Your Holistic Health Guide for Fighting Cognitive Decline

Build a better brain with these four herb, diet (brain food), and Vedic lifestyle tips.

In This Article

We Can Slow Down or Prevent Memory Loss and Cognitive Decline as We Age

Researchers are predicting that the rate of cognitive and memory decline in the elderly may skyrocket in the next 50 years. The good news is that there are emerging strategies to help prevent age-related brain drain.

In a large study published in the prestigious journal The Lancet, researchers evaluated the effects of some of the more popular brain health lifestyle strategies of more than 1,200 adults between the ages of 60 and 77 years.

Before the study, the group scored low on memory tests and had higher-than-normal risk factors for age-related cognitive decline, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, excess weight, and a sedentary lifestyle.

The researchers gave half the group lifestyle strategies for preventative brain health and the other group received general health advice.

See also 3 Ways to Cleanse Your Brain Lymph

The lifestyle intervention group in the brain-health study received:

  1. The DASH (Dietary Approach to Slow Hypertension) Diet,which includes fruits; veggies; whole grains; and low-fat dairy, meat and fish at least two times a week, and excludes butter, while allowing for minimal sugar and salt.
  2. Aerobic exercise two to five times per week and strength training three times per week.
  3. Brain fitness games on the computer for 10-15 minutes 3 times a week.

After two years, the lifestyle intervention group significantly outperformed the control group with higher scores for follow-up tests on mental speed and executive function. The researchers concluded that, while there is little known in terms of therapies to actually reverse age-related cognitive decline, there is much to be done in the realm of prevention before symptoms begin to manifest.

This study made it clear that a plant-based diet low in bad fats with regular exercise and cognitive stimulation helps to support better brain health. With cognitive health concerns being the next epidemic, these should be considered the basics for a healthy brain and body. Consider challenging yourself to do more for your precious noodle!

Artful sugar cube sculpture on a pink background
Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Here, we look at four ways you can stave off cognitive decline naturally:

1. Beat the Sugar Brain Blues

The research is very clear on what factors are the most damaging for the brain… and sugar takes the cake. The brain employs an enzyme called the insulin-degrading enzyme, which helps remove excess sugar from the brain.

While the brain loves sugar–it’s a delicate and complex organ–so there can be too much or too little. If blood sugar levels are chronically high but still within the normal range, the insulin-degrading enzyme might be shoveling excess sugar out of your brain for the next 30 years.

The insulin-degrading enzyme also has another job. It escorts brain plaque, which is tied to cognitive decline, out of the brain. So, here is the rub: If the insulin-degrading enzyme spends the next 30 years shoveling out excess sugar, it may not be able to keep up with its brain plaque-removal responsibilities, according to recent research.

Unfortunately, the normal levels on your blood test (between 70-99 mg/dL) allow us to maintain higher blood sugar levels than are actually safe–as it can take years before the newest research trickles down to your doctor’s office or on a lab test. We must be proactive and take some of the healthcare reins back!

To learn more on the subject of brain health and blood sugar download my FREE Blood Sugar Balancing eBook.

2. Turbo-Charge Your Workouts

New studies have suggested that regular exercise is actually better for the brain than brain game exercises like Sudoku or crossword puzzles. What is scarce in exercise recommendations are any instructions on how to breathe.

In my first book, Body, Mind and Sport, we did brain research on the effects of nose- versus mouth-breathing during exercise. We found that when you breathe through the nose, the brain slips into a meditative alpha state versus the stressed-out beta state that we saw with mouth breathing. We also saw that nose breathing exercise established brain wave coherence and less fight-or-flight emergency nervous system stress compared to mouth breathing exercise.

During your next workout, try breathing through your nose. If you have to open your mouth to breath, slow down.

See also The Science on the Best Breathing Practices for Exercise

3. Eat Brain Food

Foods rich in antioxidants, including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, pomegranates, and cherries, are lymph-moving foods. What does that mean? The brain has lymphatic channels, called glymphatics, which remove more than three pounds of toxic material and plaque from the brain each year, while you sleep. These lymph-moving foods are fundamental for brain health and brain lymph flow.

In a study published in the journal Neurology, a special protein in the brain has been linked to better cognitive function and memory as we age. In the study, the people who had more of this protein had a 50% lower rate of memory and cognitive function as they aged compared to those who had the lowest levels of this protein.This protein is encoded by a gene called the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and researchers are now discovering ways to boost BDNF. In the study, they followed 535 people for six years with an average age of 81. During the study, they measured memory and thinking skills annually. After death, they measured the amount of BDNF in the brain and found that the folks with the highest BDNF levels had the clearest brain function.

BDNF has been shown to be both protective of brain function as well as help the brain grow new brain cells.

lifespa-image-ashwagandha-roots-and-powder-wooden-background.

4. Take Ayurvedic BDNF-and Brain-Boosting Herbs and Supplements

There are only a handful of herbs that contain constituents shown to boost BDNF levels in the blood, and the main ones happen to be Ayurvedic.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) may be the world’s most powerful adaptogen, which, according to research, means it helps the body adapt to stress. Researchers have studied it for its ability to boost energy and improve muscular strength, stamina, and endurance in the morning. It also helps support deep sleep in the evening. Ashwagandha has been shown to support the health of the nervous system while boosting the natural production of BDNF. Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) is perhaps one of Ayurveda’s most powerful herbs to support brain health, memory, and cognitive function. According to research in Psychiatry Investigation, onstituents of bacopa have also been shown to boost BDNF levels in the blood. It is commonly used with kids to support mental clarity and focus. It is also used to support emotional health and stable moods during stressful times.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has emerged as one of the world’s most powerful and popular herbs, foods or spices. Originally, turmeric was known for its ability to support liver function while shielding the inner and outer skin of the body from undesirable microbes. It also supports healthy cell function and cellular replication and, more recently, it’s support for the brain and nervous system have been discovered. Constituents of turmeric, according to recent research, have also been found to boost BDNF levels in the blood while supporting healthy brain cell rejuvenation, cognitive function, and mental and emotional health.

Turmeric has been cooked in curries and soups and used as kitchen remedy for just about anything for thousands of years. Studies suggest that mixing turmeric with black pepper in a ratio of 16:1 can boost its absorption rate into the bloodstream by 2000%.

Vitamin D3 and B12 {links}: Vitamin D3 and B12 have a positive effect on brain function. Deficiencies in both are common and affect more than half the world’s population. Make sure you are getting sufficient amounts of these vitamins.

Learn more about vitamin D3 and B12.

References

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25771249
  2. https://lifespa.com/finally-research-nose-breathing-exercise/
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26819457
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3214041/
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4124189/
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24476477
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929771/
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9619120
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569212
  10. http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1696348
  11. http://www.jneurosci.org/content/35/31/11034.short
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27306699
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2504526/

6 thoughts on “Your Holistic Health Guide for Fighting Cognitive Decline”

  1. I respectfully disagree with a lot of the above recommendations for building a stronger brain. I’ve noticed myself getting much smarter over the years, starting well after the time most researchers believe the brain “stops growing.” I eat one large meal per day (dinner) rich in fat, and honestly depend on fresh fruits and fresh vegetables very little in my diet. I eat plenty of cabbage, parsley, and take medicinal herbs – that’s about the extend of my “produce,” unless we include smatterings of herbal therapies here and there. Every now and then I’ll have some organic salsa or a fresh tomato (when I can find them ripe, which is rare).

    An example meal for my dinner:
    ‘Scottish’ Oats – 2 cups of oat bran (+pink salt & 1 whole stick organic butter)
    Cheese (often large amounts, usually real rennet cheese, imported/aged 1-3 years)
    1lb bison or beef
    Ground Sesame ‘Meal’ (2 cups, plain, eaten as dry cereal)
    Something extra (sweet potatoes, yogurt, black or kidney beans w/ spices, etc)

    Sometimes I’ll chew some licorice root or make stevia leaf tea as a sort of desert. As an exception, I make light mineral medicines for midday for electrolytes, and I drink guayusa, yerba mate, and chai-spiced black tea to charge up in the morning. I make use of essential oils to help balance doshas during the day, applying them under the nose or swishing them in the mouth.

    Also, I passively meditate for about an hour a day, and actively meditate for 10-30 minutes/day. I try to take care of psychological stress before it can ever manifest as a real problem.

    But… I’m a cheese-and-meat brain! I think everyone has to figure out their own body.

    My opinion: brain power is 90% in the mind, and no amount of food or medicine will suddenly make a person a genius. Light, plant-based diets are over-rated for psychological health, in my opinion.

    Reply
    • I don’t think anyone here is trying to become a genius I just want to slow the degeneration of my wife’s brain she has early onset dementia and I miss her!

      Reply
  2. Dear John,
    Appreciate your article very much. What herbs would you recommend me to improve my gait and limbs strength? I can’t play the piano or guitar anymore though I played them for over 25 years.
    I was deprived of thiamine (55 days) after intestinal surgeries. I drop off into a comatose stage around 53 days. Neurosurgeon did MRI on my brains and noticed lesions in my hypothalamus region. Blood test then confirmed my thiamine level was 0% then. I was immediately given thiamine infused IV drips. I partially woke up 2 days later. After 1.5 years I recovered my memory (95% now) but limbs weak. I typed with 2 fingers now and walk with help of a walking stick.
    I am now taking thiamine tablets once a day and monthly thiamine jabs. My neurosurgeon said there’s nothing more she can do for me. I am 55 yrs old (male). Your advice on herbs most appreciated.

    Reply
  3. Twice I have tried to take Ashwaganda as recommended by my naturopath. Both times I found it to make me very nauseous.
    Do you have any ideas? Very disappointing.

    Reply
  4. Dear Dr. John,
    I highly recommend you check out the work of Dr. Mario Martinez on the impacts of cultural beliefs on aging and health. It is truly groundbreaking, and points to how important it is for us to stop assuming that cognitive ‘decline’ comes with age!!!!!!! Yes, lifestyle matters, but just refusing to see ourselves as ‘elderly’ and remembering our true status as elders is immensely helpful.
    Plus – I heartily disagree that computer ‘brain games’ are helpful – more screen time will make things worse; what we need is the ability for our minds to relax and detox – through meditation, staring out the window, reducing anxiety, etc. You know this and teach it so well. This article on one study does not give the big picture, I think.
    Thanks for all your work.
    Kristine

    Reply
  5. When you were discussing BDNF, I wonder if you intended to say: ” the people who had more of this protein had a 50% lower rate of memory and cognitive function”. Did you mean to say lower rate of disfunction?

    Reply

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