Your Top 10 Tips for Optimal Brain Health
Dr Ingrid Pincott, ND
- Exercise is the very best way to develop new neurons by increasing BDNF (i.e., brain derived neurotrophic factor). The best type of exercise for brain health is an activity that gets you to 70% of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes 3 times per week or high intensity interval training using weights and cardio. In other words, vigorous exercise is not just great for weight management!
- Diet also contributes to brain health and memory. A diet low in alcohol consumption, smoking, trans fats, deep fried foods and sugar is the best recipe. Anything that gets your hemoglobin A1c (i.e., average of blood sugars) over 5.4 is an increase in risk.
- Just as some things negatively impact brain function, other things benefit brain function. A diet high in phytochemicals such as garlic, green tea, broccoli, pomegranate, beets, turmeric, cruciferous vegetables, rosemary, dark chocolate, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries may all help to lower inflammation in the brain and protect the microvasculature (i.e., the network of blood vessels that make up the circulatory system).
- Gut health: There are myriad ways to ensure a healthy gut, but in broad strokes reducing consumption of gluten as well as periodically detoxifying the liver may help. Two of the herbs I’ve had particular success with in treating patients are schisandra and milk thistle, both of which have a profound detoxification effect.
- Limit the potential for head trauma: It’s very hard to explain the long term effects of head trauma, but I do recommend watching the 2015 Will Smith movie Concussion to understand how harmful contact sports can be to the head. Once you’ve seen the movie, you won’t think twice about wearing a helmet on a bike or taking extra steps to protect yourself from preventable head injury.
- Phytochemicals can also protect the body against the stresses of day to day living and combat neuroinflammation. In my practice, depending on the patient and their specific needs, I may recommend any number of the following: curcumin, Boswellia, ginkgo, NAC, echinacea, ashwagandha, Siberian or Korean ginseng, melatonin, fish oils high in DHA EFAs, magnesium, B vitamins, including extra B12, vitamin D, saffron and grapeseed extract.
- Sleep is critical for optimal draining of the brain lymphatic (i.e., glymphatic) system at night. For my patients who have difficulty getting a sound night’s sleep, there are a variety of herbs I recommend that may be helpful (e.g., valerian, kava kava, passion flower, jujube, Californian poppy, chamomile and rehmannia). A combination of many of these botanicals can be found in an over-the-counter product in Canada called U-Dream; ask your primary health care provider if it’s right for you.
- In recommendation one I mentioned BDNF. The brain has a tremendous ability to regenerate neurons which is governed by BDNF. While exercise is the most effective, you can also achieve positive results with various nutrients such as ashwagandha, St. John’s wort, milk thistle, vitamin D, and resveratrol. There is new research to indicate that intermittent fasting also has a positive impact on brain health.
- Blood tests: if you have experienced a brain injury or are worried about memory loss, you should speak to your primary health provider about diagnostic testing. For example, measuring antibodies to the blood brain barrier (BBB) can be useful as well as measuring chronic inflammation with CRP (i.e., C reactive protein), TNF alpha, IL-1B, IL-6 and HbA1C, serum B12 and homocysteine.
- Your local naturopathic physician can help you sift through the best strategy for optimal brain health including depression and anxiety. A great resource to find out more information about licensed NDs in your area is www.bcna.ca