Last year, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his trainer really upset the medical establishment. The New England Patriots quarterback is 42 years old, which is ancient for the NFL. Naturally, everyone wants to know how Brady has remained so healthy with such a brutal job. So he and his trainer recently released a book to explain how he's done it.
The premise of the book focused on muscle pliability. The medical establishment says the book is mostly fiction. But what most people don’t realize is that Brady and his trainer are onto something that applies to more than your muscles. In fact, I’ve told you before that “pliability” is vital for your arteries as well. And now, research is showing how this concept can help you hold onto your memories throughout your life. Here’s how.
According to Brady and his trainer (business partner Alex Guerrero), muscle pliability is “all about lengthening and softening the muscles.” To make this work for the muscles, Brady has to go through “deep-force muscle work.” Apparently, Guerrero does special pliability-enhancing massages to lengthen and soften the muscles. This requires Brady to "rhythmically contract and relax" each muscle.
Well, it’s a bit difficult to massage your brain. Your skull keeps the brain safe from any “deep force” getting to it. You can’t give your brain a massage like you have a massage therapist rub down your shoulders. So the same treatment that Brady uses for his muscles just won’t work for your brain.
That means we have to find a way to help the brain remain pliable and soft without any external physical manipulation. And the safest, most effective way to do so is through nutrition.
In fact, research has revealed age-related memory loss is due, in part, to a loss of pliability and softness in your brain. And just as stretching or yoga will help your body stay young, you can also keep your brain young by keeping it pliable. If your brain remains pliable and soft, it helps maintain a good memory as you age. Researchers call it “plasticity,” and loss of plasticity causes those annoying short-term memory losses we think of as “senior moments.” Fortunately, there are some dietary changes you can make to increase brain flexibility and improve your memory.
My Favorite Heart Mineral Works for the Brain
When it comes to helping muscles and blood vessels relax, there’s not a better treatment than magnesium. I've talked a lot about this mineral. That’s because a deficiency can cause muscle cramps, heart problems, anxious feelings, lung problems, and a host of other complaints. But until recently, it hasn't been associated with memory loss. Now we're seeing that if we can get enough magnesium, it could actually improve our memory.
How does magnesium work for your brain? You need enough magnesium in your cerebrospinal fluid to keep communications moving freely across your nerve cells. And magnesium is responsible for much of their plasticity. A loss of suppleness in the hippocampus, the area of your brain where short-term memories are stored, typically causes those “senior moments.”
Nerve cells send communications to one another, but these messages are not always clear. They're dulled by background noise caused by toxins, nutritional deficiencies, and injuries. When you reduce this background noise, the nerve cells become more elastic and better able to send clearer messages.
Magnesium helps the messages get through and reduces some of the background noise. In fact, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered something amazing about magnesium. They found that when magnesium levels increase, they reduce the background noise in nerve cells. The suppleness that resulted was the greatest amount that has ever been reported in scientific literature!
But there’s more that magnesium does for your brain and your nerves. Magnesium acts as the gatekeeper for the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. These receptors are on your nerve cells and aid brain development, memory, and learning. They use magnesium to prevent weak signals from triggering your nerve cells unnecessarily.
However, when your magnesium levels are low, fewer NMDA receptors are blocked. This means they are prone to being stimulated more often than necessary. Overstimulation is what can kill nerve cells and it may cause brain damage. So if you notice you have difficulty concentrating, become agitated, experience big mood swings, suffer from nightmares, struggle to learn new things, or can’t seem to recall simple memories, it could be due to a magnesium deficiency.
The Mineral That Increases Background Noise
Unfortunately, magnesium has its work cut out for it. That’s because another mineral works against it to increase background noise. That mineral is calcium.
The more calcium and calcium-rich foods you get, the greater your need for magnesium becomes for strong bones, a healthy heart, and a good memory. Some foods contain a balance of calcium and magnesium. Others, like dairy, are nearly pure calcium. The more dairy you eat, the more likely you are to suffer from a mild to moderate magnesium deficiency. Unfortunately, routine serum blood tests don't measure magnesium levels accurately. Newer tests, such as RBC (red blood cell) magnesium, do. This test used to be very expensive, but the price has come down in recent years. So your doctor should be willing to do the test if you ask.
But instead of taking another blood test, all you have to do is reduce your total calcium intake and increase magnesium-rich foods and take a magnesium supplement. In addition to supporting good memory, it will enhance calcium absorption. This means that the calcium you do take will get into your bones where it belongs, not in your arteries, joints, and brain where it can cause problems.
Taking a magnesium supplement is extremely important if you’re on the Keto or Paleo diet. Keto and Paleo diets allow a lot of dairy. And, since dairy is calcium-rich, it’s vital you offset this intake with a magnesium supplement. Think of cheese as having around 200 mg of calcium and around 10 mg of magnesium. That’s not a good ratio for your memory.
Milk is no better. One cup contains around 300 mg of calcium with 50 mg or so of magnesium. Soy milk, on the other hand, has 10 mg of calcium and 45 mg of magnesium per cup. Use it on your cereal instead of cow's milk and you improve your calcium-to-magnesium ratio instead of making it worse. Almond milk contains a lot of natural magnesium, but manufacturers tend to fortify it with too much calcium. So no matter which type of milk you use, taking a magnesium supplement is a must.
Foods That Help Increase Magnesium Levels
One of the best aspects of the Keto diet is that many of the foods you eat will be high in magnesium. For instance, nuts and seeds are high in fat and magnesium. The fats in nuts, seeds, and other plant products (soy, for instance) actually help burn calories faster. Not only do they help you feel satisfied, they also provide you with more magnesium – and a little calcium as well. If nuts are difficult for you to digest, grind them in a seed grinder or chew them well, and take a digestive enzyme with them.
Other foods you may not think of as being magnesium-rich include shrimp, dried apricots, oats, and brown rice. All beans contain good amounts of magnesium without raising calcium levels. Spinach, chard, and beet greens do as well.
The best way to get more magnesium to your brain is to increase your circulation. Magnesium by itself will help accomplish this, as it helps all of the blood vessels in your body dilate, allowing blood and oxygen to flow. That alone will help your brain. But taking magnesium with CircO2 will send even more magnesium to the brain, allowing it to work even more effectively at saving your memories. CircO2, as you may remember, increases nitric oxide levels in the body, which greatly enhances circulation. Better circulation brings more oxygen and nutrients to your entire body.
How Much Magnesium Should You Take?
Magnesium is one of the biggest deficiencies we face today. Almost everyone is deficient. Many are severely deficient. That means most people need to be taking magnesium - usually 1,000 mg daily.
You can get too much of a good thing when it comes to magnesium. While there are conditions that need short-term mega doses of magnesium, these should be taken under the direct supervision of a physician. For the average person, taking doses over 1,000 mgs can result in magnesium toxicity – and it will do more harm than good. So keep your intake around 1,000 mgs. If you experience loose stools, lower the dose and gradually work up to this level.
As for calcium, you should get the bulk of it from your diet. There’s no need for most people – even postmenopausal women to take more than 500 mg in supplement form. Following these guidelines will help keep your brain soft, supple, and pliable. And it will help you hold onto those precious memories.
Kirschmann and Kirschmann, Nutrition Almanac, Fourth Edition, McGraw-Hill, 1996.
Liu, et al. "Magnesium and memory function," Neuron, December 2, 2004, and MIT news release.
Seelig, M.S. "Increased need for magnesium with the use of combined estrogen and calcium for osteoporosis treatment," Magnesium Resources, September 1990.
Seelig, M.S., et al. "Benefits and risks of sex hormone replacement in postmenopausal women," J Am Coll Nutr, October 2004.