For decades we have been bombarded with information on heart health, especially on what to eat (or not to eat) to keep our hearts healthy and functioning well. But what about the brain? It is also significantly affected by what we eat. For many people, their greatest fear is losing their mind or memory as they age. The good news is that current research indicates that we can effectively improve brain health, even in our later years.
Hormones are chemical messengers produced in the body that control and regulate the activity of certain cells or organs. Neurohormones have an essential impact on the brain. The human body produces hundreds of hormones, but the following four of them have a straightforward influence on brain health/mental health:
- Thyroid – energy regulation
- Estrogen – mood modulator
- Progesterone – nature’s anti-anxiety hormone
- Testosterone – mood, motivation, sexuality, strength
Relationship between hormones and the brain
Communication between the brain and hormones goes both ways. The brain sends out signals that instruct your body’s glands to produce and release hormones, and hormones from within the body send messages back to the brain that influences its activity. When hormones are healthy, you tend to feel vibrant and energetic. When the hormones that affect your brain neurohormones are off, you are off. You may experience symptoms that change the way you think, feel, and act in negative ways. It also makes you more vulnerable to conditions like anxiety, depression, and even psychosis. If nobody checks your hormone levels, you will never know the root cause of your issues. And if your hormones are the problem, no amount of psychiatric medications will get you right.
The components that make up the brain consist of trillions of nerve cells called neurons. Each neuron has branch-like tentacles, called dendrites, for receiving information and a tail-like tentacle, called an axon, for sending information. The dendrites and axon of one neuron reach over to but do not quite touch other neurons. The gaps or spaces between the neurons are called synapses. Each neuron has many dendrites and synapses, providing a vast number of potential connections.
How Brain Cells work
Brain cells communicate with each other by releasing chemicals, called neurotransmitters, which travel over the synapses to relay information between brain cells. Neurotransmitters relay every thought and feeling we experience. Researchers know that there are many different kinds of neurotransmitters, but have identified only about 50 of them so far. Some of the most common neurotransmitters are:
- Adrenaline (epinephrine)
- Noradrenaline (norepinephrine)
The different parts of the brain produce different types of Neurotransmitters and, in turn, also respond differently to the various neurotransmitters, depending on a variety of factors. For example, neurotransmission can be weak or strong, depending on the quantity and quality of neurotransmitter molecules, how well those molecules bind to their receptors, and whether or not there are enough receptors present. Current research indicates that each of these factors is affected by diet, exercise, hydration, and hormone balance.
When brain cells do not get the nutrients they need, neurotransmitter production and processing is affected almost immediately activity level, and thought processes begin to slow down. On the other hand, when brain cells get too much glucose (a primary brain nutrient), we experience an immediate “sugar high” in which both our body and brain go into overdrive, for a short time, usually followed by a commensurate “crash” or low period. Optimal conditions for neurotransmission provide the basis for healthy mental functioning.
Long-term or chronic imbalances, primarily hormone imbalances, can lead to severe problems such as:
- Changes in thinking, such as losing your train of thought and trouble prioritizing.
- Speech changes such as difficulty remembering the names of places or people you have known for a long time, and relying on “filler” words like “you know what I mean” when trying to express yourself.
- Attention changes. Such as being more distracted or listening but not paying attention or not hearing.
- Memory changes, both short and long-term, such as taking longer to retrieve memories, doing so with less accuracy, and forgetting something you just did.
- Behavioural changes, such as briefly forgetting how to do something you once knew.
- Altered sense of time, including forgetting appointments or events of personal importance.
- Spatial skill changes such as briefly forgetting how to get to familiar places or known landmarks.
Ways you can maintain and improve the Brain Health
We used to think that brain cells grew as we developed, levelling off at some point in our adulthood, and then declining as we age. That notion was recently replaced with the realization that brain cells are continually changing, growing new dendrites and receptors, and creating new synapses.
Carper states that even adult brains can grow brand new cells! … For the first time in human history, scientists are beginning to understand how profoundly a person can influence the factors that control brain functioning— through food, supplements, and simple lifestyle changes, including mental and physical exercise.” Dr Dharma Singh Khalsa also uses a multifaceted approach and believes that an “optimal brain” is the result of a series of personal choices.
He has been able to restore memory, cognition, and even enhance mental functioning in dedicated patients looking for super learning capabilities. He believes that most memory problems are not really “memory loss” but rather a result of the brain’s inability to create a strong memory in the first place. Most experts agree that it is never too late to start improving your brain’s health.
To help keep your brain sharp here are the things you can do:
- Become a lifelong learner. Exercising your mind is the most important thing you can do to build and maintain brain health.
- Partake in regular physical exercise at least three to five times per week. The increased oxygen and blood flow helps improve memory, even in those who already show signs of dementia.
- Maximize nourishing foods and minimize anti-nutrients, including eating a healthy diet that is rich in antioxidants to reduce the amount of free radical damage to your brain tissue. If necessary, take a multivitamin or supplements to avoid deficiencies.
- Get enough omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are found in cold-water fish such as salmon and have beneficial effects on brain cell structure.
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, which are toxic to the brain and other body cells.
- Maintain optimal hormone balance to keep neurotransmitters nourished and functioning well.
Recognize that you are an ever-changing but integrated whole, not just a collection of body parts that can be treated or maintained separately.
Forgetfulness is not just an inevitable part of getting older, but often a symptom of hormonal imbalance. The occasional forgotten name is nothing to worry about, but when your loss of memory affects your day to day life, it may be indicative of an underlying problem. Memory loss in women associated with unbalanced hormones manifests itself in various ways. Experiencing loss of memory, foggy thinking, and difficulty concentrating all point to a hormonal imbalance.
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