Doctor's Corner: Fall! Optimizing Brain Power for The Busiest Season of the Year...
Whether it's back-to-school or just returning to the grind after a summer of vacation and travel (or maybe just a few too many late night margaritas) the fact is that fall is upon us - the time of year when we New Yorkers get a little more serious about deadlines at work and for those of us with kids, prepare ourselves for those daily homework help sessions. No matter what you find yourself gearing up for this fall, it always helps to feel clear, prepared and at the top of your game.
Your brain is the most complex organ in your body boasting roughly 100 billion nerve cells and more connections between these cells than there are stars in the known universe. An adult brain weighs only about 3 pounds, yet it uses 20-30% of the calories you consume, 20% of the oxygen you breathe and 25% of the total blood flow in your body. Not only does the brain contain a high level of fat, but it's also composed of about 85% water! It makes sense then that an optimal oxygen supply, proper hydration, a diet high in healthy fats and a nutrient-rich blood supply would be some of the mainstays of high-performance brain function. Here's a few time-tested ways to get your brain back into tip-top shape:
Eat 'good' fat: the protective covering that surrounds our neurons (brain cells) works to insulate the electric signals passing along their length. A healthy insulation of fat keeps those signals strong, helping with recall and memory among other things. Try including low-mercury fatty fish such as wild caught salmon as a family dinner choice, organic raw walnuts as a snack and non-GMO soy lecithin in smoothies or to add a buttery richness to organic oatmeal before work and school.
Stay hydrated: we've all heard about the importance of staying hydrated. Many people use beverages as a way to 'treat' themselves throughout the day – that pre-work or work-out coffee, that lunch-break smoothie or Frappuccino, that mid-afternoon slump ice tea, soda or sports drink...most of these beverages are either packed with artificial sweeteners, colorants and empty calories or if they are 'natural' still boast a high sugar content as well as caffeine. Try exchanging several of your daily coffees or sodas (or your kid’s juice boxes, chocolate milks etc.) with homemade flavored water. Add thin slices of apples, oranges, cucumber, lemon or whole berries and herbs such as mint or basil leaves to clean filtered water and sip throughout the day. Making home-brewed herbal teas and serving them chilled with meals can be a yummy fun way to get in your water as well. Shoot for 1/2 ounce of water per pound of body weight for optimal daily hydration (example: if you weigh 100 pounds, you should aim for 50 ounces per day).
Start the day with protein: if you believe the TV commercials, a ‘balanced breakfast’ includes cereal, juice and toast. While these can all be healthy choices in moderation, nothing beats the brain boosting power of a protein-rich breakfast. Our brains require a steady level of blood sugar to keep working optimally and protein can keep you from having a blood sugar dip as the day progresses. Cage-free/ free range organic eggs, free-range grass fed turkey or beef breakfast meats or pea and brown rice-based protein powders for smoothies are all excellent choices.
Get a good night's sleep: there are many benefits to getting a good night’s sleep. One of them is optimal brain function. The brain uses the time we are asleep to do something called cerebral autophagy, a fancy term for taking out the trash. As we sleep the brain is working to clear cellular debris and metabolic wastes from its tissues, paving the way for clear thinking the next day. If sleep is something that eludes you, naturopathic medicine offers a wide array of solutions from the very basics of life style modification all the way to personalized genetic analysis and treatment plans.
Support proper oxygenation: exercise is key to not only a healthy cardiovascular system overall, but also maintaining proper blood flow to the brain. Try and get a minimum of 30 minutes 5-7 days per week of an exercise of your choice that gets your heart rate up. Kids require at least 40-60 minutes minimum daily.
Find ways to manage and minimize stress: we live in a world that offers opportunities to feel ‘stressed out’ every day…traffic, deadlines, bills, relationships, even grocery shopping in a crowded supermarket can get your adrenaline pumping! Its been shown that chronic, sustained stress can lead to a decrease in numbers of active brain cells in the memory centers of the brain. To keep your brain working at its best, try and provide times throughout the day that make you feel calm and centered – perhaps this means taking a walk in your favorite park, listening to meditative music, sermons or guided relaxations as well as evening rituals that bring you and your family into a state of calm such as a group discussion on what was the best part of the day, bubble baths or favorite books before bed – anything that you personally find relaxing and calming will work!
If healthy diet planning, poor sleep or poor memory quality, fatigue or ‘brain fog’ are issues you are currently experiencing, working with a naturopathic internist may be the best option for you! Holistic medicine is an excellent resource for improving energy, mood, sleep, longevity and quality of life overall. If you feel you and your loved ones could use a brain boost to gear up for the busiest season of the year, make an appointment today!