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Wellness: Boost Your Brain Power

Our most complex organ, the brain, represents just 2% of body weight, yet it uses 20% of the total blood volume and 25% of its daily oxygen intake. The brain is also extremely sensitive to nutritional deficiencies. Appropriate dietary correction, the use of supplements, and a little mental and physical exercise can do much for curing insomnia and depression, learning disabilities and memory loss.

The brain's main source of energy is glucose, however, the need for glucose doesn’t mean that loading up on soft drinks, desserts and sweets is appropriate. Refined carbohydrates (white sugar, bleached flour, refined pasta, milled rice and commercial baked goods) are best avoided. Unrefined complex carbohydrates (whole-grain breads and cereals, brown rice, legumes and root vegetables, especially carrots and sweet potatoes) provide a steadier supply of fuel to the brain. These foods are also good sources of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), which are necessary for brain cell health and the production of neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that facilitate communication among brain cells or neurons. For example, the neurotransmitter serotonin regulates sleep and pain and influences mood. Some good sources of quality amino acids are free-range eggs, fish, organic meats, beans, nuts and seeds.

Even before wrinkles and grey hair make their first appearance, many people begin noticing the first sign of aging: loss of short-term memory. Short-term memory loss reflects wear and tear on the brain, typically oxidative damage from free radicals.

According to most researchers, the single most reliable way to protect our brain cells as we age is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables which are chock-full of antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

The B-complex vitamin family is essential to healthy brain function. Low levels of B vitamins are associated with memory loss while higher levels assist the brain to make new neurotransmitters and to fight off disease. Good food sources are whole grains, leafy greens, legumes, free-range eggs and natural yogurts. In supplement form, look for well-balanced formulas containing the whole vitamin Bl complex, because this group works together.

Your diet should also contain good sources of vitamins E and C. For vitamin E, look to fresh wheat germ, walnuts, almonds and eggs; vitamin C is found in fresh fruits, apples, organs, tomatoes and many vegetables. Supplements can also be useful if you are not consuming enough for these foods.

Several minerals play key roles in boosting brain power. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese are all important for neurotransmitter activity. Chromium, a trace mineral, aids in blood-sugar regulation. Iron helps transport oxygen. Some good food sources for minerals include leafy greens, alfalfa and seaweed product such as kelp.

Brain cells also depend on essential fatty acids. These are found in the omega-3 and omega-6 oils found in ocean fish, fresh nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables and cold-pressed unrefined olive oil. Because fats are highly concentrated nutrients, use them sparingly.

Frequent, smaller meals will help you to avoid blood sugar lows, which can affect mental capacity. Avoid foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame. These additives are known as neurotoxins (brain poisons), as are the pesticide and herbicide residues found in many foods. Drink clean, filtered water.

Here are some “brain-boosting” supplements which are essentially antioxidants and neurotransmitter enhancers:

--Ginkgo biloba has been the focus of much medical research spanning at least 30 years. Regular use has been known to increase and regulate blood flow to all tissues in the body, especially the brain. Researchers found that Ginkgo extract improved reasoning, memory, and the ability to learn. Lecithin is responsible for the formation of acetycholine, a neurotransmitter important to both memory and thought. Good food sources are Brazil nuts, soybeans and mung beans.

--Vitamin E prevents cell damage and slows mental decline. According to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine, vitamin E is effective in slowing the progression of Alzheimer disease. Co-enzyme Q-10 is necessary for the generation of energy in all cells. It improves blood circulation to the brain and acts as a potent antioxidant.

--B-complex vitamins: Niacin is used in the manufacture of neurotransmitters. It increases blood flow to the brain by widening blood vessels. Pantothenic acid is crucial to the synthesis of acetycholine. Folic acid enhances cerebral circulation. Together with B12 and B6, folic acid helps to control the toxic amino acid homocysteine.

--Bee pollen contains a full spectrum of amino acids, minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids. It is reported to increase mental and physical energy, to heighten concentration and to improve memory.

--Rosemary is known as ?reg;the memory herb.” Ancient Greeks deemed it a brain rejuvenator. This potent, fat-soluble antioxidant is readily absorbed by brain and nerve tissue.

Brain cells are like muscles; use them or lose them. Exercise your brain as well as your body daily. Card games such as bridge or board games such as chess or checkers are logical activities that exercise the brain, so do word games such as crossword puzzles and anagrams. Read stimulating books, embark on interesting projects or take a class in a subject that has always intrigued you. Walk, dance, swim, golf, do yoga or tai chi. Physical exercise delivers blood to the brain while reducing the stress hormones that can damage brain cells.

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