Contributed by: Priyaish Srivastava
The brain is by far one of the most important of all the organs in the body. It gives us the means of expressing emotions, coordinating body movements, and storing memories from the past, which makes us distinct from the animal kingdom. Every individual with good brain health benefits from optimum cognitive, emotional, psychological, and behavioral functions to cope with life challenges.
The brain is the body’s main control center and a part of the central nervous system or CNS (the other one being the spinal cord). If brain damage occurs, it can appear as intellectual developmental disorders, autism spectrum disorders, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, dementia, cerebrovascular diseases, headache, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, neuro infections, brain tumors, traumatic injury, and neurological disorders caused by malnutrition.
Many people are unaware of the importance that brain health plays in their lives until they start noticing any cognitive changes and/or memory loss as they get older. However, brain development and brain health depend upon several interconnected social and biological determinants from the beginning to the end of life.
Some social factors that affect brain health can be unemployment, lack of education, poverty, job insecurity, income inequality, insufficient healthy diet, and stress. On the other hand, hereditary transmission of schizophrenia, autism, manic depressive disease, severe depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or panic disorder is some of the biological variables that may impair brain health.
Although sometimes a person’s social or biological determinants may not have any negative impact (depending on the person’s quality of life) on their brain health, however, being exposed to certain harmful lifestyle habits might give rise to complications of the brain.
Habits that can harm the brain
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Skipping breakfast
- Excessive junk food
- High sugar consumption
- Lack of sleep
- Covering the head when sleeping (lowers O2 density in the brain, a contributing factor to brain damage)
- Working or studying during sickness
- Spending too much time alone
- Listening to loud music on headphones
- Lack of physical activity
- Staying in a dark room for long durations
Common symptoms of mental illness
As the brain has an impact on every part of the body, an unfit brain might produce symptoms that could easily impact various functions and parts of the body. For example, anxiety can cause stomachaches. Some of the common symptoms of mental health issues include:
- Stomach ailments like diarrhea, stomachaches, and changes in appetite
- Sleeping disorders
- Vision complications
- A problem in thinking and concentrating
- Apathy (loss of care for others)
Lifestyle changes for a healthy brain
Implementing healthy lifestyle practices not only improves brain health but also promotes overall well-being. The recommended lifestyle changes for a healthy brain include:
- Exercising regularly: Exercising regularly increases the amount of blood flow to the brain. Some research studies have shown that people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Walking, jogging, aerobics, or any other exercise that moderately increases heart rate can improve brain health.
- Getting plenty of sleep: Some studies suggest that getting enough sleep helps in improving brain function by removing abnormal proteins like beta-amyloid and tau from the brain that leads to Alzheimer’s disease. Sleeping for at least seven to eight hours every night also helps in storing the memories effectively.
- Stay mentally and socially active: This must-implement lifestyle change decreases depression and stress, which are some of the common causes of memory loss. Habits such as solving crossword puzzles, sudoku, reading, or putting together a jigsaw puzzle can help in staying mentally active and improve brain health. Talking to friends or family about your day or situations that might be bothering you are some ways to stay socially active.
- Consume a healthy and balanced diet: Consuming plant-based foods, whole grains, and olive oil (contains healthy fats) can help boost brain health. Consuming a diet rich in red meat and salt is harmful to the brain.
Best foods & drinks for a healthy brain:
- Blueberries: Blueberries and other deep-colored berries are high in antioxidants, which are beneficial to the brain as they may help to slow down the aging of the brain and boost memory.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is a yellow-colored spice enriched with a compound called curcumin which has remedial antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming turmeric benefits the brain by reducing the symptoms of depression and Alzheimer’s disease and also helps in the growth of new brain cells.
- Broccoli: Broccoli is enriched with great antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, and also vitamin K which helps in the formation of sphingolipids, a fat present in the brain. This fat is essential as it helps in the maintenance and functioning of the nervous system.
- Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds are packed with the goodness of micronutrients like zinc, copper, iron, and magnesium that are very important for brain health. Zinc helps in nerve signaling and prevents the brain from Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and Parkinson’s. Copper helps control nerve signals and prevent neurodegenerative disorders. Iron helps in preventing brain fog, and magnesium helps in memory boosting and protecting the brain from migraines, depression, and epilepsy.
- Nuts: A wide range of nuts help promote heart health and also a healthy brain as they are enriched with healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E. Some easily available nuts such as walnuts, cashew, almonds, pistachio, etc. can help prevent cognitive decline in the elderly, sharpen memory, and help protect the brain cells from damage.
- Oranges: Oranges are packed with vitamin C and can help increase focus, memory, attention, and decision-making speed. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can prevent the onset of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and even Alzheimer’s. Common foods enriched with vitamin C include bell peppers, guava, kiwi, tomatoes, and strawberries.
- Green tea: Green tea helps boost brain functions by improving alertness, performance, memory, and focus. It is also enriched with L-theanine, an amino acid that helps in reducing anxiety and fatigue. Green tea is also enriched with polyphenols and antioxidants that can protect the brain from mental decline, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Maintaining a healthy brain is very crucial for the overall functioning of the body. If a person experiences any of the aforementioned symptoms, he/she should immediately consult a doctor, while implementing the recommended lifestyle/dietary changes as preventive measures against brain issues.
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