How To Have A Healthy Brain
By Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D., BCIA-EEG
Today many people are worried about the health of their brains. They fear getting old and developing dementia. Both of my parents developed this condition and watching them deteriorate was emotionally very difficult. Most people can relate to this problem, but problems that affect the brain can be caused by a variety of sources and affect people of all ages.
Protect the head from injury. While concussions are obvious sources of injury, less serious hits and whiplashes can also produce long lasting, but less recognizable, physical and behavioral effects. The electrical connections inside the brain can be damaged without the brain having enough injury to cause a concussion. The resulting cognitive deficits are most difficult for family and friends to understand. The person affected often seems normal but may not be able to remember events or understand instructions. Cognitive changes can also involve disorders of attention, concentration and memory, as well as difficulties with planning daily activities, poor reasoning and judgment. Some behavioral effects include becoming agitated and irritable easily, verbal and physical aggressiveness, and impulsivity. Many times the effects of head injury may be diagnosed as oppositional behavior, attention deficit disorder, depression or learning disabilities.
Protect the brain and the body from toxic exposure. Exposure to many materials in our environment can have an effect on how our brain functions. Among the most obvious are toxins in tobacco smoke, excessive alcohol, and illegal drug exposure. However, we are exposed to many more environmental substances on a daily basis. Many of the products in our homes and offices (including furniture, carpeting, flooring, fabrics, cookware, office equipment, cleaning supplies and food packaging) can contain toxins that can be stored in our bodies and affect how our brain functions over time. Take the time to learn about toxic exposure from the materials in our environment and how to protect yourself from unnecessary exposure.
Eat a healthy diet. The food that you eat affects your brain and how it functions. In general, the foods that are good for your heart are good for your brain. Eat foods that are rich in antioxidants such as tea, green tea, most berries, especially blueberries, broccoli, spinach, oranges, red wine, and our own North Carolina grown muscadine grapes. These grapes have been shown to have an antioxidant level over 40 time that of an ordinary grape. Foods rich in Omega 3 oils such as wild salmon, walnuts and some other foods are essential for brain health. Low levels of Omega 3 oils have been linked to depression, (especially post partum depression) bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, memory loss, and trouble learning new tasks. Most people today are not able to eat a healthy balanced diet and should consider taking vitamin and mineral supplements as well as Omega 3 supplements.
Exercise Regular exercise is important for brain health. It provides enhanced blood flow to the brain and appears to reduce nerve cell death in the gray matter of the brain. Exercise promotes the production of new cells and increases the performance of synaptic connections between cells that is believed to assist in forming long-term memories.
Laugh. Laughter helps to oxygenate the brain cells and move the lymph fluid around the body, boosting the immune system. During laughter, the body produces a number of healthy body chemicals that produce positive healing effects. Hardy laughter can also produce the effects of physical exercise and well as just making a person feel good.
Maintain Social Ties. People who maintain strong social networks with friends and family have been better memory and cognitive abilities as well as a reduced risk of developing dementia.
Sleep. During sleep, the brain consulates memory, boosts the immune system, and repairs itself. Sleep deprivation can lead to accidents, poor concentration and mood disorders.
Stress levels have been shown to have effects on the brain. Chronic stress can affect the quality of our lives and impair our health. Chronic stress triggers hormone release that over time can impair a structure in the brain called the hippocampus causing it to shrink and impair memory. Many types of activities can assist a person in learning to manage their stress more effectively. However, the learning curve can be long because the person does not know how effectively they are learning the skill. Biofeedback has been proven to reduce the learning curve. When a person learns to manage stress using biofeedback, he/she actually sees the results on a computer screen in real time and receives constant feedback about how their behavior is affecting their stress level and their bodies. Many clients can start to feel the difference in their stress levels as well as physical and cognitive symptoms in one to two sessions of heart rate variability training, general stress training or capnometry (measuring CO2 levels) training.
Train Your Brain.
Keeping mentally active has been linked to healthier brain performance, especially learning new skills. When someone learns a new skill or new knowledge, he/she forms new links in the brain. By continuously forming new links or connections, the brain has more reserve and continues to function better. Many new computer software programs to improve cognitive fitness have been developed in the past few years. While long term studies of the benefit of these programs have not been published, most people who participate in these programs report improvement in memory and function.
Another way to train the brain is through Neurofeedback. In this training, sensors are temporarily pasted onto the scalp and the electrical activity of the brain is monitored. The brain's frequencies can be trained to improve performance. One training procedure called Brain Brightening helped a number of senior citizens to improve their cognitive skills and coincidentally improved their ability to play in their bridge tournaments. In the past few years, people with early stage Alzheimer's disease have received neurofeedback training and were able to resume their regular activities with no impairment. Follow up a year later showed that the improvement had been maintained over that period of time.
Neurofeedback has also successfully used to reduce the symptoms caused by stroke and head injury. People who have received training have reported gains in both cognitive symptoms and physical impairment. Some clients have started training up to five years post injury and still saw improvement.
For more information contact Dr. Gail Sanders Durgin, Neurofeedback Associates, 2311 West Cone Blvd. Suite 227, Greensboro, NC 336-540-1972
Published in The Art of Well Being, Winter 2008