If you’re feeling down or forgetful, there are plenty of natural ways to give your brain a boost. Making the following simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can help you ward off dementia and depression.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners. Aspartame is broken down into wood alcohol or methanol, a poison. In a recent study, healthy adults who consumed a high-aspartame diet (25 milligrams per kilogram of body weight each day) for eight days and a low-aspartame diet (10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight each day) for eight days, were examined for differences in cognition, depression, and mood. When consuming high-aspartame diets, participants had more irritable moods, exhibited more depression, and performed worse on spatial orientation tests.
- Limit carbonated beverages. Most soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which interferes with the absorption of both magnesium and calcium. The risk of osteoporosis is increased when you drink soft drinks, as is diabetes—even if you’re sipping on diet soft drinks. Remember, magnesium is critical for glucose entry into the cell and for maintaining normal blood.
- Consume sesame seeds and sesame seed oil. Sesame seeds are loaded with two key amino acids that most vegetables lack: tryptophan and methionine. These amino acids are important for mood, detoxification, and skin and hair health. Tahini is a delicious paste made from ground sesame seeds that are mixed with lemon juice, garlic, and salt. And sesame oil is least likely to turn rancid because it’s packed with vitamin E.
- Exercise aerobically at least three times a week. A 2011 study on adults over 65 showed improvements in the part of the brain that’s responsible for memory and alertness—and those improvements were due to regular aerobic exercise. Among patients with dementia, this part of the brain often shows atrophy.
- Cut back on saturated fat. Diets high in saturated fat are associated with memory loss, whereas diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduce this risk. Age-related cognitive decline and fatigue are “inevitable parts of growing old.” This is true if you program your genes to create this. However, studies have shown that Mediterranean diets rich in olive oil, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are associated with significantly less age-related dementia.
- Make sure you know your 25-hydroxy vitamin D level. This will tell you and your doctor how much vitamin D3 you need to consume. Vitamin D3 is a key brain nutrient. Studies show that it acts with curcumin to lessen toxic amyloid in the brain. On an ecogenetic level, vitamin D creates improved brain and nerve function. You should know your 25-hydroxy vitamin D level because it correlates with vitamin D3 intake. Even if you consume vitamin D through foods like milk, yogurt, salmon, and cottage cheese, the most you can obtain through your diet alone is about 350 IU, which is slightly more than one third of your needs (1000 IU is often a daily minimum). If you need more vitamin D, you can get that through supplementation or through exposure to sunlight.
- Don’t forget Bacopa for memory. To many of my patients who are experiencing fatigue and memory loss, I recommend taking an ayurvedic herb called Bacopa, which comes from the leaves of a beautiful flowering pond plant. In fact, I even take it myself. Research has shown that Bacopa has beneficial effects in ADD, ADHD, senile dementia, and fatigue. A study of healthy adults given Bacopa daily for three months showed decreased anxiety and fatigue, as well improved memory and learning. Bacopa has detoxifying and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Ashwagandha is your adrenal gland’s friend. Ashwagandha is another ayurvedic herb that has been used for centuries for increasing energy and adrenal support. It also helps suppress cancer and, in animal studies, it’s been shown to improve brain function in the hippocampus.
- Rhodiola for mood support. Rhodiola is a root from an arctic plant that helps the body to manage stress. Research has shown that rhodiola can decrease anxiety, depression, and fatigue. It has also been shown to improve cognitive decline in humans, as well as support memory and brain function in animal studies. In conjunction with rhodiola, I often recommend three additional herbs: Eleutherococcus, Huperzia, and Schisandra. The main active ingredient in Huperzia, which comes from Chinese club moss, is huperzine H, a neuro-protective compound that increases acetylcholine (a brain chemical) and also protects the brain from amyloid. Amyloid is a plaque-like substance called beta-amyloid that’s implicated in memory loss and cognitive decline. And studies have shown that huperzine H reverses memory loss and agitation in senile dementia sufferers. While minerals are an important part of our diet, some are required only in trace amounts—namely iron and copper. A study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that iron and copper in high levels may contribute to the development of progressive neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Elevated levels of iron and copper have been shown to block the body’s ability to repair DNA, and ineffective DNA repair has been shown to be associated with approximately 200 neurological disorders.
- Take care of your gut feelings. Gut diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome have been associated with anxiety and depression in 90% of patients. Canadian researchers conducted a study on mice in which they altered the bacterial composition in the colon by administering antibiotics. The study showed that administering antibiotics affected the colonic microflora, and that increased the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a protein associated with memory, learning, and mood. Antibiotics were used to generate germ-free mice and, when they were injected with bacteria from other mice, the researchers observed behavioral changes, which suggested that there is a link between gut flora and the brain. Researchers are exploring connections between the microbes in the gut and endocrinology, which describes the effect that neurochemicals produced by gut microorganisms can have on the rest of the body when these chemicals are absorbed in the bloodstream. Scientists are looking into the benefits of gastrointestinal microbes on psychology and more. Researchers are suggesting modifying the gut by taking probiotics such as Lactobaccilliand Bifidobacteria to potentially influence behavioral changes in the body.
- Savor saffron for sweet dreams. Depression is a common, debilitating mental condition that is usually associated with other illness such as diabetes. Researchers have found a bidirectional link between depression and diabetes. And based on statistics from the World Health Organization, depression is expected to be the second most common cause of disability by 2020. And if you’re wondering what ecogenetic nutrient elevates depressed mood, the answer is saffron, which in traditional Persian medicine has been used to treat depression. There are various research studies that have evaluated the efficacy of this herb as an antidepressant. One study evaluating adults with mild to moderate depression found that participants who received saffron scored better on the Hamilton depression rating scale than those who were given a placebo. As a nutritive approach to treating depression, saffron has been shown in studies to have therapeutic effects that are similar to fluoxetine, an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) that is commonly used to treat depression. But unlike fluoxetine, saffron was not associated with side effects such as tremors, sexual dysfunction, or sweating.
For additional tips on how to improve your memory and mood, pre-order a copy of my upcoming book, The Gene Therapy Plan.