brain
12 Jan 2015
blackmores naturopath

Blackmores

Your guide to brain health

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Maintaining your brain health is important for every system in your body – follow our tips to keep your mind sharp.

Your brain is part of your central nervous system, and is the control centre for your body. It can be divided into 3 main sections – the cerebrum, cerebellum and the brain stem. Your brain is made up of billions of nerve cells, called neurons, which control all the essential functions of your body. The brain also enables you to think, remember, learn, and feel.

Throughout life, there are many factors that may affect the health of your brain, and how well it works.

Factors that affect brain health

Ageing

Many cognitive functions - such as learning, memory and attention can be affected by age. These age-related changes may even begin as early as your 20s and 30s. There are also physical changes to the brain that occur as you age, which can affect brain function – these include: accumulation of fat deposits in the cells of the brain, and neurone loss, which results in the brain getting smaller with age.

Stress

When you are exposed to stress, your body goes through a series of reactions known as the ‘stress response’. Part of this stress response is the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals that transmit nerve impulses), and hormones called glucocorticoids. Long term exposure to these stress hormones can have an impact on brain structure, in adults these changes are seen in the hippocampus – an area of the brain involved in memory, and thinking.

Smoking

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of compounds, many of which are toxic to the brain. Smoking may cause physical changes to the structure of your brain, and may also accelerate the decline of cognitive functions such as memory, learning and processing speed.

Poor nutrition

Good nutritional status is important for the health of your brain. Ensuring that you have adequate amounts of B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids may help support brain health, and cognitive decline associated with normal aging. 

Diets that are high in fruits, vegetables, cereals and fish are associated with better brain health and cognitive function, while those that are high in fat – especially trans fats, and saturated fats, may have negative effects on brain health.

Dehydration

Dehydration can affect the structure of your brain, and may also decrease your brain fluid volume. Dehydration of the brain can lead to shrinking of brain cells within the brain known as astrocytes, resulting in water being unable to move between cells, blood and the ventricles of the brain. This can have negative effects on cognitive function.

Natural therapies

There are several natural therapies available that may help support brain health for example:

  • Fish oil/Omega-3 fatty acids – research has shown a link between higher omega-3 intake and better brain health in older adults. Fatty acids found in fish oil helps maintain the structure and function of membranes, and influence the transmission of messages in the brain
  • Ginkgo – Ginkgo biloba may support brain health – with studies showing that it may improve aspects of cognitive function such as short-term memory, and speed of cognitive processing
  • B vitamins – B vitamins are essential to brain health. B vitamin supplements may help to improve memory, and other cognitive functions
  • Curcumin- the active ingredient found in Curcuma longa­­- turmeric -has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions. Curcumin may support alertness and calmness during times of increased mental demand  and may support healthy mood

Diet and lifestyle

They say that prevention is better than cure – and one of the best ways to help support your brain health is through your diet.

For brain health follow a healthy balanced diet:

  • Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole grains
  • Ensure you are eating enough protein
  • Include plenty of omega-3 fats in your diet – the best sources are deep sea, cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut and herring
  • Avoid very low carbohydrate diets – as glucose is an essential source of energy for your brain
  • When choosing carbohydrates - choose low GI options such as porridge, natural muesli, wholegrain breads, and brown rice
  • Include plenty of vitamin B rich foods in your diet such as whole grains, leafy green vegetables and dairy foods
  • Stay hydrated – drink plenty of fresh filtered water each day as dehydration can affect brain health
  • Enjoy alcohol, and caffeine in moderation

Mental exercises – use it or lose it!

Researchers have found that mental exercises can improve memory function – which means your brain is like a muscle – you have to train it regularly or it may lose some strength. There’s lots of options – try some of the below:

  • Read widely – try a mix of magazines, newspapers, books and internet
  • Learn to play a musical instrument, or to speak a new language
  • Take up a new hobby
  • Do crossword and Sudoku puzzles
  • Play games that make you think – like Chess, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and cards

Be social – recent studies have found a link between social isolation, and poor brain health. Catch up with family and friends regularly, try volunteering, and participate in local community groups and social events.

Reduce stress – try regular relaxation to keep stress levels under control to prevent as excess stress hormone production. Techniques like meditation and mindfulness may also be helpful – and recent research has found they can change brain functions.

Physical exercise – aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Exercise will increase oxygen circulation to the brain, and may help to improve cognitive functions such as memory, and reasoning

Sleep – ensure you are getting enough, good quality sleep each night. Poor sleep, or lack of sleep will affect your memory, concentration and ability to learn.

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