Promoting Positive Brain Health

By Dr. David B. Rawlings, PhD –

Dr. David B. Rawlings, PhDIn this article, I would like to share with you some information in the literature that has been discussed in promoting good health, but also positive brain health maintenance.

It has been suggested that we eat a low-fat diet. Since excess fat in the diet can play a key role in chronic inflammation and artherosclerosis, one should consider limiting foods that are high in saturated fat and/or cholesterol. Try to choose foods that are low in saturated fat or trans fats. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables (the more colorful, the better). Blueberries, for example, help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions. Eat a variety of whole grain products; oatmeal and brown rice can reduce the risk for heart disease. Eat fish at least twice a week such as salmon which are rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids which are essential for brain function. Omega-3’s contain anti-inflammatory substances. Sardines and herring also contain omega-3’s. Include fat-free/low-fat milk products, legumes (beans) and skinless poultry/lean meat. Use fats and oils with 2g or less of saturated fat per teaspoon (canola, corn, safflower, soybean, olive oils), and reduce your high blood cholesterol (see your M.D. for possible medications if needed: e.g., Lipitor, Crestor, etc.).

Try to lose weight. A clear relationship exists between obesity and dementia. Your body mass index should be less than 25. Waist measurements should be less than 40 for men and less than 35 for women. Obesity reduces life expectancy by causing medical conditions such as coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, and stroke. The FDA has suggested that we exercise 30 to 40 min. a day, three days a week. Dietary restrictions and fasting (intermittently) can stimulate the production of new neurons from stem cells and enhance synaptic plasticity which may increase the ability of the brain to resist aging. This is due to a stress response which stimulates the production of certain proteins. (See your physician before you fast or engage in dietary restrictions).

With your physician’s permission, try to exercise. The brain begins to atrophy or lose tissue beginning in the third decade of life. One intervention which may help is exercise. Cardiovascular fitness is associated with the sparing of brain tissue, and maintaining and enhancing central nervous system health. Aerobic fitness training, in particular, improves cognitive function in older adults. Walking briskly (regularly) three times per week can lead to a 15% boost in mental functioning.

Eat brain food. Try to consume antioxidant-rich foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, tomatoes, melons, potatoes, oranges, blue and red fruits such as blueberries and red grapes. Avocados are a fatty fruit, a mono unsaturated fat, which contributes to healthy blood flow and lowers blood pressure. Foods containing B vitamins can be found in beans, peas, in rich breads, dark leafy vegetables (spinach or kale) and other fruits such as bananas. Vitamin E is a nutrient that can help reduce oxidative damage to cells, but consult your physician as vitamin E can thin out your blood. Persons who use Curry/Curcumin have been found to do better at mental status testing than those that did not. There is speculation that this spice may help promote microphage development that helps dissolve/digest Beta-amyloids.

Try to get a good nights sleep. Sleep deprivation contributes to the disruption of memory and brain plasticity, as well as mood and motor functioning. Sleep deprivation also affects the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for effective executive functioning. Follow good sleep hygiene techniques (see my prior article). Avoid alcohol as it tends to prevent deep sleep. Finish exercise at least three hours before bedtime. Avoid caffeine 3 to 4 hours before bedtime. Try to go to bed feeling warm and cool down under the sheets rather than doing the opposite. Avoid Benadryl and the other “p.m.” over-the-counter medications

Engage in sexual activity. Studies have shown that sexual activity slows age-related decline. Sex seems to counter the memory-sapping impact of chronic stress.

Vanderbilt University scientists found changing your newspaper once a month adds three points to your IQ. Also spend 5 min. chatting with your brightest colleague. A positive chat enhances your decision-making in the workplace. Cross-train your brain. If you’re used to dressing by putting your pants, shoes and socks on the right foot first, try doing it with the left foot first.

A study at Johns Hopkins University found that taking a 200 mg caffeine tablet, equivalent to a double espresso, provided a memory boost for up to 24 hours. Caffeine has also been found associated with healthy longevity and may have some protective effects from cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s disease.

If you feel you are depressed, get your depression effectively treated. Depression accounts for 15% of office visits to primary care physicians in America. 10 million Americans suffer from depression each year. Depression affects the limbic system of the brain which regulates emotions, physical and sexual drives, and the stress response. Untreated depression has long been linked to cognitive decline. Depression can be associated with elevated levels of cortisol which causes atrophy of the hippocampus in the medial temporal lobes. This correlation is strong enough that untreated depressive symptoms can actually predict cognitive decline in old age and an increased risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI)

Reduce your stress levels. Stress can impair your immunity. The main cells of the immune system within the brain are the glial cells or microglia. These cells play vital roles in maintaining neuronal function, health, and survival in the central nervous system. Increased stress increases cortisol production which has been shown to damage and kill cells in the hippocampus, and there is strong evidence that chronic stress causes premature aging. You can reduce stress through counseling and psychoeducation, meditation, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, massage therapy, prayer, and progressive muscular relaxation.

Get out and socialize. People with a variety of social contacts such as belonging to a church, or having a host of family and friends might also protect against developing cognitive impairments. This also tends to ward off depression. Research has shown that even short-term exposure to social and physical activity helps improve cognitive performance.

Listen to music. Music tends to have a positive effect on pain management. It serves as a distractor and gives patients a sense of control. Music causes the body to release endorphins to counteract pain. Music also tends to relax the person by slowing their breathing and heartbeat. By playing recordings of relaxing music, people with high blood pressure can train themselves to lower their broad blood pressure and keep it low. Researchers also confirmed that listing to music or playing an instrument can actually make you learn better. Musical tempo has also been shown to reduce heart and breathing rates. Is it can also make exercise feel more like recreation and less like work. Furthermore, music enhances athletic performance.

Increase water intake. Given that your brain is about 80% water, the first rule of brain nutrition is adequate water to hydrate your brain. Even slight dehydration can raise stress hormones which can damage your brain over time. Try to drink at least 84 ounces of water a day. Green tea is also good for brain function as it contains chemicals that enhance mental relaxation and alertness.

Keep yourself active. Perform games that require mental manipulation. Online brain training exercises such as Lumosity or Cognifit may be quite helpful. Travel someplace new with a friend or family member.

Enroll in a course, and give your brain a workout by learning something new such as a new language. Browse the hobby section at a bookstore and find something new that might interest you. Start corresponding with friends and family through mail or e-mail. If you’re retired, consider part-time work….. many seniors stay sharp by working at a job they enjoy. Also consider volunteering; such work may provide an opportunity to learn new skills. Also consider starting a journal; record your thoughts, dreams, or ideas you’d like to explore. Also consider writing a memoir or trace your family history, check census records, and other genealogical sources.

And reduce your risk factors for stroke. If you’re smoking, try to stop. Your PCP can prescribe medications that may assist you in stopping. Control your blood pressure. Also control your consumption of foods containing salt, and limit your alcohol consumption.

Our office is available to assist you in addressing any of the areas of concern above.

Dr. David B. Rawlings, PhD
720 Goodlette Road N. | Suite 201 | Naples FL 34102
239-430-2303 |

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