From controlling every breath, heartbeat, to enabling us to think, create, learn and feel emotions—the brain sits in the center of control. Under sub-optimal conditions, depression, anxiety, memory loss, brain fog and cognitive impairment can occur. Therapies such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, probiotics, mind-body practices and botanical nootropics can be useful for optimizing brain health.
1. FOUNDATIONS OF HEALTH
First and foremost, don’t overlook the pillars of your health—nutrition, sleep, exercise and stress management. Chronic stress causes inflammation, nerve cell damage and nutrient depletion. To manage stress, engage in activities that bring you joy and peace such as meditation, mandala drawing, dream work, guided visualization, yoga or gardening.
Getting adequate sleep is critical for brain health. Research published in Science Magazine demonstrates that the brain flushes out toxins during sleep. The "glymphatic system," a network of fluid filled channels, clears toxic metabolic byproducts from the brain. This remarkable process predominantly occurs while we sleep.
2. NUTRITIONAL PSYCHIATRY
There is growing evidence in the discipline of nutritional psychiatry that demonstrates the association between diet quality and mental health among different ages, cultures and countries. According to the article in The Lancet Nutritional Medicine as Mainstream in Psychiatry, "The emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders, suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.”
Functional medicine testing is a great diagnostic tool to IDENTIFY AND TREAT THE CAUSE. It helps to unveil deficiencies, excesses and imbalances. This is useful in developing personalized nutrition and supplement plans. Tests to help determine the root cause include:
- Address insufficiencies: neurotransmitters, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, Omega-3 fatty acids and microbiome diversity
- Check for heavy metal overload: lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium
- Reveal genetic deficits: MTHFR & COMT
3. NOOTROPICS—ARE THEY RIGHT FOR YOU?
The pursuit for enhancing brainpower has existed for many centuries. More recently the term “nootropics” has emerged. After synthesizing the first nootropic, piracetam, a Romanian psychologist fused the Greek words for “mind” and “to bend or turn” to define a category of substances that enhance brainpower. He defined a set of criteria these drugs should meet—enhance learning, increase coupling of brain’s hemispheres and improve executive processing. Importantly, these drugs must be nontoxic and nonaddictive.
Fast-forward to today and there is a Reddit forum with over 80,000 users discussing everything from stacking, dosing, safety to legalities. It is believed that nootropics increase the availability of neuro-chemicals by enhancing oxygen to the brain and nourishing nerve cell growth. Sounds pretty great, right? It is recommended that anyone considering nootropics first consult their doctor to discuss safety.
4. USE TECHNOLOGY TO TRAIN YOUR BRAIN
According to the article Mental health: There’s an app for that published in the journal Nature in April 2016: “Electronic interventions are not new to psychology; there is robust literature showing that Internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach that aims to change problematic thoughts and behaviours, can be effective for treating conditions such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.” Listed below are some of the best-reviewed apps for cognitive enhancing and mood balancing:
- ELEVATE trains the brain for a variety of brain capabilities, such as listening, memory and comprehension. It focuses on practical language and math skills, including: name recall, listening comprehension and estimation. Bonus—it’s free.
- LUMOSITY has games that help improve flexibility of thinking, attention, memory, problem solving, and processing speed.
- PEAK uses a variety of daily games and goals to test users’ focus, memory, mental agility, problem solving and language skills. Premium subscribers have access to exercises on demand and receive personalized training plans.
- PERSONAL ZEN reduces anxiety by rewiring your brain to focus more on the positive versus the negative. Users follow two animated characters as they burrow in a field of grass; one of them is calm and friendly while the other one is angry.
- HAPPIFY uses the principles of positive psychology. This app helps train your brain to conquer negative thoughts, show gratitude, cope with stress and empathize.
- HEADSPACE is great for the beginner who wants to learn meditation for reducing anxiety and stress. Skills the app teaches you include: breathing exercises, mindfulness and cognitive diffusion, meditation tips and advice for how to increase relaxation and concentration.