Your Incredible Shrinking Brain - And 10 Tips To Prevent It
IF Insider No. 62
In our last issue (IF Insider No. 61), we looked closely at how changing the way you breathe can transform the way you sleep. Plus, we gave you a simple, powerful breathing exercise that can help you get the rest you need. If you haven’t tried it, you are missing out on a simple way to relax your body and mind.
Today, we will look at how stress can actually shrink your brain and ten ways you can stop this in its tracks. For our premium subscribers, in this week’s Research Spotlight, we’re also going to discuss the results of the latest study examining the effects of combining intermittent fasting with high-intensity interval training known as HIIT, on fat loss in overweight and obese women.
Our paid subscribers also get one of Ellen’s recipes each month. Last month, to welcome autumn, we featured Ellen’s warming and delicious Clam Chowder. This month, we got more adventurous with her easy-to-make spicy hot Fire Cider Shots and Mocktail Mix!
The concept of Fire Cider, a spicy hot concoction designed to warm you and boost your immune system, was developed by legendary herbalist Rosemary Gladstar and usually takes weeks to make. This is a quick, 15-minute version that you can have ready today.
Looking for a supportive group that “gets” your interest in IF and other cutting-edge health information? Our free intermittent fasting Facebook group, with over 1800 members, is a wealth of info, in addition to our new Longevity Experience membership.
Stress, Your Brain, And 10 Ways You Can Prevent Shrinkage
When it comes to stress, there is always something to worry about. Now it seems that prolonged and unrelieved stress can actually shrink your brain. Hmmm...I guess that old saying “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ can get tossed out the window now!
When I say stress has the power to shrink your brain, I’m not speaking metaphorically...it really does cause parts of the brain to physically shrink and, along with it, your mental performance. I’m not talking about brief periods of stress, like being caught in an hour-long traffic jam or an unpleasant visit to the dentist, but prolonged, unrelieved stress, like being a caregiver who gets no relief, persistent financial difficulties, dealing with a loved one who is gravely ill...that sort of thing.
This prolonged stress results in the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which is well known to increase your risk of obesity, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But persistently elevated cortisol can also shrink your brain. The two brain areas affected are the hippocampus, which is important in memory and learning, and the prefrontal cortex, which is important in regulating thoughts and emotions. This can lead to memory loss, difficulty in thinking and concentrating, and decision-making.
This is serious stuff. So how can you protect your brain from stress?
I’m going to outline ten simple things you can do, but before we go there, it seems like we humans are not the only ones to suffer from stress. Scientists have been looking at whale stress by evaluating these magnificent sea creatures’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol over the last 150 years.
The researchers did this by looking at whale ear wax...yes, you read that correctly, whale ear wax! The whale wax earplugs came from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Natural History in London. They were taken from fin, humpback and blue whales living in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans from 1870 to 2016.
Not surprisingly, the whale’s cortisol levels were highest when whaling pressure was highest and also in times of war, when sea battles were raging. Interesting and also sobering that we humans could have such a negative impact on life in the sea.
Ok, back to how you can protect your brain from stress. Here are ten tips to keep your brain healthy, even in the face of stressful circumstances, plus links for most of the tips where you can go to get our deeper dive on each.
Number One - get enough sleep. You know if you are a regular IF Insider reader that you cannot underestimate the importance of enough quality sleep on all aspects of your health, including your brain. Research shows that if you do not get enough sleep, your body will respond with an increase in cortisol. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Number Two - Get moving! Exercise, even if that means just a good ten-minute walk, can cause your brain to release endorphins. These are hormones that improve your concentration and thinking as well as your mood. Research also shows that vigorous exercise can help to maintain brain size and its function as you grow older.
Number Three - Eat well. Emphasize fruits such as berries, whole grains, and colorful vegetables, all of which contain complex carbohydrates. These carbs boost the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, helping to stabilize your mood. And eating an orange daily ensures you are getting enough vitamin c which can lower cortisol levels. Plus, put the brakes on damage from free radicals by eating an antioxidant-rich diet containing foods such as dark chocolate, green tea, fruits, and vegetables.
Number Four - Be social. Get off social media and actually go out with a friend for lunch or coffee. When you socialize, your body produces a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone induces a sense of calm, lowers cortisol levels and reduces anxiety. If you also want to be social online, consider joining our free IF group on Facebook.
Number Five - Manage your stress by taking up a regular yoga or meditation practice. Both have been shown to induce relaxation, calm, and reduce stress.
Number Six - Consider taking a high potency fish oil containing DHA, which has been shown to help protect the brain from the effects of elevated cortisol.
Number Seven - Get a massage. Massage, besides feeling really good, has been shown to reduce cortisol levels.
Number Eight - Consider taking an adaptogen daily, such as oolong tea. Adaptogens are herbs that help your body adapt to stress by enhancing your body’s natural protective responses. These herbs do not alter mood, but help your body to function at an optimal level. Another example of an adaptogen is holy basil. This is not the kind of basil you put in your pizza sauce but is an Eastern herb that has been used for over 3000 years in Ayurvedic medicine.
Number Nine - Adopt an attitude of gratitude. That’s right...start a graditude practice. Research shows that by consciously focusing on being grateful, you can enhance both your emotional well-being as well as your physical health.
Number Ten - Create time cushions in your day. Be mindful of leaving yourself enough time so you are not pressured. For example, if you have an eight o’clock meeting and it takes you 30 minutes to get to work, add ten to fifteen minutes to your usual leave time so you don’t get stressed out if you run into traffic.
Bonus Tip - Use these tips to protect your brain from stress! None of these things are hard to do. Pick one or two that appeal to you and implement them, then add more as you choose.
Why It Matters
“The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.”
~ Michio Kaku (b. 1947) - Dr. Kaku is a theoretical physicist and futurist. He is a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York and CUNY. He delights in explaining complex scientific topics to lay audiences via lectures and his many books, including his 2021 The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything.
What We Are Reading 📚
With each issue, we bring you a short blurb on what we are currently reading or watching, including books, articles, podcasts, videos, movies, and research papers of value.
Denise - #2 on the list above is one I’m obsessed with. Watching my 85-year-old mother struggle to walk brings it home every time I see her. Her sedentary lifestyle has caught up, and walking has become difficult. I’m determined to avoid that.
Fortunately, I live in a neighborhood where I can walk in any direction 5-10 minutes and find what I need, or get to a large city park and get a couple of loops in for a good two miles.
I dug up this article I saved a while back on The 6 Best Mobility Exercises for Longevity, According to an Occupational Therapist. If you’re looking for ideas to put into action and increase your mobility, these will help.
Ellen - I recently ran across a really good YouTube interview with Price Pritchett, who I have long admired for his spare, but powerful little manuals, You2 and The Quantum Leap Strategy. I have both of these books, and this 3-part interview with Price inspired me to re-read You2 and put his simple strategy into action. Plus, as a Southerner, I love the relaxed and down-to-earth way Price speaks to his audience.
Did you like this article and learn something new? If so, please let us know in the comments! Questions and suggestions for future articles are welcome, too!
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