Why SIRT1 in Your Brain May Keep You Smart

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Picture
a scene in the ancient wild: a time when drought and famine has
taken the land, food is scant and predators are near, and staying
alive depends on being active, alert, and quick-witted – and
asking, “Where did I find those nuts last year, and where was
that water hole?“

A protein called
SIRT1 in our brains may explain how our ancestors lived through
such nutritionally scarce situations by protecting neurons and keeping
the brain smart in extreme situations of survival.

Additionally,
recent research in animals suggests that through calorie restriction,
periodic fasting, taking compounds such as resveratrol, and drug
therapies of the future, humans today could increase production
of SIRT1 to sharpen their own thinking and memory, and guard against
the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

These theories
received a major boost in July when five connected studies evaluated
mice bred to have lower or increased levels of the SIRT1 protein
in their neurons. The studies showed that the protein is critical
for learning and memory, protects against memory loss, keeps mice
alert, physically active, and burning calories efficiently.

Sidebar:
10 Steps to Enhance Brain Power

The human brain
evolved primarily to increase our chances of survival. So the trick
to boosting brain power and creativity, and sharpening thinking
and memory depends on tapping into the brain’s neural mechanisms
that are key to the ability to adapt to situations, solve problems,
and live to see another day of passing on genes.

Unfortunately,
modern life does little for brain power. Because SIRT1 is a crucial
protein keeping the brain healthy, active and smart, it’s important
to adopt habits that potentially increase levels of SIRT1 in the
brain for learning and memory. In parallel, there are other major
changes we can make that also improve the brain.

  1. Eat
    like a wild ancient human.
    Consume fewer calories and fast
    periodically as our ancestors would have, in an environment where
    food was occasionally scarce. Lowering calories leads to losing
    weight, which is critical for reducing risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s
    disease. Studies
    in animals also show that calorie restriction and fasting increase
    production of SIRT1 in the brain.
  2. Supplement
    with resveratrol.
    The natural plant compound, found in many
    foods including red grapes and red wine, is a known SIRT1 activator.
    However, at least one randomized, clinical
    trial
    in humans has found that doses of 250 and 500 milligrams
    – more than 100 and 200 times the amount found in a glass
    of pinot noir – taken twice daily is enough resveratrol to
    boost blood flow in the brain. As little as 40 milligrams of resveratrol
    daily in humans was also recently shown
    to suppress oxidative stress and inflammation.
  3. Exercise
    like a wild ancient human
    .
    Our brains evolved once our ancestors were bipedal, and research
    now shows that aerobic exercise – even the simple act of
    going for walks
    a couple of times weekly – is enough to improve brain function,
    learning and memory, by boosting blood flow and increasing circulation
    in the brain.

  4. Get
    enough of the “sunshine vitamin.”
    Vitamin D –
    made naturally in your skin when it’s exposed to the sun’s
    UV-B rays – is not really a vitamin at all, but a hormone,
    with receptors throughout the body, including the brain’s
    cortex and hippocampus, and responsible for cognitive performance.
    The hormone is now known to be involved in protection and growth
    of neurons, and new research
    shows that vitamin D may be associated with protecting against
    neurological diseases. Additionally, low levels of vitamin D are
    associated
    with poor learning and memory. Recent research suggests most people
    have low levels of vitamin D and that greater intake daily in
    ranges of 1,000–2,000 international units daily are needed to
    guard against insufficiency.
  5. Eat fish
    or supplement with fish oil.
    Your brain is about 60 percent
    fat, and most of that fat is a type of long-chain omega-3 fatty
    acid found in rich amounts in fish, called docosahexaenoic acid,
    or DHA. The last decade of research
    has revealed a strong association between declining amount of
    DHA in the brain and memory loss. In fact, one
    study
    showed older adults who ate fish at least once a week
    had 60 percent less risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  6. Eat blueberries.
    These berries are rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins, which
    have been found to protect animals from neuronal damage and even
    improve learning memory. Earlier this year, a randomized, double-blind
    clinical
    trial
    also showed that drinking 2 or more cups of wild blueberry
    juice daily improves learning and memory in older adults. Additional
    research
    suggests that the blueberries are even more preventive the earlier
    they’re adopted in the diet.

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the rest of the article

August
12, 2010

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