Health  

Boosting brain power -Part 1

PHOTO: Berkely Lab

PHOTO: Berkely Lab

Our brains are powerful organic machines. They control all thoughts, movements, and sensation, calculating and reacting with blistering speed.

They store an immense amount of data as images, text, and concepts. Our brains also regulate thousands of complex functions, usually without bothering the conscious us with the exact details, such as with circadian rhythm, hormone balance, breathing, unconscious activity, and blood flow. This means the brain is constantly working, even when we sleep.

There are also other nutrients the brain uses, though not as fuel. Our brains are made up of 60 per cent fat. Low levels of fat in food and the body can contribute to depression, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. You do have to choose good, healthy fats though, like those found in seeds, nuts, algae, coconut, and avocados. These contain the essential omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids that we require for health, along with nonessential fatty acids that are also beneficial.

We know that how we eat can affect our bodies, but what we put in our mouths also affects our mood, the brain’s energy, our memory, and even our ability to handle stress, complex problems, or simple daily tasks.
No matter what’s causing your bad moods or how long they have lasted, eating the right foods can help you feel more energetic and less like you’re riding an emotional rollercoaster. Making healthy food and lifestyle choices can also increase your energy level and improve your memory and brain function — and will benefit your overall health, so it’s a win-win!

Eating certain foods can help make life’s little details unforgettable.
Age, stress, quality and length of sleep, medications, and of course, nutrition can all influence how well your memory functions. Physiologically, good memory depends on your total number of brain cells (neurons), the smooth flow of communication between the cells and the health of the cells.

In many ways, overall health can strongly affect memory. For example, the health of the body’s cardiovascular system can affect the performance of brain cells. Every cell in the body needs a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients to stay alive and work properly. Because oxygen and nutrients are carried in the bloodstream, anything that impedes blood flow can negatively affect brain cell function. Simply put, a healthy heart makes for a healthy brain. So it’s important to keep blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check and to exercise regularly and not smoke.

A heart-healthy diet is, therefore, crucial to general health as well as to the health of memory. Compelling research has linked specific foods and their nutrients to the enhancement or preservation of memory. These “brain” foods contain flavonoids, which are chemical compounds that give fruits and leafy green vegetables their color. Two important flavonoids that appear to support memory function are anthocyanins and quercetin (both are found in apples, blueberries, and red onions, to name just a few sources).
Other nutrients that have been found to improve memory are folate and omega-3 fatty acids. Take a look at the following list for a rundown of the best foods for boosting brainpower.

Berries

Berries have some of the highest concentration of antioxidants among fruits, and all berries are rich in healthy anthocyanins and flavonols (a subgroup of flavonoids), which may help protect against the breakdown of brain cells. Some encouraging animal studies have suggested that diets rich in flavonoids may help reverse memory loss in humans.

Blueberries in particular, have received a lot of attention because they are one of the best food sources of flavonoids. In fact, a British study revealed that eating plenty of blueberries can enhance spatial memory and learning.
Fresh berries are available at farmers’ markets, local supermarkets, and health food stores. During off-season months, frozen berries are a good substitute and just as nutritious.

Leafy greens

Leafy greens like ugu, water leaf, bitter leaf, spinach, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens are loaded with folate (folic acid is the synthetic form of this nutrient that’s found in supplements and fortified foods) — which seems to have a direct effect on memory. In a study done at Tufts University in Boston, researchers followed 320 men for three years and tracked their blood levels of homocysteine — an amino acid that has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

The participants who had high levels of homocysteine showed memory decline; those who ate foods rich in folic acid, however, which directly lowers homocysteine levels, demonstrated a protective effect against memory decline.

An Australian study also found that a diet featuring plenty of foods rich in folic acid was associated with faster information processing and memory recall. After just five weeks of consuming adequate amounts of folic acid, women in the study showed overall improvements in memory.

Fatty Fish

Healthy fats are important for a healthy mind. Research suggests that when it comes to food and memory, fish should be the star of the show — specifically, fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel and the generous amounts of omega-3 fats they provide. In fact, a study published in the Archives of Neurology in November 2006 found that subjects with the highest levels of omega-3s were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than subjects with the lowest levels.

Another, earlier study, conducted by researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, followed more than 3,000 men and women for six years to see how diet affected their memory. Those who ate fish at least once a week had a 10 percent slower memory decline than those who did not eat fish, a difference that gave them the memory and thinking ability of a person three years younger.
Strive to eat three four-ounce servings of fatty fish per week. If that’s not realistic, consider using fish oil supplements.

Opt for whole grains

Like everything else in your body, the brain cannot work without energy. The ability to concentrate and focus comes from the adequate, steady supply of energy – in the form of glucose in our blood to the brain. Achieve this by choosing whole grains with a low-GI, which release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you mentally alert throughout the day. Opt for ‘brown’ cereals, wheat bran, granary bread and brown pasta.

Eat oily fish

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through diet. The most effective omega-3 fats occur naturally in oily fish as EPA and DHA. Good sources include linseed (flaxseed) oil, soya bean oil, pumpkin seeds, walnut oil and soya beans. They are good for healthy brain function, the heart, joints and general wellbeing. Oily fish contains EPA and DHA in a ready-made form, which enables the body to use it easily. The main sources of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards and kippers. Low DHA levels have been linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.

Eat more tomatoes

There is good evidence to suggest that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, could help protect against the kind of free radical damage to cells which occurs in the development of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s.

Add vitality with vitamins

Certain B vitamins – B6, B12 and folic acid – are known to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. A study of a group of elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment found that after two years of intervention with high doses of B6, B12 and folic acid there was significantly less brain shrinkage compared to a subset given placebo treatment.

Get a blackcurrant boost

Vitamin C has long been thought to have the power to increase mental agility. One of the best sources of this vital vitamin is blackcurrants
Pick up pumpkin seeds

Just a handful of pumpkin seeds a day is all you need to get your recommended daily amount of zinc, vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills.

Bet on broccoli

A great source of vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function and improve brainpower.

Sprinkle on sage

Sage has long had a reputation for improving memory and although most studies focus on sage as an essential oil, it could be worth adding fresh sage to your diet too.

Go nuts

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that a good intake of vitamin E might help to prevent cognitive decline, particularly in the elderly. Nuts are a great source of vitamin E along with leafy green vegetables, asparagus, olives, seeds, eggs, brown rice and whole-grains.

Brainpower supplements

Although research linking diet and dementia is still in its infancy, there are a few important relationships between nutrients and brain health that are worth exploring. Having a nourishing, well rounded diet gives our brain the best chance of avoiding disease. If your diet is unbalanced for whatever reason, you may want to consider a multivitamin and mineral complex and an omega-3 fatty acid supplement to help make up a few of the essentials. If you are considering taking a supplement it is best to discuss this with a doctor or qualified healthcare professional.

There’s no denying that as we age chronologically, our body ages right along with us. But research is showing that you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain well into your old age if you add these “smart” foods to your daily eating regimen.

Avocado – Avocados are a source of mono unsaturated fats, omega 3, and omega 6 fatty acids. These increase blood flow to the brain, lower cholesterol, and aid in the absorption of antioxidants. Avocados also come with many antioxidants of their own, including vitamin E, which protect the body and the brain from free radical damage. They are also a good source of potassium and vitamin K—both protect the brain from the risk of stroke.

Coconut oil – Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides that the body uses for energy, leaving glucose for the brain. It also seems to have a beneficial effect on blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Anything that benefits the heart and circulation also benefits the brain. Coconut oil acts as an anti-inflammatory as well and has been linked to helping prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.



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