-Forgotten where you put the cars keys (again)?
-Met an old friend in a café and happily chat away while furiously trying to remember their name?
-Been reminded about something you are sure you knew nothing about?
-Attended a Trivia night and the only answers you get correct are the ones that offer multiple choice answers?
You’re not alone and fortunately, you can do plenty of things to improve your memory and cognition regardless of your age and health status with the bonus of feeling better overall.
Cognitive health is a vital for to relationships, wellbeing, and quality of life. I will discuss evidence-based strategies you can start implementing to optimise brain function right now.
Diet & Lifestyle:
Gut Health and Diet
A healthy gut is vital for production of neurotransmitters like feel good serotonin. A healthy diet and gut ‘microbiome’ (the composition of microbes in our gut that supports overall health) is important to ensure low levels of inflammation, optimal liver function and brain health. You can go a long way towards achieving this by eating a wide variety of foods that are rich in fibre; lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean proteins and essential fats. Also removing inflammatory foods (like processed foods, sugar and fried foods) and avoiding foods that your body is sensitive or allergic to (e.g. gluten in coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity) can help. There are several options to check for food sensitivities.
A non-coeliac friend has been gluten free since a health retreat a few months before and found the improvement in her brain fog and cognition rapidly deteriorates when she reintroduces gluten.
Finding the ideal diet for you may take some trial and error, but some people improve on a Mediterranean diet, others eating ketogenic or Paleo. Low-carb or ketogenic diet shows promising results for those with neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s. Getting your weight and waist measurements in a optimal range helps elevated insulin levels which is implicated as being a ‘driver’ of what is sometimes called ‘Type 3 Diabetes’.
One serving of fatty fish per week is associated with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Sleep: 7-9 hours of refreshing sleep daily is a foundation of good health. While you sleep your brain removes waste, solidifies memory and improves learning outcomes.
Some people might not know they have a sleep issue, so there are some useful sleep apps that help identify problems. I wear an ‘Oura ring’ at night that measures my sleep stages (awake, light, REM and deep sleep), restfulness, heart rate variability (a measure of stress), temperature and more. I can assess what foods, supplements and stressors impact my sleep. There are a host of other options like Fitbit & Apple watches – this article compares various options: https://www.verywellmind.com/best-sleep-apps-5114724
If my clients have sleep concerns, I individualise their treatment program, which might include recommending a meditation ap (like ‘Insight Timer’); a magnesium formula with relaxing herbs and/or amino acids, herbal formulae, Melatonin or GABA (an amino acid that helps anxiety and the sleep response).
If you’d like a copy of my ‘sleep tip’ sheet, please email me email@example.com
Exercise: If exercise could be put in a pill it would outperform any drug hands down for all aspects of health, not only cognitive health. If there was only one action you implement, the most important one would be to incorporate regular movement most days if that’s something you don’t already do. Exercise helps sleep and reduces inflammation in the body (so long as you don’t overdo things) and has been shown to improve Processing speed, Attention, Cognitive flexibility, Working memory and Language skills.
Stress Management: Over and above feeling overwhelmed by responsibility and not being able to focus on one thing at a time, stress can lead to inflammation, leaky gut and impaired brain health. Some excellent ways to assist in stress management and increase feelings of calm and wellness include Mindfulness/meditation; Journaling; Yoga, Being in Nature Exercise and Breathwork. Other strategies such as learning effective time management, conflict resolution techniques, reframing and how to say ‘no’ assertively can also improve feelings of empowerment over stressful situations.
Probiotics There is research to support the use of a specific strain of lactobacillus called L. plantarum to improve brain health by way of: decreased anxiety & inflammation, improved memory & verbal learning and enhanced cognition.
Herbs: Helpful herbs include Bacopa, Ginkgo Biloba, Lion’s mane (a medicinal mushroom) and Curcumin from Turmeric
Nutrients: Choline, Omega 3 fatty acids (fish oils and vegan DHA supplements) improve
There are supplement combinations e.g. one that contains Bacopa, Ginkgo and phosphatidylserine in one tablet that I take myself on my working days to ensure optimal focus with my clients.
-Cognitive Health Assessment: CNS Vital Signs is an in-clinic, non-invasive neurocognitive testing procedure to assess a broad spectrum of brain function performance. You sit down in front of a computer and answer various questions and do various assessments that measure cognition and brain health. It takes between 30-50 minutes to complete, and ideally pretest you need to be hydrated, have had a good night’s sleep and preferably do it in the morning or most alert time of the day.
Ideally the test is repeated after a period of time (e.g., 6 months) to see the progress or improvement in cognitive health after targeted treatment
Other Tests to consider are:
–Hair Mineral Analysis: Testing for heavy metal exposure/toxicity e.g. buildup of methylmercury from fish consumption is linked with cognitive decline; lead exposure can lead to memory loss and attention difficulty (e.g. from exposure to lead pipes or paint from pre-1978 homes)
–Blood Tests: Low levels of Nutrients like Vitamin B12 and underactive thyroid function can negatively impact memory and cognition.Elevated homocysteine is not only a risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular disease, but also with the severity of cognitive damage, dementia and lower cognitive performance
Brain Training Apps
In addition to supplements, another interesting way to improve brain function is through cognitive training apps. These apps offer interactive mental games to induce brain changes that help to stimulate your cognitive skills.
They have been shown to improve working, short term and verbal memory; processing speed, executive function and selective attention in all age groups.
They work on the understanding of brain ‘plasticity’ which means are brains are capable of improving with reinforcing specific behaviours.
In a nutshell:
There are risk factors that come with an aging brain, but cognitive decline is never set in stone. You can enhance cognitive tasks like problem-solving, decision making, memory, thinking skills, and overall quality of life and brain power by taking care of your sleep habits, physical activity, diet, stress levels, and gut health.
And the side benefit to this is that while you support cognitive health, these healthy lifestyle habits will also be protecting your body against other health conditions while supporting overall wellbeing.
The Brain that Changes Itself Norman Doidge
The End of Alzheimer’s by Dale Bredesen
COGNITIVE HEALTH ASSESSMENT OFFER $445
If you or someone you care about is concerned with memory or cognitive health, consider a Cognitive Health Assessment that includes:
- Review of a comprehensive health questionnaire you complete prior to your session
- An assessment on CNS Vital Signs
- An extended consultation to evaluate lifestyle and dietary factors and follow up consultation
- Assessment of pathology tests done within the past 12 months and recommendations for further tests to complete picture of your biochemical health (including a hair mineral analysis)
- A personalised brain health strategy with lifestyle, dietary & targeted supplements recommendations.
This is performed by Medical Scientist and Naturopath Doreen Schwegler who has over 32 years of experience helping people live happier healthier lives.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary 15 minute consult valued at $95 or book online at: https://holistic-health-pty-ltd.au1.cliniko.com/bookings