Whether you’re trying to boost your memory, or improve focus and productivity at work, including brain-enhancing foods, herbs, teas and nutrients in your daily diet is a must. These foods will not only help enhance your brain power and cognition, they can also help prevent age-related cognitive decline and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
WHAT ARE NOOTROPICS?
There is a group of substances (natural and man-made) called ‘nootropics’ that have been found to enhance cognition, increase focus, and boost memory and learning. Certain nutrients, antioxidants, amino acids and other compounds found in foods and herbs are classified as nootropics. Researchers have found that nootropics benefit brain function by improving brain energy and blood flow, supporting the production of key brain neurotransmitters (serotonin, acetylcholine, dopamine) and reducing brain oxidative stress and inflammation by reducing free radicals.
Incorporating wholesome foods rich in nootropic nutrients with meals is an excellent way to improve the health and functioning of your brain.
FUELING YOUR BRAIN
Thinking requires a lot of energy. Our brain consumes around 20% of the body’s energy. Braincells use more than twice the energy of other cells in the body because they’re always working. Even when we’re asleep our brain cells are busy working away, repairing and regenerating. Because of this our brain needs a constant supply of energy to function properly. Without sufficient energy brain function and cognitive processing will slow down. You would start to notice symptoms of brain fog such as poor short-term memory and difficulty concentrating or staying focused. You may have difficulty finding the right words to say or find it difficult to learn new things.
Your brain cells need a good steady supply of glucose, oxygen and specific brain nutrients to function optimally. Blood flow and delivery of these important elements can be impaired if you suffer from conditions such as arteriosclerosis, anaemia, low blood pressure or shortness of breath.
The brain’s primary energy source is glucose, which is obtained from eating carbohydrate foods. If our blood sugar levels get toolow (hypoglycaemic) brain fog can occur. Complex carbohydrates found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes are the best choice as they’re digested slowly and their sugars are absorbed gradually into the blood stream.
BRAIN BOOSTING NUTRIENTS
Everything we eat and drink affects our brain function and how we think. Our ability to learn new skills, focus on a task and recall memories are all affected by the type and quality of foods we eat.
Eating a well-balanced diet abundant in brain-boosting nutrients such as iodine, choline, B vitamins and essential fatty acids will not only help improve your memory and brain-power but can also help reduce the risk of ageing related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
TOP BRAIN BOOSTING FOODS
Coconut oil is the perfect brain fuel due to it being abundant in medium-chain fatty acids, which is a good energy source for the brain. Buy a good quality organic cold pressed coconut oil. Coconut oil is a healthy oil to use for cooking at higher temperatures as it won’t turn to a harmful trans-fat.
Wild salmon is an excellent choice of oily fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and iodine to help support optimum brain performance and memory. Wild salmon is also rich in the super antioxidant astaxanthin.
Walnuts make a great brain-boosting snack containing alpha-linolenic acid to help improve memory and the antioxidant called ellagic acid, which helps protect the brain from free radical damage. Add walnuts to salads, baked goods, muesli, dips or use a walnut butter spread on toast.
Including more berries in your diet is a simple and delicious way to improve your memory and brain health. Berries have high levels of two potent antioxidants called anthocyanidins and flavanoids, which are associated with lower rates of cognitive decline.
Green tea (Camellia sinensis)has been found to positively influence brain function (1) It has been found to help boost memory and attention and improves mental clarity. Green teas beneficial effects on cognition are due to a combination of L-theanine and caffeine. (2)
Caffeine is considered a nootropic that is known to help improve brain energy. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and increases energy metabolism throughout the brain. (3) This is why so many people rely on their morning cup of coffee or tea to get their brains into gear.
L-theanine, another nootropic compound, has a calming effect. It helps reduce caffeine’s stimulating effect while still enhancing its ability to improve focus and brain function. L-theanine has been found to improve attention, particularly in individuals who are prone to high levels of anxiety. (4)
Lecithin is a group of fat-like substances, including the phosphatidylserine (PS), that are essential for all cells in the body including brain cells. A large proportion of our brain cell membranes are made up of PS. PS is classified as a nootropic. PS is used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is responsible for memory storage and retrieval. PS helps improve focus and attention and also has neuroprotective properties that can help prevent age-related cognitive decline.
PS is naturally found in soybeans (soy lecithin granules) and egg yolks. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of organic soy lecithin granules to your breakfast cereal, salads or smoothies is a perfect way to enhance your brain function.
Eggs are a fabulous memory-boosting food that is rich PS and choline, which are needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine involved in memory. Eggs also provide brain-boosting B vitamins.
Avocadoes are a rich source of the antioxidant vitamin E that helps protect brain cells from oxidative stress caused by a build-up of free radicals. Eating foods high in vitamin E will support brain health and improved cognition, as well as helping reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Other good sources of vitamin E include nuts and seeds. Avocadoes also supply plenty of healthy monounsaturated fats.
BRAIN BOOSTING HERBS
Gingko biloba (Salisburia adiantifolia):
Ginkgo has long been used in China as a traditional medicine for various health disorders including poor memory and concentration. Ginkgo is well known for its ability to improve focus and memory and for enhancing mental performance.
Ginkgo’s brain-boosting benefits are due to its ability to increase circulation to the brain and improve the health of blood vessels. (5)
Ginkgo also increases glucose uptake into brain cells and improves nerve signal transmission which is responsible for memory, mood and task completion.
Research shows that ginkgo can help protect against cognitive decline, particularly in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. (6)
Turmeric (Curcuma longa):
A recent study has found that curcumin, the active compound found in turmeric, can help protect the brain. (7)
Curcumin has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can protect brain cells from free radical damage and help prevent neurodegeneration.
Researchers have found a link between improved cognitive performance and the consumption of turmeric. A study indicated a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and better cognitive performance in Indian people who consumed curcumin in curry on a regular basis. (8)
Brahmi (Bacopa monniera):
Bacopa has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine as a nervous system tonic and for the treatment of a number of disorders including anxiety and poor memory.
Bacopa is a potent adaptogen and a natural stress reliever that helps the body cope with stress in a better way. (9) Bacopa has the ability to invigorate mental processes while making you feel calm.
Studies have found that bacopa can improve higher cognitive processes critical for learning and memory. (10)
You will find these brain boosting herbs in our Bodhi Organic CognitiviTEA.
Written by Lisa Guy, naturopath and founder of Bodhi Organic Tea