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Dr. Majid Fotuhi: Is a memory cure mission impossible?

May 21, 2018

When Dr. Majid Fotuhi was a young boy in Iran, his father said, “Majid, our brain is amazing, and there is no limit to what you can do.”

By the time Fotuhi graduated high school in 1980, his country was at war with Iraq. Rather than face certain death in battle, Fotuhi decided to risk his life by leaving the country. He studied 12 to 16 hours a day, learning English, French and German, unsure of where his journey would lead.

After being smuggled out of the country, Fotuhi went on to receive his M.D. from Harvard Medical School as a member of the Harvard-MIT Program of Health Sciences and Technology and his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Johns Hopkins University. His curiosity about why some people have a healthy brain while others show signs of aging led to his studies on neurology, with a specific focus on the hippocampus.

Today, Fotuhi is a widely regarded authority in the field of memory, Alzheimer’s disease and increasing brain vitality in late life.

The devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which affects more than 50 million people worldwide, are often regarded as an inevitable part of the aging process, but Fotuhi says that isn’t so.

“Many of us think that when we get older, our brain function must inevitably go downhill, but that's not true,” said Fotuhi, speaking to the audience at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference. “Now we can start doing things to expand our brain.”

Is Fotuhi suggesting it’s possible to actually grow your brain?

“It is possible,” he said. “Brain health can be improved at any age.”

Fotuhi recommends embracing a healthy lifestyle that includes omega-3, meditation, learning something new every day and sleeping well. He initiated a 12-week study wherein participants incorporated these strategies into their daily routines. Using a before-and-after MRI of a participant’s brain, Fotuhi illustrated the significant expansion of the hippocampus, mirroring the brain of someone 10 years younger.

“Having a purpose in life can have an impact on your brain,” said Fotuhi. “If you are someone who feels passionate about your goals, if you have a purpose-driven life, your brain is healthier.”

Fotuhi encouraged the audience to take responsibility for their brain health.

“Think of your brain the same way you think of the health of your teeth,” he urged.

So, with the daily demands of work and life, how does one make brain health a priority? Fotuhi emphasizes reducing stress, not activity.

“You need to do what you love doing,” he said. “It’s not a matter of ‘stop working’ — you need to keep your brain active. There is a difference between being busy and being stressed out.”

Referring to his father’s early sentiments about the brain’s capacity, Fotuhi said, “Now I believe him. Even more so than I did back then.

“Use it or lose it applies to your brain more than it applies to your muscles,” he continued. “The moment you stop using your brain is the moment you go downhill.”

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