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How to Rewire Our Brain:
Natural ways to care for and protect your most precious asset
Across the lifespan, the human brain goes through numerous changes, both structurally and functionally. Mental decline is common with age, but it’s not inevitable as many once thought.
Simple lifestyle modifications and natural interventions can promote better brain health and drastically change how you think and feel.
What is Brain Health
Brain health means a lot of things to different people, but it can roughly be broken down into two areas of focus; feelings and mood, and thoughts and cognition. These two areas are very different but both influence overall brain health. For example, if someone feels great but can’t calculate a tip, that’s an opportunity to strengthen their cognition. Similarly, if someone says work is going well, but they often feel sad, that’s another aspect of brain health that can be improved. For physicians, it’s critical to examine and enhance both of these areas.
How Fat Affects the Brain
Lifestyle often has a lot to do with how well your brain ages, and there are many natural, low-cost options beyond using pharmaceuticals. The first and simplest step is to look at your diet and how those foods might be affecting your brain.
A Mayo Clinic study of 1,230 adults between the ages of 70 and 89 found that those whose diets were highest in carbohydrates had nearly four times the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Conversely, participants that consumed foods high in healthy fat were 42 percent less likely to develop cognitive impairment.1
This is astonishing, and no medication can claim results like this. It is so important to remember that what you choose to eat dramatically influences your brain.
How exactly does a high-fat diet support the brain? Fat fortifies the brain in many ways. The human brain is approximately 60 percent fat and has a unique fatty acid composition. This is pivotal because it supports the membranes around every cell in your body.
Dendrites are where neurons receive information from other cells, and these dendrites are primarily comprised of fat. Axons, or nerve fibers, are the primary transmission lines of the nervous system- think of these as wires through which neurons send signals to other cells. These axons are protected by a myelin sheath which is made up of—you guessed it—fat!
In addition to contributing to the physical structure of cells, fats are a rich source of energy and aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Fats, proteins and carbohydrates are all macronutrient sources of energy found in the human diet. However, fat is the most concentrated source and provides double the energy content of protein and carbohydrates.
Boost Brain Power with Supplements
Diet is crucial to a healthy brain, but that is only part of the equation. You can positively influence neural health using specific supplements. One of the products prescribed at TriVita Clinic of Integrative Medicine includes three ingredients to support different facets of brain health.
The first ingredient is bacopa monnieri, an herb that has been used for thousands of years. In animal models, over months of use, bacopa was shown to increase the number of dendrites that any one cell has.2 This is huge because it impacts how cells communicate with other cells which influence memory.
Human trials continue to show that memory can be enhanced with bacopa supplements. This is encouragement for everyone to seek optimal health as early as possible to improve potential health outcomes later in life.
The second component is pantothenic acid, which is also known as Vitamin B-5. Pantothenic acid plays an essential role in the synthesis of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is involved in learning, thinking, attention and the formation of memory. Without acetylcholine, signals cannot transfer, and brain function begins to decline.
Lithium Orotate is the final component. Typically, when people hear lithium, they instantly think of the form used pharmaceutically. But Lithium Orotate is a different form that has been shown to strengthen mood and memory function.3 Also, studies have shown that it can increase neuroplasticity.4 Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change itself. This can occur in either a negative or positive direction, but the ultimate goal is to increase neuroplasticity positively.
Lithium Orotate has also been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is one of the growth factors that stimulates new neuron growth and is essential when the goal is to improve memory function.5
Retrain Your Brain
If you’re eating healthy and using supportive supplements, one more thing you can do is provide the brain with stimulation or exercise. One intervention commonly used is neurofeedback, which is similar to biofeedback, but specifically for your brain.
To understand how neurofeedback works you first need to look at the different brain waves. The first type of wave is delta which is predominant during deep sleep. Secondly, theta waves are present during lighter sleep or a state of deep meditation. Next are alpha waves which are active in times of daydreaming or light meditation, and lastly, beta waves are associated with normal waking and thinking states. Generally, alpha waves tend to be related to mood and beta waves translate into thinking and cognition.
Many patients are hesitant to discuss mood disorders with their doctor. For physicians, neurofeedback provides an opportunity to objectify anxiety, depression, attention deficits and memory loss.
The first step of neurofeedback is to create a brain map, or quantitative EEG, which helps map out alpha and beta levels and any asymmetry that may be present. This provides clues to where individuals may be dealing with depression or anxiety and how to harness neuroplasticity for best results. During neurofeedback, electrodes are applied to the scalp to monitor brainwave activity, and specific frequencies are targeted to retrain the brain toward healthier or more regulated brainwave states.
Redefine What’s Possible
The future of brain health relies on access to early assessment and preventative protocols, similar to heart health screenings. Individuals are screened early and regularly for cardiovascular disease, and if they are found to be at risk, they partake in medical treatment or lifestyle modification. The same type of responsibility needs to be demonstrated with brain health to mitigate rates of cognitive impairment, mood disorders and increase optimal living.
When the brain is given healthy nutrition to sustain function and integrity, supplements to stimulate growth and regular exercise to amplify neuroplasticity you can see significant changes in mood and memory function in as little as a few months—all without the use of pills.
About Ankit Chander, M.D.
Dr. Chander is a primary care physician and Diplomat of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. He received his MD from Johns Hopkins University of Medicine and residency with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Chander combines traditional practice with integrative care.