5 Natural Ways to Boost Brainpower

Brain Health, Health & Wellness


With last weeks discovery of a potentially new blockbuster drug that may be the most effective to date to slow progression of Alzheimer’s, I thought it would be timely to review some natural and proven ways to keep our brains young, sharp and focused.

  1. Reduce high blood pressure:  Good cognitive function is associated with systolic blood pressures (SBP) that range between 100-120 mmHg   In contrast, living with a high SBP (greater than 140 mmHg) raises the risk of developing age-deteriorating brain deposits (or amyloid plaques) that contribute to memory loss.  A study entitled “SPRINT-MIND” presented last week at the Alzheimer’s Association Annual meeting found that lowering systolic BP to less than 120 mmHg reduced memory loss by 15% compared to higher levels.  A word of caution: lowering blood pressure in older men and women should be done slowly and cautiously because an overly intensive regimen that lowers SBP too much (e.g., more than 20 mmHg) and too quickly (e.g., as measured in days rather than weeks) may result in dizziness, fatigue and possibly a stroke.  Therefore, a wise approach toward intensive blood pressure lowering should be aimed at gradual and sustained reductions that do not cause the symptoms outlined above.
  2. Eat fish at least twice each week:  Fish consumption offers a wide range of benefits for both your heart and mind. Not only does brain function improve with fish consumption, but for every 2 portions (3.5 ounce or 100 grams) of fish consumed weekly,  the risk of Alzheimer’s is reduced by more than 20%.
  3. Add turmeric to your meals: The rate of Alzheimer’s is lower in India and other countries where turmeric is a staple.  The principal ingredient of turmeric, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that also reduces amyloid deposits from forming. Unfortunately, turmeric at low doses is not well absorbed; to enhance absorption add 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper to 1 teaspoon (2000 mg) of turmeric to enhance these biologic effects.
  4. Exercise: Physical activity not only boosts brainpower but may also reduce the probability of developing Alzheimer’s. The good news is that you do not need to run marathons to derive brain protection.  Simply add 30 minutes of moderate-exercise (walk at an average speed of 3 to 5 mph) at least 3 days weekly to reap the benefit.
  5. Manage your Stress:  Everyone experiences stress but effective management on a day-to-day basis results in sharper focus and concentration.  On the other hand, chronic stress that is not managed effectively places you at increased risk of Alzheimer’s.  Check out “Heal Your Heart” to learn the most effective natural tools that I recommend to my patients for managing day-to-day stress and boost brain and heart health.                                                                                                                           Michael Miller, MD is Professor and cardiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His original research has been featured in numerous media outlets including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Globe & Mail and Times of India.


What Aspirin Dose to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease?

Health & Wellness, Heart Health


We’ve been prescribing aspirin for many years to reduce the risk of heart disease and a commonly recommended dose is 1 baby aspirin (81 mg) daily.  This dose is much lower than the adult size (325 mg) used as an uncoated (chewable) form if a heart attack is suspected.    However, a new study suggests that the effectiveness of aspirin may be largely based on body weight.  The study examined results from 10 clinical trials and included more than 115,000 volunteers.  The results found that men and women who weighed less than 70 kg (or 154 pounds) had an approximate 25% lower risk of heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular death than no aspirin treatment; however, weighing more than 70 kg did not confer benefit unless the aspirin dose was adult size (325 mg).

Unfortunately,  another commonly used amount, 1/2 adult aspirin (162 mg) was not tested.  With respect to cancer risk, the baby aspirin dose was also associated with a 36% reduced risk of colon cancer in volunteers who weighed less than 70 kg but was of no benefit in those with higher weights.

Bottom Line: This is an interesting observational study though it does not prove cause and effect.  If you are at increased risk of heart disease, please speak with your physician and determine 1) whether you are a candidate for aspirin therapy and 2) if so, what may be the most suitable aspirin dose for you.

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  He is a member of the American Heart Association Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.  His latest book is  “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.

Keying in on Ketogenic Diets

Health & Wellness, Nutrition


if you are interested in losing weight,  the ketogenic diet as popularized by the late Dr. Robert Atkins, has had its share of controversies.  The diet, characterized by extreme carbohydrate restriction (usually less than 50 grams per day) results in depletion of our primary energy source, glycogen (glucose reserves stored in liver and muscle).  After several days of a very low carb, high fat diet, the liver converts fatty acids into ketones that enter the bloodstream and urine.  Certain ketones (e.g., acetone) have anti-seizure properties and in fact, the ketogenic diet has been prescribed for many years in the treatment of seizure disorders.  The Atkins diet can also result in significant weight loss in at least 2 ways.  First, by restricting carbohydrate intake from ~50% of daily calories to 10% or lower; in fact, the average caloric intake in Phase 1 of the Atkins diet is ~1500 calories (300-500 calories lower than generally consumed by women and men daily). Second, with accumulation of ketones, ketosis sets in and fat breakdown is accelerated. Not surprisingly, significant weight loss (2+ pounds per week) is readily achievable on a ketogenic diet and in the short-term (3-6 months) represents an effective weight losing platform.  In addition to weight loss, other positive aspects of a ketogenic diet (and correlated to weight reduction) are metabolic improvements. They include reduction in glucose, lipids (most notably triglycerides) and blood pressure.  However, keep in mind that ketogenic diets also have potential side effects ranging from lethargy, muscle wasting (carbs are required for muscle health and function), digestive issues such as constipation (due to lack of fiber) and halitosis (ketones induced bad breath).

Unfortunately, considerably less is known following decades exposure to ketogenic diets especially as it relates to the heart.  As a cardiologist, I was surprised to learn that the late Dr. Atkins in fact suffered from an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure.  Could this have been related to an associated nutritional deficiency that can trigger heart failure,  such as selenium or other micronutrients? A new study conducted in Finland shares this concern.  Of the nearly 2500 middle aged subjects followed over 2 decades, consuming the most animal based protein was associated with a more than 40% increased risk of heart failure. In contrast, increased consumption of protein from fish was not correlated with significant risk of heart failure and some studies have suggested that fish or fish oil supplementation may even protect against heart failure.

While the Atkins diet results in more weight loss than other popular diets over a 12 month period, you need to decide what might work best for you. Along these lines, if you are considering a ketogenic diet over a short-term duration, I would recommend that the dietary fat component contain low amounts of saturated fat, based upon our recent American Heart Association Presidential Advisory Statement on dietary fat and cardiovascular disease,   Otherwise, I generally recommend that my patients take a more moderate low carb weight loss approach as outlined in “Heal Your Heart” where your favorite foods are moderated rather than restricted and without downside risk.

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  He is a member of the American College of Cardiology Nutrition Workgroup and the American Heart Association Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.



Should We Marvel Over Moringa?

Health & Wellness


Even though moringa has been used as an herbal remedy in Eastern cultures for centuries, it has garnered considerable interest in Western Europe and North America in recent years due to suggestive evidence, based primarily on animal studies, that moringa possesses important health benefits.

Moringa oleifera trees are native to India but also thrive in countries with tropical (e.g., Philippines, Sri Lanka)  and subtropical (e.g., Taiwan, Vietnam) climate conditions conducive to lots of sunlight, daily temperatures exceeding 70 degrees F and significant moisture (natural or via irrigation).  In the U.S., moringa trees thrive best in Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas.

Whether to marvel over moringa is largely derived from concentrated nutritional value in its edible leaves, seed pods and extracted oil.  They include high amounts of Vitamins (A, B6 and C), minerals (calcium, magnesium potassium)  and antioxidants (chlorogenic acid, quercetin).  If you do not have direct access to moringa, it is available for purchase as an organic powder (added to smoothies, soups, salads, cereal, etc) and tea.  Please bear in mind however, that it has an earthy taste and certainly takes a bit getting used to (as I can attest to).

In rat models, studies have shown that moringa supplementation yields a host of benefits such as robust antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, improvement in memory, cognition and mood as well as reduced blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, human studies testing moringa are scarce although one small study found that 1 tablespoon of moringa powder taken daily for 40 days did reduce blood glucose and LDL cholesterol levels 25-30%  in diabetic subjects.  A host of other human based studies testing moringa are either in progress or have recently been completed.  Needless to say. we anxiously await the published results….until then, adding some organic moringa powder to your smoothies, salads and teas has minimal if any downside and might even give you a bit of the boost you’ve been looking for!

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  He is a member of the American College of Cardiology Nutrition Workgroup and author of the bestselling book “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.


5 Bountiful Benefits of Beets

Health & Wellness, Nutrition


Easily making the Top 50 Foods in “Heal Your Heart“, beets are a nutrition powerhouse, abundant in heart-protective antioxidants and mood-boosting compounds.   The latest research provides solid evidence to support intake of beets and/or beet juice on a regular if not daily basis to optimize heart and brain health.  Here are 5 impressive health benefits of beets:

  1. Lowers Blood Pressure:  Beets are a rich source of inorganic nitrates that when digested are ultimately converted into nitric oxide resulting in blood vessel expansion and blood pressure lowering.  In fact, one recent study found that drinking 8 ounces of beetroot juice each day for 1 month resulted in similar reductions in blood pressure (~10/5 systolic/diastolic) as typically observed following initiation of a starting dose of a blood pressure medication.
  2. Improves Insulin Sensitivity: Even though beets are a rich source of natural sugars, when non-diabetic obese men and women ingested 16 ounces of beet juice mixed with glucose, they experienced a lower surge in blood glucose levels over the next several hours than when consuming the beet juice mixed with mouthwash (designed to inhibit nitrate conversion). These results suggest that dietary nitrates improve insulin sensitivity and that beet consumption may help non-diabetic obese men and women keep their postprandial glucose levels under better control when incorporated in their meals.
  3. Improves Brain Function: A high nitrate diet that included beetroot juice in men and women older than age 75 years found increased blood flow in the frontal cortex, the region of the brain involved in higher learning processes  (also known as executive function) that help us to focus on the task at hand (and multitask as required) in order to manage our time efficiently.
  4. Improves Exercise Performance: Beetroot juice (8-16 ounces) taken within 60 to 90 minutes prior to aerobic activity may improve athletic endurance and performance  due to increased nitric oxide availability for exercising muscles.
  5. Improves Mood & May Reduce Depression: Beets are a rich source of betaine, an amino acid derivative that boosts production of the chemical SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) leading to activation of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression.   As little as 4 ounces of beet juice may improve your mood!Words of caution regarding beets are the following: 1) they can change the color of urine and stool to red and should be avoided 1-3 days prior to colonoscopy; 2) they are high in oxalates that upon binding to calcium may form kidney stones. If you have a history of kidney stones, discuss with your physician whether it is safe for you to consume beets and/or beet juice; 3) they are high in sugar and may cause considerable glucose spikes when juiced (due to fiber removal).  If you have diabetes, discuss with your physician and/or dietitian the amount of beets or beet juice that is safe for you to consume.

    Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  He is a member of the American Heart Association Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health and author of the bestselling book “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.