Regardless of your age, a recent study published by Antioxidants Journal will likely leave you considering new ways to maintain and support your brain health. While not a clinical trial, the study suggests that middle age is a pivotal point in brain health.It was previously thought that brain function gradually declines with age - but the researchers behind this study believe our brains typically experience a significant amount of deterioration during middle age. If you’re in your midlife or beyond – don't fret. The article explores the connection between brain health, fasting and mitochondrially-targeted antioxidants like MitoQ – and offers some potentially exciting ways to take charge of your brain health throughout the aging process.
What causes oxidative stress in the brain?
According to this study, brains experience a lot of deterioration during middle age due to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress, the main contributor to cell stress, happens when free radicals (rogue molecules) attack your cells. When too many of your cells become damaged from this stress, it can affect your health on a foundational level. Oxidative stress is thought to be a leading contributor to aging and a decline in neuron function – making it an area of research that many scientists are passionate about finding solutions to.
In the article Oxidative Stress and Energy Metabolism in the Brain: Midlife as a Turning Point, researchers suggest that middle age is a major turning point for oxidative stress in the brain. They claim that, while our bodies are equipped to deal with oxidative stress in our youth, we lose this ability as we age. This is because, as we get older, our bodies become less capable of neutralizing the free radicals that attack our cells.
How do you reduce oxidative stress in the brain?
Mitochondria (the batteries within your cells) lose their effectiveness during the aging process. This is a problem - your brain requires a lot of energy to function and mitochondria play a crucial role in keeping things moving. According to this study:
- Brain cells convert molecules into energy at a rate that is 10 times higher than the rest of the body
- The brain uses about 15% of the body’s heart output
- Brain cells use up to 80% of the brain’s available energy
For these high energy demands to be met, you need healthy mitochondria. But as you age and experience higher levels of oxidative stress, your mitochondria become less able to provide your brain with this energy.
But here’s the good news. The study does offer two solutions that enable you to influence and support your brain health as you age - by optimizing your mitochondria.
1. Fasting can support healthy brain function as you age
The study recommends calorie restriction as a “readily available and cost-efficient anti-aging lifestyle intervention”, adding that a “meticulously controlled regulation of the energy metabolism in the brain is a prerequisite for efficient neuronal functioning”. Of course, your body needs calories to function. But fasting can be used as a tool for supporting mitochondrial – and therefore brain – health.
“When you fast, there are a whole host of profound changes that take place within your body”, says MitoQ’s Chief Scientific Officer Will Stow - in the interview below. “Once you go below about 30% of your regular caloric intake - profound changes occur quite quickly.
“Mitochondria are certainly at the core of that. The way they operate to produce energy, changes. They change the type of fuel they use. There is a whole cascade of downstream effects from that. One of the key functions (of mitochondria) is regulating autophagy (damaged cell removal) and clearing away senescent cells (cells that have lost their functions) – which is, obviously, why people are doing this fasting.”
2. MitoQ can support brain health as you age
In addition to fasting, the study says that “mitochondrially-targeted antioxidants such as MitoQ” are promising. Multiple studies have concluded that MitoQ significantly fights oxidative stress – and this is particularly relevant to the parts of your body that have high energy demands: like your brain.
“Nerve cells contain lots and lots of mitochondria”, explains Will. “They require a huge amount of energy...Any cells that have lots of mitochondria/use a lot of energy also produce a lot of free radicals. So, MitoQ is excellent at supporting your nervous system.”
Of course, if you want the best of both worlds, Will says taking MitoQ while fasting is a no-brainer.
“I would certainly take MitoQ (during fasting) to give (mitochondria) the support that you can and to minimize any kind of oxidative stress during that time.
“Fasting is certainly one way (to clear out senescent cells). There’s even research to show that MitoQ can induce some of those pathways that are induced by fasting and help to clear senescent cells - even in a state of non-fasting.”