Contrary to what the ancient Egyptians thought, the brain is our greatest asset yet! You can even refer to it as your body's Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The brain remains undefeated as the seat of all cognitive functions (mental activities). Your brain helps you map out your next move, create solutions, coordinate your body system, and it even brought you to this blog post. Fascinating, isn't it?
So, what happens when you find yourself thinking, acting, and functioning slower than usual? What's worse is you can't remember events and information as much as you used to. A possible explanation is your CEO is down and needs a little boost.
Luckily, in this blog, we'll be discussing brain health and the most effective ways to give your brain just the boost it needs.
What's the Fuss About Brain Health?
Brain health goes beyond being the first to answer questions correctly in class, getting a perfect score, or remembering that movie from the early '70s. Although that's some super brainpower, it's only one aspect of the broad scope that comprises brain health.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, brain health implies your ability to perform all mental processes—collectively referred to as cognition—including learning, remembering, judging, and using language.
So, brain health, in simple terms, is concerned with the ability to carry out activities adequately, which depends on your age bracket and the absence of overt brain diseases.
Brain Health and Your Lifestyle: The Good, The Bad, and The Damaging
One factor that largely determines the state of your brain health is your lifestyle. When you take age and brain diseases out of the equation, all other contributing factors to your brain health merge to form your lifestyle. In other words, your brain health almost depends wholly on you and the choices you make.
This news can either be a blessing or a curse. It's a curse when your lifestyle consists of brain-depleting factors, and it's a blessing when your lifestyle helps boost your brain health.
Everything you eat or drink, how much you work out, how well you sleep, and how you react to situations contribute to your brain health. To help you better understand the detrimental mental effects of your lifestyle and discover how best to boost and nurture your brain health, let's discuss the six pillars of brain health:
Pillar #1: Pump Your Muscles
Nothing improves the brain's health like a kick-ass workout session. With each movement of your muscles, you get enough nutrients and oxygenated blood flowing from your heart to your brain.
Optimum oxygen levels and brain functions are like Ying and Yang, i.e., they go hand-in-hand. When you feed your brain with a healthy amount of oxygen, you're sure to improve your brain health and enjoy all the benefits that come with a healthier brain.
Regular exercise also reduces your risk of having brain diseases. As the saying goes, exercise a day keeps the brain diseases away. Well, it's not a very popular saying. According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.8 million U.S. citizens, age 65 and older, had Alzheimer's in 2020. It's alarming that this is just one effect of being inactive.
A sedentary (inactive) lifestyle, according to a study conducted on rats, could also negatively alter your brain. As a result, you risk developing certain psychological diseases, like heart disease. According to Alzheimer's Research &Prevention Foundation, regular physical exercise reduces your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by a staggering 50%!
There's good news: you don't have to worry about doing rigorous exercises, especially if you've been inactive for a while. Remember, less is more. The best part of this pillar is you can fix in an exercise or two into your schedule no matter how cramped it is. So, get to work and start building those powerful brain muscles!
Pillar #2: Keep Stress At Bay
Stress is your body's alarm clock that prepares you to either flee to a safe zone or face danger. Stress does save you from harm or danger, but it all goes south when it becomes chronic (long-term).
These days, stress is almost inevitable with all the news flying around. Whether you're a stay-at-home parent, you've got an offline or online 9-to-5, or you dent couches for a living (you matter too!), you're bound to experience stress, albeit at different levels.
Maybe you find yourself stressing over unfinished or additional work, impromptu speeches, fast-approaching deadlines, pop quizzes, the list is endless! But, all you gain from continuously drowning yourself in worry and stress is a truckload of more stress garnished with health conditions, like headaches and heartburn, and for the finishing touch, a sprinkle of heart and brain health challenges.
To prevent this, here are surefire ways to cope with and manage your stress:
- Exercise as often as possible.
- Consult a medical practitioner.
- Connect with friends and loved ones often.
- Observe and take note of your stressors.
Pillar #3: Rest Up and Get Enough Shuteye
Remember those nights you had to sleep at odd hours so you could finish up your project or watch reruns of your favorite movie? How did you feel when you woke up in the morning? Groggy, cranky, and tired? That's what you might experience, but there's more to it.
Poor sleep or sleep deprivation not only gives you a bad mood but also impairs cognitive functions like decision-making, learning, and memory. It also makes you susceptible to diseases and infections because it impairs your immune system's functions. Surprising, right? Staying up past your bedtime can lead to this web of medical conditions.
According to a study published in 2009, sleep-deprivation can also disrupt functional connections between the brain's reward- and emotion-processing centers and the prefrontal cortex. This results in heightened emotional responses and irrational behaviors.
Pillar #4: Put Your Brain Muscles to Work
One way to improve your mental fitness and put your brain muscles to work is by building your brain reserves. Your brain reserves help your brain adapt, respond to changes, and resist brain damages and helping. Your brain reserves start developing in your childhood and get stronger as you advance to adulthood.
Your brain reserves grow, improve, and get stronger as you keep learning, developing new skills, and embracing new activities. Learning never ends. As you make discoveries and increase your knowledge, you promote your brain health by stretching and exercising your brain!
A paraphrase of Albert Einstein's quote: "Once you stop learning, you turn your brain into a couch potato, and slowly, but surely, it starts dying. If your brain starts dying, you start dying."
Pillar #5: Balance Up Your Diet
Imagine this: your brain is an expensive car that only needs premium fuel to run smoothly and efficiently. A healthy diet is the premium fuel that services (nurtures) your brain to health and helps maintain your brain health.
When you take just the right amount of nutrients, your entire body—especially your brain—gets enough fuel to function well. A surefire way to get your cognitive system up and running is to fill your diet with vegetables, lean protein, fresh fruits, and healthy fats. You can even get a dietitian to help map out a healthy brain meal plan (e.g., the MIND diet) for the week, month, or even the whole year!
The food groups above help reduce inflammation and provide a steady fuel source for your brain's maintenance and health. An unhealthy diet hurts your brain health, causes inflammation, and can contribute to a truckload of stress. The result? Further brain damage. Now, think about it: Is that greasy mountain of fries coupled with an unending stream of ketchup worth the hassle?
Here's a fun fact: Following a healthy-brain diet, like the MIND diet, for a couple of years can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's by a whopping 53%! Are you now ready to cut off all that junk from your diet?
Take a look at your diet, best with the help of a medical practitioner. If it's balanced, you're doing a great job getting that premium fuel! If it's not, take that bold step and intentionally plan for a healthier and brain-rewarding diet. Your brain and body will thank you.
Pillar #6: Keep Good Company
Do you know you can protect your brain against memory loss by leading an active social life? When you spend quality time with good company (family and friends) and have mind-stimulating conversations, you improve your brain health and cognitive functions.
Several studies have shown that people with the most social interactions experience the slowest rate of memory decline. This social interaction also extends to having a happy marriage or long-term relationship and having a purpose in life. So, watch your interactions, discard toxic relationships, and make the most of your healthy and worthwhile relationships.
Like Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D., ABPP, a clinical neuropsychologist and founder of Brain Health Center, Inc., said, "Socialization is really critical, but we tend not to think of it from a health perspective. Research has shown that if a person isolates or segregates, the brain isolates and segregates."
Neurodegenerative diseases cause the most damage to your brain because they destroy brain cells, tissues, and nerves over time and could cause confusion, a change in personality, or memory loss. Examples of common neurodegenerative diseases are:
- Parkinson's disease
- Huntington's disease
- All forms of dementia, e.g., Alzheimer's disease
- Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
One way to effectively reduce your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases is to hop on the pillars of brain health. Taking a closer look, you'll find that each brain health pillar compliments the other. So, once you commit to one, it will be easier to incorporate the next, and soon, you'll have all six down pat!
Best Brain Health Supplements for Improved Brain Power
What are the best brain supplements your brain needs for that extra boost? Here are some of the best brain supplements to help boost your brainpower and maintain a healthy body and brain:
Creatine is a compound located in the brain and muscle tissues. According to research, you can boost your general intelligence and working memory by taking creatine as a dietary supplement. It helps boost energy levels in the brain and keeps your brain healthy. How? Creatine has antioxidant properties that help prevent oxidative stress, improve memory, and keep your brain feeling a-okay! This supplement also protects your brain from neurotoxicity and helps improve neurological disorders like depression. Creatine is perfect for vegetarians. The supplement aids vegetarians take in the required amount of creatine found in meat and reap its brain-boosting benefits.
Creatine is also successfully trialed in the treatment of atherosclerotic, neurological, and neuromuscular diseases. If you're looking to source creatine through your diet, you can't go wrong with either fish or red meat. You can source 1-2 grams of creatine from one pound of raw salmon or beef. If you want to start up creatine supplementation, the standard way is through creatine loading. Creatine loading helps you saturate your muscles with creatine, so you get to experience its effects faster.
Creatine loading requires that you take 20-25 grams of creatine in 4 to 5 equal doses per day for 5-7 days. After this saturation stage, you can maintain your creatine muscle reserves by taking 3-5 grams of creatine (30 mg/kg or 14 mg/pound).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oils)
You might have heard of fish oil supplements, like cod liver oil, or even seen a few packets lying around in your drug cabinet. These supplements are popular and widely-used. Not only do they have super skin and heart health benefits, but they also have incredible brain health benefits, especially in the area of depression and mild memory loss.
This supplement contains two essential fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids play significant roles in brain health and development and heart health and have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Fish oils help maintain your brain health by facilitating brain cell communication and preserving your brain cell membranes.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for fish oil supplement is 500 milligrams per day for healthy people and almost twice this amount (800-1000 milligrams) per day for people with known heart disease or heart failure.
If you take fish oils out of your diet, you risk limiting the size of your brain, accelerating brain retardation, and experiencing deficits in learning and memory. You can alternatively source fish oil supplements from fatty fish and directly from fish oils. If you're vegan, it's obvious you're not into fishy business. Luckily, there's an alternative for you in the form of brussels sprouts, algae, chia, flax oil, and hemp seeds.
Rhodiola Rosea is a flowering herb. It grows in the frigid, high-altitude regions of Asia and Europe. For centuries, people in Scandinavian countries and Russia have used Rhodiola to cure several illnesses, like depression and anxiety, and improve cognitive functions. Now, Rhodiola is a widely-used dietary supplement with a wealth of health and mental benefits.
According to a study, Rhodiola can help you reduce stress and handle stressful situations better! This wonder supplement also helps reduce mental fatigue and improve performance by 20%! Another study found that Rhodiola also improved sleep patterns and increased the motivation to study in the student participants. Their examination scores were 8% higher than students who didn't take the Rhodiola supplement.
To improve symptoms of depression, fatigue, or stress, you should take 400-600 mg of Rhodiola, in a single dose, daily. Asides from its supplement form, you can also either cook Rhodiola like spinach or add it to your diet and still enjoy its numerous cognitive benefits!
If you're familiar with red wine, chances are you've heard of resveratrol, a popular plant compound found in red wine. Resveratrol supplements are well-known for their numerous health benefits, like lowering blood pressure and protecting and improving brain function.
This red wine supplement is one of the best supplements for brain health. It not only helps improve your cognitive function but also helps prevent any form of cognitive impairment or decline, i.e., memory loss, distraction, and indecisiveness. So, resveratrol works to maintain your brain health and keep you from developing the dreaded neurodegenerative diseases.
You can source resveratrol directly from dark chocolate, peanuts, cocoa, pistachios, cranberries, grapes, blueberries, and white and red wine! Currently, there's no standard RDA for resveratrol supplement use for brain health, so always check with your doctor before taking these red wine supplements!
Bacopa—also called water hyssop, thyme-leaved gratiola, and Brahmi—is a staple plant used in traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) for several health benefits, including treating epilepsy, improving memory, and reducing anxiety. Research shows that bacopa may improve stress and anxiety and boost brain function, among other great benefits!
What is the best supplement for reducing inflammation in the brain? One word answer, bacopa. This ayurvedic herb inhibits enzymes associated with inflammation and inflammatory cytokines in your brain. As a result, it limits inflammation in your central nervous system (CNS) and even helps treat many CNS disorders.
For now, there isn't enough scientific backing to determine the general dosage, but during human studies, the typical doses range from 300-450 mg of bacopa extract daily. So, stick to your doctor's prescriptions and the instructions on your supplement bottle. As an alternative to its supplement form, you can also decide to add some hot water directly to the herb or its powdered form to make a soothing tea that is just as effective!
L-theanine is a natural amino acid with the potential for improving cognitive functioning, especially when combined with caffeine. Do you know where you can find just the right mix of L-theanine and caffeine? In a hot cup of green tea. L-theanine, according to research, sets you at ease and helps you unwind. It also helps people dealing with high levels of anxiety.
A study found that moderate amounts of L-theanine and caffeine (about 97mg and 40mg, respectively) can enhance focus during demanding tasks. The study's participants felt more alert and less tired in general. Also, you can start feeling these effects after as little as 30 minutes! Great, isn't it?
Several studies have suggested that L-theanine can boost the immune system. If you'd like to source your L-theanine from green tea, follow the general caffeine consumption guidelines. But, if you're interested in taking the L-theanine supplements, ask your doctor for guidance on dosage.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that works to improve your brain health by reducing oxidative stress. In fact, in 1997, a study from the Alzheimer's Disease Cooperative showed that vitamin E supplements could slow the progression of Alzheimer's in patients with moderately severe Alzheimer's disease.
If you'd like to source your vitamin E from your meal or diet, here are a few good sources of vitamin E:
- Vegetable oils
- Leafy greens
For supplementation purposes, here's a table from Web MD to let you know how much vitamin E your body needs daily:
Curcumin is a star antioxidant found in turmeric—an ingredient in curry powder. Could this be the reason for lower Alzheimer's disease rates in India? UCLA published a study that showed people who took curcumin had less abnormal protein buildup in their brains and performed better on memory tests.
According to Dr. Gary Small—the study's first author—curcumin may exert these effects due to its ability to reduce brain inflammation. This reduction in inflammation could then help preserve memory in people with Alzheimer's disease. As a result, curcumin is one of the best brain supplements for adults.
Another interesting fact about curcumin is it can increase brain levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF). As a result, it may effectively delay or reverse age-related mental declines and many brain diseases! According to WHO, an acceptable daily intake of curcumin is 1.4mg/pound (0-3mg/kg) of your body weight. You can also decide to source your curcumin from turmeric and enhance your body's ability to absorb it by cooking it with good fats, like coconut oil, or mixing a golden smoothie or latte either with coconut milk, full-fat dairy, or almond milk.
In some cases, many healthy people don't need supplements to sharpen their brainpower and focus. But, when you do need brain supplements, always consult a medical practitioner before taking them. Remember to focus on the six pillars of brain health, whether you're taking supplements or not. The pillars of brain health will help you show love to all parts of your body and improve your brain health faster!
Other Ways to Keep Your Mind Healthy and Active
Asides from supplements and food, there are other ways to keep your mind up and running. Physical activities have a way of stretching your body and brain muscles. One of such physical activities is yoga.
Yoga doesn't only help you ease stress and relieve that never-ending back pain from sitting for long hours at work. According to a new study, doing yoga once or twice a week can also improve your brain health. A study published in the Brain Plasticity journal stated that the brain benefits from yoga from aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise helps improve cognitive functions and performances like attention, learning, and memory.
You're probably wondering which yoga poses will benefit your brain more. To save you the trouble, here are 8 effective yoga poses from StyleCraze to get your brain pumped and power-packed:
Our final thoughts
Now, you know how to show all forms of dementia the backdoor and keep your brain active and healthy as the years go. Never stop stretching your brain to do more. Remember, learning never ends. And, if you get to preserve your brain health as well as learn new things, it's a win-win for you! Don't stop chasing those brain health goals!