Simple Ways to Support Brain Function

How you eat can affect your mind at fundamental levels. Here are a few things you should know about feeding your brain:Brain

1. Don’t overdose on sugar -Your brain, which accounts for 2 percent of your body weight, uses roughly 20 percent of your daily calories. It needs a constant supply of glucose, but that comes from the breakdown of proteins and starches. It doesn’t mean that you should sip soda to keep your brain functioning optimally. In fact, high glucose levels damage cells everywhere in your body, including those in your brain.  Alzheimer’s has become known as Type 3 Diabetes.

2. Eat foods that don’t raise blood glucose levels -Your brain works best with only 25 grams of glucose circulating in your blood stream — about the amount found in a banana.  You want foods that are low glycemic index foods which means they are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber.   Pretzels cause blood sugar to rise very quickly. Raw carrots, however, are slower.  Cooked carrots on the other hand raise blood sugar fast because the fiber is broken down.  The best foods for not raising blood sugar are fats and proteins.  High fiber carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels slowly, and combining them with fat or protein can slow absorption even more. Milk raises blood insulin, which is as dangerous as blood glucose, so limit dairy if you are suffering from fuzzy thinking.

3. Know your fats – Your brain is 60% fat.  Not all fats are equal. Trans fats, common in fast food, are the worst. Very low levels of cholesterol have been associated with depression, aggression and anti-social behavior. Essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s like DHA and EPA from fish oil, are proving valuable in treating depression and other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, as well as benefiting infant brain development.  Flax oil does not substitute for fish oil as many people are unable to convert it.

4. Exercise is known to prevent dementia and to improve brain function. Any kind of exercise- aerobics, strength training or stretching programs like yoga improves brain function. Exercise after eating to lower blood insulin and blood sugar while increasing circulation.  Your brain does not function well when insulin spikes, (and you cannot put on muscle or burn fat when it is high.)  Exercise at peak resistance for a few minutes after eating to bring insulin down or it can take several hours. Do NOT follow exercise with a sports drink or you will negate the insulin-lowering value of the exercise.  Use water instead.

5. Push yourself to learn- Mental exercise may have less effect than physical exercise, but it is still important. There is a correlation between being more verbal, or being bilingual and lower Alzheimer’s rates.  Learning may become more difficult as we age, but we can increase brain pathways and stimulate the brain with different types of methods.  Learning requires taking in information, connecting it with information you already have, and being able to retrieve it.  Practice the last two especially and you will retain more.

6. Getting Enough Sleep Improves Memory– Studies show that both cognitive and spatial memory are disrupted by sleep deprivation.  In the 1920s the average American slept for 9 hours.  Now we allow electricity to disrupt the recovery patterns we evolved with over hundreds of thousands of years and we are sleep deprived.

7.  Nootropic Herbs and Supplements can help brain function when you cover the basics first.-  Ginkgo biloba can increase cerebral blood flow as can Bacopa monieri.  Circulatory stimulants like cayenne and ginger can help.  Fennel extract was shown to improve memory in mice.  Coffee and tea in moderation can stimulate brain function.  Acetylcholine supplementation can help as well.  There are also a number of anti-aging supplements which include pharmaceuticals that have some research benefit, but attend to food, exercise, sleep and learning first.

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