There are many different factors that determines how our brain ages. Most people think they have no control over what will happen for them cognitively as they age and that their genetics will decide. Even though this is not a false statement, let us tell you that you can influence your genes hugely through a process called epigenetics. The food you eat and the lifestyle you lead influence how your genes express themselves constantly.
In fact, a couple who are trying to conceive a baby, who are healthy and fit, will not pass on the same genes off to their baby as the same couple who are over-weight and do not lead a healthy lifestyle physically and mentally. How? Because as mentioned above, you have control over your own gene expressions through your diet and lifestyle.
Going back to the aging of the brain, we can definitely influence how our cognitive function ages over time. There are a few different components to look at:
Diet (macro and micronutrients).
Stress and psycho emotional health.
When looking at our diet there are 2 subcategories to take into account: Macro nutrients and micronutrients. Macro nutrients are your proteins, carbohydrates and fats and micronutrients are your vitamins and minerals contained within the protein, carbohydrates and fats. Each of these 2 categories play a huge role in the healthy aging of the brain.
Protein: Having complete protein sources from our diet is essential to proper communication between brain cells. Brain cells communicate via neurotransmitters which are made up of amino acids: the building blocks of protein.
Fats: Your body is made up of billions of cells that make up everything within and around it: From your skin to your hair to your immune system, nervous system, brain, bones, muscle tissue, joints and so much more.
Each cell has a specific lifespan and eventually dies. To maintain homeostasis (the natural tendency of every living thing to maintain stable physiological processes) your body needs to create new cells to replace the ones that have passed away, that will in turn become the foundational structure for everything that makes you, you!
And guess what your body uses to create these new cells? Nutrients from the food that we eat! Now we can see how naturally, eating foods rich in nutrients would benefit us more than eating “junk”.
Back to our brains- Consider this: Your brain is made up of at least 60% fat. When your body re-creates cells to help maintain the structure and function of your brain, guess what it’s going to need? A lot of… FAT!
Not only does fat make up more than half of the structure of your brain, it also plays a very important role in hormone regulation, the health of your hair skin and nails as well as in the synthesis of neurotransmitters.
Micronutrients: Micronutrients are ESSENTIAL to survival and physiological development and are often more overlooked in comparison to macro-nutrients.
For example, B vitamins are needed in order for your central nervous system to work efficiently as well as are needed in the production of ATP (energy) in you cells. Which means that without it, communication between your brain and the rest of your body will be sluggish and you will feel slow and tired, even when doing everything else right. In extreme cases, B vitamins deficiency can lead to anemia, skin disorders as well as neurological issues.
That is just one example but each vitamin and mineral plays a very important role in the body and will create issues when deficient ranging from mild to serious. Vitamins and minerals can be found in high amounts in vegetables, fruits, whole grains as well as organ meats.
Did you know? Human beings start losing brain mass at the age of 20. By the time you get to a hundred years old, you may have lost as much as 20% of your brain mass.
Aerobic exercises and the ability to push your body physically has been shown to help in creating new brain cells as well as helping the existing ones to survive. Only 20 to 30 minutes a day is enough to activate a gene called serum BDNF that is involved in the creation and preservation of brain cells.
The proper amount of sleep is necessary for your body to update, repair and maintain your body systems. Both sleep and the state of your brain during sleep influence each other in either a vicious cycle or in a happy cycle. You brain needs to be producing certain brainwaves (Infra, delta, theta, alpha, beta, gamma) in order for your body to go into the states of sleeps that it needs to repair and upgrade your body properly. If your sleep cycle is healthy and you are getting adequate amounts of sleep (8 hours is recommended) your body will be able to do what it needs to do. In turn you will feel great and have more energy for exercise, as well as have more balanced hormones and you will be more inclined to eat well, which all influences your genes and your brain in aging in a healthy way.
Now, unfortunately the number of hours that you sleep is not enough. Your sleep hygiene influences greatly how deep of a sleep you get, which determines how much your body can get done during the time that you spend sleeping. Therefor someone could be getting 8 hours of sleep and still wake up feeling groggy and unrested and not have gotten the most out of his/ her sleep.
Stress and psycho emotional health
Stress and psycho emotional health are two other extremely important factors in the way our brain ages for a few different reasons.
Stress influence your hormones which play a big role in the neurochemistry of your brain. It has also been shown that stress may be involved in the shrinkage of brain mass, brain cells and has a negative effect on the frontal cortex which deals with your consciousness, communication, memory and attention.
Psycho emotional health refers to the body-mind connection which includes having a sense of belonging, purpose, healthy relationships and personal growth. In other words, are you doing what you can in order to continually grow each day, cultivate healthy relationships as well as have a sense that you are contributing to the world in some way, shape or form?
Having a strong psycho emotional connection strengthen positive neural pathways in the brain, aids in creating new neural connections, new brain cells, has an effect on strengthening and lengthening telomeres (which protect you DNA) amongst a range of other amazing benefits.
If you need any more information, do not hesitate to give us a call or come in to your closest location to talk with one of our knowledgeable and friendly staff for more information. See you soon!
Nino Euzen, Wellness lead.