Your brain, like all of the other organs of your body is affected by your health-related behavior. We are accustomed to hearing that the health of our heart depends on making healthy choices and developing healthy habits. The fact is, your brain is even more vulnerable than your heart is to the effects of unhealthy choices. Below are some reminders on how to maintain a healthy brain. Sometimes we are discouraged when we are reminded of unhealthy choices we have made in our past. So as you read these reminders we want to encourage you with this affirmation: As long as you are healthy enough to make your own choices, it is not too late to make meaningful changes that can improve your life.
1. Eat Healthy
High quality nutrition is a cornerstone of health and optimal brain function. A large body of scientific evidence has proven that diets which are high in animal fat and simple carbohydrates harm the health of the brain, impede mental functioning, and greatly increase one’s lifetime risk of developing dementia. Below are recommendations that are supported by current science:
Eat fruits and vegetables
We have long known that your brain requires a well-regulated symphony of chemical reactions in order to carry out its information processing chores, maintain healthy cells, and remove waste products generated by living cells. Recent research has also taught us that damaging oxygen molecules (called “free radicals”) continuously attack our cells. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables both provides many of the vitamins and minerals that your brain needs and, because they are high in antioxidants, fruits and vegetables help to reduce the load of oxygen free radicals and defend cells. If you are not eating 4 1/2 cups of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, then taking high quality supplements is the next best option. Berries are particularly high in antioxidants.
Eat the right kind of fat
We are all familiar with the fact that certain fats, known as saturated fats (primarily from animal sources) and trans fats (used in fast food, snack foods, shortening, and margarine) clog coronary arteries. The situation for the brain is even more delicate than it is for the heart. Many of the vessels that transport blood through the brain are very narrow compared to the arteries that feed the heart. In fact, many parts of your brain get their blood from vessels that are so small that individual blood cells can only squeeze through them in single file. It’s no wonder that stroke (loss of blood flow to part of the brain) is one of the leading killers. Even if one doesn’t have a major stroke, “mini-strokes” can damage regions of the brain that support learning and memory.
Not all fats are bad for your brain. Omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon, albacore tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, and avocados are very beneficial. Omega 3 fatty acids decrease inflammation throughout the body and promote brain health.
Do not smoke tobacco
Tobacco smoke is highly toxic. Smoking robs the body of vital nutrients, constricts and clogs your arteries and small vessels of the brain, promotes inflammation, and saturates living cells with a wide array of deadly toxins. Adding insult to injury, the nicotine in tobacco smoke is powerfully addictive and many users find it very challenging to stop using tobacco. Although quitting tobacco can be physically and psychologically unpleasant for a while, a positive step can greatly enhance ones quality of life and health.
Drink alcohol only moderately
Moderate drinking is one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Moderate alcohol consumption can increase HDL (good cholesterol), stimulates the liver to produce “apo A1″, makes our blood less sticky, and increases the sensitivity of our cells to insulin. Unfortunately, excessive alcohol consumption damages our liver, increases cancer risk, and promotes inflammation. Long-term excessive alcohol use is associated with a dementia known as Korsokoff’s syndrome.
Consume sweets sensibly
Most of us worry about sweets because of the effect that calories have on our waistlines. But the more we learn about how sugar affects our body the more we realize that our vanity may be the least of our worries when it comes to sweets and simple carbohydrates in general. It turns out that when we have high levels of insulin in our blood the aging process speeds up greatly. Sweets that have a high glycemic index (i.e., they raise our blood sugar level above a healthy point) cause our pancreas to release large amounts of insulin into our blood stream to help us absorb and store the sugar. So long before those calories are transferred to the layer of fat around our waistlines, the real damage to our cells, including our brain cells, has already been done.
2. Live Healthy
Exercise, sleep, and stress can have a big impact on the long term well being of our memory. These three factors influence our body chemistry and can damage our brain. Below we discuss each in some detail.
You probably know that exercise has many benefits for your body, including increased muscle strength, stronger heart, and higher metabolism, among others. However, many people do not know that exercise is at least as important for brain health. Exercise helps the brain by directly stimulating the release of chemicals that are like “Miracle Grow” for the brain. These chemicals, known as growth factors, protect brain cells, help them grow new connections to store information, and can even trigger the birth of new neurons, the information processing cells in the brain. Additionally, exercise promotes the growth of blood vessels in the brain.
Many people do not appreciate how important good sleep patterns are for optimal brain health. A single night of inadequate sleep can reduce the efficiency of memory and attention by as much as 30%. Chronic inadequate sleep can lead to serious cognitive and emotional disturbances.
Develop an effective stress management system
Our bodies are very well adapted to handle short-lasting challenges and threats to our well-being (e.g., fight or flight). But when challenges and perceived threats to our well-being persist for prolonged periods our health is compromised. The hormones that aid when we are stressed are released from our adrenal glands and collectively are called the adrenocorticosteroids. These hormones are used not only by the muscles to mobilize energy for the flight or fight response, but they also are used by brain cells to promote memory storage (that is probably because it is important to remember as much detail as one can about situations that lead up to the need for the fight or flight response). Unfortunately, when brain cells are exposed to stress hormones for long periods of time without relief, the cells die and areas of the brain that are important for memory formation actually start to shrink. Numerous studies have shown that individuals who master some simple meditation techniques can gain the ability to cope with psychological and physical stressors far more effectively.
3. Get Annual MARS Memory Check-Ups
No matter how hard we work to take care of our brain, it is still important to monitor its health in the same way we monitor the rest of our body. Annual MARS Memory Check-ups help catch problems in their earliest stages so you can maintain your brain’s health and your Quality of Life.