Cognitive impairment is part of the aging process. but it doesn't have to be! Get-Fit Guy has tips on how to care for your cranium and prevent disabling nerve damage.
Tip #1: Take Nutrients that Support Your Brain
A study done on NFL players entitled: “Reversing brain damage in former NFL players: implications for traumatic brain injury and substance abuse rehabilitation” showed reversal of brain damage and improvement in blood flow (perfusion) to the head via the use of a cocktail of nutrients, specifically:
- nutrients to enhance blood flow (ginkgo and vinpocetine)
- nutrients for neurotransmitters, specifically acetylcholine, an organic molecule that acts as a neurotransmitter (via acetyl-l-carnitine and huperzine A)
- nutrients for increased antioxidant activity (alpha-lipoic acid and n-acetyl-cysteine)
At the end of this episode, I’ll give even more specific recommendations for dosages and sources of these nutrients, as well as some extra nutrients that may help with nerve repair as well.
Tip #2: Exercise
Multiple human studies show that exercise can increase the size of the brain and improve memory, and a review of several studies showed fitness to be associated with improved cognitive functioning. That particular review demonstrated that the beneficial mechanisms behind the effect of exercise on cognitive health were increases in brain perfusion and the ability of cerebral blood vessels to respond to demand.
Tip #3: Play Brain Games
There is continuing research that playing “brain games” and doing brain aerobic exercises (like Sudoku) can help to “age-proof” your brain and slow the onset of aging symptoms. It can also help to keep your brain functioning at peak capacity. To qualify as a good brain aerobics exercise, an activity must have three distinct elements: novelty, variety, and challenge.
In other words, going to work every day to your “mentally challenging” job does not provide the novelty to challenge your brain. Sticking with the same “brain aerobics” activity day-after-day doesn't cut it - neither does engaging in brain activities that are familiar to you or easy (such as playing the same challenging computer game every day).
In other words: Make your brain lift heavy stuff.
One of my friends, Dr. Arlene Taylor, has a bunch of completely free brain aerobic exercises on her website.
You can also go do a search in the Apple iTunes store, or any other app store, for “brain exercises” and find good apps that will challenge your brain (Angry Birds probably doesn’t count). Two of my favorites are the Brainscape app, which allows you to create your own flash cards and learning activities which you can easily access from your phone, and n-Back training, which involves memorizing a progressively more difficult sequence of colored squares.
Incidentally, if you play a sport in a way that causes you to think ahead and solve problems as you go, that definitely challenges your brain. Activities such tennis or golf fit into that category – as do board games like chess and checkers.
More Brain Strengthening Resources
If you want even more resources and targeted recommendations, you may want to listen in to a recent BenGreenfieldFitness podcast episode in which I discussed in detail How to Heal Head Injuries Fast.
In that particular episode, some of the nutrient fixes I recommended for addressing blood flow issues to the brain and nerve damage from concussions or head injuries included:
- 1000mg curcumin
- 300mg alpha lipoic acid
- 20mg resveratrol
- 600mg acetyl-l-carnitine
- 150mcg huperzine-a
- 15mg vinpocetine
- 120mg gingko extract
Take these on empty stomach in morning, mid-morning, or mid-afternoon. Obviously, to piece all of these elements together requires purchasing a dizzying array of supplements and bottles, capsules, pills, powders. So if you want to make life easy, you can cover all of the bases by taking:
when you wake up in the morning. And then
- 1 packet TianChi
in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon on empty stomach.
There are also supplements you can take to optimize nerve health or help repair nerves. For more information on why these nutrients work, read this article by neurosurgeon Jack Kruse. These include
- 4g triglyceride-based fish oil – the best brands are Barleans, Pharmax, Green Pastures, or LivingFuel SuperEssentials (I take Superessentials with my first or last meal of the day)
Then, in the afternoon, I drop 6 drops of Nascent Iodine in a glass of water:
In evening before bed, I take 400-600mg of magnesium citrate by Natural Calm.
In addition, remember to avoid inflammatory foods, including:
- Vegetable oils
- Heated seeds and nuts
- Grain-fed meat and farmed fish
- High amounts of sugars, starches, and grains
If you have questions about fixing head damage and improving cognitive function, then leave your questions and join the discussion over at Facebook.com/GetFitGuy.