Brain Resilience & 5 Ways To Build It

Brain resilience

Welcome to my blog on brain resilience.

Cognitive impairment and dementia are among the most significant health challenges of our time, especially as the global population ages. The prevalence of dementia increases exponentially with advancing age, with a prevalence of 0.8% to 6.4% in the population over 65 years of age, and 28.5% at age 90 in the European Union.

The WHO estimates that approximately 50 million people worldwide live with dementia, a number expected to triple by 2050.

An adult’s brain consumes significantly more energy from glucose (20%) than expected for its size (2%) for neural functioning, and unlike muscles (which utilize glycogen), the brain does not have stored energy reserves and is always metabolically “on.”

If you would like to learn more about this then consider investing in my Building Brain Resilience Webinar, or, The Resilience Program.

What Is Brain Resilience?

Brain resilience is inferred from an observed level of cognitive functioning higher than expected in the face of demonstrated brain injury.

A well known example of this is how some individuals are able to maintain their cognitive abilities, despite the presence of significant Alzheimer’s Disease neuropathological changes (i.e there are people with significant damage in their brain who do not succumb to Alzheimer’s, while others with potentially less damage do).

Tests For Brain Resilience

There is no one test for brain resilience. However we can consider a comprehensive blood test that inlcudes key biomarkers we know are associated with a resilient brain. These include:

  • Fasting insulin.
  • T4, T3, TSH and other thyroid biomarkers.
  • Homocysteine.
  • Nutrients: vitamin D, iron, zinc, copper among others
  • Hormones: cortisol, testosterone, estrogen.

We can also consider testing the blood brain barrier, a test available via Cyrex Labs.

Based on the research discussing the gut-brain axis we can also consider testing the gut microbiome and the integrity of the gut lining. There is considerable research discussing the endotoxin hypothesis to neurodegenerative conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The general concept here is that an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the gut, in the context of intestinal permeability (leaky gut) trigger an immune response resulting in systemic inflammation that can disrupt the blood brain barrier and contribute to neuroinflammation (inflammation in the brain).

5 Ways To Build Brain Resilience

The evidence suggests that a healthy lifestyle has a crucial role to promote a resilient brain during aging.

Exercise

The evidence from animal studies is that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with stress vulnerability, whereas a physically active lifestyle is associated with stress resilience.

Some researchers have also proposed that physical activity, exercise, and aerobic fitness may facilitate resilience through strengthening individual brain regions as well as large-scale neural circuits to improve emotional and behavioural regulation.

Overall, the literature indicates that brain/cognitive reserve built up by regular exercise in several stages of life, prepares the brain to be more resilient to cognitive impairment and consequently to brain pathology.

Gut Health

Two important pathophysiological hallmarks of neurodegenerative diseases (NDDs) are oxidative/nitrative stress and inflammation, which can be initiated by elevated intestinal permeability, with increased abundance of pathobionts. These changes lead to excessive release of exdotoxins, specifically lipopolysaccharides, and other bacterial products into blood, which in turn induce chronic systemic inflammation, which damages the blood-brain barrier. An impaired blood-brain barrier allows the translocation of potentially harmful bacterial products, including LPS, and activated neutrophils/leucocytes into the brain, which results in neuroinflammation and apoptosis.

Chronic neuroinflammation causes neuronal damage and synaptic loss, leading to memory impairment. LPS-induced inflammation causes inappropriate activation of microglia, astrocytes, and dendritic cells. Consequently, these alterations negatively affect mitochondrial function and lead to increases in oxidative/nitrative stress and neuronal senescence.
These cellular changes in the brain give rise to specific clinical symptoms, such as impairment of locomotor function, muscle weakness, paralysis, learning deficits, and dementia.

You can read more about gut health in the area of my blog dedicated to it, here.

Products

Photobiomodulation

Over the last seventy years or so, many previous studies have shown that photobiomodulation, the use of red to near infrared light on body tissues, can improve central and peripheral neuronal function and survival in both health and in disease. These improvements are thought to arise principally from an impact of photobiomodulation on mitochondrial and non-mitochondrial mechanisms in a range of different cell types, including neurones. This impact has downstream effects on many stimulatory and protective genes.

An often-neglected feature of nearly all of these improvements is that they have been induced during the state of wakefulness. Recent studies have shown that when applied during the state of sleep, photobiomodulation can also be of benefit, but in a different way, by improving the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and the clearance of toxic waste-products from the brain.

Sleep

Sleep is foundation to brain resilience.

Sleep is essential for brain function in a surprisingly diverse set of ways. In the short term, lack of sleep leads to impaired memory and attention; in the longer term, it produces neurological dysfunction or even death.
I discuss recent advances in understanding how sleep maintains the physiological health of the brain through interconnected systems of neuronal activity and fluid flow.
The neural dynamics that appear during sleep are intrinsically coupled to its consequences for blood flow, cerebrospinal fluid dynamics, and waste clearance.

Sleep disruption tends to precede and may precipitate the loss of brain resilience and consequently may trigger behavioural and emotional-related problems.

The fact that sleep disturbances preceding or following traumatic experiences contribute to poor psychiatric outcomes offers new strategies for prevention and early detection efforts in high-risk populations and individuals exposed to traumatic events.

Among middle-aged adults without clinically observed neurological disease, suboptimal sleep duration is associated with poorer neuro-imaging brain health profiles.

Diet

A nutritional intervention may impart resilience in two general ways, by preventing or interrupting pathological processes post-injury, or by enhancing the damage repair process.

An adult’s brain consumes significantly more energy from glucose (20%) than expected for its size (2%) for neural functioning, and unlike muscles (which utilize glycogen), the brain does not have stored energy reserves and is always metabolically “on.” Hence, a balance of essential brain nutrients that includes long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins (C and E), the b-vitamins including B12, and vitamin D, and the minerals iron, magnesium, and zinc together influence cognitive function and performance, brain development, oxygen transport, brain cell health, neurotransmitter function, brain structure, intercellular connections, and protect against oxidative stress.

Conclusion

With our ageing population it becomes more important than ever we focus on brain resilience – which means taking care of our bodies and focusing on a healthy lifestyle. It’s not fancy. It’s not a quick fix. But focusing on these five things will go a long way to ensuring you have a healthy resilient brain in your later years.

If you would like to learn more about this then consider investing in my Building Brain Resilience Webinar, or, The Resilience Program.

References

  1. Montine et al., (2019) Concepts for brain aging: resistance, resilience, reserve, and compensation, Alzheimers Res Ther.; 11: 22 (click here)
  2. Arida et al., (2021) The Contribution of Physical Exercise to Brain Resilience, Front Behav Neurosci, 20:14:626769 (click here)
  3. Vries et al., (2024) The concept of resilience to Alzheimer’s Disease: current definitions and cellular and molecular mechanisms, Mol Neurodegener. ; 19: 33 (click here)
  4. Nowacka-Chmielewska et al., (2022) Running from Stress: Neurobiological Mechanisms of Exercise-Induced Stress Resilience, Int J Mol Sci, 1;23(21):13348 (click here)
  5. Derbyshire (2018) Brain Health across the Lifespan: A Systematic Review on the Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements, Nutrients, 15;10(8):1094 (click here)
  6. Sampedro-Piquero, (2018) Coping with Stress During Aging: The Importance of a Resilient Brain, Curr Neuropharmacol; 16(3): 284–296 (click here)
  7. Fekete et al., (2023) Improving Cognitive Function with Nutritional Supplements in Aging: A Comprehensive Narrative Review of Clinical Studies Investigating the Effects of Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants, and Other Dietary Supplements, Nutrients, 15;15(24):5116 (click here)
  8. Belcher et al., (2021) The roles of physical activity, exercise, and fitness in promoting resilience during adolescence: effects on mental well-being and brain development, Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging.; 6(2): 225–237. (Click here)
  9. Arida et al., (2020) The Contribution of Physical Exercise to Brain Resilience, Front Behav Neurosci; 14: 626769. (Click here)
  10. Fekete et al., (2024) Exploring the Influence of Gut-Brain Axis Modulation on Cognitive Health: A Comprehensive Review of Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Symbiotics, Nutrients, 10;16(6):789 (click here)
  11. Kalyan et al., (2022) Role of Endogenous Lipopolysaccharides in Neurological Disorders, Cells, 14;11(24):4038 (click here)
  12. Brown et al., (2023) The Endotoxin Hypothesis of Parkinson’s Disease, Mov Disord;38(7):1143-1155 (click here)
  13. Brown et al., (2024) The endotoxin hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease, Mol Neurodegener, 1;19(1):30 (click here)
  14. Pillai et al., (2018) Oral Health and Brain Injury: Causal or Casual Relation?, Cerebrovasc Dis Extra;8(1):1-15 (click here)
  15. Bowland et al., (2022) The Oral-Microbiome-Brain Axis and Neuropsychiatric Disorders: An Anthropological Perspective, Front Psychiatry, 30:13:810008 (click here)
  16. Fjell et al., (2024) Individual sleep need is flexible and dynamically related to cognitive function, Nat Hum Behav, ;8(3):422-430 (click here)
  17. Lewis (2021) The interconnected causes and consequences of sleep in the brain, Science, 29;374(6567):564-568 (click here)
  18. Clocchiatti-Tuozzo et al., (2024) Suboptimal Sleep Duration Is Associated With Poorer Neuroimaging Brain Health Profiles in Middle-Aged Individuals Without Stroke or Dementia, J Am Heart Assoc, 2;13(1):e031514 (click here)
  19. Rebechinni, (2021) Music, mental health, and immunity, Brain Behav Immun Health, 21:18:100374 (click here)
  20. 20. Cusick et al., (2016) The Role of Nutrition in Brain Development: The Golden Opportunity of the “First 1000 Days”, J Pediatr.; 175: 16–21. (Click here)
Alex Manos Profile 2015 AM Logo scaled

Alex is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFMCP) and has a MSc in Personalised Nutrition. He is also a breathwork facilitator with a background in personal training and massage therapy. He also runs The Resiliency Program - a 24 week program aimed at building physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resilience.

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