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Will You Know Who You Are at Eighty-Five?

WIE presents Peter Ragnar on Health

Aging for most people is first a dice roll to see if you'll reach eighty-five, and then it becomes a coin toss. Why is that? Because by age eighty-five, one in two people will have Alzheimer's disease—the most feared ailment in Western society. According to leading Alzheimer's researchers cited in a 2001 Time magazine article called “The Nun Study,” not only do you have a fifty-fifty chance of contracting Alzheimer's by eighty-five, but a ten percent chance by sixty-five.

In June 2007, NBC news announced that the chances of suffering from severe mental decline by age sixty-five are now one in eight. Even more shocking is the prediction of fourteen million people with Alzheimer's in the United States by the year 2050. Believe me, I'm not trying to depress you. The good news is that researchers are like hounds on a trail, stumbling over plants that may possibly stall or even reverse this nightmare. But first, let's look at some exciting new indicators of which side of the coin toss you're apt to be on.

The reason you'll be excited is because of your intellectual curiosity. As an example, you wouldn't have subscribed to WIE had you not developed this protective trait that you're about to read about next. Though I'll caution you, while this can be good news for some, it will be bad news for others.

David Snowdon, a scientist with the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and a team of neurologists and psychologists began studying a group of older nuns at the convent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. They were curious why some of the lifelong nuns had Alzheimer's and others didn't, since they had shared an identical environment for decades. With the help of University of Kansas psychologist Susan Kemper, they looked at the early autobiographies written by the nuns when they were first accepted into the convent.

What the team was looking for was the connection between Alzheimer's disease and aging, language usage, outlook or early attitudes, and educational level. The stunning discovery was that the team of researchers could predict with eighty-five to ninety percent accuracy who would succumb to Alzheimer's disease. How? By examining the “idea density” in the way the nuns expressed themselves sixty years before. The clarity of thoughts written down indicated how well the brain would continue to work, as well as an extra reserve of mental capacity that would make up for any later loss of brain tissue associated with aging.


It hasn't been very many years since the medical profession scoffed at the idea that the brain can regenerate itself. Today, the plasticity of neural elements is widely accepted. Abundant research conducted with laboratory rats indicates that even rats that were specially bred to be “stupid” (deficient in the neurotransmitter glutamate) once put into an enriching and thought-provoking environment generated new brain tissue and new glutamate. If you've ever had that “ah-ha!” experience of discovering something new and exciting, chemically it was the result of your brain dumping glutamate into your neural synapse and sending it to other parts of your brain. This process shuts down in Alzheimer's sufferers. But the question is, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

One thing we know for certain is that stimulating the brain with continuous intellectual activity will keep your neurons healthy and alive—as long as this is joined with positive emotions. Since body and mind are one, this is an encouraging solution in part. Nutrition also plays a role. Alzheimer's patients, for example, have especially low concentrations of folic acid. The toxic protein beta-amyloid has also been indicated in a recent Japanese study as the cause of brain cell atrophy. Because it resists being broken down by enzymes, beta-amyloid accumulates in brain tissue. It then builds up as senile plaque, which inhibits neurons from transmitting their signals. It has now been discovered that this can be reduced by the herb ashwagandha. Now, I don't want you to leave out blueberries, grape seed extract, and ginkgo leaf. Blueberries, because of their antioxidant pigments called anthocyanosides, help strengthen brain capillary circulation and neuromotor function. Grape seed extract and ginkgo are similar and exhibit enhanced microcirculation of brain tissue, along with supplying potent antioxidant properties. According to a Tufts University study published in the September 1999 Journal of Neuroscience, rats of an age equivalent to seventy- to seventy-five-year-old humans demonstrated improved memory, grew new brain cells, and reversed the aging process.

There's no reason you and I can't do the same thing! You can only learn what you can consciously grasp. Expand your consciousness, and you'll also expand your mental powers. So about that coin toss with the fifty-fifty odds . . . Apply these suggestions and you'll have a double-headed coin!

Peter Ragnar is a natural life scientist, modern-day Taoist wizard, and self-master par excellence. A martial arts practitioner for over fifty years, he is renowned for his teachings on optimal health and longevity. He is the author of twenty books, including The Art and Science of Physical Invincibility.


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This article is from
Ecology, Politics, and Consciousness


October–December 2007