Keeping Your Brain Healthy in 2020 and Beyond
As 2020 comes to a close (hurray!), I feel it is important to take some time out and reflect on the mental impact this year has had on oneself. Most people are social by nature, and since human to human contact has been drastically reduced, cognition and mood may be suffering. That is because the brain is like a muscle, and needs constant stimulation to continue to function at peak levels. The social isolation affecting millions of people right now is taking a severe toll, especially on the elderly who often are dependent on human interaction with people close to them, such as family.
The way one thinks plays a big role in mental health as well. Whenever one feels "stuck" in an unpleasant situation, I feel one must position their thinking into a possibility mode, and to know that one always has options to make things better, rather than mentally tough it out and "look on the brighter side", which often does not work. Our brains our wired to constantly seek new possibilities and opportunities, which can establish healthy goals and improve our mood.
In addition to the mental stimulation our brains require, there are nutritional requirements needed to keep our brain in tip top shape. The brain is an extremely metabolically active organ, and weighing in at around just 3 pounds, it proportionally uses far more energy than the rest of the body. As a Nutritionist, I feel most mood and memory impairments are really metabolic, nutritional, inflammatory, and lifestyle imbalances, rather than just chemical imbalances. While pharmaceuticals can come in handy, they often function as a "band-aid", and do not get to the core problem.
Two big players in keeping a brain metabolically happy are a stable glucose supply and adequate oxygen via healthy circulation. I feel foods are the best ways to keep these in check. A recent favorite of mine is cacao or cocoa powder. Cocoa has been shown to improve circulation and cardiovascular function, and may even improve circulation in the brain. It also contains compounds that produce anandamide, a feel good chemical the body makes that acts on the cannabinoid receptor. This may support happiness and increase socialization pleasure. Cocoa also increases serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain, which both have a positive influence on mood.
Please keep in mind that the cocoa found in chocolate ice cream or chocolate bars will not act the same. All the refined sugar in these products will counter many of the positive health and mood benefits of the cocoa. But that does not mean you cannot still enjoy cacao. Cocoa or cacao powder can make a great addition to a healthy smoothie. Note that cacao powder is less processed, and likely even more beneficial in terms of nutritional content and health benefits.
For those that are seeking to improve their brain health, I encourage you to check out My 4 Week Detox Program that contains many recipes that support brain cognition and mood.