And what's driving it
By Austin Perlmutter, MD
As we age, our brains age too.
Brain aging correlates with brain shrinkage and worse memory and cognition
Some pathways involved in brain aging include increased oxidative stress and impaired neuroplasticity
We can each take simple steps to help prevent premature brain aging
In 2022, the global “anti-aging” market was valued at nearly 70 billion dollars. We’re more than willing to shell out the bucks for advanced lasers, botox injections and hair gain products. Yet the vast majority of our time and money spent on anti-aging ignores the single most important variable: brain health. Here’s what you need to know about what brain aging looks like, what causes it and what you can do about it!
What does an aging brain look like?
Everyone’s body is unique, and the same is true for our brains. Yet as we age, our bodies tend to experience similar changes. When it comes to our brains, these changes may look like atrophy (shrinking) of our brains, especially in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. This change is proposed to represent a combination of loss of neurons and a loss of connections between neurons.
What causes the brain to age?
In the hunt to understand why we lose function as we get older, researchers have proposed 9 “hallmarks” of aging. These are technical scientific concepts ranging from epigenetic changes to telomere shrinkage (telomeres are the protective caps on the end of your chromosomes). In the brain, some of the key pathways that seem to promote aging include:
-Increased oxidative stress
-Elevated inflammation and immune dysfunction
-Problems with cell cleanup (called “autophagy”)
Does the brain have to age? What can we do to slow or reverse it?
It’s well established that our choices can influence a number of the pathways involved in aging of our bodies and brains. For example, regular physical activity seems to enhance neuroplasticity and fight chronic inflammation, along with improving metabolic health. Here are some great lifestyle variables that might help protect us against, slow, and potentially reverse certain aspects of brain aging:
-Eat a minimally processed diet rich in vitamins + minerals, fiber, polyphenols and omega-3 fats
-Get regular physical activity
-Engage in brain exercises (like playing an instrument, crosswords)
-Mitigate chronic stress whenever possible
-Prioritize good sleep