Updated: Feb 22
Did you know there are at least eight definitions for the word judgement? For the purpose of today’s blog, I refer to the clarity to make good decisions, to be objective and to choose wisely. In other words, sagacity – my new favourite word.
In the April is for Aqua blog I gave a special shoutout to the innumerable functions the brain is responsible for. It is literally your central control panel – and you only have one. No spare parts come with this incredible organ. In order to maintain the mental capacity for discrimination, comprehension and astuteness, one needs to keep the old noggin in a healthy state. No matter what your age, you are never too young to implement strategies in order to maintain the overall health of you brain. Especially in this day and age. Our senses are overloaded and overstimulated by the onslaught of information coming from a multitude of sources – the phone, the radio, the television set, the media, our computers, our colleagues, our friends, etc. etc. etc.
We have all heard about, and likely know someone who has Dementia. The number one risk factor is age. The caveat is that Dementia is not part of normal aging! Yes, the brain slows down as we get older, but Dementia is a whole other ballgame.
“Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia,
and there are nearly 10 million new cases a year.”
– World Health Organization, Sept. 21, 2020
Nearly 10% of those 50 million are early onset (diagnosed with some form of Dementia before the age of 65). Those figures are staggering. But it’s not just Dementia you have to worry about. Some of the more common neurological disorders include Strokes, Neuropathy, and Parkinson’s; and age increases the risk for all of them.
There is obvious advice I can share, but you are more than likely already aware of them. Lifestyle habits like eating healthy and drinking plenty of water, avoiding sugary and processed foods, not smoking, getting plenty of sleep and exercise are glaringly obvious and the cornerstone of good brain health.
So, what else can you do? Many things. And doing research on what to implement into your lifestyle according to your unique health portfolio and life situation is extremely worthwhile. But in addition to what’s listed above, there are three key factors everyone should integrate:
See your doctor or health care practitioner regularly, whether it is to maintain a clean bill of health, or to control any current health issues you may have. Many people are just not aware they meet the criteria for certain health diagnoses such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression and obesity, because they don’t seek regular check-ups. These are all conditions that need to be identified so your health practitioner can monitor, provide guidance and advise, while you do the work and take action. By controlling these issues, you can help to substantially reduce ongoing stress on the brain. Get regular checkups and seek available resources to stop smoking and moderate your alcohol and/or recreational drug consumption.
“You’ll never get bored if you try something new.
There’s really no limit to what you can do.”
– Dr. Seuss.
Mental fitness. There are a ton of cool apps out there that just take minutes a day to play. But try upping that. Learn something you’ve always wanted to know more about, like a skill, hobby or different language. Take a dance class or sign up for a Bridge club. Any introduction to art is not only fantastic but consider yourself refined. If you always listen to country music, try classical. Write long-hand instead of typing on the computer. Take a workshop on gardening or cooking or calligraphy. Never stop learning!
Stay social. The situation in the world has made it that much harder for people to stay connected, but there are options available. Spending time and engaging with others is crucial to an active healthy mind.
There is much, much more I could add, but the information and resources on the internet are more than abundant. You don’t need me to repeat what’s already out there. This also applies to supplementing with foods, vitamins, minerals and herbs. Copious amounts of documentation backed up by science are available at your fingertips. Therefore, I will just introduce you to my personal top three in each category.
Berries, especially blueberries and strawberries. Super rich in flavonoid antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Metabolism is something our bodies do on a regular basis. This natural biological process creates free radicals. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance of free radicals and the antioxidants your body produces to eliminate them. In other words, there are too many which then leads to cell and tissue damage.
Eggs – not just for breakfast anymore. The essential nutrient choline is key to several brain functions, but especially memory. Eggs are also packed with B vitamins.
Nuts and seeds. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids (see below) and antioxidants, specifically vitamin E, to protect the brain from oxidative stress damage (see above). The three containing the highest amount of vitamin E are almonds, hazelnuts and sunflower seeds. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give a shoutout to the peanut (a legume, not a nut). The peanut packs a wallop of protein along with 30 essential vitamins and minerals. Harvested and packaged properly, they are a terrific source of fibre and good healthy fats. Peanuts are also a source of the natural polyphenol resveratrol which is said to help with overall brain function and memory. But not all peanuts are harvested and processed equally. Make sure to read the labels. The best choice are raw peanuts with the skin (contains antioxidants) still attached.
Supplements for Smarts:
Fatty fish oil – gets the #1 spot on the list. This is an essential supplement for overall health - brain health is only one of its many benefits. It is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which accounts for about 25% of the total fat, and 90% of the omega-3 fat found in your brain cells. Supplements containing DHA have been said to help maintain the structure and function of your brain, and also to improve the brain function of those struggling with cognitive impairment. The other omega-3 found in fish oil is EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which has anti-inflammatory effects protecting the brain against free radical damage and aging. The best way to add fatty fish oil to your diet is to eat it at least twice a week. This can be tricky as we are not always sure about the high-mercury levels commonly found in fish, such as orange roughy and ahi tuna (for more information on fish and mercury levels, please check on the FDA website). Your best options include Mackerel (except king mackerel), salmon and herring. If eating oily fish is not an option for you, then a high-end supplement will do the trick. This can be as confusing as buying the fish. Supplements can come from many different sources of fish and with varying ranges in DHA to EPA ratios. It is best to speak to an alternative health care practitioner or someone you trust at a health food store to ensure you get a high-end product – especially when it comes to fish oil.
Phosphatidylserine. This is a type of fat compound called a phospholipid which can be found in your brain. Foods that contain phosphatidylserine include soy (number one source), egg yolks, white beans, chicken and beef liver. In a double-blind-cross-over study it was shown that taking 100 mg three times a day can help reduce age-related decline in brain function.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine. This is an amino acid that is found in virtually every cell of the human body. It plays an important role in your metabolism, particularly in energy production from fatty acids. When it comes to the brain, studies have shown improvement in focus, attention, and memory. Some research even demonstrates an increase in learning capacity.
Herbs for the Highbrow:
Bacopa. The antioxidant Bacoside is the primary compound in Bacopa that makes it so effective. It is said to help with focusing your attention and increasing memory capacity. Bacopa has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to boost brain function, improve memory and reduce anxiety.
Rosemary. The leaves and oil of this evergreen bush are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds making it ideal for medicinal use to enhance memory. Additionally, Rosemary has a secret weapon - her distinctive smell. When it comes to stimulating the brain, improving concentration and overall mood, it is as much the aroma as the herb. Therefore, if you don’t like rosemary tea, you can always try using it in an essential oil.
Sage. Could this pretty herb be responsible for the saying ‘sage advice’? The leaves are loaded with antioxidants. For eons Sage has been used for memory enhancement, learning and processing of information, Diabetes, high cholesterol and Menopause. There are many species of Sage and sometimes the treatment calls for combining them e.g., Common and Spanish Sage are used together in a tincture to treat cognitive issues. Like Rosemary, this one is great as an essential oil.
Please remember supplements and herbs are potent and have side effects. If you have underlying disorders or are currently taking medication, please check with your doctor or health care practitioner before taking any products you are unfamiliar with.
Our June habit has two parts: First, choose one from each of the food, supplement and herb lists above (or do the research and introduce one of your choosing) and then incorporate it into your daily routine. Be sure it is safe for you and check with your health care practitioner if you are uncertain.
Secondly, if you need to deal with any or all of the three key factors, make sure you tackle it by the end of the month.
When was the last time you spoke with your doctor or alternative health care practitioner? When was the last time you had bloodwork completed, a PAP test, or a mammogram? You may not be able to book anything within the month of June, but hopefully you put a call in and get it scheduled in your calendar.
Review the large number of apps available like Brain HQ or Lumosity. They are not just for persons with cognitive impairment. They challenge and stimulate, and the exercises are meant to get you out of old thinking patterns. Invest in your brain health and sign up – many have family sharing plans. Some apps are free or partially free. Just make sure you find one that you can stick with.
Last but not least, set up a coffee/tea date over the phone or zoom with someone you have not spoken to in a while or have lost touch with. For more great tips on how to maintain relationships during this difficult time in the world, check out the blog February is for Friendship.
Brains, Brains, Happy Brains!