Feed your brain

Natural ways to increase alertness, concentration and memory

The past few months have been a time of unprecedented uncertainty and upheaval.

Stress and worry have been at an all-time high due to concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic. And with many of us adjusting to working from home and home-schooling our children, it’s no surprise that our brains are positively frazzled. Alertness, concentration and memory all suffer when we are stressed and tired. Here we take a look at some natural ways to help support your brain power through diet and natural remedies.

The brain-friendly diet

“More than 50 per cent of your brain is made up of fabulous fat!” says registered nutritional therapist Michaella Mazzoni (www.michaellamazzoninutrition.com). “So, how that translates to our diet is ‘you are what you eat’, making healthy fats an essential part of a brain-friendly diet. As you may already be aware, there are different types of fats, for example saturated and unsaturated. When it comes to our diet, we want to include more unsaturated and monounsaturated than saturated fats. Building on that, fats can then become damaged in cooking when the fat in oil gets broken down.

For the most part, with at-home cooking, this isn’t such an issue. However, each time oil gets reheated, the fat becomes more and more damaged. We can minimise damaged fats by keeping deep-fried foods and reusing cooking oil to a minimum.

Lovely fatty foods to include in your diet are oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, haddock), extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. Fats to enjoy in moderation include butter and hard cheese.”

Nootropics

“An exciting new area in the natural health industry is ‘Nootropics’ – nutrients or ingredients which improve cognitive function,” says Aimee Benbow, Director of Nutrition for ethical vitamin company Viridian Nutrition (www.viridian-nutrition.com). “Below are some newly researched herbal ingredients which have been linked to increased cognition.

  • Lemon balm extract –Clinical trials have highlighted that lemon balm extracts standardised to the active compound rosmarinic acid have demonstrated clear benefits for memory and cognitive performance. As well as assisting with short-term memory and focus, lemon balm extract has demonstrated significant benefits with those experiencing cognitive decline.
  • Sage extract – There are a large number of clinical trials which have been conducted on sage for its cognitive-boosting properties. Sage has been shown to possess cholinesterase-inhibiting properties which is vital for nerve transmission and overall cognitive health. In a human clinical trial, participants received either a placebo, or sage extract on three different occasions. Cognitive performance was measured, and significant improvements were found in cognitive and psychomotor tasks compared to placebo.
  • Brahmi – This is an adaptogenic herb that has been used traditionally to boost longevity and enhance cognitive function. Brahmi has shown promise in exerting memory-enhancing and anxiety-reducing effects, making it a useful nootropic. In one study, 150mg of daily Bacopa extract twice daily significantly improved performance in cognitive tests after 90 days of supplementation.
  • Ashwagandha – This is still extensively used in Ayurveda, and over the last few years a number of advanced studies have suggested important neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects of Ashwagandha, and human clinical studies have also been taking place.

The super spice

“Curcumin is the compound behind the amazing health benefits of turmeric,” says Kim Pearson, a nutritionist working with supplement company BetterYou (betteryou.com). “It has been used in India for its anti-inflammatory properties for decades. Alongside the numerous physical benefits of turmeric come many mental benefits too, with the enhancement of neurogenesis – the production of new nervous system cells. Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory which has been shown to help prevent brain inflammation.”

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