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Holistic Brain Care

June 30, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

I’ve noticed that some people tend to compartmentalize their health conditions. Doctors and lay people alike often think about organs and systems in isolation. It’s not uncommon for someone to identify the status of their health by mentioning a particular condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. But the truth is that any serious health concern or collection of symptoms is almost always influenced by seemingly unrelated conditions. This concept is widely embraced in the holistic community but has gained slower acceptance in the allopathic medical establishment. Regardless of what kind of doctor treats you, I think it’s important to emphasize the subtle links between body systems. Today, I’ll illustrate an example by connecting the dots among several separate news items.

Before I get into the meat of the research, I want to state my point of view bluntly: If you exhibit blood sugar irregularities, do not eat a fairly nutritious diet and lead a pretty inactive existence … you’re almost certainly contributing to your risk of both age-related dementia and heart disease. Or, you can look at things from another perspective: If you proactively control your blood sugar, eat a primarily whole food/antioxidant rich diet and make physical activity a priority, you’re much less likely to suffer from cardiovascular complications and premature cognitive decline. Several new studies support this theory:

First let’s take a look at the diet side of things. A recent trial published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology details how higher carbohydrate foods damage cardiovascular health. The study was conducted on 56 healthy, middle-aged men and women. This group consumed one of four breakfasts on separate occasions: a) a bowl of corn flakes with milk; b) a serving of high-fiber cereal “bran flakes” with milk; c) a glucose/sugar beverage; and d) a glass of water as a control/placebo. The study lasted 4 weeks. A diagnostic tool called “brachial reactive testing” was utilized to determine the relative blood flow in the volunteers’ arms before and after eating.

The results of the testing surprised even the researchers: every type of carbohydrate-rich food/drink caused an impairment in blood flow except for the placebo/water. It’s important to note that all the test subjects began the study with comparable circulatory measurements. Therefore, it can be safely assumed that the dietary challenge brought about this unwanted change.

One of the study’s authors, Dr. Michael Schecter, commented that, “doctors know that high glycemic foods rapidly increase blood sugar. Those who binge on these foods have a greater chance of sudden death from heart attack. Our research connects the dots, showing the link between diet and what’s happening in real time in the arteries.” (1)

In July, a review article will appear in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. The meta-analysis focuses on 15 studies that examine the role that alcohol plays in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is a form of dementia that occurs gradually, often times as a result of several “mini-strokes”. The blockage of blood vessels in the brain is key to the advancement of this and other forms of cognitive decline.

In total, over 36,000 seniors were analyzed in this review. Here’s what the scientists determined:

  • Light to moderate drinkers were at least 25% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), dementia and vascular dementia.
  • When a more generalized analysis was performed on “drinkers” vs “nondrinkers”, the reduction in risk for all three conditions was even more striking. The occurrence of AD was 34% lower and the overall risk of any kind of dementia was 47% lower in those who drank regularly.

The authors of the study concluded that, “alcohol drinkers in late life have reduced risk of dementia”. (2) Part of the benefits noted may be due to increased resveratrol intake. In May 2009, a study appeared in the journal Atherosclerosis that suggested that this red wine molecule (resveratrol) may be a natural way to “prevent and treat CVD (cardiovascular disease)”. (3)

Now let’s examine the second piece of the brain/heart connection. Scientists from the Queensland Brain Institute just presented a paper that appeared in the journal Stem Cells. It proclaims that exercising moderately is a way to increase neurons in aging brains. Neurons are brain cells that decline with age and contribute to many of the “senior moments” we all wish to avoid.

The really good news about this research is that it illustrates that exercise needn’t be elaborate nor overly strenuous in order to provide cerebral benefits. In fact, this current data was collected from laboratory animals that engaged in voluntary exercise, as compared to animals that didn’t. Those that exercised were found to have significantly higher levels of neural stem cells than their inactive counterparts. It is believed that this protection and regeneration of neurons is a direct consequence of greater growth hormone production brought about by exercise. (4)

At Least Four Measurements of Cognitive Function Are Responsive to Exercise Training

Source: Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, 58-65 (link)

More support for exercise and brain protection comes in the form of a study in the American Journal of Neuroradiology. Researchers from the Chapel Hill School of Medicine performed a type of MRI (magnetic resonance angiography) on 14 healthy seniors – 7 men and 7 women. This specific type of testing gives an accurate picture of the blood vessels present in the brain. The group of seniors was divided into two sections, based on their activity levels during the prior decade. The “active” section included individuals that exercised at least 3 hours every week over the past 10 years. The “inactive” section engaged in less than 90 minutes of exercise weekly.

When the researchers performed the magnetic resonance testing on the two sections, they discovered that the frequent exercisers had younger looking blood vessels. Their vessels were smaller in diameter and less “twisty” than in the section of inactive seniors. Thicker and “tortuous” blood vessels are often found in aged brains as a result of blood “vessel elongation and wider expansion curves”. In essence, the imaging provides proof positive that aging brains can stay younger by staying physically fit. (6)

Avoiding high glycemic carbohydrates, drinking reasonable amounts of alcohol (especially red wine) and exercising are useful strategies for protecting against the vast majority of conditions that affect modern man: arthritis, cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease and strokes, macular degeneration, obesity, osteoporosis and more. If we simply focus on the fundamentals that promote general wellness, we can profoundly protect ourselves from most of the ills that statistics tell us to worry about.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Exercise, Mental Health, Nutrition

8 Comments & Updates to “Holistic Brain Care”

  1. Terry Pattinson Says:

    What a great article. Plenty of food for thought. And the shifting of a few preconceived ides too!

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, Terry!

    Be well!


  3. Andrea Jordheim Says:

    Great info on the role daily choices make in a person’s health. We can’t forget everything that occurs in the body, every cell is controlled by your nervous system. In order for your body to maximize its health potential get your nervous system checked.

  4. JP Says:

    I agree, Andrea. Looking at the body as a whole is vital.

    Be well!


  5. aznable Says:

    We really needed to take good care of our body specially the brain cause the brain usually controls our emotional freedom we needed to have a special eft training for that one.

  6. JP Says:

    I’ve never tried EFT but I know some people, such as Dr. Mercola, swear by it.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Update 05/12/15:


    JAMA Intern Med. 2015 May 11.

    Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A Randomized Clinical Trial.

    Importance: Oxidative stress and vascular impairment are believed to partly mediate age-related cognitive decline, a strong risk factor for development of dementia. Epidemiologic studies suggest that a Mediterranean diet, an antioxidant-rich cardioprotective dietary pattern, delays cognitive decline, but clinical trial evidence is lacking.

    Objective: To investigate whether a Mediterranean diet supplemented with antioxidant-rich foods influences cognitive function compared with a control diet.

    Design, Setting, and Participants: Parallel-group randomized clinical trial of 447 cognitively healthy volunteers from Barcelona, Spain (233 women [52.1%]; mean age, 66.9 years), at high cardiovascular risk were enrolled into the Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea nutrition intervention trial from October 1, 2003, through December 31, 2009. All patients underwent neuropsychological assessment at inclusion and were offered retesting at the end of the study.

    Interventions: Participants were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extravirgin olive oil (1 L/wk), a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts (30 g/d), or a control diet (advice to reduce dietary fat).

    Main Outcomes and Measures: Rates of cognitive change over time based on a neuropsychological test battery: Mini-Mental State Examination, Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), Animals Semantic Fluency, Digit Span subtest from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Verbal Paired Associates from the Wechsler Memory Scale, and the Color Trail Test. We used mean z scores of change in each test to construct 3 cognitive composites: memory, frontal (attention and executive function), and global.

    Results: Follow-up cognitive tests were available in 334 participants after intervention (median, 4.1 years). In multivariate analyses adjusted for confounders, participants allocated to a Mediterranean diet plus olive oil scored better on the RAVLT (P = .049) and Color Trail Test part 2 (P = .04) compared with controls; no between-group differences were observed for the other cognitive tests. Similarly adjusted cognitive composites (mean z scores with 95% CIs) for changes above baseline of the memory composite were 0.04 (-0.09 to 0.18) for the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil, 0.09 (-0.05 to 0.23; P = .04 vs controls) for the Mediterranean diet plus nuts, and -0.17 (-0.32 to -0.01) for the control diet. Respective changes from baseline of the frontal cognition composite were 0.23 (0.03 to 0.43; P = .003 vs controls), 0.03 (-0.25 to 0.31), and -0.33 (-0.57 to -0.09). Changes from baseline of the global cognition composite were 0.05 (-0.11 to 0.21; P = .005 vs controls) for the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil, -0.05 (-0.27 to 0.18) for the Mediterranean diet plus nuts, and -0.38 (-0.57 to -0.18) for the control diet. All cognitive composites significantly (P < .05) decreased from baseline in controls. Conclusions and Relevance: In an older population, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts is associated with improved cognitive function. Be well! JP

  8. JP Says:

    Updated 10/18/17:


    Clin Interv Aging. 2017 Sep 25;12:1543-1552.

    The effects of holistic health group interventions on improving the cognitive ability of persons with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial.

    PURPOSE: Persons with mild cognitive impairment (PwMCI) are at a higher risk of developing dementia than those without cognitive impairment. This research study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of a holistic health group intervention, which is based on the holistic brain health approach as well as an Eastern approach to health care, on improving the cognitive ability of Chinese PwMCI.

    RESEARCH METHODS: In a randomized controlled trial (RCT), 38 Chinese PwMCI were randomly assigned to either a 10-session holistic health intervention group or the control group. The holistic health treatment group attempted to promote the acceptance of their illness, enhance memory and coping skills, develop a positive lifestyle, maintain positive emotions, and facilitate emotional support among participants. The 10-session holistic health group intervention was structured, with each session conducted once per week and ~90 minutes in length. Control group patients and their family caregivers received standardized basic educational materials that provided basic information on cognitive decline for them to read at home. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) test was used to assess the cognitive ability of PwMCI in the pre- and posttreatment periods by a research assistant who was blind to the group assignment of the participants.

    RESULTS: The paired-samples t-test indicated that the treatment group (n=18) showed significant improvement in the MoCA score, whereas the control group (n=20) did not. Moreover, 2×2 (group × time) repeated-measures analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) demonstrated that the holistic health group treatment was significantly more effective than the control intervention in improving the MoCA score, with a moderate effect size, and improving the delayed recall (ie, short-term memory), with a strong effect size, after controlling for age, sex, education, and marital status.

    CONCLUSION: This present RCT provides evidence to support the feasibility and effectiveness of the holistic health group intervention in improving the cognitive and short-term memory abilities of PwMCI.

    Be well!


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