Tips to improve your brain health and cognitive function
The brain is the most important organ in your body. Not only is it important for cognitive function, but it also influences your hormones and organ functions. So, your brain health is essential for your overall health. We need to take care of our brain as much as we need to care for our bodies…
Fact checked by Nattha Wannissorn
The brain is the most important organ in your body. Not only is it important for cognitive function, but it also influences your hormones and organ functions. So, your brain health is essential for your overall health. We need to take care of our brain as much as we need to care for our bodies to live our lives to the fullest.
Yet, most people, even health enthusiasts, fail to take care of their brains. In this article, we’ll cover ways to improve your brain health and improve cognitive function.
Studies have shown that diet and lifestyle play a large role in your brain health. Here are some habits and dietary changes that can improve your cognitive function:
What we eat can be beneficial or detrimental to our health and cognitive function. So far, most research is on linking the Mediterranean diet and brain health.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, cereals, fish, nuts, and olive oil. It reduces the risk of cancer, metabolic and vascular diseases, and dementia.
Scientists evaluated the effects of a Mediterranean diet on stroke prevention and stroke-induced brain function decline. They examined the impact of 30 g of mixed nuts daily and found that the risk of stroke decreased by 46% during about a 5-year follow-up period.
These beneficial effects are due to the overall effect or effect of nutritional components such as polyphenols on lowering blood pressure, lipids, inflammation, and improving metabolic health. This diet is a part of dietary recommendations in the prevention of strokes.
Also, participants who ate more olive oil, coffee, walnuts, and wine had better cognitive and memory functions.
Omega-3 provides multiple benefits. We will summarize some of them in the following sections.
- Builds and Protects Myelin Sheath
Omega-3 helps strengthen the myelin sheath, which is an important part of the central nervous system. Myelin wraps around and insulates the neuron, and is responsible for ensuring the quick and proper signal transduction through the neuron. In summary, we need omega-3 for:
- Myelin production
- Myelin protection from damage
- Preventing disruption of nerve signal transduction
- Increases BDNF Levels
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is an important protein that influences the function of the brain and peripheral nervous system. BDNF is beneficial for our brains as it:
- Prevents the death of brain cells
- Induces the growth of new neurons and synapses
- And supports cognitive function
Omega-3 increases BDNF within a healthy range, as discovered in animal studies examining its effect on traumatic brain injuries.
- Improves Blood Flow to the Brain
Also, supplementation with omega-3 improves blood flow to the brain. Healthy blood flow to the brain may help preserve brain structure and function.
There is a group of plant micronutrients known as polyphenols. They are beneficial to brain health and function. Foods that contain polyphenols include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Red wine
The polyphenols improve vascular function, reduce inflammation, fight oxidative stress, and enhance neuroprotection.
For example, acute and chronic consumption of 520mg of cocoa flavanol improved cognitive function in young adults. Also, this diet increases cerebral blood flow or blood oxygenation, and neurotrophins levels.
Resveratrol in red grapes and red wine may also preserve brain health. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Thus, it improves cerebral blood flow and perfusion.
Diet is the primary way of keeping your brain healthy, but not the only one. Brain supplements can also keep your brain sharp.
Exercise is good for your brain in so many ways, including: learning and memory, preventing neurodegeneration, and boosting mood. On a physiological level, exercise improves synaptic plasticity. It improves the synaptic structure and potentiates synaptic strength.
Exercise strengthens the processes that support plasticity including: neurogenesis, metabolism, and blood vessel function. Neurotrophins are proteins that stimulate the growth and survival of neurons. They help achieve these benefits listed above, and their effect may also be related to inflammation. Hence, exercise regulates growth factors and ensures successful brain function.
Exercise also prevents cardiovascular health and blood sugar control, critical for your brain health.
3. Intellectual Activity
Besides exercising our body, we can also help our brain by exercising it. We can stimulate our brain with mentally demanding activities. These activities include:
- Taking a photography class
- Learning a new language
Anything that engages the brain and forces it to learn new skills can be a good exercise for the brain. These activities help maintain brain health and functions like reasoning and memory. Also, they can reduce the risk of age-related degenerative diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. While brain game apps are gaining popularity, there is no proof of their effectiveness.
In the previous article, we talked about brain fog and what causes it. Brain fog may interfere with intellectual activities. If you experience any brain fog symptoms, you can try supplements for brain fog that will help you get rid of it.
4. Cutting Down on Stress
Stress can be both good and bad for cognitive function. A small amount of stress can improve cognitive function and help you finish your tasks faster. However, prolonged chronic stress may impair memory and reasoning.
Normal cortisol (stress hormone) levels have no adverse effect on the hippocampus. Whereas excessive cortisol damages the hippocampus and its cells. This may result in significant memory loss. Stress may be one of the causes of brain fog, which you can alleviate using brain function supplements to improve your brain function.
Whether fighting cognitive functions decline or not, you can keep your brain sharp. You can also introduce brain supplements that will improve your cognitive function and support brain health.
- Paterson KE, Myint PK, Jennings A, et al. Mediterranean diet reduces risk of incident stroke in a population with varying cardiovascular disease risk profiles. Stroke. 2018;49(10):2415-2420. doi:10.1161/STROKEAHA.117.020258
- Jackson PA, Pialoux V, Corbett D, et al. Promoting brain health through exercise and diet in older adults: a physiological perspective: Exercise, diet and brain health in ageing. J Physiol. 2016;594(16):4485-4498. doi:10.1113/jp271270
- Pu H, Guo Y, Zhang W, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation improves neurologic recovery and attenuates white matter injury after experimental traumatic brain injury. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2013;33(9):1474-1484. doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2013.108
- Wu A, Ying Z, Gomez-Pinilla F. Dietary omega-3 fatty acids normalize BDNF levels, reduce oxidative damage, and counteract learning disability after traumatic brain injury in rats. J Neurotrauma. 2004;21(10):1457-1467. doi:10.1089/neu.2004.21.1457
- Martín MA, Goya L, de Pascual-Teresa S. Effect of cocoa and cocoa products on cognitive performance in young adults. Nutrients. 2020;12(12):3691. doi:10.3390/nu12123691
- Cotman CW, Berchtold NC, Christie L-A. Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation. Trends Neurosci. 2007;30(9):464-472. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2007.06.011
- Global Council on Brain Health. Engage Your Brain: GCBH Recommendations on Cognitively Stimulating Activities. Global Council on Brain Health; 2017.
- Sandi C. Stress and cognition. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci. 2013;4(3):245-261. doi:10.1002/wcs.1222
- The physiology of stress: Cortisol and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Dartmouth.edu. Accessed January 5, 2022. https://sites.dartmouth.edu/dujs/2011/02/03/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis/