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Brain Health

by Ann Crowther(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 153 - December 2008

Our brain is comprised of billions of neurons connected together to form a complex network across which messages are sent and received. It requires a constant and steady supply of nutrients to support its function. Unfortunately, however, brain nutrient deficiencies are incredibly common, and can manifest themselves in many different guises.  Memory problems, fatigue, sleeping problems, anxiety, mood swings and the blues are hallmarks of our age; promoting optimum nutrition for the brain has never been so important.

You are what you eat and the brain is no exception! Every single function of the brain is altered by the chemistry of the body. The mind and body are completely interconnected; one does not exist without the other. Without the right nutrients, the brain simply cannot function as it should.

Answer this simple checklist to see how your brain measures up:

  • How sharp is your mind?
  • How balanced is your mood?
  • How consistent is your energy?
  • How happy are you?
  • How well do you sleep?
  • Is your concentration as good as it used to be?
  • Do you ever find the simplest words or the most obvious names escape your mind for no apparent reason?
  • Do you ever walk into a room and forget why you came in?
  • Do you find it harder to remember what you did yesterday?
Maintaining optimum cognitive function well into old age is absolutely paramount for long-term health and quality of life, yet statistics show a very worrying picture for brain health worldwide.
It is estimated that by 2040, there will be 81 million people with dementia worldwide – one new case every seven seconds. Alzheimer's disease accounts for more than 50% of cases of dementia in Caucasian populations.

What Steps Can We Take to Achieve and Maintain Optimum Brain Health?

Sleep

Tests have been carried out to find how the brain functions when it is deprived of sleep and the results are very clear: sleepy people have problems finding the right words, coming up with ideas and coping with rapidly changing situations.

Stress

Stress has an enormous impact on the brain. A mild dose of stress can be stimulating, but long- term stress equals negative consequences for brain function. After only two weeks of raised levels of stress, the dendrite 'arms' of brain cells that reach out to connect with other brain cells start to shrivel up. The dendrites can grow back if the stress is stopped.

Homocysteine

Homocysteine is a brain damaging toxin, which is made in the body from the amino acid methionine when you are deficient in folic acid and B6.

Exercise

Just like the body, the brain also needs exercise...so use it or lose it! If the brain isn't regularly exercised (at any age), then its function will simply decline. It may not be possible to keep the body young forever, but the brain can stay fit for life!

 

Essential Nutrients

Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) is a vitamin, like substance that has been shown to improve energy production within brain cells via its effect on mitochondria. It is involved in the synthesis of the memory neurotransmitter which is often deficient in Alzheimer's patients.

Ginkgo Biloba, as well as being a powerful antioxidant, will help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, particularly the blood circulation to the brain, protecting brain tissue against the damaging effect of free radicals.

B Complex. B vitamins are absolutely vital for optimum brain health. Each of the B complex group of vitamins has many functions in the brain and nervous system, so a deficiency of any one of them can rapidly affect cognitive function, both on a practical and emotional level. B vitamins are water soluble and rapidly pass out of the body, so it is important to have a regular intake throughout the day, and since the brain uses a very large amount, even a short-term deficiency can affect mental abilities.

Magnesium and Thiamin both play an important part in maintaining energy production in the mitochondria. Magnesium is important to the nervous system and a deficiency can result in symptoms such as being nervous, irritable or aggressive - it is often nicknamed 'nature's tranquillizer'.

Essential fats - Omega 3 and 6 play a fundamentally important part in the complex network that is the brain - without them the brain simply would not be able to function. We cannot produce the essential omega 3 and 6 fats ourselves (hence the term 'essential'), so it is vital that we consume optimal amounts on a daily basis. Fish oils are anti-inflammatory for the brain; excessive inflammation over time can cause premature brain ageing and nerve cell death.

Coenzyme Q10 as an antioxidant helps to protect the vitally important essential fats in the brain. CoQ10 is critical for the energy producing function of the mitochondria, and the brain is the most energy hungry organ in the body.

Vitamin E. Low vitamin E levels are associated with an increased risk and occurrence of neurologic disease. Research suggests that there is a significant synergistic effect from combining CoQ10 with vitamin E.

To summarize, make sure you provide your body with a steady supply of the essential nutrients for optimum brain function throughout life – It's Never Too Late To Start!

All the above nutrients are present in a good and varied diet but to obtain maximum benefit, consider taking good quality supplements. Build some form of 'brain training' into your daily routine and flex your mental muscle.

Get plenty of good quality sleep.

Finally, do everything you can to perfect relaxation techniques and alleviate ongoing stress.

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About Ann Crowther

Ann Crowther trained in Pilates in California, and later in Exercise and Health Studies at the University of East London, followed by specialist training in Kinesiology, Nutrition and Stress Management, Ann draws on over 20 years of experience as a fitness trainer and has won extensive praise for the development of her own highly successful Pilates system. She is the author of Pilates for You, Duncan Baird Publishers, and several fitness DVD/book sets. She may be contacted via pilatesplusann@hotmail.com ; www.anncrowtherlifestyle.com.

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