If you ask 100 people what they worry about most as they get older, I’d bet more than half will tell you it’s their minds. So many of us fear that we’ll lose the cognitive function, memories, wit, and intelligence that make us who we are. That’s why Alzheimer’s disease and dementia rank among the most dreaded conditions — because they don’t just alter the body, they alter a person’s entire identity.
Unfortunately, there are no good drugs for Alzheimer’s. There are, however, excellent supplements and lifestyle interventions that can help. I try to stay on top of the latest research so I can help my patients and the people they love protect their brains from this devastating disease.
So when I came across this study recently, I knew I had to tell you about it. That’s because it looked at an approach to Alzheimer’s prevention that is definitely not part of most discussions.
What was the off-the-beaten-path brain booster the researchers investigated? I’ll give you a hint: It’s pill-free, super relaxing, and popular in Scandinavia.
Yes, I’m talking about saunas.
I have to admit, that’s not something that has been at the top of my list of brain health recommendations. But after reading this research, that may change…
The “luxury” your brain and heart can’t afford to do without
The study was conducted in Finland, where saunas are an integral part of the culture. It’s not seen as a luxury, but as a health necessity — for mind, body, and spirit.
To put it in perspective, in a country with only 5 million people, Finland is home to 3 million saunas. That’s how important saunas are there.
So the researchers looked at sauna use, comparing those who were diehards — visiting the sauna four to seven times per week — with those who only used them once a week. And they found those in the first group were 66 percent less likely to develop dementia at the 20-year follow-up than those in the second group.
If these impressive cognitive health benefits aren’t enough to convince you, consider this: The dementia study was an offshoot of another one in which researchers were investigating the link between sauna use and cardiovascular disease.
And in that study, researchers found using the sauna as little as two to three times per week had a significant effect on heart health. Rates of sudden cardiac death, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality were lower in men who used the sauna twice or three times weekly compared with those who used them only once a week.
The sweat-free way to get the health benefits of saunas
Why do saunas have these impressive health benefits? In part, it comes down to inflammation, which has been linked to dementia and cardiovascular disease (not to mention most other illnesses). Sauna use has been shown to boost vascular endothelial function, and that leads to reduced inflammation. Plus, saunas may help reduce high blood pressure and elevated pulse pressure, both of which are well-known risk factors for dementia.
But there’s another possible mechanism, and if it bears out, it could mean you can get the benefits of the sauna…without the sweat.
I’ve told you before about heat shock proteins (HSPs) — the little molecules responsible for the sauna’s soothing, stress-melting effects. But it turns out researchers have also had an eye on HSPs for Alzheimer’s disease.
HSPs can be triggered in a number of ways, including excess heat and free radicals — which you probably recognize as unhealthy.
And that’s the point. HSPs are designed by nature to come to your body’s rescue, serving as a protector and repairman for damaged proteins. Proteins are your body’s basic building blocks. And HSPs are what allow these proteins to stay functional in the face of the assaults that occur during normal, everyday living.
That’s where the Alzheimer’s connection comes in, since damaged proteins are a key component of Alzheimer’s disease.
One study found that symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice can be reduced if they have extra supplies of HSPs. That’s because these little molecules help the mice either repair or dispose of the proteins involved in Alzheimer’s.
In fact, the mice with more HSPs were better able to perform complicated mental tasks like making their way through mazes. What’s even more impressive is that their brains aren’t riddled with those beta-amyloid plaques that are typical of Alzheimer’s-diseased brains.
Another study — this time a systematic review of previously published research — backed up the findings of that mouse study. The consensus of the 40 papers reviewed was this: Heat shock proteins help the body deal with the root causes of the loss of cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease — damaged proteins, plaque buildup, synapses dysfunction, and more.
The miracle brain protector hiding in your kitchen scraps
It probably goes without saying that we don’t have an unlimited supply of HSPs. In fact, they naturally decline with age. So any strategy that triggers the release of more heat shock proteins is going to do your body some pretty big favors — including protecting your brain.
But the good news is, you don’t need to spend all day sweating in a sauna to manage this feat.
Exercise is one effective way to trigger HSP release. Calorie restriction is another — which explains, at least in part, why these strategies have shown such promising results against aging in studies. But neither of these approaches exactly offer quick results.
There’s a third way, though. And it comes from an unlikely source: the stems of asparagus (you know, the tough parts you chop off and toss in the compost). A novel extract from these kitchen scraps is proving to be a secret weapon in the quest for more HSPs.
Here’s how it works. The extract, called ETAS™, is a great source of a molecule called asfural. Asfural triggers the release of a powerful, protective heat shock protein called HSP70. (And as an added bonus, it also has notable antioxidant and circulation-boosting powers.)
In other words, asfural-rich ETAS delivers a heat shock protein windfall directly to your body — along with all the stress-melting, brain-protecting, anti-aging benefits those HSPs deliver.
Except, instead of starving or sweating your way back to total rejuvenation, all you have to do is take a supplement.
Saunas are great, and if you have access to one, by all means, add it to your regular regimen. But if you just don’t like the feeling of hanging around in a hot room with a bunch of strangers—don’t sweat it. You can still up your body’s natural production of HSPs — with exercise and/or ETAS.
My general dosage recommendation for ETAS is 200 mg per day. ETAS is still on the cutting-edge of nutritional science, so sources in the U.S. are limited. Check with online supplement retailers for availability. And to read more about its other benefits, visit my website,
www.DrPescatore.com and enter “ETAS” into the search function in the top right corner of the page.
“Sauna Use Linked to Lower Dementia, Alzheimer’s Risk,” MedScape Medical News (www.medscape.com), 12/29/16
“Suppression of Alzheimer’s disease-related phenotypes by expression of heat shock protein 70 in mice.” J Neurosci. 2011;31(14):5225-5234.
“The role of heat shock proteins in Alzheimer disease: a systematic review.” J Syndromes. 2016;3(1).