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This is the third blog post in a series of four on brain health. If you missed the first two foundational posts, you can check them out here and here. If you’ve read them, you now know all about how the brain functions and have probably implemented a few of the life hacks I shared to help optimize your brain function. Now, let’s dig into food and nutrition. Specifically, what to eat to keep your brain healthy and functioning optimally.
One of the most important foods you can eat for brain health is healthy fat.
As I mentioned in the second post of this series, 60 percent of your brain is fat. As such, it needs a lot of fat to function well. Healthy fats like wild caught salmon, cod, and sardines are especially important because they contain DHA, or Docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 that helps improve learning abilities, slows cognitive decline and can also help prevent brain atrophy in older adults (1). Consuming 1-2 servings of wild caught fish each week is essential for healthy brain functioning.
In addition, consuming healthy fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil and coconut oil help protect the cell membrane – the coating or cushioning that your helps the brain and neurons to communicate effectively. You can test this piece of information out for yourself. The next time you’re experiencing brain fog or having difficulty concentrating, eat some fat – a teaspoon of coconut oil, a handful of nuts, ½ of an avocado, or a whole egg. The healthy fats in these foods will not only give you energy, they’ll help fire up your brain so you can focus more and think more clearly.
Protein is also essential for optimal brain health and functioning.
Next to water, protein makes up most of your body weight since even your hair, organs, nails, and muscles are composed of protein. It’s also essential for the neurons of your brain to communicate with each other.
The neurons in your brain are essentially made of fat, but they communicate with each other using proteins from the food you eat. Also, the hormones and enzymes that cause chemical changes and control all of your body’s processes are composed of proteins.
For example, eating protein increases the levels of the amino acid tyrosine. The presence of tyrosine prompts the brain to produce the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine (2). These neurotransmitters play a key role in mood stability and they also help us to maintain alertness and activity. Without sufficient protein, your mood will suffer as will your alertness since your brain needs it to stimulate the chemical changes needed to maintain them. To that end, I recommend eating approximately 60g of protein, animal or plant-based, each day.
Antioxidants also play an important role in maintaining the health of your brain.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring compounds that help protect your brain from harmful free radicals and oxidative damage. A simple way to understand how they work is to think of an apple that you’ve cut in half. Once cut, the flesh of the apple begins to turn brown – the oxygen in the air is causing oxidative damage. If you squeeze lemon juice on the apple, however, you can keep it from turning brown. Of course, it won’t keep the apple fresh forever, but it slows down the aging process. Similarly, when you consistently consume antioxidants, you slow down the cellular aging process of the brain.
You can incorporate antioxidants into your diet by consuming colorful, organic fruits like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. You can also find them in green leafy vegetables, like organic spinach, kale, and chard. Two other great sources of antioxidants are dark chocolate and red wine. Dark chocolate contains polyphenols and flavonoids that help to reduce inflammation in the brain and red wine contains an antioxidant called resveratrol. When consuming red wine, look for organic brands and consume it in moderation.
Melatonin is also an essential antioxidant as it has the ability to protect the brain from oxidative stress and prevent the neurodegeneration that occurs as a result of aging and environmental factors. Melatonin is naturally produced when you sleep, but you can aid your body in its production by consuming foods that contain tryptophan, such as nuts, seeds, pastured chicken and turkey, eggs, and seafood. Tryptophan encourages the production of serotonin, which is required to make melatonin.
A few other foods that may help improve brain function are spices, like ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon as they help reduce internal inflammation. Also, coffee and green tea have both been shown to be helpful for memory function (3).
In addition to adding brain supportive foods into your diet, there are a few foods that you may want to avoid or limit to support optimal brain health and functioning. Among these are refined sugar, gluten, and grains.
Dr. Perlmutter, a renowned neurologist and author of Grain Brain, has done extensive research on gluten and the inflammation it creates in the body. I highly recommend his book if you want to dig into the specifics. His recommendation and one I agree with strongly is to to get your carbohydrates from plant-based sources like sweet potatoes and root vegetables, instead of gluten and excessive amounts of grains.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to incorporate all of these foods and nutrients into your diet all at once, but as I mentioned in the last blog post of this series, start with the smallest doable step and continue to build on that step as you’re ready.
While you’re building, or if you’re finding it difficult to get all of the nutrients you need from the food you’re eating, you can incorporate high-quality supplements. The supplements I most frequently recommend to patients for brain health can all be found here.
If you have questions about any of the information shared here, feel free to ask them in the comments. I would love to hear from you!
General Wellness | 0 Comments
This is the second blog post in a series about brain health. In the first blog post of the series, I explained what the brain does and why maintaining the health of your brain matters. If you missed it, you can check it out here.
Now that you know the basics, I want to share five life hacks that will support the overall health of your brain, even as it ages.
Five Life Hacks to Support the Health of Your Brain
Research shows that close relationships and social networks can have a beneficial impact on cognitive function and memory as we age. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health interviewed 2249 women over the course of four years. They asked questions like, “How many people can you rely on for help?” and “How many people can you talk to about private matters” They also kept a record of the number of visits and phone calls the women received from family and friends.
Through their research, they discovered that the women with larger social networks were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with smaller networks. The women who had daily contact with friends and family reduced their risk of dementia by half (4), showing just how important it is to regularly engage in stimulating conversation and have a community of support.
Cardiovascular exercise is most commonly associated with weight loss, but research shows that 30 minutes or more of low impact aerobic exercise can increase brain volume in older adults, specifically in areas of the brain linked to age-related functional decline.
There is also evidence that regular aerobic exercise significantly increases both gray and white matter regions of the brain (1). Increased brain volume and neural growth sound like great reasons to incorporate some moderate walking or jogging into your daily movement routine!
This may seem like common sense, but it’s something that is overlooked or trivialized by many. We live such busy lives, but it’s important to make time to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. This is by far the fastest and most reliable way to improve brain function. Inadequate sleep can make it difficult to concentrate and retain information. It also raises cortisol, a stress hormone, which can cause dopamine production to decrease, making you prone to irritability and mood swings (2).
Lack of sleep also causes a build-up of beta-amyloid plaque, a toxic protein that can accumulate in the spaces between the nerve cells in the brain. High levels of beta-amyloid plaque are often found in patients with Alzheimer’s (3), so reducing the growth and buildup of this plaque is essential not only for the overall health of your brain but also for preventing the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s.
This is a hack I mention often It is essential for healthy brain functioning, but also necessary for overall wellness. Similar to inadequate sleep, high levels of prolonged stress can cause brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and memory loss.
Our lives are busy. We’re tied to our phones, emails and text messages. We’re constantly being asked to multitask and run from place to place. All of these things can overwhelm and place undue stress on your brain and body.
To counteract the stress of daily living, it’s important to create space during your day for “mental health breaks.” I recommend taking a 5-10 minute break every 3-4 hours. During this time, find a space that feels comfortable, turn off the notifications on your phone and focus on your breath. If it helps, you can also play calm, soothing music. One of my favorite things to listen to during my mental health breaks is “Devi Prayer.” I also love gong baths, like this one. Both of these relax me and create the environment I need to find relief from the stresses of life.
In addition to conversation, it’s also important to stimulate your brain with mental challenges. Keeping the brain active and engaged with activities like learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, and engaging in games like chess and crossword puzzles helps to create new neural pathways and prevent cognitive decline.
One of my favorite ways to activate my brain is by using an exercise that I learned from memory and speed reading expert, Jim Kwik. It’s a memory care game that you can add to your daily routine. Basically, you remember the names of everyone you meet. To make the process easier, you can create a story around each person or name, or associate their name with what they’re wearing. This exercise will help to keep your brain active, healthy, and challenged.
If you enjoy games, you can also try Lumosity, which is a simple online tool to allow you to train core cognitive abilities (while also have fun)!
Of course, it’s ideal to incorporate all five of these hacks into your daily routine for the best results, but it’s ok to choose one or two to start and gradually incorporate the others. Slow progress is better than no progress at all.
So I can cheer you on as you begin your journey to better brain health, leave a comment and share which one of these hacks you plan to add into your routine right away. I can’t wait to hear from you!
General Wellness | 0 Comments
This is the first in a four-part series on brain health. Throughout this series, I’ll be sharing everything you need to know to keep your brain functioning optimally, including what nutrients to consume to prevent cognitive decline and life hacks that will help boost overall brain function. Before we dive in, however, I want to be sure you understand what your brain does and why brain health is so important.
Your brain is one of the most important organs in your body. With more than 86 billion nerve cells, it is the command center of a vast and intricate information network connected to every part of your body.
It is also home to both your conscious and subconscious mind which determines up to ninety-five percent of your behavior.
Given its importance, you might imagine the brain to be a large organ, but despite its importance, the brain only comprises two percent of your body weight. What it lacks in size, however, it makes up for in energy consumption, consuming twenty-five percent of your energy as well as twenty-five percent of your oxygen intake.
It’s a small organ with big needs!
Brain health and development begins in the womb and continues through the first two years of life. The conscious and subconscious parts of your brain – what you think, believe and your interpretations of the world – continue to develop through the age of seven.
While most of your brain’s development occurs early in life, it doesn’t stop there.
Your brain continues to grow new neural pathways and connections throughout your lifetime.
This is called neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain and peripheral nervous system to form, reform, and reorganize connections, especially when learning something new, or in response to brain injury (2,3).
In addition, your brain contains two hemispheres, the left, and the right. The left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for functions on the right side of the body and is known as the more logical and analytical of the two hemispheres. Conversely, the right hemisphere is the more artistic and creative side of the brain and controls the left side of the body.
Despite their differences, these two parts of the brain are in constant communication with one another; working together to coordinate balance, coordination, memory recall, speech, thought, and expression, among other things.
There are a few myths that I would like to dispel about brain health and function.
The first: is that you only use ten percent of your brain. This is simply not true. You use virtually every part of your brain and most of your brain is active almost all the time (4).
The second myth is that you can’t prevent brain function from declining as you age. Fortunately, brain cells are regenerative and you have the ability to strengthen your brain like any other muscle in the body. As long as you are taking care of this amazing organ, it can continue to rebuild itself and create new neurons and neurological pathways.
Part of maintaining the health of your brain is eating well and ensuring that your hormone levels are optimal. As the body ages, the production of essential hormones, like testosterone, decrease, so it is important to have your healthcare practitioner check your hormone levels and recommend treatment, if necessary.
Additionally, the brain is composed of at least sixty percent fat, so consuming healthy fats will help maintain the health of your brain. I’ll share more details on diet and its impact on the brain in a future post, but in the meantime, I’d like to hear from you.
What questions do you have about brain health? Ask away in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond. I may even dedicate a future post to the most common questions!
Joint pain and stiffness from arthritis and joint disorders can be a daily challenge, but this blog post, the final in a series of four on joint health, will provide insight to prevent joint disease, including natural therapies that can help increase your range of motion and ease the pain associated with arthritis. If you missed the other blog posts in this series, you can check them out here.
The first natural therapy to prevent joint disease is acupuncture. It is an effective therapy that has been approved by the FDA for pain management for individuals with arthritis
Acupuncture is one of oldest medical practices in the world, dating back to China more than 2,000 years ago.
It is based on the belief that flowing through our bodies is a life force called “qi” (pronounced “chee”). This qi flows through channels called meridians. Obstructions in these channels block the flow of qi, creating pain and disease.
To remove obstructions and restore a balanced flow of qi, acupuncturists insert needles into specific points on the body. This precise insertion produces a signal that travels along the spinal cord to the brain. This signal triggers the release of neurotransmitters called endorphins and enkephalins, which helps to reduce pain sensations (1). The length of time it takes to see results varies, however, eighty percent of my patients see a reduction in pain after just four treatments.
The second therapy I recommend is Prolotherapy or Proliferative Therapy. It involves the injection of plasma rich proteins (PRP) into the affected joint or ligament. This injection creates a mild inflammatory response which encourages the body to produce its own growth repair nutrients to heal the joint and calm inflammation. This procedure is typically performed by a trained healthcare professional once a month for 3-6 months. This form of regenerative medicine is used to treat acute, chronic, and difficult to resolve joint issues and injuries.
The third recommendation is one you’ve most likely heard of before and may have even tried – alternating heat therapy and cold therapy. Heat therapy increases the temperature of your joint, which helps increase blood flow to the affected area. This increase in temperature can soothe discomfort and increase muscle flexibility. In contrast, cold therapy reduces blood flow. This helps to reduce any inflammation and swelling. It can also temporarily reduce nerve activity, relieving pain.
Alternating between the two therapies can be very healing.
I recommend applying a hot pack or heating pad to the affected joint for 3 minutes, followed by an ice pack for 1 minute. Alternate until you have applied both heat and cold three times.
Since moving your body is one of the most important aspects of maintaining the health of your joints, I also recommend rebound therapy. Jumping on a mini trampoline, called a rebounder, for ten minutes each day is a great way to gently move and stretch the joints. This low-impact exercise increases blood flow, stimulates the detoxification of the lymphatic system, and encourages the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid.
My final recommendation is physical therapy. Physical therapists provide individualized exercises to improve flexibility, strength, coordination, and balance to help you achieve optimal physical functioning. These exercises can be done under the supervision of your therapist, but many of them can and should also be done at home to gradually strengthen your muscles and support the health of your joints, ligaments, and tendons.
One or more of these therapies used in conjunction with the food and lifestyle recommendations included in this series can help you prevent joint disease and the development of arthritis and many joint disorders. They can also help you to maintain the strength and functionality of your joints if you’re living with joint pain, joint decay, or arthritis.
This is the third blog post in a series of four about joint health and arthritis. So far I’ve shared information about the different types of arthritis and joint disorders and provided seven things that you can incorporate into your daily routine to maintain the health of your joints and reduce your risk of developing arthritis. However, there is more to prevention than lifestyle choices. The food you eat and the supplements you take also play an important role in the prevention of arthritis and maintenance of healthy joints.
Here are six dietary recommendations that I make when treating patients with joint pain and arthritis:
Minimize Refined Sugar and Alcohol Consumption
Refined sugar and alcohol create an acidic environment inside your body which increases internal inflammation. Instead of reaching for cakes, cookies, cereals, and other packaged foods, choose fresh fruit. Also, it’s also best to avoid artificial sweeteners and chemical food coloring as they are also acidic and encourage joint decay. When you need to add sweetener to a food or beverage, choose stevia or honey.
Increase Collagen Intake
Collagen is rich in amino acids and plays an important role in the building and maintenance of joint cartilage. A great way to incorporate more collagen into your diet is by eating bone broth as it is one of the best natural sources of collagen. It also contains proline and glycine, amino acids that help rebuild connective tissue. Here’s a great recipe, if you want to make it yourself. You can also buy it as a powder and add it to soups and smoothies.
Add Healthy Fats to Your Diet
Healthy fats, like the omega-3s found in wild caught salmon, help to decrease the inflammation that contributes to joint pain and swelling. In addition to wild caught salmon, you can get a healthy dose of healthy fats from grass-fed beef, avocado, flax seeds, chia seeds, olives, olive oil, and walnuts.
Eat More Green Veggies
Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, swiss chard, arugula, and collard greens help create an alkaline environment inside your body, making it harder for diseases to thrive. Green vegetables also help to reduce inflammation. For the best results, try to incorporate 2-3 cups of green vegetables at each meal.
Spice Up Your Meals
In addition to green leafy vegetables and healthy fats, it’s also beneficial to add spices like cayenne pepper, ginger, and turmeric to your food. Cayenne contains capsaicin which can help reduce nerve and muscle pain. Ginger, according to Chinese medicine, is a warming spice. Its warmth helps to increase circulation and reduce inflammation. Similarly, turmeric contains curcumin which also helps to reduce inflammation. You can add these spices to non-dairy milk to make an anti-inflammatory beverage, or use them to flavor organic chicken or wild caught fish.
Smoking negatively affects several aspects of your health, including your joints, bones, and connective tissue. A study conducted in 2007 by the Mayo Clinic followed 150 men with osteoarthritis for 30 months and found that smokers experienced more severe pain and were twice as likely to have significant cartilage loss than non-smokers. The researchers in this study speculated that the cartilage loss occurred due to high levels of carbon monoxide and other toxins in the blood of smokers (1)
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to get all of the nutrients we need from the food we eat. In these instances, supplementation may be necessary. Here are some of the supplements I recommend for healthy joints:
In addition to adding it to your food, you can supplement with a more concentrated form of this anti-inflammatory spice. If you are planning to go this route, be sure to choose a turmeric supplement, like this one, that also contains black pepper. This will help with absorption.
Wild caught salmon is a great way to get the healthy fats you need to reduce inflammation and joint pain. You can also get Omega-3s, EPA, and DHA through supplementation. When choosing a fish oil, look for a high-quality variety that is water soluble.
Healthy joints contain a thick substance called synovial fluid. This fluid provides lubrication which allows the bones to glide against each other, without rubbing together. It also acts as a shock absorber. Hyaluronic acid is a critical component of synovial fluid. However, in individuals with osteoarthritis, it is not present in adequate amounts. This loss of hyaluronic acid contributes to joint pain and stiffness. To counteract this loss, you can take hyaluronic acid in supplement form or get it through injections under the care of your healthcare provider.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine is found in the cartilage of your joints and acts as a natural shock absorber and joint lubricant while chondroitin helps to rebuild cartilage after normal wear and tear or injury. These two substances are often used together to help stimulate the production of new cartilage as well as reduce inflammation and joint pain. The glucosamine and chondroitin supplement I recommend most frequently to patients experiencing joint pain is Arthritis Support. It contains glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as hyaluronic acid and turmeric, all of which possess anti-inflammatory properties and can support the health and recovery of your joints.
Arthritis and joint diseases are preventable with proper care and keeping of your body.
If you are at risk of developing arthritis or are experiencing joint pain, take the necessary steps to modify your food and lifestyle choices.
Making these changes and incorporating one or more of the therapies that I’ll share with you in the final blog post of this series can help you maintain healthy joints and reduce the likelihood that you will develop arthritis. It can also help to reduce your symptoms if you’ve already been diagnosed.
*Important note: while all of the nutrients above are safe, it’s important to get the advice of a well-trained naturopath or herbalist, as there are contraindications if you have existing medical conditions or are pregnant. Please seek the advice of a qualified practitioner before beginning any supplements on your own.
Approximately one-third of all adults experience some type of joint pain regularly (1). For most, this pain occurs in the lower back area, as well as the knees, hips, shoulders, and ankles – the parts of the body used most frequently for repetitive movements.
Joint pain and joint issues, like arthritis are common, but there are seven things you can do to prevent premature aging and decay of your joints and support their overall health.
The first and perhaps the most essential thing you can do to support the health of your joints is to move your body. In fact, research has shown that movement or exercise is the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain in patients with osteoarthritis (2). Movement and exercise help support the natural lubrication of your joints and increase their flexibility. They also help to prevent joint decay and aging.
For the most positive results, focus on low impact movement and exercise, like yoga, pilates, swimming, and biking. Avoid exercising on the pavement and limit sports that are hard on the joints, like tennis, basketball, and running. In general, I recommend incorporating 20-30 minutes of low impact movement each day. A gentle walk at the end of the day is a great way to support your joint health.
Maintaining A Healthy Weight
Excess body fat stresses your joints. Research has shown that when walking across a flat surface, the force on your knees is 1½ times your body weight. As your weight increases, so does the impact on your joints. The risk of experiencing joint pain and developing arthritis also increases (3), so maintaining a healthy body weight is essential to reducing the wear and tear of your joints.
Similarly, being underweight or not having enough muscle mass can adversely affect joint health. The key here is finding the best weight for your body and developing the muscle mass needed to support your joints as well as the connected ligaments and tendons.
Most likely you’ve heard that you should drink 6-8 glasses of water each day to avoid fatigue, dry skin, and headaches, but staying hydrated is also beneficial when it comes to joint health. Your cartilage is composed of up to seventy percent water (4) and staying hydrated helps to maintain its lubrication, so your joints can move freely.
Reduce Refined Sugar Consumption
Foods that are high in sugar create an acidic environment inside your body, which contributes to inflammation. This inflammation can cause premature aging and decay of your joints. Decreasing your consumption of refined sugar and alcohol can help prevent osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and general joint pain and inflammation.
Stretching Before and After Exercise
Stretching before movement or exercise helps to increase blood flow to your joints and muscles, preparing the body for more dynamic movement. It is an essential part of any physical activity but is of particular benefit to individuals with arthritis as it lubricates the joints and helps enhance and maintain range of motion (5). Similarly, stretching after exercise helps to maintain flexibility. It may also help reduce joint pain and swelling. Set aside at least 5 minutes before and after your low-impact workout to move your spine, move through a few gentle yoga poses, or flex, extend and rotate your joints.
We are exposed to a myriad of toxins every day. Our bodies absorb these toxins and it’s very common for them to be stored in your joints. Fortunately, the body naturally detoxifies itself. You can support the process, however, by limiting your exposure to toxins, getting occasional colonics, and spending time in a sauna regularly.
Aside from exercise, one of the best things you can do to reduce joint pain is to maintain an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. You can do this by eating anti-inflammatory foods, like green leafy vegetables, and managing your stress. One of my favorite stress management tools is this six phase meditation.
In addition to diet and stress management, getting tested to ensure that you are free of chronic infections and autoimmune diseases, both of which can contribute to internal inflammation, is essential to preventing joint decay and aging.
The most common treatment for joint pain and arthritis among conventional doctors is pharmaceutical drugs. There are alternatives.
By staying active and hydrated, maintaining a healthy weight, supporting your body’s natural detoxification processes, and keeping your inflammation levels low you can greatly decrease your joint pain and even prevent further joint decay.
In the next blog post in this series, we’ll take a closer look at food and supplements and discuss what you can incorporate into your diet to reduce inflammation and support the health of your joints.
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