sharing knowledge; enhancing wellbeing.
1) Don’t stress… well, at least not too much. While some stress can be healthy and keep us motivated, too much can literally kill our brains. When we are stressed, cortisol is released and through a series of processes contributes to cell death, particularly in the memory centers of our brain. So, if you are feeling chronically stressed, do take some time to address the issue. There are a number of things you can do like this, this, and this.
2) Watch your meds – do you need them? I mean, do you really need them? Have you tried viable alternatives or are you just taking what your doctor (who is incentivized to prescribe) told you to without a second thought? There are a variety of medications that are found to be associated with damage to the brain – the latest being discussed by health experts are statins, which are cholesterol-lowering drugs also implicated in diabetes. And, just because your meds are over the counter doesn’t mean they are exempt – antacids are also associated with a greater risk of cognitive impairment! Never mind the issue with taking several types of medications at once…
3) Forget dieting. Make sustainable lifestyle changes. Low-carb diets are commonly attempted, but people are so motivated to lose weight that they don’t think about the consequences of depriving their brains of glucose! In a recent research study, those that ate a low-carb diet performed worse on memory tests than those who ate regularly. Low-fat diets are also not sustainable. Not only is there evidence that they don’t work in the long-run, they turn your brain to mush, quite literally! Dietary fats provide structure, flexibility, and permeability for our brain cells. We need these fats for a well-functioning brain. So, try the following to contribute to a healthy brain and body:
- Be sure that you are eating non-inflammatory carbs like: brown rice, beans, legumes, gluten-free oats, quinoa, al dente gluten-free pastas, fruits (especially berries) and veggies (like sweet potatoes), other gluten-free whole grains.
- Be sure that you are consuming a balanced fatty acid ratio by doing the following: add a molecularly distilled omega-3 fish supplement, cut back on omega-6s (like sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, corn, cottonseed, vegetable, soy, and walnut oils), and include healthy saturated and trans fats (as are found in coconut oil, and organic, grass-fed beef)
- I was serious about the fats… eat coconut oil, everyday! Don’t worry about those types of saturated fats… Again, it helps provide structure for our cells. That, and there is some evidence that coconut oil can help ward off Alzheimer’s and help with memory, never mind the plethora of other health benefits. If you are worried about Alzheimer’s or dementia I would take coconut oil every day – if you are experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s the research suggests that you take 5 tablespoons each day; otherwise take 1-3 tablespoons for maintenance). And, do avoid fried foods and other sources of trans fatty acids.
- Avoid sugar (like high fructose corn syrup, sugar sweetened beverages, and basically most other foods with added sugars). New research is finding a link between sugar consumption and brain damage! The good news is that omega-3s can help protect us from the damage… The bad news is most people don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet. Bottom line, cut down on the sugar – and this doesn’t mean buy “sugar-free” junk food – that stuff is just as toxic! Sweeten with raw, local, organic honey, or stevia, or small amounts of organic cane sugar when necessary.
4) Move around. This will help increase blood flow to the brain, and help keep you fully functioning. Plus, it helps decrease stress… Just don’t move around too much. There is evidence that too much exercise increases cortisol levels – and we know what happens with too much cortisol (see #1). Remember, they didn’t just pick a random number for the 26 mile, 385 yard Marathon… the legend tells of the messenger, Pheidippides, literally dying at the end of that run. Some will dispute whether or not this story is fact or fiction; however, modern science tells us that competitive runners actually die sooner than those who engage in more balanced exercise. That being said, you still have to move, so just do it.
5) Change it up. Vary your routine and keep your brain working instead of going on autopilot. Remember what it was like when you first started driving versus now? You were learning something new and your brain had to work to create new connections… however, being the amazing organ that it is, the brain always wants to make things easier for us… now that we’ve mastered the art of driving (well, at least for most of us) we function on autopilot, and sometimes don’t even realize how we got from Point A to B.
So, what else do you do on autopilot? Incorporating some mindfulness into your routine can help to eliminate the autopilot factor. Additionally, try learning new things. Whether that is reading a book, learning an instrument, researching world history (or something else that interests you), or engaging in a craft learning something new will help improve brain functioning. Lastly, confuse yourself. Reach into your purse with your non-dominant hand and try to find something without using your eyes, brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand, put your pants and/or shoes on differently than you did yesterday, notice if you have a regular way that you wash up in the shower, put on lotion, drive to work, or clean the kitchen. While our bodies crave structure and routine for things like sleeping and eating, mixing it up in other areas can keep us on our toes.
6) Be sure to get enough sleep. We all know what it is like trying to function on four hours… do this over and over again and we have problems. Lack of sleep also increases cortisol (see #1). If you need help getting your 7-9 hours of shut-eye, read on here. And don’t forget to be careful who you sleep with – read more here!
7) Avoid heavy metals and other toxins. Our bodies will sacrifice themselves in the name of protection and balance from toxins. Do be sure to shop organic, be mindful of the products you put on your skin (for example most lipsticks contain lead), avoid aluminum cans and foil (known to be linked with Alzheimer’s), stay away from GMOs, and reconsider unnecessary vaccinations.
Here’s to a healthy brain!