The brain is a very complex organ. It is still not completely understood but what we do know is what it is made up of and what it needs to function.
The human brain is made up of about
- 75% Water
- 11% Fats (lipids)
- 9% Protein
- 5% makes up Carbohydrates, Organic and inorganic Substances
This is a rough estimation but you can see why keeping hydrated is so important (and why a hangover hurts so much)
Anything you ingest and inhale can affect the brain in 3 different ways
- Short term – Days or weeks
- Long term – Months or years
You will notice that caffeine and sugar affect the brain pretty quickly. Caffeine is a stimulant which makes the brain more active but also stops the brain from producing chemicals that let you know you’re tired. The up side is you function better the down side is if you rely on caffeine for brain function you’ll burn out quicker. Sugar is the body’s main fuel and the brain can use the glucose in the blood quicker than other food sources but again once it’s used up the sugar you get a sugar crash and feel rubbish. In both cases it is essential that you use them in moderation and have a good back up of nutrition for your brain to use. Choose your foods wisely. Foods that have a low Glycaemic Index (GI) will release sugars into the blood slower and help you avoid the sugar crash with effects that will last longer that those that are high on the GI scale such as doughnuts and chocolate.
Foods affect your brain and can have an impact in a matter of days. Research has shown that certain types of foods can help the brain development and contain essential nutrients for it to function. The flip side is that not all foods are beneficial and over time can cause what is known as brain fog. Each person reacts to foods individually. Some find that bread is of no consequence to them, others will be writhing in pain at the thought of it.
The bottom line is regardless of how you think foods affect you they have (or often don’t have) essential nutrients for your brain to function. If you have brain fog it is often a sign you’re not getting enough hydration or nutrition. If your problem is your digestion make sure that you’re eating foods that are high in nutrition, easily digested and maybe even use supplements with digestive enzymes and probiotics to aid in the absorption of nutrients. A positive change in diet can be felt in a matter of days.
Your brain uses at least 20% of your body’s oxygen. Too little and your body shuts down, but where there is oxygen there is oxidation. When oxygen is used by the cells, it creates ‘free radicals’ which steals from other molecules and causes damage. This includes brain cells. Oxidation can be increased by stress, smoking, alcohol, sunlight, pollution, damaged fats and other factors.
Antioxidants fight the damage caused by these free radicals and can help prolong the health and life of cells in the body. You may not feel the benefits of antioxidants but they are essential. Another long term nutrient you need is DHA. It is a fat that the body struggles to make on its own, but is the main building block of the brain. Low fat diets can be harmful to brain function but equally high fat diets containing trans or saturated fats can cause damage to the brain as the increase the oxidative stress but lack in nutrition the brain can use. Again you may not feel the immediate benefits but this is another essential ingredient you need to make sure you get in your diet.
So are you getting a lot of the “immediate foods” and not enough of the “long term foods”?
Besides making sure your water intake is adequate and that you’re getting the right nutrients, if you want to cut out (or cut down) the caffeine and sugar but need a crutch to support you, or want to get more of the long term benefits, here are a few supplements you could use:
Brahmi (Bacopa monniera)
- Traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve memory and mental function
Brahmi is an antioxidant and has neuroprotective properties, Brahmi interacts with the neurotransmitters in the brain raising levels of serotonin, GABA and acetylcholine. This process affects and regulates the balance of the mind to be more beneficial to our overall mood and cognitive process. Basically it helps to get rid of the cotton wool in the brain feeling.
Gingko (Gingko biloba)
- Traditionally used to improve the mind.
Recent studies have found that Gingko improved blood circulation in the brain. It can therefore make cognitive processes faster. Through the overall better functioning of the brain there was also less stress exhibited and anxiety levels dropped. Because Gingko increases circulation it can increase the nutrition and oxygen to the brain
Korean Ginseng (Panax ginseng)
- Traditionally used to make you focus and clear fog from the mind making concentration sharper
This is considered the real Ginseng and the most beneficial of all others in the family. This ginseng is called an adaptogenic stimulant. It helps you cope with stress while improving mental function. The Panax Ginseng plant has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a very long making it one of the oldest known medicinal herbs in the world.
Pycnogenol (Pine bark extract)
Pycnogenol or Pine bark extract is an antioxidant that has been found to be a safe and effective natural option to improve day-to-day cognitive function, essentially serving as ‘brain food’ for executives, entrepreneurs and those who want help sharpening their decision-making. A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Neurosurgical Sciences found Pycnogenol can positively impact mood as participants reported feeling less anxiety and a stronger sense of content. That may be connected back to the mental performance boost and demonstrates the effects of dramatic reduction of oxidative stress. Pycnogenol has also been found to help with the feeling of jet lag and brain fog.
Phosphatidylserine and Acetylcholine
Phosphatidylserine is a type of lipid (fat) found in particularly high concentrations in the brain. It regulates which nutrients get into the brain and how waste gets out of it. It’s good for boosting memory, cognition, concentration, and learning. Phosphatidylserine is not essential as it is made by the brain however supplementation has been seen to be beneficial in short term use during studying and writing exams, as well as being used in seniors as it is protective against mental decline, can improve mood, and often helps with depression. This is often used in conjunction with the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine. It is a chemical messenger that allows neurons to communicate with each other but mostly used in the brain. Both of these are beneficial short term and often found in brain food complexes.
Please be aware that all herbal medicines and supplements can interact with pharmaceutical medication. Consult your doctor if you are wanting to take supplements in conjunction with prescribed medication.