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5 Ways to Maintain Brain Health

Updated on June 28, 2013

Based on various studies, here are five ways to keep our brains healthy:

  • exercise
  • consume omega-3
  • consume antioxidants
  • take B vitamins
  • reduce sugar

There are many other factors that contribute to brain health. But let's examine why these five factors are so important to keep the brain sharp.

1. Exercise

Exercise is number one on the list. And it can be as simple as walking. Studies showed that brisk walking of 30 or more minutes everyday resulted in 5 to 7 years of younger cognition -- as reported in article More Evidence that Exercise is Key to Brain Health by

Dr. Mark Hyman said in his talk at Google that exercise is actually one of the best thing you can do to prevent Alzheimer's.[3] According to John Medina's 12 brain rules, exercise is rule number one.

Fred Gage of the Salk Institute found that mice that had exercised the most on their running wheels experienced greater neuro-genesis than those mice who are sedentary. Neurogenesis is the birth of new neurons in the brain, especially in the hippocampus. This is assumed true to be for humans as well. The out-dated notion that we do not grow new brain cells is false. New brain cells are being formed even at old age (although very slowly).

Studies also shown that aerobic exercise was associated with greater cerebral blood volume, which is indicative of new neurons -- since new neurons means new blood vessels. Furthermore those who have been engaging in aerobic exercise where they got their hearts pumping did better cognitively on tests than those who were doing only stretching and toning.

A study of over 2000 elderly men in Hawaii showed that those who had walked more than 2 miles a day had a decreased risk of dementia than those who had walked less than a quarter of a mile per day.[2]

Professor of Neuropsychology Joel Kramer gave a lecture on brain aging and how to keep neurons healthy (see video on the right).

Exercise was one of the preventative measures as indicated by mice experiments. It is believe that exercise decrease inflammation. Inflammation of the brain have been known to play a role in dementia. article reports of studies again showing benefits of physical exercise on cognition. It says ...

"The most active women, who were getting the equivalent of 30 minutes or more of brisk walking every day, experienced much slower cognitive decline than those who got little or no exercise." [5]

The difference in cognitive decline is quite significant too. Research says that it amounted to being 5 to 7 younger cognitively.[5]

Exercise boosts BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor), which the growth fertilizer for the brain. This helps with the formation of new brain cells in a process call neurogenesis. Exercise also increases neurotransmitters such as GABA, serotonin, and dopamine.

Exercise reduces inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation may be one of the causative factors in Alzheimer's.[4]

Another benefits of exercise is that it decrease stress and the cortisol hormone. Chronically high cortisol levels kills brain cells.

Although aerobic exercise is best for the brain. There is still something to be said for resistance training. Resistance training improves insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control. It helps prevents insulin resistance. Diabetes and insulin resistance is one of the risk factors for Alzheimer's.

2. Get enough omega-3 fatty acids

Page 66 of the book The Chemistry of Calm, it says ...

"one of the best things you can do for your brain is to eat more omega 3 fats."

It is essential that the brain gets enough omega-3 fatty acids on a daily basis. That is because the cell membranes are made out of omega-3 fatty acids along with cholesterol, phospholipids, and proteins.

Your brain is composed of 60% DHA fats. That is why omega-3's are the building blocks for your brain.

The three category of omega-3 fats are ..

  • alpha linolenic acid (ALA)
  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Omega-3 fatty acids are the "good fats". Your bodies can not manufacture omega-3. You have to get them from foods. You can get them from seafood such as salmon, shrimp, sardines. You can get omega-3 fatty acids from avocados, and omega-3 enriched eggs.

You can also get omega-3 from flax seeds and walnuts -- but animal sources of omega-3 are better. Get wild fish rather than farmed fish whenever possible.

Omega-3 fats also helps decrease inflammation, which as mentioned is a risk factor for Alzheimer's. Most people are not able to get enough omega-3 from their foods, and many experts have recommended taking omega-3 supplements which includes fish oil and/or krill oil.

3. Consume Anti-Oxidants

Antioxidants helps reduce oxidative stress damage to cells caused by free radicals. Beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E are all anti-oxidants. Foods such as blueberries, strawberries, prunes, grapes, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, carrots, papayas, and many other fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants. Blueberries are a great healthy brain food -- think brain-berries.

Glutathione is the body's master antioxidant. It helps recycle other antioxidants as well as able to replenish itself. Glutathione also detoxifies mercury (which as mentioned is toxic to the brain). Glutathione does its magic because of its sulfur group in its molecule. The body can produce glutathione and you can boost glutathione by eating sulfur containing foods such as garlic, onion, kale, and other broccoli family foods. Asparagus, avocado, and grapefruit are also a good way to boost of glutathione levels.

Although taking anti-oxidants in the form of foods is the best, one may not be able to get the optimal amounts from the regular American diet and may want to use supplements such as alpha-lipoic acid, vitamin C, and astaxanthin.

4. Take Vitamin B

Vitamin B is a water soluble vitamin. Therefore it does not accumulate in the body and hence is safe to take and difficult to overdose. Vitamin B is critical for brain health.

Instead of taking just a particular vitamin B (such as B12), take a vitamin B complex which include the various forms of the B vitamins such as niacin (B3), biboflavin (B2), thiamine (B1), botin (B7), folate (B9), pantothenic acid (B5), and B6 and B12. They work synergistic together.

In a couple of Google Tech Talks, you can hear Dr. Mark Hyman and Steven Fowkes talk about these important brain nutrients.

If you just thumb through or do an electronic search though the book The Chemistry of Calm, you will find numerous references to vitamin B and how important it is to the brain. Vitamin B also helps keeps homocysteine in check.

Perform a similar search for "omega 3" and you get quite a few references to that as well. Clearly, the brain thrives on vitamin B and omega 3. The book also recommends a few other supplements that provide nutritional support for the brain. Among them is the all important vitamin D as well.

5. Avoid Sugar

Excessive sugar consumption can lead to high blood glucose levels and insulin resistance -- both of which have associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. High blood glucose and insulin resistance are characteristics of metabolic disorder syndrome and diabetes. People with diabetes have an increased risk of dementia.

Therefore in order to maintain brain health, one must avoid sugar as much as possible. Do not put sugar in your coffee or tea. Do not consume high fructose corn syrup.

Because refined and highly processed carbohydrates such as bread and pastry turn into sugar readily and quickly right after eating, one should not over-eat these types of refined carbohydrates. They can raise blood sugar levels right after a meal. It is for this reason that it is good idea to have several small meals throughout the day rather than a few large ones.

Some carbohydrates raises our blood sugars faster than others. This is measured by the food's glycemic index. A low glycemic index will not raise our blood sugars as fast. This is the type of carbohydrate we want to eat instead of a high glycemic index carbohydrate. Foods with fiber tend to be low glycemic and is better, because fiber delays the release of the glucose from the food. That is why whole fruits and vegetables are fine and are the "good carbohydrates".

Whole fresh fruits are better than fruit juices because of the fact that fruits has fiber and juice does not. Starchy white foods such as rice, potatoes, and bread are high glycemic carbohydrates that we should limit consumption.

Proper Diet helps Maintain Brain Health

The tips above is further confirmed by the book The Happiness Diet, which writes on page 11...

"Eat more processed, high-sugar foods and BDNF levels go down. Eat foods with plenty of folate, vitamin B12, or omega-3 and your BDNF levels go up."

Avoid the sugar in the processed foods. Folate is vitamin B9; get it from leafy greens vegetables. Get the B12 from grass-fed beef and fish. Get your omega-3 from fish and seafood.

Other Ways to Brain Health

Dr. Mercola has video on right giving seven ways to increase brain health.

1. Of course, number one again is exercise.

2. Get some sun outside.

3. Get enough sleep. Not enough sleep increases insulin resistance. Sleep before midnight and for some people optimally before 9pm.

4. Avoid processed foods, GMO, and sugar.

5. Improve fat content. 60% of the brain is composed of fat. Lower omega-6 vegetable oil intake. Increase omega-3. Take fish oil or krill oil.

6. Keep brain active.

7. Implement creative visualization technique such as EFT (emotional freedom technique).


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