Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection July 2, 2017

Brain Health: A Happy and Healthy Brain
Part Two
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     In this week’s “Advance” I’ll present some of the material I learned during a recent all-day workshop on “Brain Health” - along with additional reflections.

      Much of the workshop focused on various forms of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s Disease. The number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease is expected to triple in the next 25 years as the “baby boomers” age. And while there is much research taking place regarding Alzheimer’s, there are no cures available. The difficulty in treating Alzheimer’s results from the fact that it’s still uncertain what causes the disease. If a cause cannot be ascertained, it makes a cure less likely.

     Alzheimer’s Disease probably begins decades before symptoms show themselves. So the best bet to avoid Alzheimer’s is to try to prevent it. Four major risk factors for Alzheimer’s are: 1) diabetes, 2) depression, 3) obesity and 4) high blood pressure.

     Our brains are mostly nourished by glucose. While our brains only make up 2% of our body weight, they demand 20% of our supply of oxygen and 30% of our glucose supply.

     Our brains are VERY hungry, needing a constant supply of oxygen and glucose. If our blood sugar drops too low, we become confused and even in danger of death. Problems with insulin delivery to our brains - because of diabetes and pre-diabetes - cause all kinds of neurological problems.

     It is estimated that 40% of the adult population will develop Type 2 diabetes. 28% of our country’s population have diabetes and don’t even know it! That percentage is significantly higher in our African-American population. Diabetes raises the risk of dementia between 150% and 300%. Blood sugar needs to be controlled!

     One of the most important factors for brain health is adequate, deep sleep. I have studied sleep for many decades now - partially because I’ve personally struggled with sleep issues. If we are constantly sleep-deprived, certain brain cells, called glial cells, become over-active and can actually - in a real sense - eat our brains from the inside out! Talk about “Zombie Brains!”      

     Those who claim to “get by” on four or five hours of sleep a night are in grave danger of becoming demented. Our brains need sleep to “repair” the damage that occurs during waking hours. Brain cells (especially neurons) must be repaired. “Pruning” of the synaptic connections between neurons needs to happen each and every night.

     Inadequate sleep leads to bad decision-making and may be behind the onset of many addictions. If I were to wish anything for all of us, it would be deep and restful sleep each and every night (at least 7 to 8 hours!). To aid with sleep, we need to turn off our televisions, computers, smart phones at least two hours before we go to bed. (Reading and listening to calming classical music is a good way to prepare for sleep!)

     The light coming from most of our electronic devises destroys the production of melatonin - which is essential for deep and restful sleep. Children, for example, should not be allowed to keep their smart phones next to their beds. Turning on a smart phone in the middle of the night will significantly disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycles. Parents: take your children’s smart phones at bedtime and store them until breakfast!

     Depression is also a major risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Depression is a serious assault upon the health of the brain. Sleep-deprivation can trigger depression and depression can trigger sleep-problems. I’d be happy to discuss sleep issues with anyone and suggest potentially better sleep practices. For instance: tart cherry juice may help sleep when taken before bedtime. Tart cherry juice contains a chemical precursor of melatonin. Most grocery stores carry it.

     Our normal “Western Diet” is damaging our health in many ways, including our brains. Most processed food is made so that we CRAVE it. We are being played by the food industry to eat more and more of food that has been intentionally stripped of good fat and dietary fiber.

     With low fiber content, this so-called food is rapidly digested and poured into our blood stream. We “feel” good after a hit of “Twinkies” but only for a short time. Our energy level resembles a roller-coaster with rapid “highs” followed by rapid “lows.”

     We can easily wind up becoming addicted to high-fat, high-sugar (high glycemic index) foods. These foods release the neurotransmitter dopamine in our brains. And the release of dopamine underlies virtually all addictions.  

     The workshop also focused on the need for a good “gut” microbiome. Out “gut” is considered the largest immune organ of the body. Our “gut” contains neurons (brain cells) as well as more than a trillion micro-organisms (mostly bacteria). We need to care for our intestinal “flora.” This can be done with probiotics, such as those found in many brands of yogurts and other fermented foods (kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha).

     It’s my hope to bring very practical solutions to the very serious issue of our brain health this coming Wednesday, June 28. (I will also offer this presentation on Thursday, July 6, at 2:00 PM at Smith Village - to which all are invited.) I’ll return to this matter in next week’s Advance!