The brain has some say in nearly every physiological process in our bodies. Through it, we perceive and make sense of the world around us as well as hold cognizant our role within it. Age-related cognitive decline contributes to all types of issues such as memory and motor function loss. The good news is modern research has some great insight on how to hold off the effects of natural brain aging as much as possible.
Brain Health + Quality of Life
Everyone ages and everyone dies—even healthy people. There’s a concept referred to as health span by which many physicians consider the quality of life in later years. Just as the term life span describes how long one lives, health span describes how long one remains healthy. It helps discern between living to 90 and feeling great for all but the last six months, or the last two decades. Live should feel worth living after all.
Age-Related Cognitive Decline
As we age, there are many processes by which our bodies’ brains are subjected to potentially-harmful compounds. These include a poor diet, toxins, and even physical damage resulting from trauma or medical complications such as stroke. In approaching brain health, there are two major perspectives to consider: preventing damage and repairing the damage.
Certain compounds, such as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), have been shown to help repair and grow new brain tissue. Shifting one’s lifestyle towards activities and diets that support BDNF production is a great way to help support cognitive health over the long haul. Dietary supplements rich in compounds like fish oil and other antioxidants can help reduce oxidative damage, helping to preserve cognitive health. Many brain supplements, such as Mind by Performance Lab, contain several synergistic compounds to offer balanced nutritional support for the brain.
How to Take Action
Sorting through all the brain-health-related research out there can be dizzying. There’s some well-established facts, some promising theories, suspicions, and some downright nonsense. How does one navigate that? To get started, below you’ll find a ’round-up’ of sorts, discussing the most promising and scientifically-supported ways to support brain health over the long-term.
Fish oil supplements contain compounds known as long-chain fatty acids, sometimes referred to as Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). They’re among the healthy fats out there. One such compound, perhaps the most popular among Alzheimer’s nutritional studies, is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). There’s a lot of brain benefits to be had via supplements and foods that contain fish oils DHA, DPA, and EPA (R). Get these via fish oil supplements or small-fish meals such as salmon and trout. Be warned: larger wild caught fish are more susceptible to high mercury content—something that’s definitely not good for the brain!
B-Vitamins encompass a wide range of compounds and many have demonstrated specific benefits for the brain. Probably all offer some degree of cognitive benefit, but Folate (B9), Cobalamins (B12), and Pyridoxines (B6) are especially important. Lower levels of folate have been associated with earlier onset of cognitive decline and some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s (R). These three B-vitamin compounds have strong evidence describing their ability to regulate and support homocysteine metabolism (R). That is, they help convert homocysteine to other useful compounds (such as glutathione). Poor homocysteine metabolism is an early warning sign of many major diseases.
Vitamin D is arguably among the most important compounds associated with overall health and well-being. It’s been studied in connection with many major diseases but has a specific role in the development of cognitive-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s (R). Hell, Vitamin D can even help reduce Asthma attacks by as much as 50%! It’s also been proven to lower all-cause mortality rates, which is kind of a big deal. For more on Vitamin D, check out Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s Hacking Your Genes presentation.
Of the natural compounds for brain health, phosphatidylserine deserves special mention for being among the few dietary compounds qualified to make an FDA-approved health claim. It’s used by the brain to help maintain cellular integrity and prevent damage to areas that are likely to contribute to cognitive decline (R). It’s similar to many other phospholipids, such as phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylglycerol, and phosphatidylinositol. In scientific literature, these compounds are often discussed together since they are so chemically-similar. Each has its benefits, but PS has particularly-strong support for helping stave off cognitive decline (R).
Few are likely to contest the notion that exercise is good for health. Moving around helps regulate many numbers of processes in the human body that are required to maintain optimal health. It’s when one begins to consider the data that the role of exercise—as little as 15 minutes per day—becomes such an obvious winner. One study found that, among more than 2,500 participants, those with the least-reported daily exercise (less than 1/4 mile walked per day) were 180% more likely to suffer from dementia (R). That’s astounding!
Sleep has profound effects on the human body as a whole but many specific impacts on the brain. It’s when our brain organizes the majority of our daily inputs, helping us to make sense of the world around us. It’s also when the brain discards waste and toxins to help maintain its ability to perform such tasks. Sleep is really important for brain health. That can’t be emphasized enough. Majestically enough, getting daily exercise and ensuring adequate nutrition is often a precursor to sleeping well. Long-term health is, largely, about maintaining positive momentum. Quality sleep is the anchor that can maintain that momentum.
Brain health goes hand-in-hand with overall health. Taking action to repair and fortify your brain can be as simple as eating fish a few times a week and walking 15 minutes a day. Seriously, baby steps count. Nutrition can be found via dietary changes or supplements. For those drawn to the convenience of taking supplements, we urge you to always be mindful of supplement quality and purchase supplements from well-respected brands that adhere to quality manufacturing practices.