It’s no secret that as we age, not only can our physical abilities decline, making it harder to get around, open that pickle jar or simply get out of a chair, but our mental abilities can go downhill with them.
Things we used to know become more difficult to recall. We misplace small items, like our keys and phones. Names can make it to the tips of our tongues, but our brains just can’t connect the dots.
But what if there was a way to turn back time, enhance cognition and maintain a sharp brain even into our 80’s and 90’s?
That’s exactly what three separate research teams think they’ve found in a single factor swimming through our blood.
The secret blood superpower
Each team had begun their research with one goal — discover exactly why certain interventions have been found to enhance cognition in seniors.
Young blood, exercise and a relatively unknown longevity hormone called klotho.
Separately, each of these was proven in past studies to offer major brain benefits, yet scientists had yet to explain how they worked.
However, what was surprising is that the scientists discovered that there was a single factor behind all of them — platelets.
“When we realized we had independently and serendipitously found the same thing, our jaws dropped,” said Dena Dubal, MD, PhD, UCSF professor. “The fact that three separate interventions converged on platelet factors truly highlights the validity and reproducibility of this biology.”
Specifically, the teams were able to show that platelet factor 4 (PF4), a type of blood cell that alerts the immune system when there is a wound and helps to form clots, was at the root of the benefits of each.
It turned out that PF4 is also a cognitive enhancer. When exposed to it, old mice recovered the sharpness of middle age and young mice actually got smarter!
“Young blood, klotho, and exercise can somehow tell your brain, “Hey, improve your function,” explained Saul Villeda, PhD, associate director of the UCSF Bakar Aging Research Institute. “With PF4, we’re starting to understand the vocabulary behind this rejuvenation.”
So, how can PF4 work to make your brain younger?
#1 – Calming the fires of inflammation
Research has shown that when an aging animal is given young blood (or when old blood is rejuvenated by enhancing stem cells), the animal becomes more youthful. Its muscles become more resilient. And its brain becomes more capable of learning.
This is all thanks to the high levels of PF4 found in young plasma.
“PF4 actually causes the immune system to look younger, it’s decreasing all of these active pro-aging immune factors, leading to a brain with less inflammation, more plasticity and eventually more cognition,” Villeda said. “We’re taking 22-month-old mice, equivalent to a human in their 70s, and PF4 is bringing them back to function close to their late 30s, early 40s.”
#2 – Ferrying klotho’s signals
Klotho is an anti-aging factor produced by your kidneys.
Higher levels of klotho our bodies make when we’re younger help support better blood pressure, help muscles regenerate and keep insulin in check. And klotho enhances cognition in young and old animals, making the brain more resistant to age-related degeneration.
Yet, klotho never actually reaches the brain itself… instead, it triggers a release of platelets, loaded with PF4.
According to the researchers, this PF4 release has a dramatic effect on the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for making memories, where it enhances the formation of new neural connections at the molecular level.
#3 – Bringing the benefits of exercise
We all know that exercise can keep the mind sharp for decades.
Yet, most of us attribute its benefits to an increase of oxygen to our brain or other factors.
However, the researchers were able to show that the real secret behind the brain health benefits of physical activity is the release of PF4 into the bloodstream following exercise.
“For a lot of people with health conditions, mobility issues or of advanced age, exercise isn’t possible, so pharmacological intervention is an important area of research,” said Tara Walker, PhD, professor of neuroscience at the University of Queensland. “We can now target platelets to promote neurogenesis, enhance cognition and counteract age-related cognitive decline.”
Powering up your platelets
So if you want a younger brain at any age, the key is in your platelets.
A few tricks to power up your platelets, and your PF4, include reducing inflammation to support healthy, rejuvenated blood stem cells.
It’s also possible to boost klotho which decreases with age. Exercise is a great way, but some supplements have been known to help including:
Cordyceps – This fungus has been found to increase the expression of the Klotho protein.
Gentian root – May help stabilize the klotho protein after its production to increase its expression.
Vitamin D – A study has shown correcting vitamin D deficiency may prevent the natural reduction of klotho in adults over 60.
Probiotics – It’s been suggested that enhancing the diversity of beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome can have a positive influence on klotho levels.
The Mediterranean diet – Has been found to have a positive effect on klotho levels, which is not surprising considering it’s a “blue zone” diet tied to healthy longevity.
Blood factor can turn back time in the aging brain — EurekAlert!
Effect of vitamin D supplementation on klotho protein, antioxidant status and nitric oxide in the elderly: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial — European Journal of Integrative Medcine
Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and Soluble Klotho Level: The Value of Food Synergy in Aging — Journal Nutrients
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