Heart and Brain Health are Tightly Linked
The human body is an amazing, complex machine.
And that’s why, sometimes, it’s hard to pin down the cause of problems.
Today I want to talk about one of the most common problems—and one of the most misunderstood.
Mind, memory, and brain issues are something that most of us will have to deal with at some point. The older you get, the greater the chance that you’ll lose some mental acuity.
But the problem might not be in your head at all. The odds are good that the problem starts in your heart. And to solve it, that’s where we’ve got to go as well.
Dying for oxygen
I recently had a 78 year old woman come in to see me, with a number of different complaints.
She was fatigued, easily confused, forgot things, and generally didn’t feel like herself.
So I gave her a full workup. And when I checked her blood, I found a likely culprit—she was low on oxygen!
I sent her off to a cardiologist. And within two weeks, she had a pacemaker surgically inserted. The problem was her heart.
When most people think of heart problems, they think of the massive and obvious. Heart attacks, high blood pressure, excess cholesterol.
Those all can be scary, no doubt. But silent problems can be just as bad.
As you age, your heart’s ability to do its job can degrade.
That means all your organs don’t get the energy they need. In effect, a weakened heart leads to slow-motion suffocation of every piece of tissue that needs oxygen.
And that includes your brain.
In fact, your brain and your heart are so intricately linked, that recurring migraines can be a sign of an impending cardiac event.
But it needn’t be that dramatic. A recent study of thousands of people in their 60s and 70s found that, over time, heart health had a huge effect on brain health.
The participants were separated into two groups—one lived as they liked, and the other followed a seven-step heart-healthy lifestyle. The seven steps included a lot of obvious heart-healthy habits, like eating a nutritious, veggie and fruit heavy diet, getting regular exercise, avoiding tobacco, and the like.
And at the end of six years, the results were stark.
While the control group showed the effects of age in all sorts of mental abilities—from memory, to decision-making, to simple problem-solving—the heart-healthy group showed almost no decline.
It’s probable that a lot of what we think of as age-related senility isn’t senility at all. It’s a fatigued heart.
And that’s great news. Because, while we have very limited options when it comes to treating brain disorders, the same isn’t true of the heart.
There may not be another organ we can help more.
Get smart by getting fit
So let’s take a look at the best ways to improve your heart health.
First off, it goes without saying that you should regularly get your heart tested. Not just your blood pressure or your cholesterol, but your EKG, your variable heart rate, and your oxygen levels.
If you have a serious problem, it will show up in these tests. And if you have a serious problem—especially the silent, hidden kind—you need to get that solved with the help of professionals.
That said, most of us won’t have serious problems. We’ll have smaller ones that can lead to a slow but steady decline in mental health.
You can fix them with some pretty obvious solutions.
Exercise. Eating lots of organic, high-fiber foods, while avoiding the processed, the fried, the sugary, and the excessively fatty.
But there are some extremely helpful supplements out there as well. Nutrients that can help your heart enormously, even if you don’t exercise.
The most famous today are omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA.
These omega-3s lower blood pressure, and reduce triglycerides—a dangerous form of cholesterol. Some studies have even shown that fish oil alone can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
And our bodies can’t produce omega-3s. We have to consume them—making supplements all the more important.
You should be taking 1000 mg of omega-3s, with at least 300 mg of EPA, and 200 mg of DHA each day. (There are other omega-3s that will naturally (and healthfully) be included in your supplement along with EPA and DHA.)
Another essential supplement is curcumin—the active compound in turmeric. Curcumin is one of my favorite supplements, since it has over 560 benefits.
But the benefits we’re concerned about today involve the heart. Since curcumin is both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, it helps soothe and heal damaged arteries. It also helps improve arterial flexibility while reducing dangerous inflammation.
In fact, curcumin is so powerful, that one study of 32 post-menopausal women found that taking daily curcumin had the same effects as a moderate aerobic exercise regimen. That’s pretty magical.
You want to take 500 mg of a curcumin extract daily. Red wine polyphenols have been shown to have some of the same effects, so an extract of over 6 mg taken daily will strengthen and support your curcumin regimen.
Finally, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is another important weapon for fighting heart problems. CoQ10 helps lower blood pressure, it helps fight congestive heart failure—when your heart isn’t pumping as much blood as it should—it helps your body’s cells convert food into energy, and it may even lower cholesterol.
CoQ10 is an essential supplement for heart health. You should take at least 120 mg each day.
Nothing beats diet and exercise. But dedication to these supplements can come very close. And, of course, taking these supplements while following other heart-healthy practices will leave you with a young, tip-top ticker well into your golden years.
And that tip-top ticker will help you keep your mind in tip-top shape as well.
- Patti Neighmond, What’s Good For The Heart Is Good For The Brain, NPR, May 2 2016
- Roni Caryn Rabin, Migraines Tied To Increased Risk Of Heart Problems, New York Times, Jun 2 2016
- David Kiefer, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, WebMD, May 1 2015
- Sayer Ji, Tumeric’s Cardiovascular Benefits Found To Be As Powerful As Exercise, Green Med Info, May 24 2013
- University of Maryland Medical Center, Coenzyme Q10
Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: July 29, 2016