There is no "magic pill" for your brain. It is part of a whole ecosystem that includes your body and all your surroundings—that means the artificial flavors, dyes and additives in your favorite junk food and the chemicals in the hair spray you just inhaled. Your brain is only 2 percent of your bodyweight, yet consumes 20 percent of the body's glucose. How to feed and care for it? Try these tips:
Avoid chemicals as much as possible. The more your house and office are "clean and green" the better your brain will work. Watch out for house rehab paint strippers, paints, varnishes and the fumes from new carpets and furniture. Avoid using plug-in or spray deodorizers. Use natural citrus sprays instead. (Lime Mate Mist is a good one.) Use body products that have natural ingredients instead of chemicals—a lifetime of breathing hairspray can really lower those IQ points.
Get organic foods whenever you can. If organic foods are not available, wash all foods with a good fruit and vegetable wash. Be aware of the "dirty dozen"—the list of fruits and vegetables that, if not organic, are likely to have the highest pesticide content. (They are: peaches, strawberries, apples, domestic blueberries, nectarines, cherries, imported grapes, celery, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale and collard greens).
Drink water. Energy drinks and sports drinks with all their sugar and dyes don't count. Dehydration actually causes brain damage. Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses a day.
Take Fish Oil Deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to lower intellectual performance and is linked with dementia. Fish oil's "active ingredients" are the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA—30 percent of the content of your brain is these very fatty acids. No fatty acids, no brain. It's tough to eat enough fish to get the right amount of fatty acids, so take a good supplement. Do your best to get at least 600 milligrams of combined DHA/EPA per day.
Eat fresh fruits and vegetables. The best ones, according to the US Department of Agriculture, have the highest antioxidant value: blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, strawberries, spinach, raspberries, brussels sprouts, plums, broccoli, beets, avocados, oranges, red grapes, red bell peppers, cherries and kiwis. Five servings a day of fruits and vegetables is recommended (each serving is a half-cup).
Drink green tea. Green tea (and to a lesser extent, black tea) slows the build-up of plaque in brains from amyloid deposits and also prevents strokes. Drinking tea also helps mental alertness.
Eat eggs. Eggs are rich in choline, a fat-like B vitamin. Studies have shown that it increases memory and chases away fatigue.
Get exercise. Greater blood circulation means more oxygen to the brain and more production of mood-enhancing endorphins.
Meditate. Meditation changes brain frequency and function. The frequencies of deep meditation allow a "brain rest" you cannot get anywhere else. Meditation also enhances connection and symmetry between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
Try the three top supplements. These are:
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (aLa). This supplement is a powerful antioxidant and is both fat and water soluble. It can actually get into the brain easily and can pass through to all areas of the cells to "mop up" free radicals and stop their damage. A former NIH researcher, Dr. Bruce Ames did "rat maze" studies on Alpha Lipoic Acid and the next supplement in the list, Acetyl-L —Carnitine, and showed that the combination of these two caused aging rats, who had been confused in the mazes prior to taking the supplements, to make dramatic changes within a month—to be able to perform in the mazes like young rats.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine. This is the other half of the "A-team for the brain." It is a primary contributor to the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is required for mental function. Double-blind clinical trials suggest acteyl-L-carnitine helps the performance of people with Alzheimer's and delays the progression of the disease.
- Phosphatidyl Serine. This supplement actually stimulates brain cells to make new dendrites and axons. People who take it remember more names, faces, phone numbers and written information.
If a holistic approach is a radical departure from your current lifestyle choices, pick just one or two to adopt and progress from there.
ChicagoHealers.com Practitioner Martha Howard, MD is a board member of the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine and a former board member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. She is the author of The Power of Suggestion CD series, a set of hypnosis/guided imagery CDs for health and improved states of mind. Trained in traditional Chinese medicine,as well as in hypnosis, she has more than 25 years of experience practicing integrative medicine in a variety of settings, including the Public Health Service. She is the first woman physician to have had hospital privileges to practice acupuncture in the Chicago area (1985). Chicago Healers (www.chicagohealers.com) is the nation's pioneer prescreened integrative health care network, offering a comprehensive understanding of each practitioner's services, approach and philosophy. Their holistic health experts teach and advocate natural and empowered health and life choices through their practices, the media, educational events and website.