A frightening study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis found that being overweight is linked to dangerous blood flow changes in the brain that actually shrinks its size.
The bigger the belly, the smaller the brain
This is just one of a dozen studies recently published in major medical journals that lead to the same conclusion: A big belly creates a smaller brain — and all the terrible cognitive problems that go with it.
Brain scientist and author, Dr. Daniel Amen (Change Your Brain, Change Your Life), calls this shrinking phenomenon “dinosaur brain” (named after those creatures with big bodies and tiny brains). According to Dr. Amen’s research, people with such brains are following dinosaurs down the path to extinction.
Years ago, Dr. Amen developed a high-tech brain scanner that reveals where the blood is flowing — and where it is not. This is important to know because impaired circulation causes portions of the brain to shrink in size and lose function.
After scanning more than 70,000 people in his clinics, Dr. Amen is very familiar with the patterns and diseases linked to low blood flow in the brain.
His scans show that a healthy brain has a plump, smooth surface. “Dinosaur” brains are noticeably smaller and are marked by bumps and potholes.
Who has these smaller, potholed brains?
I recently attended a lecture that Dr. Amen gave at a major health conference — and what I heard was chilling.
He showed us brain scans of overweight people — and pointed out their shocking similarity to the brains of Alzheimer’s patients … professional football players and boxers … soldiers exposed to bomb blasts … alcoholics … people with diabetes … and those eating the “SAD” diet (Standard American Diet).
And guess what? People with the bigger bellies had the sharpest drop in brain size.
Talk about scary. If you’ve been procrastinating about improving your diet, losing weight, and getting more physical activity — this finding should get you off the dime.
And with good reason…
Surveys show that Alzheimer’s and dementia are the top health fears of seniors.
These conditions destroy your ability to remember — and to care for yourself even at the most basic level.
Alzheimer’s is particularly burdensome on a patient’s spouse and family, who must provide around-the-clock care and attention. I know a woman who spends 2 ½ hours every morning bathing, shaving, dressing, and then feeding her afflicted husband. This is very tough on her.
If you are even a little concerned about possibly losing your mental function or getting Alzheimer’s, I urge you to watch and listen carefully to the brief YouTube video below of Dr. Amen’s TEDx talk because it will definitely mobilize you into action. (When you have more time, I recommend you view this more detailed lecture.)
An ounce of prevention is better than a ton of treatment
Currently, the US and other developed nations are experiencing the shocking rise in Alzheimer’s cases. There’s no doubt, at least in my mind, that this is directly linked to our obesity and diabetes epidemics.
Since there are no effective medical treatments for Alzheimer’s and dementia, your best strategy should be aggressive prevention.
And I mean really aggressive. Once you’re diagnosed — or begin to show early symptoms — it may be too late.
According to Dr. Amen, there is plenty you can do to protect yourself.
Indeed, when people followed his brain-restoring Change Your Brain, Change Your Life Program, brain scans showed that their brain size and function improved dramatically.
A few recommendations from Dr. Amen…
Here are a few of the tips for boosting your brain health from Dr. Amen’s excellent program…
- Avoid brain-toxic foods and beverages. Sugar is a brain-shrinker and a belly-buster. It spikes your blood glucose and triggers insulin — both of which are highly inflammatory in your brain and body. Get sugar and other sweeteners out of your diet. And this includes artificial sweeteners, which are neurotoxins (they kill brain cells).
- Improve your diet. Eat whole foods and stay away from any processed products. Get plenty of healthy fats (especially omega-3) in your diet, along with clean protein (fish, meat, beans, and protein-rich plant foods). Take a good multi-vitamin.
- Become more physically active. If you’ve been sedentary, start by walking and gradually work up to intervals. This is where you walk fast for 1-3 minutes (as if late for an appointment), and then recover by walking normally for a minute (or as soon as you catch your breath). Strolling is okay for beginners, but don’t believe anyone who labels this as “exercise.” To receive significant brain-shrinking and calorie-burning results, you need to sweat and breathe hard. The more the better.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. If you find it absolutely necessary (because natural sleep products have failed you), seek temporary relief from a low-dose sleep aid. I’m usually against prescription drugs, but the side effects of a mild sleeping pill pale in comparison to the serious brain damage caused by chronic sleep deprivation. Talk to your doctor.
- Cut back (or eliminate) caffeine and alcohol. Both are brain-shrinkers, according to Dr. Amen. Switch to green tea, which is actually beneficial for brain health.
- Keep a gratitude list. Before bedtime, jot down at least three things you were grateful for that day. Cultivating the attitude of gratitude will make you a more positive person. This will pay off as better brain health.
- Hang out with healthy people. In a recent column on MyHealingKitchen.com, I mentioned research cited in The Willpower Instinct by Prof. Kelly McGonigal, PhD, about how certain unhealthful behaviors — such as overeating, smoking, binge drinking, and sedentary living — are “contagious.” In other words, studies show other people’s unhealthy habits can rub off on us. But the opposite is equally true. Positive-minded, active, and healthy people often have a positive influence on us. So, choose your friends wisely.
- Kill Your ANTS. This stands for Automatic Negative Thoughts. These are the negative, self-defeating ideas that can ramble through our mind. You know the ones — like, “People don’t like me”… “I’m not good enough” … and the ever-popular “Man, do I have bad luck!” Believe it or not, Dr. Amen has found that these ANTS are big-time brain-shrinkers. (One reason why negative people tend to have poorer health.) The best way I’ve found to stop these negative thoughts is first, to become aware of them — without reacting. Second, simply see them for what they are: thoughts. Years of meditation practice have helped me train my mind to not react to any thoughts, good or bad. Thoughts aren’t reality. But the actions you take in response to them are. Practice awareness by watching your thoughts as if they are clouds in the sky passing overhead. Just notice them. It helps to put all your attention on your breathing, and as a thought wonders through your mind, just label it “thought” and keep watching your breath. As with anything, practice makes perfect.
- Add coconut oil to your diet. This isn’t part of Dr. Amen’s brain-restoring program, but it should be. Not long ago I wrote about a doctor who reversed her husband’s Alzheimer’s by feeding him coconut oil. I was so impressed that I started adding it to my protein smoothies. You might want to do the same.
“A mind is a terrible thing to waste”
Finally, please don’t buy into the common belief that its “natural” for brain function to decline with age. Brain decline is less about aging and more about poor health habits.
Sure, your memory may dull a little as you grow older — but if you take good care of it, your brain can stay sharp for as long as you live.
Some of the world’s greatest thinkers and artists produced their best work late in their lives. Grandma Moses painting in her seventies and was still going strong at 100. Verdi wrote his greatest masterpiece at 74. Einstein was still an intellectual force in his seventies. Picasso was a prolific senior. So was Thomas Edison, Nobelist Linus Pauling and management guru Peter Drucker. Irving Kahn (born December 19, 1905) is an American value investor and money manager and the oldest living active investment professional. And Dr. Leila Watson retired as a family doctor at 103, and just died in April 2012 at 114.
Don’t sell your last decades short.