Get Eight Hours’ Sleep Every Night
If you want to function at your mental and physical peak, make sure you get seven to eight hours of sleep on most nights. (On average, we sleep 20 percent less than we did a hundred years ago when nine and a half hours of sleep a night was the norm.) Constant sleep deprivation is very bad for your brain, for both the short term and the long term. Even a mild sleep deficit—getting six hours of sleep for a few nights in a row instead of eight hours—will slow you down and cause notable decline in performance on standard mental function tests. Moreover, when you’re tired, you’re more likely to be irritable and have less mental and emotional stamina. Tired people misplace things more often, have more trouble recalling information, and in general are not as sharp as those who get enough sleep.
Sleep serves an important purpose for your brain. Sleep is a time when our cells can do vital repair work, “cleaning up” toxins that accumulate in the brain and keeping brain cells in optimal condition. If you don’t allow your brain to do this essential housekeeping, toxins will accumulate in your brain over time and accelerate brain aging. Sleep is also a time when your brain processes new information. A good night’s sleep can enhance your ability to learn and understand new concepts. In sum, if you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will pay the price.
Think Twice Before Taking a Drug
If you are routinely taking a prescription or over-the-counter medicine (three times a week or more) be sure that it is not depleting your brain of important nutrients. Hundreds of drugs sap the brain of B vitamins and antioxidants (like Co-Q10 and glutathione) that are essential for brain health. If you are taking a drug that depletes your brain of important nutrients, it is critical to replenish that nutrient by taking the appropriate supplements. If you are, follow the correct supplement program designed to restore those nutrients. This way you’ll be sure that you are not inadvertently starving your brain of important nutrients that keep it running smoothly and protect it against premature aging. (Buy the book to know if you are taking a nutrient depleting drug. HEHEHE. Title of the book is BETTER BRAIN BOOK by DR. DAVID PERLMUTTER.)
Take These Three Supplements
If you can’t bear the thought of taking several pills daily, start off by taking three brain-essential supplements. That’s three pills, once a day, with food. Really simple. It requires very little commitment, yet the three supplements that I recommend here can help to keep your brain running well right now and protect against brain degeneration down the road.
DHA: 300 mg daily
Vitamin E: 200 IU daily (d-alpha, not dl-alpha form)
B-complex vitamin: one capsule daily
A basic vitamin B complex supplement should include the following.
B1 (thiamine): 50 mg
B3 (niacin as niacinamide): 50 mg
B6 (pyridoxine): 50 mg
Folic acid: 400 mcg
B12 (cobalamin): 500 mcg
There are several brands of B complex that offer these supplements in one capsule.
Why DHA? About 25 percent of the total human brain fat is composed of DHA; it provides brain cell membranes with the flexibility necessary for efficient communication so that you can think better and faster. This substance is not produced by the body and must be obtained through food or supplements. It’s difficult to get enough DHA from food alone, and therefore I recommend that everyone take a DHA supplement.
Why vitamin E? The fat in your brain is especially vulnerable to free radical attack, which is why everyone should take vitamin E daily. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means that it can get into parts of the cell—notably the cell membrane—that are not accessible to other antioxidants. It’s important to remember that when free radicals are allowed to run amok in your brain, they prevent your brain cells from doing their job properly, which is why you become forgetful or have difficulty learning new information or staying focused. The long-term effect of free radicals gone wild can be catastrophic and is linked to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke, among other neurological ailments. Simply taking vitamin E daily can help reduce the lethal effects of free radicals.
Why B complex? If you want to stay in a good mood, you need your B vitamins. If you want to avoid premature brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease, you also need your B vitamins. What happens if you don’t get
enough B vitamins? You are vulnerable to depression, memory problems, and dementia. B vitamins are critical for brain health primarily because they control homocysteine, the amino acid naturally produced by the body. High levels of homocysteine can promote inflammation, damage blood vessels that deliver blood to the brain, and kill brain cells. In most cases, homocysteine is easily controlled by taking B vitamins.
Get the Trans-Fatty Acids Off Your Plate
Stop eating foods that contain trans-fatty acids. You don’t need them, and you will be far better off without them. As you know by now, many brands of margarine and polyunsaturated oils undergo a chemical modification to extend their shelf life and make them easier to use in baking that in the process creates trans-fatty acids. Trans-fatty acids are the primary fats found in packaged baked goods (cookies, cakes, chips) and fried foods. Like any other dietary fat, trans-fatty acids become incorporated into your cell membranes. Unlike healthier fats, trans-fatty acids can make your cell membranes hard and rigid, and will make your brain sluggish. Your ability to remember, learn new things, and maintain a good mood are all dependent on having healthy, flexible cell membranes. Trans-fatty acids will slow your brain response time down while wildly accelerating the aging process.
How do you know if a food contains trans-fatty acids? Read the ingredient labels. Don’t buy foods that contain hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated oils. Don’t eat fried foods—this includes French fries, donuts, and most chips (corn, cheese, and potato). (Baked chips may also contain hydrogenated oils, so read the labels before eating these foods.) Your brain will thank you.
Have Some Fun
Make recreational activity a part of your life. It will make you smarter and happier and keep your brain going longer. My only requirement is that you choose an activity that you don’t normally do every day as part of your job. Play an instrument. Play bridge. Join a book club. Make pottery. Whatever you choose to do, recreational activity is good for your brain for several reasons. First, it’s a great way to relieve stress. When you’re concentrating on an activity that you enjoy, it’s possible to shut out all the irritants that tie you up in knots and send potentially damaging stress hormones soaring. Second, when you stimulate brain cells with a new challenge, you make new dendrites, the connections between neurons that are essential for the assimilation and processing of information. The more dendrites you have, the better your brain cells can communicate, and the “smarter” you will be. An added bonus: Studies show that people who do some activity beyond work are at lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than people who don’t. So go out and have some fun. Doctor’s orders!