There are a number of lifestyle factors that positively or negatively affect how well your brain works. Implementing the lifestyle factors that improve brain health and function can significantly enhance cognitive functions including memory, processing speed, sustaining focus and attention along with more stabilized mood and behavior. As more negative lifestyle factors are present, brain health and function are compromised which can lead to attention problems, impulsiveness, memory decline, mood instability, and behavior problems. Optimal health care focuses on supporting the brain-body connection and on improving the health and efficiency of your nervous system rather than just treating the symptoms. By providing the foundational support the brain needs and avoiding substances that promote inflammation and degeneration, you and your family can enjoy the benefits of optimal brain health. Here is a single nutrient that can make a significant impact to strengthen your brain power:
Healthy fats and oils are essential for healthy brain function given the fact that 60 percent of your brain is made up of fats. Some of these fats can not be made by the body, so they are referred to as essential fatty acids (EFA’s). There are two types of fatty acids that are essential-Omega-3 and Omega-6. Your brain and body rely on an equal balance of Omega-6’s to Omega-3’s in your diet to properly regulate your body’s inflammatory response. Oils that are high in Omega-6’s include vegetable oils such as corn, soybean, safflower and sunflower. Rich sources of Omega-3’s include wild-caught fish, fish oil and cod liver oil supplements, certain nuts and seeds, egg yolks and grass-fed beef.
Ideally you want a 1:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 EFA’s to regulate inflammation. Omega-6 EFA’s are pro-inflammatory while Omega-3 EFA’s are anti-inflammatory. The Standard American Diet (SAD) typically has a much higher ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 EFA’s, making it common to see imbalanced ratios of 20:1 and higher. Numerous research studies have shown that maintaining a target ratio of 6:1 or less (Omega-6:Omega-3) is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, allergies, mental disorders, mood/behavioral problems, digestive disorders and other inflammatory diseases.
Omega-3 EFA’s help to build the membrane wall of your brain cells, When Omega-3 EFA levels become low or deficient in your brain cells, the membrane wall becomes stiff, rigid and inflamed. Researchers recently have shown how healthy levels of Omega-3 EFA’s in your brain cells make the cell membranes more fluid and malleable. This allows for better neurotransmission between cell to cell communication, as well as improved hormone and nutrient transport.1
One of the key Omega-3 EFA’s that supports healthy brain function is DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). In fact, up to 20 percent of your cerebral cortex is made up of DHA. Multiple studies have shown a direct relation with healthy DHA levels and brain function. Healthy DHA levels during pregnancy and breast-feeding also have a strong correlation with healthy brain and nervous system development in children. Studies have shown higher DHA Index scores in mothers during pregnancy resulted in higher IQ test scores and motor development in their children.2 On the contrary, mothers with low Omega-3 Index scores during pregnancy were associated with premature births and low birth weight, as well as hyperactivity in children.
An Oxford University study published in 2013 involved 493 students between the ages of 7 and 9 with below-level reading scores. Test results found that blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids significantly predicted a child’s behavior and ability to learn. Higher levels of Omega-3’s, especially DHA, were associated with better reading and memory, as well as with fewer behavior problems reported by their parents and teachers.3
Another study that came out in 2013 from Massey University in Auckland, New Zealand gave DHA supplements or a placebo to 176 young adults for 6 months. The group that was given the DHA supplements had a significantly better improvement in both memory and reaction times.4
In a third study that came out that same year, a group of infants were given either an Omega-3 supplement or a placebo. Cognitive tests were performed every six months up to the age of 6 years old which revealed at the age of 3 and older, the children given the Omega-3 supplement consistently outperformed the placebo group.5
Measure, Track & Improve
How do you know your Omega-6:Omega-3 ratio? Test kits are available through our office which use a simple blood spot test to analyze levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 EFA’s as well as other fatty acids to assess blood cell bio-markers that can give you a window into your brain health. Online cognitive tests are also included to assess performance in four different categories. Specific recommendations are made based on any results that come back at a low or deficient level.
There are other considerations to take into account when working to improve and optimize brain function. The status of your gut flora and digestive tract lining can have significant effects on your brain function. Artificial dyes and artificial sweeteners as well as certain additives such as MSG can have an adverse effect on brain function and should be avoided. Regular exercise has been shown to increase the size of certain areas in the brain involved with thinking and memory, in turn improving these functions. Adequate sleep is also a necessity for healthy brain function. Researchers have recently discovered the brain goes through a detoxification process during deeper stages of sleep, protecting brain cells from damaging toxins and inflammation.