How To Take Care of Your Brain

by Stephen Mills on April 13, 2009

Brain Health

Update from Stephen:  There is a new book out by Eric Braverman that I suggest you take a look at:

Younger Brain, Sharper Mind: A 6-Step Plan for Preserving and Improving Memory and Attention at Any Age from America’s Brain Doctor

Your brain is about 3 pounds of fatty, gelatinous tissue.  It’s about 2% of your total body weight.  If you held it in your hands, you would probably be surprised at how small it seemed.  Despite its size, it consumes about 25% of the oxygen you breath into your lungs.  About 25% of the blood pumped from your heart flows to your brain.  Around 40% of the nutrients your body uses are utilized by your brain.  I think I read once that 80% of your blood glucose goes to feed the brain.   Your brain contains approximately 100,000,000,000 neurons.  It is estimated to contain approximately 100,000,000,000,000 to 500,000,000,000,000 connections.  WOW!

At first scientists thought there were only a few neurotransmitters; dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and GABA.  Now they have identified at least one hundred and they think there are a lot more.  That little sucker in your head must be think it’s pretty important.  Note: You don’t need to comment about the size of your brain because I’m sure yours is much bigger than average for your body size.  🙂

Why It Matters

Your brain is like a vacuum cleaner sucking up the energy and nutrients entering your body.  It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that how you treat your body affects your brain in a very big way. Your brain consumes so much of your food and energy that it accumulates the positive or negative influence of most of what you do.

The food you eat affects your brain just like it affects the rest of your body.  The former should be no more controversial than the latter.  When you eat you are drugging your brain either for good or for bad so be very careful what you put into your mouth.

When you bang your head, you are impacting your brain (football players be careful).  Abuse of your physical body in the form of pain or other factors impact your brain.  It wears it out.  Your cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness affect your brain in a huge way.  Your stress levels affect your brain.  Stress kills your brain.  The levels of heavy metals in your environment impact your brain.  Almost everything, including the internally generated thoughts inside your brain, impact your brain health.

Yikes, I’m a little scared now.  I should be because I abused my body and thus my brain for most of my life.  I spent many years watching the capabilities of my mind slowly deteriorate without knowing why.  I went from being a cocky young man (aren’t all of us) thinking I was pretty smart, to being extremely concerned about what was happening to my brain.  I decided to do something about it and it is now going the other direction.  However, I will never get back what I could have had.  Don’t make the same mistake I made.

Imagine This

You know that saying “Out of sight, out of mind”?  That’s your brain.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist!  It just sits up there in your head and you take it for granted.  Bear with me a moment for a little exercise of the imagination.  Imagine what it would be like if instead of hiding up there in your skull out of sight all the time, you had to carry it around in your hands.

Imagine how careful, you would be with it.  Imagine how protective you would be of it.  Imagine being able to see when it was running short of blood or nutrients and how you would act differently.  Imagine what it would be like if you could see how it reacted when you flashed with anger or hatred.  It would not be a pretty picture.  Imagine how careful you would be about what you think and do.  Just imagine all this and then ask yourself why it matters that you brain sits up their in you head instead of being held in you hands?  You should take the same care of it either way.

We don’t have to imagine this stuff anymore.  The tools of neuroscience now allow scientists to see inside the brains of the living.  These tools are very recent inventions and that is why 99% of what we know about the brain has been learned in the last few years.

Unless you already have a foot in the grave, you will likely live to be fairly old by historical standards.  Do you want to be low-function or high-function in your advancing years? Do you want to know who your loved ones are and interact with them or do you want to drool in ignorance of your surroundings?  Don’t do things that damage your brainIt’s not worth it.  Imagine yourself old and non-functional every time you reach for a cookie.  I can imagine no better motivation to take care of my brain and body than to imagine the difference it will make in my later years.

Top 11 Ways to Care for Your Brain

Many of these relate to food because it is so very important.  Remember you are drugging your brain when you eat so try to take the good drugs.  This list could go on and on, but I don’t want to preach you to death.  Do these eleven things and you will get most of the benefit.  Future articles on this topic will cover much more.

  1. Avoid Stress Like It Is Brain Poison –  Because stress IS brain poison.  Stress shrinks areas of the brain including your hippocampus.  Your hippocampus is the key to your memory.  Stress releases all kinds of neurotransmitters and burns out the generators.  Stress kills your brain and body.  STOP IT.  Do whatever it takes and whatever you like to reduce stress.  Meditate, be positive, practice yoga, lead a balanced life, slow down, exercise, or whatever, but do anything and everything you can do to reduce stress.  This is critical to caring for your brain.  I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.
  2. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise – Did you know that healthy blood flow in your brain strengthens and maintains your neuronal connections?  So even if you don’t use a particular neural pathway, blood flow will help keep you from losing it.  WOW!  Do you need any better reason to increase cardiovascular fitness???  Do you want to forget and get stupid?  Then just sit on your ass and watch TV.
  3. Control Your Thoughts – Much more on this later, but in the meantime check out this article on flourishing: Positivity Leads to a Flourishing Life
  4. Use It Or Lose It – Exercise your mental abilities to keep them strong.  For example, if you think creatively, you will strengthen the connections that you draw upon for creative thought.  If you don’t think creatively, then you will eventually lose your ability to be creative.  Studies show that by the time we are in are forties, we have lost almost all of our creative abilities.  It’s disappearing a little more every day you fail to exercise it.  It’s easier to keep your connections than to try and recreate them.  It’s easier by far.
  5. Eat A Rainbow Diet – Eat colorful foods; orange, red, blue, purple, and green foods.  These are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants.  The nutrients are important brain food and the antioxidants are critical for your cell protection.  When you burn energy you produce free radicals and you need antioxidants to gobble them up before they damage your cells.
  6. Eat Complex Carbohydrates – Eat 80% fruits and vegetables.  The more fiber they contain the better.  Pretend you will die if you don’t eat cruciferous vegetables.  Well actually don’t pretend because you will.  Avoid the white death foods – refined carbohydrates and white grains.
  7. Don’t Eat Trans-Fats.  They harden your cell membranes and make your brain slow.
  8. Eat Fish, Chicken, Turkey, and Beans For Protein – These are loaded with the amino acids required for your brain to make and maintain a balanced set of neurotransmitters.  Avoid large fish that accumulate mercury like tuna (I know 🙁 ).  Avoid sushi.  Eat small fatty fish like sardines, herring, and wild salmon.  You need the fish for Omega 3 fatty acids.  Heavy metals in large fish are bad, bad bad. Take a safe molecularly distilled fish oil supplement if you can’t stand eating the other kind of fish.  These fats are critical to your brain.
  9. Eat Seeds and Nuts for Fat and Protein – Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, and pecans are excellent as are pumpkin, sunflower, flax and other seeds.  These kinds of fat do not make you fat.  Essential fatty acids are essential because your body can’t make them.  Your brain is full of fat and you need the fatty acids for a healthy brain.
  10. Control Your Blood Sugar – Too much glucose will kill your brain and too little will starve it.  Your body has a complex glucose-insulin regulation system to control blood glucose levels, but you have to help maintain it.  You can destroy it and most Americans do.  Too much sugar, whole or refined, is a brain killer.  Eat lots of fibers and get your carbohydrates from complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables.  These will release into your bloodstream slowly and help keep a more constant level of glucose supplied to your brain.  Cruciferous vegetables are ideal.  Vegetables are better than fruit.  Fruit juice is concentrated sugar without the fiber to slow down it’s absorption.  Avoid it.  You need to eat protein because your liver will convert protein into glycogen and then when your blood needs more glucose it will get it from your glycogen stores.
  11. Control Your Weight – Excess fat mucks up everything.  It plays havoc with your blood sugar.  This shouldn’t be controversial. There is almost nothing better you can do for you health – brain and body.

OK, this article wasn’t all about sexy brain hacks, but it is very important.  The best thing you can do to improve your brain is to take care of it and allow it to flourish on its own.  The cool tips will come soon.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Alik Levin | PracticeThis.com April 13, 2009 at 8:11 am

This is very resourceful one. Like it. I like it even more after mapping to my strategy for personal power which is about Spirit(1..), Emotion (3..), Physical (2…), and Intellectual (4…) .
Good stuff, stumbled!

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Laurie | Express Yourself to Success April 13, 2009 at 9:33 am

Lots of good information here – right from the get-go.

I’m glad you included so many care tips. While I do most of them for my body, it never occurred to me how they affect my brain. I also like the way you described how attentive we’d be if we were to carry our brains in our hands. It’s so true! I know I’d pay much more attention to it. I’ll be thinking about this all day.

Thanks!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills April 13, 2009 at 10:22 am

Everything that we now know about the human brain we have discovered while only being able to access a tiny fraction of it’s total ability. The most common consensus estimates that we use about one tenth of one percent of our brains ability for conscious thought. That’s like trying to describe the picture created by a 1000 piece jig saw puzzle by looking at a single piece. They say space is the last frontier, I think it’s the space between our ears. The potential is unimaginable.

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 13, 2009 at 12:24 pm

@Alik, thank you so much. I like your strategy for personal power. Good stuff!

@Jonathan, I agree. The brain is the most complex thing known, and as you point out, we know so little. Every day we are learning how much more amazing it is than we thought yesterday. The future is very bright in that regard.

@Laurie, I was, (notice I said “was”) so guilty of the out of site out of mind problem with regards to my body. I’m glad you care about and take care of your body. Your brain thanks you.

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Tracy April 13, 2009 at 1:42 pm

You know what I was thinking reading your list? How good most of those things feel anyway. Our brain is giving us positive feedback on how to care for it and the rest of us and we just ignore it. I wonder why that is?

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 13, 2009 at 9:52 pm

@Tracy, I think you are absolutely correct. Our brain is telling us what it needs to be healthy. I think we abuse it because it’s easy and our biology encourages it. We eat sugar because humans evolved a healthy taste for sugar. We eat too much because we have refined it into a super duper and always available form. Our biology can’t keep up with our ability to engineer around nature.

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Giovanna Garcia April 14, 2009 at 2:36 am

This is awesome. Stumbled!
Everyone should read this, we got to take great care of our brain, we only have one.
Thanks,
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action

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Jonathan Reed April 14, 2009 at 3:58 am

Nice summary. It is important to think of the brain as a physical organ in the same way the heart is. I particularly like the specific dietary advice here and the way it links to neurotransmitters- although not sure about avoiding sushi given that I love it so much!

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dlj_jane April 14, 2009 at 8:08 am

i think the important to the brain is the stress stuff,having a peaceful and optimistic mood and think things from the bright side when in trouble is a way to reduce the sense of stress,and finding some interesting things to make myself happy is another way to protect my body and brain.In all,a huge smiling is not just only a smile,it stands a style of the life,and wish you (and your brain)happy everyday:)sincerely:)

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap April 14, 2009 at 1:49 pm

@Jonathan, do a search on sushi and mercury. Here is a quote: “Many of the fish chosen for sushi are the apex predators of the fish food chain, which means they can bear high concentrations of mercury.” Mercury is highly toxic to the brain so be very careful.

@Giovanna, Hi! Thank you so much for your support!

@dlj_jane, I agree. Stress is a killer of all things good. I’m into positivity now, real positivity and not fake positivity. My mood has improved dramatically. I think that is clearly helping my mental functioning. BTW, that is a topic of a future post.

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LunaJune April 14, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I had come to a crossroad…a tragedy befell my family 1 1/2 years ago and in that moment I found Dr Blaylock a neurosurgeon and because he talked about the brain on the cellular level he grabbed my science background and his words filled my world and within 2 weeks of finding him I dumped every food in my house…well most and up until then I beleived you didn’t need suppliments. But let me tell you something..today I have quit smoking, lost 30 lbs, have more energy than I’ve had in years, feel so utterly alive it’s not funny, and watching people shop makes me have to bite my tongue…I want to rush up to everyone and help them stop poisening themselves and their families.
Now is we can only get the food companies to stop making the crap life will be wonderful…

see you out there…my mind is more open that ever as well…and for sure as a creative person what I’m digesting affects everything

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Gaurav Hirlekar April 23, 2009 at 12:20 am

That was extremely useful and informative. It’s going to be tough to make the entire list a part of my daily life, but it’s better to start trying than keep destroying my brain like all these years.
Thanks a lot, Stephen.

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sandra rogers October 14, 2009 at 7:26 pm

tripped over your site whilst studying neurotransmitters. How you describe looking after the brain, if we were able to see it and hold is a beautiful way to put it. It encourages care for our most vital organ. I’ll be keeping this image in mind as I go about my day. Thank you. Everyone should read your article

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Jatin April 30, 2010 at 9:03 am

Hi…
This is vary good tips…i like it…Thank you…

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bahati October 27, 2010 at 8:58 am

this is extremely good, for me and the family too, because they have been a little bit had to understand healthy tips lately

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Laarni Espina November 12, 2010 at 12:05 am

GREAT HELP!!! THANKS!!!

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blessing mathew June 3, 2011 at 6:05 am

I want my brain to improve and lean fast & understand squeakily.

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Lynn July 14, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Very interesting article! Just curious, where did you pick up this: “Studies show that by the time we are in are forties, we have lost almost all of our creative abilities.”

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Apun Ka Desh April 7, 2012 at 4:29 am

Listen to your body.

It tells you when it is not feeling good. Pay heed. Be comfortable.

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nori mea August 30, 2012 at 3:04 am

salamat ng marami sa mga tips… it reminds me and it refreshes my learning…. tnx u .. (:

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bumbum58 October 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm

BUTS

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Hi_Show December 4, 2013 at 3:38 am

I love this great article…it let me know much more about my brain…Thanks alot.

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