More than 6 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. As we age we become significantly at risk for declining brain health as one in nine people age 65 and older have dementia. This debilitating disease also affects women more than men at disproportionate numbers as two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. What can we do to support a healthy brain?
Our brain is the leading conductor that drives all activities in many of our biological systems, making it one of, if not the most important organ in our body. We must nurture our brains and care for them with intention and ease the same way we do the rest of our bodies. A healthy brain leads to lasting longevity and improved overall health. Research has shown that our daily habits and lifestyles build strong brain health.
The following five lifestyle practices are the gateway to a happy, healthy brain:
- Maintain adequate sleep patterns – There is good reason why it is recommended that we get eight, quality hours of sleep each night. Adequate sleep patterns help our brain and body to recover and recharge. A healthy night of sleep involves the 90-minute repeat cycle of four different stages of non-REM sleep, followed by a very important stage, rapid eye movement (REM). Both non-REM and REM stages are critical to cognitive functions. Disruptions in sleep derail the sleep cycle, preventing us from achieving the optimum value of all of the stages of sleep. Inadequate sleep affects the whole brain but there’s a particularly vulnerable part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN controls your body’s sleep-wake cycle. When the SCN is activated, it affects many different biological functions including how hormones are released, body temperature and how sugars are metabolized. Cognitively, it affects your thinking, emotions, creativity, memory and learning.
- Identify your body’s healthy diet – Not only necessary for your physical health, your diet is also important to your brain health and function. While an allergic reaction to something, measured by IgE antibodies, will present itself rapidly, food sensitivity or intolerance can affect your cognitive state, take longer to manifest and can be harder to detect. Ultimately, IgG-related sensitivities could have longer-lasting effects other than just an upset stomach. These types of dietary reactions can cause brain fog, depression, anxiety, and autoimmune reactivity, increasing the risk of disease. Foods that cause abnormal immune reactions should be avoided to prevent the likelihood of these issues. Other healthy diet practices such as maintaining healthy blood sugar balance, nutrient levels, and cholesterol levels are vital for superior cognitive function.
- Exercise-The physical and esthetic benefits of exercise are what greatly motivate people to do it. What many do not realize is how beneficial exercise is to the brain, both mentally and emotionally. Exercise releases endorphins into the bloodstream, which stimulates adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine, all known to heighten our moods and level of happiness. Exercise doesn’t just strengthen muscles; it can also help strengthen the neurons in your brain. Here are a few of the positive effects that exercise has on the brain:
- Improved concentration and cognition
- Improved memory
- Improved problem-solving skills
- Improved learning
- Improved Mood
- Higher Self-confidence
- Lower stress levels
- More motivation
- Overall happiness
- Increased energy and productivity
- Healthy Gut – Have you ever had a horrible stomach ache after hearing bad news or a queasy sensation in the pit of your gut when nervous? There’s a reason for this! Your brain and your gut are connected by nerves and chemicals, or neurotransmitters, which send signals back and forth to each other. The gut microbes are responsible for producing many of the chemicals that affect your brain function and emotions. Keeping a healthy gut, therefore, helps to balance your brain function. This is best accomplished through a healthy diet, heavy in Omega 3 fatty acids, fermented foods, high-fiber foods, and polyphenol and tryptophan-rich foods. Limiting sugars and inflammatory foods and avoiding foods that you are intolerant to is of equal importance.
- Evaluate and eliminate chronic pathogen exposure – Although the brain is well protected against microbial invasion by cellular barriers, such as the blood-brain barrier, recent scientific evidence has shown that the immune system significantly impacts the brain. Viruses, bacteria and other pathogens can compromise our immune systems and lead to many different central nervous system complications and autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease and autoimmune brain disease (AIBD).
A healthy brain is an essential element to our overall well-being. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, fatigue, emotional imbalance, brain fog or other cognitive disturbances, you should seek the advice of your primary care physician and discuss testing.
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories. Dr. Larson holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Southern California University of Health Sciences. He is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He particularly pursues advanced developments in the fields of endocrinology, orthopedics, sports medicine, and environmentally-induced chronic disease.