Building a Bigger Brain.

31 Dec

Dr. Michael F. Roizen

Co-Author of 4 #1 NY Times Bestsellers including: YOU Staying Young.

The Owner’s Manual For Extending Your Warranty (Free Press)

Our basic premise is that your body is amazing.  You get a do over. It doesn’t take that long, and it isn’t that hard if you know what to do.  In these notes, we give you a short course in what to do so it becomes easy for you, and for you to teach others. We want you to know how much control you have over both the  quality and length of your life.

What do your favorite wool sweater, your retirement savings account, and your brain have in common? They’re all better off if they don’t shrink! But the brains of the 79 million Americans (and millions more Canadians) with slightly elevated blood sugar levels are at risk for just that!

Even a little extra blood glucose shrivels grey matter. Once you develop dementia, extra sugar may help short term memory but can still be bad for the long term. This column is not for those already with dementia. Please see a specialist very quickly as there are over 20 totally reversible causes including drugs, B12 deficiency, thyroid disease, etc. It seems the areas of the brain where memories are processed (hippocampus) and thinking takes place (the amygdala) grew smaller in women and men whose blood sugar was in the prediabetes range, about 110 mg/dL on a fasting blood sugar test. (And if you progress from prediabetes to diabetes—as most people eventually do—you’ll accelerate shrinkage even more!)

Now, it’s true that the size of your brain shrinks with age if you do not do anything about it—perhaps ‘cause we humans live so long– but there’s a lot you can do to reverse prediabetes (that will protect all your organs, not just your brain), control your glucose levels so you don’t ever develop prediabetes, and keep your neurons firing at their best. Exercise is most important, followed by stress management.  For comparison, brain games increase hippocampal size less than 10% of the amount that exercise does.

1) Break Out Your Walking Shoes. Exercise stimulates the growth of new neurons and new connections between neurons by boosting levels of a protein called BDNF that acts like “Miracle-Gro” for the brain. Even a few 30-minute walks a week protect against cognitive decline as you get older, and they are even more effective than brain games or spending time with your BFFs. We recommend you aim for 10,000 steps a day; if you can do that, you will definitely be giving prediabetes the heave-ho.

2) Break Out Your Sweat Socks and Heart Rate Monitor. More vigorous physical activity at any age increases your hippocampal size, and your brain connections.  That’s why exercising your leg and core muscles may be the best games for your brain. Get your heart rate up to 85% of your age adjusted max for 20 minutes three times a week, and you’ll get maximum benefit.

3) De-stress daily and get help for depression. Chronic worry and anxiety nibbles away at brain cells and brain connections by switching on a gene that blocks the creation of new nerve connections. The same goes for depression.

4) Get B’s, C, D, E — and omega-3s. Loading up on noggin-friendly nutrients — found in produce, whole grains, fortified breakfast cereal, low-fat milk or ½ a multi twice a day (for vitamin B12), and oily fish like salmon and trout (or take 900 mg of DHA a day from an algal oil supplement) — could substantially reduce your risk for brain shrinkage. People who don’t get enough of this good stuff had 37% more brain loss in one eye-opening report.

5) Lower high blood pressure. Take your blood pressure readings seriously. Anything higher than 115/75 can cause white matter changes and damage the blood vessels that supply every brain cell with oxygen and fuel.

6) Stop Smoking and Second Hand Smoke Exposure. Puffing on tobacco products strangles the blood supply to your brain, like cutting your laptop’s power cord.  It’s also associated with inflammation in your body (including your brain).  Avoiding second hand smoke and avoiding inflammation in your brain makes you much smarter.

7) Consider Supplements That Decrease Insulin Resistance. Cinnamon (2 teaspoons a day), tumeric (17 mg as a food spice—Indian food is a great place to start), purified omega-7’s (420 mg a day), and coffee (more than 2 cups a day if your doc says that’s all right for you) all decrease insulin resistance and may all improve long-term brain function.

8) Go To Sleep. Chronic bed-time trouble is another brain minimizer. Nix afternoon caffeine, de-stress before you turn in, make sure your room is cool and dark, and that a snoring pet or human bedmate isn’t keeping you up. In the morning, snap up the shades and get some morning light. Missing out on sun exposure may also downsize your little gray cells.

We haven’t even mentioned brain games or even ping-pong, both of which improve brain function.  And all make your RealAge younger by many years. Next month, we’ll return to things to prevent breast and prostate cancer like daily cruciferous veggies, avoidance of getting too big a waist, and two baby aspirins with a half glass of water, if your doc agrees.

Thanks for reading.

Young Dr Mike

NOTE: You should NOT take this as medical advice. 

This article is of the opinion of its author.

Before you do anything, please consult with your doctor.

You can follow Dr Roizen  (and get updates on the latest and most important medical stories  of the week) on twitter @YoungDrMike. 

Feel free to continue to send questions to You can follow Dr Roizen on twitter @YoungDrMike (and get updates on the latest and most important medical stories of the week).  The YOU docs have a new web site:  and its companion the only site we know of where you can find skin products proven to meet the claims (opened for business on June 1st, 2012), and a new book: YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens.

Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. His radio show streams live on  Saturdays from 5-7 p.m . E-mail him questions at   He is the co-author of 4 #1 NY Times Best Sellers including : YOU Staying Young and YOU: The Owner’s Manual. He is Chief Medical Consultant to the two year running Emmy award winning Dr Oz show– The Dr Oz show is #2 nationally in daytime TV.  See what all the fun is about, and what he, The Enforcer, is up to. Check local listings or log onto for channel and time. And for more health info, log onto anytime.


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