What is Cognitive Health/Function?
What do you think of when you see the words “cognitive health”? Most of us think about our parents or grandparents and how they forget things or aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be. Let me be the first to tell you that cognitive health is more than forgetting something or not being sharp. Cognitive health is the ability to think clearly, learn, remember and react (physically and mentally). It is an essential component of brain health. Cognitive health also includes how well a person can make and control movements (sports, e-games, etc.), how well a person can interpret and respond to emotions, and how well a person can feel and react to pressure, pain, and temperature.
Three areas influence cognitive health: environmental, lifestyle, and genetic. While environmental and lifestyle risk factors can be in your control, genetic influences cannot. Some great examples of health conditions that fall into the two areas we can control are heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and depression. These conditions are linked to a decline in our ability to think. Other lifestyle and environmental contributors to poor cognitive health are lack of exercise, poor diet, noise, weather conditions, housing conditions, air pollution, use of medications (both prescription and OTC), smoking, alcohol use, and sleep problems.
We are talking about how well we “cognitively function,” which is much more than just memory. Cognitive function refers to multiple mental abilities such as learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem-solving, decision making, and attention. Cognitive function helps us manage our finances, learn a new skill, play sports, e-gaming, keep appointments, study for exams, drive a car, sing songs we have heard, use motor skills to play a sport or instrument, and so much more. Just about all of our daily activities and functions are related to our cognitive function and health.
Natural Approaches to Supporting Cognitive Health and Function
As mentioned above, our cognitive abilities are impacted by genetics, environmental influences, and lifestyle. Since we can’t control our genetic predisposition, we need to focus on the other two areas to improve or maintain our cognitive health and function. Let’s take a look at my Four Pillars of Health to create a solid cognitive health program.
Four Pillars Explained
I created my Four Pillars of Health several decades ago, realizing that we needed an equal balance of all four of these areas to achieve or maintain health. The areas are diet, exercise, spirituality, and supplementation. I observed that even if you do just one or two of these areas perfectly, people still were prone to health issues.
- Diet- What do you eat?
- Exercise- How much activity do you get daily/weekly?
- Spirituality- How grounded or connected are you by using prayer/meditation, etc.?
- Supplementation- Are you taking supplements such as herbs, vitamins/minerals?
Now, let’s apply the four pillars to cognitive health and function.
Diet and its cognitive health connection
When it comes to diet and all health, the consensus agrees that we need a diet consisting of “whole foods,” i.e., fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, lean meats, fish, poultry. This means, limit or eliminate sugar, salt, and all processed/refined foods (foods that come from a can, box, or other packaging and have been manipulated to be from their original condition). Many foods provide benefits for those interested in their cognitive health. Here is a list of some of the best to add to your daily diet:
- Berries (especially blueberries)
- Fatty fish (high in omega-3s), i.e., Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, etc.
- Turmeric- yes, use the spice this when cooking and supplement on the days you don’t eat it.
- Green Veggies- Broccoli, spinach, kale, i.e., all things green
- Dark Chocolate- The darker, the better; shoot for 75% or higher
- Nuts- especially Walnuts and Almonds. Peanuts don’t count-they’re not a nut.
- Oranges- Eat them, don’t drink them for the full benefits.
- Eggs- Yes, eggs are high in several vital nutrients tied to brain health.
- Green tea- You need to drink something; why not have it be something healthy.
- Avocado- high in good fats (omegas)
- Tomatoes- Great for so many things
Exercise and cognitive health connections
Since many people don’t like to exercise, let’s call this section “activity.” The recommended minimum of activity we need is 150 minutes of brisk walking per week. That means five thirty-minute walks per week. Carve up the 150-minutes however you want, i.e., two 15-minute walks per day, three 10-minute walks per day. Increased activity will increase the amount of oxygen getting to your brain and decrease the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss. Increased activity also enhances the effects of helpful brain chemicals, improves sleep, and reduces stress which is all-important for improving cognitive health.
While on the topic of “exercise,” consider giving your brain a workout too. There are puzzles, apps, brain-training programs, problem-solving, etc., which will help exercise your brain. Even something as simple as learning a new hobby or reading new books will help exercise your brain and improve your cognitive health and function.
Spirituality and cognitive health
For clarity here, we are not talking about religion. Spirituality is a broad term for the connection we feel to something outside ourselves. Some people express their spirituality through church attendance and prayer, while others find their spirituality in nature or art. Spirituality is a personal experience. For example, when I drive in the car, I listen to peaceful music, giving me spiritual peace and a sense of calm. Another way to look at it, research shows that meditating (or call it prayer) helps boost memory, learning, and focus. Lastly, spirituality often helps people find peace, i.e., reduce stress. Reducing stress has a profound impact on cognitive health and function.
Supplements and cognitive health
In recent years the amount of clinical studies done with dietary supplements in the area of cognitive health and function has been rising rapidly. This is most likely due to the increase in awareness of what appears to be more people suffering from memory, concentration, and focusing problems. Simply put, supplements provide benefits to cognitive health. Here are some critical areas in which we need to focus (pun intended).
- Nourish- provide key nutrients needed for brain and cognitive health
- Protection- protect the brain from harmful environmental and body-produced toxins
- Direct impact- Ingredients with clinically proven improvements to cognitive health.
There are several supplements I find to be at the top of my list for helping nourish or feed the brain and help support cognitive health and functionality. Keep in mind (another pun intended ), nourishing supplements, just like diet, need to be taken daily and may take months to show a marked difference. It may be so gradual that you don’t feel or notice anything, yet you should feel confident you are doing the right thing. In short, they are;
- Phosphatidylserine (Serine)
- Phosphatidylcholine (Choline)
- Greens (yes, you can eat them too or take a supplement)
When we speak of protective supplements, we are talking about supplements with strong antioxidant potential and have shown to be especially beneficial for brain health and or cognitive health. As mentioned above, with nourishing supplements, protective antioxidants need to take daily to receive the benefits. Again, you will not necessarily notice any changes in the short run. Rest assured you are making the right choice to have these in your supplement cabinet. Here are some of my favorites:
- Sibelius™: LactoMato (Lycopene)
- Memophenol®(Blueberry extract)
- Greens (eat more or take a supplement)
Direct impact on cognitive health
When we look at the supplements that provide benefits to our cognitive health, I like to focus on (yes, another intended pun) botanicals with clinically proven benefits to our cognitive health and function. First and foremost, I love the ingredient SibeliusTM: Sage. I first learned about this fantastic ingredient while I was attending and speaking at an educational event. I was so impressed by the scientific information that I decided to dig into the cognitive health benefits of SibeliusTM: Sage. Sage has a long history of use, dating back to over 4000 years.
As I investigated more into SibeliusTM: Sage, here is what I learned. First and foremost, it works fast. Many people I have suggested it to (including myself) feel it working in as little as 20 minutes. It isn’t often that we can feel the effects of a natural product. Studies have proven that SibeliusTM: Sage works in a wide range of ages too. One study showed improvements in people 65-90 years of age within 1 hour of taking it. There were improvements in secondary memory, recognition, recall, accuracy, and speed of retention. Who doesn’t want these improvements? Another study proved it worked in people 18-25 years of age. Improvements in word recall, focus, and short-term memory were seen after just one dose.
In addition to SibeliusTM: Sage, adding in one of nature’s powerful adaptogens to help with the stress component and its relationship to cognitive health. If you aren’t familiar with the term adaptogen, adaptogens are plant extracts shown to help the body adapt to physical and emotional stress. When we reduce the effects that stress can have on the body, we help improve your ability to concentrate and focus. Here are three clinically proven adaptogens you will want to add to your supplement program if stress is part of your daily life.
- Sensoril® (Ashwagandha)
- Synapsa® (Bacopa)
- Cereboost® (American Ginseng)
If you or a loved one has concerns with cognitive health and function, your approach should contain all three areas: nutritional, protective, and direct impact supplements. Your supplement program should look something like this: Omega-3s + Sibelius™: LactoMato + SibeliusTM: Sage = Effective Cognitive Health Program. Keep in mind you also want to make sure you clean up your diet, get more activity and find a spiritual component that works for you and your lifestyle. Taking charge of those things you can control will go a long way to improving your overall health and cognition.