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Cognitive Health Tips

Many people are concerned about their physical health like weight, high blood pressure, and heart disease. What may be overlooked, however, is our attention to arguably our most important organ: our brain!


In recognition of June being Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, we wanted to provide more information on brain health and factors that can affect our cognitive functions.


Brain Awareness Month

What is brain health?

There are a few areas to focus on when it comes to brain health and function. The brain is a complicated organ after all, and impacts our entire body’s functionality.

  • Cognitive health: probably what most of us think of when it comes to brain health, cognitive health measures how well you think, learn, and remember

  • Motor function: how well you’re able to control your body’s movement and balance

  • Emotional function: how well you can gauge and respond to emotions

  • Tactile function: how well you can feel and respond to sensations like pressure, pain, and temperature¹


What affects brain health?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one factor that affects brain health. There are a multitude of factors, meaning a comprehensive look is required to understand how different areas of our life and genetic makeup impact our cognitive health.

Brain health can be affected by:


Age

As we get older, certain parts of the brain shrink. This can affect our ability to learn or complete complicated tasks. Communication between neurons can also be less effective, and overall blood flow in the brain may decrease, causing a decline in brain functionality.²


Genetics

One factor we cannot change is our genetics. Genetic brain disorders are caused by a variation or mutation in a gene that can cause disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s and brain cancers like glioblastoma.³


Stroke

Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain leaks, causing bleeding in the brain.⁴ While there are many different consequences of a stroke, generally speaking, a stroke that occurs in the left side of the brain will affect the right side of the body, and if a stroke occurs in the right side of the brain, the left side of the body will be affected; if a stroke occurs in the brain stem, both sides of the body can be affected.⁵


Depression

Depression and other mood disorders can greatly affect your brain cognition. It can affect attention, memory, information processing, and decision-making skills. While medications to treat depression can provide great relief from “low” moods, studies have not proven that these medications treat cognitive impairment related to depression.⁶


Substance Abuse & Addiction

Over the last 20 years, the medical and science field has a greater understanding of the cognitive effects of substance abuse thanks to new neuroscience and neuroimaging methods. Executive functions like attention, inhibition, working memory, and decision-making are greatly affected, and because of the numerous types of addictive substances out there, methods of treatment vary greatly.⁷


Diabetes

Sugar levels greatly affect the functionality of the brain. Frequent episodes of high blood sugar over time can damage blood vessels in the brain that carry oxygen-rich blood; too little blood and brain cells can die.⁸


Low blood sugar also means your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen, but signs are often more immediate than high blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar symptoms may include dizziness, feeling shaky, irritability, having trouble walking, and can even cause someone to pass out.⁸


Which foods can positively affect brain function?

Research suggests that what you eat is related to memory function, and certain foods could help target brain functionality like plant foods with high quantities of phytonutrients. While these foods can aid with cognitive health, they are not a cure for improving dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.


Fruits

  • Berries: rich in antioxidants that can prevent premature aging and dementia

  • Grapes: contain a memory-boosting compound called resveratrol

  • Watermelon: high in amounts of the antioxidant lycopene and water that can maintain mental energy

  • Avocados: contain monounsaturated fat that can improve memory function⁹


Vegetables

  • Beets: have nitrates that can help oxygenated blood reach the brain

  • Dark, leafy greens: contain antioxidants like vitamin C that can reduce age-related loss of brain function⁹


Whole Grains & Legumes

Complex carbohydrates contained within whole-grain couscous, chickpeas, oats, sweet potatoes, black beans, and other whole grains contain glucose that can replenish brain cells. Since brain cells do not store an extra supply of glucose, they need a constant supply.⁹


Seafood

Fatty fishes like salmon, trout, sardines, and others contain omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to improve memory.⁹


Olive Oil

Another example of a food that contains high levels of monounsaturated fat (like avocados), this particular fat can help reduce cholesterol levels when consumed instead of saturated and trans fats.⁹


Nuts

Another source of omega-3 fatty acids, nuts improve vascular function by helping moderate blood pressure and decreasing blood clotting.⁹


What else can we do to help cognitive health?

There are many other ways to help our brain health including the physical, mental, and social areas of our lives. If you’re concerned about any health symptoms that can affect your brain, talk to your provider! Your provider and pharmacy team is equipped to guide you in the right direction.


Here are just some of the many ways you can help your cognitive health:

  • Limit alcohol consumption

  • Stop smoking

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night

  • Manage high blood pressure

  • Consume high amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low or nonfat dairy products, and limit consumption of solid fats, sugar, and salt

  • Be physically active

  • Keep your mind busy with meaningful activities, hands-on hobbies, or learning new skills

  • Stay socially active

  • Avoid chronic stress¹


Understanding how factors affect our brain’s ability to function can impact our cognitive health in the long run. Taking care of our brains is just as important as taking care of any of our other organs, and adopting lifelong healthy practices can make a difference!

 

 


 Sources
  1. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/brain-health/cognitive-health-and-older-adults

  2. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/brain-health/how-aging-brain-affects-thinking

  3. https://alleninstitute.org/news/genes-reveal-surprising-overlaps-in-brain-diseases-and-disorders/

  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/syc-20350113

  5. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/effects-of-stroke

  6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sad-depression-affects-ability-think-201605069551#:~:text=It%20can%20impair%20your%20attention,steps%20to%20get%20something%20done).

  7. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/cns-spectrums/article/cognitive-impairment-in-substance-use-disorders/D3853B4938B2CED8A5CC945DFAE01C54

  8. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/diabetes-complications/effects-of-diabetes-brain.html

  9. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/s

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