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Want To Boost Brain Power? Try Out These 10 Foods

Want To Boost Brain Power? Try Out These 10 Foods

Brain power can be boosted not just by brain training and physical exercise, but also by choosing our diets carefully and taking into account the findings of modern scientific research.  With an ever increasing life expectancy, we have an interest in healthy eating that is reaching epic proportions. And we now expect much more from our food than ever before.  Food is not just fuel to get us through the day.  All calories are not created equal.  We want our food to enhance our physical and mental activity, as well as our moods.  We want our food to contain cancer fighting agents and prevent cognitive decline.  We want our food to stimulate the brain growth of neonates and the immune systems of our newborns.

What most people don’t realize is that you can get all your essential nutrients from the food that you are consuming on an every day basis. And while there are many marketing experts that will try to sell you the extracted ingredients at high costs in pill format, most of the vitamins and minerals that pack the best brain punch can be found in their purest forms at your local grocery shop. This list below will get you started on a diet that is jam packed full of brain food to raise your IQ and maintain a very high standard of brain fitness. And of course, while you still need to get your physical exercise, your mental workouts, and your good night’s sleep, these foods will provide your body with the fuel needed to keep your brain running on the most efficient fuel.

1. Celery

Scientists at the University of Illinois found that a diet rich in a plant compound called luteolin reduces age-related inflammation in the brain and related memory deficits by directly inhibiting the release of inflammatory molecules in the brain (Jang, Dilger, Johnson, 2010). Celery is one food that is very high in luteolin.  Other vegetables such as peppers and carrots also contain high levels of luteolin. So if you want to keep your memory in tip top shape, eat plenty of celery, peppers and carrots.

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2. Walnuts

We hear a lot about the Omega-3s these days and indeed there is a large body of scientific evidence supporting that these fatty acids are essential for healthy brain activity.  Seniors who have high levels of Omega-3 in their blood score higher on cognitive ability tests and on other tests of memory (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008).  Walnuts provide a very strong source of Omega-3.  While salmon actually appears to be a richer source of Omega-3, it is not likely that people will eat salmon every single day. Walnuts, on the other hand, can be eaten as a snack or put into cereals and salads with reckless abandon.  Other oily cold water fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines and trout are also full of the Omega-3 fatty acids so aim to include these as much as three times per week for maximal brain benefits.

3. Red meat

Well we have probably all heard that you shouldn’t eat too much red meat these days because over eating it can cause damage to the colon. However, when it comes down to the ever important vitamin B12, red meat is the strongest provider.  In fact, a B12 deficiency will cause nerve and brain damage!  So, while we don’t recommend that you eat red meat every day, we do recommend that you eat it on a weekly basis. There are B12 supplements and alternatives for those of us that don’t eat red meat, but unfortunately none of them are as rich a source of this vitamin as red meat. So while you can eat leafy greens and take vitamin supplements for your B12, you will need to eat vast amounts of them to get the same amount of B12 that you would get from red meat.

4.  Blueberries

The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (2012) states that a diet rich in blueberries is associated with faster learning, sharper thinking and improved memory retention.  Perhaps not surprisingly, strawberries, blackberries and other berries show similar benefits.

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5. Whole grains

We all need sugar to fuel our brains and our bodies.  However, the slow release sugar found in whole grains such as barley and bulgur provide longer lasting energy being supplied to the brain.  Remember that all sugar is not created equal.  If you want the good sugars that we need for the most efficient brain functioning, we need to move away from the fizzy drinks, cheap breads and cakes and stick with the whole grains. Indeed, a word of caution is necessary here; eating cheap breads, cakes and fizzy drinks instead of the healthy whole grains for your sugars, can actually reduce your IQ! But the great news is that you don’t have to be creative to get your whole grains in.  You can build whole grains into many different meals at any time of day.  So whether you want to find some tasty toppings for your oatmeal or bake your pizza base from scratch, here are some great recipes.

6. Chickpeas

Chickpeas have the combined advantage of complex carbohydrate to give you the energy you need plus protein which keeps you alert. Protein, contains high levels of amino acids, such as tyrosine, which in turn causes neurons to produce very important neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine.  These are associated with mental alertness which is an essential part of learning.  Chickpeas are also brimming with magnesium which is thought to play an important role in metabolizing energy that enables brain cell receptors to speed up the transmission of messages (i.e., quicker thinking and faster acting brains). Finally, scientists also report that foods high in magnesium also help to relax blood vessels which allows more blood to flow to the brain.  All in all, this is fantastic news for hummus lovers.  You should also try out these delicious spicy chickpea patties.

7. Dark chocolate

One new study published in Hypertension (2013) showed that consuming dark chocolate every day may improve thinking skills in adults with mild cognitive impairment.  In this study, older adults were enlisted to take part in research where they were asked to consume either low, moderate of high amounts of flavanols in a cocoa based beverage every day for eight weeks. The scientists found that there was a link between higher amounts of flavanols and improvements in tests of cognitive function.  Put simply, the higher the concentration of flavanols, the better people did on the tests of cognitive functioning.  The participants who consumed highest amounts of flavanols were able to complete tests more quickly and recall more information. One word of caution to readers is that this particular study was funded by Mars so there is a potential conflict of interest here. However, the finding that flavanols are good for you is not exactly news. Flananols are widely known to reduce blood pressure and it may be that their effect on increasing blood flow is having a secondary effect on brain functioning.  Flavanols are also found in red wine, grapes, apples and tea, if for any reason you do not wish to consume vast quantities of dark chocolate.

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8. Almonds

Almonds are very high in vitamin E which is thought to protect the brain from age related damage and to improve learning and memory skills. Almonds also contain riboflavin and L-carnitrine which are widely accepted as nutrients that boost brain activity.

9. Broccoli

Broccoli contains Vitamin K which strengthens cognitive abilities and Choline which has been found to improve memory.  Broccoli also contains folic acid which can help to ward of Alzheimer’s disease.  Some studies also suggest that a lack of folic acid can lead to depression so broccoli may be good for our brains on many levels, not strictly in terms of doing well on IQ or memory tests.  If you’re not that into broccoli on its own, check out this site for a delicious broccoli, cannellini bean and cheddar soup.

10. Avocado

In 1994, Miller found that the workings of the human brain depends on communication between our brain’s 100 billion neurons.  The axon of each neuron is coated in a type of insulation known as myelin.  When myelin is thicker, the transmission of impulses between neurons is faster. This is turn is linked to higher intelligence. Avocados are known to have a high fat content and yet this is fat that is good for our brains. Avocados are rich in a fatty acid called “oleic acid” which helps build myelin sheathes found in the white matter in the brain. Neurons without myelin process information at slower speeds. So while we know that correlation is not the same as causation, eating avocados does appear to be a helpful method for building up our myelin.  Other sources of oleic acid include olives, almonds and pecans.

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A few recipes using these and other good brain foods can be found here.

Now go forth, eat well and boost that brain power!

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Last Updated on June 18, 2018

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

What Really Works: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain Effectively

Eight out of ten adults experience lower back pain once in their lifetime. I am one of those people and I’m definitely not looking forward to my participation award. I know how it feels like to step out of bed and barely being able to put on your socks. Having lower back pain sucks. But 9 out of 10 patients that suffer from lower back pain don’t even know the primary cause of it.

Video Summary

Back Pain? Blame Our Evolution

Once upon a time in our fairly recent past, our ancestors felt the urgency to stand up and leave our quadruped neighbors behind. Habitual bipedalism, fancy word for regularly walking on two legs, came with a lot of advantages. With two rear limbs instead of four, we were able to more efficiently use our hands and create tools with them.

Sadly, life on two legs also brought along its disadvantages. Our spine had four supporting pillars previously, but now it only got two. The back is therefore naturally one of the weak links of our human anatomy. Our spine needs constant support from its supporting muscles to minimize the load on the spine. With no muscle support (tested on dead bodies) the back can only bear loads up to 5 pounds without collapsing [reference Panjabi 1989]. With well-developed torso muscles, the spine can take loads up to 2000 pounds. That’s a 400-fold increase.

Most people that come to me with a history of a herniated disc (that’s when the discs between the vertebral bodies are fully collapsed, really severe incident), tell me the ‘story of the pencil’. The injury with the following severe pain usually gets triggered by picking up a small, everyday object. Such as a pencil. Not as you may think by trying to lift 100 pounds – no, but by a simple thing – such as a pencil.

This tells us that damage in your back adds up over time, it’s a so called cumulative trauma disorder. Meaning back pain is a result of your daily habits.

Sitting Is the New Smoking

Whenever I sit for too long, my back hurts. In fact, 54% of Americans who experience lower back pain spend the majority of their workday sitting. But isn’t sitting something that should reduce the stress of your back? No, just the opposite.

The joints between the bones of the spine are not directly linked to the blood supply. These joints instead get nourished through a process called diffusion. Diffusion works because molecules (such as oxygen, important for cells) are constantly moving and try to get as much space for themselves as they can. A key element for diffusion therefore is a pressure difference. In the image below the left room contains more moving molecules than the right, that’s why the molecules from the left are moving to the right. This way nutrition gets transformed into the joints, whereas toxins are transported out of the joints.

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Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spinal chord. The diffusion process therefore can’t function as efficiently. Nutrition and toxins can’t be properly transported, the joints get damaged.

    Sit Properly

    If sitting can play such a huge part in the creation of your lower back pain, how do you sit properly then?

    Is it better to sit with a straight back or should you rather lay back in your chair? Can I cross my legs when I’m sitting or should I have a symmetrical position with my feet? These are questions that I hear on a daily basis. The answer might shock you – according to recent science – all of them are right. The best sitting position is an ever-changing one. An ever-changing position minimizes the pressure on certain points of your spine and spreads it on the whole part.

      Credit: StayWow

      Stand Up More

      Even better than a sitting position is a stand up position. Standing dramatically reduces the pressure on your spine. If you’re forced to work on a desk the whole day though, you have two options.

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      Take breaks every hour of about 2-3 minutes.

      Set an alarm on your phone that goes off every hour! In that time you stand up and reach to the ceiling, on your toe tips with fully extended arms. You’re inhaling during the whole process. You do this activity for 20 seconds. Afterwards you’re walking through the office for the next 2 minutes. You might grab a healthy snack or some water in that time. The exercise relieves the pressure on your spine, while the walking makes sure that the joints on your spine are properly used.

      Or get a standing desk.

      One of the best companies on the market for Standing Desks, according to my research, is Autonomous. Autonomous offers a rather cheap Standing Desk, with the ability to change the height. Which means you can start the day standing and switch to sitting if you’re tired.

      Exercise for Lower Back Pain

      Sitting is an immobile position. Your joints are made for movement and therefore need movement to function properly. If humans are moving, all moving parts: e.g. the joints, bones and muscles get strengthened. If you’re in a rested position for too long, your tissues start to deteriorate. You have to get the right amount of activity in.

      But not too much activity. There’s a chance that going to the gym may even increase your risk of lower back pain. I know plenty of friends with chiseled bodies that suffer from pain in the spine regularly. Huge muscles do not prevent you from back pain. In your training you should focus on building up the muscles that are stabilizing your back and relieve pressure. Squats with 400 pounds don’t do the trick.

      The more weight you carry around, the more weight your spinal chord has to bear on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why huge, muscular guys can suffer from back pain too. One of the most important goals of your exercise regimen should therefore be weight loss.

      Here are some important tips for you to consider when starting an exercise regimen:

      Make sure you implement cardiovascular training in your workout routine.

      This will not only help you lose weight, it will also make sure that your arteries, which flow to the tissue next to your spinal discs, are free of placque and can therefore transport nutrients properly.

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      Important: If you have rather strong back pain, maybe even an herniated disc, don’t start running on a threadmill. Running is an high-impact exercise. Which means there are continuous, reocurring high pressure points on your spine. Your endurance training should therefore either be fast-paced walking or a training on the elliptical trainer for the beginning, because both have little to no stressful impact on your backbone.

      Focus on developing your whole core if you want to minimize your pain.

      There are some people that do hundreds of sit ups a day. While sit ups are a good exercise for your abdomen, it also puts pressure on your spine due to the bending movement. A sixpack workout routine is one-sided. Your abs may become overdeveloped in comparison to your back muscles. You’ve created an imbalance. A great way to train your abdominal muscles and back muscles simultaneously, is holding the plank position.

      Stretch only if you have tight muscles.

      I remember stretching every morning after I woke up. I took 10 minutes out of my day to just work on my flexibility and prevent injuries. Little did I know that I was actually promoting an injury, by doing so.

      Contrary to common belief, stretching is only partially beneficial to treating lower back pain. Stretching makes sense if tight muscles (such as the hamstrings) are forcing you to constantly bend your back. Stretching to treat pain doesn’t make sense if you’re already on a good level of flexibility. Hyper-mobility may even enforce back pain.

      If you found out that you had tight muscles that you need to stretch, try to stretch them at least three times a week. Don’t stretch your muscles right after you wake up in the morning. This is because your spinal discs soak themselves up in fluid over the nighttime. Every bending and excessive loads on your spine is much worse in that soaked-up state. Postpone your stretching regime to two-to three hours after you’ve woken up.

      Where to Start

      The key to improving your habits is awareness. Try to get aware of your back while you’re sitting down, laying down or lifting an object next time. This awareness of your body is called proprioception. For example, you have to be aware whether your back is bended or straight in this very second. Trust me, it is harder than you might think. You may need to ask a friend for the first few tries. But the change that this awareness can make in your back pain is absolutely fascinating. This consciousness of your body is one of the most important things in your recovery or prevention.

      Here are a few behavioural tactics that you need to be considering:

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      If you’re leaning forward more than 30 degrees with your upper body, support your spine with your arms.

      Ever tried to show a colleague of yours a complex issue and found yourself awkwardly leaning forward on their desk, pointing with your fingers to his paper? If that ever happens again, make sure you’re using the not-pointing arm to support yourself on the desk.

      Keep a straight back.

      Be it while exercising, stretching or standing. If you’re bending your back you’re putting stress on small areas of your spinal chord. A straight back redistributes the force to a bigger area. You’re minimizing the pressure. Remember this whenever you’re at the gym and reracking your weights, focus on having a neutral spine.

      Put symmetrical loads on your spine.

      I used to play the trumpet when I was a child. The instrument is pretty heavy. The trumpet gets transported in a big, metallic suitcase – with no wheels. Being the nature of suitcases, you only carry it with one arm, on one side of your body. This forced me to constantly lean on the other side with my upper body, while transporting the instrument from A to B. Not really the healthiest activity for your spine as you can imagine.

      If you have to carry heavy objects, carry them with both arms. Put the object in the middle of your body and keep it as close to your mass of gravity as you can. If this is not possible, try to carry the same amount on the left side than you do on the right side. This puts the stress vertically on a fully extended spine. The load is much better bearable for your spine.

      Stay Away From the Back Pain League

      Our world is getting more sedentary. We will continue to develop faster transportation, more comfortable houses and easier lives. While our technological progress definitely has its amazing benefits, it sadly has its downsides too. The danger for back pain will continue to rise on our ever-increasing motionless planet. It’s time to raise awareness.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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