Have you ever played the board game, Risk? It is a game of tactics, strategy, negotiation and an occasional lucky roll of the dice. I used to play it as a kid and must confess that I loved the idea of world domination at least on the virtual level! I’ve been told that I’m a bit competitive, which I’m certain isn’t true. I just hate to lose — is that so wrong? Fortunately, when it comes to keeping our brains healthy, there are moves we can play to make us all winners.
Did you know that your brain weighs approximately 3 pounds? That averages out to about 2% of your overall body weight and yet it requires 20% of the oxygen we need for basic bodily functions. The brain also needs 25% glucose (blood sugar) to function. While it is an oxygen and glucose eating overlord, the fuel that feeds it also makes it and the rest of your body more susceptible to oxidative stress. Have you ever heard the phrase, “I’m a bit rusty?” Well, you may be right on the mark when it comes to your brain. Although oxygen is vital fuel, oxidation produces byproducts with corrosive consequences — like free radicals that further damage your cells. The stress part of oxidative stress relates to how much of a load your organisms are taking on from every day bodily functions like metabolism to additional stressors like air pollution, processed food, and tobacco smoke. All is not lost in the battle for the brain, however, since reinforcements are on their way — welcome armored antioxidants and secret weapon supplements to the brain game.
What began as a satyrical sketch on Saturday Night Live has found its way into daily lexicon to define outside-the-box thinking when it comes to strategic planning and execution. While the word may not make it into legitimate war planning, it does have a fun place in developing a domination strategy for your brain. Your first move in combatting brain drain is to create a strong line of defense. Here are key nutrients to add:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids — we all know the heart health benefits of these brave antioxidants. Deficiencies of them are actually showing up in our brains in the form of attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder (ADHD), depression, poor memory, sensory overload, and mood swings. Recently stated in the Journal of Nutrition: increased consumption of DHA (a form of omega-3) among adults improved nonverbal reasoning, mental flexibility, working memory and vocabulary. Adults aren’t the only beneficiaries. Studies also show that children with a diet rich in omega-3 did better in school, especially in reading and spelling. They also had significantly fewer behavioral issues.
- Resveratrol — a powerful plant extract that boosts brain power on demand by increasing blood flow to the brain. Think of it as kicking your brain into a higher gear during challenging mental tasks. Studies also reveal its ability to slow age-related deterioration and functional decline.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS) - is actually produced by the brain but production slows as we age. PS helps release dopamine to regulate mood and reduce anxiety. It also enhances how the brain utilizes glucose which in turn has been shown to improve cognitive abilities like learning, memory and concentration. I recall having test anxiety in college which often caused me to freeze up during exams. Studies show that young people supplementing with PS had less stress and a better mood during tough mental arithmetic tasks.
Your brain also produces some amazing chemicals and neurotransmitters designed to keep your grey matter, and the rest of your body in peak balance and performance. Stress is a big brain buster so look to the following nutrients to soothe and support:
- Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) — is a key neurotransmitter known as “nature’s relaxant.” It helps induce relaxation for better sleep, reduce anxiety and stress, and increase focus.
- L-Theanine — a stress reducing amino acid that increases serotonin, dopamine and GABA levels. It has also been shown to calm physical and mental stress when we’re in a “fight-or-flight” situation.
- Valerian Root — an extract that helps reduce nervous tension which in turn may help improve mental focus during stressful situations.
- Exercise — I know this isn’t a nutrient but it is vital for your brain. Exercise helps to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol, by producing a relaxation response. It also helps to reduce depression which can cloud judgement and impair reasoning.
While I can’t guarantee that feeding your brain will make you a board game baron or king of the court, feeding your brain will pay off in huge performance dividends from school, to work, to play and every activity in between. Don’t be surprised to find yourself one or two moves ahead of the rest of us…except for me, of course, you will be crushed! Oops, there I go again. Maybe it’s time for a nice game of solitaire.
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“Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all cost, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” — Denis Waitley
Copyright © 2013 by Christine A.Toriello, all rights reserved.