Your Brain – Your Choice
Your Brain – Your Choice
My life mission, as defined over the past couple of decades, is focused on achieving one goal – getting the message to as many people as will listen that our day-to-day lifestyle choices play a major role in charting our destiny as it relates to brain health and functionality. And this mission had its genesis in my frustration as a clinical neurologist with the pervasive notion that diseases like Alzheimer’s were either random events, or were the manifestation of bad luck as it related to genetic inheritance.
In more recent years, we have witnessed an ever-increasing body of scientific validation that Alzheimer’s disease (AD), for example, is anything but random, as well as a vigorous move away from the notion of Alzheimer’s disease genes.
Without question, there are certain gene variants that are associated with increased AD risk, but we are now at a place where it’s quite clear that gene variants, like carrying the APOE ε4 allele, are far less influential in determining who does or does not end up with this devastating condition.
So, I was delighted to read a recent study entitled, Association between healthy lifestyle and memory decline in older adults: 10-year, population based, prospective cohort study, that specifically evaluated the impact of a variety of lifestyle choices on cognitive function over time.
This robust study followed close to 30,000 seniors (average age 72 years) for 10 years. Their lifestyle choices were deeply evaluated in multiple areas and were characterized as “positive” factors if they included healthy diet, exercise, frequent social contact, frequent engagement in cognitive activities, no alcohol consumption or cigarette smoking. In addition, all the subjects underwent a battery of neurocognitive evaluations to assess their cognitive function. And importantly, each subject underwent an analysis to determine if they carried the APOE ε4 allele, the so called “Alzheimer’s gene.” APOE ε4 positivity was found in just over 20% of the participants.
Three groups were then delineated based on these factors. Participants who had none or 1 of the positive factors were termed, “unfavorable.” “Average” were those having 2-3 positive factors, and the “favorable “group had a lifestyle that provided them 4-6 positive factors.
Here’s what the change in memory function looked like over the 10 years in comparison to the lifestyle choices:
These results are quite compelling. They represent a dramatic reduction in memory function as well as other markers of cognitive function in participants not making good lifestyle choices. And get this. The preservation of function with good lifestyle choices was even observed in the folks carrying the APOE ε4 allele! Meaning that those who carried the so-called “Alzheimer’s gene” did not experience any increased decline in comparison to those not carrying the “risk factor,” provided they engaged in a healthy lifestyle across these metrics.
Here’s what the authors stated in their conclusion:
“This large-scale study is the first to our knowledge to estimate the effects of different lifestyle profiles, APOE ε4 status, and their interactions on longitudinal memory trajectories over a 10-year follow-up period. Our results show that a healthy lifestyle was associated with a slower rate of memory decline in cognitively normal older individuals, including in people who are genetically susceptible to memory decline.”
As I write this, in early 2023, there is no pharmaceutical intervention that has any meaningful benefit as it relates to memory decline or Alzheimer’s, specifically. None. Please embrace that statement. But the empowering message is that our most well-respected scientific literature makes it clear that each one of us is the architect of our brain’s destiny. And while we may feel that progressive memory decline should be considered a “normal” accompaniment of aging, it’s time to let go of that notion.
Over the years I have been presenting the specifics of what it takes to protect brain health and functionality. And truly, what I have been describing could never be considered to be too aggressive or overwhelming. These are simple choices that should be a part of your plan to ensure your mental function stays with you as add healthy years to your life.