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Brain Evolution and Why it is Meaningful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

Over the last months, thanks to the traf­fic growth of SharpBrains.com (over 100,000 unique vis­i­tors per month these days, THANK YOU for vis­it­ing today and please come back!), a num­ber of proac­tive book agents, pub­lish­ers and authors have con­tact­ed us to inform us of their lat­est brain-relat­ed books. We have tak­en a look at many books, wrote reviews of The Dana Guide to Brain Health book review‚ and Best of the Brain from Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can, and inter­viewed sci­en­tists such as Judith Beck, Robert Emmons and James Zull.

Brain Trust ProgramNow we are launch­ing a new Author Speaks Series to pro­vide a plat­form for lead­ing sci­en­tists and experts writ­ing high-qual­i­ty brain-relat­ed books to reach a wide audi­ence. We are hon­ored to start the series with an arti­cle by Lar­ry McCleary, M.D, for­mer act­ing Chief of Pedi­atric Neu­ro­surgery at Den­ver Children’s Hos­pi­tal, and author of The Brain Trust Pro­gram: A Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Based Three-Part Plan to Improve Mem­o­ry, Ele­vate Mood, Enhance Atten­tion, Alle­vi­ate Migraine and Menopausal Symp­toms, and Boost Men­tal Ener­gy (Perigee Trade, 2007).

With­out fur­ther ado, let’s enjoy Dr. McCleary’s arti­cle:

Brain Evo­lu­tion and Why it is Mean­ing­ful Today to Improve Our Brain Health

You may feel over­whelmed by the stream of seem­ing­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry sug­ges­tions regard­ing the best way to main­tain men­tal clar­i­ty as you age. Based on an analy­sis of sem­i­nal fac­tors in the devel­op­ment of mod­ern brain anato­my, I believe it is pos­si­ble to make some very com­pelling rec­om­men­da­tions for grow­ing big brains, enhanc­ing their func­tion, and mak­ing them resis­tant to the aging process. These may be loose­ly cat­e­go­rized as fac­tors per­tain­ing to the men­tal or phys­i­cal attrib­ut­es of the brain. Although they are not tru­ly inde­pen­dent enti­ties, such a con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion pro­vides a basis for the gen­er­a­tion of brain healthy pre­scrip­tions. Diet, phys­i­cal exer­cise, and stress reduc­tion enhance neu­ronal resilience. Sleep and men­tal stim­u­la­tion are vital for cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty, learn­ing, and mem­o­ry.

Diet: Fol­low a mod­ern shore-based/­ma­rine diet includ­ing seafood in its most gen­er­al sense, non-starchy veg­eta­bles of all col­ors, berries, and eggs. Oth­er sources of lean pro­tein con­tain­ing long-chain omega 3 fat­ty acids such as free range beef, chick­en, bison, or elk are nutri­tious alter­na­tives.

Phys­i­cal exer­cise (Think fight or flight — activ­i­ty.): Include all types. Aer­o­bic activ­i­ties such as swim­ming, bicy­cling, walk­ing, or hik­ing for pro­mo­tion of vas­cu­lar health and weight con­trol; resis­tance train­ing for pro­mo­tion of neu­rotroph­ic fac­tors, nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring com­pounds that make brain cells more resis­tant to aging, such as IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth fac­tor-1) and BDNF (Brain-derived neu­rotroph­ic fac­tor); and bal­ance, coor­di­na­tion, and agili­ty train­ing such as ping-pong, bal­ance beam, tram­po­line, and jump­ing rope to enhance cog­ni­tive speed and motor skills.

Stress Con­trol: From an evo­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive, stres­sors (such as meet­ing a cave bear) and intense phys­i­cal activ­i­ty (run­ning or fight­ing) were brief in dura­tion and usu­al­ly occurred togeth­er. Mod­ern stres­sors (psy­cho­log­i­cal or emo­tion­al stress) tend to be unremit­ting and are gen­er­al­ly uncou­pled from the phys­i­cal (fight or flight) com­po­nent, mean­ing stress devel­ops with­out any asso­ci­at­ed phys­i­cal activ­i­ty. Such intense phys­i­cal pur­suits are now called exer­cise. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, exer­cise is a per­fect phys­i­o­log­ic anti­dote for stress due to its ben­e­fi­cial impact on cor­ti­sol (the stress hor­mone) and blood pres­sure and should be incor­po­rat­ed into any pro­gram of stress reduc­tion.

Ade­quate sleep: The body needs rest, but the brain requires sleep. Acute or chron­ic sleep depri­va­tion caus­es dev­as­tat­ing short and long-term con­se­quences to brain anato­my (synap­tic loss) and func­tion (mem­o­ry and learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties). Off-line infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing and mem­o­ry con­sol­i­da­tion are addi­tion­al sleep-relat­ed ben­e­fits.

Men­tal stim­u­la­tion: Brain-train­ing, a cog­ni­tive­ly chal­leng­ing lifestyle, nov­el­ty, and social­iza­tion are vital for the pro­mo­tion of neu­ronal plas­tic­i­ty and neu­ro­ge­n­e­sis (the for­ma­tion of new nerve cells and neu­ronal con­nec­tions), the enhance­ment of spe­cif­ic brain func­tions such as mem­o­ry, and the devel­op­ment of cog­ni­tive reserve — addi­tion­al men­tal pro­cess­ing poten­tial that may be brought online when need­ed.

The com­bi­na­tion of these rec­om­men­da­tions, each of which was instru­men­tal in the trans­for­ma­tion from prim­i­tive to mod­ern ner­vous sys­tems, pro­vides a tem­plate for the most log­i­cal approach for enhanc­ing men­tal func­tion and resist­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion as we trav­el through life.

The Evo­lu­tion­ary Ratio­nale

The human brain clear­ly has the genet­ic poten­tial for dra­mat­ic expan­sion. This was illus­trat­ed about Read the rest of this entry »

Cognitive Reserve and Lifestyle

Update: we now have an in-depth inter­view with Yaakov Stern, lead­ing advo­cate of the cog­ni­tive reserve the­o­ry, and one of the authors of the paper we review below: click on Build Your Cog­ni­tive Reserve-Yaakov Stern. 

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In hon­or of the Week of Sci­ence pre­sent­ed at Just Sci­ence from Mon­day, Feb­ru­ary 5, through Sun­day, Feb­ru­ary 11, we will be writ­ing about “just sci­ence” this week. We thought we would take this time to dis­cuss more deeply some of the key sci­en­tif­ic pub­li­ca­tions in brain fit­ness.

Today, we will high­light the key points in an excel­lent review of cog­ni­tive reserve: Scarmeas, Niko­laos and Stern, Yaakov. Cog­ni­tive reserve and lifestyle. Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal and Exper­i­men­tal Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy. 2003;25:625–33.

What is Cog­ni­tive Reserve?
The con­cept of a cog­ni­tive reserve has been around since 1998 when a post mortem analy­sis of 137 peo­ple with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease showed that the patients exhib­it­ed few­er clin­i­cal symp­toms than their actu­al pathol­o­gy sug­gest­ed. (Katz­man et al. 1988) They also showed high­er brain weights and greater num­ber of neu­rons when com­pared to age-matched con­trols. The inves­ti­ga­tors hypoth­e­sized that the patients had a larg­er “reserve” of neu­rons and abil­i­ties that off­set the loss­es caused by Alzheimer’s. Since then the con­cept of cog­ni­tive reserve has been defined as the abil­i­ty of an indi­vid­ual to tol­er­ate pro­gres­sive brain pathol­o­gy with­out demon­strat­ing clin­i­cal cog­ni­tive symp­toms.
Read the rest of this entry »

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