Today I watched Episode 04 of Alzheimers – Science of Prevention, a groundbreaking documentary series, featuring David Perlmutter, MD, board-certified neurologist and #1 NYT bestselling author, along with leading experts in the field of brain health. For my notes on Episode 03, click here.
This fantastic series reveals the powerful ways we can decrease our chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to Wikipedia, Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and worsens over time. It is the cause of 60–70% of cases of dementia.
With Alzheimers reported to be the fastest growing epidemic among the aging, I want to know what I can do now to optimize my brain health long-term. I took copious notes while watching this episode and want to share these important insights from the series with you below.
For full access to this series, as well as for bonus interviews not included in the free series, check out access to the series here.
Episode 04 Notes:
Your Brain’s Destiny Is In Your Hands.
In this episode we are going to learn:
- What genes are and the role they play in Alzheimer’s disease
- Our genes are not our destiny
- We can influence our genetic expression through a process called epigenetics
- To grow new brain cells through the process of neurogenesis
- Our brains are capable of creating new connections through neuroplasticity
Our genes are not locked in to produce an outcome called “us”. Our genes are there as a potential which our lifestyle and experiences then create a different expression pattern for our genes that become us. So there is much plasticity in our ability to look, act and feel differently based on how we put ourselves through different environments. How we eat, how we think, how we act, how we move, how we interact with – and all these things are signals that our genes pick up and create an outcome called ‘who we are’, our phenotype. And this concept of our gene environment interaction, giving rise to who we are is a dominant new conceptualization that gives much more opportunity for making positive change. That, not just saying, “whoa is me, there’s nothing I can do about it.” That’s an old model that’s now being replaced with this new model of genetic plasticity. So that’s where personalized lifestyle becomes important because now we say, ‘hey, we can own much more about ourselves than we knew before’. And now what we need to know is what do we need to do to get the most out of our genes. And that’s the new 21st Century paradigm. – Jeffrey Bland, PhD
Our genes are not our destiny. They are constantly being altered in various ways. Various nutritional regimens can change how genes are activated or deactivated through methylation or demethylation. – Dominic D’Agostino, PhD
The reality is, we can, with what we know today, make Alzheimer’s a rare disease. It should be nearly ending with the current generation. – Dale Bredesen
We have a very new understanding of genes than when we went to medical school. We know that genes are not fixed. You can change the expression of those genes to turn them on or off. Yes, you get genes from your mom and your dad and whatever genes you got, you can’t change. But you can change what genes are turned on or off if you’re expressing disease or you’re expressing health. I remember a patient who was APOE-double 4, that’s the highest risk for Alzheimers gene. And she was 90+ years old. She was a “health nut” her whole life. She exercised, she ate a clean diet, she kept her normal weight, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t drink, she took care of herself. And she was 90+ years old, cognitively completely intact, and was still working as a dentist at 90 years old. So, because you get the gene doesn’t mean you’re going to get the problem. It means you have to pay attention more carefully to what you do, to what you eat, how much you exercise, how you sleep, your stress levels, your nutritional status, your exposure to toxins, all those things have to be looked at. But you can modify your risk. – Dr Mark Hyman
We can change the expression of more than 90% of the genes that have a direct bearing on our health and longevity. In addition to epigenetics, another amazing tool we possess is the ability to grow new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. Neuro, as in neurons which are brain cells, and genesis, as in new beginning.
So much about the human body is regenerative. For example, certain blood cells turn over every few hours. Taste bud receptor cells get replaced every ten days, skin cells turn over every month, and muscle cells take about ten years, but nonetheless, they get to completely renew themselves. Even cells of the heart muscle experience regeneration.
If you reach the age of 80, your heart will have renewed itself completely, four times. So, regeneration is a common thing throughout the body. And this applies to some very specific parts of the brain as well.
Neurogenesis is the birth of new brain cells, the creation of brain cells. This was considered an impossibility until the mid-90s. Doctors and scientists previously thought the brain had reached its peak in the mid-20s, only to begin a slow and gradual decline towards the end of life. But we now know some of the brain’s most vulnerable areas like the hippocampus, we can grow new brain cells up unto death. – Max Lugavere
The implications of this is that if you’re brain is damaged, you can repair your brain. You can make new brain cells. You can increase the connections of the brain cells. This is called Neurogenesis and Neuroplasticity. – Dr Mark Hyman
The regeneration of the brain is an unbelievable breakthrough discovery. In my schooling, when I thought I was educated by top mentors skilled in the art, and I learned my neuro-anatomy and neuro-physiology, and this was in the 1960s, it was well-respected by the body politic in medicine that the brain did not regenerate. And we used to make jokes that if you went out on a Friday night and had too many beers, that you had lost some brain cells and you’d never get those back, and this concept of irreversibility of neurons once they died. So I think we carried forward this view that the brain was one of the only tissues of the body that had no regenerative capability. All the tissues, including the bone, would sometimes remodel themselves, it may take a long time but the brain was somehow a one-way street. So, when it was finally found that, no – the brain in adult animals can regenerate itself after injury, we saw this … it was really empowering for so many neurologists. – Jeffrey Bland
In addition to our ability to change our gene expression and our ability to grow new neurons, we also have the ability to actually rewire our brains and this occurs throughout our lifetimes. This process is called neuroplasticity. – Dr David Perlmutter
We have it in our power at any point in life to improve the operational status of our brain. We have the power within us to power that growth. – Michael Merzenich, PhD
Neuroplasticity is important. It’s essentially the brain’s ability to change which is enabled by neurogenesis and all the factors that allow that to occur. In Alzheimers disease and in depression as well, there is reduced neuroplasticity. So, that may be the effect of the disease instead of the cause. So we can encourage it with exercise, with eating a brain healthy diet. It’s something I think we should be mindful of and chase as best we can. – Max Lugavere
The brain is plastic. You build its capacity by challenging yourself and living a healthy life. We all know that. You can even increase your IQ points by challenging yourself. You can actually be faster in your processing speed. You can become better when it comes to visual spatially, you can have better judgment, better reasoning, better planning, better memory at ANY age. How do you do that? By implementing a healthy lifestyle. – Ayesha Sherzai, MD
Epigenetics and neuroplasticity are intricately linked. We know that various molecules in the body which are stimulated by things like dietary interventions, including a ketogenic diet. There’s a variety of plantbased nutriceuticals that can influence gene expression. And we know that prolonged exercise and prolonged fasting – these things elevate molecules like beta-hydroxybutyrate which is a ketone body. And we know that the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate is a profound epigenetic regulator by functioning as something called a histone deacetylase inhibitor, this is a class of drug that’s used extensively in cancer therapeutics and now more recently in neurologic diseases, that can alter the methylation or demethylation state of our genes and exercise and nutrition that increases beta-hydroxybutyrate can influence the positive expression of genes that increase molecules that can enhance the health and vitality of our brain. – Dominic D’Agostino, PhD
Music therapy, even in late stages of Alzheimers, can unleash latent things in terms of cognitive and emotional function. If it can happen at a late stage, when there’s been significant loss of hippocampal function, then what about earlier. What are the stimulations we can start to use to protect against the loss of and also stimulate the growth of? So, you think of stimulating environments – you think of reading, games, bingo, crossword puzzles, nutrition and its very important role for supporting regeneration. You think about lowering the level of inflammation and increasing the level of antioxidant protection against these radicals that injure tissues. You think about managing sugar. It’s multiple factors that aggregate together to support an environment for neurogenesis and protection against neurological injury. – Jeffrey Bland, PhD
You can actually improve the capacity to learn by exercising the brain to change your brain for the better. It’s about changing the physical and chemical structure of the brain so that it’s operating with greater efficiency and accuracy. One of the ways you can upregulate them is through physical engagement in the world. And then, by training it. If you stop learning, and what I mean by learning is something that challenges the brain to develop a new skill or ability, that machinery is dying. You have to re-engage it and challenge it by new learning. As long as you live a life where you’re physically active, where you’re paying some attention to the chemistry of the body and what’s happening in your gut and other things and what you’re doing with your brain, think of a life of continuous activity and continuous learning, you will generally be healthy.– Michael Merzenich, PhD, UCSF Professor
Thank you, Dr. David Perlmutter and experts featured in this series for sharing your life-changing knowledge, practical tips and habits to help us optimize our brain health. It’s incredibly empowering and inspiring to know that we have more control over our cognitive health than statistics suggest.
Practical changes you can implement today:
- Eat a healthy diet that is nutritionally dense and that helps reduce inflammation
- Consider fasting on occasion
- Exercise regularly
- Exercise your brain by continuing to learn new things
- Incorporate stimulating activities into your life
- Interacting with people
- Learn a new language or skill
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Manage blood sugar
- Reduce your stress
- Avoid exposure to toxins
- Nurture your micobiome