For as long as modern medicine had existed, doctors believed that the anatomy of the brain was fixed at maturity. The potential to change whether for a person born with a learning disability, a victim of brain injury, a dementia sufferer, or simply someone looking to improve how their brain worked was considered an impossibility.
Your cognitive life, according to science, would play out like this: your brain, the organ responsible for consciousness, would undergo a fierce period of growth and organization up to age twenty-five the peak state of your mental hardware only to begin a long, gradual decline until the end of life. This was, of course, assuming that you didn’t do anything to accelerate that process along the way
GIVE DEMENTIA THE FINGER
I had the privilege of visiting Miia Kivipelto, a neurobiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institutet and one of the foremost researchers exploring the effects of diet and lifestyle on the brain.
She leads the groundbreaking FINGER trial, or Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability, the world’s first ongoing, large-scale, long-term randomized control trial to measure the impact that our dietary and lifestyle choices have on our cognitive health.
In a perfect world, inflammation is simply the ability of our immune systems to “spot clean” cuts, wounds, and bruises and to prevent the occasional bacterial tourist from becoming a full-blown infection. Today, our immune systems have become chronically activated in response to our diets and lifestyles.
This has been recognized in the past several years as playing a pivotal role in driving or initiating many of the chronic, degenerative diseases plaguing modern society. Widespread inflammation can eventually damage your DNA, promote insulin resistance (the underlying mechanism that drives type 2 diabetes), and cause weight gain.
We haven’t always been able to summon our food with a few swipes on a smartphone. By solving our species’ food scarcity problem during the Agricultural Revolution, we’ve created a new one: overfeeding. For the first time in history, there are more overweight than underweight humans walking the Earth
In Vanilla Sky (one of my favorite films), writer/director Cameron Crowe wrote, “Every passing minute is a chance to turn it all around.” This is particularly true of our bodies’ ability to repair against the damages incurred due to aging, but only when we feed them the right ingredients. With 90 percent of Americans now falling short in obtaining adequate amounts of at least one vitamin or mineral, we have set the stage for accelerated aging and decline
Our food supply has become awash in food-like products. These products directly contribute to the three factors mentioned above: they are stripped of nutrients during the production process, they promote their own overconsumption, and they drive inflammation. Most insidious, however, may be the bonus toxic additives the syrups, industrial oils, and emulsifiers that directly and indirectly contribute to an activated immune system, driving anxiety, depression, suboptimal cognitive performance, and long-term risk for disease.