While we accept the notion of the important influences of lifestyle choices as they relate, for example, to the heart, the immune system, lung function, longevity, and even cancer risk, the notion that what we choose to eat and the amount of exercise we get, in terms of influencing the brain, until recently, has been kept off the table. Fortunately, there are dedicated researchers around the country who are part of a vanguard team, making it very clear that we are, in fact, the architects of our brain’s future. Our choices, day in and day out, are exceedingly influential in terms of how our brains will change over time, for better or worse.
Certainly, this has been a central theme in the books I have been writing over the years, as well as other elements of my social outreach. But importantly, and gratefully, I am not alone in this endeavor.
Over the past several years a mechanistic concept has arisen that seeks to explain the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. This has been called the bioenergetic theory. Basically, it describes a situation in which the highly energy demanding cells of the brain are somehow compromised in their ability to use fuel. Make no mistake about it, brain cells require an incredible amount of energy to perform their function. In the resting state, the brain, which typically represents only 2 to 5% of total body weight, consumes up to 25% of calories burned.
The brain’s primary fuel is glucose. And one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive failure of the brain’s ability to use this source of fuel, basically a situation in which brain cells are not able to utilize glucose for energy. In fact, specialized PET scanning of the brain can visualize signature areas of the brain that are less functional in terms of glucose utilization that correlate with Alzheimer’s disease. Continue reading
There are a number of factors that are clearly associated with risk of dementia, and specifically Alzheimer’s disease-related dementia. For example, there’s a dramatic increase in risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in people who have been diagnosed with type two diabetes. Sedentarity, meaning lack of physical activity, is also associated with increased risk as are early life stress, head trauma, and low educational level.
Research has also demonstrated a relationship of Alzheimer’s risk to childhood socioeconomic status as well as school performance.
But an important missing link in these studies that demonstrate associations is an actual demonstration, not of the cognitive impairment, but of actual physical changes that take place in the brain that may then relate to decline in the brain’s function. Continue reading