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How to Keep Your Brain Young and Healthy | Louisa Nicola

Episode 41, duration 1 hr 4 mins
Episode 41

How to Keep Your Brain Young and Healthy | Louisa Nicola

Neurophysiologist and human performance coach, Louisa Nicola is the founder and head performance advisor of Neuro Athletics - a consulting firm that boasts the best athletes in the world. By using science driven data from EEG scans, labs tests and cognitive assessments, Louisa has a first class ticket inside the brain of elite NBA and MLB stars. Louisa graduated from the University of Sydney medical school with a master of medicine in neurophysiology and is currently completing her doctorate studying the effects of resistance exercise on the brain.

In this episode we discuss:
– Why exercise is the best prescription drug for brain health.
– Can exercise decrease your risk for Alzheimer’s?
– How to optimize your environment for cognitive function.
– What are the best hacks and tricks for brain longevity?
– How to improve the quality of your sleep.

00:00:00 Introduction

00:02:30 Alzehimer’s & the Healthcare System

00:04:30 What is Alzheimers?

00:09:30 How can you take care of your brain?

00:18:30 How do you improve the quality of sleep?

00:28:00 Tips for staying asleep

00:29:00 Nutrients & supplements

00:31:00 Ketones

00:34:00 Food & exercise timing around sleep

00:42:00 Going to the gym for brain health

00:44:00 Negative affects on the brain

00:51:00 What’s on the horizon?

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Louisa Nicola, Dr Lyon

Dr. Lyon (01:00:00 -> 01:00:01)

Louisa Nicola.

Louisa Nicola (01:00:01 -> 01:00:02)


Dr. Lyon (01:00:02 -> 01:00:28)

Thank you. Well, it’s good that I got your name right? Um Thank you so much for coming on. I am thrilled to be able to talk about all things brain health, brain function and you have a very unique perspective because you combine performance with disease prevention. I mean, your scope of interest and experience is, is really broad. So I, I would love for you to share a little bit about your main interest and, and how you got here.

Louisa Nicola (01:00:28 -> 01:01:00)

Yeah, I’ve always been obsessed with exercise. I was a triathlete actually. So I raced for Australia. Um I always say that that was like 40lbs ago because I definitely am not a triathlete anymore. But um back in my day, that’s when I really understood how incredible exercise is not just for performance but also for the brain, which is my first love. Um So I started off actually as a high school teacher, I did exercise physiology and then I moved into a, a masters of pure mathematics.

Dr. Lyon (01:01:00 -> 01:01:01)


Louisa Nicola (01:01:01 -> 01:02:00)

I know so, really understanding algorithms and that was my first, I was actually working with medical professionals looking at algorithms of neuronal firing and things like that. So I became obsessed with the brain during that stage of my life was in my very, very early twenties and then moved into uh medicine and neurophysiology. And just Uh the things that I’ve seen uh from a disease prevention perspective is just unbelievable. Uh my main interests are Alzheimer’s disease, neurodegenerative diseases, not because of anything that’s happened in my family. Uh more so because it is devastating that currently worldwide, we have 50 million people affected by Alzheimer’s disease. And that number is said to triple by the year 2050. And when I see this as an epidemic, a worldwide epidemic to a developed nation, I do believe that it can be prevented.

Dr. Lyon (01:02:01 -> 01:02:15)

I I couldn’t agree with you more. And when you think about, well, number one, those numbers are staggering 50 million people. And then thinking about how that is going to triple. This is a disease of epidemic proportion.

Louisa Nicola (01:02:16 -> 01:03:48)

But you know what’s actually even more devastating and kind of crazy. The, It’s going to be the collapse of the healthcare system. It costs the healthcare system indirect cost $305 billion. Alzheimer’s disease is costing the us health system $305 billion. I think cancer is only around 70 billion. So what this is unbelievable. So it will be the collapse of the health care system if we don’t first understand it. And I always get asked, well, Louisa, why are so many people getting this disease. Is it genetic? Is it? What is it? And why is it preventable? Well, first of all, if we have a look at Alzheimer’s disease and you know a lot about this, I know that, but we, we first look at the umbrella term, which is dementia. We’ve got dementia with Louis bodies. We’ve got Parkinson’s dementia, we’ve got frontotemporal dementia. Alzheimer’s disease sits underneath that and that’s the most, uh widely diagnosed. We know that there’s around 30 genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. But did you know that 90, around 97% and I’ll be actually a bit lean. So I don’t, you know, get any backlash, let’s just say around 90% of all of these cases are preventable. Really, If you have a look and we know this through uh analysis, we know that these, that Alzheimer’s disease, The percentage that is driven by genetics is only around 3-5%.

Dr. Lyon (01:03:48 -> 01:03:49)


Louisa Nicola (01:03:49 -> 01:03:51)

So, why is the other 97% getting it?

Dr. Lyon (01:03:52 -> 01:04:32)

Yeah. It’s a great question. And one that I hope you’re gonna answer for us. And one of the things I think it’s important to recognize is that those that are genetic. Typically, it’s much early on, it’s much earlier. You’re talking about the age between maybe 30 to 60 at the latest, this early onset dementia, which has a very strong genetic component. But all the rest there, there are behavioral activities that play a role and prevention. So when we’re talking about Alzheimer’s, can you kind of define that for us as it relates to, what are some of the symptoms? How slow is the progression? What does that look like?

Louisa Nicola (01:04:32 -> 01:09:13)

It’s interesting because it actually can stop In the 30s, just as you said. And we know that our brain begins to atrophy at the age of 30. So we actually start to get a decline in the amount of neurons in our brain that’s due to a, the natural brain aging process. But B lifestyle factors the way we are living and I generally categorize that into three domains, which we’ll go into later. But let’s just talk about Alzheimer’s disease, which is, if you can imagine cognitive impairment, which starts in your thirties and then over time accumulates and you end up getting diagnosed at around mid sixties to seventies and beyond with Alzheimer’s disease, which there’s two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease that’s really prevalent. And they are the accumulation of these proteins in the brain, which is tau, which ends up being Tau tangles. And then we’ve got Amyloid Beta. Here’s the thing, these the, they’re acting as the villains, these two proteins act as the villains. We hear about Amyloid Beta. And we think, oh my God, we don’t want this, but they are, they reside in the brain. In fact, there is a difference between the two we’ve got first and foremost Amyloid which resides outside of the neuron and then we’ve got the tau proteins which ends up being the tangles, the tau tangles, they actually reside inside the neuron. So let me just do a brief uh neuroanatomy just for people listening. Um And I do this as well for a living. I, I teach people about the brain, which I love. So your brain is around 3lbs and it’s like jello. So it’s quite malleable, you know, you, you can stick your fingers inside it just like jello. And it’s made up of a bit of protein, but it’s made up of mainly fat and water. We have cells just like the cells in our body. We have them in our brain and they’re called neurons. The only difference is the neurons in our brain have these long axons that come off them and then these dendrites like little feet, these dendrites connect with other neurons and that’s how we produce our thoughts and our actions through chemical responses. We have around 87 billion neurons in the human brain With each cell making 15,000 to 30,000 connections. That’s wild, right? That’s why we say that the brain is so energy consuming. It takes around 25% of the total energy expenditure. But of course, it does. If you just do the math on that, it’s like I, I I can’t do that fast math like 10 to the power of 50 something. But it’s just unbelievable the amount of connections that we’re seeing. So you think 50,000 to 30,000 connections per neuron, those start to die off. And when we see cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, you’ll see a difference between these different dementia states. Alzheimer’s disease is, you’ll see a per person start to get short term memory complaints. Their long term memory is intact but they start to forget things such as a person’s name, the street that they live on, uh the keys, you know, where are my keys? I can’t find my keys or I had this conversation with. So and so yesterday, but I’m forgetting the conversation. That’s, that’s generally the the first symptoms that happen. But let’s go back to the brain because I’m getting off topic. Let’s just stick to the brain for a moment. So you’ve got these neurons and, and these, we’ve got our cell body and then in these axons right at the end of the axon, we’ve got these things called microtubules and they’re acting as scaffolding for the, for the axon. And with these microtubules, you’ve got around them wrapped around them is towel. And what happens is when we have lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrition. Uh A lot of stress, we end up getting the breakdown of this towel. And when the breakdown of this tower occurs, we see the collapse of these microtubules and this is what ends up forming these tau tangles. So this is happening with inside the neuron. But then you’ve also got outside of the neuron, you’ve got this Amyloid beta. And this is basically what happens is it blocks the connections between the neurons. So you’ve got two things happening here and they’re both quite scary. Um, but yeah, that’s

Dr. Lyon (01:09:13 -> 01:09:26)

and every parent is thinking, oh my gosh, that’s me. No sleep. Can’t find keys, can’t remember names. Um What can we do about prevention and taking care of our brain in that way?

Louisa Nicola (01:09:27 -> 01:10:21)

Well, first thing to say is it starts in your 30s. Now, I work with a uh a specific type of population and generally the people I work with are in their thirties. And they say to me, I’m young and I say it happens in your thirties, these neurodegenerative disease states. It’s not a moment in time which a lot of people think they think 70 years old Alzheimer’s disease Actually, it happens around 20-30 years prior to diagnosis. So we really need to be on top of these lifestyle factors. There’s many, there’s around uh I would say around 25 risk factors. Genes, genetics is always going to be one. We know that. Uh but the three main domains that I think that everyone can be working on the three things is sleep and then exercise and nutrition. So let’s talk about them. Sleep is fundamentally, in my opinion, the most underrated high performance tool that we have.

Dr. Lyon (01:10:21 -> 01:10:23)

Ok, you guys, you guys heard it here,

Louisa Nicola (01:10:24 -> 01:10:43)

I often fight with myself. Uh, I study which we were talking offline. Um, I’m currently studying the effects of exercise induced myo kinds and how they have an effect on the brain. And I absolutely love that. So, I fight with myself thinking what’s more important is it exercise? Is it sleep? So, I have that constant back and forth

Dr. Lyon (01:10:44 -> 01:10:45)

I actually do too.

Louisa Nicola (01:10:45 -> 01:10:47)

Really? I love that. Nutrition is still back here.

Dr. Lyon (01:10:48 -> 01:10:49)

Yeah. I mean, I do too.

Louisa Nicola (01:10:49 -> 01:14:24)

Yeah. So sleep is incredible and it’s free. But as we age, we also see a decline in our sleep. It just happens through hormones, especially for women who are perimenopause and post menopausal women. We see a decline in their sleep performance, but there’s around four stages of sleep. So let’s let’s deconstruct them. You’ve got stage one and this is when we’re just about to, we’re falling asleep. Stage two we’re in light sleep. So the knock of a wall or maybe someone beeping can wake you up. Then we move into the, the really important stages. We’ve got stage three and stage four. Now stage three is called deep sleep. It’s also actually called slow wave sleep because if you’ll see, and you know, I’ve been um we had to do sleep medicine and I was in a sleep lab at P S G and you see these big long huge waves and that’s indicative of slow wave sleep. That’s where it gets the name from. And during this stage your brain actually goes through many different manufacturing processes. The first thing that happens is we get a lot of secretion of hormones during deep sleep. So our body sensors, our brain sensors, OK, Louise is in deep sleep. I’m going to release hormones. I’m gonna release IGF- one or growth hormone, which is you would know responsible for protein synthesis. So we really get regeneration of muscles during that stage. So hugely important for athletes. If they’re exercising, if you want to get the effects of a a hypertrophy training session, you want to make sure you’re sleeping, recovery isn’t taking place during the ice baths, it’s taking place during sleep. We get the release of testosterone estrogen. So these are fundamentally important for human growth, human development. But then we go through a really beautiful process which was only discovered um out of Rochester University not too long ago. Uh We go through a glymphatic clear process. So just like our body, we have a lymphatic system. So in our body, we have a lymphatic system that clears out, clears out all the gunk, right? We have that in our brain too. So during deep sleep, our brain goes through this sewage system, wash out where it cleans out all of the debris. And pathologically what’s happening is Remember how I said we’ve got neurons, we’ve got 87 billion neurons. We’ve got many different types of them. We’ve got one neuron or brain cell called glial cells. And that comes from the Greek word glue because that’s essentially what it’s doing. It’s sticking between the neurons and I actually call them nonsense cells. But you really, yeah, I uh I hope someone can change my mind. Um So what happens is they shrink in size during deep sleep and when they shrink, this allows for the cerebral spinal fluid to go through and wash through our brain and pull apart all the debris and the toxins that build up during the day. One of the toxins that it clears out is Amyloid beta, which is the one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. So this is why sleeping is so fundamentally important for the human brain. However, let’s just say we don’t sleep too much and we’re in a sleep deprived state, which is actually classified as six hours or less, which is most of New York City right?

Dr. Lyon (01:14:24 -> 01:14:37)

You know, you’re not talking about the quality of sleep either. So if you have a child sleeping in your bed, kicking your back, that even if you’re in bed sleeping for six hours, the And you might be actually, yeah, sleeping for four and

Louisa Nicola (01:14:37 -> 01:16:17)

you may be going through polyphasic sleeping like last night I was woken up by, you know, I live in Manhattan. So anything’s gonna wake me up. I was woken up. So that’s polyphasic, you know, when you wake up and then you go back to sleep, your brain wants huge cycles. You want to be sleeping like in deep sleep and rem sleep for a very long period of time. So, yeah, we’re talking about six hours or less of sleep deprivation one night probably won’t do anything to you. I’m more interested in compound interest. So if we don’t get the clearing out of these toxins for one night, ok. But let’s just say you’re not sleeping for five nights out of the week, for a year and two years. What happens just like compound interest, these toxins, these molecules are being begin to accumulate and they just accumulate and accumulate. And over a 30 year period, you go and see, you see white matter disease on A, you get M MRI and you see white matter disease and this is what, what then happens to that where we see a decline in cognitive functions, our thinking, our processing speed. So that’s why it’s important. But let’s also go into the next stage of sleep, which is rem sleep and it’s called rapid eye movement sleep because on an E E G, what you’ll see is you’re completely paralyzed, but your brain is so active. So you see these horizontal eye movements on an E E G, which is where it got the name rapid eye movement. And we have memory processing and learning that happens during this stage. So extremely important for anybody who wants to hold on to their cognitive functions as they’re getting older.

Dr. Lyon (01:16:18 -> 01:16:26)

So what can we do to address this sleep, which I’m sure that you’re going to talk to us about, but can people reverse this?

Louisa Nicola (01:16:27 -> 01:16:28)

Can they reverse the

Dr. Lyon (01:16:28 -> 01:16:31)

Amyloid build-up Tau proteins?

Louisa Nicola (01:16:31 -> 01:17:03)

Yeah. So that’s the controversial point. What you can do is you can a, you can slow the progression of the onset of these diseases. If you get a mild cognitive impairment patient and you get them sleeping and exercising, you can reverse a lot of the damage. You know, it’s exactly the same as the statistic on a heavy smoker. If they cease to stop smoking over a 5-7 year period, they go back to baseline, which I think is incredible. You can get the same thing with mild cognitive impairment patients.

Dr. Lyon (01:17:03 -> 01:17:07)

But by the time that we see brain atrophy that that’s not going to be reversed,

Louisa Nicola (01:17:08 -> 01:17:11)

it’s very hard to reverse that extremely hot.

Dr. Lyon (01:17:11 -> 01:17:30)

You know, I haven’t talked so much about that, but that’s really where the foundations of muscle centric medicine came. Because I was looking at brain imaging, we were doing a study on body composition and brain function at uh Wash U and one of the participants, amazing woman. She was in her mid fifties and she had atrophy

Louisa Nicola (01:17:31 -> 01:17:36)

and was that atrophy? Was that, did you see this in white matter disease or in the, the gray matter cortex?

Dr. Lyon (01:17:36 -> 01:17:38)

Uh we saw it in both.

Louisa Nicola (01:17:38 -> 01:18:01)

Yeah, because I’ve actually seen um the same as you and MRI I was comparing like an 80 year old. And what you see is you’ve got, evidently you’ve got your skull and you, you’ve had this huge space between the base of the skull and the gray matter. So you see thinning of the gray matter cortex, which when I saw that, that was scary enough.

Dr. Lyon (01:18:01 -> 01:18:24)

So, you have the same, it had the same impact on you. But, uh, I realized that we had been constantly focusing on adiposity and obviously her metabolism was, was all out of whack. And she had three kids. I wish that I had really, you know, at the time, uh we weren’t really focused on lifestyle interventions other than exercise and diet. I wish that I had talked to her about her sleep patterns.

Louisa Nicola (01:18:24 -> 01:19:11)

yeah, sleep But here’s the thing, right? Yes. What, what can we do to improve the quality of our sleep? Because that starts, if you’ve got, I would rather you sleep six hours of pure quality sleep than sleep. Eight hours of mediocre, waking up and going back to sleep. It’s just I, I if I would rather you get into these deep sleep and rem sleep stages. Another thing is timing. You can’t go to sleep at, let’s just say one AM and wake up at nine AM and say, oh, I got eight hours of sleep and it’s just not the same. We know that you’re gonna have a much more better sleep if you’re sleeping at 10 PM, which at neuro athletics lights out is 10 PM. I think only like 5% of my, uh, clients adopt this method.

Dr. Lyon (01:19:11 -> 01:19:13)

What about you? Are you very strict?

Louisa Nicola (01:19:13 -> 01:19:27)

I am so strict. I don’t even, it’s funny, very different person to what I was in my twenties. I don’t even go out for dinner now unless it’s like a, is it a six PM seating? Seven PM seating? Which makes it hard for me to have friends.

Dr. Lyon (01:19:27 -> 01:19:29)

I’m changing all my reservations.

Louisa Nicola (01:19:29 -> 01:19:50)

Yeah, reservations are changed. I’m like one of the uh a senior citizen now Yeah, for me, it is because I have a very cerebral lifestyle. I need, I’m I’m reading study after study daily. I’ve, I’ve got a huge workload so I need to make sure that I’m performing at my peak as well.

Dr. Lyon (01:19:50 -> 01:19:51)

So how do you do that?

Louisa Nicola (01:19:51 -> 01:19:54)

So sleep. What are some of the things that I do for sleep?

Dr. Lyon (01:19:55 -> 01:19:57)

Well, everybody here wants to hear that. yes including me.

Louisa Nicola (01:19:58 -> 01:20:15)

We know first and foremost that light attenuates sleep on all levels. So I modify my lights. Actually, if you come to my apartment, I don’t have overhead lighting. I have my lights are actually on the floor and that’s because are gonna get a bit detailed now.

Dr. Lyon (01:20:15 -> 01:20:22)

I love that. I I just am thinking about, you know, again, we were chatting before about I’m moving to Houston. I gotta change all this.

Louisa Nicola (01:20:22 -> 01:21:25)

Yeah, you’ve got to have um don’t get overhead lighting. And that’s because a, let’s first, we know that light is going to be bad for our sleep. And that’s because we have a hormone that is secreted and it’s secreted from the pineal gland and it’s the hormone responsible for making us feel sleepy and keeping us asleep. It’s called melatonin. So it gets, it gets released in response to darkness. So, if we have overhead lighting, we have a lot of light in our apartment, it’s your pineal glands is gonna say, well, I’m not gonna secrete any of this because it’s daytime. So before we had light and what was happening was the sun would go down and our brain would just naturally start secreting it because we wouldn’t have light. So they’d run into their cave, the cave man and that’s how they’d get their, their melatonin secreted. So if we know this, then what do, what do we have to do? Well, we have to either dim the lights as much as possible. And I’m sorry to say, for everybody buying those block out blue light, blocking glass.

Dr. Lyon (01:21:25 -> 01:21:26)

They work. They work.

Louisa Nicola (01:21:26 -> 01:22:49)

Unfortunately. No, it’s because your retina, let’s, let’s OK. Your retina. Let’s just imagine a AAA circle you’ve got on the bottom half. Ok? On the, this, let’s say 100 and 80 degrees on the bottom half of your retina are these specialized cells, retinal ganglion cells and they are the cells that actually sense the light and it’s actually really beautiful because it’s like in line with mother nature because you walk outside and your eyelid covers half of your eye, right? But the sun is shining down at an angle that projects into the bottom half of your retina. These cells then shoot to a specific area of your brain. Which cell which tells the brain. Hey, guys, we’re awake. Let’s release, get the Cortisol engines running block the Melatonin and she’s awake, she’s ready to go. So that’s why sunlight is really good in the morning to wake up your entire system. So if you have overhead lighting in your apartment, you are doing the same thing. And the reason why these, these glasses don’t work is because your eyes become more sensitive throughout the day because we’ve been up all day. So they become a bit weaker and more sensitive. Therefore, any type of light that comes in is going to be waking them up, waking you up. So dim the lights if you want to wear the blue light blocking glasses, try it.

Dr. Lyon (01:22:50 -> 01:22:52)

But you’re saying that it

Louisa Nicola (01:22:52 -> 01:23:01)

does. No, it, you, no, you’re better off just dimming the lights completely and then blacking out all light that comes into your bedroom with uh blackout curtains.

Dr. Lyon (01:23:02 -> 01:23:05)

What about changing the light bulbs to a different spectrum?

Louisa Nicola (01:23:05 -> 01:23:24)

I do that. I’ve got um I’ve got red lights actually It helps. Yeah, and it’s also more soothing and so that helps. But I’ve I’m, it’s very dim in my apartment from eight pm onwards. You can actually get automatic timers as well.

Dr. Lyon (01:23:24 -> 01:23:27)

and then are you able to be on your computer at that time?

Louisa Nicola (01:23:27 -> 01:24:02)

Uh, no, I, I don’t but I do watch to calm myself down every now and maybe watch an episode of Friends or something. So, and then I’m in bed and I’m wearing an eye mask. I’m like religious on my eye mask, wearing an eye mask. I have blackout curtains. So the room is pitch black and I’m fortunate that I don’t get up and go to the bathroom. I know a lot of people have that problem, especially as you get older men in their seventies are waking up at around four AM going to the bathroom and then they’re switching the lights on and then you’ve just, you’ve ruined everything.

Dr. Lyon (01:24:02 -> 01:24:03)


Louisa Nicola (01:24:03 -> 01:24:11)

Yeah. So if you do feel the need to go to the bathroom, I would have a lower lamp set in the bathroom.

Dr. Lyon (01:24:12 -> 01:24:15)

And how important is bedtime at the same time and week time

Louisa Nicola (01:24:16 -> 01:24:20)

Consistency is probably one of the most important things when it comes to sleep fitness

Dr. Lyon (01:24:21 -> 01:24:26)

and can sleep fitness. I was gonna ask you, can you train yourself to get into deep sleep?

Louisa Nicola (01:24:27 -> 01:24:42)

So things that kick you out of rem sleep and deep sleep, let’s talk about them. Alcohol. I put out a statement on Instagram that kind of went viral. People didn’t like it. And I said that no amount of alcohol is good for the brain.

Dr. Lyon (01:24:43 -> 01:24:44)

I would totally agree with you.

Louisa Nicola (01:24:44 -> 01:26:26)

Yeah. People don’t like to hear that. They also don’t like to hear another tweet of mine that went viral was, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but T H C is not helping you sleep. Another thing that people don’t like to hear and it’s just true. It’s not my opinion. So, alcohol is a sedative and you would know when you go into surgery, you’re getting pumped full of propofol to sedate you. I’m not saying that that’s what alcohol is doing. However, ethanol is a sedative. So if you feel like alcohol is making you sleepy, you’re actually just depressing some of the excitatory, you know, neurotransmitters that are happening in your brain, you’re inhibiting them. So it’s making you feel, you know, it’s lowering your inhibitions. It’s making you feel drowsy, it’s actually blocking rem sleep, deep sleep and you’re just knocking yourself out during the night. So that’s gonna kick you out of deep sleep. It’s gonna kick you out of rem sleep stress. The activation of our sympathetic nervous system is going to either not allow you to fall asleep, which is called sleep latency, but it’s going to also wake you up. One of the biggest things for insomnia patients and them waking up throughout the night is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system because they’re just so stressed Mental stress, mental stress. I’ve got this going on and this is why we actually, as we age we get a decline in our sleep states because we’ve got more, much more going on. We’ve got kids, we’ve got mortgages, the stress of just being in 2023. Like, so managing stress is a huge thing for sleep performance. Something that I, I’ve been toying with lately is temperature control.

Dr. Lyon (01:26:27 -> 01:26:27)


Louisa Nicola (01:26:27 -> 01:27:42)

Yeah, I sleep on a temperature controlled mattress which um is so bougie of me I use eight sleeps. And, and this is because we now know that in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, our core body temperature needs to drop at least two degrees. So I have it manipulated throughout the night at a minus two. So it my core body temperature drops when I’m in deep sleep and drops again in rem sleep. And then I have the alarm set for six. So it heats up because for us to wake up, we actually get a rise in our core body temperature and that’s what wakes us up. So they’re probably the best things that you could do. Now, whenever I see somebody, the two biggest complaints they have is I’ve either got trouble falling asleep or trouble staying asleep. So if anybody wants to experiment um with the sleep latency, so if you want to be able to fall asleep faster, you may want to work on things that are gonna decrease the mental activity in your brain. You could uh supplement with gamma, gamma and amino butter acid. It’s our chief inhibitory neurotransmitter. You could do maybe a warm bath to calm you down. Yeah.

Dr. Lyon (01:27:43 -> 01:27:54)

Yeah. And what about do you ever use? So if someone is having trouble falling asleep, you’ll recommend Gabba or something similar. What about staying asleep?

Louisa Nicola (01:27:54 -> 01:29:02)

Staying asleep is twofold. First of all, temperature, if you’re hot, you’ll wake up. It’s running out of Melatonin. And this is why I’m really against exogenous use of Melatonin. A because we know that supplement, the supplement industry is not regulated. So they, there was a study that was done on Melatonin bottles and they found that the bottles actually contain 100 times more than what is said on the front. So, if you think that you’re having 2.5 mg, you may be having, you know, 100 actually. Oh, yeah. And just to let everyone you are actually pumping, it’s a hormone. Right. Well, I can’t go and get estrogen over the counter. Right. That would be a bad idea. That would, you would know it would, it probably you can’t just go and get, well, I, I think you don’t want to go and just pump yourself with a, a testosterone tablet. It’s a set. It’s, we’re, we’re taking the issue too lightly. It is a hormone and if you pump your body with ex exogenously, your pan or gland is gonna be like, well, ok, I don’t need to produce anything. I’ll just sit back and then you get disrupted sleep. So stay away from that.

Dr. Lyon (01:29:03 -> 01:29:10)

And then what about nutrients for the brain? I know that that was another one of your pillars. So we have sleep exercise and nutrients.

Louisa Nicola (01:29:10 -> 01:29:59)

Big fan of creatine crete is involved in energy. So production uh it decreases, I believe, which you probably have more to say on this as we age. We all, we used to think that Creatine was just there for the body to get big and buff. The body builders made it famous. You. Yeah, it’s um an amazing supplement. Uh But we also now know that it’s incredibly important for the brain. In fact, my father had a um Had a right parietal lobe stroke back in 2019. So you can imagine there’s hypoxia happening there. We certainly, I’ve got him supplementing with five grams a day and he’s great. He’s, you know, you know, 2-3 years on now, but he’s, he’s going to the gym. He’s noticed he doesn’t know what he’s taking at first. He’s like, she’s giving me drugs

Dr. Lyon (01:29:59 -> 01:30:02)

and you’re like just go with it, just go with dad

Louisa Nicola (01:30:02 -> 01:30:10)

Extremely. Um you know, it’s, it’s cost effective and yeah, very, very safe creating monohydrate.

Dr. Lyon (01:30:11 -> 01:30:12)

yeah. Anything else?

Louisa Nicola (01:30:13 -> 01:31:03)

Omega three fatty acid? Yes, I think I will go to my grave telling people to take this uh dosage wise the most uh widely studied dosage is four grams a day. So four grams of EPA, four grams of DH A. So omega three is made Omega three fatty acids from fatty fish, mackerel salmon. It’s made up of EPA DH A and A L A and these EPA and DH A, the DH A seems to be much more important for the brain and the EPA is uh where you get your cardiovascular benefits from. But we even have studies now, human studies that show that four g a day of each, which is 2000 mg can have an effect on mild cognitive impairment patients. And Alzheimer’s disease patients by going in and Ameliorating these amyloid beta proteins.

Dr. Lyon (01:31:04 -> 01:31:17)

That’s really interesting. And I think that the evidence is definitely in favor of fish oil and that kind of supplementation and it’s been around for so long, been around for so long. Yeah. What about um ketones?

Louisa Nicola (01:31:17 -> 01:32:03)

Yeah, I’m I I love ketones. Um We know it’s a preferred fuel of the brain when in a glucose deprived state. Uh And you know, I I I don’t know why there’s this misalignment. Now with ketones versus glucose, your brain uses glucose for energy, right? Ok. But people want to fight and say that no, it’s ketones but the ketones are there. Uh when the right when we’ve got no glucose. So I just wanted to make that clear and it’s great. It immediately crosses the blood brain barrier and for me and my clients what we’ve seen is not just an, uh, not just an ability to keep enduring for longer, but we see an appetite suppressant involved in that. So, I’m, I’m having exogenous ketones as well.

Dr. Lyon (01:32:03 -> 01:32:17)

So, you are interesting and the last supplement I’ll ask you about unless you want to share other ones because I think there’s so many interesting ones like methylene blue have you, you know, there’s just, yeah, there’s, it’s too early,

Louisa Nicola (01:32:17 -> 01:32:46)

too early. Yeah, I’m not gonna say gimmicky, but right now I think that needs to be monitored by a very well known, a well known, a physician who knows what they’re doing in that area. I’m seeing people just chewing on it, you know, and it’s, yeah, it’s not there yet for me. Uh, but other things that are great for even sleep is, um, magnesium L three N eight. It can penetrate the central nervous system. And whenever I have L- 38, I’m having a really deep sleep.

Dr. Lyon (01:32:48 -> 01:32:57)

That’s, that is important. Um, and I’m sure everybody is gonna try that because probably the majority of people are not getting into deep sleep,

Louisa Nicola (01:32:57 -> 01:33:52)

correct majority. And, you know, we’ve got so I wear wearable data. Now Coming from a sleep lab, you can’t say that anything outside of a sleep lab is 100% effective. So I’m cautious on wearable data, but I use it and I get my athletes to use it. So we can say I, I say around 80% accurate. So if we’re looking at wearable data, we can look at deep sleep patterns. So what I would suggest to anybody who’s tracking their sleep is just look for patterns if you had three hours of deep sleep one night, which by the way, you should look for around 20 to 25% of total sleep time to be in rem sleep, most of it to be in deep sleep if you can. But if you had a really good deep sleep score, study yourself, what, what did I do? Well, that night, what didn’t I do? Well, more often than not the first place to start is total sleep time.

Dr. Lyon (01:33:52 -> 01:33:57)

Ok. What about the impact of food and exercise timing around sleep?

Louisa Nicola (01:33:58 -> 01:34:29)

Yeah. So, uh with that exercise is best done in the morning and that’s because we know that you’re going to get a robust release of cortisol, our stress hormone. It takes a while to come back down to baseline and even drop in order to fall asleep. So you want to be able to keep that away from sleep as much as possible. So I always tell people morning is best. If you can’t do that, then try the furthest away from sleep. Don’t try going to the gym at eight PM

Dr. Lyon (01:34:29 -> 01:34:34)

right? Because sleep is more important, you know,

Louisa Nicola (01:34:34 -> 01:34:41)

I can’t, I fight with myself because then I’ll tell my professor like I’ll find something out, you know, with myokinds I’ll be like, oh no, this is it.

Dr. Lyon (01:34:42 -> 01:34:59)

We should talk about Myo kinds. I know one of your big goals is to discover a new myokind that’s going to help with neuro degeneration. And there’s so many and you know, arguably we’re into the infancy of understanding all of them what they do 610 right now that we know of. Yeah,

Louisa Nicola (01:34:59 -> 01:35:01)

hopefully there’ll be a Louisa myokind.

Dr. Lyon (01:35:03 -> 01:35:07)

I’m gonna hold you to that. I think that would be amazing. Tell me a little bit about the research that you’re doing now.

Louisa Nicola (01:35:07 -> 01:36:52)

So myoKinds are muscle based proteins, you’ve spoken about them. And this is Yeah, this is what? Yeah, you and I can really like collide together in this because we used to think that exercise, you know, we used to think, well, why am I feeling good? What is the, what is the effect we have? This? It’s actually a muscle brain, cross talk or muscle organ, cross talk and that is due to myo release. So myo Kines are muscle based proteins that are produced within the skeletal muscle. And when the skeletal muscle is contracting in an either an e or a concentric phase, you can get a release of these amazing molecules that I always say that your muscles are like a pharmacy for your brain, these molecules when they’re released, they go into the bloodstream into the circulation and they go to different areas of the body. We have receptors on our organs, we have receptors on our heart, on our liver, our spleen and in our brain and when they’re released from the muscle, they go into the bloodstream, they go up to the brain, they cross the blood brain barrier, which is, you know, people think there’s a, you know, I call it the bouncer to the club, you know. Uh but what happens is you’ve got on the epithelial cells on the outside, you’ve got this blood brain barrier and it’s, they’re bound together by tight junctions, these cells and they don’t allow for the passive diffusion of certain molecules to enter. So they, they’re like these little balances that say you can’t get in but certain things can cross the blood brain barrier and these myo can and when they go in, oh my God, they have enormous effects on the brain. Yeah.

Dr. Lyon (01:36:53 -> 01:37:08)

No, I I was curious as to what do you think the benefit is going to be for exercise? Neuro degeneration doesn’t matter the kind of disease process that we’re looking at the the kind of exercise for brain protection.

Louisa Nicola (01:37:08 -> 01:42:05)

So, one of the first things to go during neuro degeneration, especially Alzheimer’s disease is, first of all, you’ve got the breakdown of the hippocampus, OK. The neurons within the hippocampus, which you start to lose memory function. So the hippocampus is this seahorse structure deep within the temporal lobes. So let’s just leave that there and let’s just focus on the frontal lobe. Ok. So if everybody’s listening or if you’re watching on youtube, just get your right hand and you can do this as well and put it up against your forehead right there. Lives your frontal lobe. It’s about the area the size of your palm. And that’s probably the, the most, when I say the biggest, I mean, that houses the most amount of neurons in the brain and our focus center is in there and that goes as well as we age. So we’ve got the breakdown of our focus regions in the frontal lobe. Then we’ve got the breakdown of the hippocampus. Now what happens is when we do a muscle contractions through exercise. So let’s just say we’re exercising, we’re doing resistance training, our skeletal muscle releases something called Irisin, which is actually named after the Greek God of Iris because Iris was a messenger to the God. And that’s what this Irison does. It acts as a messenger. So it gets released and it goes through and it will go into the dentate new uh the dentate gyrus within the hippocampus. So you imagine the hippocampus is like a seahorse and the head of the hippocampus is where it’s having an effect and it goes in and it can actually help with the proliferation of new neurons. So we can get neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons within the hippocampus. So that’s how it has an effect on neuro degenerative diseases. We’ve also got S and B we’ve got aisle six. Aisle six is, you know, most famous. It’s the most famous MYOkind It was the first discovered as a myo because as you would know, it’s actually a cytokine, but depending on where it’s released, it becomes a my, it becomes a pro. So it’s just, it’s, it’s just unbelievable that these not a pro inflammatory cytokine, it becomes an anti-inflammatory cytokine. So it has an effect on immune function. It has an effect on cognitive functions. Something that I’ve just, I’ve just been reading this new research on prostate cancer and there are myo kinds that I’m still learning about that are have anticancer effects. Irisin is one of them. Um But then they’ve got, we’ve got one called oncostatin which gets released and it has an effect on breast cancer, ovarian cancer and it has an effect on decreasing tumor size. So, I it astounds me that exercise is not a prescription drug when you go to your doctor. This is where I actually have a problem in terms of public health and public policy. I think we’re going wrong in the language. So when we hear about uh the effects of exercise on brain health and longevity people and many physicians, um And in academic research is referring to it as physical activity and we need to change the language around that because physical activity is literally doing anything where you are not sedentary, walking to your fridge is physical activity, as my mother says, Louise, I’m doing so much exercise when she’s describing gardening and gardening is great. Ok. That type. But that’s physical activity we’re talking about to get these effects, longevity effects, neurodegenerative effects. We want you to be exercising that involves getting the heart rate up. And when you have a look at the studies of these myo kinds, Irison, when it comes to resistance training in Irison, you need to be working at around a 65% of your one repetition max. When we look at myostatin, you need to be working at an 80% of your one repetition max. So either way, whether it’s 70% whether it’s 80% of one M R you need to be working hard. So going to the gym, lifting weights, ladies don’t be afraid of weights, stop thinking that you’re gonna get big. It’s, it takes, it takes so much I mean, you, yeah, it’s, it takes so much protein to get that big, but it takes so much time in the gym and the effort matters. Oh, the effort matters. And it’s a long process, you don’t just go and lift heavy and you get big. So stop being afraid of that, stop lifting these tiny little weights that does my head in when I see tiny weights

Dr. Lyon (01:42:06 -> 01:42:34)

You know, it’s interesting because what you’re not, what we’re talking about is not hypertrophy, strength or power. We’re actually talking about effortful training From the perspective of muscle as medicine. And that’s what’s so interesting. We’re not talking about again, these performance metrics, we’re leveraging this concept of a one rep max or 70-80%. But we’re utilizing it for the intention of a dose response.

Louisa Nicola (01:42:34 -> 01:42:34)


Dr. Lyon (01:42:34 -> 01:42:37)

And that’s what I think is so critical about what you’re saying

Louisa Nicola (01:42:38 -> 01:43:06)

I would rather people go to the gym for brain health, not just to look good. And if we change the language, if we change the language around, why do you go to the gym? If you go just to look good. That puts, especially I talking from a female perspective that puts a lot of stress on a woman, especially as she ages. I would know. I’m a, I’m, I’m, I’m Greek, I’m never gonna be tiny unless I really work hard for it

Dr. Lyon (01:43:06 -> 01:43:07)

And you’ll probably never have a wrinkle either.

Louisa Nicola (01:43:07 -> 01:43:43)

I hope not. Um But what happens is if I go to the gym for my brain and if I go to the gym for the anti cancer effects, that’s going to happen, I’m going to stick to it much better, you know, Efficacy. Getting a patient or a client to stick to a routine is hard enough. And so getting them there, not just to look good, but to know that at the age of 80 and 90, you’re gonna have the conversation with your grandchildren. You’re gonna be able to get yourself up off the chair, you’re gonna stop yourself from having a hip fracture or a hip break, right

Dr. Lyon (01:43:44 -> 01:43:53)

That those things kill you quickly as opposed to typically cancer or some diagnosis that that potentially takes time.

Louisa Nicola (01:43:53 -> 01:44:13)

Yeah. And not to mention the antidepressant effects that these myo kinds have. Again, 610 known myo kinds. There will be more because as our muscle grows, we can, you know, we induce mitochondrial biogenesis, we’re gonna have more muscle, therefore, more proliferation of these myo

Dr. Lyon (01:44:15 -> 01:44:42)

I think that that’s really critical and the mission is very noble to be able to change that conversation. And critical critical is is really critical. What are some of the things that we are doing that we don’t know that are really negatively affecting our brain. And in my mind, I’m thinking, is it scrolling on the phone? Is it interfacing within our environment? I’m sure um tobacco use is not good. Are there unknown things that perhaps people are doing on the regular?

Louisa Nicola (01:44:43 -> 01:47:19)

Yeah. So let’s look at this from a vascular perspective. Your brain is the most vascular rich organ in the entire body. That means that it houses the most amount of arteries, capillaries, capillaries in the US uh veins. What does this mean? Well, If that means that if you were to pull apart all of the vasculature in the brain, it actually because somebody did this like did a study on this, it actually spans 400 miles, that’s how rich this is. And some of these capillaries are one cell thick. They’re like the width of your hair. A piece of a hairline thick. We have two main arteries that shoot up to the brain. They, that come from your heart. You’ve got the vertebral arteries and the carotid arteries and they shoot up and we see branching of the arteries. After that, they go into the brain. These capillaries that are one cell thick are affected. This is the number one thing that affects them hypertension but not just that, not just uh not just elevated blood pressure, it is the rise and fall. You don’t want that, you don’t want to have these massive spikes in blood pressure, then come back down because you can go and then kill off these tiny little capillary. What are the capillaries? What are the arteries doing? Well, they’re delivering blood to the brain, but they’re also delivering oxygen and nutrients. So if you start to kill off these tiny little blood vessels that’s delivering blood oxygen nutrients, you’re not gonna get that. We don’t want hypoxia, we don’t want to be in a low oxygen. Your brain needs oxygen for everything. We know that. So managing blood pressure, I think is the most underrated thing that we’re talking, we’re not talking about it and, and just to just, I’m gonna keep going with this. Uh and I use my father the poor guy with everything that I speak about because he’s, you know, he’s my best client. And um I have him, I have my mother measuring his blood first thing when he wakes up measuring his blood pressure, the moment he wakes up, Which is the most, you know, we wanna be able to get that measurement. And then when he goes to sleep and there’s a, we have a chart and the chart is shared with me. They live in Australia. So the chart is shared with me and I plot it on a graph and II look over time to see what is the blood pressure in 2021, 22, 23. So maintaining, you know, good blood pressure, low blood pressure is is important.

Dr. Lyon (01:47:19 -> 01:47:39)

You know, we saw that um when I was doing my work as a geriatrician vascular dementia was a major, major issue. And one of the things that we always saw that individuals struggled with first was executive function before short term memory, memory loss for vascular dementia.

Louisa Nicola (01:47:39 -> 01:48:36)

And that’s because like I mentioned earlier, we have the, the frontal lobe, the frontal lobe houses your prefrontal cortex. We call it the CEO of the brain. And this is where our cognitive functions live, reaction, time processing speed, focus attention, decision making, they lie there. So if you think the most amount of neurons, it means there’s a lot of vasculature that is shooting out into the frontal lobe. So it’s no wonder that you start with these declining cognitive functions. And in fact, there’s a wonderful paper uh that was written that shows the many theories to the brain aging process. And one of them is disregulation of dopamine receptors in the frontal lobe. So we also get a decline in the frontal lobes ability to release dopamine. And that’s just due to how we age.

Dr. Lyon (01:48:36 -> 01:48:40)

Gosh. So there’s, it’s just, it’s very multifactorial,

Louisa Nicola (01:48:40 -> 01:50:59)

multifactorial. Uh and I said something on a podcast that um ended up hitting around 10 million views. It’s very simple and it’s, it’s in the scientific literature on human research to show that 85% of brain gray matter is modifiable by exercise. So our gray matter just for everybody listening, we’ve got gray matter, we’ve got white matter, the gray matter is the cell body. Remember how I said we’ve got a cell, then we’ve got the axon. Now, the axon that is coated in these layers called the myelin sheath and they’re the fatty layers and they coat the axon that’s the white matter and they are responsible for processing speed. In fact, as a neurophysiologist, we do things such as an E M G electromyography, we do nerve conduction studies. So we’re generally looking at the multiple sclerosis patients and that’s scary because what we pick up on is slow conduction speed or slow conduction velocity. And we can pick up on these demyelinating disorders A L S we can pick up on. And so that’s where I was doing the bulk of my um training and that is due to the white matter either thinning away. OK. So you get a slowing of conduction velocity or you get complete conduction block, which is you’ve got the. So just to um just to put into perspective, the myelin sheath isn’t a big layer of myelin sheath, it’s like clump together. There’s myelin sheet, then there’s a little space and there’s myelin sheath and then there’s space and the space between them is called the nodes of Ranvier. But what happens if just say you get rid of one clump of myelin sheath, we have something called complete conduction block. So therefore, the speed of transmission again, along that axon is not going to happen, it’s not going to occur, it’s just gonna block and that shows up as not the speed of thought, you know, when you’re talking and then you just, you’re talking and then out of nowhere, you just, you stop and things you just like, oh what was I saying? So that’s where we see. We, we see white matter disease

Dr. Lyon (01:50:59 -> 01:51:03)

really, really important. What do you think is on the horizon?

Louisa Nicola (01:51:04 -> 01:51:11)

First of what I would love to be discovered. I hope someone’s working on this. Um Do you wear AC G M?

Dr. Lyon (01:51:12 -> 01:51:12)

Not anymore.

Louisa Nicola (01:51:12 -> 01:54:12)

Not anymore. Yeah, I used to wear one too but I got my data. I know what affects me. Love C G M si think they’re incredible. How amazing would it be to have one for blood pressure. I think that that’s on the horizon when we come to technology. And then I’m just really excited about discovering how exercise can decrease or slow the onset of neurodegenerative diseases. I just want to also say back to Alzheimer’s disease, back to this, the biggest genes that we speak about is A O E four are U E four E four positive. We know that just having one gene that um A O E four gene can increase your risk. I think it’s by four times as much. And then if you’ve got two genes, we get one from mom, one from dad. Uh If we have two of the E four genes, it’s going to increase our risk. I, I’m not sure the percentage of this say 77 times as much, maybe even more. It’s not a death sentence. If you have E four E four, if you have any of the genes, it is not a death sentence as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease, there are genes responsible for. If you’ve got it like, um, chromosome four, Huntington’s disease, you will get Hunting Huntington’s disease. We know that, But these E four e 4, we know that they are triggered. And I, I hate to use this analogy but it’s the way I was describing it to my parents and it was the analogy of a gun. Let’s just say you’ve got the gun, that’s your brain and you’ve got two bullets in there and that’s your E four E four. If you just leave it there, ok, it’s not going to pull the trigger. But if you want to bring it up and pull the trigger and shoot it, the things that’s gonna pull the trigger is lack of physical activity, stress, exercise, poor nutrition. That’s what pulls the trigger. We know this to be true because they did a study on E four, e 4 participants in Nigeria. They don’t get Alzheimer’s disease. Why? Because they’re not pulling the trigger because they are, you see their lifestyle, they’re walking, they’re hunting, they’re not in front of a computer all day. They’re not stressed out and they eat food from the ground. They eat whole foods and they eat a lot of protein, a lot of, um, a lot of meat. So we know then if you’ve got E four E four C, Chris Chris Hemsworth is now on a specialized program. He’s actually stopped going. I think he’s taking a break from acting to because he’s got E four E four positive. Does’t mean it’s a death sentence doesn’t mean you’re gonna get Alzheimer’s disease. You determine whether you get Alzheimer’s disease. And that’s the issue with public policy. We’ve got so many people out there petrified of getting this disease and just thinking that yes, I’m gonna get it when I turn 70. But that is wrong.

Dr. Lyon (01:54:13 -> 01:54:21)

I think that that is incredible to point out and it’s so true. One of the other things that we always have to think about is metabolic regulation, body weight,

Louisa Nicola (01:54:22 -> 01:55:16)

diabetes. Yeah. Yeah. Huge. Um, and this plays into, uh, strokes, strokes are, you don’t just get it because you’re, you can ma, if we know that the biggest risk factor for a stroke is, um, is high, is blood pressure, managing blood pressure, then get your weight under control. Get what you’re doing under control. You have the power to do so. And I keep every night I go to sleep thinking why do people still not know? And it’s got to come down to education. Um I was like I said, I was an educator myself. Uh We have something called pedagogy, which is the art and science of teaching. So you learn how to get a message out there. So I think what you’re doing is monumental. You’ve got a wonderful platform here. You’ve got an incredible Instagram account. You are putting education out there. So we’ve got free education for everybody.

Dr. Lyon (01:55:17 -> 01:55:49)

Yeah. Um Louisa, thank you so much for coming on. It just is eye opening and I am going to have to really get better sleep. And I think everybody here is going to really begin to prioritize sleep, exercise and nutrition if they’re not even more inspired to do so, because brain function ultimately, without your brain, you can live with a lot of, a lot of other things, but you can’t live without that So thank you so much. I will include where to find you. Are you working on any new projects?

Louisa Nicola (01:55:49 -> 01:56:09)

Yes. Um the neuro athletics coaching certificate is going um is going public on the 1st and 2nd of April. So this is where uh mainly coaches of high performance athletes can come and learn about how they can train the brain of their athletes so their athletes can perform better things faster and live longer.

Dr. Lyon (01:56:09 -> 01:56:13)

I love that. I love that. We will definitely share it and thank you so much.

Louisa Nicola (01:56:13 -> 01:56:13)

Thank you.