Brain and Cognitive Health- Boost your Brain Power!

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“The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.”- Michio Kaku [1].

The iconic words above come from the American physicist Michio Kaku as he perfectly sums up how immensely complicated our brain and its structure is.
Its comparison it to a universe is also highly accurate as there are areas we know very little or nothing about.

It was first believed that the heart was responsible for thought, not the brain. Aristotle believed that the brain was only used to cool the heart. Later, in the 5th century Roman scientist Galen discovered that the brain was in fact used for thought. Galen may have made this scientific breakthrough, however he was not always right, he also believed that the brain was a “cold” organ that was made up of sperm. It wasn’t until the 16th and 17th century that the anatomy of the brain blossomed, with structures such as Cerebrum and Cerebellum being discovered.

What makes up our brain?

Our brain is made of multiple sections that can be categorised into the old and new brain. The ‘old’ brain contains the parts that are responsible for essential features for life, e.g breathing and temperature control. Whereas the new brain contains the components that are newly developed skills of humans such as emotions, speech and language. The brain can then be split into lobes. There is the Frontal, Parietal, Occipital, Temporal lobes and the brain stem. The individual structures that make up each of these lobes are hugely complicated. However, the lobes can have generalized roles that are easier to understand.

The Frontal lobe is required for reasoning, planning, speech, problem solving and some elements of movement. The Parietal lobe is needed for the other elements of movement, recognition of objects and orientation of the body. The Occipital lobe is associated with visual stimuli and its processing. Finally, the Temporal lobe is needed for hearing, memory and speech.

Diseases that can affect the brain

There are numerous disease that can effect the brain, these include Epilepsy, tumours/cancer, and degenerative nerve disease. However 2 of the biggest diseases that threaten our brains are Alzheimer’s disease and Strokes.

As diets worsen and our saturated fat and salt intake increases, so does the incidence of Stroke. A Stroke is classified as when the blood and oxygen supply to the brain is partially or totally blocked. It has been shown to kill 130,000 people per year, and yet 80% of strokes are preventable.

Alzheimer’s is a massive subject in the health world and more research is required, but one thing we do know is that it effects 850,000 in the UK alone, and someone is diagnosed every 3 minutes.

What can you do to boost your brain power?

Eat to nourish the brain

Many foods claim to improve brain function but here is a comprehensive list of those foods that have been scientifically proven to help.

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil- Olive oil is rich in antioxidant polyphenols. Antioxidants are responsible for the protection of DNA, lipids and proteins. One study conducted on mice found that those receiving olive oil over other lipid substances (butter, coconut oils etc) had better retention of information and memory in tests. Extra Virgin Olive Oil was found to be beneficial against brain ageing, memory loss and disease in the brain.
  • Blueberries- Blueberries are also rich in polyphenols called “Anthocyanins”, these are what make the berries purple. Anthocyanins are rich in disease fighting properties. One study showed that drinking a blueberry smoothie in the mornings can increase cognitive ability in tasks by as much as 11%.
  • Dark Chocolate- The main ingredient of dark chocolate is cocoa. Cocoa is rich in flavanols that contribute to the health of the brain. The active ingredient of which is Epicatechin, similar to that found in green tea. It is a potent antioxidant that has been found to enhance blood flow to the brain. In one study it was found that a high dosage of cocoa flavanols resulted in “accelerated rapid visual information processing”.
  • Oily Fish and Omega 3’s- Omega 3 has long been associated with beneficial effects on the brain. It has been shown by many studies that Omega 3 and its consumption in food can lead to protection of the brain against ageing. In addition, it has been proven that Omega 3 is required for neurotransmission of messages within the brain. Foods rich in Omega 3 are Oily fish (salmon and sardines), flax seeds, chia seeds, nuts, avocados and soy beans.

Why not try supplements?

The B Vitamins- Majority of the B Vitamins are used within the brain as cofactors for enzymes, chemical messengers or structurally for DNA production.

Ginkgo and Ginseng- have been scientifically proven to aid cognitive health. Ginseng acts by releasing its active ingredient Ginsenosides to improve cognitive function. Whereas Ginkgo Biloba improves blood flow to the brain, thus improving cognitive performance and skill in memory tasks.

Iron- An approved EFSA (European food standards agency) claim is that Iron aids messaging within the brain leading to faster and more efficient cognitive performance. Iron is also found in red meats, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.

Omega 3 and 6- Both 3 and 6 can be supplemented as they are are essential components in the lipid membrane of the brain.

Selenium-Selenium protects the brain and nerves from damage. Supplementation may also improve the efficiency of nerve transmission. Selenium can also be found in Brazil nuts, oysters and tuna.

Zinc and Copper- Deficiency of both of these nutrients can be detrimental to DNA production and brain performance. Zinc is also essential for cognitive function.

Despite being responsible for essentially what a human is, the brain is a very fragile component of a the body. It must be treated with the utmost care and respect. Treat yours today, and boost your brain power.

 

  1. Michio Kaku. (2016). Human Brain Quotes. Available: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/michiokaku615181.html?src=t_human_brain.
  2. Stanford Education. (2007). A History of the Brain. Available: https://web.stanford.edu/class/history13/earlysciencelab/body/brainpages/brain.html.
  3. Escott-Stump.S. (2015). 4: Neurosychiatric Conditions . In: Joyce, J and Malakoff-Klein, E Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. 8th ed. Philadelphia: Walters-Kluwer. Pg. 228-235.
  4. Serendip. (2016). Brain Structures and their Functions. Available: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/kinser/Structure1.html.
  5. CDC. (2015). Stroke Facts. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm.
  6. Alzheimer's Society. (2015). Facts for the Media. Available: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=535&pageNumber=2.
  7. Farr.SA, et-al. (2012). Extra virgin olive oil improves learning and memory in SAMP8 mice.. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease. 28 (1), Pg. 88-92.
  8. The Healthy Employee. (2013). Blueberries - Improve Performance By 11%. Available: https://www.thehealthyemployee.co.uk/news/blueberries---improve-performance-by-11.
  9. Nehlig, A. (2013). The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 75 (3), Pg. 716-727.
  10. Denis.I, et-al. (2015). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and brain aging.. Current Option in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 18 (2), Pg. 139-146.
  11. Wesness. KA et-al. (2000). The memory enhancing effects of a Ginkgo biloba/Panax ginseng combination in healthy middle-aged volunteers..Psychopharmacology. 152 (4), Pg. 353-361.

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