How Telomeres Affect Mental Decline

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

April 13, 2015

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  • I’ll let you in on a brain-saving secret
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Late last year an ingenious doctor by the name of Dale Bredesen released a case-study that shocked the medical community.

He outlined – case by case – the phenominal results he’s had in treating Alzheimer’s patients. Without drugs. Without psychiatric care. And without any negative side effects.

How did he do it?

With good, old-fashioned functional medicine, just like the kind I practice right here at my own clinic.

In fact, many of his methods mirror my own. So you can imagine how pleased I am to see a like-minded physician helping people rediscover their mental facilities instead of doping them up so they can “painlessly” fade into oblivion.

He calls his program the MEND protocol. This stands for Metabolic Enhancement for Neurodegeneration.

In his study, he outlines 10 individual cases of Alzheimer’s disease. Six of his patients were entrenched deeply enough in dementia that they had to quit their jobs – or were struggling to keep them.

Well, guess what happened after three to six months on his treatment program?

All except one, who had very late stage Alzheimer’s, were able to return to their jobs or increase their performance.

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Better yet, the results had a long-term effect. These patients – all destined to end up in the “old folk’s home” – stayed active and employed during more than two years of follow-up.

Now, I’ll bet you’re wondering what the secret is…and how you can get some of this “magic mojo” in your life.

I’ll let you in on it…

While most of my recommendations and those of Dr. Bredesen meet at the crossroads, I’ve found a peculiar link that might explain exactly why they work: Telomeres.

I’ve talked about these protective strands of DNA many times in the past. Each time one of your cells replicates, your telomeres get shorter. The shorter they become, the greater your chances of chronic disease…and symptoms of aging.

Now, there’s been some debate about the role telomeres play in your mental capacity. But these days we’re finding that people with longer telomeres show greater cognitive function and less mental decline over time.

Longer telomeres are also associated with greater volume in many regions of the brain. This includes the hippocampus, which plays an important role in consolidating short-term memories into long-term memories.

So what are some of the common elements between Dr. Bredesen’s protocol and my own that can support both your mental health, and your telomeres?

An appropriate diet is first on the list.

The Standard American Diet is exactly what its acronym implies. It’s a very SAD way of eating, and has been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease (along with many of today’s most deadly health disorders!)

You can optimize your diet by ditching the American way of eating. Cut out the high-glycemic carbs, packaged foods, saturated fats and refined grains.

I recommend adopting a Mediterranean-style diet. It includes plenty of healthy fats and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables that are critical to maintaining telomere length.

In keeping with the Mediterranean’s, make sure to get as much extra virgin olive oil in your diet as you can. It contains a compound called oleocanthal. This incredible antioxidant plays a critical role in removing Alzheimer’s related beta amyloid from the brain.

Now, this is just one brain-boosting, telomere-lengthening recommendation our programs have in common. Here are a few more.

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Get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day. If you regularly engage in physical activity, it can cut your risk of Alzheimer’s by almost 40%. Even if you start exercising later in life, it can reduce the odds of mental decline by about a third.

Among other things, exercise encourages the growth of new neurons and decreases the buildup of amyloid plaques. Better yet, people who get the most exercise have telomeres that appear about nine years younger than those who do the least.

Get in the habit of walking or riding a bike 30 minutes each day with a few bursts of intensity. It will do your brain, and your telomeres, a world of good. Just make sure to stay on a regular daily schedule to get the most benefit.

Address your stress. Chronic stress is linked to a rapid decline in cognitive function. This is especially true when it comes to episodic memory. These are memories of times, places, people and events that define your lifetime.

Chronic stress is also a significant factor when it comes to shorter telomere length. In fact, high levels of stress could age your telomeres by an extra 10 years.

The best antidote for stress is to pick a daily practice you enjoy.

Maybe it’s yoga, prayer, meditation, or diaphragmatic breathing. But it can be any other relaxation technique that appeals to you.

It’s also important to make time for yourself. Have a massage, take a bubble bath, read a good book, or just sit back and listen to your favorite music.

Get plenty of sleep. During sleep your brain flips on a “drainage” system that opens up between the cells of your brain. When this system is flipped on, cerebrospinal fluid rushes between your brain cells to pick up toxic waste products, like beta amyloid.

This process isn’t active when you’re awake. So if you’re not getting enough sleep, it can cause Alzheimer’s related amyloid plaques to build. At the same time, sleeping less than 5 hours a night is associated with shortened telomeres. Longer sleep means longer telomeres.

Establish a regular sleep cycle by shutting down the lights, computer, cell phone and TV at the same time every night. If you need a little help falling asleep, try 600 mg. valerian and up to 5 mg. of time-released melatonin.

This is just the beginning of many simple steps you can take to help preserve your mental function and memories.

Stay tuned. In the next issue, I’ll provide you with several more tips that assure you’ll live healthier, longer.


Bredesen DE. Reversal of cognitive decline: a novel therapeutic program. Aging (Albany NY). 2014 Sep;6(9):707-17.

Hu N, et al. Nutrition and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:524820.

E. H. Martinez-Lapiscina, et al. Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 2013.

Crous-Bou M, et al. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ. 2014 Dec 2;349:g6674.

Geda YE, et al. Physical exercise, aging, and mild cognitive impairment: a population-based study. Arch Neurol. 2010 Jan;67(1):80-6.

Head D, et al. Exercise Engagement as a Moderator of the Effects of APOE Genotype on Amyloid Deposition. Arch Neurol. 2012 Jan 9.

Cherkas LF, et al. The association between physical activity in leisure time and leukocyte telomere length. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Jan 28;168(2):154-8.

Epel ES, Blackburn EH, et al. Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Dec 7;101(49):17312-5.

Wilson RS, et al. Chronic distress and incidence of mild cognitive impairment. Neurology. 2007 Jun 12;68(24):2085-92.

NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Brain may flush out toxins during sleep; Sleep clears brain of molecules associated with neurodegeneration: Study.” ScienceDaily. Oct 2013

Jackowska M, et al. Short sleep duration is associated with shorter telomere length in healthy men: findings from the Whitehall II cohort study. PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47292.


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