WELCOME TO 2019! IT’S A BRAND NEW YEAR AND A BRAND NEW YOU…OR NOT.
Personally, I have given up making any kind of New Year’s resolutions. I tried this once, full of naive motivation, determination and a sense of go-get-it pride. Years ago, I set a New Year’s goal of running outdoors every morning before heading into my London, UK research laboratory to work on brain studies as a Neuroscience Ph.D. student. I was going to get fit again! I even bought new running shoes and headphones for my new motivational music.
The first morning out in the fresh air, it rained…a lot. I got wet and out-of-breath in three minutes, with the morning rush hour air burning my lungs and nose. Standing at the corner of Camden High Street near the World’s End pub, I considered turning around and briskly walking home, or maybe heading into the pub for a greasy morning breakfast. I must have attempted that same run three more miserable times, before soon accepting defeat by the end of the month.
So why did I fail? My brain, like yours, works on a reward system — the mesolimbic dopamine system. We do something we like and our brain gives us a buzz of feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine, but also adrenaline, oxytocin, and others. Then we do that thing again and get more of those feel-good hormones. The more we do it, the more certain the reward becomes and the stronger the reward pathway. We develop a habit through reward.
The problem with setting new goals is that our brains are wired to like old habits. Running out in the cold January air didn’t feel as good as an extra cozy hour in bed that morning. In order for new and seemingly painful resolutions to become old and feel-good habits, we have to break through the pain barrier and teach our brains that these activities are in fact good, and they do in fact feel good, too. For many of us, this may seem impossible. But it’s really not.
A few years after my first running failure, I cheated my brain.
On a whim, I signed up for the London Marathon…all 26.2 miles of it. I made a big fuss and show on social media, asking for donations for my selected cancer charity, and telling the world I was going to do it. Sure enough, the donations started rolling in. Oh, oh! No turning back now. I began training because I had to. And yes, those first six weeks of running were awful.
But as my brain began to learn that my health was improving and I was, in fact, feeling better, it gave me more of those feel-good neurotransmitters, got on board with what I was doing and motivated me to keep going. Don’t stop, keep going, have some more dopamine! I was soon hooked. My hate became my habit, and just eight months after my spontaneous decision to run the London Marathon, I proudly completed all 26.2 miles.
I had completed my New Year’s resolution, several years later. Action determines outcome, intentions do not. So, if you’ve set a New Year, New You resolution, just do it, and do it, and do it. Set your goal and go at it with accountability. Teach your brain that this is a good thing and soon your brain will reward you with a new, healthy habit.
As my health improved, so did my concentration, focus, and willpower at work. Spending days upon days sitting in a dark room and staring down a microscope at Mad-Cow-disease—infected brain cells—can get a little exhausting. But with my new legs and lungs, I had more energy in the laboratory, more excitement for my discoveries and more love for Neuroscience. I was alive again!
Fast forward a decade and my work life is still very enjoyable and I still work out daily. I’ve had the privilege of leading laboratory and human studies at Mayo Clinic, and I’ve been fortunate enough to launch my own Neuroscience business, Jonescientific. I wholly believe exercise and diet are a huge part of that success story and that’s why my new business is focused on the things I’ve personally benefited from—exercise and diet. Our aim for Jonescientific is to educate on how to boost your brain health. We’ve also created a new, first-of-its-kind memory and cognition supplement, called Sophrosyne Brain. It takes the best of nature and combines it into a pill that has shown to clearly help improve memory, cognitive functioning and overall brain health.
While at Mayo Clinic studying Alzheimer’s disease, I’d often get asked, ‘What can I do to help protect my brain?’ My top three answers were always sleep, exercise, and diet.
Published scientific research suggests these three things are the most important in protecting your brain from the horrific onslaughts of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. And so I urge you, if you do make a New Year’s resolution this year, pick these, and start with exercise! The beautiful thing is, if you begin with exercise, you’ll soon start to see that your diet also improves as your cravings change, and with improvements in fitness and diet, your sleep improves too. It’s kind of like a three for one deal. A review of the scientific literature published in The Lancet found that over a third of the cases of dementia might have been prevented through such lifestyle changes.1
Another study including 1,145 people at higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease found that aerobic exercise around three times per week for 45 minutes per session improved cognition and delayed cognitive decline, when compared to subjects who did not exercise.2 It is believed that improved cardiovascular health from aerobic exercise plays an integral role in preventing cognitive decline. Healthy heart, healthy brain!
People who closely follow the Mediterranean diet—which is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, whole grains, and fish—appear to be most protected from Alzheimer’s disease. Many scientific studies have shown the brain benefits of this diet. One of the most recent was a study of 1,865 Greek participants with a mean age of 73 years. This study found those who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet were most protected from cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.3
This kind of diet is rich in brain-protective nutrients such as curcumin. Curcumin is the principle curcuminoid of turmeric, a member of the ginger family. Curcumin exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity, which can help protect the brain against the damage of inflammation and free radicals. An exciting study published by UCLA scientists in 2018 found that 180 mg per day of a bioavailable form of curcumin significantly improved memory over an 18-month period.4
This study was even more exciting because the scientists also showed that those who took 180 mg of curcumin had a decrease in the amounts of amyloid and tau in brain regions involved in memory and learning.
Amyloid and tau are the harmful proteins involved in Alzheimer’s disease that begin to accumulate as we age. Thus, this one ingredient is capable of reducing Alzheimer’sassociated proteins and improve memory and attention in adults. As a result, our new brain health supplement, Sophrosyne Brain, contains 180 mg of curcumin per serving. Our formula also contains Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha), a type of shrub that has also been shown to reduce levels of Alzheimer’s-associated proteins in the brain. It does this by enhancing low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein in the liver and flushing harmful proteins out of the brain and into the body, where they can be excreted.5
As well as diet, good sleep is critical for a healthy brain. There is a fascinating brain disease, which is similar to Mad Cow disease, called Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI). This disorder is extremely rare and usually affects entire members of a single family due to genetic inheritance. As the disease begins to induce degeneration of the brain, patients begin to develop severe insomnia. This is because the degeneration in FFI is particularly striking in two areas of the brain responsible for healthy sleep patterns—the hypothalamus and the brainstem. Worryingly, just one night of sleep deprivation was found to significantly increase amyloid, the protein involved in Alzheimer's disease, thus sleep deprivation may increase the risk of developing full-blown Alzheimer's.6
Good sleep is essential for the body to clear the brain of any build-up of such harmful proteins that might have occurred during the day. Some consumers of Sophrosyne Brain have reported improved sleeping patterns. Others have reported having more memorable dreams. This is because Sophrosyne Brain contains my favorite herb, Bacopa monnieri. At least four human clinical trials have shown improvements in both memory and cognition with Bacopa monnieri. A 2008 study showed that 300 mg per day over 12 weeks improved cognition and reduced anxiety.7 What's fascinating is that Bacopa acts as an acetyl-cholinesterase inhibitor. Physicians prescribe acetylcholinesterase inhibitors to patients with Alzheimer's disease, in order to increase the levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter involved in memory and cognition, but also sleep. During sleep, our brains transition from slow-wave sleep to REM sleep. Fluctuating levels of acetylcholine are essential for memories to be processed, downloaded and stored during this process. Thus, as well as supporting cognition, it appears that Bacopa monnieri supports good sleep by modulating levels of acetylcholine.
So whatever you do this year, I hope that you will consider incorporating aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleeping habits. You may not be quite ready to sign up for a full marathon, but sign up for something! Start with a one-mile fun run or family swim, and log on to jonescientific.com to learn more about Sophrosyne Brain and the proven ingredients behind it.
Here's to a brain-new year and a brain-new you!
- Livingtson, G. et al., Dementia prevention, intervention, and care. The Lancet. Volume 390, Issue 10113, Pages 2673–2734. 2017.
- Panza, G., et al., Can Exercise Improve Cognitive Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease? Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Volume 66, Pages 487–95. 2018.
- Anastasiou C., et al., Mediterranean Diet and cognitive health: initial results from the Hellenic longitudinal investigation of ageing and diet. PLoS One. Volume 12, Issue 8. 2017.
- Small, G., et al., Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind Placebo Controlled 18-Month Study. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Volume 26, Issue 3. Pages 266–77. 2018.
- Shokri-Kojori, E., et al., B-amyloid accumulation in the human brain after one night of sleep deprivation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Issue 115, Volume 17. Pages 4482–88.
- Calabrese, C., et al., Effects of a standardized Bacopa monnieri extract on cognitive performance, anxiety, and depression in the elderly: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine. Volume 14, Number 6. Pages 707–13. 2008.