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The secret to long-lasting youth has been explored for centuries. Throughout history, people wondered how to slow the aging process. Much folklore is centered around this interest, from the legend of the fountain of youth to the classic story of Peter Pan, a boy who stays young forever. As society progressed, humanity has moved away from myths to research, to discover the answer to this revered question.
In recent years scientists have been researching the brain to discover which part of it controls aging. There was never a better time for research in this field. With the baby boomers passing the age of 65, the senior population of the U.S. has grown from 35 million in 2000 to 49.2 million in 2016. That’s 12.4% of the population growing into 15.2% in the span of 16 years. (1) With these rising statistics, the need for slowed aging and brain degeneration has intensified.
What Causes Aging in the Brain?
Till date, the hypothalamus is the part of the brain that has been associated with aging, and has been proven to influence hormones and the nervous system.(2) A recent study published in Nature used mice to analyze this association between the hypothalamus and the brain; they observed the mice’s aging began with a considerable loss of hypothalamic cells.
When the team deliberately removed these cells from the mice, the subjects displayed accelerated aging and a shortened life span. The researchers also found that the inflammation in the rodents’ brains were harming the vital cells. Therefore, they inserted the hypothalamic cells which had been genetically engineered to be resilient to the inflammatory environment. These mice experienced slower aging and longevity.
Drawbacks of the Study
Although this study seemed to have discovered the method to ‘prolonged youth,’ there are two factors that hinder the results this assumption:
- The tests were completed in a relatively short amount of time.
- It was not tested on humans.
Therefore, we cannot say we have found the cure for aging yet. More research is required, but the findings of this study still attribute aging to the hypothalamus.
Benefits of the Study
What’s noteworthy about the study is the damage of inflammation to the brain. When the researchers inserted the hypothalamic cells into the mice with no alterations, the mice died because the inflammation killed the new cells. Yet when the team modified the cells to endure the inflammation, the mice thrived and experienced longevity. (3)
Perhaps the key takeaway at this point is to protect our brains from the harmful effects of inflammation, until more research is done on humans.
How to Decrease Inflammation
Until further research is made and optimized, there are still ways to lower the inflammation in our bodies, like avoiding inflammatory foods and activities. (4)
Inflammatory Causes to Avoid:
Refined flours and grains
- These foods rapidly change blood sugar and insulin levels and produce free radicals in the body, both of which contribute to inflammation. (5)
- A study compared coffee-drinkers to non-coffee drinkers and discovered the coffee drinkers had increased amounts of inflammation, even those who drank moderate amounts of caffeine. (6)
- Stress increases the production of pro-inflammatory proteins in the body, which can be helpful at the time of injury, but negative when constant. (5)
Environmental toxins like pesticides, food additives, and preservatives
- These are especially harmful for those already with inflammatory disease like allergies and asthma. Still, these chemicals can cause inflammation that can lead to cancer. (7)
Anti-inflammatory Habits to Begin:
Exercising regularly can lower and even prevent inflammation and improve cardiovascular health. Start off slowly and work your way up until 20–30 minutes of vigorous movement at least three times a week. (8)
Proper sleep and rest
A study tested sleep-deprived mice for four weeks, and found increased fat mass, inflammation, and insulin resistance in their subjects. Lack of sleep also leads to stress, which leads to unhealthy diet, which creates a vicious cycle of inflammation. Sleep 7–9 hours a night, and try out different relaxing techniques to use throughout the day, like meditation and yoga. (9)
Eati Anti-inflammatory Foods
The Mediterranean diet contains many anti-inflammatory foods, including
- fruits like strawberries, oranges, blueberries, and cherries
- olive oils
- leafy greens
- and fish high in omega-3s. (10)
- U.S. Census Bureau. The Nation’s Older Population Is Still Growing, Census Bureau Reports. Release Number: CB17-100. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/cb17-100.html Published: June 22, 2017. Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Jon Johnson. What is the Function of the Hypothalamus? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312628.php Updated: Spetember 2, 2016. Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Yalin Zhang, Min Soo Kim, Baosen Jia, Jingqi Yan, Juan Pablo Zuniga-Hertz, Cheng Han & Dongsheng Cai. Hypothalamic stem cells control ageing speed partly through exosomal miRNAs. Nature 548, 52–57 (03 August 2017) doi:10.1038/nature23282. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature23282 Published: July 26,2017. Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Integrative Psychiatry. The Link Between Brain Inflammation and Mental Health. https://www.integrativepsychiatry.net/brain_inflammation.html Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D. Stress, Food, and Inflammation: Psychoneuroimmunology and Nutrition at the Cutting Edge. Psychosom Med. 2010 May; 72(4): 365–369. Published online 2010 Apr 21. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181dbf489. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2868080/ Published: April 21, 2012. Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Antonis Zampelas, Demosthenes B Panagiotakos, Christos Pitsavos, Christina Chrysohoou, and Christodoulos Stefanadis. Associations between coffee consumption and inflammatory markers in healthy persons: the ATTICA study1,2,3. American Society for Clinical Nutrition. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/4/862.full Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Patricia A. Thompson, Mahin Khatami, Carolyn J. Baglole, Jun Sun, Shelley A. Harris, Eun-Yi Moon, Fahd Al-Mulla Rabeah, Al-Temaimi, Dustin G. Brown, Anna Maria Colacci, Chiara Mondello, Jayadev Raju, Elizabeth P. Ryan, Jordan Woodrick, A.Ivana Scovassi, Neetu Singh, Monica Vaccari, Rabindra Roy, Stefano Forte, Lorenzo Memeo, Hosni K. Salem, Amedeo Amedei, Roslida A. Hamid, Leroy Lowe, Tiziana Guarnieri, William H. Bisson. Environmental immune disruptors, inflammation and cancer risk. Carcinogenesis, Volume 36, Issue Suppl_1, 1 June 2015, Pages S232–S253, https://doi.org/10.1093/carcin/bgv038 Published: June 19, 2015. Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Olivia Santos Gondim , Vinicius Tadeu Nunes de Camargo , Fernanda Almeida Gutierrez, Patricia Fátima de Oliveira Martins, Maria Elizabeth Pereira Passos, Cesar Miguel Momesso, Vinicius Coneglian Santos, Renata Gorjão, Tania Cristina Pithon-Curi, Maria Fernanda Cury-Boaventura. Benefits of Regular Exercise on Inflammatory and Cardiovascular Risk Markers in Normal Weight, Overweight and Obese Adults. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0140596 Published: October 16, 2015. Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Poroyko, V. A. et al. Chronic Sleep Disruption Alters Gut Microbiota, Induces Systemic and Adipose Tissue Inflammation and Insulin Resistance in Mice. Sci. Rep. 6, 35405; doi: 10.1038/srep35405 (2016). https://www.nature.com/articles/srep35405 Accessed: November 10, 2017.
- Harvard Medical School. Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Women’s Health Watch. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation Updated: August 13, 2017. Accessed: November 10, 2017.
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