As we age, it is critical to be more serious about brain health. The best way to prevent brain cell damage and optimize brain functioning is to eliminate or treat all the risk factors associated with damage. There are eleven major risk factors that can hurt your brain functioning. Luckily, almost all of these risk factors are either preventable or treatable! Dr. Daniel Amen, the President and Founder of the Amen Clinics, has developed the mnemonic BRIGHT MINDS to help you remember the risk factors. They highlight the problems of memory loss and the solutions for memory rescue.
We start with Blood flow. Blood flow throughout your body brings oxygen and other nutrients to your cells and carries away waste products. To strengthen your blood flow, it is important to increase your heart rate while you exercise, minimize your caffeine intake and discontinue cigarette smoking. Risk factors include a history of stroke, heart disease, and a sedentary lifestyle. You can also eat certain foods, such as beets, cayenne pepper, and rosemary.
Next is Retirement and aging. Your brain is like a muscle, the more you use it, the more you can use it. Advancing age is the single most significant risk factor for memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease. It is critical to stay mentally fit by learning new material, playing brain games such as crossword puzzles or visiting www.brainfitlife.com, and remaining social with your friends and family.
Inflammation. Inflammation comes from the Latin word inflammare, which means “to set on fire.” This describes what chronic inflammation does inside your body, so it is important to heal your gut, increase your Omega-3 levels, and focus on anti-inflammatory foods such as walnuts and salmon.
Genetics. If you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, it is not a death sentence! Rather, it is a wakeup call. Get screened early, boost yourself with green tea, Vitamin D, and curcumins, while eating certain foods such as turmeric and blueberries. Also, follow this BRIGHT MINDS approach.
Head trauma. This is another risk factor, which includes having one or more head injuries in your life. To heal your brain from a head injury, you can start Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and take supplements such as Omega 3 fish oil. It is also important to protect your head going forward, which means no more climbing up the ladder to clear your gutters, and to always wear your seatbelt while driving or riding in a car.
Toxins. Exposure to environmental toxins have also been linked to health problems, ranging from cancer to autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases. Alcohol and other drugs are also toxic to our brains, and it is important to remove these from your lifestyle. To detox from any type of toxin, it is important to drink plenty of water and sweat during exercise or in a sauna. It is also important to check your home for mold, and to have your physician screen you for heavy metals.
Mental health. Mental health is an essential factor in the overall health of your brain. Untreated mental health issues, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADD, PTSD, and chronic stress can all contribute to a higher risk of memory loss, cardiovascular, and other health problems. We encourage the treatment of all mental health disorders, such as working with a therapist, eliminating automatic negative thoughts, meditating, taking supplements, exercising, and focusing on your diet to include lean protein and fresh, organic vegetables.
Immune system. Immune system problems and infections are important risk factors to be aware of. These are all about your body’s defender, the immune system. When your immune system isn’t what it should be, you may be more vulnerable to allergies, autoimmune disorders, and infections, which can increase your risk of brain fog and memory loss. Boost your Vitamin D intake and eat onions, mushrooms, and garlic. It is also important to work with an integrative or functional medicine physician who can properly diagnose and treat you.
Neurohormone issues. These need to be in optimal ranges. Hormones are messengers – chemicals that are made by different parts of the body and sent to other areas to control your body’s basic functions. The brain sends out signals to release hormones and is also influenced by hormones from other parts of the body. If your hormones are not in optimal levels, you may experience symptoms such as depression, or Alzheimer ’s disease. Test your hormones: thyroid, DHEA, testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone in females.
Diabesity (diabetes + obesity) is an epidemic in our country. Diabetes and obesity both decrease the size and the function of your brain. If you are at risk for diabetes and/or obesity, it is important to eliminate sugar, follow the BRIGHT MINDS diet, and eat calorie-smart.
Sleep. 60 million Americans have problems with sleep. Your brain needs sleep to stay healthy, as your brain washes away waste and toxins during sleep. It is important to sleep for 7-8 hours each night, get an evaluation for sleep apnea if you snore, and practice good sleep hygiene.
Many studies have shown that lifestyle changes can slow or stop the progressive decline often seen in cognitive function in older individuals. These simple changes have a significant, beneficial effect on overall cognitive performance.