The silent, deadly cause of your memory problems
(hint: it’s not Alzheimer’s)
You already know the telltale signs of a stroke... the slurred speech, numbness on one side of your body, the sudden confusion. If you’re not familiar with these signs, you should be. Because if you have a stroke, your best bet for a good outcome is to get treatment ASAP.
But here’s a scary thought. What if you suffer from a stroke——and there are no signs? For 30 percent of the people over 65 years old, this isn’t just a scary thought. It’s a reality. And worst of all, you could be in this category and not even know it.
How is that possible? It’s because these silent strokes don’t affect the areas of the brain involved with motor functions——they affect the area involved with thinking. If your memory has been slipping lately, this could be why.
Unfortunately, when it comes to silent strokes, the very problem lies within the name——they’re silent. So this gradual memory loss could be occurring time and again, causing cumulative damage, and you would never know it. Decreased mental capacity, loss of computational ability, and memory loss happen so gradually that you never suspect the true cause.
A silent stroke is a type of ischemic stroke that consists of a blood clot in a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain. No one knew that these silent strokes played a major role in memory loss until a recent study published in the journal Neurology shed some light on the subject. And just in time, too...
This revolutionary discovery could significantly change the way we
treat and prevent cognitive decline
Researchers studied 658 individuals with an average age of 79 who had no history of dementia. The participants each took a test that gauged their memory, language skills, and thinking abilities. They had their hippocampus measured (that’s the part of your brain that’s crucial for regulating memory, learning, and emotion), and they had MRIs of their brains.
The brain scans revealed that 174 people had experienced silent strokes. These people did not perform as well on memory tests, regardless of whether their hippocampus had decreased in size or not.
This study is important because until this point, the size of your hippocampus was the main determiner of cognitive decline. After all, the hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in the long-term memory of people, places, events, and things. It also happens to be the part of the brain most likely to decline in old age, shrinking as much as 2 percent per year. When your brain shrinks, the cells shrink and stop communicating with each other. The end result is memory loss.
But now we know that brain shrinkage is not the only factor that contributes to memory loss——the vascular system plays a role as well. But there’s something else this study clues us in to... A stroke could be a potential factor in the development of Alzheimer’s.
“We showed that above and beyond [hippocampus] size, stroke also contributed to the memory loss and could be a potential indicator for Alzheimer’s development,” said Adam Brickman, the co-author of the study published in Neurology.
But as scary as this is, it’s not all doom and gloom. Because the good news is that not only is it possible to protect your brain against strokes, but it could also be possible to...
Re-grow your shrinking brain
——and improve your memory in the process!
If the idea of regrowing your brain sounds crazy, wait ‘til you hear how to do it. Ready for this? Take a hike. You heard me! Simply getting up and walking around could be all the “exercise” you’ll ever need to boost your memory and protect your brain.
I thought it was crazy too, until I read the research from the journal Nature Communications. Researchers from the University of Pittsburg followed 120 seniors who were placed into two groups. One walked for 40 minutes, three times a week. The other (the control group) did stretching and toning exercises.
Their results weren’t based on a measly questionnaire. Instead, they did a series of three brain scans——before, at six months, and one year later——to determine the size of the brain over time. They found that while the non-walking group experienced the typical decline in size that’s associated with aging, the walking group actually experienced an increase in the size of their brain over that one-year period.
This increased growth translated to real-life results: These patients experienced improvements in what’s called “spatial memory”——that’s the memory of spaces and orientation, including the ability to navigate. Boosting brain size won’t improve all types of memory, since there are other memory factors that have nothing to do with the size of your brain, but it’s a good start!
Here’s the kicker——the researchers don’t know what brought about the improvement. It could have been an increase in brain cell numbers, stronger connections between the cells, or——and I think there’s something to this last one——an increase in new blood vessels, bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
Carl Cotman, director of the Institute of Brain Aging and Dementia at the University of California at Irvine said, “If you translate the [previous] animal work, it’s likely due to changes in neuronal structure and increased blood flow.”
Since silent strokes cause damage by limiting the oxygen flow to the brain, walking can not only keep that oxygen flowing in order to prevent these silent strokes in the first place...
This simple activity could undo years of brain damage!
And if that news wasn’t good enough, I have one more piece of good news. A recent study confirmed what I’ve been telling you for years: A diet rich in fatty foods can do wonders for your memory.
For the study, more than 100 folks (many in their 80s) were given blood tests along with tests to measure their cognitive abilities. Many were even given MRIs to establish brain size and volume.
Wouldn’t you know it... after all that testing, the researchers found that seniors with the biggest brains and best cognitive abilities had the highest levels of vitamins C and E, and the omega-3 fatty acids.
The researchers might have been shocked, but I’m not. We’re not talking rocket science, here. Your brain is 60 percent fat, and the most prominent fat filling your brain is the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. DHA also happens to be one of the few fats with the power to cross the blood-brain barrier, so it goes to work the moment you eat it.
The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids also happen to be some of my favorites: grass-fed meats and fatty fish.
Who knew preventing strokes, preserving your memory, and staving off Alzheimer’s could be so tasty?