We don’t give much thought to our brains – they are just there, helping us function, communicate and breathe – at times annoying us with irrational worry and keeping us awake at night with inane ponderings, at other times getting us in trouble with outbursts, or bringing fun and surprise to conversations with witty repartee.
This week, I heard a stroke victim talking about how she was having to learn every single word again after a stroke badly damaged one part of her brain – I remember my grandfather going through the same thing and getting frustrated when he knew what he wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t come.
When my Dad was very ill with dementia – he stopped speaking completely. As his disease progressed, each part of his brain slowly shriveled, and this wonderful, articulate man was reduced to nearly nothing - weirdly, he could always play cricket and do maths - right until the end.
Our brain is the very essence of who we are, it makes up our personalities, creates our biases and reactions, helps us see colour and laugh and aids us to love and to hate.
We ask a lot of our brain and it, in return, has real biological needs. These come in the form of oxygen, macro and micro-nutrients and sleep.
Every minute, ~600-700ml of blood flows into our brains through our carotid arteries and their branches, while another ~100-200ml flow through our vertebral-basilar system. That's close to a litre of blood flowing through our brain every minute!
The blood brings with it oxygen, as well as glucose, vitamins, minerals and other essential compounds. Our brain needs the right proteins and fats to do things such as grow new connections or add myelin, the fatty sheath surrounding our axons (nerve fibres).
Our diet is hugely important for good brain health and brain function. Long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, fibre, vitamins B1, B9, B12, D and E are all important components of a healthy diet.
Plant compounds like the anthocyanins, found in purple fruit and vegetables, exhibit a significant neuroprotective role, mainly due to their well-recognised antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Neuroinflammation is an intricate process relevant in both health and disease circumstances.
Consuming a large serve of anthocyanin-rich fruits may boost learning ability, memory and motor skills. Evidence shows that people who regularly consume berries (two to three times per week) have better brain function and are less likely to develop dementia than others their own age.
Some of the science around anthocyanins and their role in brain health is reviewed in this paper if you are interested in understanding more (link here)
Sleep is also critical for long-term brain health and function. Most of us don't get enough sleep - we actually need 7-9 hours per day. Improving the quality of our sleep is arguably the single most effective thing that we can do to reset our brain, recharge our body and improve our health and mental state.
Continuous sleep deprivation – even if it’s only by an hour or two a night – is correlated with chronic diseases, such as dementia and heart disease.
We experience different types of sleep and the different types (REM and non-REM) are important in different ways for sorting and retaining memory - both before and after an event. If you experience "brain fog" regularly, more sleep may be the answer!
Many environmental factors affect our sleep, for example, the half-life of caffeine in our bodies is 5-6 hours, so if we have a coffee mid-afternoon, that caffeine will still be circulating in our system when its bedtime!
Caffeine is an adenosine receptor antagonist, which means it stops adenosine, a substance in our body that promotes sleepiness, from binding to its receptor. First thing in the morning, that’s ok, our levels of adenosine are low anyway and we have many hours for the caffeine to work its way out of our system – but we really shouldn’t be drinking caffeinated drinks after midday so that the adenosine, which builds up during the day, can play its part in setting off a biochemical chain which promotes good sleep.
Another substance which impacts sleep is alcohol. Alcohol can act as a sedative, helping us get to sleep, but it’s overall affect on sleep quality is negative, we wake more often and end up suffering the next day from poor quality rest. If you have trouble getting to sleep, have a read of one of our earlier blogs for tips in managing insomnia (link here).
For a good book or podcast on the value of sleep, we recommend “Why We Sleep,” by Matthew Walker, a Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California - here is a link to a great chat between him and Dr Rangan Chatterjee (link here).
Physically, our brains weigh about 1.3kg, and are made up of 60% fat with the remaining 40% water, protein, carbohydrates and salt.
Our brain is a big spongy, mooshy mass that needs all the love and attention we can give it – it is the essence of who we are and how we feel, it couldn’t be more important.
Please contact us if you have any queries email@example.com and don’t forget to check out our new Zestt Wellness lozenge range, including Insight Brain Health lozenges and Think Clearly!