What do you think of when you see the words “Healthy Brain”? 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. However, this is only part of the equation for a healthy brain and its functionality. Thinking, recalling information, and reacting quickly is part of having a healthy brain, but what steps can we take to support our overall brain health and avoid having cognitive decline issues as we grow older.
To keep things simple, we will focus on three areas that influence brain 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 brain 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.
All our daily activities and functions are related to our brain health and its function.
Natural Approaches for Positive Brain Health and Function
As mentioned above, our brain health and functionality 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 brain health and function. There are four areas in which we should focus (no pun intended) our attention on when it comes to any of our health concerns:
- Diet- What do you eat?
- Exercise- How much activity do you get daily/weekly?
- Spirituality- How grounded or connected are you using prayer/meditation, etc.?
- Supplementation- Are you taking supplements such as herbs, vitamins/minerals?
How do these four areas apply to brain health?
Diet and connection to brain health
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 eliminating 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). Here is a list of some of the best “Brain Foods” 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 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 the brain health connection
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 of memory loss disorders. Increased activity also enhances the effects of helpful brain chemicals, improves sleep, and reduces stress, which is essential for improving brain and 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 brain health the same way cardio or weightlifting help improve the overall health of your body.
Spirituality and cognitive health
For clarity here, we are not talking about religion. Spirituality is a broad term for our connection 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 brain health and function.
Supplements and Brain Health
In recent years the number of clinical studies done with dietary supplements in brain health and function has risen 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 overall brain and cognitive health. Here are some critical areas in which we need to focus (pun intended ):
- Nourish- provide critical nutrients needed for brain health
- Protection- protect the brain from harmful environmental and body-produced toxins
- Direct impact- Ingredients with clinically proven brain and cognitive health improvements.
I find several supplements to be at the top of my list for helping nourish or feed the brain and help support the brain’s health and functionality. Keep in mind (another pun intended J), nutritional 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)
- Water (Yes, water can be considered a supplement since most people don’t drink it)
- 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 nutritional supplements, protective antioxidants need to take daily to receive the benefits. So, 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 benefit our brain and cognitive health, I like to focus on (yes, another intended pun) botanicals with clinically proven benefits. First and foremost, I love the ingredient SibeliusTM: Sage. I first learned about this fantastic ingredient while 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. 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 retention speed. Who doesn’t want these improvements? Another study proved it worked in people 18-25 years of age. After just one dose, improvements in word recall, focus, and short-term memory were seen.
Studies with sage have shown several mechanisms in which sage has brain and cognitive health activity. These mechanisms have influences on:
- Amyloid-β peptide (the main component of amyloid plaques found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s
- Positive impact on the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is essential for arousal, attention, memory, and motivation
- Anti-inflammatory- decreasing extended inflammation can have a positive impact on most organs of the body, including the brain and nervous system
- Anxiolytic/anti-depressive- Help support the reduction in stress and mood disturbances
- Antioxidant- antioxidants help protect from free radical damage throughout the body, including the brain/nervous system. Over time, an abundance of free radical damage can lead to more severe health concerns.
Another primary area of focus is Sage’s impact on neurotransmitters. For example, sage extracts have been shown to inhibit acetylcholinesterase’s action. Acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. When acetylcholine is broken down too quickly, it can decrease attention, memory, and motivation.
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 concentration 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 = Supportive Brain Health Program. Keep in mind that you also want to 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.