Our brains have a predictable growth in physical size and mental capacity throughout our youth and an expected decline in both as we age. What we have discovered from testing humans with cognitive challenges is that our brain is actually capable of growing new connections and thus new functions at almost any age. Just as a right-hander can learn to function as a leftie after a right-sided injury, so can many areas of our brain step up and take over functions that might have been compromised by age or metabolic changes. Diagnostic imaging like x-rays and CT scans are never the ultimate answer: how many patients have I seen CT evidence of mini-strokes that they never experienced? Or they had what seemed like a stroke, but recovered completely. They recovered even if the affected area of their brain did not.
There are many ways to keep your brain healthy, appearing regularly in the press: dancing is great, as is social activity, and of course, mental challenges. Play Lumosity, learn a new language, take up a new sport. All of these suggestions are excellent and of course you will choose among those the one or ones that suit you best.
We can do the same with supplementation and prescription medication: attend to the known effects of what has been suggested to us, and figure out for ourselves if it's a valuable aid... or not!
For instance, let's talk about two commonly prescribed drugs, Gabapentin and Lyrica, both offered for relief of chronic pain syndromes. Both drugs interfere with the messages transmitted from nerves, and the intention is that they just interfere with pain messages. However, both medications have been studied to see whether they interfere with other nerve messages... such as thinking. A recent study identified the specific receptor activity of Gabapentin and clarified that the drug activity seems to include blockade of new synapse (nerve communication pathways) formation, and thus impair our neuroplasticity. Lyrica is also prescribed as an anti-convulsant, and in this study was found to impair cognitive performance, as do many other anti-convulsant medications.
Finding the Cause
Now obviously, chronic pain and seizures are conditions worth medicating, if there is no other option.
For each of the conditions listed above, there is a possible solution that not only could ameliorate the symptoms, but would also enhance cognitive function and stimulate the potential for neuroplasticity. For people with genetic methylation defects, and perhaps for others, the supplement SAMe has been found helpful to relieve pain due to peripheral neuropathy, and to provide excellent anti-aging effects on the brain, as well as relieve symptoms of depression.
Intractable seizures in children and adults can sometimes be remedied with a ketogenic diet, and extra ketones in the blood are excellent for restoring memory and invigorating brain function. (If the purely food-based ketogenic diet - which is very, very low carb and high fat - is too challenging, a moderately ketogenic diet can be supplemented to boost ketone levels. This is the thinking behind the drug Axona®, which is recommended for treating dementia, and for the impressive anecdotal success with coconut oil.
Now, if you have one of these problems, I do not suggest that you throw your meds in the toilet and dive into the alternate strategy listed above. But what I would encourage you to do is to consider, for any prescription medication you are taking: does it address the cause of the problem or only the symptom? Do you know what the cause IS for the problem? Best would be if you have a physician with whom you can explore the topic, because finding the cause can be tricky, involve some testing, and familiarity, deep familiarity, with human physiology and its many tweaks and turns.
Meanwhile, however, you can safely find ways to Feed Your Brain, and enhance your own cognitive performance and neuroplasticity.