Brain Aging: A Challenge for Preventive and Regenerative Medicine

January 24, 2009

How The Brain Changes

How The Brain Changes

How does the human brain change between ages 26 and 106? The answer is very surprising: From ages 26 to 40, brains show similar patterns of wear and tear and low levels of gene damage. Brains 73 years and older exhibit more damage, as expected. A big surprise, however, comes in middle age. Some people between 40 and 70 have gene patterns more like younger people, and some older. In other words, middle age people show variable rates of brain aging.

The reason for this lies in the genetic profile and the switching on of silent age genes stimulated by lifestyle choices. Let's think about Alzheimer's disease. Vitallife can research a person's genes to find out if there is a risk of Alzheimer's. If the answer is yes, we can reduce the risk or delay the onset of the disease by managing lifestyle and diet, and adding supplements. Antioxidant vitamins, like vitamin E, have been touted as a means to counteract the damage produced by our own cells and by smoke and other pollutants.

Gene fingerprinting has shown that taking such vitamins, cutting calories, or taking certain medications encourages good brain health during middle and old age. Brain "banking" and the use of advanced technology to study the brain's genes have evolved together and have now reached the point where evaluating the activity of thousands of genes can be done quickly.

Looking through this technological window, we can see negative changes in two groups of genes. Genes involved in learning and memory are among those most significantly impaired by the aging of the human brain. Other glitches appear in a set of genes that regulate energy protection and transport of proteins in cells, functions that are vital for normal brain activity and to help protect brain cells from damage. Some of these alterations can be seen in people beginning in their 40s. Alzheimer's disease may involve cases of "running out of gas" too soon.
Aging Begins At Birth
When studying human physiology and the brain, it is essential to keep in mind that development and aging are a continuum. From the moment we are born, we begin to age. While our brain was forming in the embryo, it was developing nerve cells at the rate of about 50,000 per second. But before we were born we already lost at least 50 percent of those cells. Most people worry about losing nerve cells at the other end of the life cycle, when in reality, we lost more nerve cells before we entered the world. Billions of stem cells on the bottom of the third ventricle are waiting to be stimulated and replace dead neurons. Exercise, diet, reading, social communication, crosswords and Nintendo have the power to bring these cells into the place of the brain, where their growth is required. For many people retirement speeds the decline in cognitive function due to the loss of intellectual stimulation. Therefore, the most important thing to prevent accelerated brain aging is to keep the brain stimulated, whether one is still working or has already retired.

The Importance Of Diet

The second important issue is our diet. What we feed our brain is a significant factor in its well-being. Diet is as vital to the brain as to the rest of the body. For the brain to grow properly from infancy, it needs protein to maintain and develop nerve cells and their branches throughout life. In the outer layers of your brain you have millions of nerve cells and stemming from them are what we refer to as branches or "processes," specifically they are called "dendrites." Dendrites receive information from other nerve cells within the brain and from other parts of the body.

Another component of nerve cell branches is the "covering" on the axon. It is called myelin. Myelin is a white fatty covering that serves to speed up the conduction of electrical impulses. The diameter of the axon is directly proportional to the amount of myelin surrounding it. Myelin is extremely important for the well-being of the nervous system.
You are probably aware of diseases such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and MS (multiple sclerosis). These are demyelinating diseases, the term used to describe conditions that cause the loss of the protective covering of nerve fiber (the myelin) due to oxidative and inflammatory damage triggered by autoimmune response. Recent studies have led some experts to express particular concern that more children are showing signs of reduced levels of myelin, a trend they attribute to the growth in popularity of fat-free diets.

Choline And Antioxidants

It is widely accepted that Choline is extremely important in the diet. Choline is necessary to form an important neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Choline also produces enzymes that are associated with acetylcholine, ensuring that it functions appropriately. Choline can be found in soybeans, egg yolks and peanuts. Furthermore, we have known for years that B vitamins are essential for the well-being of the nervous system. Vitamin B6 is important for the metabolism of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. And vitamin B6 is vital for the creation of neurotransmitters.

Antioxidants are also important for brain health and nourishment. Most people have at least a basic understanding of the major antioxidants, vitamin C and vitamin E, and their food sources. More recently there has been much attention about blueberries and strawberries being excellent sources of antioxidants.

Unfortunately, the typical diet contains plenty of toxins and pollutants, and may not be providing sufficient amounts of important vitamins and minerals. Supplying the brain with enough antioxidants through diet alone is practically impossible; a person would need to eat tons of antioxidant-rich fruits. Vitallife can measure and customize a supplement program to assure the body is receiving enough antioxidants with its leading technological developments.

Exercise Your Body & Brain

The third factor in a preventive program for the aging brain is daily exercise, and that applies to the brain as well as the body. Exercising the total body serves to maintain a healthy brain. Vitallife offers a body and brain exercise program. We know that exercise improves skeletal muscle tone and function, and that sedentary living is a key risk factor for the serious health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, obesity, and depression.

We also need to keep discovering new pursuits, new ideas, and new activities. We should add variety to our daily routine and enhance our senses - finding new ways to get to work; getting dressed with our eyes closed, covering our ears while our spouse is talking to see if we can read lips.

Nurture And Nourish

Finally, we must nurture ourselves and each other. Sharing human and spiritual love strengthens our ability to handle life's everyday challenges. Our neurotransmitters - which process information in the brain and release important substances including serotonin and dopamine - decline as we age, so we should nourish the brain with plenty of love and social interaction.
Healthy brain aging involves the prevention and regeneration of neurons, dendrites and other nerve cell branches with a regimen that includes healthier lifestyle, diet and exercise, greater spiritual awareness and strong social relationships. Each person's aging process is unique. Vitallife's anti-aging diagnostic and treatment programs are customized for each individual's unique needs.
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