Inside your brain, there’s a very small section of tissue that some researchers believe is the very heart of the aging process.
They also think this tiny but crucially important area holds clues that may lead to therapies for Alzheimer’s disease and other brain function breakdowns that plague us as we get older.
Keep reading for the full story. . .
The region is called the hypothalamus. It’s been well-established that it regulates growth, development, reproduction, metabolism and appetite while affecting our daily rhythms and how we sleep. Now there’s even more: Research demonstrates that if we want to conquer aging, this just might be the place to start.
Stem Cell Supply
According to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the hypothalamus is the mother lode of stem cells that control how fast we age. They say that these neural stem cells are responsible for forming new neurons in the brain. And their studies indicate that each of us is only allotted a finite number of these cells.
“Our research shows that the number of hypothalamic neural stem cells naturally declines (as we get older)… and this decline accelerates aging,” says researcher Dongsheng Cai. “But we also found that the effects of this loss are not irreversible. By replenishing these stem cells or the molecules they produce, it’s possible to slow and even reverse various aspects of aging throughout the body.”
The Einstein lab tests found that interrupting the hypothalamic supply of stem cells makes the aging process take off like a rocket and literally takes years off your life. But injecting extra hypothalamic stem cells into this part of the brain at middle age – or later – could potentially slow and reverse aging.1
One thing these stem cells do is release substances called microRNAs. These compounds regulate how genes are expressed. They produce what are called epigenetic effects – which means they turn some genes on and suppress the actions of others. When the hypothalamus releases microRNA molecules, they are encased in tiny particles known as exosomes – which move into the cerbrospinal fluid.
The potential for a new anti-aging therapy is exciting. The researchers believe if they can perfect a technique of inserting these types of exosomes into cerebrospinal fluid, they might slow the aging process, too — although they’re still not quite sure how these exosomes exert all of their anti-aging magic.
How to Tune Up Your Hypothalamus
While those researchers are perfecting their methods of trying to fight aging with exosomes and stem cells, there are a number of things you can do right now to support the function of your hypothalamus.
- Eat less food and stay away from junk food. Research at the University of Wisconsin shows that excessive eating and snacking sets off inflammation of the neurons in the hypothalamus. This inflammation also interferes with the way the hypothalamus controls appetite.2
- Don’t eat late at night. Many of the body’s circadian (daily) rhythms are coordinated in the hypothalamus. But when you eat late at night or at inconsistent, random times, according to UCLA researchers, you disrupt the daily rhythm of the hippocampus – the brain’s memory center. That puts it out of sync with the hypothalamus, which sticks to a more rigid cycle. The mismatch impairs memory and may have other disruptive effects, including a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease.3
- Exercise every day to keep harmful immune cells out of the hypothalamus. A study in Germany shows that exercise, even brisk walking, can potentially diminish the presence of inflammatory microglia (roaming immune cells) in the hypothalamus.4
The hypothalamus has long been known to be the center of many important functions in the body. Even your body temperature and how thirsty or hungry you feel depend on how your hypothalamus is functioning. So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that as studies close in on what makes us age – and how to slow that process – this part of the brain is now a major focus.