Age and lifestyle are both proven to have a huge impact on brain health.
Your diet, daily activities, and even the way you socialize all contribute to the wellness of your brain.
Aging, without a doubt, is inevitable. But it doesn’t need to have a drastic impact on your brain health.
Are you feeling the effects of aging or poor lifestyle choices?
If so, you can start with these easy and natural practices that can support a healthy brain.
Top Three Ways To Naturally Improve Brain Health
Keeping your brain healthy and taking good care of it is pretty easy to do. You can improve your brain health and performance through simple lifestyle changes.
Below are three natural ways to improve your brain health that you can start to put in place today:
- Implementing a workout regimen
- Change to a brain health-focused diet
- Taking supplements that support a healthy brain
Exercise Builds Brain Health
Staying active, without a doubt, has many health benefits. Aside from aesthetic changes, exercising also helps in keeping a healthy brain.
Working out helps in reducing cognitive decline. Among its major benefits are reducing inflammation and insulin resistance. It can also stimulate the release of growth factors in the brain.((Godman, H. (2018, April 05). Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110))
Exercising itself also improves mood and sleep.((Hartescu, I., Morgan, K., & Stevinson, C. D. (2015, October). Increased physical activity improves sleep and mood outcomes in inactive people with insomnia: A randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25903450))
Both of these factors are important in physical and mental health.
For one, getting enough sleep helps the brain function well. It recharges the brain and sets you in a good mood for the next day.((Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency))
Getting a good night’s sleep also aids in repairing the heart and blood vessels. It lessens the risk of obesity and the development of cardiovascular diseases.((Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sleep-deprivation-and-deficiency))
Working out also reduces stress and anxiety. This is yet again important as these psychiatric conditions affect mortality. In the US alone, anxiety disorders affect about 29% of the population.((Anderson, E., & Shivakumar, G. (2013, April 23). Effects of exercise and physical activity on anxiety. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3632802/))
Walking and Brain Health
Walking is great for a healthy brain. In fact, even low-impact physical activities can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. A walk as short as ten minutes is effective in this manner.((Suwabe, K., Byun, K., Hyodo, K., Reagh, Z. M., Roberts, J. M., Matsushita, A., Genta Ochi. (2018, October 09). Rapid stimulation of human dentate gyrus function with acute mild exercise. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/115/41/10487))
Moreover, walking also has a positive impact when it comes to creative thinking.((Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40 (4), 1142-1152. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036577))
Running and Brain Health
Running is a physical activity that can also stimulate the brain in positive ways. This is one of the main reasons why running and brain health are also correlated.
Running is beneficial to the brain as it increases an activity called “neurogenesis.” Neurogenesis happens in an area in the brain that is important for memory.((Vivar, C., & Van Praag, H. (2017, November). Running Changes the Brain: The Long and the Short of It. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6148340/))
This has an impact that can support a healthy brain and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
Improve Your Brain Health and Performance With These Brain Healthy Foods
You are what you eat, and the same thing applies to your brain. Keeping a brain-healthy diet is beneficial both to your brain’s health and performance.
Below are some of the foods that promote brain health.
Eating fatty fish is a no-brainer when it comes to foods that boost brain performance. Salmon, trout, and sardines are among the fatty fish that you can add to your diet.
Fatty fish is also known to be a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. These are compounds that are beneficial to your brain.
The brain itself is about 60% fat, and half of that fat is omega-3. Your central nervous system uses this type of fatty acid to build and replenish brain cells.((Wysoczański, T., Sokoła-Wysoczańska, E., Pękala, J., Lochyński, S., Czyż, K., Bodkowski, R., Librowski, T. (2016). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and their Role in Central Nervous System – A Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26795198))
Here are 3 ways omega-3 supports a healthy brain:
- A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can slow down cognitive decline as it relates to aging.((Morris, M. C., Evans, D. A., Tangney, C. C., Bienias, J. L., & Wilson, R. S. (2005, December). Fish consumption and cognitive decline with age in a large community study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16216930))
- A diet that is rich in omega-3 can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.((Cole, G. M., Ma, Q., & Frautschy, S. A. (2009). Omega-3 fatty acids and dementia. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1952379))
- Omega-3 fatty acids can also prevent early-onset dementia.((Belkouch, M., Hachem, M., Elgot, A., Lo Van, A., Picq, M., Guichardant, M., Bernoud-Hubac, N. (2016, December). The pleiotropic effects of omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid on the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27825512))
Turmeric is among the superfoods for brain health.
A deep-yellow colored spice, Turmeric is the key ingredient found in curry powder.
The relationship between turmeric and a healthy brain comes down to one active ingredient. This active ingredient is curcumin which has many benefits to brain health.
Curcumin has the ability to improve brain health in different ways. It has the ability to help improve memory and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.((Mishra, S., & Palanivelu, K. (2008, January). The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer’s disease: An overview. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781139/))
Studies show its ability to ease depression. It works by boosting both the serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain.((Kulkarni, S. K., Bhutani, M. K., & Bishnoi, M. (2008, September 03). Antidepressant activity of curcumin: Involvement of serotonin and dopamine system. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-008-1300-y)) ((Sanmukhani, J., Satodia, V., Trivedi, J., Patel, T., Tiwari, D., Panchal, B., Tripathi, C. B. (2014, April). Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23832433))
Nuts are among the top brain-healthy foods that you can add to your diet.
Here are 3 ways nuts are good for your brain:
- Research shows that eating nuts can improve cognition, even in older adults.((O’Brien, J., Okereke, O., Devore, E., Rosner, B., Breteler, M., & Grodstein, F. (2014, May). Long-term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4105147/))
- Nuts also promote a healthy heart.((Grodstein, F. (2007, April). Cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive function. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19595969))
- Moreover, they may prevent the development of neurodegenerative diseases.((Pribis, P., & Shukitt-Hale, B. (2014, July). Cognition: The new frontier for nuts and berries. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24871475))
Nuts are rich in vitamin E, antioxidants, and healthy fats. No wonder they became one of the top go-to superfoods for brain health.
Coffee, without a doubt, is a big part of many people’s breakfast. A decent number of the population grabs a cup or two of this drink to kick start their morning.
If you happen to be a coffee person, then here is some good news. Coffee is full of antioxidants and a good amount of caffeine.
Both antioxidants and caffeine may have positive impacts to your brain. Several studies show the positive relationship between caffeine and brain health.
For instance, caffeine increases alertness and blocks adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical that can make you feel lethargic and sleepy.((Nehlig, A. (2016, April). Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2667720))((Ribeiro, J. A., & Sebastião, A. M. (2010). Caffeine and adenosine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20164566))((Huang, Z., Urade, Y., & Hayaishi, O. (2011). The role of adenosine in the regulation of sleep. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21401496))
Studies also show that caffeine may improve your mood by boosting serotonin levels. Serotonin itself is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter found in the brain.((Ruxton, C. H. (2008, February 13). The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration: A review of benefits and risks – Ruxton – 2008 – Nutrition Bulletin – Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00665.x/full#b1))
Moreover, drinking coffee relates to the following benefits:
- It may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.((Nehlig, A. (2016, April). Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26677204))
- It’s neuroprotective, meaning it may prevent the development of Parkinson’s disease.((Lee, K., Im, J., Woo, J., Grosso, H., Kim, Y., Cristovao, A. C., Mouradian, M. M. (2013, January). Neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties of a coffee component in the MPTP model of Parkinson’s disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3557367/))
Flavonoids are brain-boosting compounds found in dark chocolate. On top of that, caffeine and antioxidants are also present in this semi-sweet treat. These compounds are all known to benefit cognitive health.
At a closer look, flavonoids are a group of antioxidants found in plants. These compounds may have the ability to enhance memory.((Knezevic, B., Komatsuzaki, Y., De Freitas, E., & Lukowiak, K. (2016, March). A flavonoid component of chocolate quickly reverses an imposed memory deficit. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26823103))
Flavonoids may also lessen the risk of cognitive decline associated with aging. A trial on animals showed that a flavonol in dark chocolate may enhance the memory.((Fernell, M., Swinton, C., & Lukowiak, K. (2016, July 27). Epicatechin, a component of dark chocolate, enhances memory formation if applied during the memory consolidation period. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27574544))
Additionally, consuming dark chocolate may improve the ability to perform mental tasks. Research shows that chocolate intake has beneficial effects on neurocognition and behavior. Further research may help to explain the correlation between flavonoids and cognition.((Crichton, G. E., Elias, M. F., & Alkerwi, A. (2016, May 01). Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26873453))
Dark chocolate is also believed to be an effective mood booster. This is a well known anecdotal belief. A trial rationalized this connection between dark chocolate and mood. It showed that those who consumed dark chocolate improved their moods.((Meier, B. P., Noll, S. W., & Molokwu, O. J. (2017, January 01). The sweet life: The effect of mindful chocolate consumption on mood. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27642035))
Blueberries are a fruit treat that you can add to your diet for better brain health. These berries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds called anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins have neuroprotective properties. ((Subash, S., Essa, M. M., Al-Adawi, S., Memon, M. A., Manivasagam, T., & Akbar, M. (2014, August 15). Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4192974/))
Additionally, the antioxidants found in blueberries may act against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body. They can cause cell and tissue damage.
Fighting oxidative stress may help improve brain cell activities.((Subash, S., Essa, M. M., Al-Adawi, S., Memon, M. A., Manivasagam, T., & Akbar, M. (2014, August 15). Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4192974/))
It may also improve memory and prevent short-term memory loss.((Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Nash, T. A., Kalt, W., Vinqvist-Tymchuk, M. R., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2010, April 14). Blueberry supplementation improves memory in older adults. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2850944/))
Improve Cognitive Function With the Help of These Brain Health Supplements
Sometimes, the food we take does not provide enough nutrients to nurture the brain. That said, you can boost your cognitive wellness with supplements.
Try the following vitamins and minerals for brain health.
Ashwagandha is a plant that goes by the scientific name Withania somnifera. Also known as Indian ginseng, it is a plant that originates from the Solanaceae family.
Ashwagandha is a popular medicinal remedy used in Ayurvedic medicine. As a vitamin for brain health, it works as a great stress reliever.
Research shows that this herb can reduce symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. It works by blocking the stress pathway in the brain cells.((Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012, July). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798))
Ashwagandha can also help relieve the symptoms of depression. In a study conducted on 64 stressed adults, 600mg of ashwagandha showed good results. The herb was able to reduce severe depression by 79%.((Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012, July). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439798))
In another study, 500mg delivered a significant improvement to memory and brain performance.((Pingali, U., Pilli, R., & Fatima, N. (2014, January). Effect of standardized aqueous extract of Withania somnifera on tests of cognitive and psychomotor performance in healthy human participants. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24497737))
Huperzine-A is another rising herbal extract used for healthy brain benefits.
It acts as an inhibitor to an enzyme that blocks the breakdown of neurotransmitters in the body. These neurotransmitters have vital roles in the nervous system.
In simpler words, Huperzine-A acts as an effective cognitive stimulator.((Colović, M. B., Krstić, D. Z., Lazarević-Pašti, T. D., Bondžić, A. M., & Vasić, V. M. (2013, May). Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors: Pharmacology and toxicology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3648782/))
This extract is also essential when it comes to cognitive function and learning. Huperzine-A is among the most common ingredients found in nootropics. It has the ability to stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain. ((Colović, M. B., Krstić, D. Z., Lazarević-Pašti, T. D., Bondžić, A. M., & Vasić, V. M. (2013, May). Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors: Pharmacology and toxicology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3648782/))
Huperzine-A is also known to be therapeutic. People who suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s may find relief from this extract.((Li, J., Wu, H. M., Zhou, R. L., Liu, G. J., & Dong, B. R. (2008, April 16). Huperzine A for Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18425924))
Moreover, this herbal extract works to reduce brain cell death and soothe dementia. ((Ved, H. S., Koenig, M. L., Dave, J. R., & Doctor, B. P. (1997, March 03). Huperzine A, a potential therapeutic agent for dementia, reduces neuronal cell death caused by glutamate. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9141073))
Acetyl-L-Carnitine is a natural amino acid found in the body. This amino acid is more commonly known as L-carnitine.
L-carnitine became popular as a product marketed towards weight loss. Yet, it may also benefit the brain by improving memory and alertness. ((Malaguarnera, M. (2012, March). Carnitine derivatives: Clinical usefulness. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22333562))
This amino acid may also help people with mild dementia and Alzheimer’s.((Mancuso, C., Siciliano, R., Barone, E., & Preziosi, P. (2012, May). Natural substances and Alzheimer’s disease: From preclinical studies to evidence based medicine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939756))
Another benefit of Acetyl-L-Carnitine is that it links to mitochondria.
Mitochondria’s role is to provide energy to the cells. They are responsible for general cell function.
Mitochondrial decay is an inevitable process that comes as we age. It contributes to aging, memory loss, and cognitive decline.
Supplementing on Acetyl-L-Carnitine can delay this process.((Ames, B. N., & Liu, J. (2004, November). Delaying the mitochondrial decay of aging with acetylcarnitine. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15591008))
Creatine is another natural substance found in the body. It plays a key role in energy metabolism.
You can find creatine in large amounts in the muscles. It is also present in the brain though in smaller amounts. It is a popular natural supplement that is also present in foods, such as meat, eggs, and fish.
Aside from aiding in muscle build-up, creatine can also help with brain health. This substance may influence brain function and promote better memory.((Benton, D., & Donohoe, R. (2011, April). The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of omnivores. retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21118604))
Tongkat Ali is an herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Native to the soils of Southeast Asia, this herb receives praises for its health benefits.
Tongkat ali is popular for its possible effects on male virility and vitality. It is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a cure for fever and other illnesses.
Tongkat ali may benefit the brain by reducing stress and anxiety.((Talbott, S. M., Talbott, J. A., George, A., & Pugh, Mike. (2013, May 26). Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-28))
The components of this herb works by reducing cortisol.((Talbott, S. M., Talbott, J. A., George, A., & Pugh, Mike. (2013, May 26). Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-28)) And as a result, this may help the brain function better.
And speaking of stress, chronic stress may affect the prefrontal cortex.((Yaribeygi, H., Panahi, Y., Sharaei, H., Johnston, T. P., & Sahebkar, A. (2017, July 21). The impact of stress on body function: A review. doi: 10.17179/excli2017-480))
It is the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning.((Siddqui, S. V., Chatterjee, U., Kumar, D., Siddqui, A., & Goyal, N. (2008, July – September). Neuropsychology of prefrontal cortex. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.43634))Tongkat ali is natural remedy that may soothe the symptoms of chronic stress.((Talbott, S. M., Talbott, J. A., George, A., & Pugh, Mike. (2013, May 26). Effect of Tongkat Ali on stress hormones and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-28))
Maca is an herb native to Peru. Its roots are often used in traditional Peruvian medicine, providing relief to illnesses.
Maca contains high amounts of antioxidants. These antioxidants may work together to reduce oxidative stress.((Siddqui, S. V., Chatterjee, U., Kumar, D., Siddqui, A., & Goyal, N. (2008, July – September). Neuropsychology of prefrontal cortex. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.43634))
The brain is vulnerable to oxidative stress as the brain cells need a good amount of oxygen.((Salim, S. (2017, January). Oxidative Stress and the Central Nervous System. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 360(1), 201-205. doi: 10.1124/jpet.116.237503))
Oxidative stress may encourage excess free radicals to damage existing brain cells. It may even lead to cell death. This may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.((Salim, S. (2017, January). Oxidative Stress and the Central Nervous System. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 360(1), 201-205. doi: 10.1124/jpet.116.237503))
Maca may also have neuroprotective properties.((Pino-Figueroa, A., Nguyen, D., & Maher, T. J. (2010 June). Neuroprotective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca). retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20633111))
Korean Red Ginseng
Known as the truest of all ginseng, Korean red ginseng is a staple in Asian Traditional Medicine. It also goes by the name panax ginseng.
Korean red ginseng is popular for its wide array of health benefits. It may have the ability to treat a variety of illnesses, including cancer.((Pino-Figueroa, A., Nguyen, D., & Maher, T. J. (2010 June). Neuroprotective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca). retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20633111))
Korean red ginseng is also famous for its effects on the immune system and sexual health. The male population, especially, may find benefits from this herb((Pino-Figueroa, A., Nguyen, D., & Maher, T. J. (2010 June). Neuroprotective effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca). retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20633111))
When it comes to brain health, Korean red ginseng may impose benefits.In fact, one study showed that consumption of the herb may lead to better cognitive health in the later years.((Lho, S. K., Kim, T. H., Kwak, K. P., Kayoung, K., Kim, B. J., Kim, S. G., Kim, J. L.,… & Kim, K. W. (2018, May 24). Effects of lifetime cumulative ginseng intake on cognitive function in late life. Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 10, 50. doi: 10.1186/s13195-018-0380-0))
Aging and cognitive decline are two correlated factors. It’s a reflection of how the human body works over our lifetime.
But your brain health doesn’t have to suffer only because you’re aging. Simple lifestyle changes and a healthier diet can make the biggest impact on your body. Taking the right supplements may also be an effective way to improve the health of your brain.
So stay informed and never hesitate to learn more about health. Because at the end of the day, only you can take full care of yourself.