Foods For The Brain – Eating For Better Memory, Focus And Concentration

brain heart
 
Have you ever walked into a room just to pause and ask yourself why did I come here?
 
Or you could swear that you had put your keys right next to your wallet, and yet they aren’t there, and you have no idea where you’ve put them instead?
 
Or here’s my favorite: having the wrong memory because I recorded something in vivid detail, just to later discover that it had happened quite differently! That’s a typical episode of the brain creating its own reality and filling gaps with whatever is most plausible at that time, or whatever is suggested by the circumstances.
 
Our brain is an extremely powerful organ that regulates most of the vital processes in our body, so it’s obvious that we want to take care of it the best way we can!
 
Absentmindedness, blocking, misattribution, fading away, suggestibility, and bias are all in the category we refer to as “normal memory lapses”, which, for biochemical reasons, can become more common the older we get.
 
But they don’t have to!
 
A lot of our brain issues can be treated or alleviated with some of the very same lifestyle choices and habits that take care of so many other health concerns too:  stress reduction, restorative sleep, regular exercise, moderation in the use of digital gadgets, and a sound social life and interaction with others.
 
On top of that, our brain loves good food! And that’s what I want to focus on in this newsletter.
 
Of course, there are many brain diseases that go far beyond the occasional lapses and it’s terrible that Alzheimer’s and Dementia-related conditions are rapidly on the rise, with the former even now counted among the top 10 causes of death in the US! We live longer, move less, eat more, are constantly stressed, lack sleep, are addicted to digital gadgets and don’t challenge our brains enough - which all contribute to brain deterioration.
 
The good news is that even more serious brain issues can potentially be prevented or slowed in progression with the right mix of nutrition, lifestyle choices and brain training!
 
I’ve always believed in prevention rather than cure, so I want to encourage you to add a healthy brain routine to your daily habits. Besides the right food, we also need to get enough movement and brain stimulation to build new brain cells and neural connections, especially as we get older.
 
Below is an overview of the best nutrition your brain will love, including, foods, spices & herbs, and even needed supplements.
 
owl in flight
 
 

The most common causes of memory loss

 
The hitlist of causes for memory loss include prescription medications, head injuries, thyroid issues, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, lack of sleep, B vitamins deficiency, cancer treatment, stroke, stress, and brain health issues.
 
Most causes for lack of focus or concentration can be found in the very same arena, with a big bad addition of overstimulation by everything that seeks our attention – especially in our digital lives!
 
A good portion of all these causes can likely be prevented with the right brain food and overall healthy nutrition.
 
And before you assume that a memory lapse means that something is wrong with your brain, be aware that more than 50 conditions can cause or mimic the symptoms of dementia. Like all functional symptoms, deciding whether these symptoms are part of a neurological disease or not must be done by an expert.
 
But often, these kinds of symptoms do not indicate a memory problem at all. They can mostly be explained as a consequence of poor concentration or absentmindedness. If you are not concentrating to begin with, perhaps because you are tired, or distracted, then you are not going to remember things.
 
Concentration issues are very common symptoms of anxiety and depression, so it’s easy to see how a vicious circle of symptoms can start to develop in this situation.
 
Medications are common culprits in mental decline. With aging, the liver becomes less efficient at metabolizing drugs and the kidneys eliminate them from the body more slowly. As a result, drugs tend to accumulate in the body. Elderly people and those taking several medications are especially vulnerable.

The list of drugs that can cause dementia-like symptoms is long:

Antidepressants, antihistamines, Parkinson’s drugs, antianxiety drugs, cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins), antiseizure drugs, hypertension drugs (beta-blockers), anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, narcotic painkillers, sedatives and sleeping aids, and incontinence drugs.

In my opinion, some of these drugs could possibly be replaced with medical CBD for good results and much fewer side effects!
 
fresh vegetables 
 

The best nutrition for better memory, focus and concentration

Brain cells (neurons) are particularly vulnerable to oxidation by free radicals, so eating foods high in antioxidants is vital for memory, focus and concentration.

Just changing your eating habits can really do wonders for your overall health.  And by eliminating any foods you are allergic to, you will mostly likely notice an improvement in your memory and concentration.  Sometimes the changes can be quite dramatic.
 

1.Eat well

Certain foods can affect your mental state, contributing to symptoms associated with brain fog.  At times this can be due to something you eat that you are allergic to.  While you might not have a severe reaction to such foods, it can affect you in other ways. 

This is one reason that part of any natural thyroid treatment protocol often eliminates all of the refined foods and sugars for at least a period of 21 to 30 days and replaces these with whole foods.  During this time, you should also avoid any animal and dairy products, and try to eat mainly organic fruits and vegetables.
 

2.Get good sugars

Sugar is your brain's preferred fuel source -- not table sugar, but glucose, which your body metabolizes from the sugars and carbohydrates you eat. A piece of fruit is a better choice than fruit juice, as the fiber in the whole fruit releases the sugar more slowly. A great strawberry, banana or carrot smoothie offers enough glucose and fiber to give you a good brain boost without spiking your blood sugar to unhealthy levels.

Select complex carbohydrates like whole grains to enhance blood flow and reduce plague buildup, also in the brain.
 

3.Select the right Omega-3 fatty acids

 When we think of brain foods, omega-3 essential fatty acids come to mind first. The good news is that they no longer need to come from fish or crustaceans! There is now ample proof that plant sources for omega-3, especially microalgae, are just as potent, bio-available and far more sustainable to obtain than the animal-based sources.
 
About 60% of your brain is made of fat, and half of that fat is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids. They are used to build brain and nerve cells and are essential for learning and memory. With enough omega-3s you may slow age-related mental decline and help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. On the flip side, not getting enough is linked to learning impairments, as well as depression.

Good omega-3 sources are microalgae supplements for best bio-availability, but also ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, coconut oil, avocados, winter squash, kidney and pinto beans, spinach, broccoli, and pumpkin seeds.

Always select plant-based sources over fish or crustacean-based omega-3, as these come with a side of heavy metals, chemicals, artificial growth hormones, and increasingly, radiation.
 
dark chocolate
 
 

4.Load-up on antioxidants to protect brain cells and fight free radicals


Antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E, and beta carotene offer loads of healthy compounds that stabilize the free radicals, especially in the brain.
Antioxidants can be broken down into two groups including:
 
  1. Flavonoids are primarily found in plants, approximately 4,000 flavonoids have been identified. This group contains seven different categories, including anthocyanidins (from blueberries, grapes and wine) and catechins/epicatechin (found in cocoa, dark chocolate and tea) and more.
  2. Non-flavonoids include three categories: minerals, plant pigments and vitamins. Plant pigments include carotenoids (found in orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and pumpkins). Vitamin C and E are the primary vitamin antioxidants. Selenium is an example of a mineral antioxidant enzyme, found in Brazil nuts, eggs, fish, grains and meat.
 
Studies have also shown that flavonoids called anthocyanins” found in red berries are associated with decreasing cardiovascular risks. What’s good for the heart is good for the brain, because cardiovascular disease increases the risk of Alzheimer’s, so flavonoids are also highly recommended for brain health and Alzheimer’s prevention.
 
There is strong evidence that regular intake (half a cup twice a week) of blueberries or strawberries is associated with delaying cognitive decline for over two years.
 
  • BERRIES: Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, Goji berries, cranberries, black currants, mulberries all contain antioxidants anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, and quercetin.
  • VEGETABLES and HERBS: Tomatoes, bell peppers, celery, dried oregano, and chamomile tea contain the potent flavonoid luteolin and vitamin C
  • NUTS AND SEEDS: Healthy unsaturated fats from avocados, nuts and seeds include both, antioxidant vitamin E and fatty acids. Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts contain most vitamin E. Other good sources are flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, and pumpkin seeds
  • DARK CHOCOLATE of at least 70% cacao contains beneficial cacao flavonoids. The flavonoids in chocolate gather in the areas of the brain that deal with learning and memory. Researchers believe that these compounds may enhance memory and help slow down age-related mental decline
  • WHOLE GRAINS are great vitamin E sources. Eat brown rice, barley, bulgur wheat, oatmeal and ancient grains to benefit the most
  • COFFEE can increase a brain’s processing capacity by increasing Resting Brain Entropy with its caffeine. Entropy is an important trait of brain function and high entropy indicates high information processing capacity. Needless to say, too much caffeine comes with unwanted side effects, so check carefully with a medical advisor before upping your coffee consumption for brain health
  • CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, cabbage, kale, chards, collards, and arugula contain glucosinolates. When the body breaks these down, they produce isothiocyanates, which may reduce oxidative stress
  • DARK LEAFY VEGETABLES like spinach, romaine, mustard greens and dandelion are all rich in brain-healthy nutrients like vitamin K, lutein, folate, and beta carotene
  • FERMENTED SOY PRODUCTS that are GMO-free like tempeh, miso, natto, bean curd and soy sauce all contain polyphenols. Research has linked polyphenols with a reduced risk of dementia and improved cognitive abilities in regular aging processes. Fermented soy is superior to non-fermented to avoid the phytic and oxalic acid levels generally found in non-fermented soy
  • FRUITS that are high in vitamin C like citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, guava and cantaloupe melon
  • GREEN TEA is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that could protect the brain from mental decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. One of them is L-theanine, an amino acid that can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps reduce anxiety and makes you feel more relaxed. Studies have shown that green tea helps to improve memory
 
spices turmeric and ginger
 

 

5.Add spices and herbs that boost brain health


There are herbs and spices that can help with memory and concentration.  These are beneficial in multiple ways, even if you don’t have a concern about brain health. Several of these herbs and spices have been studied for their effects on Alzheimer's disease, while others have been tested for their overall effects on cognition (i.e. the mental action or process involved in thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering).

Note that while adding herbs and spices in the smaller amounts used in cooking can be healthy and very beneficial, larger quantities may lead to adverse effects. Taking herbs and spices in a more concentrated form like supplements can carry risks, so make sure to check with your medical advisor first.
 
Some of the spices below are adaptogens. These are plants and mushrooms that help your body respond to stress, anxiety, fatigue and overall wellbeing.


Here are the best herbs and spices that can help with memory and concentration:
  • Ginkgo Biloba: Long used as a treatment for dementia, ginkgo biloba is a commonly taken remedy in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and well known for its benefits. It may help improve cognitive function in part by stimulating circulation and promoting blood flow to the brain
  • Ginseng: One of the most popular plants and adaptogens in herbal medicine, ginseng contains anti-inflammatory chemicals called ginsenosides. According to a review published in 2018, scientists have observed that ginsenosides may help reduce brain levels of beta-amyloid in preliminary lab studies
  • Sage: A spice known for its pungent scent, sage might also improve cognition and aid in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. A research review published in 2017 suggests sage contains compounds that may be beneficial for cognitive and neurological function
  • Ashwagandha: An adaptogen that has been found to inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in preliminary research, according to a review study published in 2010
  • Turmeric: Curcumin, a compound within the golden-hued spice turmeric helps improve memory, attention span, and mood. Regularly consuming turmeric may help the brain heal itself, as it may support the growth of nerve cells for brain repair. Curcumin boosts antioxidant activity, 
  • lowers oxidative stress, and reduces systemic inflammation. The spice may also stimulate the regeneration of stem cells and treat tumors
  • Ginger: This popular spice is very rich in anti-inflammatory and increases blood flow to the brain
  • Gotu Kola: In alternative medicine systems such as Ayurveda and TCM, Gotu Kola has long been used to improve mental clarity. Research findings suggest that this herb may also help the brain by fighting oxidative stress
  • Lemon Balm: An herb often taken in tea form and frequently used to ease anxiety and insomnia, lemon balm may help improve cognitive function. This was studied in 2003 on 42 Alzheimer’s patients
  • Bacopa: The herb helps improve mental clarity, boosting energy levels, lowering oxidative stress and anxiety. Many nootropics include bacopa because it helps reduce cognitive decline, inflammation and increases one’s memory, attention, and learning capabilities
  • Rhodiola: Some evidence suggests that Rhodiola rosea L., also known as roseroot, can help with cognitive ability. One review reported that it may have neuroprotective effects and may help treat neurodegenerative diseases
  • Rosemary: An herb that can help improve memory the fastest via aromatherapy and inhalation. Rosemary can also be consumed in foods or tea. Research on rosemary focuses on its ability to increase the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and potential treatments for dementia
  • Tulsi: also known as Holy Basil, is an herb that contains the compounds Ocimumosides A and B, which help balance serotonin and dopamine in the cerebrum and reduce oxidative stress. Tulsi also has anti-depressant and anti-anxiety benefits

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: neither herb nor spice, this adaptogenic mushroom still has to go on the list for brain healthy substances! It has a rich history of use within Traditional Chinese Medicine as a mushroom for brain and neurological health. Modern research also suggests this fungus has the ability to support brain health. One study involving older adults suggests that Lion’s Mane can help support improvement of mild cognitive impairment.
 
 
brain memory focus
 
 

Get enough B vitamins

 
The group of B vitamins – 1,2,3,6,9, and 12 – play an important role in brain health. They may help prevent dementia and boost the production of neurotransmitters – chemicals that deliver messages between neurons in the brain and body. Without a steady supply of this nutrient, which the body doesn’t store, we are at higher risk for cognitive decline, including memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Many foods are fortified with B vitamins, so deficiencies are rare, except for B12. For most people, simply eating a well-rounded diet will provide sufficient B vitamins. The best sources are:
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables – especially leafy greens
  • Beans (legumes)
 
Good plant-based vitamin B6 sources are: fortified cereals, fortified soy products, bell peppers, turnip greens, spinach, bananas
 
Good plant-based vitamin B9 (folic acid) sources are: spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, romaine lettuce, Bok choy, whole grains, peas, lentils, beans, brewer's yeast, melon, banana, grapefruit, strawberry, beets, corn, sunflower seeds, fortified cereals
 
 

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 has critical benefits for the brain and nervous system, yet many people are deficient in B12 because they cannot absorb it.
 
B12 is needed to form memories and to focus and concentrate. Vitamin B12 can alleviate some of the symptoms of schizophrenia such as apathy, social withdrawal, and emotional inexpressiveness.  The vitamin may play a role in preventing brain atrophy, which is the loss of neurons in the brain and often associated with memory loss or dementia. One study in people with early-stage dementia showed that a combination of vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acid supplements slowed mental decline. Another study found that even vitamin B12 levels on the low side of normal can contribute to poor memory performance. As a result, supplementing with this vitamin may improve memory, even in the absence of a clinically diagnosed deficiency.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is surprisingly common, affecting nearly half of all adults. It has been associated with memory loss and brain volume loss, especially in older adults. Low B12 levels are associated with depression. Some researchers believe that the link between B12 deficiency and dementia and psychiatric disorders is so strong that patients with these conditions should have their B12 level closely monitored for life.
 
Vitamin B12, however, is found only in animal products. Therefore, vegans should take a supplement. Also, as you get older your intestines can lose their ability to absorb B12. Keep in mind that some medications, such as those for diabetes or reflux, can interfere with the absorption of B12.
 
Vitamin B12 supplements are typically derived from two sources: cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin. While methylcobalamin contains a methyl group, cyanocobalamin contains a cyanide molecule. Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form of vitamin B12 found only in supplements, while methylcobalamin is a naturally occurring form that you can get through either food sources or supplements.
 
Research shows that cyanocobalamin may be absorbed better in your body, while methylcobalamin likely has a higher retention rate. Other studies have found that the differences in absorption and retention are minimal.
 
Good plant-based vitamin B12 sources are: fortified nutritional yeast, organic soy milk, rice milk, hemp milk, cereals, vegetable protein, vegan B12 supplements
 

Here’s to keeping your memory, focus and concentration sharp for as long as possible, and to keep those precious memories alive!
 
 
Yours truly,
 
Ina Mohan
Founder & President
Health, Healing & Happiness LLC