How to stay mentally sharp with food and lifestyle

IIt has long been believed – the average person and brain health professionals – that each person has a finite number of brain cells, which decrease over time. Lose enough and it can lead to nerve damage or diseases, including dementia. It’s a school of thought that can make someone obsess over every ball they’ve ever hit in the head or the night they drank too many alcoholic beverages.

But this line of thinking isn’t entirely true based on what researchers have learned about brain health over the past decade. Many scientific studies are connecting certain foods and lifestyle habits to neurogenesis, the process by which new nerve cells develop in the brain. That’s the topic psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD talks about in his book, Eat to beat depression and anxiety ($22), and that means we can actively protect ourselves from cognitive decline — at least in part. Encouraged, right? The key, of course, is knowing how to do it.

How are brain cells destroyed?

Before we get into brain cell development, it’s helpful to know exactly what kills them in the first place. This leads to high levels of chronic inflammation, says Dr. Ramsey. While small doses of inflammation in the short term can actually be beneficial, having high levels of inflammation over the long term can damage the brain (and the whole body, TBH).

Dr Ramsey said: “Scientific research has shown very clearly that excessive inflammation affects the vessels in the brain. Inflammation not only disrupts brain circuits, but also kills brain cells. He explains that an inflamed brain leads to brain fog, anxiety, depression, low energy and (for a long time) cognitive decline and disease. What causes chronic inflammation? Chronic stress, eating a lot of processed sugars, processed meats and starches, and not getting enough sleep are some of the main causes.

Dr, neuroscientist Faye Begeti, says another thing that chronic inflammation causes is blocking neurogenesis, a process important for the production of new brain cells. (It’s important to note that most scientific research on neurogenesis has been done in rats – very few studies have been done in humans – so knowledge about the process is still lacking. limitation, Dr. Begeti said.) – brain barrier. This barrier can leak, but this will only happen during systemic inflammation, which lasts longer than a cough or cold alone. “

Watch the video below to learn more about the link between diet and inflammation:

How the human brain develops new cells

Okay, so we can blame excessive inflammation for killing brain cells. How do we get them back? Actively working to fight off inflammation. According to Dr. Ramsey, this not only prevents neurons from dying, but also leads to brain cell growth.

However, when it comes to brain cell development, it’s important to understand the connection between neurogenesis and neuroplasticity – two words that sound similar, but have different meanings – Dr. Begeti said. While neurogenesis refers to the growth of new brain cells, she explains that neuroplasticity is where existing neurons grow and form different connections with each other. . She said: “It’s kind of like twigs coming out of the nearby trees. “Neuroplasticity is important for shaping our brains into who we are, learning and recovering from illnesses, such as stroke.” Neuroplasticity is how all existing and new brain cells communicate with each other; That’s why both are important, Dr. Begeti adds.

From what the doctor maybe It appears that neurogenesis occurs in only two parts of the brain, the hippocampus being one of them. Dr Ramsey explains that the hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for emotional health as well as memory function, remembering old memories as well as creating new ones. Therefore, neurogenesis is the key to keeping mentally sharp and emotionally balanced. And that’s where what you eat and your daily routine can come into play.

Food and lifestyle habits that promote neurogenesis

Studies have shown that a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise are all beneficial for the hippocampus. “Exercise, socialization and environmental enrichment – which means lots of stimulating activity – increase neurogenesis but these studies have only been done in rats, because it is difficult to study [brain cell growth] in humans,” said Dr. Begeti. This means that although there is a strong link, more human studies are needed to confirm it.

According to Dr. Ramsey, several nutrients have been implicated in benefiting the brain through neurogenesis in humans: omega-3 fatty acids (found in foods like fish, nuts, and seeds). soybeans), phytonutrients (natural compounds found in plants such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes), B vitamins (found in meat, dairy, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, avocados, bananas, nuts and legumes), zinc (found in lean meats, eggs, seafood, lentils, nuts and seeds, and soybeans), and magnesium (found in whole grains, soybeans, nuts and seeds, legumes, and dark chocolate). This is one reason why so many doctors adopt the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes all the foods mentioned here.

Watch the video below for more on the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in nutrients related to neurogenesis:

Besides all the nutrients mentioned above, Dr. Ramsey says there is a specific brain chemical that plays a role in the proliferation of neurons and brain cells: BDNF, which is a neurotrophin, Also known as a protein that helps brain cells grow and survive. “Some say BDNF is like ‘Miracle-Gro for the Brain’ – a fertilized biomolecule that aids the birth of new brain cells and synapses in the process,” he says in his book. develop”. He also says that in addition to helping brain cell growth, BNDF also works to protect the mind from toxins.

Want to boost your BDNF production? Dr Ramsey says regularly eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids is key. (Yes, this nutrient is doubly good for brain health.) He says flavonoids, a type of antioxidant found in green tea, berries, kale, tomatoes, dark chocolate and varieties nuts (with the exception of macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts), have also been linked to promoting more BDNF production in the brain.

Incorporating all of the aforementioned foods into your diet will likely benefit your hippocampus, but Dr Ramsey says doing what you can to prevent excessive inflammation says general is also important, because that’s what kills precious nerve cells. When it comes to food, cooking with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric, rosemary, and ginger can help. Therefore, it may be a priority to get enough fiber. In terms of lifestyle, Dr Ramsey says stress management, good sleep and regular exercise are all important. However, Dr. Begeti says it’s important to acknowledge that there are still many unknowns surrounding cognitive decline. While diet and lifestyle habits are interconnected, they are only one piece of the puzzle. If someone develops dementia later in life, it’s certainly not their fault.

When prioritizing these healthy practices, remember that adopting a “major” mindset can help create new habits. Dr Ramsey said: “Knowing that we can actively grow the size of our brains is really empowering for me personally. “It motivated me to choose nutrient-rich foods, meditate and exercise. It’s not always easy to do those things consistently, but when you know how it affects your brain, it’s not always easy. like me, it will be very motivating.”

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