Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Even more help for your brain!

Many thanks to those of you who have been listening to the Guide To Self radio show on KDIA, 1640 AM at 5 pm in the SF Bay Area! It's been a fun ride for the first three months. And I think I'm improving every time out. Regardless of my delivery (which varies in it's quality!), the content is always compelling if you are interested in learning something new about your self, your life, your relationships, your relationship with God, or your parenting skills. It's all there. Tune in and have a listen!

I'm writing today about EVEN MORE supplements and top secret ways to keep your brain chugging along. I spent three 1/2 hour shows talking about all the tips I've discovered to improve the functioning of your brain - better memory, happier mood, less irritability, greater clarity of thought, reduced risk of Alzheimer's and much, much more.

So here are additional tips on how to keep your brain strong and buffed!

Folate Cuts Risk of Alzheimer’s by 55%

As we age, our bodies absorb folate less efficiently from food. However, adequate folate is essential for human health in a number of ways. In particular, it’s been shown to be helpful to the heart as well as for healthy brain function. A blood test to check levels of folate should be routine for people over age 60 who have memory problems. If it's low, you may want to consider taking supplements.

One recent study also shows that older adults who meet the recommended daily allowance of folate cut their risk of Alzheimer’s in half compared with those whose diets contained less that the RDA.

Folate has been shown to reduce the levels of homocysteine in the blood which helps reduce your risk of heart disease. High homocysteine levels have been related to a greater likelihood of stroke and AD. Homocysteine is one of the bad guys in your body who causes tiny scrapes and cuts inside the walls of your arteries. This is because homocysteine is made of sharp little crystals which run through your arteries.

Recommended daily dose: You can reduce your homocysteine levels by taking between 800 mcg of folate. I take 800 mcg of folate per day. Warning: do NOT exceed 1,000 mcg per day of folate. You don’t want to over do it. According to “You: The Owner’s Manual,” taking 800 mcg of folate per day makes you roughly six years younger.

Drink a Cup of Joe a Day for Better Brain Activity

Several recent studies have shown that drinking one cup of coffee per day has a beneficial effect on your brain. It seems that caffeine has a positive impact on the neurotransmitters, the messengers or postal service, in your brain. One cup of Joe per day has been shown to reduce your risk of Parkinson’s disease by 40% and the risk of Alzheimer’s by 20%. The effect of caffeine is significant (regardless of whether it’s in coffee, tea or soda.). What’s more, recent research shows that roasted coffee residues are high in antioxidants. I would stay away from the sodas however. They are liquid sugar and are filled with artificial preservatives, coloring and sweeteners. Also, caffeine causes some people to become more nervous and agitated. It may cause irregular heartbeats, problems with diabetes, and migraines. And of course, too much caffeine may cause trouble with your sleep and increase your heart rate and blood pressure if you’re sensitive to it. So as always proceed with caution and good sense.

Get some ALA ASAP to reduce AD!

Let me explain. ALA stands for alpha-lipoic acid (ALFA lih-POE-ic as-sid) while AD stands for Alzheimer’s disease. One of the best supplements to hit the shelves is alpha-lipoic acid, or ALA. This is a well-researched amino acid that is essential for our body to work properly but is not made in the body.

ALA works as a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are a way to “rust proof” your body. When my kids leave their bikes out in front in the winter, I remind them that the rain will cause the bikes to rust and not work very well. When you leave a salad out on the counter, the lettuce turns brown and wilts. These changes are due to the combination of oxygen with the exposed molecules resulting in a process called oxidation.

We can’t live without oxygen. Yet oxygen, in the form of free radicals, is at the core of much of the aging process. Free radicals are created constantly within cells as oxygen is burned to make energy from nutrients. Free radicals are the unstable oxygen molecules which damage our bodies on a cellular level. Antioxidants work to protect our body from harmful free radicals. So think of free radicals as another group of bad guys in the body.

Bruce Ames at UC Berkeley has done some incredible work with ALA. ALA is capable of reaching tissues made up primarily of fat (e.g., the brain and nervous system) and those made up mainly from water, such as the heart. It also boosts the power of other traditional antioxidants such as vitamins E and C.

But that’s NOT the best part. Dr. Ames has shown that ALA can reverse age-related decline in brain function. ALA is currently used in hospitals in cases of poisoning, in particular heavy metal poisoning which I’ve talked about in the past in relation to autism, ADHD, and more. ALA helps the liver to purge toxins from the body. It also acts to shield the liver from disorders such as hepatitis and cirrhosis.

ALA has even been seen to increase blood flow to nerves. And that’s not all! ALA actually helps regulate blood sugar levels by helping to remove glucose from the blood. When your blood sugar is not well regulated it leads to all sorts of problems, such as moodiness, irritability, diabetes, and heart disease.

Minute amounts of Alpha-Lipoic Acid are found in foods such as spinach, liver and yeast. Yet, supplements are necessary if you want to take advantage of these massive benefits that I’ve just gone over. Because the uses of ALA are so varied and the studies are ongoing, the perfect dosage of ALA varies.

Best dosage: As an antioxidant, a typical range is 25 mg to 200 mg per day. It can be given in dosages as high as 600 mg per day for diabetics. But I want you to be cautious with this one.

While incredibly promising, there is not yet complete information on side effects or long-term effects of ALA usage at "normal" doses. While you should work in concert with your doctor to track usage, be aware that few doctors have much, if any, experience with ALA at this point in time. According to Dr. Ames, side effects are very rare -- primarily a slight rash occurs in one out of every 300 people. The most important interaction is with the dosage of diabetes medications.

At this point a safe range seems to be 25 to 200 mg per day. The benefits at this point seem to outweigh any adverse affects. I take 200 mg per day.

L-Carnitine for happier mood and better focus

L-Carnitine (LC) is an amino acid, a naturally occurring substance in the body, that aids the transportation of fatty acids so they can be burned for fuel in the brain. L-carnitine helps in the breakdown of fat in the cells so you can produce more energy. LC works well to improve your mood, concentration as well as protects against the normal effects of aging by slowing down damage down by free radicals. It also reduces inflammation of brain tissue.

Best dose: 500 to 1500 mg twice per day.

Think Positively

Think happy and positive thoughts. Philippians 4:8 puts it very well, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious ... think about these things."

Work on correcting your Gremlin thinking. Gremlins are your automatic, negative thoughts. These thoughts race through your mind quickly and quietly. Realize that your thoughts can lie to you. So it’s essential that you learn to talk back to and challenge your thoughts. Don’t merely accept your thoughts without questioning them.

Examples of Gremlins:

• ‘All or nothing’ Gremlin – Black or white thinking
• ‘Always’ or ‘never’ Gremlin – Using the terms ‘always’ or ‘never’ in your thoughts. Paradoxically, ‘always’ and ‘never’ are never correct.
• The Negative Gremlin – He focuses on the negative in the situation and ignores the positive.
• Fortune Telling Gremlin – This Gremlin predicts bad outcome before they happen.
• Guilt Gremlin – This Gremlin starts phrases with ‘I should have…’ or ‘I ought to…’ Guilt doesn’t serve a purpose unless it drives you to appropriate and constructive action.
• Blame Gremlin – This goblin loves to point the finger at other people when things go wrong.

All in all there are 12 types of Gremlin thinking which seek to convince you that the worst case scenario is the most likely scenario. It’s not true. Don’t fall for it. Learn to talk back to your thoughts.

As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you are right."

Here is how the brain works: You have a thought. Your brain releases chemicals. An electrical transmission goes across your brain, and you become aware of what you are thinking. Every time you have a negative thought, your brain releases negative chemicals that make your body feel bad. When you get mad, for ex., your muscles tense, your heart beats faster, your hands start to sweat, and your brain freezes. Your body reacts to every positive and negative thought you have. You can see this in a polygraph or biofeedback.

Beliefs drive behavior. For example, some may believe they are doomed to have poor interpersonal relationships, because that is what happened prior to their changing old patterns. The goal here is to change the negative beliefs to positive ones and to reduce the associated anxiety. Coaching can be very powerful in helping individuals to set appropriate goals, improve organization, planning and consistent performance.

Research by Mark George, MD and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health demonstrated that happy, hopeful thoughts had an overall calming effect on the brain, while negative thoughts activated areas of the brain which are involved with depression and anxiety. Your thoughts matter. Your thoughts are real. Every thought you have causes a physiological, a bodily, reaction. Watch your thoughts!

Deep Breathing Fuels the Brain

Learn to remind yourself to breathe deeply all day long.

• Diaphragmatic breathing.

• Increases oxygen to the brain and body, lessens temper flare-ups, reduces impulsivity and increases the ability to think clearly.

• Slight changes in oxygen content in the brain can alter the way a person feels and behaves.

Diaphragmatic breathing is a method of deep breathing where you breathe into the stomach or diaphragm. The emphasis is on exhaling all of the air in your lungs with each breath.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is a method of administering pure oxygen at greater than atmospheric pressure to a patient in order to improve or correct conditions. Providing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber we are able to deliver 10-15 times more oxygen then if delivered at sea level or at normal atmospheric levels. Increased blood flow to all areas of the brain was evident on brain scans after 28 treatments in the hyperbaric chamber treatment. Benefits of the treatment were evident three months later. The point here is not to urge you to seek our hyperbaric oxygen treatment but to demonstrate the importance of breathing deeply throughout the day.

Another dramatic illustration of the importance of breathing is seen in the following statistic. Eighty percent of people with some sort of chronic breathing disorder also suffer from anxiety and/or depression. This is an incredibly strong relationship and shows the power of breath to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Smile Throughout the Day Regardless of Your Mood

Smile. Forcing yourself to smile is a way to “trick” your mind into thinking that you are happy. It is critical to smile, especially when you don’t feel like it!

When we are happy we smile and when we smile, we feel happier.

Feedback between levels of the brain is bi-directional. Information goes both ways.

Smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, can improve your mood. One of the most significant emerging principles in the neurology field in the 1990’s is the idea that the feedback between levels of the brain is bi-directional. In other words, messages travel both ways between various levels within the brain. So if you activate a higher level, such as the cortex, you will be priming a lower level, such as the cerebellum. And vice-versa. Thus, smiling, even when you don’t feel like it, can improve your mood!

Socialize With Others

Surround yourself with intelligent and interesting people.

• One of the best ways to keep expanding the networks in your brain, in your social life and in the business world.
• Verbal interaction with other capable individuals causes your brain to create new connections and pathways.

Research has shown that the human brain continues to learn, change and create new pathways no matter your age. The brain needs exercise as much as any muscle in your body.

Challenge Your Brain Daily

Your brain is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more you can use it. Every time you learn something new your brain makes a new connection. Learning enhances blood flow and activity in the brain. If you go for long periods without learning something new you start to lose some of the connections in the brain and you begin to struggle more with memory and learning.
Do vocabulary exercises, quizzes, puzzles, crosswords, debates, anagrams and brainteasers. Attend current events seminars. Write in a journal. Volunteer your time. Learn a new skill, language or subject.

As you continue to stretch your brain, pathways in your brain, which would normally shrink with age, branch out and make new connections. The intellectual stimulation creates alternate pathways by which chemical messengers can communicate. Thus, if old pathways are damaged, the brain can reroute the necessary messages to essential parts of the brain.

Anatomist Marian Diamond, PhD, from the University of California at Berkeley studied aging in rats. Those rats who were allowed an easy life without any new challenges or learning had less brain weight than those rats that were challenged and forced to learn new information in order to be fed. New learning actually caused increased brain density and weight. Strive to learn something new everyday, even if it is just for a short period of time. Einstein said that if a person studies a subject for just 15 minutes a day in a year he will be an expert, and in five years he may be a national expert.

Get Your Sleep

Early to bed, early to rise…

• You need at least 7 hours per night to optimize brain functioning.

• Sleep deprivation decreases brain activity and limits access to learning, memory, and concentration.

• A recent study showed that those who are sleep deprived had less overall brain activity than those who are not.

Keep Your Stress Manageable

Stress hormones have been shown in animals to be toxic to memory centers.

• Brain cells can die with prolonged stress.
• Managing stress effectively is essential to good brain function.

Make love with your spouse frequently!

Sexual contact with a partner at least once a week led to delayed menopause, increased estrogen levels, and delayed aging.

Brain imaging studies at UCLA have shown that decreased estrogen levels are associated with overall decreased brain activity and poor memory. Enhancing estrogen levels for women through regular sexual activity enhances overall brain activity and improves memory.

Intimacy and emotional bonding may be the most influential factors in the positive aspects of sex (sex with a partner is more important than simply an orgasm). Appropriate sex is one of the keys to the brain's fountain of youth.

In a series of studies by Winnifred B. Cutler, PhD at Stanford University it was found that regular sexual contact had an important impact on physical and emotional well being of women. Sexual contact with a partner at least once a week led to more fertile, regular menstrual cycles, shorter menses, delayed menopause, increased estrogen levels, and delayed aging. Brain imaging studies at UCLA have shown that decreased estrogen levels are associated with overall decreased brain activity and poor memory.

Enhancing estrogen levels for women through regular sexual activity enhances overall brain activity and improves memory.

In Dr. Cutler's study the occurrence of orgasm was not as important as the fact that sex was with another person. Intimacy and emotional bonding may be the most influential factors in the positive aspects of sex. Appropriate sex is one of the keys to the brain's fountain of youth.

Listen to the right music to accomplish your goals

Use music to help develop concentration skills. In a famous study at the University of California at Irvine, students who listened to Mozart's Sonata for 2 Pianos increased visual-spatial intelligence by about 10 percent.

Another recent study demonstrated that students who play a musical instrument scored higher on average on the SAT than children who did not play music.

Music can either help or hurt concentration. In a recent study from my clinic, we had 12 teenagers play the game Memory while they listened to different types of music: rock, rap, classical, and no music. Rap was associated with the worst performance. The rock group also scored poorly. Interestingly, the group did slightly better with classical and jazz music than no music at all.

If you are interested in the full 38-page white paper on Top Tips to Optimize Your Brain, go to http://www.guidetoself.com/EmailSignupWhitePaper.htm for a complimentary copy.

Past shows of Guide To Self are available at http://www.guidetoself.com/interviews.htm.

I hope you are healthy and happy!

All my love,

Dr. John
Guide To Self(C) 2005.


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