Tips on How to Maintain a Healthy Brain: By Dr. De Leon

I am sure everyone is familiar with the term “use it or lose it.”  Well, this has greater impact on our brains than you might imagine like our muscles in our body atrophy and become weak from disuse or lack of activity so does our brain “muscles” if you will, if we don’t challenge them on a routine basis.

In this day and age of increasing numbers of many of us living well into our 70’s and beyond the risk of developing dementia increases as we age.

However, this does not mean that we are doom to develop dementia (Alzheimer’s being the most common of all dementias but also things like Parkinson’s dementia which occurs in up to 50% of patients with PD). Yes, we all have experienced episodes of forgetfulness from time to time making us worry if this is simply part of aging or something more serious? How many times have you been looking for your glasses frantically only to discover that they have been on your face all along?

We all have experienced similar occurrences at one time or another usually because we are preoccupied with something else. But, how can we avoid such situations from becoming a frequent embarrassment or even leading to dementia?

You can prevent further unwarranted anxiety by following a few simple strategies.

Dementia implies not only memory loss but a loss of  previously acquired set of skills like speaking or being able to dress on self etc.

Here are some simple rules that might help you develop a stronger and healthier brain. It is never too late to start taking care of yourself.

First, it turns out that vitamins play a huge role in memory particularly B vitamins as well as D.  Both of which have been implicated in Parkinson’s disease. Many patients are deficient in these two crucial vitamins which could perhaps at least in part explain some of the high rates of dementia. (further studies in this area are warranted to see if there is a correlation) however, one thing is for certain that vitamins like B12 which are found primarily in dark greens, eggs, and red meat (which has the largest quantity) are essential for maintaining and improving memory, strength and balance. B12 deficiency (levels lower than 400 pg/ml) can lead not only to severe memory loss mimicking dementia but also paralysis.  So make sure you eat plenty of dark greens and meat at least once a week. Take B12 replacement if required by your physician. If levels are below the recommended 400 pg/ml, they need to be substituted intramuscularly or intranasal.

Second, we all love the sun, but lately seems like we are just not getting enough sunshine either because we are not spending as much time as we need to outdoors because of illnesses, too many indoor distractions like TV, social media, or the makeup we wear has such high UV light protection that the sunrays are not being absorbed through our bodies. But also because people over age 65 simply don’t convert sunlight to vitamin D as young people do; in fact they are 4 xs less capable of performing this activity.

Furthermore, dark skin individuals don’t absorb Vitamin D as well either. This is especially important since, recent research reveals that at least 30 minutes to an hour of outdoor activities is needed to not only improve our memories but also maintain our brain’s health. In an even more recent study released in Neurology on August 6,2014, scientists  noted that Vitamin D deficiency increased risk of all dementias if levels fell below 25ng/ml and improved over 50ng/ml (which is way above the norm). This again supports the notion that vitamin deficiencies especially in chronic illnesses like PD could be at least in part the culprit for so many of us developing dementia particularly when ½ of all PD patients are said to be insufficient, and ¼ to be deficient as per the Archives of Neurology. So, make sure you go and play outside, go for a walk. This also could be the reason why people with PD that exercise do better physically and cognitively because my moving and exercising we are stimulating production of vitamin D (this hypothesis needs to be tested as well). Also, be sure to increase dairy product intake if not contraindicated by your physician and have your levels tested at least once a year just like the B12.

I know many of us sometimes shy away from certain dietary foods because of poor GI motility from both the PD medications as well as the disease; but we may be doing ourselves a bigger disserves by not consuming enough of these products increasing our deficiencies-consult a dietician if not sure daily requirements or talk to your physician.  If Vitamin D levels are below <25 ng/ml (which is within the insufficiency level, deficiency is <20ng/ml, while normal is above 30ng/ml) as per the latest study, I suggest you talk to your doctor about replacement either with prescription or over the counter medication.

Third, most of us seem to be sleep deprived particularly those of us with PD due to pain, meds, etc. But it is important to recognize that poor sleep hygiene not only increase risk of obesity, but also leads to faulty memory. It can also lead indirectly to strokes, diabetes and high blood pressure. This is because it is through sleep that we sift through all the day’s activities and store memories and information from short term bank to long term. This of course cannot be achieved if we don’t have enough time to process all the information. Make sure you get enough sleep. If trouble sleeping talk to your physician and also may want to look at my blog for Dealing with Sleep Disorders in Parkinson’s.

Fourth, exercise your brain on a daily basis to keep fit. How do you do this? By doing mental exercises which can be done anywhere anytime. Learn a new language, make new friends, do cross word puzzles, read new books, learn new skills, take up painting, photography, sculpting, writing, anything that stimulates the brain- make sure to make it fun!

So remember, a healthy balanced diet full of greens, meat, proteins, plenty of sunshine, exercise both physical and mental along with a good night’s rest will not only prevent cognitive decline but release a new you with an  improved happier, healthier brain.


Dr. M. De Leon is a movement disorder specialist on sabbatical, PPAC member and research advocate for PDF (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation); Texas State Assistant Director for PAN (Parkinson’s Action Network). You can learn more about her work at you can also learn more about Parkinson’s disease at or at;, All materials here forth are property of Defeatparkinsons. without express written consent, these materials only may be used for viewers personal & non-commercial uses which do not harm the reputation of Defeatparkinsons organization or Dr. M. De Leon provided you do not remove any copyrights. To request permission to reproduce release of any part or whole of content, please contact me at contributor Contributor


One thought on “Tips on How to Maintain a Healthy Brain: By Dr. De Leon

  1. Thank you Dr. De Leon. Lots of good information here. Mark tells me you have emailed me but I received one email from you in July and you were checking on a dr in the Austin area for me. Thank you for all the research you do and the time you have devoted to us!!

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