Mind Over Matter: Northwell Speaks on Keeping Your Brain Healthy

On June 28, the Northwell Health Katz Institute for Women’s Health presented a free online seminar, entitled “Mind Over Matter: Keeping Your Brain Healthy at Every Stage of Your Life,” with Krista Lim-Hing, MD, head of Neurosciences ICU at South Shore Hospital; and Penny Stern, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACEOM, a preventative specialist at the Katz Institute, who led a candid webinar discussion on that heavy weighted pink matter hanging out in our heads, also known as the ever so important, can’t thrive without it, brain. Different conditions that effect the brain that were discussed were stroke, dementia, other brain hemorrhages, DVM’s, TBI’s, and neuromuscular conditions such as ALS and Graves Disease.

Conditions of the Brain: The first condition that was discussed was stroke, and how they are prevalent in this country. Hing shared that every 40 seconds someone in the United States experiences a stroke, and that they are often of vascular cause. They went onto define the term, “ischemic” that is often associated with stroke, saying that means lack of blood flow, and risk factors cannot be ignored.

One of the big predictors of stroke is cholesterol, and watching it can be highly preventative. It’s crucial to be sure to have blood pressure checked, eat a healthy diet, and take all prescribed blood pressure medications. Stern emphasized that there is no shame in taking necessary medications for blood pressure stability.

When asked “My family members have had strokes, should I worry?” Hing responds that strokes themselves are not inherited, but the risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes can be. This of course stresses the importance of being proactive.

Conditions that raise your chance of stroke: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high blood sugar, as well as contraception meds are not good for blood vessels. Get your body mass index checked, and stay hydrated was the strong message.

One of the easiest ways to be proactive in the fight against stroke is to have your carotid artery checked out by your physician.

Cause and Effect: Spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injury are often the result of an accident. The key prevention here is keeping one-self out of harm’s way as best as possible and to protect your head with a helmet whenever necessary. Cancers can, of course, go to these areas as well and cause damage.

Headaches can be scary to have in general, but when should you seek help for one? Both doctors agree that headaches that come on suddenly like a sledgehammer, that are also called “thunder clap headaches,” need to be addressed immediately; and any headache that you’ve never experienced before. If excruciating, always seek help. Those with chronic headaches should keep a headache journal.

If you’ve heard the term arteriovenous malformation (AVM), it is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins that disrupts normal blood flow and oxygen circulation. They can be found many places in the body, not just the brain, and are often incidentally found when other tests are being performed. Surgery is needed sometimes, but not always.

“Hormones have an intense effect on the body,” says Hing. When high estrogen pushes the body to burn sugar, such as during pregnancy, periods and menopause, the brain changes. Brain fog is real!

Stern says that more than 70,000 American adults do not get enough sleep. Raise your hand if you’re included!

For those concerned about dementia or challenging their brain in general, Stern suggests changing things up. There are many ways that people can actively and proactively help the brain from aging. Even changing the route you normally take to work can help your brain find new pathways. Other things that can help create new brain pathways are playing games such as chess or scrabble and learning a new skill.

Prevention Matters: The good news takeaway from the session was that if we take care of ourselves, our brains will continue to take care of us. Get regular physicals, exercise at least 150 minutes a week, keep a healthy diet, get adequate sleep (at least six hours a night), drink fluids and minimize stress.

Hing reminded the viewers that our brains are “an incredible organ.” Let’s pay it some reverence.