“Healthy Monday is our way of kicking off the week with useful health tips, information or news put together by our team of Health Consultants.”
Our goal this week on our “Healthy Monday” column is to share with our readers some tips for maximizing brain power!
As you grow older, it’s inevitable that your brain’s function may begin to change and some age- related cognitive functions may start declining – which is absolutely normal according to most experts. However, some older adults’ cognitive decline can lead to diagnosis such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or Parkinson’s disease.
Research has however shown that healthy brain function can be continuously maintained by incorporating certain brain stimulation activities, specific nutrients, exercise and more into your daily routine, which include:
1. Omega-3 Fats: Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an omega-3 fat, is an essential structural component of both your brain and the retina. Approximately 60 percent of our brain is composed of fats, 25-30 percent of which is the DHA component. DHA is also an essential structural ingredient of breast milk, which is why it is widely believed that breastfed babies consistently score higher on IQ tests than formula-fed babies. Click here to read more
Omega-3 fats such as DHA is considered essential for our bodies functioning because our body cannot produce it, and it must therefore be obtained from our daily diet. DHA-rich foods include Cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout; liver etc. Omega-3 fatty have also been reported to have anti-inflammatory properties and the regular consumption of fatty fish has been shown in scientific studies to reduce risk of heart disease and stroke. Consuming two, 3 ounce servings per week will provide you with the desired health benefits.
2. Coconut Oil. One of the primary fuels the brain needs is glucose, which is then converted into energy. The brain actually manufactures its own insulin to convert glucose in your bloodstream into the food it needs to survive. However, if your brain’s production of insulin decreases, your brain literally begins to starve, as it’s deprived of the glucose-converted energy it needs to function normally. This is what happens to Alzheimer’s patients. Portions of their brain start to atrophy, or starve, leading to impaired functioning and eventual loss of memory, speech, movement and personality.
In effect, your brain can also begin to atrophy from starvation if it becomes insulin resistant and loses its ability to convert glucose into energy. Fortunately, your brain is able to run on more than one type of energy supply, and this is where coconut oil enters the picture as an effective brain power booster. Coconut Oil provides food for the brain and prevents brain atrophy. It may even restore and renew neuron and nerve function in the brain, even after any form of damage has set in.
3. Vitamin D. Activated vitamin D receptors is said to increase nerve growth in the brain, and researchers have also located metabolic pathways for vitamin D in the hippocampus and cerebellum of the brain, areas that are involved in planning, processing of information, and the formation of new memories.
The National Institutes of Mental Health recently concluded that it is vital that the mother gets enough Vitamin D while she is pregnant in order for the baby’s brain to develop properly. The child must also get enough vitamin D after birth for “normal” brain functioning. Research in older adults has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer brain function, and increasing levels may help keep older adults mentally alert.
Appropriate exposure to sun would take care of these issues, as the sun is irreplaceable when it comes to the body’s ability to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D.
4. Optimize the Flora in Your Gut. Your gut is your “second brain,” and your gut bacteria transmit information to your brain via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem into your enteric nervous system (the nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract). There is a close connection between abnormal gut flora and abnormal brain development, and just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut — including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is also found in your brain and is linked to mood.
Health experts believe that your gut health can impact your brain function, psyche, and behavior, as they are interconnected and interdependent in a number of different ways.
Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are heavily dependent on your diet and vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you consume a lot of processed foods and sweetened drinks, for instance, your gut bacteria are likely going to be severely compromised because processed foods in general destroys healthy microflora and sugars of all kinds feed bad bacteria and yeast. Limiting sugar and processed foods, while eating traditionally fermented foods (rich in naturally occurring good bacteria), taking a probiotic supplement and breastfeeding your baby are among the best ways to optimize gut flora and subsequently support brain health.
5. Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12, or the lack of this essential vitamin, has been called the “canary in the coalmine” for your future brain health, and recent research has bolstered the importance of this vitamin in keeping your mind sharp as you age. According to one of the latest research, people with high levels of markers for vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to score lower on cognitive tests, as well as have a smaller total brain volume, which suggests a lack of the vitamin may contribute to brain shrinkage.
Mental fogginess and problems with memory are two of the top warning signs that you have vitamin B12 deficiency, and this is indicative of its importance for your brain health.
6. Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin E. A potent antioxidant, vitamin E has also been attributed to helping with protecting neurons or brain cells from age-related damage. Avocados, nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy fats and vitamin E. Eat a handful of nuts and seeds each day such as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds. Sliced avocado can be enjoyed by itself or can be put smoothies.
7. Enjoy More Dark Chocolate. The antioxidants in dark chocolate provide protection of the blood vessels that bring circulation to your brain from deterioration. Dark chocolate also contains caffeine which has mood enhancing effects and helps to improve concentration. Dark chocolate that is 70% or higher should be selected, and portion control is advised. 1 ounce per day is all that is needed to enjoy the brain boosting benefits of this superfood.
8. Frequent Exercise. Exercise is not only important for weight loss, better body metabolism and healthy body functioning, it is also very important for improving brain health. Exercise increases circulation and oxygenation to your brain cells and increases the growth of new neurons, especially in the areas of your brain that are associated with memory and learning.
You should always strive to exercise or at least move your body for 30 minutes each day. Cardiovascular activities such as walking or running, stretching and weight bearing exercises such as free weights should be considered.
9. Learn Something New. Your brain is like a muscle and as you learn new things, you strengthen the connection between your brain cells which essentially makes your brain stronger as it works to remember this new information. Some of the activities that boosts brain health include photography, puzzles/word games/brain teasers, learning to play a musical instrument, dancing, arts, travel, periodic visit to the art gallery and museums, taking up a new hobby or learning a new language. A study published in the journal Neuropsychology found that adults between the ages 60 to 83 years who had studied an instrument at some point in their lives did better on cognitive tests than those with no musical background. Commit yourself to lifelong learning, as it’s never too late.
10. Adequate Sleep & Stress Reduction. Lastly, getting plenty of rest is necessary for both physical and mental health. If you hardly get enough sleep, your brain will simply not be able to function properly, and never be as sharp as it should. Also, managing stress effectively will help to better sharpen your mind!. If you let your stress run your life, your mind will become so weak and overburdened that your brain may not be able to function at its best.
Have a healthy week!
Photo Credit: Boston Magazine