Keeping the brain healthy is important for all ages. Baby boomers, now reaching the age where Alzheimer’s Disease is so prevalent, as well as young adults with family history of cognitive health issues should have a special interest in these steps that can be taken to protect and improve brain function.
Sleep not only regenerates the physical body but helps reset the brain for mental insights and creative new solutions to problems. It also enhances memories and helps improve skill performance after only four to six hours, although most people are not aware of improved performance.
Plasticity of the brain’s synapses is the basis for behavior control, learning and memory by the brain. These synapse connections are strengthened during sleep. Genes important in plasticity are affected by sleep and sleep deprivation. From infants to adults, naps increase brainpower.
There are four categories of brain waves, Beta (14-30 Hz), Alpha (8-13.9 Hz), Theta (4-7.9 Hz), and Delta (.1-3.9). Beta state is when the person is concentrating, anxious, on high alert or is diseased. Alpha is a relaxed state with increased seritonin production, pre-sleep and pre-waking drowsy. Theta state is REM dreaming sleep with increased catecholamines production for learning and memory. Delta is deep dreamless sleep when human growth hormone is released and there is a loss of body awareness.
Most of the time people are in the beta state. When it can be lowered to alpha through calming activities like meditation or listening to music, electrical activity in the brain decreases and production of feel-good chemicals such as endorphins, norepinephrine and dopamine increases. Athletic performance improves as well as learning and problem solving.
The human brain tends to change its dominant frequency toward that of dominant external stimuli. Binaural beats can be used to entrain the brain and get it in alpha state. Two tones in close frequency such as a 495 Hz and a 505 Hz audio tone are overlaid in music or a sound frequency to produce a 10 Hz beat. That falls in the mid-alpha brain wave range.
In addition to sleep, meditation and sound, exercise and diet are important for brain function. One study found the circumin in the yellow curry spice decreases development of amyloid brain plaques and helps fight Alzheimer’s Disease. About 60 percent of the brain is fats, 25 percent of which is the omega-3 fat Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The body cannot produce DHA and gets it from food like fish.
A study in Finland found vitamin B12 reduces Alzheimer’s risk. It slows down brain atrophy and reduction in brain volume. It is only available in animal food sources like seafood, meat, milk and eggs or an under-the-tongue mist spray. Also, brain nerve growth is increased by activated vitamin D receptors. Most adults need about 8,000 IU’s of vitamin D daily and 15 minutes of sun exposure will provide that. Watch the video for Dr. David Perlmutter’s tips on what to eat and what to avoid eating for brain health.
When heart pressure increases while exercising, more blood flows to the brain and the body releases the protein BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). It protects and repairs brain memory neurons and is like a reset switch. The brain also releases endorphins for fighting stress and to block pain and discomfort. The BDNF and endorphins create a sense of euphoria and well-being and make things clearer. Exercise improves the cardiovascular system, reduces risk of stroke and brain damage, and slows the age-related shrinking of the frontal cortex.