The secret to what makes people into geniuses has long been a subject of scientific interest and intrigue. The brain of Albert Einstein, in particular, which devised the theory of relativity and made possible the development of nuclear fission, has been the focus of many studies into human genius. His brain is also the subject of a rather bizarre tale.
Shortly after his death, a Princeton pathologist named Thomas Harvey, M.D. conducted an autopsy of Einstein’s brain. Dr Harvey hoped to unlock the secrets to the famed scientist’s genius, and what he discovered could transform how we respond to the epidemic of Alzheimer’s that now confronts us.
But Dr Harvey did something that nearly put his discovery and career in jeopardy. Instead of replacing Einstein’s brain in his body, he put it in a jar of formaldehyde and took it home. Over the next four decades he then sent pieces of Einstein’s brain to neuroscientists. Not for any nefarious reasons, but all in the name of medical research.
Eventually, Dr Harvey realized his folly and tried to return what was left of Einstein’s brain to his daughter. But recognizing the contribution her father had made to the world of science, she told Dr Harvey to donate it to Princeton University, where it now sits in a jar to this day.
The Holy Grail of cognitive performance?
The madcap story of a doctor dissecting and mailing out pieces of Einstein’s brain is certainly remarkable. But what’s more remarkable is what his autopsy revealed.
Upon peering inside the mind of one of the world’s greatest scientific geniuses of all time, Dr Harvey discovered that Einstein had an exceptionally high ratio of glial to neuron cells in the parietal region of his brain. These glial cells produce a chemical called acetylcholine, and it has been surmised that Einstein enjoyed an abundance of acetylcholine and that it was the key to his genius, and why he maintained all his mental faculties long into old age.
The role of acetylcholine in the human brain is now attracting renewed focus on among doctors and scientists as they battle to find an answer to the incoming tsunami of cognitive decline in the baby boomer generation.
Mental aging is no longer something we have to accept
Do you ever walk into a room but can’t remember why?
Or forget someone’s name within five minutes of meeting them?
We may chuckle in situations like this. But the reason why it happens is no laughing matter.
You see, your brain is no different to any other part of your body. Over time, it breaks down.
But instead of cartilage and muscle fiber, its membranes and nerve cells that weaken and decay. And as neuroscientists are discovering, ‘age’ isn’t the only reason our brains deteriorate as we get older.
Until recently, having a slower, weaker brain was accepted as a natural part of aging. That worsening brain fog, being more scatter brained and unable to concentrate for long periods is ‘what happens’ as we get old.
But countless studies are now revealing that rates of cognitive decline are worse now than at any time in history, and getting worse every year. More alarmingly, research has found that the main culprits are common habits that millions of people do every day.
Why everybody’s wrong about mental aging
My name is Danny Murphy and I am not a doctor, a neuroscientist or a brain expert of any kind.
Who I am is someone who has researched natural health for the last ten years. I’ve seen the studies and read the reports which explain why current approaches to treating mental aging are doomed to fail (and may even be making the problem worse).
The scary reality we all face is that rates of dementia, Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline are going through the roof, and are far higher than at any time in history. And the world’s best scientists are scratching their heads at how we can avert an incoming tsunami of mental health problems.
But there is hope.
There is still time to save today’s baby boomers from moving into nursing homes en mass. But to succeed, it will need a sea change in how we look after out brains. A holistic solution that encompasses the food we eat, how we exercise and avoiding ingesting substances that make our brains worse.
But until now, all the money and resources are being thrown at treating the SYMPTOMS of cognitive decline. When we should be focusing on the CAUSE.
This is the only way we can delay or prevent the widespread cognitive decline people aged over 50 now face. Otherwise we risk becoming a nation of over medicated zombies, with no hope for the future.
The surprising truth about mental health
Just like your muscles, heart and other organs, your brain needs nutrition to stay fit, healthy and functioning properly.
When you can supply your brain with the key nutrients it needs, it can clean itself of mental plaque, repair membranes and nerve cells and even perform at a higher level than it does now.
The link between nutrition and brain function is well researched and understood. Neuroscientists even know what is the brain’s #1 driving force of optimum cognitive performance: Acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain and an essential neurotransmitter for learning, memory and mood.
Neurotransmitters are like tiny messengers. They pass information between nerves, muscles and other microbiological structures so they can function properly, and your body relies on acetylcholine more than any other neurotransmitter.(1)
When your body produces enough acetylcholine your memories, focus and clarity of thought all work as they should. But if your acetylcholine levels drop, your mental performance suffers.
If you’re already forgetting where you left your keys or cant remember what you did last Tuesday, depleted acetylcholine is likely the cause. In fact, research has revealed that people with dementia nearly always have a deficiency of acetylcholine in their brain.(2)
Steer clear of these 3 daily habits
While our bodies naturally produce acetylcholine when we are young, as we get older our bodies produce less and less.(3) This is just a fact of life. But there are three common daily habits that could be making your depletion of acetylcholine and subsequent mental aging worse:
1. Prescription drugs
If you take medication for allergies, insomnia, pain relief, high blood pressure, depression or your bladder then you may be also depleting your stores of acetylcholine.
Many of the drugs for these conditions are known as ‘anticholinergics’. And as the name suggests, these drugs have been found to block and destroy acetylcholine in the brain. This includes a study by the Harvard Medical School, which linked drugs like Benadryl to increased dementia risk.(4)
If you are currently taking any prescription medications ask your doctor if they are ‘anticholinergics’. If so, you may wish to take steps to restore your acetylcholine stores to a healthy level.
2. Eating too much processed sugar
Our modern diet of food loaded with processed sugar is blamed for the massive rise in obesity rates and 60% increase in type 2 diabetes in the last decade. Recent research is revealing that eating food laden with fructose, corn syrup and other processed sugars could be rotting our brains too.
Eating too much sugar creates toxic compounds in the body known as ‘Advanced Glycation End-products’ or AGEs. AGEs can age your skin and cause inflammation to your joints and other organs. They can also cause artery damage and reduced blood flow to the brain. This in turn leads to long-term brain damage.
It’s feared that AGEs from processed sugar could be what’s driving the huge rise in Alzheimer’s. So if you’ve been considering replacing soda with a glass of water, you now have a very good reason.(5)
3. Not enough daily exercise
Your brain uses three times more oxygen than your muscles.. Oxygen is vital for getting rid of brain plaque, repairing damaged membranes and helping the brain to function properly.
Getting 30 minutes of exercise a day is the only way to ensure your brain gets the blood flow it needs to stay fit and healthy. If you don’t exercise regularly, start light with stretching, going for a walk and taking the stairs instead of the lift. Then gradually build up to jogging, cycling and other activities that get the blood pumping.
If you are currently taking prescription medications daily, eat too much processed food and aren’t getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, it’s understandable if you now feel worried. However, the good news is that if you start making healthy lifestyle changes and feed your brain with the nutrition it needs then it is possible to repair the damage and get a leaner, fitter and faster brain than you may have now.
ASA Restrictions on Health Claims
There are a lot of snake oil salesmen in the supplements world. They’ll happily tell you that their supplement can turn you into Einstein, give you biceps like Schwarzenegger and a mane of hair that would make Sansom jealous.
Because of all the quackery, the authorities are clamping down on disingenuous claims made about supplements. In my case, it’s the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) key guidelines I have to satisfy, summarized by the following:
Nutrition claims are only permitted if they are listed in the Annex of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, lastly amended by Regulation (EU) No 1047/2012.
Unfortunately, few natural supplements carry approved claims in the EU Register. For this reason, I can not make any specific health claims as to how effective any of the following ingredients will be at improving your memory or enhancing your concentration. I also can not claim or imply that they will prevent, treat or cure any diseases, like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
All I can do is provide you with the results of human studies (wherever possible selected from the US National Library of Medicine Institute of Health) and allow you to make up your own mind.
When to consult your doctor
Many supplement companies will claim their product has ZERO side effects. Unless they are literally selling a sugar pill, this is unlikely to be true. While they carry fewer dangers than pharmaceutical drugs, in rare cases natural supplements can cause side effects. This includes stomach pain, nausea, sleep disturbances, headaches, dizziness, nervousness and flushing of the face. If you experience any of these symptoms then you should stop taking the supplement and consult your doctor.
You should also consult your doctor before taking supplements if you have an existing medical condition, are pregnant or suspect you might have a health problem. You should not stop taking any medication without first consulting your physician.
Vinpocetine – Viagra for the Mind
Vinpocetine is extracted from the seeds of the periwinkle plant and has been widely used as a cognitive enhancer since the 1980s. Dubbed ‘Viagra for the Mind’, vinpocetine has been referenced in over 600 studies for its health benefits.
In Japan vinpocetine is prescribed by doctors to help improve memory, cognition, concentration and to improve blood flow to the brain. Japan is one of the most scientifically advanced nations in the world, with one of the oldest average lifespan on Earth at 83.10 years (nearly 5 years more than the US).
So the western world would be wise to take notes from Japan’s doctors on how we can protect our aging population from mental decline. One country that has taken notice is Germany, where vinpocetine is sold as a prescription drug under the brand name Cavinton.(6)
While vinpocetine has been taken as a natural cognitive enhancer for decades and is prescribed in Japan and Germany, more clinical research is needed to verify its benefits as a treatment for mental aging,
However, one recent study, reported on in the US National Library of Medicine Institute of Health, of 56 cognitively impaired patients who were given a dose of 5 mg of vinpocetine twice a day found that “there were significant improvements in memory and concentration with vinpocetine therapy” and that “vinpocetine was effective in improving memory and concentration of patients with epilepsy and dementia although the efficacy was minimal in demented patients.”(7)
Ginkgo Biloba – The Brain Herb
Ginkgo Bilboa is popularly known as the ‘’brain herb’’ and comes from a tree revered in South Korea, China and Japan for its mental boosting abilities. Referred to as yín xìng in Chinese medicine, the leaves of the ginkgo tree have long been used by herbalists as a brain tonic for improving memory, concentration and as a natural antidepressant.
Ginkgo Bilboa is believed to help increase blood flow to the brain and to protect the membranes that surround the delicate nerve cells from damage.
Some studies have found that in healthy people, ginkgo might modestly boost memory and cognitive speed. Other studies have not found a benefit or the results were mixed.
According to WebMD:
“Several ginkgo studies have shown that it can help with memory problems caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It seems to help prevent the progression of dementia symptoms, especially if the dementia is thought to be the result of atherosclerotic vascular disease. It does not seem to prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s, however.”(8)
A study entitled “A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Ginkgo biloba in Neuropsychiatric Disorders: From Ancient Tradition to Modern-Day Medicine” conducted in 2012 compiled the results from multiple medical databases and then selected 113 controlled randomized trials that had at least 10 participants and ran for at least 6 weeks.
They assessed that:
“[the] available evidence is sufficient to support the use of Gb in patients with dementia and as an adjunctive therapy in schizophrenic patients. Despite the promising results, broad recommendations for the use of Gb in other neuropsychiatric conditions, such as ADHD, autism, and AD are still premature.”(9)
Huperzine A – Chinese Club Moss
Huperzine comes from Chinese club moss and has been widely used in traditional medicine for treating age related memory impairment as well as to enhance existing memory. It is believed to increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain, the key to healthy cognitive function.
L-Tyrosine – Natural Mood Lifter
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that helps feed the body with protein. It is found naturally in eggs, nuts and wheat and is widely used in protein supplements for muscle growth. L-Tyrosine is also taken for depression, stress and improving concentration and alertness.
GABA (Gamma-Aminobutvric Acid) – Blocker of Bad Vibes
GABA is a neurotransmitter that can help block negative nerve impulses. This includes the nerves related to anxiety, mood disorders and chronic pain. For this reason, GABA is often taken as a natural supplement for improving the mood, relieving anxiety, getting better sleep and to improve attention and focus.
There is not yet conclusive evidence that GABA can pass through the blood-brain barrier in sufficient quantities to be effective at halting age related mental decline. A recent study, conducted in 2015, concluded that “there is some evidence for the claims made by hundreds of consumers online concerning the calming effects of GABA food supplements, but evidence from independent studies is needed. In addition, even if a calming effect of GABA can be reliably demonstrated, the mechanism through which these supplements work is unclear.”(10)
Alpha GPC – Growth Hormone for the Mind
Alpha GPC is found naturally in soy. Until recently it was mainly taken by athletes as it was believed to help increase strength, stimulate the release of growth hormones and provide explosive gains in performance. It is now also a popular supplement for improving memory. In Europe Alpha GPC is sold as a prescription drug for treatment of Alzheimer’s because it seems to increase acetylcholine in the brain.(11)
Bacopa Monnieri – Indian Aphrodisiac
Bacopa Monnieri is a creeping herb used in traditional Indian medicine for a wide range of conditions. This includes backache, joint pain and sexual performance, along with improving memory and reducing anxiety.
Supplements are not miracle cures for cognitive decline
The supplements listed above have a long history in alternative medicine for remedies related to mental performance. However, none of them are a miracle cure. Conclusive proof is still needed into their benefits. They are also not a replacement for getting daily exercise and eating a healthy diet filled with fruit and vegetables – the two key habits to slowing mental decline as we age.
Disclaimer – Statements made in this article have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA. You should never make changes to your medication without speaking to your doctor. This article is provided for information purposes only and is not a replacement for professional medical advice.