Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, is widely known as "The Rogue Nutritionist" and has now trademarked the name “The Nutritional Myth Buster.” He’s out to tell the truth about nutrition and health the way he sees it.
Dr. Bowden is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of fourteen books on health, healing, food and longevity. I feel fortunate that Dr. Bowden took time to answer some questions for me on health, memory issues and Alzheimer’s so that I can share his answers with you.
Q. Dr. Bowden, many middle-aged adults worry about developing Alzheimer’s disease, especially if someone in the family has it. Since everyone is occasionally forgetful, how does the average person know if he or she should be worried about a serious cognitive problem? In other words, what is normal memory function during the aging process and what indicates disease?
A. The other day, right before a television interview on the same subject, the interviewer turned to me and said, “I’m so glad you’re doing this segment! I sometimes report the traffic and two minutes later can’t remember what I said! Should I be concerned?”
The truth is a lot of what we think of as “memory problems” are actually attention problems. We’re assaulted with so much data and info from so many sources that almost as a defensive maneuver we have to pay less attention to some and more to others. Then we worry that we’re “forgetful” when in fact we’re just being selective!
That said, the brain begins to lose neural connections – which you can think of as “well-traveled paths” in a forest – as early as your twenties. But this is not really cause for concern, because our brains have a marvelous ability to form new connections, just as we can form new trails in a forest when the old ones become unpassable.
As far as Alzheimer’s goes, there’s no way to know for sure if you’re going to “get” it or “not” get it – even genetic testing would only tell you there was an increased risk – which is very far from a certainty. And knowing that would only make you worry and stress even more. My advice is to live your life in a way that reduces risk as much as possible by eating the right diet, taking the right supplements, reducing stress, increasing engagement with others, and exercising your mind. Then you’ll be shifting the odds in your favor!”
Q. What can the average person do to avoid cognitive dysfunction?
A. I personally believe everything starts with nutrition. (It doesn’t end with nutrition, but it sure starts with it.) That means an anti-inflammatory diet – tons of omega-3’s, lots of berries, apples, nuts, vegetables, deeply colored fruits – all the good stuff.
I’m also a fan of brain games.
Studies show that people who have the most verbal aptitude when they’re younger - people who read, have decent vocabularies and communicate well verbally - have lower risk. So do all those things.
I believe the brain can be “exercised” just like the body. I always wonder about those legendary symphonic conductors who seem to die in their late 80’s and 90’s still conducting symphonies. Could it be the studying of the intricate scores? The aerobics of conducting? Some combination of the above? Who knows? But it makes total sense to me that you’d want to do both. You want to nourish the brain and exercise it. Along with, of course, the body it comes in!
If you’re not going to try to conduct the score to Le Sacre du printemps, how about some good brainy games that require you to think? Sudoku, the Rubic cube, crossword puzzles – all good stuff. There are some great online programs as well.
Q. Can poor memory be reversed? If so, when is it too late?
A. Well, what a lot of people feel is “poor memory” is really an attention problem. And there’s a ton of things you can do for that, starting with mindfulness and being present.
You can also learn to associate familiar things with whatever it is you’re trying to remember, like a name or a street. For example, if I park on the 4th level of the structure at LAX – which I am extremely likely to forget under normal circumstances – I’ll think 4= Forehead, touch or think of my forehead for a minute before I leave the parking garage, and when I return a few days later, it’s way easier to recall where I parked. I might not remember “4” but I sure as heck remember “forehead” which then leads me to my car! And that skill can be learned, and it will eliminate a lot of what people think of as “memory problems.”
Q. Do you feel that supplements are helpful for the average person who tries to eat well but often fails to measure up?
A. I am a big believer in supplementation; I take supplements every single day. I take them for general health, and I take specific supplements for my brain in addition.
Q. How important is weight management in maintaining a healthy brain?
A. It’s important, but probably not as important as fitness. The problem with having too much fat is that the fat cells are little endocrine organs and they send out a lot of inflammatory compounds called cytokines. And just about every single disease of aging has inflammation at its core. When you reduce fat, you reduce your number of inflammation factories, and that alone is a very good thing.
That said, fitness has an awful lot to do with it as well. In fact, studies by Arthur Kramer, PhD, director of the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois and a preeminent expert on exercise and the brain, showed that moderate intensity walking on a regular basis actually increases brain volume. And while walking by itself usually won’t cause you to lose fat, it’ll sure help you not gain any.
Q. Any tips on how to stay motivated for the long run?
A. Yes. Make your life be about something more than just yourself. At least some of the time!
Thank you, Dr. Bowden, for giving us your time. We appreciate it.
About Dr. Bowden:
Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of fourteen books on health, healing, food and longevity including two best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth” and “Living Low Carb”. A frequent guest on television and radio, he has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS as an expert on nutrition, weight loss, and longevity. He is a past member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Men’s Health magazine, is the Nutrition Editor for Pilates Style, and is a regular contributor to AOL, Vanity Fair Online, Clean Eating Magazine, Better Nutrition, and Total Health Magazine Online. Dr. Bowden has a Master’s Degree in psychology and counseling and a PhD in nutrition, and has earned six national certifications in personal training and exercise. He is board certified by the American College of Nutrition, a member of the prestigious American Society for Nutrition and a much in-demand speaker at conferences and events across the country.
Published On: October 22, 2014