Friday, October 22, 2010

Healthy Brain

There is lots of talk these days about how to keep your brain healthy and functioning optimally into old age.  People worry that our constant twittering, texting and computer time will have a negative impact on memory, concentration and long term brain function hence the development of new games and products such as nintendo ds brain age and the new found popularity of classics like crossword puzzles to stimulate brain activity.  

It is recommended to learn new skills to create neural pathways in the brain to keep it healthy over time.  Language and dance are often touted as good activities for the brain and recent research on bilingual children confirms it.  Multilingual children were found to adapt to changes easier and focus better in confusing environments.  In one study bilingualism helped to slow the onset of dementia, including Alzheimer's by about 4 years.

Diet plays an important role in overall health including brain health.  The nutrient luteolin which is found in vegetables and herbs such as carrots, peppers, celery, rosemary, peppermint and olive oil has been found to decrease inflammation in the brain which can be responsible for decreased memory and cognitive function.

A Finnish study analyzed the link between B12 and Alzheimer's.  Two components related to B12 were monitored in Finnish seniors aged 65 to 79.  Homocysteine, which is and amino acid related to mental decline, heart disease and stroke and holotranscobalamin, the marker for B12 in the body were tested.  Those with higher levels of homocysteine had a greater chance of developing Alzeheimer's over a seven year period, while each unit increase of holotranscobalamin reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer's by 2%.  

There are many approaches to helping prevent or delay the onset of dementia or Alzheimer's.  Although leisure activities can be beneficial to brain function it is important to protect your brain from injury.  Trauma to the head from bike accidents, contact sports, skiing and skating increase the chance of developing Alzheimer's later in life.  It is also important to get regular restful sleep, manage stress and find time for relaxation where the brain has a chance to recharge.  Activities such as yoga, meditation, tai chi and breathing exercises are all beneficial.

From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective acupuncture is a great way to reduce stress, improve sleep and allow the body to enter deep relaxation to enhance rejuvenation.  There are even certain acupuncture points which can impact the brain.  Although the terminology in TCM for enhancing brain function is different, we talk about strengthening Kidney Essence, nourishing Heart Blood and tonifying Marrow, which is the spinal cord, brain, bones and bone marrow.   Acupuncture is just one of a few modalities that can help brain function, herbal and dietary therapies are also beneficial.

Herbs and food can be used to help balance out organ systems which may contribute to declining brain function later in life or they can be directly used to promote cognitive function.  Certain foods are considered to be brain tonics, such as walnuts, blueberries, kiwi, kidney beans and supplements like vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids which can be found in salmon, tuna, halibut as well as some nuts and plant sources.

There are many herbs used to prevent mental decline some well known such as gingko biloba, ling zhi, ginseng, gou ji berries and others used more in traditional Chinese medicine formulas to strengthen the Kidney essence such as he shou wu, rou cong rong and wu wei zi.  

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