by David Perlmutter
November 4, 2010
MD, FACN, ABIHM is a Board-Certified Neurologist and
Fellow of the American College of Nutrition who received
his M.D. degree from the University of Miami School of
Medicine where he was awarded the Leonard G. Rowntree
Research Award. After completing residency training in
Neurology, also at the University of Miami, Dr.
Perlmutter entered private practice in Naples, Florida.
“In adult centers the nerve
paths are something fixed, ended, immutable. Everything
may die, nothing may be regenerated.”
– Santiago Ramon y
Regeneration in the Nervous System,” 1928
This long-held tenet, first proposed by
Professor Cajal, held that brain neurons were unique because
they lacked the ability to regenerate.
In 1998, the journal Nature Medicine published a report indicating
that neurogenesis, the growth of new brain cells, does indeed occur
As Sharon Begley remarked in her book, “Train Your Mind,
Change Your Brain,”
“The discovery overturned
generations of conventional wisdom in neuroscience. The human
brain is not limited to the neurons it is born with, or even the
neurons that fill in after the explosion of brain development in
What the researchers discovered was that
within each of our brains there exists a population of neural stem
cells which are continually replenished and can differentiate into
brain neurons. Simply stated, we are all experiencing brain stem
cell therapy every moment of our lives.
As one might expect, the process of
neurogenesis is controlled by
A specific gene codes for the production
of a protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which plays a
key role in creating new neurons. Studies reveal decreased BDNF in
Alzheimer’s patients, as well as in a variety of neurological
conditions including epilepsy, depression, schizophrenia and
Fortunately, many of the factors that influence our DNA to produce
BDNF factors are under our direct control. The gene that turns on
BDNF is activated by a variety of factors including physical
exercise, caloric restriction, curcumin and the omega-3 fat, DHA.
This is a powerful message. These factors are all within our grasp
and represent choices we can make to turn on the gene for
neurogenesis. Thus, we can treat ourselves to stem cell therapy by
taking control of our gene expression.
Laboratory rats that exercise have been shown to produce far more
BDNF in their brains compared to sedentary animals. And there is a
direct relationship between elevation of BDNF levels in these
animals and their ability to learn, as one might expect.
With this understanding of the relationship of BDNF to exercise,
researchers in a report in the Journal of the American Medical
Association, entitled “Effect of Physical Activity in Cognitive
Function in Older Adults at Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease,” found
that elderly individuals engaged in regular physical exercise for a
24-week period had an improvement of an astounding 1,800 percent on
measures of memory, language ability, attention and other important
cognitive functions compared to an age-matched group not involved in
the exercise program.
The mechanism by which exercise enhances brain performance is
described in these and other studies as sitting squarely with
increased production of BDNF.
Just by engaging in regular physical
exercise, you open the door to the possibility of actively taking
control of your mental destiny.
In January, 2009, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
published a study entitled “Caloric Restriction Improves Memory in
In this study, German researchers
imposed a 30 percent calorie reduction on the diets of elderly
individuals and compared their memory function with a similar age
group who basically ate whatever they wanted.
At the conclusion of
the three-month study, those who ate without restriction experienced
a small, but clearly defined decline in memory function, while
memory function in the group consuming the calorie-reduced diet
actually increased, and fairly profoundly.
In recognition of the obvious
limitations of current pharmaceutical approaches to brain health,
the authors concluded,
“The present findings may help to
develop new prevention and treatment strategies for maintaining
cognitive health into old age.”
What a concept. Preventive medicine for
curcumin, the main active
ingredient in the spice
turmeric, increases BDNF, it has attracted
the interest of neuroscientists around the world.
Interestingly, in evaluating villages in
India where turmeric is used in abundance in curried recipes,
epidemiological studies have found that Alzheimer’s disease is only
about 25 percent as common as in the U.S.
There is little doubt that the positive
effects of enhanced BDNF production on brain neurons is at least
part of the reason why those consuming curcumin are so resistant to
this brain disorder.
DHA enhances gene expression for the production of
In a recently completed double-blind interventional trial, 485
healthy older individuals (average age 70 years) with mild memory
problems were given a supplement containing DHA from marine algae or
placebo for six months.
Lead researcher of the study, Dr.
Karin Yurko-Mauro, commented,
“In our study, healthy people with
memory complaints who took algal DHA capsules for six months had
almost double the reduction in errors on a test that measures
learning and memory performance versus those who took a placebo…
The benefit is roughly equivalent to having the learning and
memory skills of someone three years younger.”
Harnessing the expression of our DNA is
empowering, and the tools to better brain health are available to us
all - right now!
Results of the MIDAS trial:
Effects of docosahexaenoic acid on physiological and safety
parameters in age-related cognitive decline. Karin Yurko-Mauro,
Deanna McCarthy, Eileen Bailey-Hall, Edward B. Nelson,
Andrew Blackwell, MIDAS Investigators
Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The
Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, July 2009 (Vol. 5,
Issue 4, Supplement, Page P84).