Train Your Brain With a New $225m Market Based on Latest Brain Health and Fitness Research

A spate of recent news coverage on brain fitness and “brain training” reflects a growing interest in natural, non-drug-based interventions to keep our brains sharp as we age. This interest is very timely, given the aging population, increasing Alzheimer’s rates, and soaring health care costs that place more emphasis than ever on prevention and changing lifestyle.

This past Tuesday, the MIT Club of Northern California, the American Society on Aging, and SmartSilvers sponsored an event on The Emerging Brain Fitness Software Market: Building Better Brains to explore the realities and myths of this growing field. Before the panel, I had the chance to present an overview of the state of the Brain Fitness Software Market.

Why are we talking about this field at all? Well, for one, an increasing number of companies are achieving significant commercial success in packaging “brain exercise”. An example is the line of Nintendo games, such as Brain Age and Brain Training, that have shipped over 15 million units worldwide despite limited scientific support, since 2005. What is less visible is that a number of companies and scientists are partnering to bring products to market with a more solid clinical validation. We estimate the US market was $225m in 2007 (growing from $100 in 2005). Whereas K12 Education used to be the major segment, adult consumers are responsible for most of that growth: we estimate the consumer segment grew from a few million in 2005 to $80 m in 2007.

Who is buying these products? Yes, of course, many adults over 50 who want to protect their memory are among the pioneers. 78 million baby boomers are eager to try new approaches. A growing number of retirement communities and nursing homes are offering programs to their residents to expand their usual fitness and social activities. And we can’t forget about K12 education: certain brain fitness software packages have shown they can help kids who have dyslexia and related difficulties.

Is there science behind these claims? Do these products work? It depends on how we define “work”. If “working” means quantifiable short-term improvements after a number of weeks of systematic “brain training” to improve specific cognitive skills, then the answer is that a number of programs do seem to work. If , on the other hand, “working” means measurable long-term benefits, such as better overall brain health as we age, or lower incidence of Alzheimer’s symptoms, the answer is that circumstantial evidence suggests they may, but it is still too early to tell.

Are there any public policy implications? We certainly believe that there are. The Center for Disease Control recently partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association to develop a comprehensive Cognitive Health road map to better guide research efforts and improve public education on the lifestyle habits that every proud owner of a brain could benefit from following. Given the high rates of traumatic brain injuries and stress disorders found in a large number of the men and women coming home from the Iraq war, the military is investing heavily in research to help identify problems to develop tools to solve them, and we expect that research will translate into wider health applications. No presidential candidate, to our knowledge, has directly addressed his or her priorities in the cognitive health realm but, given the growing importance and economic impact of brain-related disorders, we expect that to happen soon.

What are some trends that executives and investors should be looking at to understand this growing market? Let me make a few predictions:

1) An increased emphasis on Brain Maintenance, from retirement communities to gyms and health clubs. Will health clubs one day offer brain fitness programs, and perhaps “brain coaches”? We think so.

2) Better and more widely available assessments of cognitive function will enable of all us to establish an objective baseline of how our minds are evolving, identify priorities for “workouts” and lifestyle interventions, and help us measure progress. Science-fiction? Not really. there are already pretty good tests used in clinical and medical environments, the challenge will be to refine and package those assessments in a consumer-friendly way.

3) We will see more and better computer-based tools, each of which may be more appropriate to work on specific priorities. Just as we find a variety of machines in health clubs today, in the future we can expect different programs tailored to train specific cognitive skills.

4) More non-computer based tools will also provide much value. There is more and more research on how meditation and cognitive therapy, to mention 2 examples, can be very effective in literally re-wiring parts of the brain.

5) Insurance Companies will introduce incentives for member who want to follow brain fitness programs. Perhaps even companies will offer such programs to employees to attract and retain mature workers who want access to the best and the latest innovations to keep their minds sharp.

Now, this being a pretty new field, many questions remain open. For example, how will consumers and institutions receive quality information and education to navigate through the emerging research and the overwhelming number of new programs, separating reality from hype?

In summary, what were the main take-aways from the event?

1. Research indicates that a number of cognitive abilities (attention, memory…) can be assessed and trained

2. An emerging market is starting to develop-growing from an estimated $100m in 2005 to $225m in 2007, in the US alone-, and is poised to keep growing at significant rates.

3. Many companies are currently selling products direct to consumers (as well as through institutions) with sometimes unclear claims – this threatens to confuse consumers and present a major obstacle to the growth and credibility of the sector.

If you are interested in this rapidly growing field, please stay tuned! There are fascinating research reports every month.

Baby Boomer Health and Wellness Starts With a Healthy Brain

You are a baby boomer and you desire health and wellness throughout your senior years. You know that you need some sort of a plan, but how do you get started? I propose that you start at the top…the head…and focus on keeping your brain sharp. Although this focus has the added attraction of perhaps reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s (a HUGE bonus for starting here), you begin with the head because you need a brain that functions well in order to reach your goal of overall health and well-being. Also remember that medical research has linked cardiovascular problems to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, so things that are good for your heart will also be good for your brain.

Now grab a piece of paper and start to write your brain health and wellness plan down.

1.  Assess your heart’s health – Write down the following conditions. Place a P beside each condition you do not have – you will take steps to prevent developing the condition. Place an A next to the conditions you have – you will take steps to address the condition.

*  Heart disease

*  High blood pressure

*  Diabetes

*  Stroke

2.  Find out some numbers that indicate heart and brain health. Write down the following and place your numbers beside each. Maintaining healthy numbers can improve brain performance. If any of your numbers are not in the healthy range, take steps to correct them.

*  Cholesterol – needs to be less than 200 mg/dL

*  Blood sugar – needs to be less than 100mg/dL (fasting)

*  Blood pressure – needs to be less than 120/80

*  Weight – compute your body mass index, BMI, to learn if your weight is in a healthy range. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal weight. The BMI formula is: weight / [height (in inches)]2 x 703. First change the height to inches and then square the results (5 feet five inches becomes 65 inches; then 65 x 65 = 4225.) If you weigh 140 pounds, this is the calculation: 140 / 4225 = 0.033136 and then .033136 x 703 = 23.295. Your BMI is 23.295.

3.  Eat a diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids – All of the foods listed below are good for the brain. Read the suggested foods and then write down four or five foods you need to eat less often and four or five you need to eat more often. Remember that a healthy diet avoids saturated fat and cholesterol while it includes:

*  Dark-skinned fruits and vegetables – eggplant, red bell peppers, beets, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, red grapes, cherries, oranges, and all kinds of berries (blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, and raspberries). Dark-skinned fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of naturally occurring antioxidants and protect the brain from free radicals.

*  Cold water fish – tuna, mackerel, anchovies, trout, herring, salmon, sardines, and whitefish. With omega 3 fatty acids that are beneficial to cell membranes.

*  Other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids – green leafy vegetables, avocados, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, canola oil, flax seed oil, olive oil, and peanut oil. Nuts also contain vitamin E, which is a potent antioxidant.

4.   Exercise your body — Physical activity makes the heart pump faster and increases blood flow to the brain. This increased flow brings more nourishment to brain cells so that they function better. Any kind of exercise is acceptable as long as it is a moderate to vigorous activity, like brisk walking, yoga, biking, or gardening, and you do it for 30 minutes every day. Write down 2 or 3 kinds of exercise you want to try and the time you plan to exercise each day.

5.  Exercise your brain – staying mentally active will generate new brain cells and connections (even in the older brain). Try new things: play mind games, do crossword or number puzzles, take a class, go to a play, read challenging articles and books, get a new hobby. Now get your paper, list 3 things you do to stay mentally active, and write down one new thing you will try.

6.  Stay socially active – research has shown that the lonely, isolated individual is more likely to eventually develop Alzheimer’s or dementia. Stay plugged in to social activities like joining a club, seeing friends often, volunteering, traveling, etc. Grab your paper and write down one new way you will try to connect with other people socially.

7.  Work to reduce stress – Learn a relaxation technique like meditation or yoga and perform it regularly. Grab your paper and write down which technique you will learn and the time you will set aside to practice the technique.

8.  Stop unhealthy behavior – Substance abuse damages the brain and other systems in the body. Write down the following unhealthy behaviors. Place an A beside each behavior you do not participate in – you will continue to Avoid it. Place an E beside each behavior you take part in – you will take steps to Eliminate it.:

*  Smoking

*  Too much alcohol use

*  Use of illegal drugs

*  Abuse of prescription drugs

Take a look at your paper and you will see a workable plan for improving brain health. Remember that empowering the brain is very important if a baby boomer is going to achieve health and wellness. Follow the plan you have created. Change it when the need arises. You will find that you are on your way to health and wellness – baby boomer style.

Are Omega 3 Fatty Acids Used For Joint Health And Are They Effective?

Omega 3 fatty acids used for joint health is gaining in popularity as ever more people are opting for healthy, natural remedies over dangerous side effects laden pharmaceutical drugs.

The question is: do omega 3 fatty acids benefit joint health, stiffness, and aches and pains?

Although numerous studies have been done, and not all of them conclusive, overall it appears that omega 3 fatty acids does help alleviate tender joints in people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

This may actually help people who were relying on corticosteroids to reduce what they need to use.

Omega 3 fatty acids, such as those found in high quality fish oils, act as anti-inflammatories which, as anyone with arthritis or stiffness knows, is often caused or worsened by inflammation of the joints.

Even though omega 3 fatty acids used for joint health derived from fish oils can be useful, there is another natural substance that has been proven to be much more beneficial.

What is this natural substance?

It’s the green lipped mussel from New Zealand. In that country it is renowned, but less well known in the United States even though it can be purchased or obtained by people in the US.

Green lipped mussel also contains omega 3 fatty acids. In addition to certain studies of people using omega 3 fatty acids showing reduced morning joint aches, and joint tenderness, green lipped mussel has been shown to alleviate joint stiffness, improve walking pace in people with osteoarthritis, and increase the strength of grip for sufferers.

Some of these studies have been mentioned at prestigious universities in the United States, such as the University of Maryland Medical Center: http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm is one of the pages if you’re curious.

One downside reported at the University of Maryland Medical Center website is that in some participants using green lipped mussel, the symptoms can worsen temporarily before they improve. Which is a common trait with remedies for other conditions as well.

On the other hand, the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that omega 3 fatty acids may “reduce the activity of enzymes that destroy cartilage” when “cartilage-containing cells” were studied in test tubes.

If you are curious enough to think omega 3 fatty acids used for joint health is something you might want to try, our recommendation would be to find a product that contains both purified omega 3 fish oils and New Zealand green lipped mussel.

And, in addition to possible benefits for joint health and stiffness, omega 3 fatty acids have numerous well researched benefits for heart and brain health as well.

Beware of Oversimplifications – Health And Wellness

In their desire to make sense out of health information, people often oversimplify the truth. For example, potato chips have long been reputed as a junk food. Actually the quick cooking process of potato chips preserves its nutrients better than mashed, boiled, or baked potatoes. Ounce per ounce, potato chips provide more nutrients than other forms of potatoes. However, because potato chips are cooked in oil, they are high in fat and calories and are not recommended for people trying to lose weight. By being aware that the truth is not simple for most health issues, the tendency to oversimplify and over generalize health information can be thwarted.

Health Discoveries Take Time

Health discoveries often mean media headlines, but a cardinal rule of science is that findings must be replicable. Health information based on a dramatic discovery is not usually valid unless it is confirmed in several follow-up studies or experiments.

Criteria of Valid Reliable Health Information

Health information should be valid and reliable and based on scientifically controlled studies. In health research, validity means truthfulness. If a study is designed and conducted properly, its findings are likely to be valid. For example, it was found that adding vitamin E to human cells in the laboratory stimulated cell division and growth. This was used to support the erroneous conclusion that vitamin E would delay the aging process. This was not a proper generalization because a simple laboratory experiment is not a valid procedure for demonstrating something as complex as aging.

Reliability is another key criterion for evaluating health information and refers to the extent that health claims can be consistently verified. If a claim is reliable, it can be demonstrated to occur consistently in study after study. Researchers speak of findings as statistically significant when they are considered reliable. Statistical significance means that the probability that a study’s findings are due to chance alone is less than 5%. That is, 95 out of 100 times similarly designed studies would yield similar results. Because thousands of studies are performed, however, some studies that yield statistically significant results eventually prove to be wrong. Consequently it takes hundreds of studies, many of them conflicting, to create a consensus on a particular health issue. Any health claim worth considering should be based on numerous studies or experiments conducted over many years.

Health information must also pass scientifically controlled, double-blind studies. The classic study includes at least two groups in which one is an experimental group and receives some form of experimental treatment and the other is a control group and receives no treatment. The double-blind feature of a study means that neither the researcher nor the subjects know who is receiving an experimental treatment. If a researcher wanted to prove, for example, that a particular brand of soap prevents athlete’s foot, two groups would be needed. One would use the experimental soap, and the other would use a placebo or soap substitute. Researchers administering the soap treatment would not know which soap they were using, nor would the subjects in the experimental and control groups. Therefore if the experimental group has significantly fewer cases of athlete’s foot, the results can be attributed to the treatment.