With an increase in cognitive and neuro-degenerative disorders like alzheimers disease, Parkinsons, ALS and dementia there is a great need to protect your brain - that amazing organ and it's function. In fact, in it's 2012 report, the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) "estimated that 5.4 million people in the US suffered from Alzheimer’s disease (AD). By 2050, the AA estimates that between 11 million and 16 million Americans will have the disease, with one new case appearing every 33 seconds. "
Unfortunately, in addition to the loss of quality of life, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the cost of providing care for AD patients is $200 billion per year, as of the 2012 report. However, If present trends continue, this cost is projected to grow to $1.1 trillion per year (in 2012 dollars) by 2050 – which will only further the economic burden.
To better understand what's going on here, a more functional understanding of your brains function and the role it plays in health, performance and life.
You already know that your brain and nerve system represent the master controller of your body. Not a single thing occurs within your body without recognition, direction and regulation from the brain via your nerve system. For your heart to beat, lungs to breathe or a cut to heal on your leg - messages are sent via your nerve system, from your brain to the body, and then from the body to the brain - constantly. What most people miss is that it's your nerve system and brain that help you detect your environment, and then respond and regulate accordingly. Take for instance smelling a thick, lightly seasoned, sizzling steak over some hot coals... Can you hear it? Can you smell it? Your mouth may even begin to salivate- yet, all you have done is imagined something, and in doing so kickstarted the digestive process. Multiple organs have begun producing and preparing for the process of digestion - without a single bite of that tasty steak.
Or it's hot outside, so your peripheral nerves laying within your skin, sense the hot temperature, sends a message to your brain, specifically your thalamus, and in return the brain then sends a message back via the central nerve system to the peripheral nerves that control your skin and sweat pores. They open up, you begin to sweat, and your body temperature goes down as a result of the cooling effect of sweating.
That entire regulation and all others are controlled and coordinated by your brain and nerve system. To say that you live your life through your nerve system is an understatement. Hence the fact that with these neurodegenerative diseases, there is such a wide array of signs and symptoms, ranging from tremors, cognitive dysfunction, erratic changes in mood, loss of sensation, interrupted cardiac and respiratory function and the list goes on.
Scientists now recognize that the combination of a person’s genes and environment contributes to their risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. That is, a person might have a gene that makes them more susceptible to a certain neurodegenerative disease, but whether, when, and how severely the person is affected depends on what environmental factors he or she is exposed to during life.
Research is helping uncover lifestyle choices that can either support and protect the brain, or harm and damage the sensitive neural tissue. It is up to us as individuals - to make wise choices, more often, that will support healthy brain and nerve system function.
Here are 7 Brain Boosting and Protecting Strategies you can implement today!
1. Cut out, or limit refined grains and sugars...
The consumption of refined grains and sugars ultimately increases free radicals, which are toxic substances, and subsequent damage to the body as well as brain. Not only do these free radicals age the body, but they also age the brain - but earlier and harder.
Dr. David Perlmutter, in his book "The Better Brain Book“ states that "...these culprits (free radicals) are at the core of virtually all brain problems, from mild memory issues to brain fog to severe Alzheimer’s disease." He goes on to explain how free radicals are unstable, and bond with molecules in healthy cells, damaging tissues and organs, such as the heart, joints, skin, and the fats of the brain. Over time, free radicals can destroy substantial amounts of the brain and nerve tissue through this process of oxidation. When the mitochondria, the "energy factory," of your brain cells are injured they become less efficient, resulting in less production of energy for brain function which in turn creates an increase in the production of free radicals. The free radicals can then also inhibit your brains ability to produce amazing, essential neurotransmitters which impact your memory, learning, mood and even hand-eye coordination.
Free radicals promote inflammation, and inflammation is linked to nearly all chronic brain diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and dementia.
2. Increase your consumption of fat!
That's right... Countless studies have shown the importance of a diet high in omega 3 fatty acids (FA)
Essential fatty acids are exactly that - essential. They are required for cellular function, especially in the brain. The brain is made up of over 60% fat. Specifically, the brain requires EPA, DHA and ALA as they are not synthesized by the body. In addition the ratio of omega-6's to omega-3's is extremely important. A healthy ratio is generally accepted to be about 1:1, or 2:1, however unfortunately the average American sits around 25:1! The higher the ratio of omega 6’s to 3’s, the more inflammation and damage that occurs - especially in the brain.
So look to increase your omega-3 intake. The best sources are wild marine fish, wild salmon, grass-fed beef (incidentally, grass-fed beef has higher levels of omega 3 FA's), coconut oil, and even dark leafy greens. Although they are not high in fat, they [dark leafy greens] do favor the ideal 6:3 ratio.
Seeds, such as flax, chia and pumpkin also have omega 3 FA's, however there is concern over the total benefit, as some of the essential fatty acids have to be converted into different forms which are better suited for our bodies. Chickens that are free-range and fed a supplemental diet of flax seed can actually convert the FA's to the preferred form, which would be available through free-range eggs.
On the flip side, avoiding fats high in omega 6's is going to be beneficial. As omega 6's are so prevalent in our modern diet and found in grains, it is beneficial to limit the intake of grain fed meats and dairy products, while seeking grass fed options of such.
Omega 3 FA's are important for everyone, especially children. In children, omega-3 deficiency delays brain development, and creates irreversible effects. In addition, the Oxford-Durham study, which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics, May 2005, found that children receiving omega-3 fatty acid supplementation did better in reading age as well as spelling age, while those with dyslexia and ADHD behaviour, saw improvements in function.
Look to fill your diet with different whole food sources of omega-3's as well as supplementing with whole food based supplements. I have found that it is challenging to consume the amount of whole food sourced omega 3's neccessary to shift my ratios to 1:1 or 2:1, through just food. What I have found is that consuming both foods and supplements helps me get to the preferred ratio, and also saves money, as the food sources can quickly add up on your monthly grocery budget.
4. Get moving!
Physical activity has so much benefit. Not only does it affect your metabolism, immune system, skeletal and cardiovascular health, but also the health of your brain.
In 2012, the Journal of Neurobiology Disease found that physical activity reinstated brain function by enhancing brain derived neurotrophic brain factor and other growth factors that promote neurogenesis, angiogenesis and synaptic plasticity - all of which benefit the brain.
- Physical activity counteracts age (and Alzheimer's Disease (AD) associated declines in mitochondrial and immune system function. In addition, a growing body of evidence also suggests that exercise interventions hold the potential to reduce the pathological features associated with AD.
- Physical activity promotes dynamic changes that facilitate brain function; is a protective factor against cognitive impairment and dementia.
- The risk of AD is inversely correlated to levels of daily exercise, even with walking as little as one mile per day.
- Exercise attenuates mitochondrial damage and dysfunction.
Needless to say - get moving!
4. Curcumin (a component of turmeric)
Curcumin has been found to be a powerful anticancer, anti-Alzheimer's, anti-allergy and pro cardio function substance. In addition, it is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that inhibits a dangerous inflammatory mediator known as nuclear factor kappa beta. It is something that can easily be utilized as part of a daily regimen. Current nutritional recommendations for curcumin, suggest utilizing between 100-200mg, 1/day. So start to experience the many benefits by mixing it in with smoothies, or utilizing in your next meal. (Have a recipe that includes curcumin? Let us know, we’d love to share it.)
Avoiding heavy metals found in vaccines, large marine fish, and toxic personal care products including deodorants, make-up and more, can have a massive impact on preserving brain health. Xeno-estrogens commonly found in personal care products are both carcinogenic and also associated with early aging. So while avoiding toxins where you can, and at the same time eating and supplementing to increase your body's ability to produce glutathione - a protective substance utilized in detoxing your cells - can be a very pro-active and prevention favored action. You can increase your production of glutathione by increasing your intake of dark leafy greens, specific amino acids (cysteine, found in grass fed whey protein), and heavy sulfur containing foods, such as onions, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and bok choy. Minimize your toxic load and support your body's detoxification process by eating more anti-oxidant rich foods, including the above listed. For a great resource to uncover what's inside personal care products, and other environmental toxins go to EWG.org, and access their free database.
6. Exercise your noodle... mental gymnastics!
One of the reasons our brain ages, according to Dr. John Medina, is because we tend to stop learning anything new physically.
Keep your brain active! Learning new concepts, ideas and physical activities will aid in keeping your brain active.
Read, do crossword puzzles, solve math problems, play Sudoku, do anything that causes you to engage your brain consciously, add new exercises to your training and exercise regimen, or simple variations of exercises - anything that challenges you. In addition, start utilizing your non-dominant hand to perform everyday tasks, such as brushing your teeth. Yes, it'll feel odd, but it'll also stimulate neuronal activity and create new pathways that will add to keeping your brain functioning well. There is some interesting research coming out that is looking at the benefits of gaming, yes - video gaming...
7. Keep a Clear Brain-Body Connection
Yes, getting adjusted regularly not only helps maintain better spinal function and balance, but has also been shown to aid in optimal brain function. What most Dr's don't know is that your spine is really a neuro-organ. Did you know that your spine is responsible for between 80-90% of all the energy production needed for daily brain function? Therefore, when your spine is misaligned, imbalanced and not moving properly, you will actually decrease the energy and nutrition to the brain- not to mention the sympathetic dominance that occurs and as such keeps the body in a fight/flight state. This sustained defensive state severely affects your daily performance and ability to heal by flooding the body with stress hormones.
"Chronic increased stress hormones are linked through numerous studies directly to a host of diseases including but not limited to cancer, glaucoma, bi-polar disorder, type I & type II diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease,osteoarthritis, excessive body weight, hypertension, asthma, immune system function. ( “Autonomic and Autocoid Pharmacology” 2009)"
The adjustment not only restores proper spinal function, but also decreases the stress response, and subsequent stress hormones. That's why when you get adjusted regularly, your brain can perform more optimally, allowing your body to better regulate and heal. In fact, not only does the research show that once adjusted, the body will get out of the defensive, sympathetic state but also show improvements in the production and release of specific chemicals and hormones that support optimal brain health.