4 Natural Brain Health Boosters
As I’m getting older, one of my biggest pet peeves only grows stronger—the myth that my brain is supposed to slow down as I age. This notion of inevitable “senior moments” couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not natural for my brain or yours to slow with age. How long you live is not relevant to your brain health, but how you live is. A lifetime of exposure to toxins, stress, unhealthy diet, and other threats will damage your brain as it will the rest of your body. But, like the rest of your body, your brain can get healthier with exercise and healthy living habits.
I’d like to share with you my regimen for a fit, active, and healthy brain—a combination of activities and supplements that will produce noticeable results, nearly immediately.
Brain Health Exercises
You and I know the many ways that physical exercise benefits our bodies from head to toe. Exercise also strengthens your brain! It reduces inflammation, which is the primary source for nearly all illnesses in our body. It stimulates the release of chemicals that help grow new blood vessels in the brain. Those chemicals also prevent old and new brain cells from dying. Exercise also improves your mood and sleep and reduces stress and anxiety—problems in these areas are contributors to cognitive impairment.
In addition to physical exercise, there are a variety of brain exercises that do not require you to sweat buckets. Some of my favorite brain-stimulating activities are “thinking” games—crossword puzzles, sudoku, Scrabble, Words with Friends, chess, checkers, and more.
Think of these activities as exercises in a gym. For some, an exercise routine isn’t just a series of exercises, but a pattern of activities that help you stayed focused on meeting your fitness goals.
You can also find all kinds of brain “gyms” online and for your mobile device—many of them are free—where you can develop a regimen that starts on your brain’s fitness level and works up from there. Here are some of my favorite.
- Lumosity—Cognitive and scientific games designed to stimulate your brain and improve your memory and attention span.
- Dakin—This self-described “brain fitness program” has more than 100 brain exercises, games and puzzles. A free trial is avail on its website.
- Clevermind—Clevermind is designed specifically for people suffering from Alzheimer’s. In addition to games, it features social, medical, and dietary tools. For $1.99 in the iOS App Store, it’s a very affordable way to keep you in the fight against Alzheimer’s. (It’s not currently available on Android.)
- Brain Trainer—One of its key features is that you can customize your training specific to your personal brain health goals, such as memory, attention, problem solving, or agility. It’s available for free in Google Play and iTunes.
Natural Supplements for Better Brain Health
I also recommend that you give your brain health regimen a boost with one or more of the following supplements, proven to improve your brain health.
Ginkgo Biloba—A tree that lives for 2,500 years has something special going on. And that’s about how long it has been a staple of Chinese and Indian medicine to improve memory. Research confirms that ginkgo protects and improves mental processing speed and reduces symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In a six-month study, 31 patients over 50 years old with mild to moderate memory impairment received either a ginkgo supplement or a placebo. Those who received ginkgo showed improved cognitive function, and their response speed on computerized tests was significantly better than in the placebo group.
Another study concluded that ginkgo appears to support short-term memory. It can stabilize, and sometimes improve, cognitive performance of dementia patients. There’s a library full of similar data. Give ginkgo a try after consulting with your doctor. Dosage varies depending on what you’re treating.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)—Omega-3s are nutrients our bodies can’t make on their own. We can get them only from food or supplements. They’re not called “essential” for nothing, especially when we’re talking about cognitive decline. Numerous studies have found that:
- Older people with high blood levels of EFAs scored better on mental function tests than people with low levels.
- Alzheimer’s patients have lower than average brain concentrations of the EFA known as DHA, which makes up about 40 percent of your brain and is essential for building cell membranes.
- When Alzheimer’s patients were given omega-3 supplements for 6 months, they had improved markers for brain-damaging inflammation and for the disease itself.
Fish are a good source of omega-3s. But most waters are contaminated with pollutants, and therefore so are the fish. Even if you are able to find wild caught fish from uncontaminated waters, I still recommend limiting fish consumption to two to three servings per week.
That’s why I recommend omega-3s in supplement form. It’s easier to get a therapeutic dose, and it’s safer to make them part of your daily routine.
To ensure an adequate supply of omega-3s, I recommend EFAs from oil that’s distilled to remove toxins and heavy metals, and contains my preferred ratio of DHA to EPA (2.5 to 1). Go with at least 1,250–1,500 milligrams of EPA and DHA per day, after consulting with your doctors.
Curcumin—The list of curcumin’s many benefits seems to get longer every day. Add brain health to the list! Studies show that curcumin can prevent nasty proteins, called beta amyloids, from accumulating in the brain. Over time, these proteins amass into neuron-destroying plaque that’s associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin then goes an extra step to remove plaque that’s already there, which can reverse some of the terrible symptoms of cognitive decline that begin well before any clinical symptoms are evident.
While these three supplements are tried and true, there are a score of other supplements beneficial to brain health: Bacopa, rhodiaola, vitamin D, coconut oil, magnesium, lithium, and acetyl-l-carnitine. With all of these, talk with your doctor about which ones might work best for you, based on your specific health considerations.
Fresh Air for Your Brain
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the benefits of deep breathing on your brain. But for now, I want you to stop reading for 60 seconds. Instead, close your eyes and take at least 10 long, deep breaths. Feel better? You just injected your brain with fresh, oxygenated air.
How you breathe will affect your mood—excited, stressed, relaxed, tired—and vice versa. By slowing down your breathing before or during stressful moments, you are helping protect your brain from the effects of stress and anxiety.
Yoga is a great way to give your full body a workout and its meditative and breathing components recharge your brain.
Keep Your Brain Booming
Spending a little time, every day, on improving your brain health couldn’t be more critical. One new case of dementia is detected every 4 seconds. By 2050, more than 115 million people worldwide will have dementia. That’s just a little less than the total population of Japan!
But you can help protect yourself. Your age doesn’t have to be an indicator of your brain health. You can slow down and protect yourself from Alzheimer’s, dementia and cognitive decline— by giving your brain a daily workout, giving it more oxygen, and boosting it with a supplement.
- Goldman, Heidi. “Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory, Thinking Skills.” Harvard Health Letter. Last Updated November 29, 2016.
- “Ginko biloba: Dosing” Mayo Clinic. Published NA. Last accessed April 18, 2017.
- Connealy, Leigh. “Omega-3: Definition, Benefits, Sources” Newport Natural Health. Updated December 4, 2015. Last accessed April 18, 2017.
- Yang, FS; Lim, GP; Begum, Cole, GM; et al. “Curcumin inhibits formation of amyloid beta oligomers and fibrils, binds plaques, and reduces amyloid in vivo.” Journal: J BIOL CHEM, 280 (7): 5892-5901 FEB 18 2005
- Goldman, Bruce. “Study Shows How Slow Breathing Induces Tranquility.” Stanford Medicine News Center. Published March 30, 2017.