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- Ask yourself: are you dehydrated?
- Make the most of winter and get enough sleep
- Don’t fear the yolk
- Eat Essential Fatty Acids
- Prioritize meat and organs
- Learn to learn
- Look to Nootropic herbs: Bacopa & Sage
Brain function is declining worldwide. If nothing is done, this is expected to increase by close to 150% by 2050. With increasing brain stimulation in the digital world, the stress of living in our modern world, and many of us feeling “fuzzy in the head”, it is important to prioritise our brain health. From a young age our brain works hard, making and strengthening neural connections as we learn, grow, and have new experiences. This should not stop as we grow older. No matter your age, new nerve cells are continuously produced in the hippocampus, a brain region involved with the formation of new information. As we become more aware of ways to support our mental health regarding mood disorders, we must also realise the need to actively support our brain function.
Ask yourself: are you dehydrated?
Up to 60% of the human body is water. Water is required by every cell, helping to support our energy levels and transport nutrients and oxygen to the brain. Common symptoms of dehydration include brain fog, fatigue, dizziness, and lack of focus; however, these are easily relieved by drinking more water! On average, female adults should be drinking at least 2 litres of water per day, more if you are taller, male, exercising, or drinking coffee. Electrolyte status in the body is essential for fluid balance and sipping water throughout the day instead of gulping it down every so often, and eating a non-processed, whole food diet will support this.
Make the most of winter and get enough sleep
Feeling tired? Lack of sleep impairs our ability to hold attention and impacts mental clarity. Studies have found that people who go to bed late and have trouble waking up in the morning are more likely to have a shortened lifespan, a much higher risk of psychological disorders, brain deficits like poor focus, fuzzy thinking, and low mood. When we sleep our cells repair themselves, so that our neural pathways strengthen, and information is consolidated.
Research says humans need around 8 hours of quality sleep each night, with at least a couple of hours sleep before midnight. Our sleep/wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is regulated by sunlight signals throughout the day. Going to bed late, sleeping late, and getting too much artificial light upregulates cortisol, downregulates melatonin, and perpetuates the vicious cycle of worsening sleep and daytime fatigue. Evolutionarily, our hormones would have been regulated by awaking with the sunrise and being exposed to natural light all day, ending with the sunset, and then firelight or candlelight before bed. Orange/red bulbs, or blue blocking glasses at night and during those dark, winter mornings before sunrise, are excellent ways to mitigate the hormonal imbalances caused by constant exposure to artificial light, as is turning off your devices after sunset. Exercise is also critical for brain health, but you could consider getting out of the gym and into the light!
Don’t fear the yolk
Full of brain supporting nutrients (chiefly the yolk), eggs are a beneficial addition to the diet. A wonderful source of choline – once known as vitamin B4, which supports healthy circulation to the brain and response time, protects the brain from oxidative stress, and helps the body to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in mental clarity and focus Eggs are easily incorporated in the diet at any meal, and as a great source of both fat and protein, they will give your mind plenty of fuel!
Eat Essential Fatty Acids
Composed of around 50% fat, the brain requires omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids for optimal mental health. Because these cannot be produced by the body, they need to be obtained from dietary sources. The Omega-3s, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and the Omega-6, arachidonic acid (ARA), are only found in animal fats. These Omegas support the structure and function of the brain, antioxidant activity, and the growth of new brain cells. Research has also found that animal fats may be a protective factor. It is important to note that overconsumption of linoleic acid, from plant oils, can disrupt the balance of omegas, among other damaging effects, and so vegetable/seed oils should be avoided.
Prioritise meat and organs
Meat and organs, especially from ruminant animals, are rich in all the essential nutrients and bioavailable proteins and fats that our brain requires to develop, function, and repair itself. We have been told that red meat is “bad for us”, but this could not be further from the truth. Many of the nutrients that are plentiful in red meat are either absent from, or too low in, plant foods. For example, our bodies synthesise the amino acids, carnitine, and creatine, but in insufficient amounts. Both are essential for brain function and research has found that increasing their dietary intake can support mental clarity and brain function. Iron and zinc, the most abundant minerals in the brain, are critical for brain health, are plentiful in red meat, and difficult to obtain from plant foods. In fact, studies have shown that vegetarians tend to experience more mental illness than omnivores.
Learn to learn
One of the most powerful tools for supporting healthy brain function and mental clarity well into old age is daily learning. Languages, instruments, new physical skills, dance, and other disciplines, have all been studied and shown to protect, and even enhance, healthy brain function It may not be enough to do a daily crossword or puzzle; you must be training your brain and stimulating neural connections and pathways to make a lasting difference. Meditation practices have also been found to help lower stress and positively impact brain health.
Look to ancient herbs: Bacopa & Sage
Herbs have traditionally been used to support brain function for thousands of years. They help to support your mental function and performance.
An Ayurvedic herb used in traditional practice since 3000BC, Bacopa monnieri, or Brahmi, is well known as supporting the brain. Research has shown bacopa to support healthy brain function. As a brain tonic, bacopa supports mental focus and helps reduce nervous exhaustion, supporting circulation, and helping the body to respond better to stress. As an antioxidant, bacopa works to protect the brain from excess oxidation, as well as strengthening the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms. Bacopa supports key areas of the brain such as the hippocampus and frontal cortex, supporting mental clarity and focus. Bacopa is also thought to be able to support stress hormone release and neurotransmitter production.
Derived from ‘salvere’ (to heal), sage has a long history of use across Ayurvedic, Chinese, and ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian health practices. Commonly known as an oestrogenic herb where it supports mood and a balanced body temperature, sage has recently been suggested as a herbal agent to support healthy brain function. Working as an antioxidant, sage helps to protect the brain from damage, as well as supporting healthy circulation to the brain. Research suggests sage supports mental clarity and focus and reduces fatigue in both young and old test subjects.
The brain is responsible for the co-ordination of all our activities, as well as being the source of our knowledge, holding our memories and helping to define who we are. It is a common myth that as we age, our brain function naturally declines; when given the right support, the brain can continue to make new neural connections, and thrive well into our later years. What we eat, drink, and supplement each day, how we learn, and how we interact with the natural environment, has a long-lasting effect on our brain health. The trick is to start today and support your brain health for tomorrow.
TAPS Approval No: PP2276
Why is it important to prioritise brain health at any age?
It is important to prioritise brain health at any age because the brain is responsible for coordinating all our activities, holding our memories, and defining who we are, and supporting its function can support overall well-being and mental clarity.
How do essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) support brain health?
Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, support brain health by playing a crucial role in the brain’s structure and function, promoting antioxidant activity, supporting the growth of new brain cells, and supporting mental health and brain function.