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Aging Well: Memory and Movement
Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa

Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., is the founding director of the Acupuncture, Stress Medicine and Chronic Pain Program at the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix. He is a conventionally trained American-born physician with an unconventional appearance and way of life. As a practicing Sikh, he wears a white turban and follows a holistic lifestyle that includes meditation, yoga, and vegetarian living. In his book Brain Longevity, he details the latest findings on brain research and offers a four-step plan for combating memory loss. Body & Soul caught up with him in Arizona.

"The greatest risk factor for developing memory loss is age, and there's nothing that anybody can do about that. As we age, the risk increases. For those 85 and older, there's a 50 percent chance of developing memory loss. Other risk factors include family history and certain types of genetics. However, there are also risk factors that we can influence, such as stress, poor diet, and lack of exercise.

"The first principle of brain longevity is that the brain is flesh and blood like the rest of the body. In fact, what works for the heart, works for the head, with some variation. That's very important. The latest research shows that people who have a higher-fat diet and consume more calories are prone to develop many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and now Alzheimer's disease. Countries with the highest intake of fat and calories have the highest incidence of Alzheimer's.

"Stress is a key risk factor for memory loss. Cortisol is a hormone released in response to chronic unbalanced stress that acts like battery acid in the memory center of the brain, destroying brain cells over time. When we lay down initial, or short-term memory, this involves the hippocampus or the memory center, which is very sensitive to cortisol. But it's been shown that even the most simple, basic relaxation or meditation technique will lower cortisol and improve many areas of mental functioning."

In addition to the all-important stress management component of Dr. Khalsa's brain longevity program, there is also nutritional therapy that includes dietary change, the use of natural medicinal tonics, and nutrient supplements. Exercise is another key aspect of the plan, and along with a cardiovascular regimen, Khalsa also includes mental and mind/body exercises. The final part of his program is pharmaceutical medications, though for many people, especially those who have only mild age-associated memory loss or people who are seeking only to improve their cognitive function, pharmaceutical drugs may not be required.

"Every patient that I've ever seen with memory loss has a low level of the hormone DHEA. It's a very mild male hormone, and as it goes down from its peak at age 30 to around age 80, what happens is degenerative diseases go up, whether it's heart disease, arthritis, cancer, or memory loss. So it's believed by anti-aging physicians that if we replace DHEA levels to a point where it is at age 30, we can in fact reverse some of these findings," says Dr. Khalsa.

But he cautions against the unsupervised use of some newly available substances. "What really bothers me the most is that anybody can go into a health food store and start taking DHEA. With DHEA there's a very real concern because it affects a man's prostate gland. It's extremely important to monitor the patient's blood levels and the function of the prostrate."

"People get excited when I talk about drugs and hormones. I tell them, 'This is not a magic bullet. [They] make up only 10 percent of the program. I want you to exercise first, I want you to improve your diet, take the supplements and learn to do the meditation techniques in the mind/body exercises. Then only in certain advanced conditions, will we talk about the drugs and hormones.'"

Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

Program Description
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D.
Timeless Tai Chi
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