YOUR BRAIN IS LIKE A MUSCLE — the more you use it the stronger it gets and the more fit it will remain.
Many people believe that memory loss, or decreased cognitive function, is a normal part of aging. The truth is there are many factors affecting brain health which, if properly managed, may help keep our thoughts clear and our recall strong.
These less commonly recognized factors include stress, free-radical damage, bad fats and high homocysteine. Start maximizing your concentration and preserving your memory by using these anti-aging and protective tips.
1. Bad fats
Our brains are 70% fat. Over-consumption of animal fats or unhealthy fats like those in chips, fries, muffins and pastries are harmful to the brain and inhibit cellular communication.
Solution: Increase your intake of good fats by ensuring you take fish oils daily. Fish oils have been proven to be useful for depression, memory loss and anxiety and to increase the IQs of children when taken during pregnancy.
2. High homocysteine
Homocysteine is an amino acid which is normally found in the blood. Elevated levels have been linked to heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease. A safe level of homocysteine is considered to be less than 7.
People with high blood levels of homocysteine may also face memory loss and an added health threat to their brain function, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Those with the highest homocysteine levels were twice as likely to develop brain-function problems compared to those with lower levels. Moreover, during an eight-year span, those with consistently high levels of homocysteine also showed a higher tendency toward reduced brain function.
Solution: Good nutrition. A diet high in leafy, green vegetables; fruits; nuts; seeds and other sources of B vitamins and folic acid is an effective way to decrease homocysteine levels. Taking a vitamin combination to specifically lower homocysteine is also a great way to correct elevated levels of the amino acid.
3. Continual stress overload
When we are under continuous stress our bodies produce the hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been found to be particularly damaging to the area of the brain involved with memory. Studies have confirmed that individuals with depression or a history of it actually have a decreased ability for recall. This is related to high cortisol levels commonly noted in depression and anxiety.
Solution: Manage your stress through exercise, deep breathing, regular sleep or massage. If you are unable to utilize any of these methods because of time or lack of planning, start taking supplements like lecithin, phosphatidylserine or acetyl-L-carnitine to protect the brain from the negative effects of stress and aging.
4. Free radical stress
All of our cells, including our brain cells, are at the mercy of free-radical stress. Some free radicals arise normally during metabolism. Sometimes immune system cells purposefully create them to neutralize viruses and bacteria. However, environmental factors, such as pollution, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides, can also spawn free radicals. Free-radical damage is one of the primary causes of aging.
Solution: Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by donating one of their own electrons, ending the “electron-stealing” reaction. The antioxidant nutrients themselves act as scavengers, helping to prevent cell and tissue damage that could lead to cellular damage and disease. Normally, the body can handle free radicals, but if antioxidants are unavailable, or if the free-radical production becomes excessive, damage can occur.
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants which protect the body against the destructive effects of free radicals.
5. Not enough superfoods
The weekly mind-numbing, end of the work-day trip to the grocery store is rarely an exhilarating event. More often than not you are browsing the aisles randomly picking familiar foods for that last minute dinner.
Solution: However, there are a few (surprising) superfoods out there that should have a place in your shopping cart. They will not only protect against cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but also help your waistline and strengthen that business brain of yours.
- Get Greener with Avocado. Fats, when eaten in the proper balance with protein and carbohydrates, can help to slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream, which leads to less insulin release. The end result? You stay fuller longer, and your waist gets slimmer, faster. In one study 347 adults (50% female) who consumed an average of ½ an avocado per day had had higher intakes of important nutrients — including dietary fibre, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium — than people who didn’t eat avocados. They also reaped the benefits of being lighter (7.5lbs on average) with a smaller waist circumference (4cm on average). Just keep in mind that fat does have twice the amount of calories as carbs or protein, so limit your avocado consumption to one-quarter at a time, enjoyed as a healthy fat source with a meal.
- Super Seed with Chia. This ancient gluten-free grain can be added to just about any food. On a per gram basis, chia is touted to be the highest source of omega-3s in nature, with 65 per cent of its total fat from omega-3 fatty acids. It is also a substantial source of fibre, as well as magnesium, potassium, folic acid, iron and calcium. Chia stabilizes blood sugar, manages the effects of diabetes, improves insulin sensitivity and aids symptoms related to metabolic syndrome, including imbalances in cholesterol, blood pressure and high blood sugar after meals. It is highly anti-inflammatory and reduces high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, a blood marker of inflammation. This wondrous little grain also contains tryptophan, the amino acid precursor of serotonin and melatonin. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons to your meals, salads or smoothies daily in either ground or seed version.
- Hone in on Horseradish. It may clear your sinuses and more. Horseradish contains a high percentage of glucosinolates (significantly more than broccoli), which act as a natural antibiotic and can also improve your resistance to cancer and environmental toxins.Horseradish is also said to aid digestion, reduce urinary tract infections and fight against certain pathogens in food, such as listeria, E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus. If you prefer prepared horseradish to a homemade recipe, than look for one with no added sugars.
- Stay Fuller, Longer with Flaxseed. Flaxseed, a must-have in your smoothie-making arsenal, is rich in thiamin, magnesium, copper, phosphorus and manganese. Flaxseed’s high fibre content helps lower blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels and aid weight loss. Flaxseed is also full of lignans—phytoestrogenic compounds that have been proven to help protect us against certain kinds of cancers. Researchers have found that mice fed flaxseed had reduced formation, growth, or spread of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma. One pilot study even found that flaxseeds can reduce hot flashes in menopausal women by as much as 50%. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your smoothies or salads daily. Make sure to grind as needed as flax can quickly go rancid (always keep refrigerated).
- Slim Down With Olive oil. Olives and olive oil are rich in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, which are known to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer and anticoagulant benefits. But the weight-loss benefits of olive oil could be what is most exciting. When we include mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil (and avocados) in our daily diet, they encourage the release of our appetite-suppressing hormone leptin. Olive oil helps you not only lose weight, but also keep it off.In a study published in the July 2007 issue of Diabetes Care, 11 subjects with insulin resistance and increased abdominal fat used three different diets for 28 days. Each diet had equal calories but different compositions – one was a high-saturated-fat diet, the second was high in carbohydrates and the third was rich in monounsaturated fats. Can you guess the results? Of the three diets, the diet rich in olive oil showed the best outcome, preventing not only belly fat accumulation but also insulin resistance. Need another reason? It can keep you looking younger longer by preventing wrinkles.
- Ode to Cherry Season. Cherries are the new wonder-food, and not just because they taste great and can satisfy your urge for something sweet. This fruit contains red-pigmented antioxidants, is high in soluble fibre and is low in calories, all of which can help improve insulin sensitivity. Scientists have identified a group of naturally occurring chemicals called anthocyanins, abundant in cherries and other red fruits, that may help to lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. In early studies published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, anthocyanins were found to reduce insulin production by 50 per cent.Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants, which may protect against heart disease and cancer. Add frozen cherries to your smoothies or enjoy fresh when it’s in season.