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Losing Your Mind? Four Natural Remedies for Improved Cognition

Posted: Wed, April 17, 2013 | By: IQ



by Jonathon Bechtel 

What foods improve your memory?

If you’re like me, one of the most unpleasant undercurrents in your daily routine is the constant stress your brain is exposed to as it navigates through the decision trees necessary to coordinate your life.

This essay first appeared in Jonathon’s blog, Health Kismet, HERE 

It sucks, but there’s no shame in hiding it.  Your short term working memory can juggle about six things before it starts to break.  Six. The most common cause of anxiety is an excessive amount of “decision trees” to ponder in order to make a choice.  Your brain freaks out when it has more information than it can chew on.

So keeping your brain in good shape is a sine qua non to successful living.  So how can food help you do it?  How can’t it help you do it?

Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

Your brain and its nervous system exist in a decentralized equilibria within the rest of your body to compete for energy and nutrients.  And it competes extremely hard.  About 20% of your caloric intake and 40% of your blood glucose gets sucked up by your brain in order to do what it needs to do.  It uses your central nervous system as its bodyguard to filter out toxins and bully hormones into telling other organs to acquiesce to its demands.

The decentralized nature of your neural processes makes specific treatment for neural conditions very difficult.  Most clinical drugs to treat alzheimers have been abysmal failures for this reason.  Some people are even referring to degenerative neural conditions as type 3 diabetes.

So the “food as medicine” metaphor doesn’t literally hold true in this case.  ”Lifestyle as medicine” would be more accurate.   But your brain does rely on a few specific nutrients and metabolic processes on a regular basis and these foods will help your brain get from point A to point B.

lecithin coats your nervous system
lecithin coats your nervous system

Lecithin

Lecithin is a phospholipid found inside your cell walls and the fatty sheath coating your central nervous system. 

 A supramajority of your body’s metabolism of phospholipids happens in your brain, and it needs a steady supply of phospholipids to keep itself happy. 

It’s also an important component of myelin, the fatty coating in your CNS which helps transport various messenger signals to and from your body.

In most cases defective cognition is improved with the addition of lecithin.  This is particularly true in alzheimers, where the combination of lecithin and physosstigmine helps improve mental performance.

Gingko Biloba

ginkgo biloba improves circulation to the brain
ginkgo biloba improves circulation to the brain

Gingko biloba is the most distinguished brain enhancing substances and also one of the most disputed.  

It’s probably not a remedy for specific conditions but is a docile enhancer of general cognitive function if digested regularly.

It has radical scavenging activities that are particularly active around the nervous system and helps improve circulation in capillaries close to the brain.  

These activities are due phytochemicals that are appropriately named as gingkoloids.

Ashwagandha Root

Also known as Indian Ginseng, it’s an herb that helps you sleep and is often used as the chemical basis for anti-dementia drugs.  The different types of ginseng all seem to exert mild neuroprotective effects, but none so much as  Ashwagandha.

ashwagandha seems to have a neuroprotective effect
ashwagandha seems to have a neuroprotective effect

It’s been a staple of ayurvedic mental treatments for many years, and it seems to work by improving neural regeneration within the hippocampus.  

If taking ashwagandha it’s best to take the root and not the leaf, since the root contains all of the plants biologically active components.

Grape Seed

Not commonly grouped with natural brain enhancers, I think grape seed (and its extract) is one of the sleeping tigers of nootropic substances.  It doesn’t have anything that specifically targets the brain, but its widespread effects on circulation and inflammatory responses promote certain types of metabolic health which are very relevant to cognitive functioning.

grape seeds improve circulation and the inflammation response
grape seeds improve circulation and the inflammation response

Particularly circulation.  Your brain is constantly sieving the bloodstream for sugar and oxygen, and consistent access to this nutrient pool is priority one for your brain’s survival.

  It’s not an accident that the incidence of circulatory disorders such as stroke and heart attacks and mental impairments are tightly correlated.  Problems with circulation beget problems with cognition.

And it’s with this problem that grape seed is so helpful.  It’s a powerful metabolic regulator, particularly when it comes to vasodilation.  

Grape seed helps your veins “relax”, and helps blood pump throughout the body.  It’s used as an adjunct to surgeries for this reason, and frequently helps control various regulatory disorders such as blood sugar and insulin sensitivity.

Wrapping It Up

Cracking the nut of improved cognitive function is a difficult task.  Your brain is not uniform in the nature of its tasks and a common denominator among all the foods I listed here is the disparate nature of their benefits.  There’s no synergy among them.  There’s a reason conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia are conditions and not diseases.  They’re too vague to specifically treat.

This essay first appeared in Jonathon’s blog, Health Kismet, HERE 



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