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Finding focus

If you feel that your brain could benefit from a boost, check out Rude Health magazine's expert advice for natural support

Many issues can put a strain on our brains, such as the busyness of modern living with traffic, approaching deadlines or receiving bad news putting our minds under strain. Prolonged periods of strain can lead to impaired memory and depression or a general feeling of forgetfulness and frequent headaches. More serious mind issues include age related dementia.

"Cognitive decline usually occurs at higher ages, but can occur from mid-life onwards," says nutritional therapist Liz O'Byrne who works with health store the Aloe Tree in Ennistymon, Co Clare. "Dementia is a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions that interferes with everyday life. Risk factors for dementia include age (being over 65), high blood pressure, high blood sugars, being overweight, alcohol, smoking, physical inactivity, isolation and depression."

How can diet help?

"Your diet can play a role in preventing and dealing with dementia," says Liz O'Byrne. "It's important to eat to keep blood sugars balanced. One way to do this is to eat protein, fibre and healthy fats with each meal or snack. These help prevent ‘sugar spikes' that you get from eating just simple carbohydrates.

"Other crucial foods are omega-3 containing foods. Omega-3 fatty acids contained in oily fish are important for learning and memory in adults. If you don't eat oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon at least three times per week you may consider taking a supplement. Products are easy to take in either liquid or capsule form.

"Low levels of B vitamins such as vitamin B12 and folate can affect brain function. Eating foods like eggs, avocados and leafy green vegetables can help provide these B vitamins in the diet."

"Eat a well balanced diet, and keep blood sugar stable to avoid energy or mood dips," says Olive Curran, Galway nutritional therapist with PPC who make Eskimo-3. "Minimise processed foods. Eat a ‘real food' diet with the main emphasis on fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fish and foods that contain healthy fats."

Other diet tips include:

  • Eating a low sugar diet as fresh and unprocessed as possible
  • Cutting down on tea and coffee
  • Eating foods packed with antioxidants such as brightly coloured fruit and vegetables

Boosting your brain

"I would suggest an omega-3 fatty acid supplement such as a fish oil for people of all ages," says Liz O'Byrne. "Vegan options are available. Brain cells that have high levels of omega-3 fatty acids are better at communicating with other cells, a very important function of brain cells."

"If you don't eat oily fish twice a week choose a high quality fish oil supplement," says Olive Curran. "Increasing your level of omega-3, can lead to improved concentration, a sharper memory and less anxiety. Omega-6 is also beneficial to the brain network. B vitamins are often referred to as the ‘anti-stress vitamins'. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to symptoms such as brain fog, memory loss, dementia and depression. Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like nutrient, and as we age, levels of this vital substance decrease. It is vitally important for optimal brain function."

Other supplement recommendations include:

A multivitamin and herb complex with ingredients such as rhodiola, magnesium, chamomile and siberian ginseng – increases resistance to stress and low mood.

Folic acid, vitamins B12 and B6 –serve as great brain simulators.

Liquid formulations containing superfoods such as wheat grass, barley grass and spirulina, B vitamins, minerals and some ginseng for energy – good general supports.

Lifestyle help

"Exercise has been shown to slow down the progression of dementia," says Liz O'Byrne. "Avoiding smoking and minimising alcohol intake may also help. Meeting people/friends on a regular basis and being involved in social activities are also very important."

"Sit up straight and breathe from your belly to get more oxygen to your brain – increased oxygen to the brain can improve performance on tasks that require great mental effort," says Olive Curran.

"Exercise every day to oxygenate your brain. Walking and mind-body exercises like yoga and t'ai chi are particularly beneficial. Keep hydrated – even mild dehydration can lead to brain fog, irritability and short term memory loss. Avoid environmental toxins, alcohol and smoking.

Exercise your brain by learning something new and playing games that require concentration or analytic thinking."

Other tips include:

  • Get enough sleep – if you have problems sleeping try a relaxing herbal tea. Matcha contains l-theanine, an amino acid which relaxes the nervous system.
  • Do more exercise – being active is good for calming the mind. Go for a walk outside or take up yoga.
  • Meditate – to relax your busy brain and promote stillness.
  • Take a bath – before bed with lavender for relaxation of brain and body.
  • Have a massage – or reflexology session for a body-conscious treat.
  • Burn essential oils – diffuse, or use for massage. Rose, jasmine, lavender and geranium for mood. Bergamot, grapefruit and orange are uplifting.

Hemp's anti-inflammatory effects

"Understanding the connection between our gut and brain is increasingly understood as the secret to long term good physical and mental health," says Marc McDonald from The Hemp Company Dublin. "The hemp plant is a nutritious and easily digestible food. It contains all 20 amino acids, including the nine essential fatty acids, including omega 3 and 6, which are essential for brain health.

"Products made from organically grown hemp seed are naturally high in essential fatty acids (EFAs), and they are easy for the human stomach to process. Rich in antioxidants, hemp products can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body and mind by neutralising harmful free radicals.

"The healthful ratio of omega-3s in hemp seeds and their omega-3 to omega-6 ratio work together to help reduce inflammation. Hemp seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly alpha linolenic acid (ALA). They can help reduce the production of inflammatory compounds in the body.

"Hemp hearts are the raw seed with the hull removed, giving them more protein and EFAs. Hemp protein powder is produced by grinding and sifting the de-fatted cake created after cold-pressing hemp seeds. Hemp seed oil is rich in EFAs, vitamin E, antioxidants and minerals."

Check with your professional healthcare practitioner before you take any new supplements or start a new diet.

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