Update from Stephen: There is a new book out by Eric Braverman that I suggest you take a look at:
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.
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 brain. It’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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Control Your Thoughts – Much more on this later, but in the meantime check out this article on flourishing: Positivity Leads to a Flourishing Life
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t Eat Trans-Fats. They harden your cell membranes and make your brain slow.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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