Introduction: This is Your Brain Health with noted Neuroscientists Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Your Brain Health explores strategies to maximize your cognitive functions through life.
Steve: Brain health is in the news a lot these days, conventional thinking is that a diminishment of cognitive function as we age is inevitable and that serious brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s is in the genes and therefore unavoidable. This podcast series is about to show you just how wrong conventional thinking has been. Welcome to Your Brain Health with neuroscientist Dr. Kristen Willeumier. For this introductory episode, I get to ask the questions, but the real star of this podcast is Dr. Willeumier. So Dr. Willeumier, welcome to your own show.
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Well, thank you, Steve. I’m so excited and thank you for my introduction.
Steve: Brain health is very much in the new city, but a lot of brain health, what we’ve known about it is wrong. Isn’t that correct?
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Well, I think we need to look at it as brain health is evolving and changing, and it’s a very dynamic field. So we want to really stay on top of the innovations and the discoveries and advances that are being made. And I will tell you, coming from the field of genetics and neuroscience, I mean, I’ve seen tremendous changes. So I think what we want to do here on this podcast is to keep people updated on all of these latest innovations and changes.
Steve: Let’s get into that just a little bit, what does it first of all mean to be a neuroscientist? That’s what you are. So what do you do?
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Oh, well, yes. A neuroscientist studies the brain and central nervous system. And at a rudimentary level, my background, I used to study the brain and look at how individual cells communicate with one another. And later on in my career, I did neuroimaging, where I’d actually look at how the whole brain functions and apply it to the clinical practice. So there’s a variety of disciplines and neuroscience is many people know. I mean you’ve got psychology and cognitive psychology, psychiatry, neurology, neurosurgery, genetics.
Steve: Is it true that the study of the brain has changed a lot over the even the recent years?
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Well, I think we just have to look at the fact that the brain is this extraordinary organ. It’s got over a hundred billion neurons making a hundred trillion connection. So I mean, how can we begin to think that we’re even going to scratch the surface? We are just starting to really get an understanding of how these cells are communicating with one another. And I think people get very excited about this field because a lot of people go into this wanting to understand how to cure diseases of aging, how to cure Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. And so really understanding how the brain functions allows us to better treat people of these issues or treat people with psychiatric issues and mood disorders. So that’s why it’s so important to really get an understanding of how the organ works.
Steve: Your podcast series, Dr. Willeumier, is going to focus on how we can address brain health as we age. Can you talk to us a little bit about what some of the elements are that we should be considering when we think about our brain.
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: I think the goal of my podcast is to really pull together experts in colleagues that I’ve had relationships with over the last 20 years to give their viewpoints in their areas of expertise, whether they’re neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychiatrist, psychologist, regenerative medicine specialists, geneticists, addiction medicine specialists or endocrinologist. So I mean, right there you have this really broad platform and different ways that we could look at the brain. And the reason why I’m very excited to have this show is the brain begins to age as early as 30 years of age. So that means you and I were already in trouble, we’re past the age of 35. So really taking proactive steps to take care of our brain and to decelerate brain aging. So I really want to empower people with tools and tips across a variety of disciplines. I mean, I’m going to have nutritionists on here. I’m going to have people who are in the field of sports and sports medicine. We’re going to look at the brain in very different ways. And my whole goal is really to help people get the valuable information they can take in their life to be proactive in order to take care of their brain health.
Steve: So this whole thinking of inevitability with regard to brain deterioration as we age, that is false thinking. We really can have some degree of control over our brain health as we age?
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Well, absolutely, because everything that we’re exposed to on a daily basis either accelerates brain aging or decelerates brain aging. And what I mean by that is the foods we eat, the foods we drink, the EMS that we’re exposed to, the toxins that are in our air, the changing foods that we’re eating. So GMOs are now part of our food source. So I think we really need to think about brain health, even the impact of stress on our brain and incorporating meditative practices and really getting into the science of why these things work. And part of why I’m so excited about doing this podcast is I love to learn. And so I’m so excited to have experts in fields that I have not fully explored, so that we together can all learn how to take better care of our brain health. And trust me, when I work with patients, I used to tell them, I said, do not come to me at 65 years of age and tell me, you’re old. You can only say that when you’re 90. So I want to help really inspire people to be able to live into their eighties, nineties, to be a centenarian and have healthy brain function and be able to see their and great grandchildren and have precious memories of them growing up. So my whole goal in doing this is, is as a public service to really help inspire people to recognize that they’re not stuck with the brain they have. They can make it better.
Steve: Now, I look at your guest list coming up. It’s very exciting. I noticed that there was some pretty renowned athletes in your guest list, can you tell us why?
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Yes. I had the good fortune in my research career of running an imaging study, a neuroimaging study in professional athletes. So we looked at the function of their brains and then we put them on a brain rehabilitation protocol and found that very simple dietary and lifestyle interventions could make transformations in their overall brain function. So I have the honor of having interfaced with a variety of professional athletes from the NFL, the NHL professional soccer professional jockeys, and they have been kind enough to say that they would come on and speak about their experience, talk about what they feel the future is of their particular sport and ways in which their sports are changing to help protect the health of the brain of these younger athletes. So I thought that would be a really fun, an educational component to these podcasts.
Steve: I’m very excited about that. I think listeners will be very excited about that too. Then of course there was some attendant controversies with relating to the brain health and more physical types of sports as well.
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Oh, absolutely. Well, I think we just have to be aware of the information that’s available and take actionable steps to take care of the health of our brain. I myself showed horses for over 10 years, so I very much connect with professional athletes who play these sports because I myself have fallen off hundreds of times and here I am a neuroscientist. So you can still, this is why I really, I feel very compelled to speak on this issue and to help support people through it because I think if we continue to take good actionable steps to care for the health of our brain, we can participate in these sports and still have a good quality of life.
Steve: Dr. Willeumier, people listening to this have this seriousness where they say, you know what, I like what I’m hearing and I want to take care of my brain. Is there a baseline where they begin monitoring where their brain function is at that specific point in time when they make a decision that they want to adhere to some of the practices that you espouse?
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: I love that you asked that question. I think any time is the perfect time to start looking at the health of your brain and there’s many ways that you can do it. Sometimes you could go online and start taking brain training assessments and really get a baseline understanding of how your brain is functioning, but if you’re starting to notice that you have memory deficits, this is where I strongly advise people to start connecting with a neurologist or even working with their general practitioner to determine what types of things that they could do to start assessing their brain. I mean, we have a lot of wonderful tools. We have QEEG, which is a way to look at the electrical activity of the brain. We have functional imaging, we have MRI, so we’re blessed with a lot of different modalities, but you don’t have to take it to the point where you’re going to see a neurologist, if you’re concerned about your brain, you can really start by doing very simple brain health assessments. And just track them each year and see if you are starting to see any deteriorations. Because then by taking the proactive approach of tracking, you can then effectively make changes that I think will result in long-term success.
Steve: Is brain deterioration or cognitive decline, is it reversible?
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Well, what we’ve seen in our research is that by taking some of the proactive steps that we’re going to go into in the podcast, we can show improvements in blood flow to the brain. We can show improvements in cognitive function. So I always say any single day you decide to start being proactive, you can see tangible results. And the reason why it’s important to start early is unfortunately, if you are diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, sometimes it’s a little too late to make big changes in brain function. So if you know that it runs in your family, I want you starting in your twenties thirties forties so this I think is part of the empowering message. If we can start to address and treat our brain and be good to our brain early in life it will serve us well for a lifetime. That’s not to say that if you have been diagnosed with these disorders, there aren’t things that can be done to help improve the quality of your life. And on this podcast I will go into some of those things that we can do and work with experts who treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients.
Steve: I think a good place for all of us to start when we’re thinking about the health of our brain and caring for the health of our brain is to start by listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier, which is starting up right here and right now, and it’s a pleasure for me to be interviewing you on your own show. This is the only time that will happen. From now on it will be Dr. Kristen Willeumier asking the questions of her superb guests. So please listen right here on Radio MD. Dr. Willeumier, thank you so much.
Dr. Kristen Willeumier: Steve, it’s been a pleasure.
Conclusion: You’ve been listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier. For more information or to contact Dr. Willeumier, visit DrWilleumier.com. That’s D, R, W, I, L, L, E, U, M, I, E, r.com.