If you’re like me, one of the most unpleasant undercurrents in your daily routine is the constant stress your brain is exposed to as it navigates through the decision trees necessary to coordinate life.
It sucks, but there’s no getting around it. Your short term working memory can juggle six things before it starts to break. Six. The most common cause of anxiety is an excessive amount of “decision trees” to ponder in order to make a choice. Your brain freaks out when it has more information than it can chew on.
So keeping your brain in good shape is a sine qua non to successful living.
So how can food help you do it? How can’t it help you do it?
Don’t Get Your Hopes Up
Your brain and its nervous system exist in a decentralized equilibria within the rest of your body to compete for energy and nutrients. And it competes extremely hard. About 20% of your caloric intake and 40% of your blood glucose gets sucked up by your brain in order to do what it needs to. It uses your central nervous system as its bodyguard to filter out toxins and bully hormones into telling other organs to acquiesce to its demands.
The decentralized nature of your neural processes makes specific treatment for conditions very difficult. Most clinical drugs to treat alzheimers have been abysmal failures for this reason. Some people are even referring to degenerative neural conditions as type 3 diabetes.
So the “food as medicine” metaphor doesn’t literally hold true in this case. “Lifestyle as medicine” would be more accurate. But your brain does rely on a few specific nutrients and metabolic processes on a regular basis and these foods will help your brain get from point A to point B.
Lecithin is a phospholipid found inside your cell walls and the fatty sheath coating your central nervous system. A supramajority of your body’s metabolism of phospholipids happens in your brain, and it needs a steady supply of phospholipids to keep itself happy. It’s also an important component of myelin, the fatty coating in your CNS which helps transport various messenger signals to and from your body.
In most cases defective cognition is improved with the addition of lecithin. This is particularly true in alzheimers, where the combination of lecithin and physostigmine helps improve mental performance.
Gingko biloba is the most popular brain enhancing substance and also one of the most disputed. It’s probably not a remedy for specific conditions but is a docile enhancer of general cognitive function if digested regularly.
It has radical scavenging activities that are particularly active around the nervous system and helps improve circulation in capillaries close to the brain. These activities are due to phytochemicals that are appropriately named gingkoloids.
Also known as Indian Ginseng, it’s an herb that helps you sleep and is used as a building block for anti-dementia drugs. The different types of ginseng all seem to exert mild neuroprotective effects, but none as much as Ashwagandha.
It’s been a staple of ayurvedic mental treatments for many years, and it seems to work by improving neural regeneration within the hippocampus. If taking ashwagandha it’s best to take the root and not the leaf, since the root contains all of the plants biologically active components.
Not commonly grouped with natural brain enhancers, I think grape seed (and its extract) is one of the sleeping tigers of nootropic substances. It doesn’t have anything that specifically targets the brain, but its widespread effects on circulation and inflammatory responses promote certain types of metabolic health which are very important for cognitive functioning.
Particularly circulation. Your brain is constantly sieving the bloodstream for sugar and oxygen, and consistent access to this nutrient pool is priority one for your its survival. It’s not an accident that the incidence of circulatory disorders such as stroke, heart attack and mental impairments are tightly correlated. Problems with circulation beget problems with cognition.
And it’s with this problem that grape seed is so helpful. It’s a powerful metabolic regulator, particularly when it comes to vasodilation. Grape seed helps your veins “relax”, and helps blood pump throughout the body. It’s used as an adjunct to surgeries for this reason, and helps control various regulatory disorders such as blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.
Wrapping It Up
Cracking the nut of improved cognitive function is a difficult task. Your brain’s tasks are not uniform and the common denominator among the foods listed here are the disparate nature of their benefits. There’s no synergy among them. There’s a reason conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia are conditions and not diseases. They’re too vague to specifically treat.