A few simple strategies for boosting brain function

Earlier this week one of my blogs looked at some recent research which links walking with improved ‘connectivity’ in the brain. This finding, appears to have particular significance for the ‘ageing brain’, as walking appeared to mitigate changes in brain activity that can come with ageing and may impair experience of life.

One simple reason that exercise may enhance brain function is that it likely helps boost blood supply to the brain. Generally, tissues, including brain tissue, function more optimally when there’s more blood getting to it. But of course another part of this is what the blood is bringing. Good levels of oxygen and nutrients will also help ensure optimal function of whatever it is the blood is being delivered to.

I was interested to read about a recent study which tested the impact of taking a multivitamin and mineral on certain aspects of brain function and the effects of mental testing on mood and fatigue. The study, published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology, took 215 women aged 25-50 and randomised them to take a multivitamin and mineral preparation (brand name Supradyn) or placebo over a period of nine weeks [1]. At the start and end of the study, the women had their brain function assessed through a variety of tasks, including those assessing the ability to ‘multi-task’. The impact of these tests on mood and energy levels was also assessed.

The women who had been taking the multivitamin and mineral were found, overall, to perform better in terms of multi-tasking, and also performed better on other assessments of brain function too including mathematical processing. Also, these women fared better in terms of their mood and energy levels after performing the mental tests.

This research provides good evidence that nutrient supplementation has the potential to enhance brain function. Here, in no particular order, are some other things that can help keep our brains in good working order:

1. Hydrate properly

In practice, dehydration can cause a serious dropping off in mental energy. Drink enough water each day to keep urine colour pale yellow.

2. Eat a ‘primal’ diet

That’s a diet rich in meat, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, non-starchy veg and some fruit. This will help ensure a steady supply of fuel for the brain. Plus, the protein provides amino acids that are the building blocks of ‘neurotransmitters’ in the brain.

3. Keep up a good intake of omega-3 fats

The omega-3 fats such as EPA and DHA appear to be important for optimal brain function. They can be found in fish (particularly oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardine, salmon and trout) and as supplements.

4. Get plenty of sleep

Sleep deprivation can cause quite-rapid deterioration in brain function. Aim for about 8 hours (depending on need) and consider getting into bed a bit earlier whenever possible.

5. Be active

A walk once or twice a day, particularly in some ‘green space’ can be enough to improve mood and boost brain function.

6. Get plenty of sunlight

Lack of sunlight in the winter is a major cause of low mood and low mental energy. Even on a dull day it makes sense to get some sunlight directly into your eyes. Some may consider investing in a device which simulates the sun’s rays.

References:

1. Haskell CF, et al. Effects of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement on cognitive function and fatigue during extended multi-tasking. Human Psychopharmacology 2010;25(6):448-61

13 Responses to A few simple strategies for boosting brain function

  1. dennis 2 September 2010 at 4:08 pm #

    I totally agree will all points except that I don’t think it’s fair to describe modern meat as ‘primal’ as much of it is fed on grain (particularly in US but UK is moving to grain even for ruminants !) and has an unhealthy lipid profile. Only sea fish, wild game and grass fed lamb and beef qualify as ‘primal’ or near primal as far as I am concerned.

  2. helen 3 September 2010 at 8:23 am #

    I agree with dennis on the grain fed beef etc grass fed tastes so much better and the fat and texture of the meat is infinitely better on grass fed cattle and lamb. don’t even get me started on what they have done to pork the meat has lost 80% of its flavour and the fat is slimy with the skin very tough and hard to crackle when cooking. Stop messing with our meat.

  3. jørgen døør 3 September 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    thanks a lot for your weekly informtions.

    besides vitamins, minerals, and the primal diet I can strongly recommend meditation.

  4. Megan 3 September 2010 at 2:28 pm #

    It’s very difficult and expensive to opt out of agri-business. I make what changes I can with the budget I have. Cutting out grains, sugars and starches is the best thing I ever did.

    Sadly, these are far cheaper to buy than high quality meat and fish although the cost to the NHS of treatments for cardiac and metabolic illnesses, and obesity is incalculable.

  5. dennis 3 September 2010 at 8:42 pm #

    Helen – I completely agree with you about modern pork which tastes peculiar and unnaturally fatty to me – I think bacon must be even worse. But I am also worried about other intensively farmed animal foods such as chicken and even salmon. Wild salmon is the perfect food (though we are sadly near the end of the season) but some types of farmed salmon taste absolutely awful to me and are probably less healthy than grass-fed lamb (I know this is not conventional wisdom !)

  6. audrey wickham 3 September 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    please note new email address.

  7. Jill H 3 September 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    In MIchael Pollen’s words in his thoughtful and thought provoking book ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ “The short, unhappy life of a corn-fed feedlot steer represents the ultimate triumph of industrial thinking over the logic of evolution’. A way of industrializing animals to provide cheaper food for people after rationing and the privations of the Second Word War so that no one went hungry and what we had was shared by all must have seemed very important. Now the actual cost both to human health as well as the health of the animals and environmental problems: polluted water and air, toxic wastes, antibiotic resistant pathogens surely has to make us think again. This is far removed from a primal diet. Industrial logic and feeding the brains of one animal to another herbivore seemed like a good idea and gave us mad cow disease. I don’t pretend there are easy answers – my own view is to spend more on pastured traditionally raised meat and have it a little less often. Or to buy cheaper cuts of better meat and eat lots and lots of veggies. When my children were students the best present I ever bought them was a slow-cooker. They could buy cheaper cuts of good quality pastured meat and throw in whatever else was cheap and in season and become very inventive with casseroles.

  8. Mallory 3 September 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    i just wnat to say thanks and echo SLEEEEEEEEEP as being the number one sole source of my normal brain capabilities… already eat ‘primal’

  9. Justin Lusty 4 September 2010 at 8:35 am #

    Cana anyone recommend a place to buy grass-fed meat – i.e. suppliers – that are not overpriced.

    Many thanks

  10. dennis 4 September 2010 at 10:19 am #

    I think the only thing one can practically do on grass fed meat is to buy food that is most likely to have been grass fed – such as welsh lamb (there are a huge number of sheep in the fields of Wales !) and New Zealand meat (huge space for grazing). There are no guarantess of course as the food an animal ate is not required to be stated. Michael Pollan’s excellent but frightening book of course applied to US practice – but I recently heard an interview on the radio where a farmer (if that is the right word) seemed to imply that much of this is coming to Britain if it has not already done so (though I don’t think growth promoters and antiobiotics are allowed to be used in Europe). If anyone has any other ideas on how to get grass fed meat I would love to know.

  11. Jill H 4 September 2010 at 8:19 pm #

    dennis – this speaker, a chef, has some very interesting things to say about the sustainability (and taste) of some fish from fish farms. Hope this link works: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_barber_how_i_fell_in_love_with_a_fish.html

  12. dennis 4 September 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    Jill H. Thanks for link – very interesting and amusing. Fish from farms varies immensely – in the case of salmon, some tastes unnaturally fatty and some tastes very unpleasant but some tastes excellent. I eat farmed salmon but only buy it from a supplier who I know and trust who supplies good quality sustainable, naturally fed fish.

    As regards Dr Johns bullet points – Nos 1,4,5 and 6 are straightforward to follow as are relaxation techniques. But getting points 2 and 3 right is really hard work due to the increasingly dominating influence of big agri-business

  13. Jill H 4 September 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    In the UK – Compassion in World Farming each year hands out awards to those supermarkets that demonstrate best practice in animal welfare in the meats they stock. Supermarkets, having such huge purchasing power have a very large say in whether we are able to purchase pasture fed meat at reasonable prices and on their website they have a list for 2010 of supermarket awards. Here in the US more and more Farmers Markets allow the opportunity to decide to purchase meat from pastured animals and more restaurants are beginning to state their meat is from pastured animals because more and more people are stating that this is what they wish to eat.

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