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Try This – 4 Big Ideas on Preventing Alzheimer’s and Building a Super Brain

Globally, 55 million people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is set to triple by 2050. And guess what? Only 3%–5% of those cases are driven by genetics. 

So what is causing our seriously scary rise in deteriorating brains? 

The answer to that question—and how to address this huge epidemic—was addressed by my friend Louisa Nicola on this week’s episode of The Dhru Purohit Show

Not only did Louisa break down the top three causes of neurodegenerative diseases, but she also gave us tips to start building a super brain and prevent cognitive decline in the future. 

Today I’m going to share four big ideas from our episode so that you and anyone you know who wants to protect their brain can take the right steps starting today. 

Let’s get into it…

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At least a few times a year, I like to take a break from coffee, especially when I find myself reaching for a cup in the afternoon, jittery, sluggish, and depleted. I know I’m not alone. So many others struggle with finding the right balance between energizing ourselves and not being dependent on caffeine. 

That’s why I love Nandaka, the revolutionary coffee replacement designed by Pique!

Switching from coffee to an alternative like Nandaka can help your body align with its innate circadian rhythm and feel less stressed. This is profoundly helpful for regulating stress hormones, digestion, metabolism, and sleep.

I stumbled upon Nandaka during my quest for a coffee replacement that not only tasted great but also supported my health goals. After trying various options with little success, I discovered Nandaka through a friend who raved about its benefits. I can confidently say it's become an integral part of my morning routine, especially when I’m taking a coffee break. 

Here are some of the reasons I love it: 

  • The functional mushroom blend features fruiting bodies (the bioactive treasure chest) of adaptogenic mushrooms Chaga, Reishi, Cordyceps, and Lion’s Mane, along with Reishi powder, extract, and spore powder.

  • It tastes like a chocolatey coffee but has all the benefits of black and green Pu’er teas: antioxidant catechins, theaflavins, l-theanine (nature’s chill pill), and pre- and probiotics to nourish the gut.

  • Ceremonial Peruvian Cacao adds both a satisfying flavor and metabolism support, helping with nutrient absorption and preventing an energy crash hours after drinking.

  • 82mg of slow-release caffeine per serving provides a gentle energy lift (compared to the ~200mg of caffeine per serving in an average cup of craft-brewed coffee.

4 Big Takeaways on Protecting Your Brain

1. Our Lack of Sleep Is Driving Alzheimer’s 

Our habits in our 20s, 30s, and 40s set the foundation for how our brain ages. And perhaps the worst habit for our brains is putting sleep on the back burner. Sleep is where we give our brain the rest it needs to thrive. Deep slow-wave sleep and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in particular are very important for the brain. For example, during deep slow-wave sleep, the glial cells of the brain shrink in size, which allows our cerebral spinal fluid to be flushed out. We literally detoxify our brains during this time, including removing amyloid beta protein (which aggregates in Alzheimer’s disease). 

Unfortunately, many Americans sleep less than six hours a night; we are suffering from a sleep deprivation epidemic. And we need to start taking our sleep seriously if we want to prevent diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Louisa’s tips for improving deep slow-wave sleep: Treat sleep like a sport. Start with a warm-up period. If you want to be in bed by 10:00 p.m., start warming up at least 30 minutes before by turning down the lights, turning off screens, and performing any pre-bedtime rituals. Also, those who have a consistent sleep-wake cycle get more deep slow-wave sleep. That means sticking to the same bedtime and wake time every day. For me, it’s in bed by 10:00 p.m. and up by 6:00 a.m.

2. The Most Powerful Intervention We Have Against Alzheimer’s Is Exercise 

Exercise is possibly the most powerful tool we have to prevent cognitive decline, yet most Americans are not prioritizing it. In fact, over 70% of adults don’t meet the minimum thresholds for exercise. Louisa believes we should be prioritizing resistance training and aerobic training a few times a week to not only preserve our brain health but also build a super brain. 

Let’s start with resistance training. How does growing bigger muscles grow the brain? Well, when we contract our muscles, we release proteins like myokines into our brain and secrete brain-derived neurotrophic factor (critical for learning and memory). 

Aerobic training, also known as cardio, helps us grow new brain cells needed for learning and memory and prevent neurodegeneration. In fact, zone 2 cardio (cardio done at a steady, low intensity) can help build greater connections between brain cells and grow the cortex of your brain, including the prefrontal cortex (involved in executive function and decision-making). 

Exercise is particularly important for women because we know that two out of every three people with Alzheimer’s disease are women. While we don’t know the exact reason why women are more prone to memory loss after a certain age, experts believe it is because of the drop in estrogen that occurs in menopause and postmenopause. Estrogen is known to be brain protective, so without it, women are more susceptible to memory loss. Exercise is a powerful tool women can use to support their brains leading up to this drop in hormones. 

Louisa’s tips for exercise: If you’re just getting started, walking is your best friend. Start with long walks and then work your way up to fast-paced walking, jogging, walking uphill, or walking lunges. Shoot for 12,000 steps or more per day. The brain is vascularly rich, and we need to feed our neurons with oxygen. Walking helps to keep our blood flowing throughout our body and our brain. If you’re more experienced, aim for resistance training 2–3 times a week and three hours of aerobic exercise weekly. 

3. You Can Eat to Prevent Alzheimer’s 

Your brain is made of fat and water. When it comes to the fat content, 20% of your brain is made up of DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid. That’s why Louisa takes 4 grams of EPA and DHA daily. If you eat a diet high in fatty fish, you might not need to supplement with fish oil, but it’s rare that someone meets the requirements for EPA and DHA through food alone. 

I personally take 4 grams of fish oil daily in addition to eating fish a few times a week. An omega-3 fatty acid-rich diet has been shown to reduce inflammation, support the reduction of amyloid beta plaque, and improve our overall cellular health. Simply put, omega-3s are neuroprotective. 

Our brains also love antioxidants (think blueberries, raspberries, dark green leafy vegetables, and all of the beautifully pigmented foods that line the produce aisles at your grocery store). Blueberries are my favorite antioxidant-rich food, and I eat about 1 cup per day. 

Louisa’s supplement spotlight: In addition to an omega-3 supplement, Louisa thinks the most important supplement to consider is creatine. She takes 5 grams a day of creatine monohydrate to help protect the brain and for cell energy metabolism. In postmenopausal women, creatine plays a role in supporting physical fitness and muscle synthesis, which in turn supports overall brain structure and health. Creatine has also been shown to help alleviate depressive symptoms! If you’ve been reading Try This for a while, you know that I love creatine and take it daily. More on that here

4. After You Cover the Basics, Add On the Extras 

So often, we jump to the next therapy or supplement we believe will make us superhuman, help us lose weight, or help keep our brains resilient for the long term. But Louisa says the foundational habits listed above make the biggest impact. So after you’ve dialed in on sleep, exercise, and nutrition, consider adding on these therapies and tools to build a super brain. 

  • Give sauna a try. Sauna twice a week at around 150°F for 20 minutes has been shown to support brain health. With a sauna session, you can mimic some of the effects of cardio like increased heart rate and blood pumping through the body. Sauna has also been shown to have a positive effect on amyloid beta. 

  • Get a VO₂ max test. If you haven’t heard of VO₂ max, you can read all about it here. Known to be the biggest predictor of longevity, this test helps you understand how well your body is turning oxygen into energy. And we know there’s so much you can do to boost your VO₂ max, like taking the stairs regularly, high-intensity interval training, and endurance training.  

  • Work on your social connections. One of the biggest predictors of longevity and a healthy brain is the strength of our social connections. Both our relationship with ourselves and with others can drive disease or create health. Even micro-interactions—saying hi to your neighbors or chatting with your barista—make a huge difference in our health and happiness. Here’s an episode where I talk with psychologist Dr. Elissa Epel about the impact of loneliness and community on our health

The bottom line is genetics is not a huge driver of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; it’s our lifestyles that are robbing our brains. The good news is the simple, everyday choices we make can have a massive impact on the strength and resilience of our brains. 

If you know anyone who is concerned about their brain health, please send them this newsletter. 

Here’s to your super brain, 
Dhru Purohit