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Last Updated on January 20, 2021

10 Brain Vitamins for Enhanced Brain Power and Focus

10 Brain Vitamins for Enhanced Brain Power and Focus
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Your brain is the house your mind lives in. The brain is the most high-powered organ we have and requires the right amount and type of fuel to work properly. When we don’t give our brain the right fuel, it slows us down, dampers our focus, and makes us more unhappy and unmotivated. That’s why brain vitamins can be a key addition to your diet.

If you want to maximize your brain power so as to increase your focus, think more clearly, and live a happier and longer life, then pay attention because this article will give you the top nutrients you need to maximize your brain power and what foods to include in your diet in order to get them.

Here are what your brain needs and where to get them:

1. Omega-3s

Your brain is made up of 60% fat, so if you want a healthy and optimally performing brain, you need to ensure you’re giving your brain the right building blocks, and fat is one of the most important. Fat has been vilified over the years as being the big villain of health, but in reality, high-quality fat is not only good for you, it’s essential for your brain power and health.

Some of the most important fats to give your brain are Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s, such as DHA, are the essential nutrients that form the outer layer of our brain cells and help improve cognitive function and support brain health overall.

In fact, not getting enough Omega-3s in your diet can affect normal brain development and cognition. It has also been shown to be implicated in premature brain aging and cognitive decline associated with a risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.[1]

Getting healthy sources of omega-3s from your diet is critical for optimal brain power.

Foods Rich in Omega-3s: Walnuts, chia seeds, sardines, salmon, flaxseed, eggs, fish oil

2. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is critical for brain activity and has been known to calm the brain and nervous system to the point it has been called “nature’s natural valium.” Magnesium is essential for hundreds of metabolic processes within the body and brain, yet it is still the second most common nutritional deficiency in the world.

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Magnesium helps the brain by:

  • Providing anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Lowering stress hormones
  • Increasing neuroplasticity
  • Relaxing the nervous system
  • Helping to lift depression
  • Reducing anxiety

Foods Rich in Magnesium: Almonds, spinach, cashews, avocado, black beans

3. Vitamin B1: Thiamine

Many B vitamins are known to be beneficial for brain health and well-being, but for this article, let’s focus on some of the critical B vitamins.

B1, also known as thiamine, is needed for a large number of metabolic processes in the body, including the processes that manage your energy. Your brain uses tremendous amounts of energy throughout the day. Having low levels of thiamine can rob your brain of the vital energy that it needs.

Thiamine can boost your mood, energy, and alertness by providing the energy your brain cells need to work effectively and keep their strength up, making this one of the most important brain vitamins.

Low levels of thiamine have been associated with:

  • Nerve damage
  • Nerve inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Confusion
  • Irritability

Having enough vitamin B1 (thiamine) is essential for optimal brain performance and health by providing your brain the energy is needs to get through the day.

Foods Rich in Vitamin B1: Seaweed, sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, lentils, black beans

4. Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 is critical for helping to improve your mood to make you feel happier but is also important to combat mental fatigue. B6 is a critical component for building the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.

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Serotonin is known as your happy neurotransmitter and is vitally important for improving your mood. Norepinephrine helps your brain stay focused and alert.

Symptoms of B6 deficiency include:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of focus and concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Memory trouble
  • Muscle pains

Foods Rich in Vitamin B6: Grass-fed beef, pistachios, tuna, turkey breast, avocado

5. Vitamin B9

Vitamin B9 is known as folate. Folate is especially important for normal brain development. Folate is an important component in creating many neurotransmitters that the brain uses to communicate and regulate our immune system. Folate is also a natural antioxidant, and studies have shown that it can help preserve brain function and improve memory.[2]

Low levels of folate can be detrimental to the brain. Low levels of folate have been shown to lead to increased degeneration in the cerebral cortex, as well as cognitive impairment and decline.[3]

Symptoms of low levels of folate include:

  • Lowered immune function
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Increased irritability or anxiety
  • Brain fog

Foods Rich in Vitamin B9: Spinach, beef liver, broccoli, asparagus, romaine lettuce

6. Vitamin B12

B12 is essential for many aspects of our health and wellbeing, including building strong bones, hair, skin, nails, immune system, and heart health. B12 is also extremely important for your brain and mental well-being and is one of the essential brain vitamins.[4]

B12 is necessary for many aspects of mental performance, including being able to memorize and stay focused. It also plays an important role in producing serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine is your motivation and reward neurotransmitter.

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Having low levels of B12 can have some serious consequences including:[5]

  • Brain fog
  • Memory loss
  • Depression[6]
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations and Schizophrenia (severe cases)

B12 is commonly found in many animal products and meats, so those who eat a plant-based diet should pay special attention to their B12 to make sure they are getting enough of it in their diet from plant sources or supplementation.

Foods Rich in Vitamin B12: Beef liver, sardines, wild salmon, eggs, nutritional yeast

7. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a very powerful and important antioxidant for your brain. Your brain consumes a lot of energy and oxygen in order to do its job. Antioxidants like Vitamin C protect the brain from the wear and tear of doing its job.

Vitamin C is also needed to produce important neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are important regulators of your mood, so without Vitamin C to produce these them, your mood may suffer.[7]

Foods Rich in Vitamin C: Broccoli, citrus fruits, bell peppers, watermelon, spinach

8. Vitamin D

The “sunshine” vitamin is arguably one of the most important brain vitamins that many people miss out on. Vitamin D is usually associated with bone health and reduced risk of heart disease, but it’s been shown in research that Vitamin D may play a critical role in your brain performance. Several studies have shown that low levels of Vitamin D can impair cognitive function and performance.[8]

Fewer people are getting outside in the natural sunlight, leading to more cases of vitamin D deficiency than ever before. The best part about Vitamin D is that you can get it for free or extremely cheap. Just a few minutes a day of natural sunlight can make a big difference in your Vitamin D levels.

Foods Rich in Vitamin D: Natural sunlight, or find a Vitamin D dietary supplement

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9. Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants are critical to help our bodies fight off oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a metabolic process that occurs in the body that wears and tears on our cells. Antioxidants fight against this wear and tear to keep our cells youthful and optimally functioning.

Vitamin E is an often overlooked vitamin for brain health. It prevents oxidative stress from damaging an important component of our brain cells, DHA. DHA forms the outer membrane of our brain cells, and Vitamin E works to prevents oxidative stress from damaging our brain cells to keep our brain young, energetic, and high-performing.[9]

Symptoms of Vitamin E deficiency include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Balance issues

Foods Rich in Vitamin E: Almonds, kale, Swiss chard, parsley, olives

10. Zinc

Zinc is essential for neuron growth and performance. The highest concentration of zinc is located in your brain, particularly in your hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in regulating your limbic system, the region that regulates emotions. Neurons require zinc in order to communicate effectively with one another.[10]

Low levels of zinc are associated with:

  • Attention and focus problems
  • Lowered immune system
  • Acne or rashes
  • Diarrhea

Foods Rich in Zinc: Pumpkin seeds, grass-fed beef, cashews, mushrooms, spinach

The Bottom Line

Your brain works hard, and it takes plenty of nutrients and fuel to keep it working well. Getting the amount and type of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients can make the difference in feeling energized or feeling sluggish throughout the day.

Eat a wide variety of foods that include a vast array of the top brain vitamins and nutrients to ensure your brain is getting plenty of the resources it needs to work efficiently. If you want more brain power, make sure you give it brain power foods.

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More Tips for Boosting Brain Power

Featured photo credit: Tom Morel via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Brain Research: Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and the developing brain.
[2] Journal of Neural Transmission: Folic acid prevented cognitive impairment in experimental pneumococcal meningitis
[3] Neurobiology of Disease: Folate deprivation induces neurodegeneration: roles of oxidative stress and increased homocysteine
[4] ShareCare: What are the health benefits of vitamin B12?
[5] Harvard School of Public Health: Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Causes and Symptoms
[6] Journal of Psychopharmacology: Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12.
[7] Dr. Prerana Gupta, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Teerthanker Mahaveer Medical College and Research Centre, Moradabad (U.P.).: Relationship Between Depression and Vitamin C Status: A Study on Rural Patients From Western Uttar Pradesh in India
[8] Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation: Vitamin D and cognitive function
[9] Neurobiology of Aging: Tocopherols and tocotrienols plasma levels are associated with cognitive impairment
[10] Biological Psychiatry: Zinc, the brain and behavior.

More by this author

Dr Brady Salcido

Dr Brady is a Doctor, Podcast Host, and Brain Optimization Expert sharing how you can use your lifestyle to upgrade your life.

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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better
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Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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Reference

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