Should you be
concerned about your cognitive health? Consider these facts:

  • Dementia affects between five
    and eight percent of adults over 60. As the average age of the population
    rises, that could add up to an astounding 150 million people with dementia
    worldwide by 2050.
  • Dementia is more complex than
    most people realize. Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of
    dementia, many other diseases can play a role.
  • Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
    happens when someone experiences enough mental impairment to be noticeable, but
    not enough for a dementia diagnosis. People with MCI are more likely to develop
    Alzheimer’s disease.

Everyone
experiences some moments of “brain fog” or brain cramps, such as forgetfulness from
time to time, whether they’re trying to find their keys or are struggling to
remember a name. As we age, these little moments of forgetfulness become more
worrying. In fact, the damage from Alzheimer’s can start up to 10 years before
symptoms become troublesome. But stress, fatigue, and nutritional deficiencies
can all contribute to cognitive issues, even without Alzheimer’s.

The good news is
that foggy thinking and poor memory don’t have to be a normal part of aging.
Cognitive decline is not inevitable. While you might be “getting old” – this is
not an acceptable excuse, although I’ve heard it in my clinic way too much. The
steps to protecting our brain health can also help the rest of our bodies -
further evidence that everything is connected when it comes to our health!

So what can you do
to maintain peak mental fitness? Check out these tips.

Get enough sleep. A mountain
of research supports a link between brain health and adequate sleep. Scientists
think the relationship may work both ways: not getting enough sleep can lead to
cognitive decline, but cognitive decline can also cause sleep problems. Either
way, the best approach is to be proactive. For example, avoid substances like
caffeine or alcohol before bed. Practice good sleep hygiene by sleeping in a
cool, quiet room and pay attention to when the body wants to sleep. Your
circadian rhythm is your natural sleep cycle, which is ideally around 10-10:30
pm. Fighting it and staying up later sends an adrenaline rush to your body to
keep it awake. Talk to a healthcare provider if sleep issues interfere with
daily living, there may be some significant things you’re missing. You may also
find that following the other tips on this list help with sleep – did I mention
that it’s all connected?

Focus on a plant-based diet with plenty of healthy
fats.
Good nutrition fuels our brain. Processed,
low-nutrient foods can lead to inflammation and oxidative stress. The result
can be cognitive and mood issues. Up to 95 percent of the serotonin in our
bodies is produced in our gut, so what we eat can have a profound impact on our
emotions and the way we think. As a result, having adequate “good” bacteria in
our gut can reduce the inflammation throughout our bodies, so it’s important to
eat with this in mind.

Some important
nutrients for brain health include:

  • Vitamin K: Several studies
    suggest Vitamin K helps prevent cognitive decline. To boost Vitamin K intake,
    focus on leafy greens, such as spinach or kale.

  • Omega 3: This fatty acid has
    been shown to lower levels of beta amyloids, which are the building blocks of the
    amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Look for fatty fish and
    plant-based sources like flax seeds or avocados.

  • Flavonoids: These phytonutrients are
    found in many fruits and vegetables, particularly brightly coloured, flavourful
    foods like strawberries and blueberries. Flavonoids have been found to play a
    role in preventing memory decline, among almost every other health benefit you
    can imagine.

Move to keep your brain active. Exercise is a must
when it comes to brain health. Not only can cardio activities like swimming and
walking ease stress, but physical activity can also increase the size of the
hippocampus. That’s the part of our brain responsible for verbal memory, among
other important functions. Stress shrinks certain parts of your brain, by the
way.

Which exercise is best? The best activity is always the one you’re most likely
to do, but experts say to strive for 75 minutes of intense activity or 150
minutes of moderate activity every week. As an added bonus, exercise can help
you sleep (provided you don’t do it too soon before bed).

Keep learning. You’re never too old to learn something
new. In fact, acquiring new knowledge can help keep your brain young. One study
found that adults who learned a “complex skill” such as quilting or basic
coding had improved memory function after only three months. And knowing a
second language (even if you learn it late in life) can help slow memory loss. There
are so many apps and instructional videos that picking up a new skills is not
only easy, but cheap!

Relax. You’ve probably noticed that when you’re stressed, your
thought process isn’t as clear as it is when you’re relaxed. Scientists confirm
that even short-term stress can affect the hippocampus. It’s important to note
that most studies refer to a relationship between perceived stress and memory.
We all have negative events in our lives and some of these can’t be avoided.
But we can change how we react to them and how we deal with daily stress. It’s
possible to reframe the stress of daily life and change how we perceive it.
Yoga, meditation, tai chi, and cognitive therapy are all effective ways to
reduce our feelings of stress.

It’s important to
remember that there isn’t necessarily a “magic bullet” solution to protect your
brain function. As with all elements of well-being, maximum health is the
result of a holistic approach. By taking conscious steps to protect your brain
health, you can minimize memory loss.

Proper brain function
is also linked to hormonal balance. Having an imbalance of your cortisol
levels, estrogen, melatonin, pregnenolone, testosterone or thyroid can all
contribute to memory loss, confusion, and issues concentrating. Testing and
treatment for imbalances can help get your brain working at peak function
again. Fortunately, this is my “zone of genius” in my clinic, if you haven’t
guessed already.

Please call at
647-772-4396 or email at hillary@websternaturopathic.com if you have questions
about your brain health! And if you’ve noticed any symptoms that worry you,
it’s important to check them out right away.

Sources:

https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/related_conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080311182434.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4323377/

https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/alzheimers-disease-and-dementia/stress-increases-risk-mild-cognitive-impairment/article/459497/

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-walnuts

http://www.brainfacts.org/brain-anatomy-and-function/cells-and-circuits/2012/hormones-communication-between-the-brain-and-the-body