Boost your brain function—especially later in the day when cognitive function tends to take a nose dive. By feeding your brain with foods and supplements, you’ll think better, work faster, train harder, and avoid suffering embarrassing memory losses like those displayed by Governor Rick Perry.
Even if your brain is cranking at peak levels, you’ve probably been affected by a momentary brain freeze, whether because of anxiety, external distractions, or the fact that the information your trying to convey is new and complex—all common reasons that memory fails. Additionally, stress and high cortisol will wreak havoc on cognitive ability, and just about everyone deals with more stress than is ideal.
Although optimal brain function is complex, there are fairly simple key things you can do for superior brain function. I could give you a long list of different research-proven supplements and foods that will boost cognitive ability, but it will be more productive to give you a simple list of things you can do now for a better brain. This will be a two part series of my top fifteen tips for a better brain. Take note that the order is important because brain boosting is a layered process. If you don’t take omega-3s, you just won’t get the same benefits from many of the other supplements—I explain the reasoning behind it below.
Sports fans and athletes will be interested by the fact that this list is supported by a study in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs that found that giving a group of former NFL players who suffered from brain injuries a mixture of most of these supplements significantly improved cognitive function and blood flow to the brain. The players’ brain neurotransmitters were more balanced after supplementing, which allowed for a restoration of brain function. Balance and restoration are the keys to a better brain!
1) Commit to Taking Omega-3 DHA
The quintessential supplement for brain function is omega-3s, especially DHA fish oil because these fatty acids have been shown to increase blood flow in the brain and enable neurotransmitter function, meaning your brain is able to make connections better. Poor brain concentration and memory is an indicator of DHA deficiency because without it, neurotransmitters will fall short. Adequate omega-3s for the brain are similar to protein for the muscles—you have to have them for the brain to work properly.
DHA is more important than EPA, but you do need both, and balance between the different fatty acids is critical. DHA and EPA are omega-3s and typically come from fish oil, while fatty acids from plants such as flax seeds tend to be omega-6s.The typical Western diet has a very skewed ratio of omega-6 to-3 fatty acids from between 15:1 to 50:1! You want to get closer to an equal ratio. An appropriate ratio will support the chemical messages of the brain so that cognitive and neuromuscular function can be optimized.
Just as important, DHA protects against stress-induced cognitive impairment, meaning that it would be a primary supplement for Rick Perry. A new study found that DHA supplementation supported brain function during stress “by improving mitochondria dynamics”—it made the energy source more available. DHA also lowered oxidative stress in the brain, but in my experience EPA, another form of omega-3s is equally more important for reducing inflammation in the body. For best brain results, you want to take a very high dose of both: I suggest 1 to 1.5 grams of fish oil per percentage of body fat a day—of which about 15 grams will be DHA.
2) Take Your Omega-3s With All Meals: Regulate Insulin
The other excellent benefit of omega-3s is that they regulate insulin production. The more you can minimize your insulin response to food, the better you will perform mentally. A research review of DHA’s role in preventing Alzheimer’s highlighted how DHA reduces the body’s insulin response to food. This increases insulin sensitivity, which influences brain function and increases protective chemicals in the brain.
Mitigate your insulin response and improve sensitivity to this hormone, especially later in the day, and you won’t suffer mortifying brain lapses. Limit your carb intake as well—don’t be tempted to go for the quick sugar rush when your brain feels sluggish. This will ultimately make the problem worse because although energy levels will be better at first, as soon as the insulin kicks in, you will feel tired. Plus, the more insulin you produce, the quicker your cells age.
3) Take Acetyl-Carnitine with Alpha Lipoic Acid
with alpha lipoic acid (ALA) and DHA will give you superior brain function. Carnitine is my second favorite brain supplement, and it needs to be taken with omega-3s because it helps the body turn fat into energy. It helps DHA work its magic on the brain, and carnitine itself is a powerful antioxidant and can help detoxify the brain of heavy metals. The gem of this mixture is that it supports dopamine levels while increasing attention span and motivation. For depressed people or those who need to lose weight, it works wonders on motivation and self-initiative, both with training and work-related tasks. Who doesn’t want to feel more motivated to get it done in the weight room and at work? ADD and ADHD sufferers will also benefit.
Carnitine will boost your energy levels and has been shown to have an “amphoteric” effect in the body meaning if you take it in the morning, it will bring cortisol up if you have low levels, or if it’s too high, it will bring it down. Carnitine can also raise testosterone if you are deficient.
I suggest the acetyl-L-carnitine form instead of just l-carnitine for brain building. Pairing it with ALA is the best way to take it because ALA can pass easily into the brain and helps restore brain tissue (I sell the combo in my Yang R-ALA: http://us.cpoliquin.com/product_p/yang%20r-ala.htm). The researchers in the study of NFL players with brain damage agree—DHA, acetyl-carnitine, ALA were used along with many of the other supplements listed here for restoring brain function.
4) Take A Probiotic and Be Sure You Gut is Healthy
A healthy stomach and intestine are critical for brain function. Probiotics are tiny bacteria that naturally occur in the gastrointestinal tract and are commonly found in dairy products such as yogurt. Not only do probiotics ensure your body can absorb vitamins, minerals, and protein from food, but they also affect the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Take note that for best results, you need to take a probiotic supplement instead of eating yogurt because research shows that even yogurt with a high content of healthy bacteria won’t effectively improve gut health.
A little known gem for cognitive health and happiness is that more than half of the neurotransmitters that are involved in brain function and mood are made in the gut. If your gut isn’t healthy your neurotransmitter production will be subpar meaning one of the first things you need to do to improve neurotransmitter balance and brain function is fix your gut. This one is so important it could be higher on the list, but the point is that probiotics and gut health are a necessity.
5) Eat Grass-fed Organic Beef & Wild Meats
Grass-fed organic beef and wild meats have a greater amount of DHA than fish oil and they provide conjugated linoleic acid, which is a great cancer fighter and improves insulin sensitivity. Grass-fed and wild meats contain less fat than grain-fed, commercial animals. For example grain-fed beef has more than double the fat per serving of grass-fed beef, but grain-fed is also much lower in omega-3 fats because these animals are deprived of the omega-3s that are found in the chloroplasts of green leaves and grass that make up the diet of grass-fed beef.
Grain-fed beef are high in omega-6s and a recent study showed that eating this kind of beef elevates omega-6s in the blood, which has been linked to chronic inflammation and other health problems including cancer. A recent study on rats found that that those that were fed a diet high in omega-6s (in amounts similar to that found in a typical Western diet) grew fatter and fatter with each succeeding generation. In comparison, rats fed a diet high in omega-3s stayed lean and had lower levels of inflammation.
Eating grass-fed beef and wild meats is an excellent way to get DHA in the diet, but it’s also ideal because beef contains creatine, another awesome nutrient for brain function. Ingesting creatine, either in beef or by supplementing with it, raises brain creatine levels and higher brain creatine is associated with better neurological performance, particularly when brain function is impaired due to age or sleep deprivation.
Don’t eat non-organic beef! This is pointless because it is packed with growth hormone, antibiotics, and heavy metals, meaning it will make you more toxic. Instead of eating non-organic beef, just supplement with a high quality DHA. Take note that poor quality fish oils will also be high in heavy metals, and eating big fish such as tuna will make you more toxic than you want to imagine. In French the word for tuna means “garbage can of the sea” or a poubelle de la mer. It is not indicated!
6) Eat Nuts with Your Meat and Do So at Breakfast
Nuts, especially walnuts and almonds, will provide choline, which will raise your acetylcholine levels naturally. Acetylcholine is responsible for memory, and eating nuts will help you get antioxidants such as vitamin E. They are typically low-glycemic, meaning they slow digestion and moderate the insulin response. And you already know how important insulin health is for brain function.
The best time
to eat your nuts and meat is for breakfast
because the first meal of the day sets the building blocks for all of your neurotransmitters throughout the day. Meat triggers the release of the hormone dopamine, which gives you energy and makes you more productive. That means the number one thing you can do to avoid low energy in the afternoon is to eat meat and nuts for breakfast.
If you eat the meat and nuts breakfast, take your omega-3s and a carnitine/ALA mixture, you’ll be so far ahead of your coworkers and or competitors who drink coffee in the afternoon and eat cereal for breakfast! This brings me to number seven: abolish cereal and all processed foods.
7) Abolish Cereals and All Processed Foods, Especially for Breakfast
Cereal may not be the very worst thing you can eat for breakfast, but it’s close. Drinking orange juice or eating a banana is equally bad because they are all high carbohydrate, trigger a big insulin response, and elevate serotonin. Serotonin makes you happy but it also makes you tired. You don't want to give it a big boost in the morning, and triggering these hormones first thing will just make you tired.
The other problem with processed foods and cereal is that they are packed with sugar and additives. Organic cereals may also be high in sugar, but they also contain damaging neurotoxins because they are richer in processed protein. In producing these higher protein cereals, manufacturers are packing them with toxins that wreak havoc on neurotransmitter production and impede brain function. Other processed foods suffer similar fates.
There’s ample research that shows that breakfast is critical for adult and child brain function in the morning and afternoon, and if you eat a nice dose of protein with DHA your cognitive and physical performance will improve. It’s probably better to eat breakfast cereal over nothing, at least for kids, but well intentioned parents are starving their kid's brains by feeding them organic cereal. Brain nutrition for children is horrendous and everyone would be much better off abolishing processed foods and cereal from the diet. Read Getting Your Kids to Eat Right
if you're not convinced.
Look for Part 2 Tomorrow!
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