Boost Your Brain Power: Balancing nutrients and exercise beats brain fog

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If you treat your car well, you give it high-octane fuel. This boosts engine performance. Similarly, the right selection of foods boosts brain power.

The brain's main source of fuel is glucose, an end product of carbohydrate metabolism, which is used by the cells for energy. Glucose is fed to the brain via the bloodstream. But, although glucose is a form of sugar, we shouldn't eat candies and chocolate to ensure its presence in the bloodstream.

Unrefined complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain products, legumes, carrots, potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, are much better brain food choices. Their conversion to glucose takes place gradually, ensuring a constant and steady supply of energy. It is important, however, to balance starchy foods with lighter, green vegetables which supply blood-building minerals, powerful antioxidants and other health-promoting properties.

Refined carbohydrates, such as white sugar, white flour and white rice, are best avoided. They are converted to glucose rapidly, resulting in excessive blood sugar levels. The liver is forced to speed up glucose metabolism until blood sugar levels drop off. While refined sugar products provide quick spurts of energy, they tend to produce a yo-yo effect in blood sugar levels.

This results in mood swings, disrupted attention spans and inability to concentrate.

Brain-Building Aminos

Another important reason for choosing whole grains rather than their refined counterparts is the full range of amino acids, vitamins and trace minerals in the germ and outer layers of the grain. In refined foods, these are scraped off during the milling process.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein in the body and are essential for the production of neuro-transmitters, the chemicals involved in the transmission of nerve impulses. Foods rich in high-quality amino acids promote mental alertness and increased energy levels and should be consumed regularly throughout the day. Good dietary sources of amino acids are organic meats and eggs, as well as combinations of whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Vitamins, Minerals and Fatty Acids

High on the list of vitamins known to improve brain function are the members of the B-complex family, essential for the proper synthesis of many other nutrients and to help protect the integrity of the nervous system. A deficiency of vitamin B(1) (thiamine), in particular, has been associated with memory loss.

B(3) (niacin) improves circulation to the brain and has been used successfully as an adjunct in the treatment Of schizophrenia and alcoholism. B(6) (pyridoxine) plays an important role in glucose and protein metabolism. B(12) (cyanocobalamin) is required for the synthesis of DNA and helps to maintain a healthy myelin sheath which insulates nerve cells. Folic acid is vital for DNA and RNA synthesis, protein metabolism, healthy cell division and red blood formation.

The B-vitamins are present in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, legumes, brewer's yeast, eggs and dairy products. In supplement form, B-vitamins are best taken combined in a well-balanced B-complex formula, since they function synergistically.

Also important for brain function is natural vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol) which preserves cellular DNA repair function and fights free radicals. It promotes blood circulation to the brain and other tissues. Wheat germ oil is especially high in vitamin E. Make sure it is freshly pressed. Other good sources are almonds, walnuts, cashews, butter and eggs.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) promotes tissue regeneration and strengthens blood vessels. When taken together with bioflavonoids such as quercetin, rutin and hesperidin, vitamin C blocks the spontaneous oxidation reactions leading to the creation of free radicals which promote tissue degeneration and destruction of brain cells. Vitamin C and bioflavonoids are found in many fresh vegetables and fruit, particularly citrus fruit.

Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese are all important for healthy neurotransmitter activity. Chromium assists in the regulation of blood sugar levels and iron is required for the transport of oxygen to brain tissue. Iodine, which supports the thyroid gland, stimulates metabolism and energy production. Good food sources of easily assimilable minerals are deep-green leafy vegetables and seaweeds such as kelp, dulse, hijiki, wakame, kombu and nori.

The integrity of our brain cells also depends on an adequate supply of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the diet. These nourish the protective membranes surrounding our brain cells. EFAs also play an important role in facilitating the transmission of nerve impulses. Dietary sources of EFAs include ocean fish, fresh nuts and seeds, deep-green leafy vegetables and cold-pressed, unrefined vegetable oils. Flax seed and hemp oil are abundant in EFAs. Look for these and other specially formulated EFA-rich oil combinations in the refrigerated section of your health food store.

Brain-Boosting Supplements

A number of whole food supplements, as well as specific nutrients and herbs, are known to increase alertness, improve memory and raise mental energy levels.

Green Food Concentrates are rich in rejuvenating chlorophyll, brain-building minerals, cell-protecting antioxidants and essential fatty acids. They offer a convenient way to bolster nutrient supply to the brain and other tissues.

Bee Pollen is often called "the world's most perfect food." It provides the full spectrum of amino acids, minerals, vitamins and essential fatty acids. Those who take bee pollen regularly report increased mental and physical energy, heightened concentration levels and memory improvement.

Lecithin's active constituent, choline, stimulates the formation of acetylcholine, one of the neurotransmitter chemicals essential for the proper transmission of nerve impulses. Studies have shown that lecithin improves memory function in the elderly.

Ginkgo Biloba, widely used in Europe, improves blood circulation and nutrient flow to the brain, promoting mental clarity and alertness.

Spirulina is blue-green algae, rich in amino acids, minerals and vitamins, including B(12), chlorophyll and gamma linoleic acid (GLA), which promotes cell regeneration.

Procyanidolic Oligomers (PCOs) is a bioflavonoid complex extracted from grape seeds that has powerful antioxidant properties. It strengthens living tissue and protects brain cells from free radical damage associated with aging, stress and build-up of toxins.

Gotu Kola is a herb widely used in the ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda. It is known to energize brain cells and aid memory.

Coenzyme Q(10) is a vital nutritional substance that promotes optimal utilization of oxygen and absorption of nutrients in brain tissue.

Only a calm mind is capable of full concentration and creative problem-solving. Both vigorous physical activity and relaxation exercises have been shown to stimulate the production of brain chemicals which promote calmness and mental clarity. Deep breathing exercises are highly effective in releasing tension from the body and energizing the mind. The increased oxygen intake quickly promotes mental alertness.

Canadian Health Reform Products Ltd.

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By Simone Gabbay

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