Our brains — so complex and so impressive! Capable of generating all the information needed to work all the parts of our body yet still often mysterious. What we do know is that a healthy brain is one that can perform all the mental processes that are collectively known as cognition, including the ability to learn new things, intuition, judgment, language, and remembering.
It is important to note that our brains are always changing in a process called neuroplasticity or “brain plasticity” as we age. This plasticity determines the ability of the brain to modify its connections or rewire itself. Without this ability, any brain, not just the human brain, would be unable to develop from infancy through to adulthood or recover from brain injury. Neuroplasticity can be enhanced by many things we will look at in this article.
Eating well is good for your mental as well as your physical health. But which foods are particularly important to keep your grey matter happy and healthy?
I recommend an array of foods to optimize nutrition, paying attention to helping patients see what you eat gives you the best chance of getting all the nutrients you need for cognitive health.
8 of my favorite super brain food choices include:
1. Oily Fish
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body which means they must be obtained through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines in the form of EPA and DHA. Low DHA levels have been linked to an increased risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and memory loss. Omega-3 fatty acids also increase levels of molecules important for neuroplasticity.
Studies show that these yummy berries may be effective in
Improving or delaying short-term memory loss. Blueberries are extremely rich in phytochemicals, naturally occurring plant compounds, such as ellagic acid and anthocyanidins which are responsible for the blue, indigo and red coloring. Phytochemicals have been extensively researched for their antioxidant action that helps protect the body against a long list of diseases.
3. Leafy Greens
Spinach and other dark leafy green vegetables contain essential vitamins and minerals that help prevent dementia due to being rich in polyphenols that shield the brain from injury and disease. The antioxidants found in leafy greens have also been associated with preventing the recurrence of strokes and the delaying of symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Dark Chocolate
Good news — yes, you can eat chocolate but go for dark chocolate to boost your brain health. Basically, the darker the chocolate, the better it is for your brain and the benefits are many including stroke, MS, Parkinson Disease, Autism, ADHD, and memory. Remember refined sugar is terrible for your brain in general so look for chocolate that is at least 85% cacao.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, and particularly Alzheimer’s disease.
6. Nuts and Seeds
These are rich in zinc, a valuable mineral which is vital for enhancing all cognitive functions including memory and thinking skills and they also contain Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that enhances cognitive skills. Zinc also enhances nerve function by regulating the plasticity of synapses (gaps in between neurons that serve as areas of impulse transmission).
Broccoli is a great source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower. Compounds in broccoli called glycosylates can slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which we need for the central nervous system to perform properly and to keep our brains and our memories sharp. Low levels of acetylcholine are associated with Alzheimer’s.
Spices contain polyphenols that have antioxidant properties that protect the nervous system and have been thought to prevent various neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Cinnamon, sage, cumin, and cilantro are powerful memory boosters that can be readily sprinkled into foods.
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How to Increase Brain Function
As a nutritionist that believes in the mind-body connection, there are things that I recommend for my patients for brain health beyond just dietary suggestions. A plan to enhance brain function should include:
Keeping the body moving improves cognitive function, slows down the mental aging process and helps us process information more effectively. Aerobic exercise is an excellent way to improve circulation and oxygen delivery to your brain cells, preventing and delaying the loss of cognitive function.
Any form of exercise helps to move the body and increase deep breathing. It doesn’t have to be hard-core exercise like lifting weights at the gym. It can be anything that you like and will keep you motivated to stay with it. Some of the exercises I personally find of interest include circuit training, boot camp classes, swimming, walking or jogging, yoga and even dancing.
- Social Connections
Studies show that feeling lonely can disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase depression, and lower overall optimal brain function, connectivity, and cognitive function. Good relationships and social integration can promote memory preservation especially among the elderly, and a solid social network can reduce general cognitive decline.
Training the mind to be quiet is incredibly important for long-term brain health. Practiced over time, quieting the ever-fluctuating thoughts through meditation changes the structure of the brain. Meditators have stronger neural connections between various areas of the brain. These positive brain changes may play an important role in slowing the progression of age-related cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
- Get Enough Sleep
Scientists have known for decades that the brain requires restful and enough sleep to consolidate learning and memory. Getting an optimal amount of sleep is connected to the restoration of neurobehavioral functions and improves thinking ability, concentration, and mood. And imagine this — Poor sleep quality is also associated with reduced gray matter volume throughout the entire frontal lobe and globally in the brain.
- Reduce Chronic Stress
Chronic stress and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can damage the brain by triggering long-term changes in its structure and function which in turn can lead to cognitive decline.
- Learn New Things
Your brain never stops changing as long as you continue to learn new things that improve neuroplasticity, attention span, and memory. Invest in art lessons, learning an instrument, dancing or learning a foreign language. All of these are known to help us develop better connectivity between different regions of the brain.
I believe there are a few important relationships between supplemental nutrients and brain health that are worth exploring, especially if your diet is unbalanced for whatever reason or the nutrients you need cannot be found easily in foods. You may want to consider these essentials:
l recently began recommending the power of nootropics to my patients. Nootropics (also known as “smart drugs”) are supplements that improve cognitive function, encourage brain plasticity, and boost memory, creativity, and motivation.
My favorite one contains a combination of the two most powerful and beneficial brain nutrients, Phosphatidyl Serine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine is known for their ability to enhance memory, improve mental acuity, and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Brain Vitale™ is one of the most unique nootropic formulations I know of designed to optimize brain function.
Next in my arsenal to help my patients is a delicious drinkable nootropic that supports sharp focus and mental acuity. Keto-Nootropic™ is a powerful blend of exogenous ketones (in the form of beta-hydroxybutyrate salts) and a patented American ginseng extract, delivered in a delicious and easy-to-dose powdered drink mix.
Need more Omega-3 fatty acids in your life? You can find them in a formula that has a good ratio of EPA/DHA to support various aspects of brain function. Omegatropic™ is a unique omega-3 formulation fish oils in the triglyceride (TG) form – the form found in nature, making for superior absorption and bioavailability.
And I believe that taking a good supplement containing herbs and extracts for cognitive health, in conjunction with the nootropics, can be very useful. CogniAid™ contains a wildcrafted blueberry complex and also features vinpocetine, Huperzine A (a naturally occurring alkaloid compound), the green tea polyphenol EGCg, and the Ayurvedic herb Bacopa monnieri.
I truly believe that brain function does not have to decline with age, if you stay healthy and mentally active, eat a proper diet and take optimal brain health boosters.
I am here to help support you in finding what works best. Contact me today so we can formulate a personal brain health program that addresses your specific and unique needs.
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