Spanning The Brain

When we retire, our overall health is a huge consideration. Every financial planner I talked to pre-retirement, asked the question, “Are you in good health?” On the other side of that question, you may have to retire due to poor health. Even with Medicare and insurance policies, poor health can become expensive. It can also cost you in incalculable ways such as stress and reduced quality of life. Staying healthy is important no matter what your age.  Toward that end, I recently took the BrainSpan testing.

The test consists of a blood sample measuring:

Omega-3 Index
Cell Inflammation Balance
Carbohydrate Index

The second part of the test is a cognitive function assessment gauging:

Memory Capacity
Sustained & Flexible Attention
Processing Speed

The blood test looks at the chemical makeup of your cells, which reflect your dietary intake for the previous three months. What the test is telling us is whether or not we have any imbalances in essential fatty acids. In many countries, including the United States, we have altered our diet to the point where we are eating more Omega-6 than we are Omega-3 fatty acids. According to BrainSpan, there is mounting evidence from research by the American Medical Association, Harvard and the University of Maryland Medical Center that Omega-3 is essential to the overall functioning of our brain and body.

Many of us have been told by our doctors, including me, to take an Omega-3 supplement. But, what we are really looking for is the level of a couple of fatty acids produced primarily by oily fish such as salmon and mackerel — EPA and DHA. EPA repairs tissue, reduces inflammation in the body and supports a good mood as well as our ability to focus. DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain supporting development, cell structure and function.

According to the USDA Nutrient Data Lab 3 ounces of cooked wild Salmon provides 1564 milligrams of EPA/DHA combined. We need that at least 5 times a week — at the least. When recommending an Omega-3 supplement, my eye doctor told me farmed raised salmon is fed corn, making it high in Omega-6. Wild caught salmon is high in Omega-3. Reading labels both on the fish you buy and any supplements is important! In a study done by Tufts University researchers found that people with higher levels of DHA may lower their risk of dementia by as much as 47%. Be sure you are buying what you think you’re buying. Your longevity and quality of life may depend on it.

The cognitive function portion of the testing is done online with a series of challenging exercises. For example, I was shown 3 numbers, which quickly disappeared from the screen, and asked to repeat them in the exact order on a keyboard as fast as I could. Easy right? Not when it gradually increases to 9 numbers to remember in exact order. I actually did well on this portion of the test. On a scale of 1 to 7, 7 being optimal, I scored an average 6.5 on all three sections. On the other hand, I didn’t fair so well on the blood test. It revealed I was eating way too many carbohydrates (Omega-6) and not enough Omega-3 to be at optimal health. Consequently, I increased my Omega-3 supplement as well as Omega-3 foods and, while we need carbs, too, I am watching the intake of my old boogeymen of potatoes, rice, pasta and bread.

As an incentive to stay on track, I’ll be retested in January. Basically, I feel pretty good about my results, especially my cognitive functioning. As always, it’s a struggle to keep my body in the same shape as my brain. But, my brain depends upon me to take care of my body. I remember seeing a quip someplace in my travels to the effect, “If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?” I think that pretty much sums it up.

15 comments on “Spanning The Brain

    • Let me know how it goes for you. Not all doctors are up-to-date on dietary implications. I just recently heard about this. It’s apparently only been around for about 2 years.


  1. I’m a resident of the Pacific NW and wild salmon is definitely being threatened by a variety of policies and activities. It’s already very expensive, and many elders likely cannot afford it even 1X/week. Still, this is great information, and if had been available when I was 65, I might have pursued it further. At nearly 81, however, I may increase my Omega-3 supplement but won’t be taking the tests. I eat mostly salads and whole grains, also avoid sugary drinks (on the down side I enjoy dessert). That’s not likely to change at this point.


  2. Hi Kathy! I would like to find a Dr. who would order this test for me. I was thinking maybe my Naturopath would do it. My regular physician likely won’t but I will be asking. I have been changing the oils I use for cooking, dressings etc over to Olive and Coconut oils and greatly reducing carbohydrates as per Dr Josh Axes’s suggestions. I also take great supplements. I appreciate this information because I have asked myself: How would I know if this is helping my health? It would be great to have some scientific back up information! Peace! Melody


  3. Thanks so much, Kathy. Although I try hard to eat ‘healthy’, your post has encouraged me to find out more about Omega 3 and Omega 6…and to make further changes to my diet.


  4. Another overall consideration is that cancer cells cannot live in an alkaline environment.
    The foods you choose to eat can control whether your body is alkaline or acidic. Research the foods that are alkaline to your body then choose wisely. Same as with the Omega 3s.


  5. It’s a year and a half since you wrote about this, but I’m curious as to whether or not you got retested throughout the year as recommended to do every 2 to 3 months. I cannot find anymore posts on your blog about it. If you followed the recommended protocol, and did get retested, did you find that the results improved?


    • Denis, I did not get retested. I scored a 7 on the memory, which is the highest score and the one I was most interested in obtaining. With 7 being the highest possible score and an average of the 3 tests being 6.5, I decided there wasn’t a lot of room for improvement. As for the blood testing, I am tested twice yearly by my doctor for cholesterol, blood sugar and a plethora of other things like vitamins and minerals. I did request a referral from my doctor to a dietician. The most important recommendation I received from the dietician is to make half your plate vegetables at lunch and dinner. I eat more vegetables and fruit now than I ever have, lost 12 pounds and have healthier numbers. Interestingly, the dietician recommended butter over margarine, eating eggs is ok, but eat mostly fish and chicken. Beef and pork are ok on occasion. She also said, “Don’t deprive yourself or that’s what you’ll crave and overeat.” I feel healthier and have more energy. I hope that answers your question. K


  6. Kathy, Thank you, yes, it does. My diet has been much like yours is now. I took the test but didn’t get the results, yet. The focus seems to be on Omega 3s and getting more of them. I did a closer look at my boyfriend’s test and noticed that the recommended supplements are all by Biotics, which I can only assume is a part of or a partner of the makers of BrainSpan. I’m not a fan of one supplement company supporting a test. My boyfriend takes a very good quality Omega3 regularly, and we eat fish, maybe once a week, but his test did not show a level that we expected. And there were a couple other things we questioned, as generally, we eat very well with a variety of real foods. So, I wanted to get your take on it, and see if you changed your diet or took supplements and retested, if it made a difference. It may have prompted me to do a second test in a few months, but with what I discovered, and what you’ve said here, I think I’ll save my money and put it toward good food instead. – Denis


    • Denis, I agree. Use your money to buy good quality food and foods that nourish your body including your brain. Food is medicine. That advice was given some time ago by Dr. Agus a medical contributor to CBS This Morning. I stay away from sugar and fat. Exercising is also a must. As you probably know, my husband has Primary Progressive Aphasia, a rare form of dementia. He is considered an outlier of the disease and his extreme physical fitness may have played a role in that. His disease is why I got tested BUT there is much we don’t know about the brain. The research goes on and new discoveries are being made and tested. The dietician also recommended one meatless meal a week and eating more plant based proteins such as beans and nuts. Here’s to your good health! K


  7. Kathy, I did not know about your husband, I found your post about BrainSpan while I was researching it. I am sorry to read of this, aphasia is very difficult for the patient and is not easy for the caregiver. My MIL had aphasia that progressed slowly at first. We thought it was due to a couple of TIAs but I just looked up PPA and her symptoms were closer to that disease. No one told us ‘it could be this or this’ it was just assumed to be because of TIAs that had shown up on an MRI…and we didn’t know any differently, to ask. I will educate myself more on it, the information may come in handy for someone else one day.

    I eat mostly vegetarian/vegan meals, my meat choices have been restricted to grass fed/pastured/local/humane treatment. We are eating a very minimum of processed food and low quality grains. It’s the exercise part that I need to pay more attention to. 🙂

    I’m glad I found your blog. As we get closer to retirement (our first AARP magazine came yesterday LOL) I think I will learn quite a bit from your knowledge and experiences.

    Have a beautiful day. – Denis


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