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Keeping Your Brain Sharp

Most of us are familiar with the importance of living a heart-healthy life. We know our cholesterol numbers. We know how to eat healthy.

Dr. David Perlmutter tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler that just as we know how to adopt healthy lifestyles to keep our bodies in shape, we can adopt healthy eating and lifestyles to keep our brains in shape.

He says the strategies outlined in his new book, "The Better Brain Book," can even help prevent Alzheimer's disease.

"The programs we have been using now for 18 years have just been validated by a study published by the American Medical Association, showing 78 percent risk reduction for Alzheimer's disease by just taking some specific supplements," he says. "In fact, that is a preventable disease."

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He warns that trans fats, found in "things you might find at a grocery store," put people at increased risk for Alzheimer's.

He urges people to have their blood tested for homocysteine, an amino acid that, he says, has a devastating effect on the brain. Levels can be elevated by taking some prescription and over-the-counter drugs. A vitamin B supplement can combat it.

Here are Dr. Perlmutter's six steps to a healthy brain:

  • Step 1: Get the Trans-Fatty Acids Off Your Plate. He says, "The polyunsaturated fats are what we need to have. That's what the brain is made of naturally. Look for fish oils."
  • Step 2: Have Your Homocysteine Levels Checked Annually
  • Step 3: Take DHA, Vitamin E, Vitamin B Supplements
  • Step 4: Think Twice Before Taking a Drug. What's the harm in taking drugs? He says, "Many of the drugs we take, both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, raise homocysteine levels. These are some of the most commonly used drugs out there. The anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-acids, blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol-lowering drugs all can be harmful. So, if you take these drugs, you have to make sure to take nutritional supplements to minimize the damage. And, you have to be sure to check your homocysteine levels."
  • Step 5: Get Eight Hours Sleep Every Night. "This is when the brain repairs itself," he says. "And the body reduces harmful chemicals produced in the body during waking hours."
  • Step 6: Have Some Fun. "Leisure time activities reduce one's Alzheimer's risk," he says. "Fun can increase healthy chemicals that keep the brain protected."

    Here is an excerpt from "The Better Brain Book":

    YOU'VE JUST BEEN introduced to someone at the office or at a party, and seconds later, as you start to introduce her to your friend... you realize you can't remember her name.

  • You're standing in front of a dozen colleagues who have gathered to hear your presentation. It's your moment to shine... but in midsentence you stop dead. To your immense embarrassment, you find yourself asking, "What was I saying?"

  • You walk into the kitchen to find your reading glasses... but as you enter the room, you momentarily go blank and wonder, "Now, why am I here?"
  • You can't remember where you put your reading glasses... again.
  • You pick up the phone... and for the third time today, you intend to dial one number when you're actually dialing another.
  • You find that you're having trouble calculating restaurant tips . . . something you used to do easily in your head.

    Does this sound familiar? Are you having difficulty concentrating at work, remembering names and appointments, and keeping track of your glasses and keys? Are you easily distracted and less able to stay on task.

    Do you nod out during long meetings? Do you feel that you're not as sharp or on-the-ball as you once were? Do you get cranky more often than you once did? Do you worry that you're so out of it that you're going to lose your next promotion to some kid right out of school? Do you worry, "If I'm like this now, what am I going to be like in ten years?" Are you tired of making jokes about "senior moments".

    In moments of desperation, do you wonder, "Am I losing it?" The conventional wisdom is that becoming forgetful, moody, and even a little spacey is a "normal" sign of aging that happens to everyone and is no cause for concern. Moreover, you might think, even if your brain is turning to mush, there's nothing much you can do about it anyway, except sit back and watch with a combination of amusement and horror as you become mentally slower and duller with each passing day.

    But that conventional wisdom is outdated, outmoded, and outrageously wrong. The slowdown in brain function that begins during midlife—the memory problems, difficulty focusing, brain fog, irritability, and loss of mental agility and physical coordination—is not a "normal" part of aging. It is the beginning of a downward spiral that is destroying your brain, slowly and insidiously chipping away at your ability to function at your peak and stay on the top of your game.

    And believe me, it is something to worry about. The process of deterioration that is causing the where-did-I-put-my-keys? and what-was- I-just-doing? syndromes is the same process that can lead to serious medical conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and stroke. What's worse, most of us unwittingly lead lifestyles that accelerate this destructive process. We're promoting the demise of our brains.

    Consider this:

  • If you regularly use any over-the-counter or prescription medication, you could be putting your brain at risk. Dozens of commonly used drugs, including antacids, birth control pills, nonaspirin pain relievers, and cholesterol-lowering medications can starve your brain of important nutrients that keep it functioning at an optimal level and protect against brain aging.
  • If you don't routinely read food labels to screen out bad "brainbusting" ingredients, chances are you are consuming foods that make your brain sluggish and slow down your reaction time.
  • If you drink unfiltered tap water, spray insecticides in your home or garden, or use underarm deodorant or dandruff shampoo, you may be exposing your brain to toxins that will age it faster.
  • If you are "stressed out" on the job or at home, your brain is being constantly bathed in stress hormones that can destroy its memory center and "dumb you down." That's the bad news. The good news is that brain degeneration is not inevitable.

    You can stop it, reverse it, and recover what you have lost. Your brain has amazing powers of regeneration, and you can tap into them by supplying the right raw materials. You don't have to abandon your life dreams or lower your expectations because you think that your brain can't go the distance. My Better Brain program will give you the tools you need to reinvigorate, protect, and maintain your brain. I will introduce you to my scientifically proven program of natural therapies, including a Better Brain Workout that boosts memory and mental speed, dietary strategies that can rejuvenate sluggish brain cells, and nutritional supplements that provide the fuel you need to keep your brain running on all cylinders.

    I am a board-certified neurologist, a specialist in the brain and nervous system, and I have been practicing medicine for more than two decades. At my offices, the Perlmutter Health Center in Naples, Florida, I have treated thousands of patients who have come to me from around the world with problems ranging from mild midlife memory loss and brain fog to severe neurological deficits resulting from disease. Those of you who may be worried about developing neurological problems— whether because of family history, lifestyle, or just the sense that your brain is slowing down—will learn how to prevent them and preserve your brain function. Those of you who have already been diagnosed with neurological problems will learn how to arrest the progression of your disease, reverse deterioration, and restore lost function.

    The Better Brain program is organized in three tiers based on your level of risk:

  • Tier 1, Prevention and Maintenance, is a supplement regimen for those who have few risk factors but want to maintain optimum brain function throughout their entire lives. If this is you, you haven't yet reached the "where-did-I-put-my-keys?" stage, and if you follow this program, you may avoid it completely. Although you may get away with being less vigilant about your diet, at least for now, you should try to follow the Better Brain meal plan most of the time. You can also benefit from doing the Better Brain Workout at least two to three times a week; it will make your good brain even better.
  • Tier 2, Prevention, Repair, and Enhancement, is a supplement program for those who are at moderate risk who would like to improve their brain performance and prevent further deterioration. If this is you, within a few weeks you will feel as sharp and alert as you did back in the days when words and ideas flowed effortlessly, and you had mental energy to spare. If you want to stay out of Tier 3, I strongly urge you to follow my meal plan and do the Better Brain Workout everyday.
  • Tier 3, Recovery and Enhancement, is an intensive supplement regimen for those who are at high risk, including those who may already be experiencing a noticeable decline in mental ability. If this is you, Tier 3 is an aggressive program to help bring you back to a higher level of functioning and prevent further decline. It is imperative that you follow my meal plan and do the Better Brain Workout every day.

    Reprinted by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. from "The Better Brain Book," by David Perlmutter, M.D., and Carol Colman, Copyright © 2004 by David Perlmutter, M.D., and Carol Colman

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