Cognitive Decline May Increase Death Risk 

Rarely will you find a death certificate reporting neurologic disease as the cause of demise. Yet according to a recent population-based multicenter survey, this diagnosis is more common than cancer, heart failure or diabetes as a cause of death.1 However, when the causes of death from a cohort group of 5,632 individuals (ages 65 to 84 years) were investigated, dementia was unexpectedly found to be the foremost condition leading to death. This is a serious reminder that your mind matters. The mind's organ of function, the brain, should be of paramount concern when you plan your overall health program, and perhaps justifies the lion's share of your supplement budget. 

Figure 1. Famous death certificate of Fast-Burn Grunge Rocker

In the normal course of events, death is more often attributed to an acute illness such as heart attack or pneumonia because these conditions appear as the most obvious and proximate events to the examiner filling out the death certificate. The diagnosis of neurological disease is more common than cancer, heart failure or diabetes as a cause of death. 

Brain Health - Predictor for Risk of Death 
A team of researchers at the Italian National Research Council was swayed by the hypothesis that major age-associated disorders might be overlooked as the cause of death. They devised a method for measuring factors that might indeed be more relevant to the cause of death than the assumed, proximate event(s).

The researchers first selected a large elderly study population (the cohort group of 5,632 individuals) from eight Italian municipalities, who were then screened for all the major diseases that might affect their longevity. All participants were interviewed to determine their risk factors for mortality. When such a risk was identified, specialists were given the task of confirming the existence of the risk factors through clinical assessments. This was the baseline survey.

Dementia was unexpectedly found to be the foremost condition leading to death. 

Two years later, the cohort group was recontacted to determine their vital status. Were they alive or dead? In the event of their demise, a copy of the death certificate was obtained and examined. Using a calculation standard (the Cox proportional hazards model) based on the risk of dying, relevant data were gathered. This included information on all the diseases under study, in addition to age, gender and education.

A total of 444 individuals had died (7.9%). Of the significant predictors of death, being institutionalized ranked highest as a risk factor for death, with a mortality risk ratio (MRR) of 4.17. This indicates a four times greater likelihood of death compared to someone matching the age, gender and educational controls not clinically assessed to have an increased risk of dying. What this means is, if individuals were placed in nursing homes (or psychiatric institutions), they had the greatest likelihood of dying.

Poor neurological health may send you straight to the grim reaper. 

At the lower end of risk for increased death predictability was diabetes (MRR = 1.62) and being of the male gender (MRR = 1.72). Yes - strange as it may seem - the risk of death attributed to simply being male was higher than having been diagnosed with diabetes! Next in line, and moving up the scale were heart failure (MRR = 1.87) and cancer (MRR = 2.01).

Far outpacing severe degenerative cardiovascular and cancerous diseases was dementia (MRR = 3.61), rated exceptionally high as a risk factor. Among age-associated conditions, neurological risk factors were found to be far more significant than what are commonly viewed as the leading terminators. Indeed, neurological health can influence destiny. Poor neurological health may send you straight to the grim reaper. The inference which may be drawn from this study is that brain health is a major predictor of death in the elderly. Fortunately, to presume the same for your "destiny" is not inevitable. We are learning rapidly that brain nutrients can help to preserve mental youthfulness and even help to restore it.

Brain health is a major predictor of death in the elderly. 

Brain Nutrients: What They Do 
Your central nervous system (CNS) is governed to a significant degree by neurotransmitters (made from nutrient amino acids and vitamin cofactors). Neurotransmitters, when functioning properly, ensure the flow of information to the mind from the body and vice versa. This means that your brain's realm of control extends throughout your entire body. Various nutrients feed the cells of your brain providing your brain with energy. These nutrients help to maintain repair functions, protect the brain from damaging substances, manufacture neurosteroidal hormones, and balance bioelectrical activity. Certain nutrients can enhance blood flow. The CNS coordinates body and mind. It gathers data from sense organs that are used to form perceptions and create awareness, and ultimately to facilitate the production of concepts. Thus, your CNS operates as an integrating system that brings everything together: learning, memory and heightened sensitivity.

Bring in the Noo 
Brain nutrients are often referred to as nootropic agents or supplements. Nootropics are "noo" in the sense that the word was recently created to describe a new class of nutrients. They are drugs that act as cognitive enchancers with no side effects or toxicity.2 It is constructed from the Greek words noos, meaning mind and tropein, meaning toward. Nootropics are the nutrient compounds that serve to bolster and elevate CNS activity (e.g., improving vigilance or neuronal readiness) by simultaneously increasing regional functionality in the brain (e.g., improving blood flow, oxygen, glucose and nutrient delivery or increasing neuromolecular synthesis) and the body (e.g., improving the hemodynamics of the fine capillaries involved in hearing or sight).

We are learning rapidly that brain nutrients can help to preserve mental youthfulness and even help to restore it. 

While the neurochemistry of nootropic mechanisms is not clearly understood, we do know that nootropic activity involves enhanced membrane characteristics such as: membrane stability, permeability, strength, and stress resistance (such as phosphatidylserine). Nootropics are also neurological agonists, amplifiers of function (such as DMAE), cerebrovascular distributors (such as vinpocetine), modulators of sensation (such as choline, CDP-choline), equilibriators of steroidal production (such as pregnenolone) and more.

All of these nootropic nutrients serve the brain, and when used intelligently, may help to maintain proper neurological function.3 Nootropics may also help prevent the structural demise that reduces quality of life and leaves you more vulnerable to a premature visit from the medical examiner.


  1. Baldereschi M, Di Carlo A, Maggi S, Grigoletto F, Scarlato G, Amaducci L, Inzitari D. Dementia is a major predictor of death among the Italian elderly. ILSA Working Group. Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging. Neurology 1999 Mar 10;52(4):709-713.
  2. Giurgea C. The "nootropic" approach to the pharmacology of the integrative activity of the brain. Cond Reflex 1973 Apr-Jun;8(2):108-15.
  3. Nagy IZ. On the possible role of nootropica in geriatric prevention and therapy. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1996 Jun 15;786:444-52.