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Brain Health 101: Initial steps to reduce cognitive issues

How do you keep your brain healthy? First of all, it's not a muscle, but it does respond to exercise. The more you use it, certainly the more you retain it...IF you are also balancing your diet, sleep and stress levels.


How does diet affect your brain health?


First of all, brain cells feed on primarily 2 things: glucose (sugar) and oxygen. A lack of either one of these elements can cause lowered level of consciousness as well fatigue, memory and concentration problems. On top of that, 'starving' the brain cells leads to death of brain cells. That's no good! A very common type of diet that favors proteins and fats and does not provide enough carbohydrates can cause cognitive problems.


The brain needs glucose (carbohydrates)! New research suggests that lack of glucose causes cognitive impairment typical of cognitive disorders like dementia (Sandoiu, 2017). Blood sugar fluctuates throughout the day, but when the blood sugar falls, it can cause immediate problems with judgement, memory and reasoning. Keeping your levels stable is important. According to Harvard Medical School, half of the glucose you consume a day (on a regular diet) goes to feed the brain (Edwards, 2020).


However, too much sugar can cause havoc as well. Continuously high levels of glucose, which can be a form of diabetes, can actually cause brain cells to age. High blood sugar levels can also affect brain matter and actually cause brain shrinkage!


How does sleep affect your brain health?


The brain needs a break! Proper sleep is necessary to 're-calibrate' your brain. In addition, the only time that the body is able to repair itself is when you sleep. During sleep, connections for memory are formed, so without adequate sleep, short and long term memory is impacted. Not only that, lack of sleep can increase your risk for psychiatric issues (inability to function and cope as normal) and neurogenerative diseases.


A little known process occurs during sleep where waste products are removed...in a system called the glymphatic system composed of glial cells whose function is to remove brain 'trash'. If someone goes a long time without sleep, clumps of waste products (toxin) can build up in the brain!


How does stress affect the brain?


Prolonged and chronic stress can leave cortisol levels to store in high amounts in the brain. This can cause the way the brain communicates to change. It can mess up the ability of the brain neurotransmitters to work properly and can kills brain cells and also shrink the brain! This stress can lead specifically to cause this shrinking to occur in the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning (Bernstein, 2016).



Therefore, if you are feeling forgetful and having problems concentrating, look into these three areas of you life and see what might be causing it!


References


Bernstein, R. The mind and mental health: How stress affects the brain. Health and Human Services, July 26, 2016. Retrieved February 19, 2020 from https://www.tuw.edu/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/


Edwards, S. Sugar and the brain. Harvard Medical School: Balvatnik Institute: Neurobiology. Retrieved February 19, 2020 from https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain/sugar-and-brain


Sandoiu, A. Low levels of glucose in the brain may trigger Alzheimer's published in Medical News Today. Retrieved February 19, 2020 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/315571




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