by James Campbell

Few would disagree that a delicious, wholesome meal and a good night’s sleep are some of life’s great pleasures. But what other benefits, aside from a full belly and an energized morning might they provide? Eat, Sleep and Be Merry: What We Know About Brain Health, CaringKind’s 31st annual research meeting hosted at TheTimesCenter in New York on October 22, provided a rare look into the ways that sleep and diet affect brain health.

CaringKind Founding Director Lou-Ellen Barkan kicked off the evening by underscoring the importance of investing in research for care and imploring the audience to seek out good science when considering lifestyle choices. “Ask yourself,” she said, “is the research coming from a legitimate source and from qualified research scientists?’” If you aren’t sure the therapies you’re reading meet this distinction, CaringKind is there to direct you to the best sources of real information.

Next Jed A. Levine, in his role as CaringKind’s new President and CEO, elaborated on some of the services CaringKind provides, including the connect2culture® program, which makes New York City’s cultural institutions accessible to people with dementia. He went on to introduce the evening’s moderator: award-winning WCBS-TV medical reporter, Dr. Max Gomez.

The panelists themselves addressed how their respective areas of expertise relate to brain health. Dr. Lisa Mosconi, Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College New York-Presbyterian Hospital and author of Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power discussed the role of diet in Alzheimer’s prevention while Dr. Andrew Varga, Assistant Professor in the Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center at the Icahn School of Medicine brought to the conversation his knowledge of the effects of sleep disorders on cognitive function.

Dr. Mosconi showed how diet is relevant to Alzheimer’s by presenting two brain scans: one belonging to a person who followed a Mediterranean-style diet consisting of fresh vegetables and fish and one of a person with a Western-style diet of highly-processed foods. The brain of the person who followed the Mediterranean-style diet was visibly more full with tight ventricles, while the person who followed the Western-style diet had a brain that showed signs of atrophy and shrinking, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Varga explained the connections between sleep and Alzheimer’s through the metaphor of a tide. When you sleep, cells shrink in size, allowing fluid to enter the brain and flush beta amaloid, an important protein in the pathology of Alzheimer’s” out of the brain like waves pulling rubbish from the seashore.

The two specialists concluded the event by providing the audience with some key points to take home. Dr. Mosconi urged the audience to refocus their understanding of food to “something that has a function both inside your body and inside your brain.” Dr. Varga told the audience to prioritize sleep by viewing it as “a pillar that should be up there with diet and exercise.” In his closing remarks, Jed A. Levine managed to tie together the various threads of the wide-ranging discussion into a single, cohesive statement: “Good care is the best treatment.”

James Campbell is a freelance writer based in New York City. He holds an MA in International Affairs from The New School and has written for various academic, non-profit and human rights organizations.

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