For many people, the prospect of age-related deterioration of brain function is accepted as a given, but this does not have to be the case! Neurological function can be augmented, and deterioration can often be halted with the right approach to treatment. The first step is gaining an understanding of the issues that lead to decreased brain health. These can include nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins, head injuries and neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
Optimizing brain nutrition is key. This varies by person, as individuals have different chemistries, but there are some generalities. Essential fatty acids (especially one called docosahexaenoic acid or DHA) are important nutrients for the brain that many people benefit from for both long- and short-term brain health. The brain and nervous systems are primarily composed of fats, and without them the brain simply cannot function optimally. A good source of these fats is found in fish oil, but it is very important to get the correct dose from a high-quality brand. Another component to good brain and nervous system health is electrolyte balance. Magnesium is a crucial electrolyte that is severely lacking in many diets. As it is a co-factor in thousands of biochemical reactions in the brain, it is important to ensure that you supplement with enough of it to make up for what is often lacking in the diet.
The discussion of electrolytes lends itself to further testing that can be ordered to determine the status of 35 micronutrients, many of which play a crucial role in optimal brain function. These nutrients are not part of a standard medical panel, but specialty testing (covered partially by insurance in most cases) can uncover deficiencies that, once discovered, can be corrected simply. If there is an imbalance in certain micronutrients, it can also be a sign of the body’s attempt to combat environmental toxicities. Heavy metal toxins (among other toxins) are often stored in the brain and nervous system because of their high fat content. By balancing out certain deficiencies, you can improve your body’s natural ability to get rid of toxicity and improve your brain health, naturally!
Other factors that can give way to brain deterioration are head traumas (both serious and slight) and lack of use. The brain is a very sensitive organ, and even what seems like a non-serious head injury can have much greater downstream consequences. A good first step is to take all head injuries, even whiplash, seriously and seek appropriate care such as neurofeedback, discussed below. In regard to dementia, studies have shown that people who engage their brains through puzzles, games and logic questions tend to be less likely to develop these types of conditions. This could be because the brain incurs more blood flow when it is working harder. This increased blood flow leads to improved brain health.
One of our favorite ways to optimize brain function at Insights To Health is neurofeedback. This is a type of biofeedback in which the neurons in the brain are regenerated and blocked pathways are freed, in turn leading to greater concentration/memory, improved sleep, decreased anxiety and depression, and balanced moods. Neurofeedback causes the brain to forge new pathways, increasing brain function. It is also referred to as “Brain Training” as it literally optimizes the way your brain works. In a nutshell, it reads the tiny signals created by the brain and then responds with signals back to the brain to improve the way the brain fires. Being a non-invasive, medication-free, permanent solution, it is extremely popular with children and adults. This extremely gentle therapy requires just a few moments of sitting peacefully in a chair, but yields fantastic results. It can help to prevent the onset of dementia, slow down the process of dementia and stem the progression of Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and other brain-mediated conditions such as fibromyalgia and migraine headaches.
The recommendations represented in this article should be discussed with your doctor. A visit with a naturopathic physician can help you find an individualized care plan to help address your specific needs and help you to live your best life.
Dr. Christie Winkelman, N.D., M.A., is owner and director of Insights to Health Clinic in Multnomah Village, a full-service family naturopathic and neurofeedback clinic. She and her husband, Dr. Gil Winkelman, are members of Neveh Shalom, and their children attend Portland Jewish Academy.