How Old Is Your Brain? (And How to Make It Younger)

Brain Aging

The quest for the fountain of youth has fascinated human beings throughout history, but we now know that this magical mecca doesn’t need to be sought anywhere “out there.” It’s actually with you at all times, sitting right there in your skull—your brain! But, if you’re like many people, your brain may be older than you are.

This reality, of course, can be viewed as either positive or negative. On the plus side, we can greatly influence our brain’s aging through our everyday habits. But that also means we must operate with caution every day, taking personal responsibility and consistently making better choices to keep us healthier and happier as we age. In essence, you have the power to speed up the aging process—making your brain look and feel older—or you can help slow it down, creating a brain that stays younger than expected for your chronological age.

You have the power to speed up the aging process—making your brain look and feel older—or you can help slow it down, creating a brain that stays younger than expected for your chronological age. Click To Tweet

WHAT ARE THE TOP 4 BRAIN AGERS?

Just as muscles in the human body can atrophy as a result of the aging process, brain activity also decreases across its entire surface as we get older. In fact, on average, the adult brain loses about 85,000 neurons every day. But, though many of us expect impeded brain function as a normal side effect of aging, we can actually strengthen our brains, just as we would tone up our other muscles. Incorporating a few smart strategies every day will help stave off the brain aging process. Here are the top 4 areas in which we can change our behaviors to produce a more youthful effect.

1. Toxin Exposure

Intake of harmful toxins is one of the biggest culprits that accelerates brain aging—but it’s also fairly straightforward to simply say no to many of these health destroyers. For example, everyone knows that smoking is a killer habit to be avoided at all costs, but keep in mind that other drugs, both legal and illegal, can cause similar harm. One large-scale study of brain SPECT scans, led by Amen Clinics founder Dr. Daniel Amen, evaluated more than 30,000 individuals from 9 months to 105 years old and found that cannabis abuse can add 2.8 years’ worth of accelerated aging, while alcohol abuse contributed 0.6 years of accelerated aging. Prescription drugs, such as benzodiazepines and painkillers, as well as too-high levels of caffeine (more than 300 milligrams per day, or more than 3 normal-size cups of coffee), can also age the brain. Any of these substances are also addictive, so their impact can easily snowball over time.

Additionally, we are all vulnerable to being exposed to environmental toxins, such as pesticides, organic solvents, phthalates, and mold. Even those who have undergone chemotherapy should be extra careful to incorporate other brain-healthy habits to fight back against any potential damage. Cancer patients have demonstrated signs of “chemo brain,” since these treatments can impact healthy cells as they kill cancerous cells.

2. Free Radicals, Inflammation, and DNA Damage

Chronic inflammation, which is promoted by the formation of free radicals, is thought to be a root cause of a wide variety of diseases that develop with age, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. In a nutshell, free radicals attack our cells like rust erodes a car, damaging our DNA and accelerating the aging process.

Free radicals can be avoided by banishing toxic habits like cigarettes, vaping, and sun overexposure. Within your diet, avoid charred meats, which develop compounds in the cooking process that may damage DNA, as well as trans fats and pesticides. (To reduce the latter, choose organic varieties when buying any of the “dirty dozen” in the produce aisle: peaches, apples, blueberries, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, imported grapes, spinach, kale, and potatoes.) Inflammation can also be related to low levels of vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids, high levels of omega-6, diabetes, stress, and diets with too much meat and/or sugar.

How do these influences impact DNA? One way is through telomeres, which act like caps at the end of each DNA strand to keep it from unraveling. Inflammation, exposure to free radicals, vitamin deficiencies, and a lack of omega-3s can erode these protective telomeres, which shortens cells’ life span—and, ultimately, can shorten a person’s life span. Researchers have found that, among those older than 60, shorter telomeres indicated a three times greater likelihood of death from heart disease and an eight times greater likelihood of death from infectious disease.

3. Lifestyle Choices

Obviously, there are myriad ways in which our lifestyles and habits can prematurely age our brains, but let’s look more closely at two major cornerstones of health: diet and exercise. Those who have adopted the Standard American Diet (SAD)—high in processed foods that feature loads of fats (including trans fats) and added sugars—are also doing a load of damage to the body. When a large quantity of sugar mixes with proteins and fats, the process forms molecules called Advanced Glycation End products, or AGEs, which promote aging. Women should aim to consume no more than 100 calories per day of added sugars; for men, no more than 150 calories per day. Choose high-fiber, low-glycemic foods instead.

A SAD diet also leads to being overweight or obese, which directly impacts the brain—because as your weight increases, brain size decreases. Help keep your weight at a healthy level through regular exercise that focuses on building both endurance and strength. Do make exercise a priority, aiming for 30 minutes of activity every day, but don’t overdo it—that could backfire by creating, not reducing, inflammation. Finally, choosing the right supplements can also help keep the physical body in tip-top shape and protect against vitamin deficiencies.

4. Physical and Mental Health Conditions

There is a range of health concerns that contribute to brain aging. For example, in recent years, we’ve found that COVID-19 has been associated with damage to the brain, joining the list of more established culprits, from gum and heart disease to diabetes and hypertension. Of course, brain injuries, and/or a lack of brain rehabilitation when needed, can also create lasting impacts. But even seemingly lower-intensity health problems influence brain aging, such as digestive issues, high or low testosterone or thyroid hormone levels, allergies, elevated levels of iron in the body, and chronic insomnia or sleep apnea.

Furthermore, we cannot overlook the impact of mental health issues. In the SPECT study of more than 30,000 individuals referenced above, findings noted a link between accelerated aging and various brain disorders and behaviors. The top offender was schizophrenia, which was associated with an average of 4 years of premature aging, followed by bipolar disorder (1.6 years) and ADD/ADHD (1.4 years). Surprisingly, major depressive disorder was not linked to accelerated aging, however, this may be due to the fact that SPECT shows there are 7 different types of depression, each associated with a unique brain pattern. In the “behaviors” category, brain-aging influences include negative thinking patterns, elevated anxiety levels, and impulsive or thrill-seeking behaviors.

PREVENTING BRAIN AGING

The brain imaging work at Amen Clinics has shown that some older men and women have brains that look much younger than their chronological ages would predict. That’s because they have implemented brain-boosting strategies on a daily basis, enabling them to live vibrant lives well into their advanced years. We all want to slow down the aging process and feel more youthful over the long haul, and it comes down to embracing 3 simple tactics: loving your brain, avoiding the damaging elements outlined above, and picking up those healthy habits that will help maintain your brain’s health. The power is in your hands—and between your ears!

Memory problems, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

 

12 Comments »

  1. I'm a 72 year old woman who is declining (so my daughter says) but I still drive and have most of my faculties! I'm wondering how long I can sustain my mind in this present life!

    Comment by Valerie J. Cash — January 16, 2023 @ 3:37 AM

  2. Well, two expressions that I’ve always heard, are that was a mouthful & that was an earful. Well this enlightening article was a brainful. I wish there were an Amen Clinic in my DFW area; I would head for it immediately! Thank you for such an enlightening article.

    Comment by Brenda Steever — January 16, 2023 @ 8:21 AM

  3. Love this valuable information and look forward to more tips!

    Comment by Laura Angelides — January 16, 2023 @ 12:34 PM

  4. Very interesting…I am currently undergoing treatment from mold exposure in our home.
    Part of the diagnosis involved brain MRIs which showed white matter lesions. Mold is very serious and, thankfully, the effects from the toxins are now better understood than 30 years ago when I first became ill.

    Comment by Susan — January 16, 2023 @ 1:32 PM

  5. I would very much like to get a brain scan and the evaluation at your clinic, but you are awfully costly. I am a retired 83 years old person and can't afford to pay your exorbitant fees.
    I have bought dr. Amen's book, End of Mental illness , and have taken the course he gave to introduce this new book, a few years ago. That is how I came to know about his clinic, his research and his blogs from time to time.
    By the way my interest in the subject is because of my background in clinical research. I have helped the clinical scientists in organizing clinical trials in Alzheimer's disease and later analyzing the data.

    Comment by Sheela — January 16, 2023 @ 2:53 PM

  6. I have mental issues. That keep me from doing some things. I'd liked to see what they done to my brain.

    Comment by Gina Chavez — January 16, 2023 @ 4:00 PM

  7. Really appreciate your reminders on mental health and you've been very generous with sharing great information.

    Comment by Sally shinn — January 16, 2023 @ 4:51 PM

  8. Do you have anything that combats ME CFS?

    Comment by morton jaffe — January 16, 2023 @ 5:33 PM

  9. Hello Gina, thank you for reaching out. For more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 17, 2023 @ 2:57 PM

  10. How is it even possible to figure out 100 calories of added sugar in foods? I don’t understand how that can even be done.

    Comment by Ruth — January 18, 2023 @ 3:09 AM

  11. Your article shows someone with a puzzle.
    Does working puzzles help the brain? If so, which?
    Crosswords? Sudoku?

    Comment by Gerald L Russell — January 19, 2023 @ 2:38 PM

  12. Hello Brenda, thank you for reaching out. Amen Clinics currently has 11 locations nationwide, and we do have one in Irving, TX: https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/. For more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 19, 2023 @ 8:09 PM

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