In this blog we will look at timely topics on the brain. Learn along with a copy from our book series, Healing the Brain. Get your copy today. A Thousand Moms offers workshops to the general public. These workshops are presented in clear, non-complicated language. In New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, please call 518 322-0607 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the author of the acclaimed Dana Sourcebook of Brain Science.
Memory problems come in all shapes and sizes. Some people tend to forget where they put their cell phone, or cannot easily recall names. Or they can’t recall taking their medication or remember the birthday or anniversary of a loved one. Whether they admit to themselves that their forgetfulness seems to happen with greater frequency or they worry about losing their memory as they age, they are right to be concerned. Because our aging population is on the rise, Alzheimer’s disease (AD)— an irreversible, progressive form of dementia that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills as people age and is ultimately fatal—has steadily risen from about 4 million in the late 1990s to 5.4 million today.
The disease is currently ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the US, but estimates by the National Institute on Aging indicate that it may rank third, just behind heart disease and cancer, as a cause of death for older people. But here is some good news: Whether you want to reverse cognitive deficits now or avoid them later, more and more studies are suggesting that there is much you can do to keep your mind sharp.
While a pharmaceutical approach to preventing AD has proved elusive, practical lifestyle choices to reduce AD are based on good science and good sense. The secret may lie in epigenetics, the effect one’s lifestyle has on one’s genes, and thus on the risk for disease. Of course, the wisdom that lifestyle has an impact on health is not new; we have been reciting adages such as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” for ages. Research in a variety of areas has confirmed that sensible everyday choices can significantly reduce the risk of AD. According to the National Institutes of Health, $991 million was dedicated to AD research in 2016, but how much of that went towards lifestyle-modification and prevention is unclear.
Pillar 3: Yoga/Meditation
Chronic stress is a major risk factor for AD. It may be useful to experience stress if one is running for his or her life, but not when just trying to live one’s life. Stress has a detrimental effect on genes, causing them to express themselves in unhealthy ways, such as by producing inflammation, a trademark of AD. The frenzied pace of life that people experience in today’s world is only accelerating, so it is helpful to find a regular activity to soothe the harmful force of stress on the brain.
Published research over the past 13 years reveals that a simple, 12-minute yoga/meditation technique called Kirtan Kriya (KK) has significant brain boosting benefits. KK has been examined at leading medical schools, with the impressive, perhaps surprising, results published in more than one medical journal, including the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The actual age of KK is unknown. It was passed down from master to student for generations in the East until Yogi Bhajan (1929-2004) brought it to the West in about 1970. Kirtan means “singing” and Kriya means “an action with specific effects.” KK involves singing the sounds Saa Taa Naa Maa (a mantra) while repeating sequential movements (mudras) with the fingertips.
Ancient yogis did not have imaging or blood tests to unravel the biochemical changes created by KK and other yoga exercises, but modern science has shown that practicing KK reduces stress levels and increases blood flow to parts of the brain that are central to memory and brain function. For example, KK activates the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG), an important brain region for stress balance and emotional and cognitive control. A robust ACG is essential to memory: Research in the elderly who’ve maintained sharp minds shows they have preserved their ACGs and other significant brain areas as they have aged.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC), the chief executive officer of your brain, essential for planning and organization, is also activated by meditation. So is the posterior cingulate gyrus (PC), one of the first areas to decline in function when memory loss strikes. Such findings have led Andrew Newberg, M.D., of Thomas Jefferson Medical School, to say, “There is a true anti-aging effect in long-term practitioners of KK; they have bigger brains.”
Additionally, at West Virginia University, subjects with the earliest form of memory loss, subjective cognitive decline (SCD), showed an improvement in cognitive function with KK.And a landmark study at UCLA found that subjects with an advanced form of early memory loss called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) had better memory outcomes with KK than those who practiced a standard memory-improvement approach. KK apparently enhanced brain cell connectivity as well. Importantly, the positive benefits lasted through the six-month follow up period of the study.
Praise for Healing the Brain
"A book that can help medical professionals as well as the general public, Mr Balog has tackled a subject that is complex and he makes it quite approachable. It has added and enriched my own practice of medicine by making me more aware of issues not often discussed in medical circles."--Peter Paganussi, MD, Virginia
"Author David Balog has done an excellent job of creating a book for educators (or anyone working with youth) that explains the complicated workings of the brain in an easy to understand manner. Balog goes on to discuss various types of trauma and how the adolescent brain responds to trauma such as depression, stress, addiction, risk taking, PTSD, etc. LGBT/Q youth may experience trauma in ways majority youth often do not. The author shares important coping strategies....I highly recommend this book!"--Carol Dopp, M.Ed.
"David Balog understands the strain of alienation, so he tackles this subject with compassion and concern. Mr. Balog draws on his knowledge of brain science to give readers insight into what happens to young people under tremendous stress, and he offers practical advice on how to help and cope."--Gary Cottle, author
"Provides comfort and learning to the reader. Flows easily from one topic to the next and knits tidbits of information together in a unifying mosaic. Easy to read. Difficult to put down." --Michael J. Colucciello, Jr., New York State Dept. of Mental Health researcher, retired.
"Well researched, fleshed out with relevant case histories, this book packs a lot of solid information into its 152 pages. Written in an engaging style for the layman, it covers a wide range of topics. One learns a great deal about the biology of stress, particularly the vulnerability of the brain in the pre-adult years. This book also provides a glossary of key brain science terms and a listing of organizations serving the LGBT /Q community and resources on the brain."--Gary Bordzuk, librarian