Has your interest piqued in brain health after reading my most recent posts? Are you ready to dive in and start taking action? Here are more steps on how to treat your brain better.
This post was sponsored by Neuriva, a holistic brain-health regimen to help support brain performance. Thank you to RB for compensating my time, however, all thoughts and opinions presented here are my own.
Our brain better series continues! If you missed our first two posts, backtrack a bit and give your brain a little exercise, starting with How to Support Your Brain.
We all have those days, or even weeks (months?!), where we are operating on total overload. Our brain feels the way our computer operates when it has too many windows open, and it’s not functioning at maximum capacity. This is when we know we should slow down, take a deep breath, and make brain health a priority.
Creating a healthy foundation now by taking time to eat right, exercise, practice gratitude, de-stress, and connect with people and nature makes us more prepared for the times when slowing down isn’t an option. When life gets ultra-demanding and throws you curveballs, having healthy habits in place ensures your body and brain will be operating at a balanced baseline.
Think back to a time when it felt like you had too many “windows” open in your head and it felt like you were going to blow a circuit. What kind of healthy habits could you have had in place to help? Here are a few answers.
First things first – good nutrition for brain health!
Start by showing your brain some love by feeding it right. Did you know your brain uses about 20% of your calorie needs, regardless of how much you are thinking or physically working? (1)
Although any food you eat can provide brain energy, research shows that focusing on a high-quality diet is advantageous to your brain’s processing.
- Evolving research shows that eating plant-based foods is good for your brain and cognitive abilities.
- Cognitive abilities are brain-based skills used to carry out any task you learn, from simple to complex.
- Take a closer look at the Mediterranean diet and the MIND diet. Both emphasize eating plant-based foods and are associated with higher scores on cognitive function tests. (2)
- In a recent study, people who ate a nutrient-rich diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish revealed higher cognitive abilities. (3)
So, while healthy plant-based foods generally provide health benefits, certain foods (some which we’ve noted below) have specifically been studied for brain benefits.
Help support your brain with nutrients!
Mushrooms for brain health
Mushrooms, such as fresh, dried and canned golden, oyster, white button and shiitake mushrooms, may help support cognition. (4)
Start adding mushrooms into your diet now – not only for a possible brain benefit but also for a nutrient boost. If you don’t like mushrooms, they can easily be hidden into ground poultry, bean burgers, tacos, and chili. Plus, mushrooms have high amounts of certain antioxidants that boost health, including a plant compound called ergothioneine. (5,6)
Green tea, blackberries, oats, and carrots for brain health
You’ve probably heard that green tea is good for your health. This is due to a compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Although green tea has the highest amount of EGCG in comparison to other foods or beverages, there are small amounts in other foods as well, such as blackberries, oats, and carrots. EGCG has potential neuroprotective properties. (7) To boost these protective nutrients:
- Include blackberries and oats in your breakfast rotation and add roasted carrots to your dinner menu. They offer additional powerful plant compounds that help heart health.
- Boost plant-based foods to add more phytonutrients in your diet
These biologically active compounds from plants provide functional benefits beyond basic nutrition.
Coffee isn’t just the favorite part of my day, it’s actually a critically important agricultural commodity that has been shown to support cognitive function (and for me – elation). I’m all aboard the, “But first coffee!” bandwagon! (8) Until recently, the bean was the only part of the coffee fruit that was researched for its health benefits. (9) However, did you know that coffee beans come from a fruit and are only one of the important parts of the whole fruit? Both the skin and the rind contain powerful phytonutrients that help support your health, including chlorogenic acid, procyanidins, and flavonols. (10)
Ready to run out and grab a package from the store? Unfortunately, coffee fruit isn’t readily available. However, if you’re interested in the benefits, it can be found in a product we mentioned before called Neuriva. Neuriva contains the botanical extract derived from the skin and the rind of the coffee cherry. This part of the cherry is naturally decaffeinated and has been shown to elevate the body’s levels of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).
BDNF’s role and benefits have been extensively studied:
- It is the most prevalent growth factor in the central nervous system (CNS) and is essential for the development of the CNS and neuronal plasticity. Autry AE, Monteggia LM. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and neuropsychiatric disorders. (11)
- It influences a variety of functions, including maintaining the health of existing brain cells, supporting the growth of new neurons and synapses, and supporting overall cognitive function – including memory and learning. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications. (12)
- It plays a vital role in both memory processes and learning. (13)
- It plays a positive role in brain health.
Although we can’t easily access coffee cherry to obtain the benefits of elevating BDNF levels, the supplement contains 100 mg of neurofactor extract in one pill, which is equivalent to around 3-4 whole fruit coffee cherries (the size of a few grapes).
- Boosts BDNF, which supports brain performance such as focus, memory, concentration, learning, and accuracy
- Is referred to as a nootropic since it’s an agent that supports cognitive function
Neuriva also contains sharp-PS (phosphatidylserine), which is a component in our brains that aids in processes that are critical for neurons to survive and thrive. Here’s more about sharp-PS:
- Phosphatidylserine is also found in some foods
- It declines in our brains as we age
- Because it is involved in transmitting signals between our nerve cells and the brain, it’s connected to memory and brain health. (14)
Sharp-PS and Brain Health
I asked Nigel Denby, a globally recognized nutrition expert and dietitian in England, about sharp-PS and how to increase food sources as we age.
Nigel: Unfortunately, the best dietary sources of sharp P-S are foods that a lot of people don’t tend to eat. Herring and mackerel are rich in sharp-PS, as are most types of offal (the parts of meat we tend to discard like brains, spinal cord, and kidneys). The meat cuts that more of us eat regularly do contain a little sharp-PS, but the levels are nowhere near as high. If someone wants to increase their intake of sharp-PS, I’d recommend using a supplement like Neuriva where you know how much you are getting. Also, it’s helpful to know sharp-PS comes from soy, not pig’s liver or calf’s spleen.
There are many ways to support your brain, so find a few options you know will work in your typical routine. Set small, achievable goals each day to stay motivated and give your brain the power it needs!
- Raichie M & Gusnard DA. Appraising the brain’s energy budget. Proc Natl Acad Sc. 2002; 99(16): 10237–10239. doi: 10.1073/pnas.172399499
- McEvoy CT, Guyer H, Langa KM, Yaffe K. Neuroprotective Diets Are Associated with Better Cognitive Function: The Health and Retirement Study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2017; 65(8)
- American Academy of Neurology. For older adults, a better diet may prevent brain shrinkage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 11, 2019.
- Feng L, Cheah I, Ng M, Li J, Chan S, et al. The Association between Mushroom Consumption and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Community-Based Cross-Sectional Study in Singapore. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2019; 68:197-203
- Kalaras MD, Richie JP, Calcagnotto A, Beelman RB. Mushrooms: A rich source of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione. Food Chemistry. 2017; 233: 429–433
- Pervin M, Unno K, Ohishi T, Tanabe H, et al. Beneficial Effects of Green Tea Catechins on Neurodegenerative Diseases. Molecules. 2018; 23:1297
- Halas M. (2019) Part 5: Phytonutrients.The Plant-Based Boost Nutrition Solutions for Athletes and Exercise Enthusiasts. 2019
- Nehlig, A. Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Pract Neurol. 2016 Apr;16(2):89-95. doi: 10.1136/practneurol-2015-001162. Epub 2015 Dec 16.
- Vaughan MJ, Mitchell T, McSpadden Gardener BB. What’s Inside That Seed We Brew? A New Approach To Mining the Coffee Microbiome. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2015; 81(19):6518-6527
- Yamada K, Nabeshima T. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor/TrkB signaling in memory processes. J Pharmacol Sci. 2003; 91(4):267-70
- Autry AE, Monteggia LM. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and neuropsychiatric disorders. Pharmacol Rev. 2012;64(2):238-58. doi: 10.1124/pr.111.005108
- Bathina S, Das UN. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications. Arch Med Sci. 2015;11(6):1164-78. Doi: 10.5114/aoms.2015.56342
- Kim HY, Huang BX, Spector AA. Phosphatidylserine in the Brain: Metabolism and Function. Prog Lipid Res. 2014. doi: 10.1016/j.plipres.2014.06.002
- Bacarra-Tomás N, Paz-Graniel I, W.C. Kendall C, Kahleova H, Rahelič D et al. Nut consumption and incidence of cardiovascular diseases and cardiovascular disease mortality: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Nutr Rev. 2019. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz042
- Hardman, WE. Walnuts have potential for cancer prevention and treatment in mice. J Nutr. 2014;144(4 Suppl):555S-560S.
- Li M and Shi Z. A prospective association of nut consumption with cognitive function in Chinese adults aged 55+ _ China Health And Nutrition Survey. J Nutr Health Aging. 2019;23(2):211-216
- Smith B. Processed Meat and Cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research website. Accessed Aug 11, 2019. https://blog.aicr.org/2019/08/01/processed-meat-and-cancer/
- De la Monte SM, Neusner A, Chu J, Lawton M. Epidemiological Trends Strongly Suggest Exposures as Etiologic Agents in the Pathogenesis of Sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2009; 17(3): 519-529