8 Ways to Improve Brain Health
If you knew that tweaking some lifestyle habits could act like brain fertilizer, building new connections to reduce your risk of dementia, improve mood and reduce depression, improve heart function, and more, would you want to learn about it?
Then read on! Above I have provided a brief explanation of a protein that impacts all of this, and possibly even lifespan, greatly, and below you will find multiple ways that we can increase its production. This magical protein is BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and while some details of our individual levels are genetically determined, and it naturally wanes as we age, we have great agency in boosting its production through lifestyle choices and habits we make.
1. Eat more oily fish!
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA found in fish, have many benefits including increasing BDNF (it also has the most anti-inflammatory action). This is an essential nutrient, and studies show up to 95% of Americans are deficient in it. SMASH is acronym for high omega-3, low contaminant fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring. Supplements are also available, check for molecularly distilled 3rd party analysis and therapeutic dose levels. Omega-3’s are also found in vegetable sources like flax, chia and walnuts, and while still beneficial, contain ALA which may not convert well to EPA and DHA.
2. Increase intake of Turmeric and Curry, Blueberries and Red grapes!
Turmeric is the spice that gives curry its yellow color, and has a plethora of health benefits, including boosting BDNF. It has been recognized for many epidemiological aspects of better health in cultures where it is a stable, such as lower Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and less inflammation. Try a golden milk recipe, or cauliflower turmeric flatbread. It can be added to many dishes, with a sprinkle of black pepper to increase bioavailability. It is also available in supplement form. The pigment that gives blueberries their color, anthocyanin, and a phtyochemical, resveratrol, found in red grapes also raise BDNF levels.
3. Avoid sugar, processed foods and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)!
These items have the opposite action, as the SAD (Standard American Diet) which are high in these elements, has been shown to result in lower BDNF levels. For optimal brain and all around function, we have to put optimal fuel into the body.
4. Intermittent Fasting
There is increasing evidence that periods of gut rest, as short as 12 hours, can boost our bodies repair mechanisms. This is not for everyone. There is a growing body of research on the topic. A good source if you would like to delve in a bit is an article by Dr. John Day, cardiologist/electrophysiologist, whom I used as a resource for this article.
It is the best way to boost our BDNF levels. Find ways that work with your life, and that you enjoy, as developing this habit is a huge key to keeping our brain and hearts functioning optimally throughout our lifespan.
6. Social Connection, Stress Reduction and Mental Stimulation!
Nurturing relationships with close friends and family members, and spending time where authentic communication, love and acceptance are present provides a boost. People under a lot of stress produce less BDNF, so finding ways to reduce stress including meditation, yoga, exercise and mindfulness practices, getting out in nature, are critical.
7. Sun can boost BDNF levels.
This can be short amounts daily, while practicing skin cancer awareness and limits.
8. Sleep… last but not least!
Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep, this is critical to general health. BDNF is reduced with sleep deprivation. If you struggle with this, investigate changing your sleep hygiene habits, including trying a guided meditation for sleep. Also, maximize the exercise and nutritional strategies to increase production.
So many great choices… where will you begin???