How to prevent spending the last 10 years of your life in a diaper and a wheelchair

May 20, 2011 in Aging | 46 comments

Depends diaper

Everything you have every experienced, felt, or conducted in life is due to brain function. The ability to enjoy, perceive, sense and experience live is dictated by the firing rate and health of your brain. It is impossible for a person to become healthy mentally or physiologically without a healthy brain.” - Datis Kharrazian, DC, M.S

Maybe this goes without saying, but I think it’s worth pointing out: our ability to enjoy life is brain-based. The capacity to taste food, appreciate and create art and music, smell a flower, feel the sun or wind on our skin, experience orgasm, and contribute to life in a meaningful way is entirely mediated by the brain.

In fact, everything we’ve ever done, are doing now or will do depends on brain function.

With that in mind, consider this. Two things in life we can be absolutely sure of are:

  1. We are all going to die.
  2. Our brains are going to degenerate before we die.

While this might seem morbid to some, it’s the simple truth. And the more you’re able to accept this truth and act accordingly, the better chance you’ll have of aging gracefully.

Aging = neurodegeneration

We associate the symptoms of neurodegeneration with normal aging. We see advertisements for Depends diapers, nursing homes, medications for Alzheimers and Parkinson’s and laxatives all around us. Expressions like “having a senior moment” are part of the vernacular, and we’re often quick to explain loss of brain or physiological function as “just getting older”. We assume that the aches, pains and frustrating and sometimes embarrassing decline in quality of life we experience we age is “normal”, because we see others around us going through the same changes.

But as I’ve pointed out many times, what’s common isn’t necessarily normal.

Studies that have looked only at only the healthiest elderly people find minimal cognitive decline even into the ninth decade. These data suggest that significant cognitive decline is not an inevitable consequence of advanced age.

Yet more than 4 million Americans have dementia today, and that number is projected to grow to 14 million in the next 50 years. 1 in 100 Americans over the age of 60 have full-blown Parkinson’s disease, and a greater number has “Parkionsonian-like” symptoms (early Parkinson’s).

There is no cure for dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkison’s, and they are devastating diseases. What’s more, conventional medicine is hopeless when it comes to diagnosing and treating these conditions. If you go to the doctor with early dementia signs, most will tell you to come back when your symptoms have progressed to the point that they are irreversible. By then it’s too late. You’ve lost too many neurons, and your brain is quite literally atrophied and shrunken. And there are no drugs that improve brain function.

So if you want to age well, minimize neurodegeneration and protect against common (but not normal) conditions associated with aging, you need to take matters into your own hands.

You had more brain cells the day you were born than you’ll ever have again

The first, and perhaps most important thing you need to know about the brain is that you have the most neurons (brain cells) you’ll ever have on the day you’re born. Brain tissue is post-mytotic, which means it does not regenerate. You start losing neurons from the first day of your life, and whatever neurons you lose are forever lost.

While that might sound depressing (and it is, really), it’s not the whole story. Because of a phenomenon called neurotropism, neurons have the ability to form new connections with other neurons to preserve function even in the face of declining quantity or quality of brain cells.

Let’s say neuron A is connected to neuron B which is connected to neuron C. If neuron B dies, or loses function, the connection between A & C will be interrupted. But neurotropism, also known as neuroplasticity, means that neuron A can form a new connection with neuron C without involving neuron B. This occurs through something called dendritic branching, where the threadlike extensions of a neuron reach out and form new connections with other neurons.

The short video below illustrates an example of this occurring with a single neuron over 36 hours.

But there’s a limit, of course, to how much function neuroplasticity can preserve. The more brain cells you lose, the fewer neurons there will be to form connections. So while plasticity can prevent some of the loss of function we experience from neurodegeneration, it’s not magic.

3 signs that you’re losing brain cells (neurodegenerating)

The following are the 3 earliest signs of neurodegeneration.

Fatigue promoted by brain activity

Let’s say you used to be able to study for 3 hours at a time without getting tired, but now you can only go for 30 minutes before your brain turns to mush. Or maybe you get really tired after driving, or doing your taxes or performing other tasks that heavily involve your brain. This is a sign your neurons are degenerating and have lost the ability to make ATP.


In depression, the frontal cortex (the part of the brain thought to be involved with higher level thinking, planning and goal formation) is not firing well and actually atrophies. This is one reason why taking antidepressants, which increase neurotransmitter levels in the synaptic cleft but do nothing to increase the health of the brain environment, are often limited in their effect.

Poor digestive function

90 percent of the brain’s output goes into something called the pontomedullary system. The brain is constantly receiving input from receptors, and it is constantly sending outputs as well. The main output conduit is the brain stem; specifically, the parasympathetic cranial nerve nuclei and especially the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve enervates the digestive tract and controls everything from the secretion of stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes to intestinal motility and gall bladder contraction.

If 90 percent of the brain’s output goes into the vagus area, and your brain is not firing well, you’re going to have digestive problems. (I recently recorded a podcast on the gut-brain axis with much more detail on this topic. You can find it here.)

Other symptoms of gut-brain axis dysregulation include cold hands and feet, toenail fungus that won’t heal and brain fog.

Okay. Now, guess what 3 of the main problems seniors experience are? That’s right - fatigue, depression and digestive problems. That is not a coincidence. That’s neurodegeneration.

What causes neurodegeneration?

As I said at the beginning of the article, some amount of neurodegeneration is completely unavoidable. However, the following factors are likely to kill your brain cells at a much faster rate:

  • blood sugar problems (Alzheimer’s is now referred to as “diabetes of the brain” in some circles)
  • hypoxia (reduced oxygen deliverability, often caused by poor circulation or anemias)
  • systemic inflammation (autoimmunity, leaky gut, chronic infections, food toxins, etc.)
  • hormone imbalances
  • altered methylation (leading to elevated homocysteine and atrophy of the hippocampus)
  • traumatic brain injury

Anti-aging = fix your brain

The current anti-aging movement is about botox and plastic surgery and tanning machines and hormone creams. That’s a complete joke. There’s nothing about these activities that does anything at all to slow down neurodegeneration and improve plasticity, which is the ultimate goal of any true “anti-aging” program.

You do this by following these guidelines:

  • Avoid food toxins. These include industrial seed oils, excess sugar (especially fructose), cereal grains and processed soy
  • Ensureadequate micronutrient status. Especially those nutrients involved in oxygen deliverability (B12, iron & folate)
  • Improve fatty acid balance (n-6:n-3 ratio). 60% of the brain is phospholipid, and DHA has been shown to enhance plasticity and brain function while reducing inflammation and neurodegenerative conditions.
  • Fix the gut. There’s a saying in functional medicine, “Fire in the gut = fire in the brain”. Inflammation in the gut will cause activation of the microglial cells (immune cells) of the brain.
  • Stay mentally active. Neurons need constant stimulation or they will atrophy and die. This is why elderly people that stay active and mentally engaged in something age better than those that view retirement as an opportunity to watch golf on TV for 6 hours a day.
  • Increase blood flow to the brain. Exercise is one of the best ways to do this. Acupuncture and stress management are also important.
  • Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can sabotage brain health in just about every conceivable way.

Finally, there are certain nutrients and botanicals that have been shown to protect against neurodeneration, prevent and even reverse neuroinflammation and preserve brain function. In fact, nutritional medicine really shines in this area. If you look in the scientific literature, you’ll see that almost all of the treatments being studied are either micronutrients or botanicals. That’s because there are no drugs that actually improve the health of the brain environment like natural therapies can.

These include:

  • DHA (as mentioned above)
  • Huperzine A. Has been shown to increase acetyl-choline activity, activate eNOS and nNOS systems (increasing blood flow to the brain) and suppress iNOS (which causes tissue damage).
  • Vinpocetine. Also increases blood flow to peripheral tissues, including the brain.
  • Gingko Biloba. Increases blood flow to the brain and promotes healthy brain function via multiple mechanisms.
  • Polyphenols like apigenin, luteolin, baicalin, rutin, catechin and tumeric. Shown to reduce microglial activation and inflammation, which protect the neurons against degeneration.

Please don’t go out and buy a shopping bag full of these and start taking them all. The key is to identify the underlying mechanism and address that. Is it gut inflammation? Is it micronutrient deficiency? Is it blood sugar dysregulation? You’ll make far more progress correcting those problems than you will taking a bunch of supplements.

That said, the supplements and botanicals can provide additional support and therapeutic effect, especially when the problem is advanced or recalcitrant.

A healthy brain is the key to aging well

The next time someone says they’re having a senior moment, you’ll know what that really means: their brain is neurodegenerating. If you don’t want to be “that guy”, start following the guidelines above if you’re not already. You’ve only got one brain, you’re not making any more neurons, and your capacity to enjoy life and be productive is entirely dependent upon your brain health.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill DeWitt May 20, 2011 at 11:14 am

I know that even after 40 years and some pretty strong evidence it is still controversial, but adult neurogenesis does happen and might work even better in a more normal insulin climate.


Dana May 20, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Yep. Here’s more info.

Interestingly, most of it seems to be happening in the hippocampus.

FYI, for anyone reading this who’s been on antidepressants: If your medication did not work immediately, but took a couple weeks to kick in and become effective, it is very likely you weren’t making enough new brain cells in your hippocampus. I’m suspicious that most cases of depression have nothing to do with serotonin levels; if they did, SSRIs would work immediately in everyone.


Laura May 20, 2011 at 2:03 pm

As I understood it, less serotonin over time will cause the cells, or neurons or whatever to lose serotonin receptors. Therefore, one with low serotonin who starts taking an antidepressant might right away have more serotonin, but it takes time for the S receptors to grow back in the presence of increased S levels, so there is no effect right away.


Marina May 20, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I have to agree with you fully- at an earlier time I did not connect this w/ insulin climate but this makes perfect sense, as indigenous people’s elderly have typically been sharp minded, revered, and strong- people who are not exposed to degenerated diets.

RE: “Other symptoms of gut-brain axis dysregulation include cold hands and feet, toenail fungus that won’t heal and brain fog.Okay. Now, guess what 3 of the main problems seniors experience are? That’s right – fatigue, depression and digestive problems. That is not a coincidence. That’s neurodegeneration.” – I would say this is a allopathic-type view and over simplification of general lack of vitality of holistic, interrelated body-systems – one which ultimately remains limited.


Brent May 20, 2011 at 11:15 am

Hi Chris, I love and appreciate your work, but lately you’ve been making two claims that I do not believe are correct. If you have some good references to back them up, I’d love to check them out — perhaps I’m wrong.

The claims that I take issue with are 1) new born baby brains have more neurons than adult brains. It’s been a decade since I took a course in developmental psychology, but I remember being taught that the opposite is so — newborns have very little neural development in the cerebral cortex, and brain cells of all types grow prolifically after birth.

The second claim I question is 2) that new neurons are not created throughout life, only lost. From reading articles in the science press over the past few years, I got the impression that adult neurons have much greater plasticity and genesis than was previously thought. A quick read of the Wikipedia entry on neurogenesis confirms this (“New neurons are continually born throughout adulthood…”):

Indeed, the physical size of a newborn’s head compared to that of an adult’s should be enough to make one pause and reflect about these claims.

Thanks, and keep up the good work.



Chris Kresser May 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

You may be right, Brent. I can give you several references that support the idea that the brain is post-mytotic, but as Bill suggested, there are other studies showing neurogenesis is possible. But to what extent? Clearly not enough to prevent the conditions caused by accelerated neurodegeneration.

In any event, I don’t think it really changes the thrust of the post, which is A) neurodegenration is primarily responsible for many of the diseases we associate with “normal aging”, and B) protecting against neurodegeneration to the greatest possible extent is the key to aging well.


Dana May 20, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I don’t think neurogenesis happens with all brain tissue types, and you see more turnover in the hippocampus than pretty much anywhere else. Rule of thumb: If it has to do with memory and learning, you probably make new cells for it. But with other functions, don’t count on it.


Chris Kresser May 20, 2011 at 11:40 am

And some have claimed that what has been thought to be the adult generation of neurons is actually the generation of glial cells.


Brent June 13, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Hot off the press:

Now Columbia researchers have found that under stressful conditions, neural stem cells in the adult hippocampus can produce not only neurons, but also new stem cells. The brain stockpiles the neural stem cells, which later may produce neurons when conditions become favorable. This response to environmental conditions represents a novel form of brain plasticity. The findings were published online in Neuron on June 9, 2011.

Article at:


Matt Lentzner May 20, 2011 at 11:49 am


Interesting post. It is conventional wisdom that drinking alcohol kills brain cells as well. Can you comment on that?



Peggy The Primal Parent May 20, 2011 at 11:59 am

Does neurotropism work in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia if they take the steps you’ve outlined? Even if so, it isn’t easy to change people that have already gone downhill.


Chris Kresser May 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm

You’re right. Unfortunately, much of the damage in Alzheimer’s and dementia is irreversible and permanent. However, if you take steps to improve plasticity and create a healthy brain environment, improvements are possible. I’ve seen this is two patients I’m working with currently that have dementia.


majkinetor May 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm

What do you think about nootropics like Piracetam and/or Hydergine.


majkinetor May 21, 2011 at 8:09 am

Just to make it clear why, since they are mostly used to boost memory :

– Piracetam prolongs the life of mice and rats under conditions of Hypoxia. Since hypoxia can occur in varous patological situations of the brain, the prolonged survival under such conditions can prevent severe brain damage.
- Piracetam improves Blood Circulation to the Brain. This means more nutrients and more efficient functioning.
- Piracetam regenerates the Central Nervous System. The good CNS influence the brain gut axis also.
- Piracetam facilitates the Interhemispheric Flow of Information between the two hemispheres of the Brain. This means that more of the brain’s potential is used since people have hemisphere bias.
- Piracetam increases the body’s tolerance to Stress. This can mean bunch of things, among others, reduced weight.
- Piracetam is good for sleep. Good sleep is essential for multiple health issues and weight control.


Marina May 20, 2011 at 4:01 pm

I would have to add to the guidelines suggested:

Kegels- or similar pelvic floor exercises- for obvious reasons
Hatha Yoga including inverted poses, which contribute to cerebral circulation and general vascular toning
Avoid or Reduce interaction w/ all unnatural electromagnetic frequencies
Many herbal formulations, including those prepared over a hundred years ago by Naturopaths Alfred Vogel and Dr. Christopher – are focused in strengthening Cerebral Circulation.
I challenge ANYONE to go on a complete sugar fast, with the exception of a few whole unprocessed fruits daily- including ALL sugar in ALL products (salad dressing, soups, sauces, read labels)- and compare your mental clarity.


Margaret Wilde May 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Kirsch et al found that antidepressant drugs work no better than dummy pills – reported here: And most antidepressants make you fatter because of fluid retention, and damage health in many ways. The one I am most acquainted with is amitriptyline, which is still very widely prescribed. It is an extremely harmful drug. I have written about it here:


kem johnson May 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Would the best exercise to maintain brain function be aerobic or anerobic. A rhetoric question from me as I routinely do both. I’d like to remember what I was up to on my 60th next year.


dave May 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Wasn’t there a study connecting dementia and forgetfulness with statins?

Doesn’t physical and mental activity play a role as well? I’d include the social aspect of ones life also additive in its effects on quality of life at late stage. All stages actually.


Chris Kresser May 21, 2011 at 8:09 am

I mentioned physical and mental activity in the post. Yes, statins can cause memory loss (including global transient amnesia – as was the case with Duane Graveline) and cognitive problems, probably because of their extreme cholesterol-lowering effect.


Nigel Kinbrum May 21, 2011 at 2:34 am

You wrote-off hormone creams as useless. Would you like to comment on the following?
Allopregnanolone reverses neurogenic and cognitive deficits in mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.
Also. you left Vitamin D off your list of neuroprotective agents.
Ditto Vitamin K2, which is involved with sphingolipid metabolism in the brain.
Cheers, Nige.


Chris Kresser May 21, 2011 at 8:10 am

I didn’t say they were useless. I said I think it’s best to try to address the underlying mechanisms. In this case, that would mean addressing the cause of the hormone imbalance instead of just using exogenous hormone creams, which bypass the body’s natural regulatory mechanisms and can cause problems in the long-term.


Jerry May 21, 2011 at 3:06 am

You might want to add references to your post, lots of them… If you don’t, it’s just another load of unsubstantiated claims.
I don’t want to sound too negative, I like the post, but good luck finding evidence for ginkgo and vinpocetine, for example.


Chris Kresser May 21, 2011 at 8:28 am

Those are a few papers on vinpocetine’s effect. There’s still work to be done, but considering the alternatives (rapid neurodegeration and loss of function) I think the risk/potential benefit analysis here is clear.

Effects of Gingko are much better known.


Brent May 21, 2011 at 11:49 am

Chris, how do you reconcile the positive results of those Ginkgo studies with the negative results of large, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies on the effectiveness of Ginkgo Biloba? For example, this USA Today story is on a 3000 person, 7-year Ginkgo study:

“It just continues to show that in properly designed, placebo-controlled studies, we can’t seem to find an effect for ginkgo biloba,” says Lon Schneider, an Alzheimer’s and gerontology expert at the University of Southern California. The size of this study is larger than all previous ginkgo biloba studies combined, he says.”

Other large, randomized, placebo-controlled studies with negative results are listed in the AMA journal:

Given the apparent rigour of these studies, how can one still conclude that Gingko is effective?



Bill DeWitt May 21, 2011 at 8:37 am

One thing is sure, discussions about brain aging can bring out strong opinions. You would not believe the stink I raised by mentioning that Myelin sheaths are made out of fat – in a low fat household with MS… backing away with hands raised to my sides….

Which, BTW, myeliation may account for some of the increasing brain weight in youth.


againstthegrain May 21, 2011 at 10:33 am

@ Brent

Admittedly, most of what I understand about neurobiology beyond a few biology and A & P classes in my education is due to life with my husband, a “basic” research scientist in the apoptosis field; I’m not a scientist or trained in medicine, but I’m always picking his brain about things I find curious. He’s many times during our child’s infancy and early childhood mentioned in discussions that humans have more brain cells at birth than at any other point in post-natal life.

The growth of the skull size during infancy and childhood shouldn’t be confused with neurogenesis. Any increases in brain size (which isn’t the same as skull size) are more likely due to increase in number and mass of glial cells, not an increase in neurons. My understanding is that post-natal neural development is thought to be due to forming new neural pathways (connections) and that actually involves the death of a lot of neurons. As my husband’s research is often cited in neuroscience papers, he is quite familiar with this subject matter. He tells me that a lot of the interest surrounding adult neurogenesis is based on rat olfactory-brain research (with a major player in this area working at an institute very near to his own), but in humans olfactory-brain function isn’t as an important function as it is in rats, so it remains to be seen if it is significant for humans.

Chris, Dr. Larry McLeary, a pediatric neurosurgeon, lists nearly the same supplements/botanicals for brain health that you list. Are you familiar with him?


Chris Kresser May 21, 2011 at 11:09 am

Any increases in brain size (which isn’t the same as skull size) are more likely due to increase in number and mass of glial cells, not an increase in neurons.

Thanks for your comment, againstthegrain. That’s exactly what the paper I linked to earlier argued.

Yes, I’ve heard of Dr. McLeary. I just want to be clear that I don’t recommend taking a bunch of these supplements without identifying and addressing the underlying mechanisms. I said that in the article but I’ll say it again here.


S.Hicks May 21, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I too followed a low fat diet for 2 years because of my MS. I definitely improved but now realize that was probably due to the fact that I gave up sugar,gluten and dairy. I was terrified to bring fat into my diet sure that it would cause my MS to spike. When I brought the fat back in I lost a lingering fatigue in my legs that I just couldn’t get rid of on the low-fat diet. I have had no exacerbation of my MS and continue to feel better and while I give credit to my MS diet for introducing me to the notion of leaky-gut, I feel that the low fat part of most MS diets is holding back MSer’s from feeling their optimum.


Nutritionizt May 22, 2011 at 8:26 am

Great article, Chris.

Another association with age related mental conditions include heavy metals like aluminum. Several epidemiological studies have shown a link between aluminum in drinking water and Alzheimer’s. I’m sure you already knew this, but to those who weren’t aware, take caution.

“When you lose the mental game, you lose the physical game.”


Richard May 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

Other symptoms of gut-brain axis dysregulation include cold hands and feet, toenail fungus that won’t heal and brain fog

I’ve had toenail fungus for over 30 years, (since I was in my 20s), but no brain fog or cold extremities. I also get fungal infections–I assume that’s what it is– on my left knee and crotch rot. I’ve taken various medications, but it always came back, sometimes after a few years, sometimes a few months, sometimes a few weeks. I eat paleo (grassfed beef, safe starches, no vegetable oils or processed foods), drink lots of raw milk, kefir and yogurt. I’m normal weight, exercise, and in otherwise excellent health, and have been my entire life. I do all the right things to keep my gut and body healthy. I cut out most wheat in the last year, and the crotch rot is almost gone, although running seems to aggravate it and the knee fungus temporarily. I started rubbing virgin coconut oil on the knee and that seems to be helping.

I stopped taking any meds for the toenail fungus at least 10 years ago because it didn’t ultimately help, I don’t like any chronic medications and the toenail fungus just looks bad but does not cause any discomfort. But your posts and Paul Jaminet’s seem to imply that longterm fungal infections are a sign of potential problems.

Do you recommend medications or diet to clear up the toenail fungus or both? Is toenail fungus really a symptom of a larger, more serious issue?


Dave, RN May 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I’d like to see an articel about foods to include and foods to avoid to enhance brain function. Sugar we know to avoid. Others?


WP @ The Conscious Life May 30, 2011 at 8:59 am

Hi Dave, IMHO, foods that contribute to chronic inflammation are best avoided. Here is a list of some common inflammatory foods you may want to cut down.

On the other hand, there are also foods that could enhance brain functions. Many of these foods also turn out to be anti-inflammatory in nature. Here are some brain foods to check out.

Hope these info are useful to you.


EL66K May 22, 2011 at 5:28 pm

Interesting article, Chris, you may be interested in the research for ashwagandha. There’s a lot of it in relation to neurodegeneration, and quite a bit of evidence that, at least in rats, certain ashwagandha extracts show a tremendous power for neuroregeneration:

A quick search in pubmed also points to evidence of the anticancer, antioxidative, antiinflamatory and pro-inmune properties of ashwagandha.

There’s even evidence of it’s ability to support the thyroid!

Not to say it is a panacea, but it is certainly promising.


JLL May 23, 2011 at 5:29 am

“With that in mind, consider this. Two things in life we can be absolutely sure of are:

1. We are all going to die.
2. Our brains are going to degenerate before we die.

While this might seem morbid to some, it’s the simple truth. And the more you’re able to accept this truth and act accordingly, the better chance you’ll have of aging gracefully.”

Well, not necessarily. There is no way to be sure what the future will look like, but there are plenty of people who think aging will be cured one day (Aubrey de Grey among others):

And as for aging gracefully, that’s a meaningless euphemism. There’s no such thing as aging gracefully; you can’t put a positive spin on deterioration.



Chris Kresser May 23, 2011 at 7:55 am

I couldn’t disagree more. It is possible to age gracefully, and our culture’s irrational obsession with life extension is simply fear of death and denial of the natural cycle all living organisms on this planet go through.


Brent May 24, 2011 at 11:37 pm

It looks like stress reduction plays a major role in maintaining neural plasticity:



Cam May 26, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Great article! I have a friend that has been suffering from some depression for a while and even though I preach a paleo “ish” diet at my gym, I guess I didn’t even think of having my friend do the normal fixes to fix his depression.

You rule Chis, I am trying to catch up on your pod casts right now and all the information in your head blows my mind!

I didn’t realize you were from SF, until I seen that last paragraph >Don’t be “that guy”< haha does that quote come from Kstar? (SFCF)


Megaera May 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I will probably be rejected from this site as well as Stephan’s for failure to recognize the full glory of The Received Truth, but — honestly, now — do you guys actually pay attention to what you’re writing? Every symptom you list, singly and as a group, is a classic indicator for thyroid malfunction. Brain fog? Major check. Digestive issues? check. Circulatory disorders? check. And on, and on … and not one of the eager commentors points this out. Hashimoto’s, and other manifestations of hypothyroidism are huge risks in the aging, especially for females, and I assure you, they can’t be cured or even ameliorated by diet changes, happy thoughts, mental exercises, clean living, the supplements of the day, avoiding the latest concept of “food toxins”, or “fixing the gut”, because until someone who is thyroid deficient gets more thyroid none of the other stuff is going to follow. Sorry, all the clean living in the world won’t work — not going to happen. Personal experience, and all that. Oh, and by the way, even after you get the thyroid issues dealt with, the other stuff listed above? It still doesn’t work. In fact, following some of those recommendations may actually it may make you, So get your thyroid checked, and then think (assuming you CAN think through that brain fog) long and carefully about what to do next.


Chris Kresser May 27, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Maybe you should take a moment before writing smug and arrogant comments on people’s blogs to take a look around. I’ve written a full series with about 8 articles on thyroid disease, and have acknowledged its importance over and over in my writings and my podcast.


Megaera May 27, 2011 at 7:24 pm

In fact, I’m fully aware of your blogging history and have read a substantial amount of your output on thyroid and a number of other topics (including the reader comments), and have done the same on Stephan’s blog and several others writing in this general area over the last six months. I do not comment “rashly”, “smugly” or “arrogantly”: you chose to ascribe a panoply of symptoms–jeeringly conflated with “ending your life in adult diapers” due to brain damage– exclusively to a still-unproven hypothesis when all of those symptoms are in fact far more readily ascribable to a well-recognized medical disorder occurring widely in the population. Why shouldn’t someone call you on it? Occam’s Razor still applies, you know, Someone reading your single blog entry without a full research background effort on your other work is quite likely to be left with a highly erroneous impression. Is that what you want?


Chris Kresser May 27, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Show me your evidence that neurodegeneration and the symptoms associated with aging are caused primarily by thyroid disorders. Please, I’d love to see it.


Megaera May 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Are you seriously this profoundly vexed over a straightforward criticism? . You and I and anyone reading this interchange are perfectly aware that I never made any such claim.. What I said was the symptoms you chose to list are quite consonant with hypothyroidism, which is absolutely true, as you are well aware; your own writings support that statement. I don’t know by what overreach you turn that into some vast and sweeping pronunciamento about thyroid disorders being the primary cause of aging. but if it comes to that, I trust you’re not seeking to assert the contrary, i.e., that the dietary components particularly offensive to you are the primary causes of neurodegeneration and the symptoms associated with aging — because to the best of my admittedly imperfect knowledge, people have been degenerating neurologically and aging comprehensively for quite a number of millennia unassisted by the diet of the last century’s West.


Chris Kresser May 29, 2011 at 8:27 am

When you make insulting statements like “assuming you CAN think through that brain fog”, do you expect me to treat it as straightforward criticism? Then you claim that everything I listed in the article doesn’t work. On what basis? What is your clinical experience? Have you read the relevant literature on the subject? Apparently not, or else you couldn’t possibly make such a claim. You now admit to your “imperfect knowledge”, but I suggest you go back and read your original comment. If you can’t see why I reacted the way I did, you must be a sociopath.


Maila May 28, 2011 at 4:10 am

A very informative article. I definitely want to spend my old age as healthy as I can, thanks for the useful tips, I am bookmarking this site.


Margaret Wilde May 29, 2011 at 8:44 am

I think it’s pretty shocking when anyone uses the anonymity of the internet to insult other users. It is especially deplorable when the insults are directed at helpful, scrupulous information-providers like Chris Kresser. Fortunately, intelligent readers usually recognise the use of such insults as characteristic of the uninformed.


Christina June 3, 2011 at 11:11 am

Interesting. I have a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and specialized in the immune response in the brain.
I wanted to comment primarily on the antidepressant issue. Depression isn’t always a symptom of aging; it can affect the young as well. Some react differently than others to SSRI treatments; it partiallly depends on your biology. The typical time-to-effectiveness is based on a few things mostly tied in to how long it takes to build up a therapeutically effective dose. When you swallow a pill, that 10 mg of drug is going to be digested. Some will likely not make it through the digestive process intact. What does must also successfully enter the bloodstream, where it circulates through your entire body. Next, it must possess certain characteristics to get across the blood-brain barrier (in certain areas of the brain such as the cerebral cortex). Only then can it start to have an effect. How long it remains “biologically available” depends on the drug’s inherent stability and your body’s processing speed. Altogether, a single dose, or even a few, may not be enough to get enough drug into your brain to be effective. For some, it is; I am particularly sensitive to SSRIs and have noticeable effects within 20 minutes to 3 days (depending on the drug). Even there, it takes time to build a dose that is considered therapeutically optimal; I may have some immediate relief of symptoms, but do not achieve full effect for up to a week.

That said, I do know of a few things that can help avert age-related decline in mental function. Good diet is way up there-we critically need some forms of lipids to maintain our nerve cell structure and function, and B vitamins, which play key roles in neurodevelopment and energy metabolism. Staying physically active also plays a strong role–and I can’t help but think that it is because physical activity necessitates mental activity and forces you to use your brain. In other words, get outside and play! Realistically, we understand very little about how our brains work–but we’re studying that as fast as we can. Unfortunately, I know of nothing that helps me keep track of my keys!


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