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.

Advertisements

Your Brain On Eggs

This post first appeared on May 21, 2016.  With more research coming out about the benefits of Omega-3, which the egg provides as one of the best sources, I thought it was worth re-posting.  There are other sources of Omega-3, of course, and I will write more on current research on those sources in the future.

 

Your brain on eggs

Eating a balanced diet is important at any age. My mother used to hand me words of wisdom like, “you are what you eat” and “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” I guess that’s why I was never one to skip breakfast. One of the worst habits at any age, but even worse as we get older, is skipping breakfast. A cup of coffee won’t give you what you need. After all, breakfast is short for breaking the overnight fast.

For years and years I started my day eating eggs. However, after learning about my skyrocketing cholesterol numbers, I changed my eating habits to limit my egg consumption. Because they are believed to raise cholesterol in the body, eggs got a bad rap for many years. At one time, I totally gave up eggs for breakfast for an entire six months. Instead I ate oat based cereals. Anticipating a lower cholesterol number, I was shocked when my doctor told me my number dropped only one teeny-tiny point over my previous six month blood test. I’m no scientist or nutritionist, but that piece of information made me wonder if all the hoopla over eggs was — well, just hoopla.

Despite my questioning, I continued to eschew eggs at breakfast. Instead, I ate cereal or an energy bar. I didn’t feel more energetic. In fact, by 11 a.m. my stomach started sending signals of hunger. I felt depleted, even tired.

Now, along comes a book I’m reading, Rewire Your Brain by John B. Arden, Ph.D. It’s not a new book. The copyright is 2010. It’s been sitting in my to-be-read stack since 2015. While the book has a lot of technical information on how our brains work, Arden also offers up a chapter on “Fueling Your Brain”. Guess who is the breakfast heroine in this chapter — yup, you got it — the egg. There are lots of other foods we need and should eat to fuel our brains, but the morning egg, breaking the fast, carries a lot of weight.

Speaking of weight I, like many people, think about what I eat in terms of feeding my entire body and keeping my weight in check. Until reading Arden’s book I never really gave the specifics for fueling my brain a lot of thought (no pun intended). According to Arden, “A bad diet can have a major impact on the brain’s ability to function properly, making you less apt to think clearly, pay attention, and cultivate neuroplasticity.” As we know, all of these abilities are really, really important for aging well.

Memory is also important for aging well. Arden goes on to say, “One of the neurotransmitters you need for processing memory is called acetylcholine. Your body needs an amino acid called choline in order to manufacture acetylcholine. One source of choline is eggs.” While there are other sources of choline, the egg is the one for getting your brain off to a good start for the day. Remember, it’s been fasting all night long with the rest of your body.

As we age we also lose muscle. Protein builds muscle. Eggs are a good source of protein. Eggs are also a rich source of vitamins, including B vitamins like B12, essential for energy. Other vitamins are A, E and K plus riboflavin and folic acid. Eggs also contain Omega-3 that good for your brain and heart component. Exercise and a balanced diet can help keep our muscles, including our heart muscle, in good working order.

 

After reading all of this, I decided to try Arden’s suggestion of eating an egg (sans saturated or trans fats), a piece of whole wheat toast (sans butter), and a glass of orange juice for breakfast. It took about a week for me to start feeling more energy. I noticed I can go until noon or later without feeling hungry. Since mornings are when I write, I realized I was mentally sharper. And, I sleep more soundly. This is my brain on eggs.

What about the cholesterol? According to the Mayo Clinic, “Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week with no increase in their risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that this level of egg consumption may actually prevent some types of strokes.” They go on to say, the risk of heart disease is more closely tied to the saturated and trans fats used to cook the eggs than the eggs themselves. As always, you should check with your doctor about your egg consumption as, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is not recommended if you have certain diseases, such as diabetes.

Whether or not an egg a day is good for you is up to you to determine. For me, I’m continuing my breakfast egg routine. Regardless of what you eat in the morning, make sure you do eat to break the fast and fuel your brain and body. That’s essential for living well and aging dynamically.