Brain Health Guide | Natural Health & Healing

brain health guide

This Brain Health Guide is quite a long post. It got long because it is a big subject.

But we have broken it down into sections that you can dip into at will by following the index links. You can return to the index by clicking on the “Back to Index” link at the end of each section.

We have summarized some useful resource information at the end.

Index

Introduction to brain health 

This brain health guide puts the relationship between body health and brain health into perspective. And it shows how the health and performance of your brain can be improved.

These days, when people think about their health – even obsess about it – they are thinking about their physical health and looks.  And that’s OK. 

But here is some perspective: in the modern age, we use our brains way more than our bodies.

brain trainingWe use our brain in our careers, our relationships, managing our families and our money, navigating from A to B, and much more. So you would think we should be paying more attention to the health and training of our brain.

But most people aren’t even aware that their brain can be trained or that brain health is even a “thing,” let alone an issue. But, as we will see later, our brain can be trained, and our brain health and function can be improved. 

We just need to follow some best practices in brain health, brain nutrition, and lifestyle. In this way, we can attain optimal mental performance and ward off issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s. All of this, combined with our physical health, will greatly improve our lives in every area.

Unfortunately, brain health is a far less understood topic than physical health. But read on and you will learn both both how to upgrade your brain function, and how this will impact your life. 

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How our brain works

With its billions of connections and phenomenal storage capacity, the human brain is the most powerful computer on the planet. So here is a brain health guide overview of how the brain works.

Neurons

neuronsYour brain is made up of millions of neurons. These are brain cells that, in a way, operate like other cells in your body. They have a cell membrane. This is a bilayer of lipid molecules with many types of protein structures embedded in it. 

A lipid bilayer is a powerful electrical insulator, but in brain neurons, many of the protein structures embedded in the membrane are electrically active.

The soma is the bulbous body of a neuron (nerve cell) from which one or more processes emanate (dendrites and/or axons). The soma contains the cell nucleus and encloses a conspicuous nucleolus

Axons and dendrites 

All cells have mitochondria to provide energy plus a nucleus that contains DNA.

axonsBut brain cells also have a few extras. They have dendrites and axons.

Axons are the long tails of the brain cell that protrude from the back.

The dendrites are roots or tendrils that stretch out across the brain coming from the soma. The dendrites come into contact with the axons of other neurons and form a connection. 

Neurons come in all shapes and sizes. Even though they are microscopic, they can still have connections that stretch from one brain ‘region’ to another.  

Brain firing synapses 

action potentialBrain cells don’t actually touch but instead have a small gap between called the ‘synaptic’ gap. Communication between cells occurs across the gap.

When a brain cell lights up or fires, this is called an ‘action potential.’ At this point, a small electrical current jumps from the synaptic ‘knob’ over to one or several connecting dendrites. This is how signals get transmitted all around the brain.

Brain regions

Whenever a neuron fires in this way, it corresponds to some type of subjective experience within the brain. 

brain regionsNeurons are arranged into groups or regions within the brain that are associated with specific activities to do with thinking or seeing etc.

For example, the occipital lobe is a region of the brain that deals exclusively with vision. When neurons in this region fire, they cause specks of light to appear like pixels in the eyes of the viewer.

Other neurons might cause us to remember an event, move a finger, experience a smell or fall asleep.

Note that neurons only fire at one ‘amount.’ There are no ‘degrees’ of firing. A cell either fires or it is quiescent. However, it might require input from numerous different surrounding neurons before it becomes excited enough to light itself up.

Neurotransmitters and hormones

neurocvesiclesAt the end of each axon at the synaptic knob are tiny ‘sacs’ called nanovesicles. These contain such neurotransmitters as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

A neurotransmitter changes the excitability of the brain. The likelihood of memories forming or setting your mood.

Serotonin

Serotonin is the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter. It usually gets released when we think about, see, smell, or otherwise experience something that makes us happy. It is also released during exercise or when our body detects sugar.

Norepinephrine

Norepinephrine is the ‘stress’ neurotransmitter. It gets released into the blood when the brain understands that a stressful event has happened. This helps the body respond accordingly.

Dopamine

Dopamine gets released when we think something is important. This increases motivation, focus and the likelihood of a memory forming afterwards.

So in a way neurotransmitters tell us what we should be feeling about the experience of particular neurons when they fire. In some cases, a hormone can act like a neurotransmitter and vice versa.  

For example, the cortisol hormone has an effect on our brain cells, as does testosterone.  More often, neurotransmitters simply make a cell more or less likely to fire an action potential, which results in them being categorized as either ‘excitatory’ or ‘inhibitory.’

Neurotransmitters have an effect on us when they interact with ‘receptors’ located on the dendrites of cells.

A neuron might release serotonin from its vesicles when it fires but this will only have any impact on those connected neurons that contain serotonin receptors.

Brain Plasticity

Scientists used to think that as a brain aged it would cease to grow, become rigid and unable to change shape.

However, this has subsequently been found to be way off the mark. In fact our brains continue to change and grow as we age. No matter how old we get we can still form new memories and learn new subjects

New brain cells can form in numerous regions of the brain for neurogenesisinstance via a process called ‘neurogenesis.’  At the same time, new connections can also be formed.

There is a simple rhyme to help you remember the rules here: ‘neurons that fire together, wire together.’

If you repetitively hear a certain sound while experiencing a certain smell, you will over time arrive at the point where those two neurons form a connection. Over time, a process called myelination makes that connection ever stronger. 

Essentially, the axons and dendrites involved in the connection become better insulated, which strengthens the circuitry and makes it easier for one neuron to cause the other to fire.

This is how rote learning occurs with our physical movements. We no longer have to think about it. One movement by one part of our body will automatically and without conscious input trigger a movement in another part of our body.  

Brain plasticity, which is also known as neuroplasticity, is the mechanism through which all learning occurs. So understanding brain plasticity is an important part of improving our brain functions.

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What our brain was designed for 

From what we have learned so far in this brain health guide is that we can improve brain performance. If, for example, we can increase the number of desirable neurotransmitters. Or if we can form new connections by repeatedly performing actions together that we want to become associated.

But it is also helpful to understand what our brain was designed for and how it came to built the way it is.  All of this is to do with evolutionary psychology.

Our brain was built for survival. We are adaptoid. We adapt to our environment.

Behaviorism 

At one point during the development of modern psychology, a theory called ‘behaviorism’ dominated. This school of thought told us that human and animal behavior could be explained by conditioning. 

This meant that our entire mindset was based on our entire subjective experience of the world and was based on the associations we formed through our interactions with the world.

The most famous example of this theory pavlov's dogwas Pavlov’s dog. A dog could be trained to salivate at the sound of a bell associated with food, even if there was no food present.

Behaviorism holds that everything we know is learned in this manner. As babies, we are mostly  ‘blank slates.’ And this means that we learn how to get along in the world through association.

For example, when we touch fire or something that feels hot we get a burning sensation and strive to avoid it.

When we eat, it releases serotonin, which makes us feel good. So we learn to enjoy eating. And we associate the smell of cookies with grandma’s house. And we learn language by seeing how people react to different words.

Neuroplasticity at work

On a neural level, we now know that this is all to do with neuroplasticity. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” When we learn a hard lesson, like burning ourselves on a fire, appropriate neurotransmitters get released to make that memory form real fast.

Our environment is always changing, so this is the best way for the brain to survive. By adapting to our environments, our brains ensure that the behaviors we acquire are perfectly suited to the environment we are in. Ultimately, we learn to avoid danger and gravitate toward food, sex and shelter.

Why is this important to understand? 

neuroplaticityWe are always adapting to the situation we are put in. That means we are still adapting right now to working in an office, being constantly stressed and looking at your phone a lot. 

It also means that the connections we are not using are atrophying, while many unhealthy behaviors continue to strengthen with time. And this in turn means that, if we put our minds to it, we can make improvements in our life.

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CBT and embodied cognition

While Behaviorism provides useful insights and retains some validity, it could not explain the full gamut of human experience. For heightexample, we can learn by reading but this is not explained by behaviorism. And we can become phobic of heights without ever having fallen from a height. So in this brain health guide we will dig deeper into this.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) takes behaviorism as a starting point and then builds a cognitive element on top of it. CBT states that what we think also plays an important role. In fact, we can actually create new associations by thinking

So if we think about falling, this can create new neural connections that make us feel like we are falling. This can lead to the formation of a phobia (such as a fear of heights) or to changes in personality.

Embodied cognition

Embodied cognition is a more recent psychology theory that says that all of our understanding of the world around us comes from our bodies.  This comports with the evolutionary theory that our brains evolved to help us survive in a hostile environment as we interacted with it.

The question posited to psychologists was this: When someone tells you some information, how do you understand that?

You learned English growing up. But what is it that lets you understand English?  Your brain does not innately understand English, so you must be translating that language into something like a machine code in order to process it. For a time, psychologists used the term ‘mentalese’ to explain this gap.

Later, Embodied Cognition was put forward as a more useful theory that explains that we understand language by relating it back to our understanding of the world around us.

So when you hear a story about someone walking through a cold forest, you understand that by imaging yourself walking through a cold forest.

What happens here is that areas of your brain are firing as though that story was really happening to you. So, if you put someone under an MRI scanner while you tell them about the time you went swimming, their brain areas will light up as though they were going swimming. In this way, if you simply imagine something or picture something in your mind, you can create associations in your brain.

fallingIf you are high up and you constantly imagine falling off that height, your neurons will fire as a response to you actually falling off that height. This can be enough to cause those neurons to wire together and to create such a strong connection that it’s hard not to picture falling off of that height. 

This unleashes a raft of neurotransmitters related to the experience of falling. And what’s the result? You pass out in a terrified heap.

CBT to the rescue

CBT is a technique that you can use to create positive associations and connections in your brain with beneficial results. It helps people change their feelings by changing their thoughts and behaviors. It reverses the process you see in this CBT Triangle illustration. We’ll get to that in a bit.

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How to increase your brainpower with brain training 

From what we have learned so far in this brain health guide it is easy to see the potential of creating stronger connections within your brain and even new connections entirely. This can result in learning new skills and improving the skills you already have.

Brain training programs

All this has given rise to a lot of brain training programs and websites that teach you to do things like performing math tests or memory challenges. The more you do this (in theory), the more you will strengthen those skills and the better your memory, attention, or mental arithmetic will become.

Which sounds like a seal of approval! So should you go ahead and start using that kind of brain training? The answer is both yes and no.

Limited function computer training

nintendo brain ageWhile something like Lumosity or Nintendo Brain Age might be useful for challenging your recall or spatial awareness, the reality is that they are far too specific to be all that useful in the real world. When you train yourself to become better at spotting the number of cute penguins in a group, you become better at doing precisely that.

You are strengthening neural connections around penguins. By playing that game over and over again, you are becoming much better at that game. But this isn’t doing much to help you think of answers to questions in an interview. It’s not transferable to the real world and for that reason, it’s not going to be much use.

Multi-task exposure

A better way is to aim for multi-tasked exposure. You need to consistently try new things, consistently test yourself, and force your brain to keep on growing. The more you exercise your brain plasticity, the easier it will be. 

multitaskingThe more dopamine, norepinephrine, brain derived neurotrophic factor, etc you will produce. It’s only when you stop learning new things, and stop challenging yourself that your brain becomes increasingly unplastic and you begin to lose abilities.

Because brain plasticity can work both ways. When you go for a long time without using a specific neural pathway, a form of pruning does occur. This is how we forget things over time. What’s more the brain will eventually stop producing neurotransmitters that enhance neuroplasticity. 

Brain derived neurotrophic factor

“Neurotrophic” relates to the influence of nerves on the nutrition of tissue.

Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and dopamine are all directly related to myelination and neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells). But if you never use them, they will occur less regularly.

A happy brain and a healthy brain is one you are constantly using in different ways.

As you grow up from infancy, to school and college, to puberty, to learning to drive, to hobbies, to relationships, to marriage, to having a job, to having children, your brain is constantly exposed to new experiences and new thinking. 

But then you get into a rut. Life finds a rhythm. The same job for 50 years – yikes!

The older you get, the fewer new experiences you expose yourself to. You stick with the same friends, you stick at  the same hobbies. And your brain stops growing.

Avoiding age-related cognitive decline

A brain that stops growing can eventually lead to danger as you become more likely to experience age-related cognitive decline or brain disorders like Alzheimer’s or dementia.  If nothing else, you become more forgetful, more set in your ways and less able to learn more skills. So fluid intelligence as opposed to knowledge deteriorates.

dementiaBut it doesn’t have to be that way! Not if you understand how important it is to keep exposing yourself to new things and to keep learning.

Keep learning new languages. Learn new games. Meet new people. Explore new places. Just being in a different place, maybe in a different country, can cause the brain to fire off a flood of neurotransmitters associated with awareness and attention.

It can be as simple as taking different routes home or to work. Explore. Take walks on different trails.

And use your body. Learning with the body is how we started to learn from infancy and we should keep doing it. This is a very important way to keep challenging yourself and to keep learning.

Choose activities that will teach your brain skills that will actually be useful to you. To get more out of your brain, learn other languages. That way you can process information in different ways.

Or  teach yourself to be better at math? Or learn programming? Because here’s the irony. Things like this will actually prove to be much more useful in the real world than having a slightly better memory anyway.

The power of computer games

Computer games have been shown in studies to improve decision-making under stress. Playing action shooter games actually teaches us to make better decisions faster than people who do not play computer games.

At the same time, they actually improve visual acuity –  they make us more efficient at spotting differences in color and at noticing things on the horizon. This results from looking out for targets under time pressure. Computer games can even improve your odds of lucid dreaming –  a type of dreaming where you know you’re asleep and gain the ability to control your movements and the contents of the dream!

computer gamesComputer games offer a novel kind of brain training because each game is different. They use different controls that teach us different motor skills. They introduce us to new 3D environments.

Each time you pick up a new game, you are forced to learn the new controls and the new rules. 

You have to start finding your way around a different environment and you have to change the way you think about it. This all takes brain plasticity as new neural networks are made in your motor cortex as well as in your prefrontal cortex

Whenever you learn a new game, it’s like learning a new skill. You have the exact same releases of dopamine when you get it right! And it gets better.

Computer games are addictive because of the release of dopamine. Dopamine is our “happy hormone.” Why does dopamine get released when we play games? Because we’re learning.  And learning makes us happy. The brain loves learning and if you can make it fun, suddenly you will start becoming better at everything.

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Nootropics 

Can smart drugs make you smarter?

Thus far in this brain health guide we learned that the best way to strengthen the brain is to use it, especially in novel scenarios.

nootropicsThis should not be a surprise! Strengthening the brain requires effort and practice. Just like strengthening your body! Nothing worth having comes easy. And this is going to seem like bad news for a lot of people.

Even though all it takes to get smarter is to play computer games!

But there are short-cuts. There are ways you can bypass the aggravation, jump ahead and get the results you want more quickly. This is to use the so-called ‘smart drugs’ known as nootropics

A nootropic is any form of supplement or drug that can make you objectively smarter in some way. This could be an improvement in focus, memory, or creativity, or something else.

Nootropics are brain supplements

So nootropics work on the brain while supplements and steroids work on the body.

But are they safe? And do they work? That all depends on what kind of nootropic you intend to use.

Apparently, some 90% of CEOs in the US are using some form of nootropic to get a mental edge over their competitors. They help them stay up late, be more confident during presentations, and generally perform their very best.

One of the more popular types of nootropic is Modafinil.

Modafinil

The nootropic Modafinil works by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter orexin in the brain. Orexin appears to be partly responsible for regulating various bodily functions, including bowel movements and the brain’s sleep and wake cycle.

Modafinil was originally designed as a way to treat narcolepsy. This is a condition that causes people to fall asleep during the day for no apparent reason and without warning.

It was also found to improve other functions such as memory and reflexes.

modafinilThis is because it can also increase dopamine, along with various other important neurotransmitters. There are no known side effects and the pill has a half-life of 10 hours.  so in theory, a CEO can pop one in the morning and then be more alert, more focused, and less sleepy for a whole 10-hour day.

In the US, Modafinil is prescription only. There are ways to get it online (off label) but you don’t know what you are getting and we don’t recommend it.

Piracetam

The nootropic Piracetam increases acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a generic excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. This means that it generally increases the firing rate of neurons.

This results in the brain becoming more active. And, subjectively,  this might make you feel more awake, alert, and more vividly aware of your senses. Piracetam takes longer to take effect. And it needs to build up in your system over time. A lot of people find the effects very pleasant without any noticeable downside

At the other end of the nootropic spectrum, you have things like 5-HTP.

5-HTP

5-hydroxytryptophan is a precursor to tryptophan, which is itself a precursor to serotonin.

By precursor, we mean building block. The brain makes other chemicals out of precursor chemicals.

Serotonin is the feel-good neurotransmitter and is also somewhat inhibitory. Serotonin can help you feel relaxed and happy at the same time. This combats stress. Serotonin also converts into melatonin, which makes 5-HTP a useful sleep aid when used just before bed.

A business executive might take 5-HTP to come down after a stressful day, or calm nerves before a presentation, or just get a deep sleep.

Should you use these kinds of nootropics? 

This is up to the individual. But, with our “Natural Health and Healing” hat on, we would say “Generally, No.” There are no known official side effects for something like modafinil or piracetam but that is not to say there are no issues.

These substances have not been tested for the long-term, so no one knows what would happen were you to use them over, say, 10 years. Not only that, but it’s also a little concerning that we don’t know precisely how many of these nootropics work.

Side effects

These nootropics do not officially have side effects, but they have been reported. For example:

Modafinil can increase your need for bathroom breaks. You can also feel overstimulated. You can also get over-focused and even glued to what you are doing. This can prevent free-thinking and stifle the creativity that comes with a wandering mind..

Piracetam can give you a headache unless you stack it with choline. But then you can get both headaches and brain fog.

The Neuroscience behind this is our brain is forming new connections between disparate neurons that would normally never be associated –  which is how invention happens.  But when you’re super focused, you get so fixated on one thing that it blocks other thinking.

Optimum brain function is not about single-minded focus on one thing for a long time. Optimum brain function is the ability to switch from one brain state to another smoothly and as necessary. 

Neurotransmitters do not exist in a vacuum

If you alter any one neurotransmitter, then there will be a knock on effect on others. For example, we have already seen that serotonin converts to melatonin. Then serotonin leads to appetite and cortisol, also linked to dopamine, affects our testosterone level. 

There are probably countless neurotransmitters that we have yet to even discover. So, if you take a nootropic that affects one neurotransmitter, you risk making all kinds of unknown changes in your brain without really knowing what the consequences of that action might be.

For this reason, we would advise focusing on other ways to get your mental upgrade.

We suggest you go instead to the natural supplements at the Brain Forza site in the resources here.

What about caffeine?

coffeeYes – it’s a nootropic. Our morning coffee or tea helps us feel more awake and alert when we get up.

So how does caffeine work? Basically, caffeine can mimic a neurotransmitter in the brain called adenosine. Adenosine is a byproduct of the energy process in the brain. When your mitochondria utilize glucose for energy, they do this by converting it first to ATP and then breaking back ATP apart into its constituent parts, including Adenosine. 

ATP adenosine triphosphate

Adenosine triphosphate is the energy-carrying molecule that is found in the cells. It captures and stores chemical energy for the cell to use as needed.

Adenosine builds up all during the day as we use our brain cells for thinking, moving, directing, and powering our bodies.  But this substance is inhibitory and over time makes us tireder and sleepier.  Eventually, we just become so sluggish and tired that we just have to go to bed. Then a good night’s sleep can flush the brain of excess adenosine ready for the morning.

Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors. Caffeine is a similar shape to adenosine, you can plug the holes where adenosine is supposed to go, and that prevents adenine from performing its magic

This makes us feel more awake and alert and causes a spike in brain activity. This spike results in a flood of other excitatory neurotransmitters being released. These include dopamine, norepinephrine, and more.

Is caffeine safe?

The short answer is ‘yes and no.’

Caffeine has been shown in studies to reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s and in that sense it is neuroprotective. And caffeine does seem pretty safe. 

At the same time, though, caffeine is also essentially ‘stress in a cup.’  It works by increasing many of our stress hormones and this can decrease creativity. Plus caffeine is addictive

If you become dependent on caffeine, you’ll find you can get raging headaches whenever you go long periods without it. In fact, what many of us feel as “morning grogginess” is actually withdrawal from caffeine during the night.

Assessment of nootropics

Caffeine seems to be in a class of its own and generally safe. It is also well understood.

As to the others, stay away from them except for those occasions when you really need a boost to get a huge amount of work done. Then just use them for that one day.

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Nutrition and Supplementation

The nootropics we have described in this brain health guide should be used with great caution and may have significant downsides. But this is not to say that there is no beneficial outside assistance to increase your brainpower.

However, it is important to focus on long term brain health as opposed to short term brain performance boosters. This is easy with the right diet. Diet is essential for brain health.

Amino acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When you eat meat, your body breaks it down into amino acids and uses these to build tissue, including in the brain.

This is not where the importance of amino acids ends.  Amino acids are also crucial for creating many neurotransmitters. 

For example:

  • l-tyrosine is used to create dopamine. 
  • Tryptophan is used to create serotonin. 
  • I-theanine can have direct effects on the brain and, in this case, it’s a somewhat calming effect. 
  • L-Carnitine has an energy-boosting effect on the brain by increasing the performance of the mitochondria

As we’ve seen with 5-HTP, it’s possible to consume too many of these amino acids on their own, in order to trigger immediate changes in the levels of neurotransmitters. But this leads to imbalances and that is not a good thing.

The best course is to focus on getting a healthy mix of as many amino acids as possible. By simply eating lots of protein or supplementing with amino acid products, you can provide the brain with everything it needs to produce all the various neurotransmitters as and when it needs them. 

This makes the brain better able to switch mental states as needed. And this ensures that you can maximize your focus, concentration, memory, and relaxation all at the same time.

What is the best way to get plenty of amino acids?

eggsEat plenty of eggs. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and contain all of the amino acids the brain needs and does not create on its own.

Eggs also contain choline, the precursor to acetylcholine, the excitatory neurotransmitter. Plus eggs are a source of nutritional fat. And the brain is built primarily of fat.

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are key micronutrients in creating the neurotransmitters used by the brain.

  • Vitamin B6 is used to create a huge number of neurotransmitters. 
  • Vitamin C is key for increasing serotonin and boosting the mood. It also provides protection against illness. 
  • Vitamin B12 and iron help with blood flow by producing red blood cells. 
  • Vitamin D helps with the regulation of hormones, especially testosterone.  
  • Zinc plays a big role in promoting neuroplasticity
  • Magnesium meanwhile helps to combat depression and anxiety.

In short, if you are not getting the micronutrients you need, you are not giving your brain everything it needs to function optimally. 

Avoid processed foods

Processed foods may have the calories you need to stay alive but are short to non-existent in the nutrients you need to thrive. Instead, eat salads and smoothies and lots of fruit and vegetables. You will feel healthier and more alert. And be sure to use vitamin and mineral supplements. 

Vasodilators

vinpocetineIf you want an immediate brain boost that you can’t get from supplements and food.  A vasodilator is any substance that dilates the blood vessels, veins, and arteries. This will allow more blood and more oxygen to get around the body, which in turn will result in more making it to your brain.

A particular favorite among nootropic fans is Vinpocetine because this vasodilator focuses on the brain specifically and the prefrontal cortex even more specifically. This means you’re getting more energy right to the part of the brain that you use for planning and problem-solving.  Some people describe the feeling as being like a cold shower for your brain. If you think this is right for you, you can get this Periwinkle extract here.

Cognitive metabolic enhancers 

A cognitive metabolic enhancer is anything that will increase your brain’s energy levels and the efficiency of the mitochondria. Mitochondria are your energy factories. They float around inside the cytoplasm, and they use glucose and ATP to boost your bodily functions –  including brain function!

There are many things that can help your mitochondria perform better. They include:

  • CoQ10
  • Lutein, 
  • L-Carnitine
  • PQQ (pyrroloquinoline quinone)

Amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and all kinds of lesser-known nutrients are available in supplement form. But the best strategy is just eating a very balanced and nutritious diet.

However, you can also increase your energy levels further by using creatine.

Creatine

Creatine is a supplement often used by athletes and bodybuilders. It converts used ATP back into more usable ATP. 

creatine monohydrateIt recycles adenosine and this provides you with extra energy to use in your physical training. But it also enhances brain function by improving the energy efficiency of brain cells. 

Creatine allows the brain to recycle its ATP.  And this means you get just a second or two of extra energy at maximum exertion.

It also appears that people who take creatine get a slight boost to their IQ. So this makes it a very effective nootropic. Plus it has no side effects.  

Creatine is produced naturally in the liver and can also be obtained from food sources such as beef. But the best way to get a significant boost is to use it in supplement form. Look for Creatine Monohydrate

Omega 3 Fatty Acid

What makes omega-3 useful for the brain is that it can improve cell membrane permeability.  Making the cell walls of the neurons more permeable makes the cells more responsive to neurotransmitters and nutrients, and this leads to a slight mental boost.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are key to maintaining your brain’s long term health. These include vitamin C, Omega-3, Resveratrol, and other micronutrients. Antioxidants destroy free radicals. 

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells when they come into contact with them. They can even lead to cancer if they make it through the nucleus and cause damage to the DNA.

Consuming antioxidants is a very important strategy for your overall health and will also help you to reduce your likelihood of illness by strengthening your immune system. They can boost your brainpower in the long-term by protecting brain cells from damage and potentially lowering your chances of developing tumors later in life.

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Nootropics and Plasticity

This brain health guide will tell you that the best way to enhance brain plasticity is simply to provide stimuli by using the brain in novel settings. But there are other ways that seem helpful.

Lion’s Mane

Lion’s Mane is a nootropic that can boost brain plasticity. It acts directly on Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor ( BDNF), which relates to brain growth. It increases the likelihood of new connections being formed. 

Lion’s mane is a mushroom. There is not a lot of evidence on how it works or its long term effects. But many people really like it for its cognitive boost and mental edge

You can check out Lion’s Mane at the Brain Forza site in the resources here.

CILTEP

Another option is to try CILTEP. This stands for Chemically Induced Long Term Potentiation.

Long-Term Potentiation (LTP) is a long-lasting enhancement in signal transmission between two neurons that results from stimulating them both at the same time. 

 CILTEP is a stack (meaning combination) consisting of several different natural nootropic substances including Forskolin, artichoke extract, l-carnitine, and vitamin B6. Its promise is to improve long-term potentiation (myelination). Many people find it to be effective and without side effects, including author Tim Ferriss.

You can find it in the resources section here.

tDCS

tDCS stands for ‘transcranial direct-current stimulation.’ This means running a small electric current liftidthrough your brain via conductive pads attached to the scalp. The idea of tDCS Is to simply potentiate the brain cells, increase the amount of BDNF, and thus encourage plasticity.

These devices have been shown to be effective in many studies and there are no apparent side effects. Pads are placed in different arrangements or “montages” around the head. This is to ensure that specific brain areas get the majority of the current.

Some montages make people more alert and focused while others can boost the mood or improve sleep. What is particularly interesting is that the effects seem to last about 30 minutes following use.

This appears to be a safe way to get a brain boost. Just as with stronger nootropics though, it’s important to exercise a little common sense here. It’s hard to know precisely the area of the brain that you are stimulating just by looking at a drawing of the scalp.

Nonetheless, this brain-boosting option does seem to be safe and effective. And you can check it out in the resources section here.

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Lifestyle and Brain Rhythms 

In this brain health guide we are advocates of natural brain training through new experiences and challenges.

But there is one alternative (and overlooked) method that is far more effective. When it comes to giving you an immediate boost in your cognitive function, productivity, and pretty much every aspect of your brainpower, nothing beats sleeping more and sleeping better. 

Power of Sleep

If you don’t get good sleep, you can’t perform at your best. You still have a build-up of adenosine in your brain. It is while you sleep that you replenish your neurotransmitters. Skip sleep and you will feel sluggish, slow, and forgetful. And even depressed.

But most people overlook this crucial factor and will continue to abuse their sleep – trying to work longer hours or wake up earlier. In the long run, this is guaranteed to damage your productivity and your brainpower. So get more and better sleep. 

Tips for sleeping better

A hot bath before sleep is a great way to go to bed with relaxed muscles. And this makes it a lot easier to sleep. It will also help release sleep-related hormones and neurotransmitters. And this will also better regulate your temperature throughout the night.

Try and get to bed at the same time every night. Our bodies like routines because they are based on rhythms. Our sleep rhythm is part of the Circadian rhythm.

Daylight or Circadian lamp

You can also help this process by giving yourself a daylight (circadian) lamp. A circadian light is an LED device that mimics natural sunlight by producing light with similar wavelengths as they vary through the day. 

cicradian lightWhat’s more, a daylight lamp can be set to come on gradually in the morning to mimic the rising sun. So instead of being startled awake, you’ll be gradually nudged awake by light. We evolved this way.

Install thick curtains. Otherwise, the light will reach your brain through the thinner parts of your skull and trigger the release of cortisol to wake you up. So if you have thick curtains, you will only wake to the settings of your daylight lamp. 

Create a quiet space to sleep in and make sure your bed is as comfortable as possible.

Cool-down period

It’s also important to have a cool-down period. This is a time during which you avoid anything that might stimulate you. This means avoiding stress and anything that keeps you wakeful.

So no bright lights, computer games, or phones. The best way to cool-down is to read something under dim light. Reading focuses your inner monologue and prevents your mind from wandering into stressful areas. Meanwhile, concentrating on a text will make your eyes heavy. And this makes it easier to drift off to sleep and harder not to.

Routines and rhythms for your brain

The cool-down period is important because it puts you in a relaxed state ready for bed. This means you will have engaged more inhibitory neurotransmitters rather than excitatory ones.

This is an important concept to understand because ultimately, both your brain and your body only ever in one of two states, excitatory or inhibitory.

Excited or inhibited

Throughout the day, we switch from being alert and ready to go over to sleepy and ready for bed. 

At the end of the day, we get cues from the darkness, from the adenosine build up in our brain, and even from dinner, which causes the release of sugar and serotonin/melatonin in the brain. Together, all of this slows our heart rate and breathing, reduces brain activity, and puts us in a creative and chilled mental state.

By contrast, bright morning light causes a flood of cortisol and nitric oxide in the brain and this boots us up. An influx of noise and bright lights finds its way into our brain and stimulates adrenaline and norepinephrine to further wake us up. Then we down our coffee for some more cortisol and dopamine.

It’s by switching between these two states that the brain is generally able to perform in the right way the task at hand.

Sending the wrong signals

The problem is that we are always sending the wrong signals to the brain or we are trying to force ourselves to stay in one state too long. That is what happens when we play loud video games right before bed, or when we force ourselves to work hard right after our evening meal.

So a big part of performing our best is to understand the importance of letting our brain go through its natural rhythms. We need to work with our brain to get the most out of it.

It’s also important to avoid excessive stress. Because when you get too stressed, no matter the reason, we get so wired and focused that our prefrontal cortex entirely shuts down. This is a state called transient hypofrontality. While this can be a good thing sometimes during sports, It’s a bad thing if you want a conversation or if you are trying to be creative. 

CBT and Meditation

cbt and meditationCognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches us a  lot of techniques we can use to overcome stress and put ourselves into the right mental state for the task at hand.  These include visualization techniques as well as challenging thoughts that might not be particularly effective.

Meditation is also a very powerful tool to combat stress and attain a relaxed state of mind when you need to.

The importance of exercise

If you want to get the most out of your brain, it is vital to get plenty of exercise. 

Remember that your brain evolved primarily to help you adapt and survive in the environment via your physical interactions with it. So in fact most of your brain is dedicated to moving your body. So, if you want to encourage brain plasticity then there are a few things better than learning a new dance or perhaps a martial art, even a gentle one like Tai Chi.

What’s more, according to studies, exercise boosts your memory and stimulates the production of countless crucial neurotransmitters and hormones. And beyond this, exercise is important to improve your circulation so that your brain gets more oxygen.

Check out our video series on Functional Strength Training below

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Conclusion

Congratulations on making it to the end. In this brain health guide,  we covered a lot of complicated topics. And we went deep into the workings of the brain and how to get the most out of it.

But if you have made it to this point, you now have a much better idea of how the brain works than about 99% of the population.

Hopefully, you can also now see the best ways to improve your brainpower through training, through diet, and through your lifestyle.

Adopt a nutritious diet, get plenty of exercise, add some supplements, expose yourself to novel things that you can use in your thinking, play video games, get more sleep, and only consider using nootropics when you really need a boost.

If you do this and keep  mindful of your rhythms and what’s going on inside your brain at any given time, then you will be able to tap into the kind of brainpower you never imagined you had

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Resources

We love this site for all its natural bran, memory,  and focus supplements, including Lion’s Mane. You can find it by clicking on the red underlined  Brain Forza link above. 

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This product uses the original CILTEP formula and uses all natural ingredients.

The Circadian lamp helps maintain your circadian rhythm and balance. This Circadian Optics Lumos 2.0 Light Therapy Lamp is highly recommended. You can find it by clicking on the red underlined Circadian Lamp link above.

This LIFTiD transcranial direct-current stimulator has good reviews. You can find it by clicking on the red underlined link above.

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