Make your “Golden” years count! by Dr. Vishakha Mahajan

Make your “Golden” years count! by Dr. Vishakha Mahajan

Ever had difficulty in connecting a name to a face? Forgotten where you left your glasses this morning? Missed an appointment because you got the date wrong?

These may be the first signs of ageing!

Age-related memory decline is a by-product of the natural ageing process. While ageing is a part of life that we cannot change, we can control HOW we choose to age. Today, with increased awareness and advances in scientific research, we can slow down the process of ageing, delay the onset of age-related conditions and focus on an improved quality of life (1).

As global life expectancy rates are on the rise, we as a community need to invest in better elderly care and adopt measures for a healthy lifestyle and healthy ageing.

Is age just a number?

Age-related damage starts in small increments, it begins at the cellular level and gradually spreads to the tissue, the organs and eventually, the whole body starts to suffer.

Let’s begin at the very basics – the cells in our body continually divide and give rise to new cells, replacing old cells that are damaged or dying. However, as we age, the cells in our body are also ageing, and have undergone several divisions, resulting in disruptions in this process. The greater number of cell-divisions, the more chances of the cell becoming tired and worn out- reaching a stage called “senescence”. The senescent cell then loses its ability to die and just sits there becoming destructive and collaborating with neighbouring cells to cause havoc. The senescent cell releases chemical signals communicating with other cells and in some way ‘convincing’ them to reach senescence as well. Before we know it, more and more cells are becoming senescent, overwhelming the tissues and organs.

Complexity of the brain –

The brain is the most complex organ in the body, weighing about 1.3Kgs and comprising of 100 billion neurons (brain cells) that communicate with other parts of the body. Think of it as a command centre that controls the nervous system that enables thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger and literally every process that regulates our body.

The communication between the brain and the nervous system is facilitated by blood vessels, making them crucial components in the process.

Blood vessels and the aging brain –

It is safe to say that the brain is the most important organ in our bodies, that enables us to live our day-to-day lives. This is why, in order to stay health and be able to function, the brain requires a constant supply of essential nutrients and oxygen.

The main function of blood vessels is to transport blood filled with essential nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. There are three types of blood vessels that together, along with our heart make up our vascular system (also known as the circulatory system) –

  • Arteries
  • Veins
  • Capillaries
  • Out of these, capillaries are the smallest in size and as the blood moves through the capillaries, it filters essential nutrients and oxygen, delivering it to the brain cells while the waste from the cells move into the capillaries to be taken away for purification.

Damages in the vascular system often contribute to vascular diseases that affect blood flow to organs (2).

A research paper published in the Journal Behavioural Brain Research, discusses how the architecture of the aging brain plays a role in age-related memory decline (3). The study suggested that in aging animal models, they observed neuronal dysfunction but not degeneration. This simply means that as age takes over, the neurons (brain cells) in the brain stop working but are not dead, imploring them to further explore why this was happening.

Additional observations from the study include that the aging brain displayed –

Vascular degeneration
Impaired vascular remodelling
These are two very heavy terms so let me break it down for you!

Vascular Degeneration

Vascular degeneration means degeneration in the blood vessels, where cells start to die leading to a compromised blood flow. In aging animal models, vascular degeneration is mainly seen in the capillaries of the hippocampus region of the brain – the part of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory. Degenerating capillaries imply that there is no filtration of nutrients and no removal of waste products. Accumulated waste material causes the cells in that region to eventually die leaving a gap which prevents smooth blood flow and ultimately contributes to a reduced blood flow in that region. Reduced blood flow to the neuronal cells results in them becoming dysfunctional.

Vascular Remodelling

Refers to the ability of the body to build new blood vessels. As we age, the body loses this ability to generate new blood vessels further contributing to degeneration and leading to more serious neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia

The article highlights the importance of vascular health as we age and further implies that by improving vascular health, age-related memory decline and the onset of neurological condition might be reversed.

3 things that you can do to take care of your vascular system

Follow a longevity diet
Well ‘you are what you eat’ couldn’t be truer!

What, when and how much we eat directly impacts the rate of aging (4).

Incorporate foods in your diet that are known for its longevity and cognitive benefits such as blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, kale, salmon, chia seeds, cocoa, dark chocolate, walnuts etc.

Invest in Longevity supplements
People believe that if you eat healthy, you don’t need supplements. As we age, our cells need to do double the amount of work to keep up, requiring a greater amount of nutrients. Simultaneously, our body’s ability to innately produce these nutrients starts to decline contributing to an imbalance between demand and supply. It is difficult to satisfy this gap by food alone. Therefore, longevity supplements can help meet these nutritional demands and help in supporting your brain to maintain function, productivity while slowing down the process of aging.

Exercise your brain
Just like your muscles, your brain needs exercise too!

Engage in daily activities such as playing chess, solving sudoku puzzles, gardening, solving crosswords, cooking, playing an instrument (5). “Use it so you don’t lose it”

We are living in the era of innovation. Science and Research has come a long way in increasing the understanding of the human brain, aging and age-related diseases. Therapeutic interventions, nutraceutical supplements and biotechnological advances together can help you make the most of your “Golden Years”

Related Papers-

Malik A, Hoenig LJ. Can aging be slowed down? Clin Dermatol. 2019 Jul-Aug;37(4):306-311. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2019.04.003. Epub 2019 Apr 30. PMID: 31345317.

Xianglai Xu , Brian Wang , Changhong Ren , Jiangnan Hu , David A. Greenberg , Tianxiang Chen , Liping Xie , Kunlin Jin. Age-related Impairment of Vascular Structure and Functions. Aging and disease. 2017, 8(5): 590-610 https://doi.org/10.14336/AD.2017.0430

Zhang R, Kadar T, Sirimanne E, MacGibbon A, Guan J. Age-related memory decline is associated with vascular and microglial degeneration in aged rats. Behav Brain Res. 2012 Dec 1;235(2):210-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2012.08.002. Epub 2012 Aug 11. PMID: 22889927.

McEvoy, C. T., Guyer, H., Langa, K. M., & Yaffe, K. (2017). Neuroprotective diets are associated with better cognitive function: The Health and Retirement Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 65(8), 1857–1862. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.14922

13 Brain Exercises to Help Keep You Mentally Sharp - https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/brain-exercises