8 Tips to Restoring Healthy Brain Function
Sleep, water, stress reduction, exercise, and diet are key when it comes to brain health. Here’s my top recommendations for improving brain health:
- Sleep: We need at least 6 ½ hours sleep, preferably 7-8, for the body to be free of stress, and at least four hours before 3 am so we get the release of growth hormone that occurs in deep sleep, otherwise cortisol release will interfere, peaking at 4 am.
- Water: Adequate water intake is vital: dividing your weight in pounds by 2 gives the number of ounces of water per 24 hours. Try to sip throughout the day and very little during eating to not interfere with digestion.
- Stress Reduction: Most important is cultivating a stress-free lifestyle, avoiding chronic stress and making sure depression gets treated appropriately. Cut back on things that continually create stress, minimizing triggers, dialing down your activities and commitments if you are too busy and time challenged, limiting electronics like TV, internet, cell phone, and avoiding sitting for long periods.
- Exercise: Exercising five times a week for 30 minutes is the recommendation for brain health: walking is fine. Being outdoors is even better as you connect with the natural environment. Yoga, Pilates, tai chi, qi gong, aerobics exercise, weight training, and weight lifting can improve our flexibility, balance, strength and increase our resistance to disease.
- Meditation: This promotes physical and mental health: blood pressure, heart rate, attention span, happiness, freedom from depression and anxiety. Mindful eating fosters a healthy eating experience: chewing, extracting the taste in each mouthful of food, and noticing that subtle transition when we notice we are full. Overeating is easy if you are distracted or think you have to finish everything that is on the plate.
- Diet: Healthy eating and maintaining a good weight increases longevity and decreases chronic disease. Cutting back on processed carbohydrates, sugar, alcohol, breads, pasta, potatoes, desserts, lots of sweet fruits will lower the glycemic index in your diet which will help if you are overweight, tired a lot of the time, irritable, or forgetful. It will also help you begin to get control of food cravings. It is important to know if you are prediabetic or have insulin resistance as this usually can be corrected with diet. Sugar and foods that quickly convert to sugar are risk factors for the brain decreasing cerebrovascular circulation.
High protein diets may not be the best diets for long term; however, people in their 60s and older typically need more protein. Research clearly demonstrates that a vegetarian diet promotes the longest lifespan; a ¼ cup of beans daily decreases cardiovascular mortality. Healthy fats are most important and, ever since the low-fat recommendations decades ago that radically altered eating habits as well as cholesterol fears, most of us don’t get enough healthy fats. It is true that short and medium chain triglycerides, butter and coconut oil, are saturated, but we actually need these fats in our body in moderate amounts as they are good for our gut and our brain. We also need cholesterol and long chain fatty acids: olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, fish oil and flaxseed oil. Fish oils and flaxseed oil are essential fatty acids, and just like essential amino acids, we can’t make them and must get them from our diet. The problem is that most of us don’t eat enough dark greens or deep water fish to give our body, and particularly our brain, enough omega 3 fatty acids, another name for fish oils and flaxseed oil. If you are struggling with cognitive decline or serious neurologic degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, then a high fat, ketogenic diet would be beneficial as it is a cleaner way to make energy and keep our mitochondria, the organelles in cells that make energy, functioning optimally.
- Reduce Toxic Exposure: Many of us carry a lot of toxins in our body (plastics from foods, containers, cosmetics, heavy metals, organic pollutants in household cleaning products and pesticides, yeast, mold, and pathogenic bacteria), and this leads to autoimmune diseases and thyroid disease, where the body is inflamed. It must be addressed clinically but also through diet. The Paleo diet is an anti-inflammatory diet that removes all grain and beans because they have lectins on their surface that can trigger an inflammatory reaction from our immune system. This diet emphasizes nuts, seeds, berries, and lots of protein. There is no dairy either as that often is a source of inflammation.
- Supplements: Some additional supplements that support brain health includes multivitamin/mineral with active B vitamins, vitamin D, magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids, curcumin, resveratrol, acetyl carnitine, green tea, N-acetyl cysteine, alpha lipoic acid. Dosing depends on age and health condition.
In private practice since 1982 and Assistant Prof of Psychiatry at Yale since 1987, Dr. David London uses sophisticated genetic, hormonal & nutrient testing to detect the root causes of cognitive and/or mental health disorders. Natural, integrative, holistic methods often resolve them without negative side-effects. While meds are still an option, he prefers Functional Medicine, Nutrition, EMDR, Acupuncture with Essential Oils, Psychotherapy as well as Coaching in Meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong, Exercise, Relationships and Lifestyle changes. Call 203-557-6574 for Westport office, 860-443-5822 for Waterford office; see: davidlondonmd.com for more information.