3 Surprising Things That Can Affect Your Brain Health, From A Neurologist
It's exciting to see more and more experts embracing lifestyle as a powerful tool to prevent cognitive decline. After all, when it comes to brain health, it's important to mitigate potential issues before they manifest with symptoms. Translation: With cognitive decline, it's best to intervene as early as you can.
Enter neurologist Dale Bredesen, M.D., author of the New York Times bestselling bookThe End of Alzheimer's. He has made it his mission to provide actionable advice on cognitive decline and help people truly optimize their brain health—regardless of their age or cognitive status.
On this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, Bredesen rattles off some less obvious factors that can significantly affect your brain health. Make sure you have the below on your radar:
Your oral microbiome.
You might be familiar with how the gut microbiome affects basically every function in your body (including brain health), but did you know your oral microbiome is just as critical? It's true: Your mouth, after all, is the gateway to your body and the beginning of your gastrointestinal tract. "So I recommend everyone check out your oral microbiome," advises Bredesen. (He suggests using a service like MyPerioPath.) "Do you have P. gingivalis, T. denticola, prevotella intermedia, F. nucleatum? These organisms are being found in the brain' they're being found in the plaques of coronary arteries… These things are impacting us systemically1."
For example, one study found that the aforementioned bacteria P. gingivalis, the key pathogen in periodontitis, was identified in the brain of Alzheimer's disease patients2. Another study suggests a possible link between F. nucleatum 3(another periodontal pathogen) and Alzheimer's disease3. Point being: Your oral microbiome can affect plenty of other processes in your body, so it's important to nourish your healthy oral bacteria.
Vitamin D is one impressive micronutrient: The sunshine vitamin influences not only brain development4 but also everyday brain function5; it even works to protect your brain as you age5. In fact, one meta-analysis6 conducted in 2019 that reviewed 11 studies on a total of 21,784 participants found significant associations between vitamin D deficiency and both dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
It's something Bredesen sees all the time in his own practice. "It's surprisingly common to see people come in with cognitive decline and their vitamin D level is 19 or 20 [ng/mL]." For reference, a blood level of 30 ng/mL7 is often considered the minimum cutoff for "normal" vitamin D status, but many experts believe a level of at least 50 ng/mL is crucial to keep your body healthy and feel your best. If you'd like to keep your levels up to snuff, check out our vetted list of high-quality vitamin D supplements.
Consider Bredesen a huge sauna fan. Sauna use has been associated with some impressive benefits, including better sleep quality, improved energy, and even longevity. Specifically, research shows frequent sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality8. And in terms of brain health: "There was a very famous study out of Finland a few years ago showing that as people increased their sauna use per week from one or two to six, they decreased their risk for developing dementia9," Bredesen notes. All the more reason to check out our list of infrared saunas and sauna blankets.
A few unsuspecting factors can play a significant role when it comes to brain health. Of course, you can supercharge your brain health in myriad ways (polyphenol-rich veggies, anyone?), so consider this another helpful list to have on your radar.
We hope you enjoy this episode! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Amazon Music!
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.