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September 13, 2008

Science News Roundup: Brain Health

By Worker Bee
11 Comments

human brainWe’re back with another slew of new scientific studies that seem to reinforce our commitment to the Primal Blueprint. Of course, we admittedly don’t need much convincing, but it’s always important for newcomers to see some of the tangible benefits of the lifestyle supported by cutting-edge scientific research.  This week, we’re examining the effects of behavior and nutrition on brain health and memory.

Okay, you all know how the Primal life promotes healthy weight loss, lean mass retention, increased energy, better sleep – those are the basic benefits that attract most newcomers, after all – but brain health? Sounds a little weird, yeah?

It should. While science has made huge strides in neuroscience, for most of history people had a very basic conception of the brain. Some suspected that the big fleshy thing inside our skulls had something to do with our emotions, thoughts, and feelings, but much was attributed to our hearts (see: the leftover colloquial “to know it by heart”). Even today it’s difficult to imagine our perceptions and ponderings as something purely biological. But, as science has confirmed, mind is matter. Our brain is the organ responsible for thought and, like any organ, its health responds to diet and lifestyle. Scientists may just now be unraveling the inner machinations of brain chemistry, but three recent studies suggest an exciting interplay between exercise, diet, and brain health.

The Shrinkage Factor

liver sashimi

Over a five-year period, a group of outwardly healthy seniors underwent a study to examine the role of B-12 vitamins in old-age brain shrinkage. Based on the patients’ B-12 levels, they were split into three groups, and those with the greatest deficiency were six times as likely to experience shrinkage. But the problem isn’t just limited to the elderly: “some studies suggest that two out of five people” don’t get enough B-12 in their diet. The researchers say a “diet rich in meat, fish, fortified cereals, and mllk” can help, but – Grok would love this – shellfish and liver are the best sources for B-12 around.

Now, brain shrinkage sounds positively terrifying by itself, but its effects can be even nastier. Memory loss and dementia, according to top Alzheimer’s experts, have been linked to brain shrinkage. Plus, you have to live with the pounding headaches caused by your birdbrain knocking around inside your skull (okay, maybe not that…). Seniors are obviously more at risk than younger people, but it’s always a great idea to get a head start. Kids, go crazy with the shellfish and liver (or supplement, to cut costs), or you might just go plain crazy.

Walking

old lady walking

According to a new Australian study, regular walks (to the tune of two and a half hours per week) can improve memory loss in the over-50 set. Participants all suffered from memory loss (though not on dementia levels) and were split into two groups. One group lived normally, while the other engaged in roughly 142 minutes of moderate exercise (mainly walking) per week. The exercise group performed better in cognitive tests, including better “delayed recall” and lower Clinical Dementia Rating scores. Improvements were shown even a year after the six-month trial – a resounding success, by all accounts, and even more effective than anti-dementia medication. Besides, “unlike medication, which was found to have no significant effect on mild cognitive impairment, “the exercise program has numerous other benefits (of which we’re all aware).

They say increasing walking in the senior population could delay the onset of dementia by 12 months, reducing the worldwide numbers of dementia patients by over nine million. We’d say that’s worth the occasional jaunt – wouldn’t you agree?

Exercise

mice running

One health issue Grok certainly never dealt with was radiation poisoning (unless you believe the stories of aliens visiting early Mayans and helping with the Great Pyramid). Although there were no nuclear proliferation issues, no lethal cell-phones (jury’s still out on that one), and no x-rays in the Paleolithic era, a new study suggests that he may have been prepared to deal with a little radiation. Nine-day old lab mice (always the lab mice – poor guys) were given a therapeutic dose of radiation, resulting in mild brain damage – proportionally, about the same damage children often get from radiation treatment for brain tumors. Half of the radiated mice were given access to a running wheel; half were not. After thirteen weeks, all the mice were released into an open space and given room to explore. Scientists analyzed their behavior in this new environment and found that the exercising mice displayed “increased motor activity and altered movement patterns that were normalized.” Mice who had exercised also had 50% more stem cells in their brains.

Scientists project that motor-skill deficiencies in radiation-treated children might be alleviated by stimulating exercise. Practice makes perfect, one could say.

It’s interesting to note that each of these studies sets out to prove what we Primal enthusiasts already know to be true: that eating the right things and exercising the right way improve our mental health. They approach these activities – eating shellfish and liver, walking regularly, exercising – as the aberration, as the solution to “inevitable” problems facing humans. To us, this is just more evidence that a holistic approach to health that encompasses nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle is absolutely key. But for most people, there’s a danger in reading these studies and treating each discovery as a solitary cure, as if someone could just change one thing and reap the benefits.

Just a bit of food for thought.

limonada, shinyai, Chris Devers, Gaeten Lee Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

More Worker Bees’ Weekly Bites

10 Rules of Aging Well

Rule #10 of the Primal Blueprint: Use Your Mind

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11 Comments on "Science News Roundup: Brain Health"

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Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later

The Australia study is interesting because it highlights the difficulty in knowing what causes improvements in studies like these. It is likely the subjects in the walking group were exposed to more novel stimuli when out on their walks than those in the control group, who remained in more familiar surroundings. The additional stimuli could have been wholly or partly responsible for the cognitive improvements.

It would have been good to include a third group who were also taken out on the same walks, but confined to wheelchairs, thus controlling for the additional stimuli.

Rodney
Rodney
8 years 16 days ago

Ok, so who has a few good suggestions for preparing liver? While I don’t HATE it, I definitely don’t enjoy the flavor or even the texture. Other than the old standby of fried liver with onions, what else can I do to make it more palatable??

dragonmamma
dragonmamma
8 years 16 days ago

Every time I read an article like this, I wonder how many more “senior moments” I’d be having if I didn’t exercise and eat well! I’d probably be ready for the nursing home by now.

I haven’t had liver in ages; now I want some! Sorry, Rodney, I’ve only ever had it fried with onions.

Maria
Maria
8 years 16 days ago

Liver pate can be tasty, especially if you put in enough extra stuff to camouflage the liver flavor. Boil the liver and then mix in a processor with raw onion, softened butter and seasonings to taste. To tone down the flavor, throw in a hard boiled egg or two. Since going primal, I’ve eaten it as a dip or spread on cucumbers, bell peppers and lettuce leaves.

Amy
8 years 15 days ago

Chopped liver was a favorite in my grandmother’s house; it’s similar to the pate described above. Unfortunately most of us were scared away from eating it after the early 80’s because of the cholesterol. I need to find a good Jewish deli.

David Solie
8 years 15 days ago

Aside from liver and shell fish, are B12 supplements of any value? Isolated nutrients of any kind seem to fall short of the “real thing” found in food…

dragonmamma
dragonmamma
8 years 15 days ago

David, nutritional yeast flakes are a good source of B-12. You can buy it in bulk at most health food stores.

I sprinkle it on veggies and meatballs with marinara sauce. I don’t eat dairy products, so I use it instead of parmesan cheese.

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7 years 10 months ago

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