We should be concerned with brain health at all ages, not
just when we begin to experience cognitive decline! Your brain serves you in so
many ways (many of them unconscious)—by keeping your heart beating and lungs
breathing, storing your memories, coordinating all body movements by the
millisecond, enabling speech, processing your emotions and more. By all
accounts, your brain is the most important (and extraordinary) organ in your
body—and we are discovering more about it all the time. Let’s look at some surprising
brain health facts and everyday ways to preserve your brain’s health.
Brain Health and Heart Health are Intertwined
There is such a thing as “brain food,” and we’re finding out
that the same foods that boost your brain health also contribute to the health
of your heart. The Mediterranean diet, with its focus on omega-rich fish and
antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, is seen as one of the most healthful
ways to eat. Good fats and antioxidants reduce inflammation in the body which
helps prevent many maladies, including elevated cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, dementia
and heart disease. In fact, research has shown that following the MIND diet—a “hybrid”
of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (which was created to prevent
hypertension)—reduces the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists have discovered an amazing connection between
heart and brain health through research with the Tsimane, indigenous people to
the Bolivian Amazon. These people live a preindustrial lifestyle of hunting,
gathering and fishing and have the lowest recorded incidence of coronary artery
disease on the planet, according to a 2017 study. However, due to lack of
access to modern health care, they suffer from high rates of inflammation due
to infections and parasites. Both coronary artery disease and systemic
inflammation contribute to brain atrophy, which results in cognitive decline.
However, the scientists found that Westerners had a 70%
faster rate of brain volume decline with aging than the Tsimane. They concluded
that the Tsimane’s healthy hearts trumped even their high levels of
inflammation, and that cardiovascular fitness is very important for brain
health as we age.
Your Gut, the “Second Brain,” Also Affects Actual Brain
Research has uncovered the “gut-brain axis,” a phenomenon
that links the health of the ecosystem within your intestinal tract with the
health of your brain.
In fact, your digestive tract has its own nervous system,
the enteric nervous system, which produces more than half of your serotonin and
controls other neurotransmitters and hormones. For this reason, it has been
called your “second brain.” The enteric nervous system in your gut communicates
with your brain. Basically, this is how your brain knows you’re “full” when you
eat or why (if you’re upset) you “lose your appetite.”
Research has found that through the gut-brain axis, digestive
health affects mental function and contributes to mental disorders like anxiety
Brain Health for Kids
Generally, there is no difference between keeping adult
brains and kid brains healthy. We must all avoid inactivity, obesity, isolation
and poor diet, all of which can trigger a cascade of effects critically
detrimental to brain health—physically, mentally and emotionally. However,
since brain development begins in the womb and is exponential during childhood,
a few distinctions can be made about the brain health of children.
In my practice, we care for many children diagnosed with
ADD/ADHD and those on the autism spectrum. Abnormal gut flora in these kids
produces toxins that reduce stomach acid and cause digestive problems and
“leaky gut” which allows incompletely digested proteins to enter the body’s
circulation. These toxins can then cross the blood-brain barrier and act as
neurotoxins to a child’s brain.
For example, the chemical structures of incompletely
digested gluten and casein resemble that of morphine and heroin, and they attach
to morphine receptors in the brain. Many of the symptoms of autism, such as hyperactivity,
aggression and stimming are related to persistent gut dysbiosis (when the
natural balance of bacterial flora in the GI tract is disturbed).
There are many causative factors associated with these
disorders, but the healing process always involves gentle detoxification,
required supplementation, proper nutrition and recommended therapies. We know,
without a doubt, that a child’s brain health is highly affected by
Joseph Cannizzaro, MD has been practicing pediatrics in
Central Florida for over 40 years and is medical director of the salt therapy
facility in his practice. As a
classically trained primary care physician who practices integrative medicine,
Dr. Cannizzaro believes that integrative medicine can bring conventional and
complementary healing modalities together, creating a highly personalized and
high-touch healing environment. Call the
Cannizzaro Integrative Pediatric Center at 321-280-5867 for a meet and greet or
to book a session at The Salt Room® Longwood.
Everyday Tips for Maintaining Brain Health
Keep Moving: Physical
exercise keeps blood flowing to the brain, which prevents stroke. Exercise also helps promote connections
between brain cells (synapses). Research
has linked higher activity levels with better memory and problem-solving
skills. Basically, if you want your
brain to stay young, keep your body moving with an activity you love at least
30 to 60 minutes several times per week.
Exercise Your Brain:
Engage in activities that stimulate your brain, such as reading, solving
puzzles, playing cards, cooking new cuisines and painting! The brain never stops growing. Learning new things also helps create new
connections between brain cells.
Experts agree, getting adequate sleep is paramount for brain
health. While you sleep, your brain resets
and repairs. Research has shown that during
sleep, the brain removes toxins called beta-amyloids, which can lead to
Alzheimer's and dementia. To get the
best sleep, avoid screens for 30 to 60 minutes before you go to bed. A quick internet search will reveal many
helpful sleep hygiene advice articles if that is an area of focus for you.
Keep Social: A
lifestyle that includes strong connections with friends and family has been
linked to lower blood pressure, lower risk of depression, anxiety and dementia
and a longer life expectancy.
Control Your Stress:
Experiment with techniques to find what works for you to reduce
stress—whether it’s keeping a daily planner, journaling, meditating or
praying. Do things you enjoy, like visiting
with friends or going to the beach. For
a quick mental break that also improves symptoms of respiratory and skin
conditions, may I recommend a visit to The Salt Room—it’s a mini vacation where
you can unplug in a zero-gravity chair, passively breathing salt particles,
which have a calming effect on the nervous system.