When we think about health, we don’t always think about brain health. We don’t always fully understand how what we’re doing is affecting it. It’s sort of out of sight, out of mind… But in this week’s podcast, hosted by Travis Macy, we talked to Dr. Edward Park, founder of NeuroReserve about the things we can do proactively to improve brain health and potentially delay cognitive decline.
Dr. Park is the Founder and President of NeuroReserve with over 15 years of experience in the research and development (R&D) of biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, and nutritional therapeutics. He has been inspired by his experiences with his father’s struggles with Parkinson’s disease and dementia for almost two decades before passing away.
Before NeuroReserve, Dr. Park led development of nutrition-enabling therapeutics for people with severe under-nourishment caused by cystic fibrosis, short bowel syndrome, pancreatic cancer, and preterm birth. At Alcresta Therapeutics, he successfully directed the end-to-end R&D, testing, regulatory approval (U.S. F.D.A. and E.U.), and launch of RELiZORB, the first-of its-kind combination-enzyme-cartridge to support absorption of critical long-chain polyunsaturated fats for the most malnourished populations. He also worked with major pharmaceutical and health care companies as an R&D advisor with Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) Health Industries Advisory, charting development paths for vaccines, cancer therapeutics, clinical genomics operations, and in vitro diagnostics. Before PwC, Dr. Park worked at Altus Pharmaceuticals (later Alnara Pharmaceuticals) in its commercial and development teams, where he led evaluation of early-and clinical-stage therapeutics for rare diseases, pediatric growth failure, hyperoxaluria and kidney stones, and chronic pancreatitis. Ed started his therapeutics career as an R&D associate at Bristol Myers Squibb. Dr. Park holds a Ph.D. in chemical-biomolecular engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he was awarded a U.S. Department of Defense–National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research.He also holds a M.S. and M.B.A. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Travis is a 2x author, world-class endurance champion across many disciplines including Adventure Racing, 100-mile trail running races like Leadville and Leadman, Snowshoe champion, ski mountaineering, and even Burro racing. He is the host of The Travis Macy Show Podcast and a sought-after speaker including being a TEDx speaker. Travis is also an endurance sports coach and a dad to 2 children. Today’s topic also hits close to home for Travis, as his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“The Cleveland Clinic came out with the concept called the six pillars, right. And one of them is diet and nutrition, which we’ve discussed a little bit here right, and you’re talking about the other five, and the six pillars of brain health are things that people should really keep track of, from the standpoint of reducing risk for cognitive decline and disease later. And it’s a big deal because a lot of people don’t think about taking care of their brains, like they do their heart, like they do their skin, right, we want to look good things like that, our muscles, so taking care of the brain is important. So they created this framework. Diet is one, exercise a second one. So, exercise is big. There’s a lot of research in that area, as far as being neuroprotective.”– Edward Park, Ph.D., M.S.
- Dr. Park’s inspiration for creating NeuroReserve
- Experiencing neurodegenerative diseases in a parent
- Focusing on diet improvement
- Preventing cognitive decline with good nutrition
- The mind diet
- The six pillars of brain health
- Six pillars of lifestyle medicine
- Exploring less mainstream health ideas (fads)
- Optimizing the basics for your health
- Learn more about NeuroReserve
- Check out Travis Macy’s podcast
- Related podcast: Lifestyle Medicine and Brain Health with Dr. Brian Asbill
- Related podcast: The Expectation Effect with Author David Robson
- Sign up for my weekly newsletter!
Travis Macy: Hey, Sonya Ed, so great to be here with both of you. You are both health and wellness experts who know a whole lot more about this stuff than me and I’m just really honored to get to have this conversation about brain health and really kind of what we can do to prevent and or slow down cognitive decline. So, Dr. Park, do you want to kick it off? It’s a hard question, but I really believe and, I think probably Sonya does as well with her show in her work, when you have something hard, you just go into it head on, and oftentimes, talking about that very directly is the best way to approach it. So tell us your story with your family and cognitive decline, dementia, etc.
Dr. Edward Park: Yeah, well Travis, first of all, thanks so much for having me on your show. I mean, it’s great to be here. Great to be with you, Sonya. And really looking forward to your thoughts on everything that we speak about today, when it comes to, especially plant based nutrition and things like that. And especially Travis, getting more into and just really obviously, just really advocating really strongly for the Alzheimer’s community out there with the release of your new book, One Mile at a Time, and everything associated with it. So just great awareness being built there. My name is Ed Park. I’m the founder of neuro reserve and neuro reserve is a preventive nutrition company that’s focused in brain health, and particularly brain health as people age. So, I founded the company after many, many years in pharmaceutical R&D. But the main reason for founding it was really my own family experience, which we can get into a little bit. Given the whole experience and, and putting together the concept for what I wanted to do in the field, really wanted to help create a new preventive standard of care, we can call it a standard of care, a new preventive standard of care for neurodegenerative diseases. And I think, as we talk more today, we’ll see, that’s been happening in a lot of different places, and a lot of different areas of research. And it’s going to all start coming together over these next 10 years, I’m convinced of that. And so nutrition is going to be a big piece of it. So if you want to get me to get into my background or?
Travis: Or maybe just your family story, like what was it that that got you interested? I know that your family has had to walk a hard road with this exact subject.
Dr. Park: Yeah, yes. So when I was a teenager, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and that is a neurodegenerative disease similar in respects to Alzheimer’s. There’s a lot of crossover. And when people talk about neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, like Parkinson’s, like Lewy Body dementia, like Frontotemporal dementia, they all fall under this big umbrella called dementia, right. And they all have this crossover. It’s nobody ever really has a pure type of dementia, right. They’re all kind of a mix of a lot of things. When my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 48. that’s primarily at the beginning of movement disorder, where there’s lots of tremors, but it eventually turns into cognitive decline. And then what it converted to for my father was Lewy Body dementia. And Lewy Body dementia and cognitive decline combined with that, obviously led to a place where my mother was taken care of him pretty much it pretty much full time. And obviously, you couldn’t work anymore. And 48 is a really young age to get diagnosed with these sorts of diseases. So that was just devastating. I mean, that was a tough experience. There weren’t as many resources back then. It was the early 90s so there was really nothing. I mean, nobody knew anything about Lewy Body quite frankly. There’s just a whole bunch of hallucinations, a whole bunch of really real hallucinations like, very vivid, that people would be coming into the house, they’re up in the attic. My father would be just absolutely 110% convinced there are people looking into windows in our house, running around the outside trying to get in, right. And of course, we as a family didn’t know how to deal with it very well. We just kind of said, oh no trying to convince them they’re not there, right. But that just created more agitation, and it just got worse and worse from there. So you can imagine and that combined with cognitive decline, and you can imagine the stress that my mother was under. I went to college nearby, and I was back and forth. But then I went out to East for grad school and we were flying back and forth a lot, especially as my father came near to the end of his battle, and that was after 19 years, at the age of 67. So there’s no other reason why we’re talking here on this podcast, other than that shared experience of watching, kind of going through it with our families at seeing the whole evolution take place and understanding what really the stakes are for brain health and how it impacts the whole family. This is not just emotional, it’s psychological. I’ve carried a lot of this with me throughout my life. Also financial, I mean, it has a huge toll on family finances and things like that. So that a lot of people have the same story. So there’s nothing too unique about me, I’m just kind of voicing out what my family has been through.
Travis: Thank you for sharing that, Dr. Park. And it really hits home for me personally. My grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was a teenager and ended up moving in that same direction. And again, this was more from afar, I was in high school, and then in college, but I remember just hearing these stories about her being terrified that there were lizards on the wall. And just a lot of fear is the main word that comes to mind. And your story is also reminded me of Dr. Cindy Weinstein, who’s written a book Finding the Right Words that explores her journey with her dementia and her family. Similar kind of thing where she was away at college, and at times escaping through academia. Here’s something to focus on. I mean, if I had to guess, like, gosh, is a teenager or college student, you probably didn’t even know how this was impacting you. You’re making your way through, you’re doing your best as a family. I mean, looking back, can you put a finger on ways that it that it impacted you? Or
did academia like become an escape? In endurance athletics, sometimes they get way in and it’s like, well, am I doing this because I love it or because I’m getting away from something? I don’t know, I mean, yeah.
Dr. Park: And that’s therapeutic to some extent, yeah. Getting away and resetting. And, you know, for me, it was, there were some direct effects immediately after. When I was in high school, I was very immature, there’s a lot of shame involved in it. I didn’t want to tell you to my friends and things like that, you know, didn’t want to talk about it with anybody. As I went through college and going into my early work, and all that, things like that, I started to realize that the caregiving aspect, which is so important, right, and what my mother was doing, and what I could do when I was at home and things like that, is the relationship that is love. That is, that’s everything, right? So that’s what it’s all about, really, when it comes down to it. So indirectly I mean I went into pharmaceuticals, so I kind of wanted it to go into like a field where I can kind of control if you will, are kind of stuff but I didn’t want to touch anything in neurology, so that’s a psychological impact. Right? So I just didn’t want to do anything there. I was freaked out. The only thing I did psychologically is I would go to the neurologists every like six months or so if I had a twitch in my finger something like running over and just say tell me I’m okay, please tell me okay. Do a workup on me, make me walk up and down the hall. Put those needle looking things on my to see if I react to stuff like that. And they’re like, okay, you’re okay. Okay, you can go home now. And eventually as I transitioned into my 40s, so now I’ve giving away a little, transition in my 40s that a lot of things started catching up with me actually. Diet was a big one. Actually, I didn’t have the best diet. I didn’t pay much attention to my diet at all. I used to be a competitive swimmer. So I’m not nowhere near the levels of like you and Sonya, I mean Sonya, like not biking everywhere. But I competitively swam. I feel like I did okay there, but my diet was really bad and it really caught up with me. There were a couple of different health issues that I had to work through.
Sonya: Can you say what you mean by when you say my diet was bad? Because I think that bad is a subjective term. So just to define…
Dr. Park: Oh, yeah, yeah, well, the thing is, I feel like, well, now, I pretty much know that I grew up… I would eat spam a lot. I mean, think about that for a second. So I mean, like, that’s the level of saturate and just felt really bad. On top of that, what I found out later, and this is where the diet comes into play as well, is that I found out I had a gluten or wheat allergy. And I was just pounding away with the wheat. Until I found out about it and the only thing that was kind of brought me to it is the fact that I had just massive fatigue. Think about your classic work lunch that’s brought in. It’s like the Caesar salad wrap, right. And so chicken caesar salad wrap, right, and it’s got this big old thick wrap around it, and we would get that a lot. And it was 2015, 2016 when I really started realizing what was happening, and I’d have one and I would literally fall down on my face. I could not stay awake. That’s the way my body reacted to it because I could not stay awake, I literally just pass out practically. So this is all catching up with me. And then I found out later on that I had what’s it called an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease. And so that’s kind of where your body kind of starts attacking its thyroid. This could have been due to the fact that there was a lot of chronic inflammation that was driven up due to food like gluten and things like that. So I think it’s a combination of just way too much bad meats and also the fact that I was compounding problems on the gluten side. Yeah, nowhere near as much green leafy vegetables as I should be having.
Sonya: Something important is that there’s a lot of shame that people have about the way that they used to eat or even the way that they’re eating now and they realize that there’s potentially better ways to eat. So just I think that’s something for listeners to just think about. Like, it’s okay, if you were eating a certain way, and you either didn’t know any better, or that’s just what you needed to do to survive, and it’s how you move forward is what matters.
Dr. Park: Yeah, yeah. Just the start in the little steps.
Travis: Yeah. So on to that better way to eat. Sonya, I wanted to ask you, listeners will hear this on my podcast, also on the Sonya Looney Podcast, highly recommended. Your listeners on you’re probably familiar with your discussions around plant based eating, wellness, etc. For those who aren’t as familiar, what do you what do you recommend? And I also know you’ve done a little bit of research on recently about maybe plant-based diets as related to slowing or preventing cognitive decline? What should we know?
Sonya: Yeah. So I think first of all, when it comes to talking about a specific diet of any kind, it can be an inflammatory topic and labels, people don’t want to wear a label. So let’s put all that out of our minds right now. And I think that we all know that eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, and eating less saturated fats and processed foods is a healthy way to eat. I think that most people would agree with that. So for me, I’ve changed my diet to eating a plant-based diet about 10 years ago when I saw a documentary called Forks Over Knives and it showed how plant based diets prevent and greatly reduce heart disease and high blood pressure and some types of cancers. And that was the first time that I ever linked oh my gosh, the foods that I’m eating actually contribute to not just am I skinny, or am I overweight or give me energy but they actually can contribute to these diseases from our lifestyle habits. So that’s why I started eating the way that I did. And the further down the rabbit hole I went, I started learning that wow, eating plant based or eating more plant based, actually can protect you from a ton of other things and Alzheimer’s disease and some of these diseases of cognitive decline started becoming part of the conversation whenever I started learning more and more. It turns out that saturated fats and cholesterol causes a lot of plaques. And those plaques are not exclusive to our hearts, but they also include our brains. And I don’t want to get too much into the weeds, but I’ll just leave it at that for now and see where we take it.
Travis: Nice, thanks. What do you think Dr. Park?
Dr. Park: Totally. Yeah, first of all, I totally relate. I was kind of ignorant, I guess, of nutrition in many respects, and it’s funny, because you’re not coming from the pharmaceutical, R&D standpoint, doing it for 15, 16 years. When did we ever hear about nutrition? We never did. We always said, well, there’s gotta be a drug for it. Right? Yeah. But we’re gonna make a drug, but yeah, I always looked at food,
it’s kind of like, just raw fuel. It keeps me going, maybe some complex carbohydrates. When I used to swim competitively, I used to have this mix called a Carboplex. I bet it’s probably totally debunked. But it was like this largely long, complex branch carbohydrates, that we mix into our orange juice and stuff like that. But that’s how I looked at nutrition. I didn’t look at it as far as, wow, this can be disease prevention. This can be risk reduction for disease, it affects disease states. So that’s a big deal.
Travis: So right around that time, Ed, 2015-ish, you’re hitting your 40s you’re experienced some of your own health challenges, reflecting on your own diet. Right around then I think this, this mind diet study came out. What was that? What did it tell us? And how does it inform moving forward, what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat?
Dr. Park: Yeah. So in 2015, there were two studies that came out simultaneously. And they were done by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, which is in the Chicago area, some people may have not heard of it, but it is arguably the number one research institution for nutrition and long term brain health.
Travis: It’s not a frat house, Rush University.
Dr. Park: I know, it’s not a frat house. So Rush, they came up with this study, Martha Claire Morris was the lead author on both. She’s big pioneer in that area. And what they did is they said, what we realize that kind of like what Sonya was saying earlier, it’s kind of common sense, in the sense in that there’s a lot of things that we shouldn’t be doing, probably, and a lot of foods that we could probably eat that are beneficial for the brain. And the idea here is that there’s a lot of work that’s been done in cardiovascular health about how to eat healthy and a lot in hypertension and stroke and how to eat healthy and diabetes and how to eat healthy, but not much had been done yet about the brain, how to eat healthy for the brain. So what they did is they said, okay, we’re gonna take, they’re doing a ton of research, and I’m gonna probably completely, utterly, you know, slaughter this here, but let’s just go with it. So, they did a ton of research, and they said, okay, at the end of the day, there are two dietary patterns. One is the Mediterranean diet, which people have heard much of, and the other is called the Dash diet, which is a hypertension diet. And they mash those two together and they call it the Mediterranean Dash intervention for neurodegenerative delay, it’s a mind diet. And what did it what it was, it’s kind of a mash of those two types of dietary patterns. And they focused on some specific foods that came also from previous research that they felt from a biological mechanism standpoint will help the brain right. So they focused on 10 food you should eat, five foods you shouldn’t eat or five types of foods you should avoid or limit. And then you know, the 10 you want me to just like run through them real quick? So the 10 foods are our leafy green vegetables. So this dark green leafy green vegetables. Second berries, so they kind of focused in there on berries, not just fruits, but specifically berries. Olive oil, coldwater fish, and soy legumes, right soy beans. And they had a classification for other vegetables. So those are other colorful vegetables, right? And then that will speak a little bit more about what they bring in later as far as why they just made them a separate category from the green leaf piece. And then also I’ll say wine. But since then, they’ve kind of tempered a little bit since we’ve learned a little bit more about genetics, but wine at the time, they said one serving a day and what am I missing? Am I like seven now?
Travis: So I got it at seven. I think coffee has gotta be on there. Right?
Dr. Park: So coffee was not on there.
Sonya: What about whole grains?
Dr. Park: Thank you so much. Whole grains are very staple standard very common sense of whole grains, and nuts and poultry. So poultry to moderate extent, right. And, and the foods you should limit are those that are red meat, sweets, particularly pastries, butter slash margarine. Let’s see fried foods and cheese. And so they kind of divided those up and said, okay, let’s follow a thousand people over five years and let’s see how they eat, and let’s classify them as really good at the mind diet that we’ve just kind of invented here or really bad at it, and break them all up into groups like that. And then let’s see what happens by the end of five years in which ones have more diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or less, and the mind diet group ended up having over 50% less diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. So that’s kind of like the way you say that and in science, is that you’ve reduced risk by 50%, 53% in that case, and that was a huge number.
Travis: That’s gotta be better than most of those drugs that you made in the pharmacy.
Dr. Park: Yeah, I would think so. So yeah, that’s a huge number and they did the same type of study for Parkinson’s later on, a couple years later, and they show that it was over 40% reduction in risk of Parkinsonian symptoms. And they also did it with respect to just cognitive decline, not looking at the diseases and being diagnosed or not diagnosed, but just looking at cognitive decline. So they did tons of these tests, cognitive tests, and they saw that over that time period, people who were really good at the mind diet, basically their brains were eight years younger in age, compared to their peers, right? That’s pretty neat. I mean, aside from becoming like, a baby again, and having the super youthful brain where we just don’t know what’s going on, right? We want to have a younger brain, because we can get into brain aging later, but it’s much more desirable to have that, better cognitive ability.
Sonya: I think it’s these advanced glycation end products, these AGEs that happen from how you’re cooking food and these high heat methods of cooking food. And I did see a study where it did talk about chicken having a high amount of AGEs, but simply because of the way that people eat chicken, people barbecue their chicken under high heat, and they’ll have like chicken thighs or chicken breast so those actually have a lot of those AGEs. So looking up how online, how you can reduce eating these products could be an actionable takeaway.
Travis: Yeah, great point Sonya. Another shout out great resource, a book called The Brain Health Kitchen. This is by another kind of ally in this field. Dr. Annie Finn, MD. And it’s a cookbook, that’s also a textbook. And I love textbooks. I’m getting better at the cookbook part here, but boy, is it good. And it’s beautiful. And she talks, so we did a previous episode with Annie, she talked about those AGEs, and more or less, my understanding is like, anytime you’re like frying something, and you get the real tasty, little crispy part that just tastes so good that is the exact thing that is really bad for you.
Dr. Park: Yeah, that’s the common thing in the mind diet there, people asking can I can I fry my fish? It’s like but, uh, yeah, I mean, that sort of research was coming out at the time. I was figuring a lot of things out and realized light bulb went off in my head, because of all the changes that I made in my diet and nutrition. And I said, wow, nutrition actually does something. It makes a huge difference. So, that’s when the idea of NeuroReserve came about. So, going in the direction of attacking these diseases from a preventive nutrition standpoint. Yeah, it was a way almost, kind of like psychologically cathartically I don’t know, you know, for me to address what happened in my own family, right and just say, hey, I’m gonna do something about it. All this stuff doesn’t happen for nothing. We respond to our lives and we can respond positively or negatively? Yep, we can do something about it, or we can not or we can do something that was contrary, right. But, I said, I’m going to do something about this, though.
Travis: Yeah, I really appreciate that, Dr. Park. I mean, going back in the story, it’s sad that as a kid you had to feel the shame around stuff. We all have felt shame, it’s part of the human experience, and especially as a teenager, the things that shame us, sometimes we look back, and it’s like, oh, that really wasn’t a big deal. But the fact that you’ve been able to move into a position of power where you, you’re making a huge difference. So it’s awesome. So in addition to nutrition, we’ve got these other five pillars of brain health, what are these pillars? Who defined them? What do we know about that?
Dr. Park: Oh, yeah, the Cleveland Clinic came out with the concept called the six pillars, right. And one of them is diet and nutrition, which we’ve discussed a little bit here right, and you’re talking about the other five, and the six pillars of brain health are things that people should really keep track of, from the standpoint of reducing risk for cognitive decline and disease later. And it’s a big deal because a lot of people don’t think about taking care of their brains, like they do their heart, like they do their skin, right, we want to look good things like that, our muscles, so taking care of the brain is important. So they create this framework. Diet is one, exercise a second one. So, exercise is big. There’s a lot of research in that area, as far as being neuroprotective.
Sonya: And sorry, to interrupt here, when it comes to exercise, the CDC recommends, this is just for every person, 150 minutes of moderate exercise, which is basically brisk walking, and as little as 10 minutes at a time. But when it comes to brain health and physical activity, is the recommendation more than that? Or is that still the recommendation?
Dr. Park: There’s a there’s a study that came out just last year, by a research group at Wake Forest University. And at the research stage we’re at, we’re not at the point where we’re so mature that we can start to like, set recommendations, right, specifically for brain health. But what they did is they did a study where they were looking at even 120 minutes a week of exercise basically.
Sonya: So it’s not really that much.
Dr. Park: And that’s aerobic exercise. Yeah, it’s not much. Yeah. And this is people who are older. So a lot of the studies that are being done nowadays for exercise and brain health are typically done with people who are older. And that’s obviously because they’re going into a risk phase, if you will, the age just becomes a riskfor cognitive impairment. So,120 minutes, can’t say that’s a recommendation. But we know that helps. So you get even less than what the CDC is saying. But one cool thing is that, also what they’re doing to try and understand how exercise mechanistically affects brain performance, right? So there are studies done in younger people where they say, okay, do these tasks, we want you to try and memorize these basic things. And then right after that, I want you to exercise for 35 minutes. And then for another group, they might say, you wait and exercise four hours later. And the interesting thing is, exercise helps to lock in what you’ve learned prior to the exercise in the day, it’s cool stuff. But exercise releases so many of these neurotransmitters that help with memory formation, so maybe that’s the thing to do. Everybody should study in the morning, work out in the afternoon.
Travis: Did they look at in that same study, Dr. Park, exercise first, and then let’s say do a cognitive test or something… I know for me after exercise, man, I just feel so much more clarity, so much more calm. Focus. I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to. Do you know if that study looked at that at all?
Dr. Park: No, they didn’t actually. They were looking actually at the afterwards and it makes perfect sense. I mean, just as a very baseline exercise in the morning. I know there have been studies that show exercise in the morning is more beneficial than exercise at night for brain health. Now in the context of when the learning takes place, there’s probably stuff out there. I’m more of a nutrition guy.
Travis: Yeah. So we got nutrition, we got to exercise.
Dr. Park: Yeah, okay. The third one would be sleep. So basically just very good sleep habits. The [fourth] would be making sure that you maintain cognitive stimulation so that you’re learning throughout your life, and that you maintain that level of curiosity and exploring that curiosity to see and learning things. The next would be relationships, making sure that you maintain connections with other people. So, kind of almost thinking of ourselves like a web, we have many of those connections and those connections are strong. Yeah, and then, and then finally, the sixth one would be maintaining other health areas, making sure you’re okay, doing good in two specific areas, cardiovascular health and also metabolic or diabetes health, basically. So if you can avoid any sort of heart disease, if you can avoid or minimize diabetes, then you’re doing very a lot of good for your brain. And there’s really good reasons why, but, we can get into that if we need to.
Travis: Double click on sleep. Sonya, you’re a pro athlete, you got a podcast, you’re writing, you also have two kids three and under… sleep, how do you sleep? You got a lot going on, especially with little kids, those of us who’ve been through that, it’s intense. How do you optimize sleep? And what do you recommend to your health and wellness clients in that area?
Sonya: So first of all with sleep, it’s always been something that has been my number one priority. So whenever you hear these different pillars for brain health, and they sound very similar to the six pillars of lifestyle medicine, you have to look at your actions and ask yourself, what am I currently prioritizing? So for me, sleep has always been one of those things, minus doing the odd 24-hour race. So when it comes to children, having children, there’s a lot of things that are out of your control, and a lot of things that can be incredibly frustrating because they are out of your control. For us, sleep training our kids early was really important. And being consistent with that training has allowed us to actually get really good sleep. We wake up earlier than we want to wake up but you can control your bedtime in most cases. So making sure that you go to bed early, you have good hygiene around your devices. Like if you have a hard time putting your device down, which last night, I didn’t put my device down as early as I liked, that cost you sleep, and you can’t improve at something that you don’t measure. So without getting obsessed with the numbers around sleep, making sure that you have some sort of way of tracking it. If you don’t want to wear a device even writing down in a spreadsheet what time you woke up and what time you went to bed. And sleep to prioritize it that might mean that you have to give something up. That might mean that you don’t watch that second episode on Netflix, that might mean that you don’t stay out late with your friends, that might mean that you don’t drink as much alcohol as often. So being aware of what you’re prioritizing, and then taking those actions to make sure that they are actually a priority.
Travis: Good stuff. How about those other six pillars? We list number two, six pillars of lifestyle medicine. Do you recall those are even those?
Sonya: Yeah, so they’re very similar to what Dr. Park just mentioned. It’s nutrition, eating a predominantly plant based diet, physical activity, stress management, restorative sleep, social connections, and avoidance of risky substances such as smoking and alcohol. And just as a quick resource for people listening, there are actually doctors who are lifestyle medicine physicians that you can find at the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, who not only will be treating diseases from a prescriptive of pills standpoint, but they also might work with you to help you change your behavior. And as a health coach, that’s also what I do is I help people change their behavior. So yeah, that’s a great resource on American College of Lifestyle Medicine. And I think that that is because Dr. Park, I know that you’ve mentioned the Blue Zones before and behaviors that are done in the blue zones where people live healthily to 100 and older with reduction in a lot of these lifestyle diseases. So yeah, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and the six pillars help us with not only brain health, not only cardiovascular health, but many types of health and longevity.
Dr. Park: I was at a conference of the American Academy of Neurology and I saw this whole section there, it’s kind of growing, it’s small, but it’s growing a whole it was a session by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, but it’s kind of making its way into the mainstream you know, which is a good thing.
Travis: Yeah, yeah. Wow. Good stuff so we got we got these pillars both of those lists almost lineup maybe we should just make it seven and add don’t smoke, which seems like they just assume that everyone already knew that. We all hear whether, it’s especially the podcast world, but also in the news or whatever, these kind of more, I don’t know if I call them fads or what but like these things that you know, come across our radar, the cold therapy, heat therapy, go in the sauna for five minutes, and then the cold tub for five minutes and back and forth or the laser light therapy, these low-level lasers where you kind of get into… I’ve seen two things, one of them looks like, you know in the 50s, ladies would go into the hair salon, and they’d put that thing over their hair. Like, I’ve never actually done it,
Dr. Park: And it would make this really loud noise.
Travis: What the hell is that thing? So anyway, sucks your brain out or something. But now they have a thing where it looks just like that. And it like shoots lasers into your head. And then they have a full body one that looks like a tanning bed that you kind of get in and close it. And I’ve been in these things that, they call it laser therapy, and I don’t know, it felt great. Like, I don’t know if it’s just because I kind of got to take a nap and do some meditation or what, but these things that are on the periphery, maybe they haven’t been studied yet. What do you either or both of you, what are these things should we try? I like trying. Personally I think, it’s kind of like, as an athlete, you do a bunch of little things, and it adds up to you know, pretty soon you got a five or 10% difference. And you know, if I’m trying to help my dad slow his cognitive decline, I’m like we’ll help them do 5-10 little things. And if they add up to a bit, then it’s good. And sometimes you don’t know, but anyway, do either of you recommend or not recommend any of these sorts of thing?
Dr. Park: It’s funny, the whole concept of cold therapy has been coming to my attention more and more, and I was just thinking recently, maybe I should always just like kind of like, right before, when I wake up, I should take a cold shower, or something like that. I don’t know what I don’t know, the mechanism biology or science, right? But = the concept of cold therapy is really safe. And never gets old, in the sense of kind of almost a turning on a lot of your body processes, and basically putting you in a state where like, okay, you’re able to do better execute, from a cognitive standpoint. So I’ve been kind of learning a little bit more, or just hearing more about it from a cognitive standpoint, I’m sure there are many other benefits, but from cognitive standpoint. Turning on a lot of systems, right, to help you with your with memory, learning, things like that, and things that I’ve been hearing about how you can do it is you can take your warm shower if you want, but at the very end of your shower, blast yourself with cold water, just to wake yourself up, and it’s safe in the sense that it’s not like heat therapy, it’s not like you’re gonna burn yourself, right? It never gets old, you can always do cold, and it’s going to be okay. For your body. I mean, obviously, hypothermia is not good. Right. But a cold blast will always be okay. I think. And I heard that’s why Special Forces, right, that’s one of the ways they always keep their people cold by throwing them in the ocean, stuff like that over and over again. Right. I can’t speak directly to it, you know, but the concept of cold therapy, I think makes some sense in the sense that it alerts your entire body. When I was younger, I swam competitively at USS, we’d go out there and be 15 degrees outside and we swam in an outdoor pool, it was ridiculous in the winter, or in the morning, we run outside from locker room, we jump in the water, just like it was cold. I mean, maybe, thinking back on it now, that’s like, wow, that’s exactly what a lot of people are starting to say, is that blast of cold in the morning when you first wake up.
Travis: What about you Sonya, are you doing any of this stuff or recommending, exploring, trying these less mainstream things?
Sonya: I think experimentation and curiosity is important. But I think going back to the six pillars of lifestyle medicine, or the six pillars of brain health, are you actually doing those things? And I think that a lot of times people will look for this hack, I’ll do a cold plunge, or I’ll take this extra thing and then I don’t have to do all of the harder things which require eating healthily and going to bed earlier and taking care of your relationships like that is hard work. And a lot of us don’t want to put in the effort. We’d rather just take a cold shower, as uncomfortable as that is. In terms of the science behind those things, I don’t know is the answer. I think that if you’re doing all of these other things on these six pillars well, and you feel good about those things and then you start doing some of these other things like cold plunges or whatever and that makes you feel really good about yourself or that helps you relax. Like Travis, you said, you felt great after you did the little laser thingy on your head. If you feel good, then do it. Because as long as it’s not harmful, because there is a lot of interesting science around expectations and how we view something will impact us can actually change your psychology and your physiology. And we think of things like the placebo effect and even drugs with or even like sugar pills with an open placebo labels label saying that, hey, you can buy this, but this is a placebo, people will still experience positive benefits from that. So whether, like Dr. Park was saying, we want to make sure we’re not doing things that are harming us, but taking care of your foundation first, and then seeing how these other things impact you. And if you feel better after there could be benefits to that.
Travis: Yeah, I like it, Sonya. Whenever I hear that word hack, I’m like, man, I don’t like it. I always told like my endurance coaching clients, okay, let’s get your sleep set. Let’s get that diet set. Let’s get your mindset set in. That didn’t sound great. But then let’s go to your training. And once those things are good and consistent, then maybe we go up into like, let’s find a lighter part on your bike, or let’s do some very specialized workouts, but start with the basics. And sometimes when people try to you get solid, all these hacks, it’s increasing stress, right? Because now you have 18 hacks you got to do every day that punches into your schedule, and instead of sleeping, you’re doing all this other shit. Maybe taking things out, like what can you take away from your life? Like you said, Sonya, just sleep more or whatever.
Sonya: I think that it comes down to the philosophy around hard work. Because all of those things that I mentioned are a lot of work. And people can be averse to the idea of hard work. The idea of a hack is awesome, because it’s this quick little thing, that’s not very much work that I have to do. So it’s changing our relationship with how we view work, and how doing hard work is actually meaningful to us. And there’s health benefits and life benefits of being proud of your efforts and proud of the person that you’re becoming.
Dr. Park: Yeah, it’s about that durability of what we’re building, you know? So yeah, we can optimize I guess, but we’ll get the basics down, and we can work on the optimizations like the lasers. So for the lasers really quick. I think there is stuff for that. Actually, it’s funny that you sent me this paper, right, on red light therapy. And yeah the impact it could have on the immune system. I mean, obviously, there has to be a lot more that has to be done. But Alzheimer’s, and a lot of other diseases are driven by inflammation, and red light can penetrate deep into the body, as opposed to say, UV light, which is burns you right. So, you know, that sort of thing.
Travis: Yeah. Anyway. Yeah, that’s good. And I mean, the thing is, sometimes stuff has to build momentum before there are big studies on it. So, sometimes something is legit, even if we don’t know it’s legit yet. With one more point on the on the diabetes, blood sugar, that kind of stuff, Dr. Park, the connection between that and cognitive decline and maybe like a final, how do we inspire people if they have a family history of diabetes, or their A1C levels or other things are showing that maybe they’re moving in, in the wrong direction, how can we inspire like a real lifestyle change?
Dr. Park: Well, so, yeah, first one in connection with diabetes and brain health. So the brain uses 20 to 30% of the energy in our bodies, but it only weighs two to 3% of our body weight, right? It punches way above its weight on energy usage. And so it’s very hungry. And type two diabetes is when the body actually starts to have a lot of difficulty in processing sugar, and bringing sugar in. And obviously, then it starts to circulate in the blood because it can’t get into the cells and that’s when you have A1C right? So for the brain, same thing’s happening there. They really need sugar, they really need glucose. The brain needs a lot of glucose to operate, but the energy it needs and if they’re having trouble now, because of the diabetes that’s building up of being able to process energy, all of a sudden your brain is running on what they call a bio energetic crisis. That means that it’s just not getting enough fuel. And at some point not getting the fuel is not just like a car that’s stalled, it also means it starts to break down. So that’s the connection between diabetes and brain health. And so the thing about getting people to do more about it is that just in 2015 through 2018, there were a lot of great studies, a couple that we mentioned earlier, but another wonderful, huge study that’s really groundbreaking, where they actually, they tracked people for two years, and they made them exercise. They made them eat better. They made them watch their cardiovascular risk, all those kind of like six pillars, right? They made sure they were cognitively stimulated, and it made a difference, right? So it’s real, it could make a real difference for people and people should really let that sink in and say, wow, I can do something about it’s not just locked into my genetics. So that’s inspirational. I think for a lot of people, hopefully, they can do something about it, you can really do something about that. Like 40 to 60%, of neurodegenerative disease comes down to lifestyle, at least, yeah, at least.
Travis: Wow – 40 to 60%. And that’s, you know, especially I think that’s really inspiring for you know, folks who there’s a family history of cognitive decline, because man, it’s scary as hell, Ed, you were saying, you’re going to the neurologists every week, like, oh, my fingernail hurts, do I have Alzheimer’s or whatever? I mean, that’s a common experience, and just that fact, 40 to 60%. That’s huge. What about you, Sonya?
Sonya: Yeah, type two diabetes is reversible with diet and lifestyle. Some of these lifestyle diseases are big problems. And, Travis, like you said, bad things happen to good people, sometimes life is unfair. But being aware, having the education around what you can do, and realizing that some of these things are reversible, like type two diabetes is reversible, heart disease is reversible. And even some of these issues with that these AGEs about this protein suppression, like you can actually reduce and reverse some of this AGE damage. So keeping that in mind, and not ever it not all is lost. I think coming back to autonomy and focusing on the things that you can do, instead of looking at all these bad things happening, looking at what healthy things you can add in, diet and lifestyle change is hard. That’s why health coaches exists, it’s and that’s why a lot of people struggle to make New Year’s resolutions and to keep them it’s hard to make changes. So understanding yourself, having a good relationship with how you operate and being able to make changes based on that can be really helpful whenever you want to change your lifestyle to prevent and reverse diseases.
Travis: Yeah, I agree. It is hard. I like to tell people, it doesn’t have to be black and white. The harm reduction model, make it as better as you can. And honestly, in the end, I’ve talked with you about this Sonya, like for me and my family personally, the healthy eating journey, we’re doing our best. And one, I don’t know if it’s just a story in my head, or if it’s real life, but it’s we’re busy, there’s soccer, there’s school, there’s driving around there, there’s all this stuff. And it does, it makes it more challenging to be intentional. And I’m kind of working through how to be more intentional with it, you know?
Sonya: Yeah. And it’s hard to prioritize. I mean, if you said diet and lifestyle is my number one priority, then that would mean that you do less things in your life. But then does that even make sense? Like, we can’t just all sit down in our house and just do all of these things perfectly. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about trending in the right direction.
Dr. Park: Especially when you have the kids clamoring for In and Out Burger and stuff like that. Yeah. Actually, I was late getting on because we have a one year old. She was trying to break her way into this room, oh, hold on. You guys. Lots of priorities.
Travis: Yeah, you guys are both in that phase. Man. I know my kids at 10 and 12 now, at some point like they spend a lot of time out of the house and you can’t control everything that goes into their mouths. Yeah, so little more about NeuroReserve, Dr. Park. What should we know about your company and that product? What’s the idea?
Dr. Park: Yeah, so I mean, it gets pretty much right down to what we just spoke about, when I founded NeuroReserve, I wanted to create nutritional products to help people reduce their risks, really with an eye on prevention and really with an eye on risk reduction in the long term, not just the short term, but for the long term. And so when I got together with a lot of these got some medical advisors together and from Rush and from Cleveland Clinic, and we said, wow, all of them said the same thing. They’re like, it is so hard. We’re telling our patients and the family members of the patients with cognitive diseases or decline, to pay attention to their diet, exercise all these things, and it’s really hard. They’re like, so we get it, so we want to create something that can be a nutritional tool. That’s not meant to replace a good diet. And it’s not meant to kind of be the cheat or the hack, right, but more so just as something that can help people achieve the nutritional profile as the mind diet. And so when we also looked at what are we going to make, what are we going to do for long term brain health, we kept going back to the mind diet. That’s where the best evidence is, and diets like it, and we said, okay, let’s take this whole diet approach, we’re going to take the mind diet and break down all the foods within and break down all the nutrients that are within those food groups that are relevant to brain health. And then we landed at 17 nutrients that can be kind of encapsulated, practically speaking, and we call that product RELEVATE. And so it’s a regimen each day of one soft gel and two capsules, and it’s meant to help people close those gaps from the standard American diet. So every time we looked at nutrients, we said to ourselves, what’s the difference between the average person’s intake in North America and people’s intake who are from these like Blue Zones who are very high achievers, right, when it comes to brain health in the long run, and we found those 17 and we said, you know what, this is how we can help people get to that mind or get closer. As people work on their diet, they work on their exercise, they work on their sleep, and all those other things. It becomes a part of that tool set.
Travis: Yeah. Thanks. Yeah, the Macy family has been taking that stuff. I like it. So Sonya, how about you with as far as supplements go, whether that’s as an athlete, as very recently you were pregnant and postpartum and also as, as a woman, whether it’s related to the menstrual cycle, what are you doing to support yourself?
Sonya: Yep. I take a multivitamin every day. There’s a certain multivitamin brand that I really like Previnex, because there’s a lot of research behind it being the highest quality, most absorbable product. So yeah, I take a multivitamin, I occasionally take vitamin B 12, as a plant based person that I don’t get that from from food unless I’m eating fortified foods, which I tend to do with soy milk. And then I take a DHA and algae-based DHA EPA supplement, and I’m trying to think what else…and vitamin D. But I think something important to note about supplements is that some people are hesitant to take them. And they think, well, I should just be able to get everything for my diet. And I used to be that person that believed that. But then I learned that well, a lot of the way that we grow our food now, the soil is not as rich as it used to be and you might not be getting the same amount of nutrients and minerals from the food that you think that you’re getting. So a supplement is a good addition to add to an already healthy diet.
Travis: Yeah. Oh, nice. And how about in and around pregnancy? I don’t know they have these like pregnancy vitamins or something.
Sonya: I took a prenatal vitamin, those tend to have more folate in them. And then there’s a little bit different considerations in terms of like things like iodine and extra nutrients and minerals that you need to add if you eat plant based and you’re pregnant and or breastfeeding. But it’s funny because in pregnancy, a lot of the recommendations tell you to avoid eating certain foods and avoid doing certain things and the way that I was already eating, I didn’t have to change anything. But yeah, just being aware of the choices that you’re making, and being aware of what you need, depending on how you eat is super key. And there’s a lot of great supplements out there to help.
Travis: Yeah, yeah, well, this is all good stuff. I’m learning from both of you. I’m finding inspiration, again, like I said, personally for me just on round the clock diet and trying to be more more intentional. Final conclusions from either of you.
Dr. Park: Oh, I just say, learn about how you can take care of your brain health this is it, you can in fact do something about it. It’s so important. It is so so important. Easy to forget about because we can’t see our brains, right, we can’t see them like we can see our arms and legs and things like that. It’s not like they’re tracking A1Ca with us and things like that for brain health, although maybe in the future, they will be able to do that but not now. So it’s easy to deprioritize So really take it up a notch and follow the six pillars that we’re talking about and nutrition, exercise of their big levers, pull those, start with sleep also, pull those levers hard and you could just be doing an amazing thing for yourself your family. And I think about your father Mark, Travis, and it’s interesting, I was thinking about it before this podcast and I thought to myself, who knows, I don’t know if you’ve ever been told this before, but maybe your father’s healthy habits as far as exercise, things like that, staved it off 10 years, right? Maybe it would have been a lot earlier. So you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what the impact is, directly, right, when we’re doing these things, but when you follow these habits, you’re doing something, you could be, you could be staving things off a lot longer than you think.
Travis: So the downstream impact, it’s like parenting, like, again, back to the parenting is hard work. And sometimes maybe the impacts are downstream. Sonya, final thoughts from you?
Sonya: I’m just grateful for both of you for all the awareness around brain health. I’ve learned a lot from both of you. And I’m so sorry that you’ve had to endure the challenges in your families that you’ve had to endure. But just taking it one step further and just summarizing something that you both said is do something, doing nothing is also a decision. Doing nothing is also a decision. So do something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be changing everything all at once. But just start moving in that direction and lead by example, and great things will happen.
Travis: Huge thanks to you both Sonya and Dr. Park. Really appreciate. I think life is a team sport, and I’m very thankful that both of you are part of my team.