Brain fog, poor memory, difficulty concentrating, mental fatigue, decision fatigue…
Many people consider these an unfortunate part of normal daily life or aging, but the truth is they don’t have to be! Anything less than optimal function is not normal, and there are simple steps you can take to think clearer, improve energy, and sharpen your mind.
More importantly, you can prevent cognitive decline, memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s by implementing lifestyle changes now that protect brain health and function down the road. So let’s look at 8 strategies to boost brain function and prevent cognitive decline!
1. Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check
Here’s a sobering statistic, patients with diabetes are 4 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. However, even if you don’t have full-blown diabetes, insulin resistance, blood sugar spikes, and a high-sugar, low-fat diet all disrupt brain function in both the short and long term.
Maintaining stable blood sugar with a whole foods diet helps improve day-to-day brain function and prevents cognitive decline as you age.
2. Get Plenty of Omega 3s
Your brain is actually 60% fat, so it makes sense that you need to eat good fats to keep it functioning optimally. Omega 3 fatty acids, in particular, support healthy cell membranes, optimal brain function, and protect the myelin sheaths that carry brain signals.
One study found that Omega 3s from seafood have an even greater positive impact on cognitive skills in people with the “Alzheimer’s gene,” the APOE4 genetic variant.
Omega 3s also fight inflammation, which contributes to brain fog, depression, Alzheimer’s, and virtually every chronic illness, so eat plenty of fatty fish like wild-caught salmon, mackerel, and herring, or take a high-quality omega 3 supplement.
3. Add in Antioxidants
Brain inflammation is a major contributor in neurological conditions from brain fog to dementia. One of our body’s natural defenses against inflammation is antioxidants, which shield nerve cells in your brain against free radicals and oxidative stress.
A type of antioxidants called flavonoids are particularly helpful for improving memory and they can be found in berries, leafy greens, and dark chocolate.
4. Maintain Good Cholesterol
Surprisingly, the biggest risk to brain health when it comes to cholesterol is having too little of it.
That’s because the brain has a higher cholesterol content than any other organ. In fact, about 25% of your body’s cholesterol is in your brain. While high levels of bad cholesterol increase your risk for heart disease, low levels of good cholesterol can be equally problematic.
Conventional doctors often jump straight to cholesterol-lowering medications called statins at the slightest sign of high cholesterol, but these medications have been linked to memory loss due to their effect on the brain.
5. Relieve Stress & Get Plenty of Sleep
Understandably, stress makes you feel disoriented and forgetful in the moment, but it also changes the way your brain functions, leading to difficulty with forming and recalling memories. Plus, it stimulates the release of glucose from your liver, elevating blood sugar levels even when you’re not eating!
Getting a full night of restful sleep is one of your most powerful tools to relieve stress and induce autophagy, where cells destroy damaged proteins and mitochondria, making way for new, healthier cells.
6. Exercise Regularly
Exercise increases the size of the hippocampus, which is key for memory and shrinks in Alzheimer’s. It also decreases stress and inflammation, improves sleep, and reduces insulin resistance.
So make sure you’re staying active! Even if it’s just a 30-minute walk with your family after dinner or taking the stairs instead of the elevator, every little bit helps.
7. Repair your Gut
Have you heard the saying that the gut is the second brain? While this may sound strange, your gut contains 500 million neurons, which are connected to your brain through your nervous system.
This forms a two-way connection between your gut and your brain, and dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in gut bacteria, along with gut infections such as SIBO, Candida, and parasites can all disrupt brain function and chemistry.
8. Balance your Hormones
Alzheimer’s and dementia are more common in women than men, and scientists believe this may be linked to a decrease in hormone levels as you age. In fact, women who have their ovaries removed before menopause without starting hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, have double the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
However, it’s important to look beyond absolute values of your hormones to the ratio of specific estrogen and progesterone levels, as this impacts brain fog and poor memory. Thyroid hormones and testosterone also play key roles in brain function, so it’s best to work with a functional medicine practitioner to run comprehensive testing and evaluate your risk.
Whether you want to sharpen your mind now or prevent serious cognitive decline as you age, taking a proactive, root cause view of your brain health is essential.
The one thing you don’t want to do is wait for severe damage to prevent itself, stealing your joy, cherished memories, and independence.
At GrassRoots Functional Medicine, we partner with patients for a comprehensive approach to preventing and reversing disease. If you’re looking for a proven approach based on sustainable lifestyle changes, guidance, and accountability, we’d love to work with you.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!