Memory & Brain Support

Keeping our brains healthy and sharp is just as important as physical fitness. The NorthStar blog on memory and brain support gives you breaking news on memory, cognitive health, and how to keep your brain sharp as a tack.

  1. Tis the season of Tamiflu

    Even if you get the flu this January, don’t take Tamiflu. Launched in 1999 by the drug company Roche, Tamiflu is an antiviral drug that is supposed to shorten the duration of the flu by a day or so.

    But according to the FDA, ‘there have been reports (mostly from Japan)  of patients causing self-injury or experiencing delirium (confusion, hallucinations, speech problems) while using Tamiflu.‘

    Great. Hallucinations and delirium. That’s just what you need when you’re trying to get over the flu!

    Plus, I find it very interesting that the FDA cites Japan as the source of the reports. It sounds like they’re trying to downplay the validity of adverse events. But it makes perfect sense to me. You see, Roche sells most of its Tamiflu -- by far -- to Japanese customers. Docs there prescribe it for every cough or sniffle or snort. No wonder they have a lot of reports over there. That’s where most of the people take it!

    So if you ask me, I’d skip the Tamiflu altogether. And if you have some of it lurking in your cabinet, make sure you don’t throw it down the drain or into the garbage. This stuff isn’t readily biodegradable and it could eventually end up in your water supply.

    Plus, according to a 2007 Swedish report, most waste water treatment systems can’t flush the Tamiflu out of the public water supply. As a result, in countries where Tamiflu is heavily prescribed (like Japan), they’re at risk of contaminating natural spring water. Just think of it…whole segments of the animal and human populations could be getting hefty doses of Tamiflu without even knowing it! Is it any wonder, then, that the so-called “bird flus” keep getting stronger and stronger?

    So put your unused Tamiflu in some kitty litter or coffee grounds before throwing it out. Or, see if your pharmacy will take it back. Also, when it comes to the flu, focus on prevention. It really does work. During the next few months, add some extra vitamin C, D, and beta 1,3 glucan to your regimen. And if you do come down with the flu, Echinacea, astragalus, or Elderberry extract can help to shorten the duration just as well…without the risk of crazy side effects.

  2. Simple tips on how to exercise your brain

    Yes, our brain shrinks as we age. And vitamin B can help. But it‘s also important to remember that your brain is like a muscle. It needs exercise. And as with everything else, if you don‘t use it, you‘ll lose it.

    So here are some suggestions on how to exercise your brain:

    • Try reading books on topics that are unfamiliar to you.
    • Join a book club or cooking class.
    • Play Brain Age on the DS gaming system.
    • Take up crossword puzzles, solitaire, Soduku, or jigsaw puzzles.
    • Start a collection of teacups, shells, postcards, or vintage toys.
    • Use your non-dominant hand for everyday tasks, such as guiding the mouse on the computer or brushing your teeth.
    • Start walking (yes, studies show physical exercise improves memory!)
    • Travel...it‘s amazing how much you‘ll learn by visiting a new place.
    • Take a foreign language class at the community college.
    • Take up meditation.
    • Rearrange all the drawers at home or at your office.
    • Try to learn one "new" word a day.
    • Use cash to pay for your purchases.
    • Put together a scrapbook.
    • Memorize a new song or poem.
    • Volunteer at an elementary school library.

    All these activities help to rebuild neural connections in your brain. And keep reading my Guide to Good Health to find more "how to exercise your brain tips". That's always a winner for your brain!

  3. Vitamin slows brain atrophy by 50 percent

    Brain atrophy -- or brain shrinkage -- is very common in adults over the age of 60. It occurs when neurons in your brain die or lose their connection to other neurons. The average brain shrinks at a rate of .5 percent a year once you hit 60. And some of this "shrinkage" explains why you may not feel as sharp as you did when you were 20. For some, brain atrophy occurs at an accelerated pace. We call this "mild cognitive impairment" and it describes they type of memory loss that goes beyond the "normal" aging brain. People with this kind of mild cognitive impairment lose brain mass at a rate of 1 percent a year. And those with Alzheimer‘s disease experience a loss rate of 2.5 percent per year. For many decades, nutritionists have talked about one factor that plays a role in how quickly your brain shrinks: Your homocysteine level. Homocysteine is an amino acid implicated for its role in many different diseases, especially heart disease. It‘s also a major risk factor in whether or not you develop dementia and Alzheimer‘s. Basically, the more homocysteine in your blood, the higher your risk of experiencing serious cognitive decline. But, here‘s the good news...

    One vitamin significantly lowers your homocysteine levels

    It‘s well-documented that members of the vitamin B-complex family can significantly lower homocysteine levels. In fact, recent studies show that taking vitamin B every day can lower your homocysteine by 25 to 50 percent. And scientists from the University of Oxford recently took this premise one step further. Since we know that vitamin B decreases homocysteine, can we assume that it also slows brain shrinkage? And even more importantly, can it work for men and women who already show signs of memory loss? To answer these questions, the Oxford scientists recruited 271 healthy men and women over the age of 70 with mild cognitive impairment. The participants all scored below average on tests that assessed word recall and fluency. In addition, they all expressed concern over memory loss but had not been formally diagnosed with dementia. Next, each of the participants were given MRI scans to determine the amount of atrophy in their brain. In the next step the scientists divided the volunteers into two groups. One group took vitamin B supplements each day for two years. The tablets contained three components of the B family of vitamins: .8 mg of folic acid, .5 mg of B12, and 20 mg of B6. The other group received a placebo for two years; and to keep things honest, the participants weren‘t told whether they received the real vitamin or the placebo.

    Vitamin B group shows major improvements

    After two years, the participants got another set of MRIs and another round of blood work. The scientists then analyzed the data and here‘s what they found: 1. The vitamin B group lowered their homocysteine levels by an average of 23 percent. 2. Homocysteine levels of the placebo group increased by 8 percent. 3. Overall, the vitamin B group experienced 30 percent less brain shrinkage compared to the placebo group. 4. Lastly, people with the most homocysteine at the outset of the study benefitted the most. They experienced 50 percent less brain shrinkage compared to the placebo group. According to Professor David Smith and lead scientist from the Oxford team, "We have shown that treatment for two years with B vitamins markedly slows the accelerated rate of atrophy in people with mild cognitive impairment." He went on to say, "It‘s a bigger effect than anyone could have predicted and it‘s telling us something biological. These vitamins are doing something to the brain structure – they‘re protecting it, and that‘s very important because we need to protect the brain to prevent Alzheimer‘s." Gee, I couldn‘t have said it better myself!

    Get on the vitamin B bandwagon!

    There are lots of things you can do to protect your brain against shrinkage. First off, make sure you‘re taking a quality multivitamin. It should contain at least 25 mg of B6. Next, think about adding .8 mg folic acid and .5 mg B12 into your regimen. You‘ll need to take them separately to get to the dosage used in the study. Folic acid is easy to find. And B12 isn‘t too bad either, really. You‘ll just need to take the sub-lingual form. This means it comes as a liquid and you use a dropper to place it under your tongue. There‘s also a dissolvable, under-the-tongue pill form that‘s popular.
  4. GlaxoSmithKline execs slammed for touting resveratrol

    One thing I don't like is a bully. And that's what GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is, when it comes down to it. Last month, GSK forced two of it's execs to stop their volunteer work with a non-profit called Healthy Lifespan Institute. According to its website, Healthy Lifespan is "dedicated to extending the healthy lifespan by studying, educating, and testing the rapid advances in the science and medicine of aging." (Sounds like my kind of organization!) So why exactly did the GSK execs get yanked from the non-profit? Did they spend too much time volunteering for the Institute? No. Did they divert GSK profits to Healthy Lifespan Institute? No. They forced the execs off the non-profit's board simply because the Institute sold resveratrol supplements...at cost. So what's so bad about that? Well, turns out GSK is trying to develop a resveratrol prescription drug that they can patent and make billions off of. As you'll recall from last week's Guide to Good Health, resveratrolis an antioxidant superstar that may help prevent any number of diseases...from Alzheimer's to cancer. I'll tell you what...I actually loved reading about this story. It shows that resveratrol is the real deal if it threatens even a big gun bully like GSK. Plus, every time you take your resveratrol, you're keeping a bully in its place!
  5. Resveratrol benefits… could it be the “fountain of youth”?

    I'm a research junkie. I'll admit it. So I just about jumped out of my seat when I read that someone had finally tested resveratrol--the antioxidant superstar found in red wine and grapes--on actual human beings! Yes, nutritionists have known about resveratrol for decades. It helps tame inflammation and prevent oxidative stress. This is significant because unchecked inflammation and oxidative stress can lead to heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. Even the mainstream press picked up on resveratrol a few years back when scientists proved it could extend the lifespan of mice by 20 percent! They dubbed it the "fountain of youth." But until last month, there was one giant problem with this antioxidant phenom: Zero clinical proof actually existed that it works on humans. (And I mean, ZERO.) There was plenty of data showing that it can increase the lifespan of roundworms, fruit flies, mice, and yeast. But nothing on humans...until last month. Will the antioxidant superstar work on humans? You may be wondering, why all the fuss? If resveratrol is found in red wine...doesn't everyone know that drinking a glass of red wine is good for your health? And yes, that's true. But this study digs much deeper. In fact, it's the first- ever study showing why resveratrol may be a legit "fountain of youth" for humans after all. Specifically, scientists from the University of Buffalo wanted to see if resveratrol could decrease inflammation and oxidative stress in healthy men and women. So the scientists recruited 20 healthy men and women and took samples of their blood. Then, they split the participants into two groups. One group received 40 mg of resveratrol each day for six weeks. And the other group received a placebo. And here's what they found...

    Anti-aging extract scores off the charts!

    Resveratrol performed just as we all had hoped. First off, it blocked the formation of free radicals (reactive oxygen species or ROS). These harmful, unstable molecules cause damage to healthy cells. Over time, widespread free radical damage can harm your DNA and lead to a disease like cancer. But the participants who took resveratrol for six weeks significantly lowered their ROS levels. Secondly, the resveratrol group also lowered their TNF levels. TNF (or tumor necrosis factor) is a harmful protein that creates inflammation throughout the body. A few weeks ago, we talked about this harmful protein and the role it plays in rheumatoid arthritis. But TNF doesn't just harm rheumatoid arthritis patients. It causes widespread inflammation that can affect your blood vessels, your organs, your skin, and even your brain. It also messes with your body's insulin production. In fact, endocrinologists believe that lowering TNF levels will improve insulin resistance in diabetics.

    Small study, big impact

    Now, unfortunately this study is terribly small in scope with just 20 participants. Nevertheless, I think that it will have a big impact in the years to come. First off, it proves that resveratrol can help control inflammation in humans. And that's huge! Inflammation is the underlying, biological cause of so many different uncured diseases -- from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer's disease. Plus, it just builds more momentum for this superstar antioxidant. It will be interesting to see if one day scientists prove that resveratrol can extend your lifespan, as they proved with mice a few years back. So if you're not already taking something with resveratrol, now's definitely the time start! (Especially if you're over 50 or have an inflammatory disease.) And yes, you'll find resveratrol in red wine and grapes. But you'd have to drink gallons of wine (or eat bushels of grapes) to get 100 mg of resveratrol. That's the amount you'll find in any quality resveratrol supplement. Most of these are derived from the Japanese knotweed herb. So take action now to keep feeling and looking young.
  6. Can calcium supplements really give you a heart attack?

    A major new study announced that taking a calcium supplement may raise your heart attack or stroke risk by as much at 30 percent. I know what you're thinking: "Is this really true? Could the pill I take for my bones really be that bad for me?" And the answer is: Yes, calcium can cause serious health problems when taken alone. But I could also argue that shaving your beard is bad for you health because you could cut the carotid artery in your neck. Or walking the dog is bad for your health because you could get hit by a car. Basically, you do anything the wrong way and you can get hurt. So go ahead and shave your beard, walk the dog, and take calcium. Just do it the RIGHT way. Study misses one major fact... Professor Ian Reid and his team from the University of Auckland analyzed data from 15 different randomized trials conducted over the last 20 years. They found that men and women who took calcium supplements did increase their risk of heart attack or stroke by about 30 percent. But to tell you the truth, that stat didn't surprise me. And neither did his other big "discovery": Men and women with high dietary intakes of calcium did not see the same increased risk. In interviews, Reid and his team seem to scratch their heads to explain this conundrum. Why does a calcium supplement appear to raise risk and not a high- calcium meal? They theorize that calcium supplements cause the mineral to collect in your blood...and high-calcium meals do not. And, again, that's true. Taking 500 mg of calcium alone isn't a good thing. Your body can't handle it. In fact, in addition to cardiovascular problems, it can cause problems with your kidneys, GI tract, nervous system, and even your brain! But there's one sure-fire way to solve the calcium problem: Take magnesium with it. And that's the one huge, gigantic, obvious missing piece from Reid's analysis. You see, calcium cannot work in the body without magnesium. Crack the calcium puzzle You body can NOT handle high amounts of calcium on its own. It gets stuck in your blood, soft tissues, and in your kidneys. It also causes hardening of the arterial walls...and eventually cardiovascular events as Reid's meta-analysis showed. That's why I've always recommended taking one part magnesium for every two parts calcium. Magnesium helps your body absorb the calcium so it doesn't collect in your kidneys and soft tissues. By the way, this is taught in every Nutrition 101 course, in nearly every community college across the country. (Clearly, Professor Reid slept through that course.) And truthfully, I'm not sure why manufacturers even sell supplements that only contain calcium. If you've got a bottle, throw it out. Calcium and magnesium naturally work together So...now can you figure out why people from Reid's meta-analysis with a high- calcium diet didn't increase their cardiovascular events risk? You got it: They were also eating a high-magnesium diet. In natural foods, calcium is always paired with magnesium. It's just nature's way of providing us with exactly what we need to stay healthy. Just look up high-calcium foods like broccoli or kale. These foods also contain magnesium. In fact, nature doesn't make a calcium-rich food that doesn't contain magnesium. That is unless it's "fortified with calcium" like homogenized milk and most dairy products on the shelves. So don't get fooled into thinking these products are natural! Professor Reid goes down swinging In interviews, Professor Reid isn't content just bashing calcium. He goes after all supplements: "We have tended to focus on just the benefits of supplements without really looking at their safety. In the future I think we need to look at both the efficacy and the safety of supplements." Well, truthfully, I have to agree with that last thought...but for a different reason. Just because something is natural doesn't mean that it can't also do harm. Supplements are powerful tools and you must learn to use them the right way...in the right amount and combination. That's why it's important to work with a qualified naturopath and keep reading my Guide to Good Health. I'll make sure to point out the landmines and steer you clear of Professor Reids of the world.
  7. Get all your future Ivy Leaguers on multivitamins!

    Kids taking multivitamins get a cognitive boost on tests. That’s according to a new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. This good news comes from researchers in England and Australia who studied the effects of taking a multivitamin on school children for 12 weeks. Scientists measured the children’s cognitive abilities three times during the study: once before supplementation began; another time several hours after taking the vitamin; and, one last time, after 12 weeks of daily supplementation. Any guesses on how well the kids responded? They did great. In fact…

    The kids showed an immediate and quantifiable boost in attention by taking vitamins.

    Not only did the kids perform better on cognitive and attention tests… they performed better right away. That’s right. The researchers noticed an immediate improvement in the children’s performance just three hours after the first dose on the first day. With such clear cut, positive proof that vitamins boost kids’ performance, we should make daily vitamins part of the school lunch program. Forget about mandatory milk. Give every child his or her multivitamin at lunch time (for maximum absorption, of course). In any case, make sure all the kids you know are getting their multis every day. It might just give them a mental edge.

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