By: Dr. Keith Kantor
When we refer to the term “healthy brain”, I immediately think of two cognitive disorders that are diagnosed early in life and then in most cases very late in life. These disorders include autism and Alzheimer’s Disease, both are very different yet the nutrition protocol is very similar, including heart healthy natural fats, unprocessed foods, high quality all natural protein, dark and vibrant vegetables and fruits.
The brain is composed of 60 percent fat. We’ve learned in recent years that fatty acids are among the most crucial molecules that determine your brain’s integrity and ability to perform. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are required for maintenance of optimal health but they cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from dietary sources.
Clinical observation studies has related imbalance dietary intake of fatty acids to impaired brain performance and diseases. Most of the brain growth is completed by 5-6 years of age. The EFAs, particularly the omega-3 fatty acids, are important for brain development during both the fetal and postnatal period. Dietary decosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is needed for the optimum functional maturation of the retina and visual cortex, with visual acuity and mental development seemingly improved by extra DHA. Beyond their important role in building the brain structure, EFAs, as messengers, are involved in the synthesis and functions of brain neurotransmitters, and in the molecules of the immune system.
Healthy lifestyle and nutrition can help protect, nourish, and revitalize your brain. Here are some simple strategies to adopt:
- Taking omega-3 fats.The omega -3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) keep the dopamine levels in your brain high, increase neuronal growth in the frontal cortex of your brain, and increase cerebral circulation. Pure fish oil supplementation is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids in addition to high quality pure salmon, sardines, mackerel and anchovies.
Exercising. Exercise encourages the brain to connect with movement and work at a high functioning capacity. The nerves cells are working constantly preventing damage and promoting growth.
Quality Sleep.Sleep is our body’s time to repair and rejuvenate. Our mental energy is restored, and a lack of sleep may cause your brain tostop producing new cells. Workaholics who sacrifice sleep to be more productive can age their brain much faster then those who get the recommended 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. For those who suffer from insomnia, getting all natural herbal recommendations from a quality health professional can be beneficial. Some of the herbs/supplements that can have a positive influence on sleep include relora, melatonin, and 5-HTP.
4. Eating healthy. Like the rest of your body, your brain depends on quality whole natural unprocessed foods to function. While protein is the main source of fuel for your brain, vitamins and minerals from fresh veggies are also important, as is limiting sugar. Protein should be additive free, no dyes, steroids, antibiotics or preservatives. These additives are recognized by the brain as toxins increasing risk for developing cognitive problems with brain neurons.
5. Absorb some natural vitamin D from the sun. This will help you maintain optimal vitamin D levels. Scientists are now beginning to realize vitamin D is involved in maintaining the health of your brain, as they’ve recently discovered vitamin D receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system. 15-20 minutes per day is enough to make a major difference in your overall health, because vitamin D acts like a hormone in the body helping to regulate insulin levels and blood glucose.
There’s even evidence indicating vitamin D improves your brain’s detoxification process. For children and pregnant women, getting enough vitamin D is especially crucial, as it may play a major role in protecting infants’ brains from autism.
6. Limit screen time. Tablets, television, and gadgets can impair a child’s social development and influence the overall chemistry of the brain.
- Keep exercising your brain, with mind training.After retirement our brains are no longer worked to the capacity they once were in our careers. Taking up hobbies that involve research, planning, learning and work such as mechanics, cooking, etc. are great for training the brain. Traditional mind exercises involve crossword puzzles, word searches, etc.
- Avoiding foods that contain artificial sweeteners and additives.Substances such asaspartame (Nutrasweet) , sucralose, and MSG, which are common in processed foods, can damage your brain. For instance, consuming a lot of aspartame may inhibit the ability of enzymes in your brain to function normally, and high doses of the sweetener may lead to neurodegeneration. There is ongoing research on the increased risk of brain tumors of those who regularly consume artificial sweeteners.
The Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition has listed these foods as the top 4 brain foods:
- Eat your veggies. Getting adequate all natural frozen, vacuum sealed vegetables, especially cruciferous ones, including broccoli, cabbage and dark leafy greens, may help improve memory. Try a kale salad or substitute collard greens for a tortilla in your next sandwich wrap. Broccoli in stir-fry is also an excellent option for lunch or dinner.
- Dark and small fruits including berries and cherries.Berries — especially dark ones such as blackberries, blueberries and cherries — are a rich source of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that may boost memory function. Enjoy a handful of berries for a snack, mixed into cereal or baked into an antioxidant-rich dessert. You can reap these benefits from fresh, frozen or dried berries and cherries.
- Get adequate omega-3 fatty acids.Essential for good brain health, omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular, may help improve memory in healthy young adults. Seafood, algae and fatty fish — including salmon, bluefin tuna, sardines and herring — are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Substitute fish for meat a couple of times each week to get a healthy dose. Grill, bake or broil fish for ultimate flavor and health. Try salmon tacos with red cabbage slaw, snack on sardines or enjoy seared tuna on salad greens for dinner. If you don’t eat fish, discuss other food options and supplementation with your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist. You can get omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, seaweed or microalgae supplements.
- Walnuts win for brain health.Well known for a positive impact on heart health, walnuts also may improve working memory. Snack on a handful of walnuts to satisfy midday hunger, add them to oatmeal or salad for crunch or mix them into a vegetable stir-fry for extra protein.