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Protect Your Heart and Your Brain: Two for the Price of One!

Posted Jul 03 2008 4:12pm
If you're like most baby boomers, one of the things you worry about the most is losing your mind.

I'm not exactly kidding. Memory loss- and all that implies- is a deep concern for many of us, particularly those of us who have cared for aging parents with dementia or Alzheimer's, two of the most soul-robbing illnesses on the planet. It's horrible, and it's a fate we certainly want to avoid.

So keeping our brain healthy is a high priority.

One of the nasty little secrets about heart disease bypass operations is that they tend to have a significant effect on your brain. There's even a name for the condition- "pump head". Symptoms include short-term memory loss, slowed responses, trouble concentrating and emotional instability. In a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2001, researchers at Duke University tested 261 patients before and after bypass surgery and found that 53% of them had significant cognitive decline when they were discharged. Even more scary, it persisted in 42% of patients even five years after the surgery.

The reasons for this are technical, and are actually besides the point I want to make here, which is this: When you protect your heart, you also protect your brain. The same diet and exercise program that will keep you from becoming a bypass statistic will also protect your neurons, and even perhaps help to grow new ones (according to research by Arthur Kramer, PhD at the University of Illinois).

Makes total sense, since both the circulatory system (heart) and the brain rely on oxygen to deliver nutrients and keep "communication" lines open. Starve your brain (or your heart) of either nutrients or oxygen, and you're headed for trouble, whether it starts in the heart and ends in the brain or vice versa.

Supplements likeCoQ10(essential if you're on a statin drug, very important even if you're not), carnitine,gingkoandalpha lipoic acidare all helpful, but even more so when combined with some kind of exercise program, and with a diet high in plant foods like vegetables and fruits. (And that goes for you folks who are low-carbers as well- it's a big misconception that you can't eat vegetables on the Atkins diet- you can and you should! Plenty of them!)

Exercising every day and eating a ton of plants sounds like a pretty cheap way of increasing the odds that you won't wind up either on the bypass surgery list or sitting in the living room staring into space and unable to remember family member's names. I don't want that fate for you, and I know you don't want it for yourself!
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