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    Maximizing Brain Health: Neuroplasticity, Nutrition, and Innovative Strategies for Cognitive Enhancement

    Maximizing Brain Health: Neuroplasticity, Nutrition, and Innovative Strategies for Cognitive Enhancement

    The human brain is a complex and dynamic organ at the core of our cognitive functions, emotions and overall well-being. Understanding its mechanisms and ways to optimize brain health is crucial for enhancing life quality and longevity. The "Better Brain Webinar" offers an in-depth exploration of brain functions, neuroplasticity, and practical strategies for cognitive enhancement. This article synthesizes the key points from the webinar, providing a comprehensive overview of brain health supported by scientific references.

    Get the webinar here.

    Key Brain Areas and Their Functions

    The brain's complexity is reflected in the diverse roles of its various regions:

    • Limbic System: Central to emotional regulation, memory, and responses such as fear, fight, and flight​​.
    • Prefrontal Cortex: Involved in controlling the limbic system, assessing situations, learning from experiences, and regulating short-term memory​​.

    Left vs. Right Brain?

    One may have heard about being either a left-brain or right-brain dominant person. That categorization holds to some degree, but it is more complex. 

    Brain lateralization (left vs. right brain) is a local rather than a whole-brain property. In other words, when the connection of interest is highly lateralized, the degree of lateralization of other brain connections is only associated with those connections that share a common node with the connection of interest.(1)

    Figure: Significant lateralization of gray matter density.

    Source: Nielsen, J., Zielinski, B., Ferguson, M., Lainhart, J. & Anderson J. (2013). An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging. PLoS ONE. 8(8): e71275.

    Neuroplasticity: The Brain's Adaptive Capability

    Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. It encompasses:(2)

    1. Adult vs. Developmental Plasticity: Differentiates the ongoing adaptability in adults from the rapid changes during development.
    2. Structural vs. Functional Plasticity: Structural changes involve alterations in the brain's physical structure, while functional changes refer to reorganizing neural pathways​​.
    3. Synaptic Plasticity: Includes Hebbian plasticity (Long-Term Potentiation and Depression) and homeostatic synaptic plasticity, which balance the overall activity in the brain​​.

    Read more about neuroplasticity here.

    The Role of Sleep and Exercise in Brain Health

    Sleep

    Deep sleep is crucial for brain health. It facilitates the clearance of metabolic byproducts through the glymphatic system. A typical sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes​​.(3)

    Exercise

    Regular physical activity enhances brain function by:(4)

    • Stimulating neurogenesis, especially in the hippocampus.
    • Releasing growth factors that support neural health and plasticity​​.

    Meditation and Brain Health

    Meditation offers numerous psychological and physiological benefits, including:

    • Psychological: Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression; improved concentration, memory, and emotional control​​.(5)
    • Physiological: Lower blood pressure, enhanced blood circulation to the brain, reduced cortisol levels, and increased neuroplasticity​​.(6)

    Neurogenesis(7)

    • Neurogenesis is the process by which new neurons are created in the brain, especially in the hippocampus
    • The regulation of neurogenesis is a complex and dynamic process influenced by a number of factors including genetics, epigenetics and environmental factors such as exercise and stress
    • In particular, aerobic exercise can stimulate neurogenesis by releasing growth factors
    • Stress and chronic inflammation have been shown to impair neurogenesis

    Nutritional Interventions

    Intermittent Fasting and Metabolic Switching

    Intermittent fasting and intermittent metabolic switching (IMS) promote neuroplasticity and brain health by alternating periods of metabolic stress with recovery. This approach enhances synaptic plasticity, neurogenesis, and cognitive performance while increasing the brain's resilience to injury and disease​​.(8-9)

    Key Nutrients and Supplements

    • Turmeric and Curcumin: Boost BDNF production, neuroplasticity, and protection against memory disorders​​.(10)
    • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Essential for brain structure and function, particularly DHA, vital for the cortex and retina​​.(11)
    • Blueberries: Improve memory and cognitive functions by increasing NGF production​​.(12-13)
    • Avocados: Enhance neural lutein levels, cognitive functions, and macular health​​.(14)
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): Provides neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and antioxidative benefits​​. It also improves cognitive functions.(15-16)
    • Ketones: Ketosis and ketones increase mitochondrial biogenesis and mitochondrial volume & mass (particularly in the brain)(17-18)

    Lear everything about nutrition and the brain from the Biohacker's Brain Nutrition Guide.

    Supplements for Cognitive Enhancement

    Certain supplements have shown promising effects on working memory and overall brain function:

    • Creatine Monohydrate: Enhances cognitive function and physical performance.(19-20)
    • Caffeine and L-Theanine: Improves alertness and reduces the jittery effects of caffeine​​.(21)
    • Panax Ginseng, L-Tyrosine and Phosphatidylserine: Support cognitive functions and stress resilience​​.(22-24)

    Brain-Enhancing Technologies

    Innovative devices and techniques such as neurostimulation (NeoRhythm) and photobiomodulation (Vielight) offer potential benefits for brain health by modulating brainwaves and enhancing cellular energy production​​.(25-26)

    Music and Cognitive Performance

    Listening to classical music, specifically pieces by Mozart and Vivaldi, has been associated with enhanced cognitive performance and emotional well-being​​.(27-28)

    Balancing Neurotransmitters

    Maintaining optimal levels of neurotransmitters is crucial for brain function. Supplements and nutrients like choline, phosphatidylserine (see before), magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids help balance key neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.(29-31)

    Gut-Brain Axis

    The health of the gut significantly influences brain function through the gut-brain axis. Factors like diet, environmental toxins, and nutrient deficiencies can affect this relationship, leading to a "leaky brain" and cognitive impairments​​.(32)

    Conclusion

    Optimizing brain health requires a multifaceted approach that includes lifestyle modifications, nutritional interventions, and advanced technologies. The insights from the Better Brain Webinar highlight the importance of understanding brain functions and implementing evidence-based strategies to enhance cognitive performance and overall well-being.

    Scientific References:

    1. Nielsen, J., Zielinski, B., Ferguson, M., Lainhart, J., & Anderson, J. (2013). An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging. PLoS ONE, 8(8): e71275.
    2. Li, J., Park, E., Zhong, L., & Chen, L. (2019). Homeostatic synaptic plasticity as a metaplasticity mechanism—a molecular and cellular perspective. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 54: 44–53.
    3. Mendelsohn, A. R., & Larrick, J. W. (2013). Sleep facilitates clearance of metabolites from the brain: glymphatic function in aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Rejuvenation research16(6), 518-523.
    4. Hötting, K., & Röder, B. (2013). Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews37(9), 2243-2257.
    5. Sedlmeier, P., et al. (2012). The psychological effects of meditation: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull, 138(6): 1139-71.
    6. Pascoe, M. C., Thompson, D. R., Jenkins, Z. M., & Ski, C. F. (2017). Mindfulness mediates the physiological markers of stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of psychiatric research, 95, 156-178.
    7. Aimone, J. et al. (2014). Regulation and function of adult neurogenesis: from genes to cognition. Physiological Reviews 94 (4): 991–1026.
    8. Mattson, M., Moehl, K., Ghena, N., Schmaedick, M., & Cheng, A. (2018). Intermittent metabolic switching, neuroplasticity and brain health. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 19(2): 81–94.
    9. Brocchi, A., Rebelos, E., Dardano, A., Mantuano, M., & Daniele, G. (2022). Effects of intermittent fasting on brain metabolism. Nutrients14(6), 1275.
    10. Bhat, A., Mahalakshmi, A. M., Ray, B., Tuladhar, S., Hediyal, T. A., Manthiannem, E., ... & Sakharkar, M. K. (2019). Benefits of curcumin in brain disorders. BioFactors45(5), 666-689.
    11. Yurko-Mauro, K., Alexander, D. D., & Van Elswyk, M. E. (2015). Docosahexaenoic Acid and Adult Memory: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE, 10(3): e0120391.
    12. Kalt, W., McDonald, J. E., Fillmore, S. A. E., & Tremblay, F. (2014). Blueberry Effects on Dark Vision and Recovery after Photobleaching: Placebo-Controlled Crossover Studies. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 62(46), 11180-11189.
    13. Krikorian, R., et al. (2010). Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(7), 3996–4000.
    14. Johnson, E., et al. (2015). Avocado consumption increases neural lutein and improves cognitive function. FASEB Journal, 29 (Suppl. 1): 32.8.
    15. Tsolaki, M., Lazarou, E., Kozori, M., Petridou, N., Tabakis, I., Lazarou, I., ... & Magiatis, P. (2020). A randomized clinical trial of greek high phenolic early harvest extra virgin olive oil in mild cognitive impairment: The MICOIL pilot study. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease78(2), 801-817.
    16. Millman, J. F., Okamoto, S., Teruya, T., Uema, T., Ikematsu, S., Shimabukuro, M., & Masuzaki, H. (2021). Extra-virgin olive oil and the gut-brain axis: Influence on gut microbiota, mucosal immunity, and cardiometabolic and cognitive health. Nutrition reviews79(12), 1362-1374.
    17. Hasan-Olive, M. M., Lauritzen, K. H., Ali, M., Rasmussen, L. J., Storm-Mathisen, J., & Bergersen, L. H. (2019). A ketogenic diet improves mitochondrial biogenesis and bioenergetics via the PGC1α-SIRT3-UCP2 axis. Neurochemical research44, 22-37.
    18. Kula, B., Antal, B., Weistuch, C., Gackière, F., Barre, A., Velado, V., ... & Smith, N. A. (2024). D-ꞵ-hydroxybutyrate stabilizes hippocampal CA3-CA1 circuit during acute insulin resistance. PNAS nexus, pgae196.
    19. Rae, C. & Digney, A. & McEwan, S. & Bates, T. (2003). Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Proceedings Biological Sciences 270 (1529): 2147–2150.
    20. Machek, S. B., & Bagley, J. R. (2018). Creatine monohydrate supplementation: considerations for cognitive performance in athletes. Strength & Conditioning Journal40(2), 82-93.
    21. Giesbrecht, T. & Rycroft, J. & Rowson, M. & De Bruin, E. (2010). The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. Nutritional Neuroscience 13 (6): 283–290.
    22. Neale, C. & Camfield, D. & Reay, J. & Stough, C. & Scholey, A. (2013). Cognitive effects of two nutraceuticals Ginseng and Bacopa benchmarked against modafinil: a review and comparison of effect sizes. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 75 (3): 728–737.
    23. Thomas, J. & Lockwood, P. & Singh, A. & Deuster, P. (1999). Tyrosine improves working memory in a multitasking environment. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 64 (3): 495–500.
    24. Glade, M. J., & Smith, K. (2015). Phosphatidylserine and the human brain. Nutrition31(6), 781-786.
    25. Salehpour, F., Mahmoudi, J., Kamari, F., Sadigh-Eteghad, S., Rasta, S. H., & Hamblin, M. R. (2018). Brain photobiomodulation therapy: a narrative review. Molecular neurobiology55, 6601-6636.
    26. Begemann, M. J., Brand, B. A., Ćurčić-Blake, B., Aleman, A., & Sommer, I. E. (2020). Efficacy of non-invasive brain stimulation on cognitive functioning in brain disorders: a meta-analysis. Psychological medicine50(15), 2465-2486.
    27. Mammarella, N. & Fairfield, B. & Cornoldi, C. (2007). Does music enhance cognitive performance in healthy older adults? The Vivaldi effect. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research 19 (5): 394–399.
    28. Jenkins, J. S. (2001). The Mozart effect. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 94(4), 170–172.
    29. Heinrichs, S. C. (2010). Dietary ω‐3 fatty acid supplementation for optimizing neuronal structure and function. Molecular nutrition & food research54(4), 447-456.
    30. Blusztajn, J. K., Slack, B. E., & Mellott, T. J. (2017). Neuroprotective actions of dietary choline. Nutrients9(8), 815.
    31. Kirkland, A. E., Sarlo, G. L., & Holton, K. F. (2018). The role of magnesium in neurological disorders. Nutrients10(6), 730.
    32. Morris, G., Fernandes, B. S., Puri, B. K., Walker, A. J., Carvalho, A. F., & Berk, M. (2018). Leaky brain in neurological and psychiatric disorders: Drivers and consequences. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry52(10), 924-948.

     

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