The Healthy Hedonist

A fun lover's guide to great health

hedonism, n. the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence

- The New Oxford American Dictionary

My Mind

How can I maintain mental clarity and efficiency as I get older?

What do 678 nuns have to say to healthy hedonists?

The 678 nuns of the School Sisters of Notre Dame nuns are participating in a landmark study of Alzheimer's disease.

The study results so far show that nuns who attended college, read often, do puzzles and express positive outlooks on life seem to fend off the symptoms of the disease more successfully. This was proven by one nun whose brain, after her death, was riddled with Alzheimer's plaques, yet she had remained mentally active and showed no signs of dementia before she died of a heart attack.

The nuns were asked to participate in the study because they share many similarities in lifestyle and diet. These similarities allow researchers to assess a fewer number of variables than in most epidemiological studies.

The long term study, which started in 1986, has already found that upbeat attitudes and mentally active lifestyles can forestall many of the devastating effects of the disease.

Since the study began, the nuns agreed to take mental tests, fill out questionnaires and donate their brains after they die. The brains will be examined for the telltale plaque and tangles that are the definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer's disease. The common joke at the nuns' retirement home is that their souls will go to heaven, but their brains will go to Kentucky, more specifically, the University of Kentucky which is conducting the study.

The study results have been described in a book called Aging with Grace by David Snowden, the researcher who launched the study.

Other research is showing that even mild nutritional deficiency can cause subtle changes in brain chemistry and mental ability that affects mood, mind, memory and behavior.

According to Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., one of the world's foremost researchers in the field of human nutrition, "oxygen rich tissues of the brain can be damaged by free radicals…if they are not adequately detoxified by the liver." As the liver's detoxification processes are nutritionally driven, the correlation between diet and liver and brain function is strong. The good news is that healthy hedonism is all about finding the tasty, convenient ways to make this happen, and you don't have to live like a nun either!