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, and poultry. This means limiting 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 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, 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., to 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 calling 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. Remember, 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 been shown to be especially beneficial for brain health and or cognitive health. As mentioned above, nutritional supplements and protective antioxidants need to take daily to receive the benefits. So, again, you will not necessarily notice any changes in the short run. Here are some of my favorites:
- Memophenol®(Blueberry extract)
- Greens (eat more or take a supplement)
Direct impact on cognitive health
I mentioned COGNIGRAPE™ above in protective due to its high level of polyphenolic compounds. It is mentioned here because it has been clinically proven to improve cognitive functions such as attention, language, and immediate and delayed memory.
In addition, adding 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.
- 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 + COGNIGRAPE™ + Ashwagandha = 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.