Start small to make big fitness changes
June 11, 2013 11:36AM
Updated: June 12, 2013 2:03AM
Q: I know three people in their mid-50s with brain problems — one with Parkinson’s, one with early onset Alzheimer’s and one with some other kind of brain disease. It’s unsettling. What do you think’s going on?
Devon B., Covington, Ky.
A: Since 1997 there’s been a 66 percent INCREASE in the number of men and a 92 percent increase in the number of women dying from neurological diseases and conditions such as ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia at younger and younger ages!
But listen up: You can dramatically improve your long-term brain health by doing what we recommend below.
What accounts for the increase? All indications are that epigenetic changes — that is, changes in gene expression triggered by environmental influences — are making people more susceptible to brain diseases.
Just as there’s been an increase in autoimmune diseases, a fall in sperm counts and a rise in cancer incidence (even as cancer deaths fall), the increase in younger people developing neurological diseases may come from the explosion in electronic devices; a rise in background, non-ionising radiation from PC’s, microwaves, TV’s and mobile phones; increased petrochemical pollution; chemical additives and pesticides in food; and more.
Fortunately, the body is surprisingly resilient and responds well to good self-care. You can fight back against lifestyle-triggered health hazards.
What we need is a war against brain diseases. Our battle cry:
-- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight by eliminating the Five Food Felons (saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sugar syrups, and any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole).
-- Get regular physical activity: Walk 10,000 steps a day, do 15 minutes of strength training two to three days a week, plus 20 minutes of cardio three times a week (cardio exercise is six times more effective than “brain games” in growing your memory center!).
-- Meditate daily for at least 10 minutes. Managing stress may be the No. 1 brain helper!
-- Enjoy as much black coffee as you like. It cuts memory dysfunction and Parkinson’s risk.
-- Take anti-inflammatory DHA omega-3 from algal oil (900 IU a day) or eat three servings of salmon a week. Other daily supplements: for eyes — 10 mg lutein; for brain — 6 mg B-6, 400 mcg folic acid, 25 mcg B-12 (after age 50, 400 to 800 mcg).
Q: My relative has battled drugs for years. Now I hear scientists can engineer vaccines against heroin addiction. Is that true?
Maury P., New York
A: Yes, they are working on vaccines for heroin addiction as well as ones for cocaine, methamphetamines and nicotine dependence. And the results from preclinical trials are promising. There have been experimental heroin vaccines in the works since the 1990s, but they generally haven’t been effective. These newer versions are a bit different.
In a nutshell, what these vaccines do is make an introduction between immune system cells and the drugs’ toxic elements in the bloodstream. They do this by attaching small pieces of the drugs’ previously elusive molecules to a protein. This is kind of like sticking a red flag on them that says: “Hey! We’re over here!”
Then the immune system can work against them. Interestingly, these vaccines don’t block opioid receptors, like traditional treatments. That means a person can: 1. continue with a traditional treatment; and 2. take a painkiller (and get pain relief) if they need an emergency-room procedure.
But the biggest news may be that in early trials the compulsive behavior that goes along with addictions gets the heave-ho as well. The reason that’s such big news is because many times, after a person is treated for an addiction, their habit-forming, compulsive-behavior patterns remain and are a major cause of relapse.
These new vaccines seem to address that problem, too.
Today, researchers are trying to make sure the vaccines are safe and effective, and it looks like there could be relief in sight for millions of people who suffer from substance addiction. That’s incredibly good news.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of
“The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.
Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at