Dr. Chris Heimlich DC, Founder of the Arizona Fibromyalgia Institute, Comments:
I’m sure you’ve noticed ads for products that claim to enhance mental performance? After hearing all the research and the hype, I always try to ask myself the question “Why is that working?” and “What’s the underlying mechanism?”.
You could take 20 or 30 different nutrients to increase brain function, and each one of them has some rationale. But let’s consider “principles” that promote brain power rather than a specific “take this miracle product” approach.
We now know, contrary to our earlier understanding, that parts of the brain can regenerate though a process called neurogenesis. To stimulate and control neurogenesis, certain chemicals called neurotrophins are involved.
One of the most exciting factors and one of the most active is a protein called BDNF, “brainderived neurotrophic factor.” BDNF is an essential key player in creating new neurons and protecting old ones. Some of the factors that are involved in turning on BDNF are voluntary exercise, caloric reduction and intellectual stimulation. I say “voluntary” exercise because lab animals that were stressed or forced to exercise did not have the same benefits as those who could exercise at will.
Dr. Lautenschlager of the University of Western Australia found that elderly individual’s who exercised the equivalent of 20 minutes a day for 24 weeks showed an 1,800 percent increase in memory, attention and other cognitive functions.
One reason exercise may be so important is that BDNF is also found in skeletal muscle. It appears that “as BDNF in the muscle increases so does BDNF in the brain.”
Next, let’s consider caloric reduction. More and more research reports the benefits of caloric reduction, and one of those benefits is an increase in BDNF. The average American consumes an average of 500 more calories per day than they consumed in 1970. So reducing calories from the estimated 3,700 to 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men is not a huge discomfort.
Another interesting note is that “BDNF levels are low in those with obesity and also in patients with Type II diabetes.”
Just as exercise can increase BDNF in the muscles, mental exercise can also increase BDNF in the brain. BDNF is increased with problem solving and intellectual stimulation.
Of course, it will come as no surprise that stress is one of the major factors which “negatively” affects brain health. We can break stress into 4 major categories: inflammatory stress, oxidative stress, toxic stress (both internal and external toxins) and of course emotional stress. Each of these categories overlap, and each one of them can intensify the other.
Most of you know the factors that can lead to inflammatory stress: hydrogenated or trans fats, elevated homocysteine levels, food allergies, diets high in refined carbohydrates that will raise insulin levels to name a few. Oxidative stress occurs as a natural process of life but can be accelerated by depletions of natural antioxidants, heavy metals or an overabundance of healthy minerals like iron or copper.
Toxic stress or environmental stress comes from pesticides, herbicides, flavor enhancers, preservatives or coloring agents and more. Figure in emotional stress and we have an equation for “compromised” brain power. Remember, it takes energy to deal with these stresses. When our energy supplies are depleted the effects of these stresses accumulate and cells begin to function at less than optimal rates. Cellular repair mechanisms need energy to rebuild, repair and reproduce healthy cells.
More than 2/3 of the dry weight of the human brain is fat, and ¼ of that is DHA.
Both EPA and DHA are beneficial to promote healthy brain plasticity between synapses of brain cells.
It may seem over simplified, but we actually do reap numerous benefits by practicing core principles. More specifically I’m referring to wellness “principles” that encourage and promote life.
Key Components for Optimal Brain Health:
- Voluntary Exercise
- Caloric Reduction
- Intellectual Stimulation