5 Important Pillars of Brain & Cognitive Health

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brain healthOur brains are busier and more stressed than ever. The demands of our fast-paced digital world require almost constant connectivity. Other aspects of modern living, such as a sedentary lifestyle, multitasking, eating highly processed foods, sleep deprivation, and social isolation are impacting many aspects of our health and well-being. Between the hyperconnectivity, information overload, unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits, and the unprecedented amount of stress and uncertainty that we are all facing, it is more critical than ever to nurture brain and cognitive health.

In addition to the many daily pressures and stressors, one of the biggest threats to cognitive health includes inflammation. This can be caused by diet and lifestyle habits, oxidative damage, blood vessel damage, poor circulation, accumulation of toxic compounds, and inadequate production and function of hormones and neurotransmitters.

Fortunately, there are some very actionable steps that you can take to not only optimize your brain health now, but also protect you well into the future. Below is a comprehensive plan for helping your brain stay fit, alert and resist damage.

5 Pillars of Brain Health

  1. Eat an Anti-inflammatory Diet
  2. Support GI Health
  3. Prioritize Healthy Lifestyle Habits
  4. Order Functional Lab Testing
  5. Take Targeted Brain Supplements

Pillar #1: Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Fresh, nutritious, whole foods provide important fuel for your brain. They also promote blood sugar balance, vascular health, detoxification, and increase energy. Because systemic inflammation is considered one of the most significant drivers of cognitive decline, eating an anti-inflammatory diet is one of the most helpful things you can do for your brain.

5 Components of a Brain-Healthy Anti-Inflammatory Diet

vegetables fruit brain food1. Lots of colorful organic veggies and fruits (especially berries), nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats. Also include high quality protein, such as grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish and organic poultry and eggs.

2. Microbiome supportive foods such as jicama, leeks, parsnips, rutabagas, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and kombucha.

3. Herbs, spices, and teas such as turmeric, ginger, rosemary, cinnamon, saffron and green tea.

4. Plenty of clean, filtered water.

5. Minimal amounts of sugar, refined grains, unhealthy fats and processed foods.

Pillar #2: Support GI Health

There is a strong link between your digestive system and your brain. In fact, this communication has been called the second brain. Research shows that the gut microbiome and inflammation in the gut can affect brain health. If you experience symptoms such as bloating, constipation, loose stools, gas or heartburn, it is important to heal your gut. Beyond making dietary changes, nutrients and herbs can help to reduce inflammation, enhance nutrient absorption, as well as balance immune reactivity.

5 Strategies for Supporting GI Health

1. Identify and eliminate food sensitivities by doing an elimination diet, or a blood test to measure immune reactivity to a variety of common trigger foods.

2. Determine if an underlying bacterial, parasitic or fungal infection is causing leaky gut. Ordering a stool analysis or an Organic Acid Test can provide you with this information.

3. Improve nutrient absorption by taking a digestive enzyme supplement.

4. Support microbiome balance by eating a variety of fermented foods, fiber-rich vegetables, and taking a probiotic supplement.

5. Promote gut healing by consuming bone broth and taking a comprehensive nutrient and herbal formula that nourishes and heals inflamed GI tissue.

Pillar #3: Prioritize Healthy Lifestyle Habits

Your lifestyle has a profound impact on brain health and mental well-being. How much you exercise, how well you sleep, the way you socialize, and how you manage stress are critically important to promoting cognitive health.

8 Important Lifestyle Factors for Supporting Brain Health

woman jogging1. Exercise: Regular physical activity is extremely protective for the brain and is vital to protecting cognition. Both resistance and aerobic training have been shown to improve memory, executive function, and functional plasticity. More specifically, exercise promotes cerebral blood flow, increases brain-derived-neurotrophic factor (BDNF), increases hippocampus size, reduces inflammation, and promotes the brain’s ability to form new neural connections and adapt to stress. Studies show that physical activity helps in improving the integrity of your brain matter and can help you retain information for a longer period of time compared to not exercising. Aim for 45-60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 4 to 5 days per week.

2. Fast: Research shows that when you eat may be just as important as what you eat when it comes to brain health. Intermittent fasting may improve cognitive functioning by reducing the activity of inflammatory signaling that adversely affects learning and memory. Fasting also allows for a fat-burning state that produces ketones, which supports insulin sensitivity and detoxification. Nightly fasting of at least 12 hours is recommended. It is also advised that you stop eating within 3 hours of bedtime.

3. Engage in mentally stimulating activities:  Social and mental stimuli help the brain continue to develop new neurons. Enjoying new hobbies, reading a book, learning new skills, or mastering a new language or musical instrument give your brain a workout and help to build cognitive reserve.

4. Stay connected: Regular social engagements with friends and family bolsters brain function. Social interaction and intellectual conversations help to challenge your mind and can help to ward off depression, which has a negative effect on cognition.

5. Get restful sleep: Restorative sleep of 7-9 hours nightly is critical for healthy brain function, as well as hormone balance and immune health. The brain requires sleep to form and maintain important pathways for learning and creating new memories. Sleep also enhances concentration, problem solving, and creativity. Studies show that sleep is critical for healthy mood, energy levels and cognitive fitness.

6. Manage stress: Stress, especially chronic or severe stress, is believed to be a key contributor to cognitive decline. Persistent, high levels of stress hormones can contribute to depression and anxiety, inflammation, impair memory, kill neurons, and cause brain degeneration. Daily stress management habits, such as meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga, relaxing, practicing gratitude, creating artwork, taking a walk, dancing, reading a book, or gardening, are wonderful examples of self-care practices that can have a big impact on your health. In fact, slowing down and de-stressing, especially in the case of meditation, has been shown to have a variety of neurological benefits.

7. Stop multitasking: While many people may view multitasking as a talent, juggling several things at once can actually slow cognitive processing, lower IQ, negatively impact productivity, increase stress, and affect emotional control. Screen time in particular (time spent on devices such as smart phones, computers, tablets, etc.) has been shown to negatively impact attention span, memory, and regulate emotions. Resist the urge to try to manage a lot of tasks at one time. Your brain will thank you.

8. Detoxify: Toxins such as heavy metals, chemical pollutants and mold have detrimental effects on the brain and nervous system. Toxins raise oxidative stress, kill neurons, disrupt intracellular signaling, cause neuroinflammation, interfere with neurotransmitter release, harm cognitive performance, and can activate genes relating to Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, a vital part of optimizing brain health is to ensure that the air you breathe, the water you drink, the home (and yard) you live in, the food you eat, and your personal care products, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies are as toxin-free as possible. In addition to avoiding toxin exposure, supporting detoxification pathways is also critical.

Pillar #4: Order Functional Lab Testing

Comprehensive lab panels allow you to dig deeper into your health and can provide you with important insights. For example, you can learn about your inflammatory state, cardiometabolic health, nutrient levels, toxin levels, as well as health risks.

3 Key Functional Lab Panels

1. Men’s / Women’s Wellness Panel – these comprehensive lab panels help identify hormone imbalances, key nutrient deficiencies, as well as metabolic and inflammatory markers.

2. Toxins Panel – this non-invasive analysis screens for potentially toxic metals impacting brain health.

3. Brain Chemistry Panel – this test evaluates your unique biochemistry and imbalances (such as zinc and copper balance) that may be impacting mental or emotional health.

Pillar #5: Take Targeted Brain Supplements

Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and herbs can provide important cognitive protection. Taking a high-quality multivitamin that provides a comprehensive array of nutrients is highly recommended. In addition, taking vitamin D3, omega-3s, and a probiotic supplement all provide extremely important foundational support.

Studies show that taking targeted nutrients and herbs can benefit brain health in many ways. For example, they can enhance mood, mental clarity, protect the brain from oxidative stress, as well as support both blood flow and energy production. We have bundled three excellent brain supportive supplements, to help provide you with comprehensive cognitive protection.

Brain Health Kit (supplemental to core nutrients above)

1. Pathway Brain Support – 2 capsules daily with food
This synergistic formula provides a combination of scientifically researched ingredients to support healthy brain function. Key ingredients include ginkgo biloba, phosphatydlserine, L-carnitine, DHA, choline and inositol.

2. Pathway Lion’s Mane Mushroom– 2 capsules daily with food
Lion’s mane mushroom shows exciting promise for supporting neural and mental health. Studies show that compounds in this mushroom induce the synthesis of proteins called nerve growth factors, which promote nerve survival and proliferation. Additional studies show that lion’s mane has the ability to improve cognitive function as well as uplift mood.

3. Pathway Turmeric Extract – 1 capsule twice daily with food
Curcumin, the active compound found in turmeric, has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and has been shown to ease Alzheimer’s symptoms. Curcumin also helps the body cope with chronic stress, boots mood, and supports immune health.

Comprehensive Support for Brain and Cognitive Health

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, supporting GI health, engaging in healthy lifestyle habits, ordering lab testing, and taking nutritional supplements all work together to promote and maintain optimal brain health. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t tackle everything at once! Take small steps to make healthy changes in your life, and you will be rewarded over time. Your brain is worth it!

If you’d like further information, Village Green Apothecary’s team of nutrition experts is here to answer your health questions and provide you with personalized guidance. Feel free to call us, send us an email, come in and visit, or schedule an appointment to receive one-on-one support.

Brain image from here, vegetables from here, jogging photo from here, with thanks.

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January 2023