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Joanna Foley, RD, CLT
Joanna Foley, RD, CLT, is a registered dietitian and the owner of a private nutrition consulting business at joannafoleynutrition.com.
Living a long and healthy life means taking care of every part of your body. While it is common to give attention to things like your heart, limbs, and gut, your brain can be an overlooked area, but one that still warrants good care.
Your brain is the control center of your body. If it doesn’t work properly, nearly every other part can start to decline or develop problems. That is why it is so important to keep your brain working in peak condition.
Keep reading to learn about natural things you can do to charge up your brain function.
Foods for brain health
The foods you eat play a large role in keeping your brain healthy and supporting a positive mood. Multiple studies show that healthy, balanced diets improve cognitive function and may lower the risk of depression and other mental and mood disorders. Food supplies important nutrients that are required to produce neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals that help regulate your mood.
Some of the best foods to support brain function include:
- Fermented foods. These include foods like kefir, yogurt with live and active cultures, kombucha, miso, and sauerkraut. Fermented foods supply a natural source of probiotics, which are known for supporting digestion and a healthy gut microbiome. Because of the connection between your gut and brain, known as the gut brain axis, probiotics can support brain function as well and have been shown by research to have a positive impact on mood and mental health conditions by helping produce and regulate neurotransmitters.
- Berries-Berries contain flavonoids, which are plant compounds that give them their bright color and can help improve memory. Research shows that eating berries can also prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s disease. In addition, berries are rich in antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation, improve cell survival and nerve cell transmission.
- Green leafy vegetables– Foods like spinach, kale, arugula, and romaine lettuce provide sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, which improve overall brain function and can help slow cognitive decline (more about this down below).
- Tea & coffee. Natural caffeine from beverages like green tea and coffee has been found to improve mental alertness, focus, memory, and overall brain performance. Just be sure to enjoy versions that aren’t loaded with added sugars.
- Fatty fish. You probably hear about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish often, and for good reason. About 60% of your brain is made up of fat, and essential omega-3 fats provide anti-inflammatory properties that play a huge role in determining your brain’s integrity and ability to perform. Examples of fatty fish include tuna, salmon, sardines, herring, and trout. Omega-3 fats can also be taken in supplement form.
- Walnuts. While all nuts can be brain-supportive by providing the antioxidant vitamin E as well as minerals like magnesium, walnuts have the added benefit of providing a type of essential omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Studies also show that regularly eating walnuts can protect against the damaging effects of oxidative stress and inflammation and protect against cognitive decline, mood disorders, and many other aspects of your health.
- Vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables. These include things like oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi, mango, and bell peppers. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and is a key factor in protecting brain cells and preventing mental decline.
Supplements to charge up brain function
While food should always come first when it comes to health, there are many supplements that can also be widely beneficial for supporting brain health. Scientists have discovered a class of supplements called “nootropics”, or “smart drugs”, which are compounds that can enhance brain performance. They work by increasing mental functioning including memory, creativity, learning ability, attention span, and motivation.
Nootropics and other supplements that support brain health include:
- Gingko Biloba- this is a type of nootropic that has been shown by research to have protective effects on the brain. It has been used to treat many brain disorders including Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive disorders, and it works as an antioxidant in the body.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin. These are plant compounds called carotenoids that are responsible for giving fruits and vegetables their bright colors. They serve as antioxidants in the body and are best known for their role in supporting eye health, including reducing the risk for age-related macular degeneration. In addition, research shows that they can improve brain function by enhancing memory, improving visual processing, and overall cognitive health.
- Bacopa. This is another ancient medicinal herb that may help boost brain function as well as alleviate anxiety and stress.
- Gotu kola. This herb has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Studies show it has the potential to benefit several aspects of brain function including improved memory, attention, and reaction time.
Keep in mind that while all of these supplements have proposed benefits, you should not take all of them at the same time. Deciding which ones may be right for you should be discussed with a trusted healthcare provider.
Other things to support brain health
In addition to what you out in your body, there are other things that can help charge up brain function, including:
- Exercises– to help keep brain sharp, you have to use and challenge it regularly. Examples of things that exercise your brain include learning something new, word puzzles, and number games. Some research shows that weight training, or resistance exercise, may also help improve cognitive function. You can read more about that in this post.
- Sleep-Your brain recharges and resets itself while you sleep, so the importance of good sleep cannot be understated when it comes to improving brain function. Not getting enough sleep negatively impacts many things including attention span, reaction time, learning abilities, alertness, mood, hand-eye coordination, and even short-term memory. You can read more about the risks of not getting enough sleep and natural remedies to improve sleep in this post.
Charge up brain function: It’s the smart thing to do
There are many factors that play a role in the health of your brain. While not everything is in your control, you can take steps daily by choosing the foods you put on your plate, the supplements you take, the things you fill your mind with, and more. Taking small actions can lead to big results.
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