Well we’ve all heard the saying “You are what you eat” – what you choose to eat affects every organ in your body, including your brain! Often my clients are surprised to learn about how their diet and lifestyle can affect their brain function and their mood. Indeed, certain choices can help make us feel alert, happy, calm, irritated, ‘foggy’ or depressed. You’ll be happy to know that there are simple and effective ways that can improve your brain function and in particular help potentially avoid or postpone the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s. There’s plenty of research regarding memory games and puzzles and while these certainly help, I’ve focused on diet and lifestyle measures that can benefit everyone who wants to brighten their brain bulb.
7 ways to improve your brain power:
1. Eat Fresh
A healthy diet is vital for a healthy brain. Studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet may reduce neurological degeneration, slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. The Mediterranean diet consists of: colourful fruits and vegetables, which are full of antioxidants; fish which provides essential fatty acids; whole grains containing slow releasing energy and nuts providing an abundance of vitamins and minerals.
2. Get a little sunshine
Vitamin D offers an array of benefits for the body but for the brain specifically, it is neuroprotective and acts as an antioxidant. Furthermore, studies suggest that there is link between vitamin D insufficiency and Central Nervous System (CNS) disease, particularly Schizophrenia and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Sunshine exposure is important for vitamin D synthesis and this is best before 11am and after 3pm during the summer months. In winter it may be beneficial to take a D3 supplement, however it’s best to seek advice from a naturopath or nutritionist before supplementing.
Brain repair occurs while we sleep so it’s vitally important we get enough of it. When I was in my teens and early 20s I didn’t realise this, I would stay up most nights and only get around 5 or 6 hours of sleep. After time I became irritable, moody and clumsy. I found it really difficult to deal with anything remotely stressful. If this sounds like you, make an effort to get to bed a little earlier. If falling or staying asleep is difficult, try sipping on a night time herbal tea blend 30 minutes before bed. Aim for 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to wake up feeling refreshed!
4. Be mindful of homocysteine
Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Indeed, tests show that a blood level of >14 mmol/L homocysteine increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Thankfully, studies have shown positive results through supplementing with Fish Oil, Co-enzyme Q10, B6, B12 and folate. If you think you might be at risk, speak to your doctor about testing your homocysteine levels.
5. Avoid oxidative damage
Oxidative damage caused by chemicals, found in some foods and environmental toxins, is linked to brain degeneration. However, eating foods that are high in antioxidants can help protect against free radical damage. These foods include colourful fruits (especially berries and tomatoes), colorful vegetables (especially broccoli), raw nuts and seeds, and culinary spices. All of these foods contain their own antioxidant compounds and are full of nutrients such as vitamins A, C, E, and selenium. Where possible always choose organic and local produce to limit chemical exposure and support local farms.
6. Limit inflammatory foods
Inflammation in the brain can be caused by inflammatory foods such as gluten, casein and sugar. For some people, these foods can cause mood disorders, anxiety, depression and learning difficulties. Anti-inflammatory foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables, deep-sea oily fish and some culinary herbs such as turmeric and rosemary can help combat inflammation and help protect the brain.
7. Stress Less.
Amongst other detrimental effects, long term exposure to stress can lead to excess cortisol production causing neuron damage. Reduce physical, mental and emotional stress through altering your diet and lifestyle. Do things that make you happy such as spending quality time with friends and family and watching a good film. Allow yourself relaxation time – to read a book, attend a yoga class, listen to music or take a bath. Spend as much time as possible outdoors amongst nature. Exercise, whether it be with a local sports team, a dance class or going for walk outside. Unleash your creativity – we are all born with it – find yours! Perhaps it’s through art, cooking, writing, dance, music or gardening. If you are in any sort of stressful situation, don’t be afraid to seek advice from a friend, family member or health care professional.
If you’re interested in how Naturopathy can make a difference to your brain function then book an appointmentand during the course of a consultation we can discuss how the above strategies can be safely incorporated into your lifestyle.