Vitamins for Brain Health and Longevity

It seems “dietary supplements”— a product you take to supplement your diet, containing one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins and/or minerals, herbs or other botanicals, as well as amino acids and other substances), have been under fire lately in the popular press. What makes me madder than being awakened from a delicious nap, a transgression warranting bodily harm, is when these journalists need a headline, and don’t read (or, understand) the actual science. Thank goodness a highly respected researcher, Dr. Bruce Ames, who has published more than 500 scientific papers in his almost seven decades as a scientist and director of Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (associated with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital), has set the record straight. He has given us all some great news about how to slow down the aging clock, increase our longevity, and add quality time to our lives. Following ten years of research in his lab, and supported by a bushel basket of evidence published by other scientists, Dr. Ames has identified 30 known vitamins and essential minerals, along with 11 additional substances not currently classified as vitamins, which when taken at optimal levels are the best supplements for brain health. He says they should be called “longevity vitamins” for their potential to “prolong healthy aging.” (In fact, this is the title of his article for the National Academy of Sciences.)

Ames found that 70 percent of Americans are deficient in one or more of the vitamins and minerals vital to good health. Not so deficient as to put our health in jeopardy, like contracting rickets or scurvy, but like a dripping faucet that wears away the porcelain on the tub over time, the lack of vitamins and minerals slowly robs us of our vitality and speeds up the decline of our body. It seems Dr. Ames found even minor deficiencies can impact our long-term health. 

To make it easy, here is a list all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients the latest science suggests we need:*

Vitamins: Biotin, Choline, Folic acid, Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), Pantothenate (B5), Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K

Minerals: Calcium, Chloride, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Magnesium, Molybdenum, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, Sodium, Sulfur, Zinc

Other Nutrients: Alpha/beta carotene, Astaxanthin, Beta-cryptoxanthin, Ergothioneine, Lutein, Lycopene, Omega 3 EPA/DHA, PPQ, Queuine, Taurine, Zeaxanthin

Since any recommendations beyond eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, lean protein, good fats, and free of processed food, sugar, or refined carbohydrates, and drinking plenty of good quality water is beyond my area of expertise, I suggest finding a reputable nutritionist or nutritional counselor, someone trained not in “dieting” or weight loss, but health. Optimally, this person should be a Dietitian in Integrative and Functional Medicine (DIFM) and/or a RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Look for those with a MS degree or PhD. in Nutrition.  Do your own research beforehand—know what foods are highest in the longevity nutrients. Ask the hard questions to ensure the dietitian you choose is adequately trained to recommend an eating plan and, more importantly, supplementation. I will continue this discussion in this month’s blogs and do my own research as well. My excitement at Dr. Ames’s finding has made it hard to peel me off the ceiling. Lately it feels as if lasting brain health for the all of us might truly be attainable now…just maybe. 

Until next time…Be Vibrant!


*Ames, Bruce N. (2018) Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins. Perspective of the National Academy of Science. 43:10836-10844.

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Fun and Fitness for Your Brain

Would you like to remember the names of all the interesting people you spoke with at the New Year’s Eve party? Or even the ones you met yesterday?😉 How about knowing instantly where you put your keys and your phone? The ability to retrieve this information and to remember so many other important things as we age might just be found by practicing brain- training exercises called Neurobics. The late Dr. Lawrence Katz, the James B. Duke Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, along with Manning Rubin, coined the term Neurobics as a word and a brain fitness program in the early 2000’s. Since then, other folks have jumped on the Neurobics brain-train, helping people all over the world keep their memories sharp and their cognitive skills humming at near-peak performance. Ever since I found this work, I have tried to incorporate some of its suggestions into my daily life. I will be sharing some of those practices and other amusing Neurobics activities this month in Wednesday’s Wisdom, my new, short video offerings I post on Facebook and in my newsletter.

For a refresher on the brain, have a look at a few of my past posts, Draining Our Memory Bank, Stress and Memory, and Slowing Down Our Clocks. Your science lesson for today: When you stay in our comfort zone, stick to routines, and do the same things in the same ways, as you age, your brain begins to atrophy and decline. This happens most noticeably in your hippocampus, and specifically on the little fingerlings of your nerve cells called dendrites. Dendrites are the branches on the nerve cells that are particularly with memory. Many people believe mental decline is caused by the death of nerve cells, but, in fact, mental decline comes from the reduction of the number and complexity of dendrites. (The “tangles” we hear about in the brains of Alzheimer patients form at the end of the dendrites.) the nerves. Practicing brain training exercises like Neurobics strengthens the connection between the synapses, even allowing old nerves to grow new dendrites which compensate for the loss of nerves due to lack of use. The results are the better, faster retrieval of old information, and the truly exciting news: these exercises allow the brain to put new information into memory. Old dogs can learn new tricks, it seems. ☺

The science points to Neurobics as being a full brain workout, similar to playing music. How does Neurobics work? It engages our different senses in reordered and novel ways. Through our eyes we gather the majority of information we know about the world, and as we get older, this dependence on sight alone becomes so intense that our other senses—touch, smell, taste, and hearing-- and the nerve synapses associated with these other senses, decline and stop functioning. . That means the quadrants of the brain which register these other senses—anterior cortex, cerebellum, and the temporal and frontal cortex-- start cruising through life on auto-pilot, and actually begin to shrink. (Eek!) Neurobics asks us to use our other senses to fire up those sleepy quadrants. Even more good news: You can do this! Try navigating through your morning using only touch. Choose your clothes and get dressed with your eyes closed. Do your morning tasks in a different order—dress before breakfast or the reverse,  then drive a new route to work while periodically breathing in the aroma of a favorite spice. At work, sit in a different chair or go to a new place for lunch. These are only a few of the many suggestions for shaking it up, taking a different approach to getting through your day. The exercises are fun, and challenging, and since life should have more fun in it, I think this is a perfect thing to jazz up 2019 and build some new dendrites. Who knows? You could become the star of your social circle by greeting every person at next year’s New Year’s Eve party by their first and last name! 

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Blogs In Review 2018

For this last day of 2018, I offer you a recap of my posts for this year to make it a little easier to refer back to or share a favorite one, or for a little refresher for everything we have discussed this year.

February 5—What Does Aging Look Like?

Sixty percent of what most folks believe about seniors is based on ingrained, negative age stereotypes. Unfortunately, these beliefs influence how we age. We can reverse that downward trend by re-choosing every moment of our lives. Instead of thinking old, worn out, senile, unproductive; think wise, resilient, empowered, experienced, accepting…

February 12 –Draining Our Memory Banks

Multi-tasking is for the young, if indeed it ever worked for us then. Multi-tasking in our middle to later years raises the release of stress hormones in our bodies, which negatively impacts our level of brain function. This post outlines four strategies to re-choose how we spend our time so that we can boost rather than drain our brain power.

February 19 – Stress and Memory

Lowering stress levels should be your number one priority. An overabundance of stress messes with your mind, and as you enter middle age, your body doesn’t have the same reserves it once had to preserve brain function. 

February 26 –Slowing Down Our Clocks

Stress increases levels of cortisol, which at high levels is toxic to the brain. Regular exercise not only reverses the damage but also improves brain and memory function.

March 5 – Move It and Improve It

Exercise! Doing so regularly improves sleep, brings down insulin levels, and lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

March 12 – More is Better 

Change up your exercise routines and shoot for 4 different types of physical activity per week to reach optimum brain and body health.

March 19 –Shake Your Booty

Put on your dancing shoes at least once a week to maintain and even boost the long- term health of your brain.

March 26 –The Rhythm of the Drums 

Music, when combined with aerobic exercise provides the most thorough mind and body work out we know at this moment.

April 2 – Seniors Don’t Have Sex*

It’s time to erase the outdated prejudices and laughable beliefs of the systematic stereotyping called “ageism” and become models of what getting older really looks like—fabulous from here.

April 9 –Explaining Gerontology

Gerontology blends the biological, social, and psychological sciences of aging with humanistic studies of relationships, spirituality, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors of older people.

April 16 – Why I Became a Gerontologist

My goals of empowering, educating, and energizing women to be the best version of themselves evolved from my lifelong fascination of science and my quest to discover more about the process of aging for others and myself where so few available resources existed.

April 23 – Jo Ann Jenkins Rocks!

Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP has written Disrupt Aging, a go-to reference for aging vibrantly.

April 30 – Are You Out of Balance?

Keeping your balance throughout your life is an empowering –and do-able goal.

May 7 –The Magic of Music

Moving to jazz, classical, or instrumental –sorry, not rock and roll—enhances your ability to regain and strengthen your balance.

May 14 – I Hear Music

One to three hours of listening to music per week, especially classical, boosts the brain’s capacity to change, adapt, and even grow. In other words, Beethoven and Bach keep your brain young!

May 21 –Play It Again, Sam

Learning to play an instrument increases cognitive performance and improves quality of life. It might also help you sleep better.

May 28 –Make Love and Music

Playing and/or listening to music engage all quadrants of the brain, resulting in higher memory and verbal retrieval.  And, these benefits can last for decades!

June 4 – An Attitude of Gratitude

The power of gratitude to enrich every aspect of our lives can be personally quantified in the Gratitude Questionnaire-Six Item Form (GQ6) listed here. 

June 11—Raising Your Gratitude Quotient

Embracing gratitude makes people physically, socially, and psychologically healthier. Grateful people feel less stress, less anxiety, greater life satisfaction, and better sleep—especially in combination with the Gratitude Meditation.

June 18 –The Gifts and Glue of Gratitude

Gratitude, the gift you give yourself, is the heart connection to others that helps you focus on what’s going right in your life. Keeping a gratitude journal makes you mindful of your many blessings.

June 25 –Radical Gratitude

Saying “Thank you” for everything may sound daunting but this expanded use of the Gratitude Meditation brings peaceful thoughts and a greater appreciation of your blessed life, even on those days not seemingly joyful.

July 2 –Up Your Happiness Quotient

Even when facing life’s toughest hurdles, being thankful for the smallest of gifts relieves stress and depression. Dr. Seligman’s powerful tool, “The Gratitude Visit” can help you.

July 9 –Losing Our Armor

After menopause, our hormonal bulletproof armor of younger days vaporizes and we become exposed and unprotected from life’s hardships. Upping our gratitude quotient is the best defense against those stressful times.

July 16 –We’re Out of Control

Much of our stress lies in the fear that life won’t be as we had hoped or planned, and so we decide, consciously or unconsciously, we can’t be happy. Learning how to reboot and gain control of our lives lowers stress and allows us to feel better about those things that aren’t going perfectly.

July 23 -- Meditation 101

Practicing meditation, which creates a pause in the circus of life, is a powerful tool in combating life’s more trying times.

July 30 –The Goods On Meditation

Chronic stress speeds up cognitive decline and all degenerative aspects of aging. Studies show practicing mindful meditation can reverse age-related brain degeneration.

September 3 –What Does It Mean To Live Vibrantly?

To age vibrantly we need to cast off outdated notions about aging and focus on the mind and spirit, as well as the body.

September 10 –The Physical Aspects of Being Vibrant

Recognizing, adapting to, and being content with our present abilities—we’re not 25 any more—are key ingredients to living our current lives to the fullest. 

September 17 –Keeping Our Mental Momentum

Setting goals—some of them challenging—being resilient, and accepting ourselves as we are, ensures the active life most adults envision. Regular exercise tops the list for aiding in memory retention.

September 24 – Our Vibrant Hearts

Keeping a positive attitude that allows us to let go of regrets, and practicing some form of spirituality promotes a higher level of emotional well being.  Social connections and involvement lead to a more vibrant and longer life.

October 4- The Doctor Is In With Answers

Claudia Harsh, MD, an expert in the field of women’s medicine, answers questions about the connection between menopause and breast cancer.

October 8—Weighing In On Breast Cancer Preventions

Maintaining a healthy weight and making sound life choices can lower the risk of getting breast cancer.

October 15 –Belly Up To The Bar… Or Not

Two glasses of wine a day may lead to a greater chance of contracting breast cancer, especially in women with a family history of the disease. The good news? Exercise lowers the odds!

October 22 –Prevention On Our Plates

Regular, focused exercise is the number one breast cancer risk reducer, but making friends with vegetables and cutting back on red meat and processed foods come in second and third.

October 29 –More Answers From Dr. Claudia Harsh

Once again Dr. Harsh offers thoughtful answers to some of the most pressing questions women have regarding breast cancer.

November 5 –A Win-Win To Cope With Loneliness This Holiday Season

Making social connections, and especially visiting a senior who is living in a care facility are the most successful ways to change negative feelings of loss and despair to positive feelings of happiness and contentment.

November 12 –Lift Your Spirits and Your Skirt this Season

Winter depression is real! To combat it, get involved—volunteer, mentor a young person, join a group, and find an opportunity to dance the night away!

November 19 – Seeing the Best In Everyone

Playing nice, even with the most tedious guest at the table, will up your happiness quotient.  Listen to an elder’s memories of past holiday celebrations and make some new memories of your own by playing with the children, or just holding someone’s hand. Be present to be happy.

November 26 – Spread A Little Gratitude All Year Long

Rabbi Rami Shapiro has a great way to “Pay It Forward.”  He responds to as many charitable requests his holiday budget allows. Then he finds opportunities in the months ahead to donate to the remaining legitimate charities. Giving throughout the year extends that great feeling you get when you give money to folks who need it.

December 3-Tapping Into A Better Brain

The latest research cites dancing as one of the outstanding ways to lay down new tracks in our aging brains and grow new brain cells along with sleeker muscles. I’m a work in progress but my personal experience with tap class has enriched my life.

December 10-Make it Fun!

Our attitudes are everything. We can’t go back to when we were younger, so now the way to feel as good as we can, be as sharp as we are able to be, and look as vibrant as possible, is to invest time, and some money, into taking care of ourselves. New research hot from the field points to fun as the secret sauce for living a long mentally, physically, and spiritually healthy life.

December 17-Sugar Land

Knowing I was eating too much sugar, I decided to drop it from my diet for the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. The resulting weight loss was beneficial, but more importantly, I was free of the sugar pull, free from wanting sweet things. That was empowering, very empowering, a sensation I continue to relish.

December 24—With Age Comes Wisdom

In this season of celebration, the underlying message of so many religions—Practice Kindness -- has never been more critical. Growing older, gaining wisdom, means understanding that being right is often never as important as being kind.

I wish you a Happy, and even healthier, New Year, and more opportunities to… Be Vibrant!

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With Age Comes Wisdom

In this season of celebration for many different religions, one of the anchoring tenants each wisdom tradition holds is acting with kindness toward our fellow humans and all living creatures. Exercising compassion can alleviate our feelings of isolation, solve many problems, and open our hearts to genuine connection to others and the world around us.

As I reached mid-life, showing kindness has become the guiding principle for how I want to live my life each day. This was not always the case. For decades, I chose being right as my number one value. You can image how well that often turned out. 😉 For the Baby Boomer generation, and since all time before computers, knowledge was power. We drew our strength and our feelings of acceptance by how much we knew, and like many of us, I wanted everyone to know how much I knew. I am most grateful the old cliché has proven true in my case: With age comes wisdom. Somewhere along the way, wisdom, like a cloak of superior intelligence, enveloped me and I woke up: kindness is where it is at, it’s what wise people practice, what brings one peace. It is the ace that produces a winning hand, every time. Practicing kindness enables me to get out of my head and into my heart, and adopt an attitude of benevolence toward the world and even more importantly, toward myself.

This last step is about gaining wisdom, by reaching an age to look back on the effects my harsher behavior of youth had on myself and others, and then being aware, for having lived long enough to know there is a better way. Learning the values of other religions and their wise traditions opened my eyes to this truth, and from there my life has soared. Kindness elevates the conversation by shifting everyone’s perspective and allowing light to shine into a darkened heart. Kindness is the answer, now more than ever, as so many are suffering around the world.

In this season of celebrations, on the cusp of a New Year, I celebrate this hard-earned wisdom I acquired. I am so grateful that I now understand—a little later than sooner-- but in plenty of time for me to share it all around.

Until next time… Be Vibrant!

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Sugar Land

As I eat lunch today, I am looking over the Food Section of the newspaper and reading easy cookie recipes for people who don’t know how to bake, or just don’t love to bake. Before reading the recipe, I hone in on how much sugar each recipe uses; I sigh.

I think back to last December, when I had gained a few pounds after returning to school. While there, I had relearned the hard sparkling truth about white sugar, and so I decided to give up all sugar from Thanksgiving Day until Christmas Day. ALL sugar. That included wine, too, not just festive holiday cookies you see in bakeries and at parties once a year, or the Panettone specialty bread and other yeasty delights available only during December, and let’s not even talk about forgoing chocolate. Just thinking about that loss makes me close my eyes and center myself with five deep breaths. 

You may be thinking, “Were you just crazy, or what, to forgo sugar at the very best time for all things sweet?” Honestly, there was a method to my madness beyond becoming a masochist for thirty days. First, I had experienced a number of holiday seasons: this wasn’t my first rodeo. I truly believed I had tasted all the holiday treats anyone has ever invented, and so giving up sweets for one season seemed doable. Desperation to fit into my clothes became a strong motivator, after failing to lose the weight after my courses ended. On Thanksgiving Day the pumpkin pie slid too easily down my throat for me to truly grasp that those bites were the last sugar, in any form, I would have for thirty days, except for one-half cup of berries three times a week the nutritionist said I needed to keep me healthy and flu-free. 

Yes, a couple of times I fell into the sugar ditch and took a bite of something made with the forbidden plant, but I didn’t beat myself up or dwell on it. I just considered how I felt emotionally and physically, and vowed to get back on the high road, ASAP.  I did, and I noticed several things as the month went on: I was less wired, less irritable, and my head was clearer. I even slept better, despite the stresses of the season. The best part came while packing to travel at Christmas…almost all my clothes fit! I had dropped five pounds and I was a few inches smaller in the classic three measurements-bust, waist, and hips. I had done it, and to be completely honest, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, mainly because I had become very motivated to lose weight. An additional benefit I experienced, which I know from my work, came from a decreased desire for sugar after the month ended. I was free of its pull, free from wanting sweet things. That was empowering, very empowering, a sensation I continue to relish.

Have I gone back to eating sugar? Yes, but so much less than before. Feeling free from, well, let’s face it, sugar addiction, is powerful, and knowing I can take it or leave it feeds that awareness even more. Now, when I have sugar it’s a conscious decision, and I can take two or three bites of something and be satisfied. (Since I love to cook, I do like to taste everything!)  

I am not suggesting you give up sugar during the holidays, but I think it is important for me to walk the walk and talk the talk, if I am asking you to consider your sugar intake this holiday season. Writing to suggest you eat less sugar, in say June, would be a piece of cake, oops, sorry, a lovely cup of berries.😉

Until next time…Be Vibrant!

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