November 22, 2016
by Dr. Uche Odiatu DMD
Your three-pound brain is the CEO of your whole body’s operation. It’s the playmaker, manager and overseer. It keeps 2000 gallons of blood surging through your heart each day and throughout 63,000 miles of blood vessels. It has you place one foot in front of the other as you walk from patient to patient and let’s you know when you need to eat lunch. It stores and retrieves memories from this morning and all the way back to the day you graduated from hygiene school.
Seems powerful, doesn’t it? It is and it isn’t. It’s the center of your world and one of the most powerful processing machines in the universe. But it can’t live more than four minutes without oxygen.
Did you know our brains reach their maximum size as teenagers and maintains that youthful volume until our late 20’s? Much of the atrophy as we age is not from neuronal death but from dendritic pruning as stale “same old same old” information comes through the system. Yes, we get stuck in our old routines and ahhhh, routine lulls your brain gently to sleep.
How can you keep your memory sharp so you can remember details about patient histories? How can you keep your ability to learn new things and embrace change? Can you decrease your chances of dementia (Alzheimer’s being the most common form of this this horrible condition) and enjoy treating patients into your 60’s and possibly your 70’s with ease? How about maintaining your reaction time and hand eye coordination to keep pace with the new grads in your town? I say YES, YES, YES. I am going to reveal to you FIVE things you can work on to maintain your brain power and possibly grow it more powerful as you live a long healthy life.
A good night’s sleep is very important to support body repair, regenerate and heal. The physical body is obvious, but much less so is sleep’s influence on the brain. Many of us try to burn the candle at both ends for exams, deadlines, etc., but new research shows the short term gains may lead us to long-term disaster. Mary O’Brien, MD, in her book, The Healing Power of Sleep said, “Over extended periods, these disruptions of normal function may push a vulnerable organ system over the edge to disease.”
The brain during sleep consolidates memories, processes emotion, and balances neurotransmitters. Genius (and what dental hygienist wouldn’t want a little more ingenuity?) has been known to erupt out of sleep. From Keith Richards waking up with the song Satisfaction coming out of his consciousness, to August Kekule and the chemical formula for benzene.
With recent surveys showing that half the population has sleep difficulties, it appears obvious that it’s attained epidemic proportions. With the critical relationship of quality sleep, learning and memory, it is clear 50% of the population may not be performing at their best due to lack of sleep. I know you are aware of the prevalence of sleep apnea. But it’s much more than that. It’s making the mistake of having that glass of wine close to bedtime (which disrupts your sleep cycle). It’s having a night-light on in the bedroom (prevents you form getting into deep stage four sleep). It’s watching TV right up the second of going to bed (spikes your waking hormone cortisol). We all need to learn new sleep habits if we want to be the best health care provider.
Research has shown that there are drug-free ways to helping with more than 70 categories of sleep disturbances, of which insomnia is number one. Progressive muscle relaxation, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and similar techniques are being used very successfully.
If there is one way to upset your brain and cause you to be less than 100%, it’s to have poor stress management strategies. Can we get rid of stress? No. Can we learn to reframe it? Yes. Can we learn to change our personal destructive tension relieving methods? Yes.
Chronic unrelenting stress is a killer of the body and the brain. Jay Olshansky, a PhD from the University of Illinois, calls unrelenting emotional stress an aging accelerator that will shorten your life.
Besides the physical disturbances, what does it do to your brain? Experts report that stress causes physical changes to you brain.
“We are not disturbed by things but our perceptions of things” ~ Epicticus
Evening is the worst time to be preoccupied with negative thoughts and feelings. It boosts cortisol – a hormone that every of your 100 trillion cells and vital organs can’t ignore. And it screams, “Something isn’t right. You can’t rest. There’s an enemy somewhere in the vicinity.”
Your primitive life-preserving cycle kicks into gear and the hypothalamus sends messages to your pituitary gland and it in turn tells your adrenals to kick out adrenaline and cortisol. Can you see the cycle we create for ourselves?
When this is going on – and for many it is happening from eight o’clock until midnight – your brain will not prepare your body brain and spirit for rejuvenating slumber. Your agitated body steals life force energy away from your digestive system and immune systems, redirecting it toward a predator that is not physically present.
Anxiety steals serotonin from your hippocampus, which needs serotonin to help sort out and file away memories. Chronic stress and resulting anxiety over extended periods of time shrinks this vital part of your brain. Naturally, about the size of your fingernail, this part of your brain has shrunk to half its size by the time Alzheimer’s is first diagnosed.
Have I created a sense of urgency in you to manage stress and save your brain from imminent danger? A recent study with elderly subjects 80 years of age plus, saw those who managed stress well also had thicker overall cerebral cortex and a well-formed anterior cingulate gyrus. The normal shrinking of the cortex was not evident in the people with healthier lifestyle habits.
Take a look at some of Herbert Benson’s work from Massachusetts General Hospital. He showed that circulating levels of all the destructive stress hormones decreased with a regular meditation habit. It’s not just for Tibetan monks. North American dentists can benefit from closing their eyes in the evening and focusing on their “in breath and out breath” and observing their thoughts with detachment. Ommmm…..
Dementia and its precursor, MCI or Mild Cognitive Impairment, involve loss of brain function that influences language, memory, thinking, judgment and behavior. All the current research points to lifestyle as a key influence on mental sharpness as we age. People suffering with dementia often share the same lifestyle factors as those experiencing cardiovascular disease and diabetes: such as inactivity, overeating, sedentary living and smoking. People who are obese are twice as likely to be diagnosed with some form of dementia. Diabetics have a 65% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, which some researchers are calling Type III diabetes.
The same things that make your cardiovascular system work poorly also make the brain work poorly. Remember that the brain uses 20% of your oxygen intake even though it weighs three pounds. Yes, it is an oxygen hog. And how do you boost the cardiac capacity and oxygen utilization of your body? Exercise.
Besides the enormous vascular needs of the brain, it has another relationship with exercise. Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is brain remodeling. Yes, your brain can renovate and improve itself if it has certain ingredients and a specific environment set up. Exercise boosts a key ingredient – BDNF. BDNF is Brain Derived Neurotophic Factor. BDNF facilitates neuronal survival, protection, remodeling, and dendritic growth. Long words but all-important parts of keeping your brain healthy and youthful.
An fMRI study by Burdette in 2010 as reported in Aging Neuroscience Journal discovered that a four month aerobic workout regimen in a group of healthy older adults who were sedentary resulted in boosted cerebral blood flow and connectivity in the hippocampus (remember, I said this area is devastated in the person with Alzheimer’s).
Limit Junk Food
Every cell in your body is influenced by every morsel of food you eat and digest. From the Pop Tart, to the muffin, to the donut, to the beer, it all has an influence on your waistline – as well as your brain. The challenge of consuming loads of high glycemic treats and junk food is that it overloads your body’s Krebs Cycle (remember that from biochemistry?). After every overstuffed meal, a negative state is set up. It’s called Postprandial Dysmetabolism. The body’s biochemistry is turned upside down by the abundant grams of sugar, trans fats and salt. The oxidative stress caused by excess poor quality nutrients not only disrupts fat burning and makes your pancreases work hard, your brain is also overloaded. A brain that has become insulin resistant will not work well. Its delicate environment needs ideal nutrients to play its “A game.” The high blood sugar – low blood sugar roller coaster completely disrupts your thinking processes. Ever been groggy after a lunch meeting of pasta and muffins? Ever been annoyed and irritable after a long morning where you worked through your break and found yourself snapping at the rest of the team?
Learn New Things
Last but not least, one of the most important things you can do to keep your brain fresh and youthful is to keep learning. Your brain over a lifetime is forever pruning and reshaping. New knowledge and activities makes your brain work harder and like a challenging personal trainer, it stimulates your brain and keeps it young. Perls et al. in a 1999 study reported that learning to play a new instrument, going to a new vacation spot, taking new courses and reading new varieties of books appear to expand and build neuronal networks. Numerous recent studies have shown that ongoing learning and keeping your brain busy dramatically reduces your likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s.
The challenge is on. Learn new things, visit new vacation spots, run a half marathon, stop overeating at buffets, breathe deep ten times each day, sleep deeply and enjoy renewed professional and personal success.
1. Alberts et al “It Is Not About the Bike, It is About the Pedaling: Forced Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease” Vol 39 No 4 October 2011 American College of Sports Mediicne
2. Deep Sleep 101 Blue Marble © 2001
3. Dispenza Joe. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself © 2012 Hay House
4. Harrison et al. J International Neurological Society. 2012 (Nov): 18(6)
5. Perls et al Living to 100: Lessons in Living to Your Maximum Potential at any Age New York. Basic Books © 1999
6. Ratey John, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise & the Brain © 2007
7. Richards Keith. Life © 2010 Little Brown & Company
8. Salter Jenny “Exercise and Dementia: Exercise Programming for Dementia and Mild Cognitive Impairment” CanFitPro Magazine March/April 2013
About the Author
Dr. Uche Odiatu DMD is an NSCA certified trainer, a Holistic Lifestyle Coach, the co-author of The Miracle of Health ©2009 and Fit for the LOVE of It! ©2002, & a professional member of the America College of Sports Medicine. He maintains a dental practice in Toronto and has inspired audiences at the largest dental conferences in the world. He has appeared on over 400 radio and TV shows including ABC 20/20 and Canada AM. Contact him www.facebook.com/Odiatu or www.DrUche.com
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