oxygenation to the brain more so than mouth breathing exercise. (4)
Read more about nose-breathing exercise here: “Enjoy Exercise Every Time.”