Reflection July 9, 2017
Brain Health: Part Three/Conclusion
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
I wish to conclude my reflections on Brain Health in this week’s “Advance.” I will give a final presentation on this topic at Smith Village this coming Thursday, July 6.
Every religion, I believe, needs a very deep health component as part and parcel of its world view and mission. I preached two weeks ago on the Two Tasks of Christian Disciples. These two tasks are: 1) proclaim the Good News and 2) heal (See Luke 9: 1-6). At our beloved Morgan Park Baptist Church, these two tasks are embedded in our 2009 Church Vision Statement.
The Center for Spiritual Health is our main mission-outreach to our local communities. We’ve become well-known for this church’s outreach. This outreach lies underneath many of the presentations that happen at our beloved church.
So let’s return to brain health! One of the most important points of my presentation centered on the need for supplemental Vitamin D. Vitamin D is not a vitamin but, rather, a steroid hormone very critical for brain health, mood, memory and healthy weight. Vitamin D has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Many people today have low levels of Vitamin D because we don’t spend as much time outdoors as our ancestors did. We also - rightly - use sunscreen, which blocks the formation of Vitamin D in our skin. People with darker skin because of the presence of more melanin, such as our African American sisters and brothers, produce less Vitamin D in their skins so they stand in much greater need of supplementation.
The one question my internist asks me when I see him: “Are you taking Vitamin D?” I take 1,000 International Units of Vitamin D3 daily. I also have my Vitamin D levels checked every few years to make sure I am in the optimal range. (Anyone can have his or her Vitamin D level checked - for $25 - at Little Company of Mary Hospital. Call 708-423-5774 to make an appointment.) I believe EVERYONE should know her or his Vitamin D level. It’s critically important for overall health - including brain health.
Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with depression, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, certain kinds of cancer, obesity and heart disease. Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with increased body fat. Extra fat also inhibits the absorption of Vitamin D. Chubby people need higher doses of Vitamin D than leaner people.
Low levels of Vitamin D interfere with the appetite hormone leptin. Leptin tells our bodies when we have had enough to eat. But when Vitamin D levels are low, leptin doesn’t work well and we can feel hungry all the time, no matter how much we may eat. This factor is very important because being overweight/obese damages our brains.
Vitamin D levels are also low in most all cognitive decline. Vitamin D may help the brain rid itself of the Beta-Amyloid tangles that may have a significant impact on Alzheimer’s Disease. (N.B. No one yet knows what causes Alzheimer’s Disease!)
Being overweight or obese leads to brain impairment and cognitive decline (especially when diabetes strikes - see last week‘s Advance). 71% of adult Americans are overweight.
The cost of this serious health problem is expected to reach ONE TRILLON DOLLARS a year in the not-distant future. Exercise is critically important for brain health. Exercise is not a cure-all for everything that ails us but it helps! We all need a minimum of at least 2 ½ hours of exercise per week.
Regarding brain health, I’d add that reading and being intellectually challenged is very helpful to overall brain health. Watching television is not the solution to brain stimulation! We need to read widely.
I often mention to my students at Moraine Valley Community College that if they do not read, they will become boring. Not many people want to be around a boring person. Reading deeply and widely helps us be interesting - to ourselves and others.
Why do so many of us - as we age - stop reading deeply and widely? Perhaps we lose interest in our world? Surely poor health narrows our focus greatly!
Perhaps our ideas become calcified and we feel we don’t need to be bothered with anything that might disturb our concretized beliefs? Not many of us like having our beliefs criticized or challenged. This dynamic is certainly true when it comes to religion and faith beliefs. Very few of the people I know read books on spirituality or theology.
I mentioned in the first Advance article on Brain Health (available on our church web site) how I believe tightly-held ideologies can damage our brains. Our ideas can get set in stone and, by God, don’t challenge what I believe! Our brains can become suffocated with extreme ideologies.
At its extreme we come to believe that everything happening in our world is part and parcel of either a left-wing or right-wing conspiracy. They (whoever “they” may be) are working to: 1) take away my freedoms; 2) destroy my cherished religious beliefs and values; 3) promote “god-less” agendas; 4) interfere with my life in some significant way or 5) label me in some way or other.
Our precious brains need stimulation! Our precious brains need nourishment of all kinds. Our precious brains are one of God’s most special gifts. I’m absolutely convinced God wants us to care for our brains. Who we are and who we become is very much dependent upon the health and well-being of our brains!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643