BECAUSE YOUR BRAIN MATTERS: THE 9 POINT BRAIN PLASTICITY CHECKLIST

You know your brain is important, but do you know how to take care of it?

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your brain stays healthy and to make sure your brain plasticity isn’t compromised.

WHAT IS BRAIN PLASTICITY?

Plasticity is defined as changes in neural (brain) pathways and synapses due to changes in the environment, which allows for changes in mental and motor function to occur.  A simple definition of plasticity is that it is the brain's ability to change itself.  Whether you know it or not, you want good plasticity, and there is a lot you can do to support it.

WHY YOUR BRAIN MATTERS?

If you want to develop a new skill, prevent mental decline as you age, or keep learning throughout your life, then you want a plastic brain.  Learning requires brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity has far reaching implications.  There are a growing number of fascinating therapies that utilize brain plasticity.  These therapies challenge the brain in areas where there are weaknesses, such as with learning disorders, or developmental delays.  There are therapies to help stroke victims regain the function lost in the damaged area of the brain such as movement, vision or speech.  People with Alzheimer’s can gain lost cognitive function using specialized computer games.  Plasticity is being utilized increasingly in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis where movement may be compromised, and there are even applications for regaining movement after a spinal cord injury. 

If you want to find out more about some of the therapies that can help your brain regain lost or missing skills, then I would highly recommend Norman Doidge’s books The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW!

Here’s a 9 point checklist you can use to make sure your brain has everything it needs to be primed for learning or to get the most out of rehab therapies.

1.  Vitamin D:  Make sure your vitamin D levels are good.  Ask your doctor to do a blood test to check your levels.  Supplement if your levels are low.  Get plenty of sunshine too – when the sunshine hits your skin, your body makes vitamin D.

2.  Omega 3:  Like vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids are an important nutrient for brain plasticity.  Eat wild, cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines regularly, or supplement with a fish oil.  My favorite is cod liver oil, because it contains vitamin D as well.

3.  Biomarkers:  Go to your doctor and request blood tests for homocysteine, fasting insulin and CRP (c-reactive protein).  If these aren’t in the normal range it could be affecting your brain.  Diet, exercise and supplementation can help improve these biomarkers.

4.  Hormones:  Hormonal balance is important to brain health, so while you are getting other biomarkers tested, you might as well ask your doc for a full hormone panel that includes estradiol and testosterone. There are different ways to bring your hormones back into balance.  If you have eliminated toxins, are eating organic food, managing your stress and exercising (see below) and your hormones are still out of balance you can talk to your doctor or naturopathic doctor about options.

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5.  Exercise:  Do whatever you enjoy to get yourself moving.  Exercise promotes BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which is a necessary protein in the body that stimulates brain growth, and is necessary to support plasticity.

6.  Sleep: Most people don’t get adequate sleep. If you don’t wake up feeling refreshed then it could be a sign that you are getting too little sleep or your sleep is interrupted.  Your brain takes a “bath” when you are asleep to clear out metabolic debris and detox itself.

7.  Stress:  Finding ways to reduce or manage stress can be challenging for many people, but it is extremely important.  Ask yourself if you have enough time to do the things you love, spend time with the people who make you happy or to just be lazy.  If not, then it’s time to simplify life or start implementing some strategies to manage stress such as restorative exercise such as yoga, deep breathing or whatever works to calm you.  Sometimes counseling or additional support may be needed.

8.  Toxins:  Your brain is very susceptible to toxins, so take a look at some of the toxins you expose yourself to daily and try to reduce them.  Start with your body care products (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant etc) and look for a natural ingredient list free of chemicals.  Do the same thing for your household cleaners and laundry products.  Health food stores are great places to find natural body care and cleaning products.  Is the air you are breathing clean?  If not get an air filter.  Is the food you eat clean or is it sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides?  Start eating more organically grown foods.

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9.  Good nutrition:  Eating to support your brain goes a little deeper than just healthy eating.  If your biomarkers showed problems with homocysteine, blood sugar levels or inflammation, then diet can be customized to help bring test results back into a healthy range.  Eating to support plasticity also involves getting the nutrients the brain needs, as well as providing the building blocks for nerves and neurotransmitter production.  Eating to feed your gut microbiome is also important.  The organisms that live in your gut communicate a lot of information to your brain via the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

Wondering how your brain is doing?  Visit  Food For the Brain  and do their Cognitive Function Test.  Whether your score isn't as high as you'd like, or you just want to do everything you can to keep your brain at its best, then follow these 9 points.
Start by scheduling a doctor's appointment to get biomarkers tested, including vitamin D and hormones.  Then decide what your next step will be.

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

 

LOSING HAIR? 3 STEPS TO STOPPING HAIR LOSS

 Is a brush full of hair familiar?  Do you feel like handfuls of hair come out when you wash your hair?

Is a brush full of hair familiar?  Do you feel like handfuls of hair come out when you wash your hair?

Are you suffering from hair loss?  Do you wish you had a bit more hair on your head?

Hair loss can be traumatic for people, especially for woman.  Most people tend to associate hair loss with aging, so it can be particularly difficult for people to deal with when it begins early in life.  On the surface, hair loss seems like an aesthetic concern, but it can be indicative of deeper underlying health issues.

HEALTH ISSUE ASSOCIATED WITH HAIR LOSS

Nutrient deficiencies are one of the areas that has been researched in the area of hair loss.  Some commonly seen deficiencies include having low levels of iron, vitamin D, biotin (vitamin B7) and vitamin C.  One study found a correlation between low iron and vitamin D levels in relation to female hair loss (Source).

Androgenic alopecia, also known as male and female pattern baldness, results from high levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT).  DHT is converted from testosterone, and then binds to cell receptors on hair follicles, which results in the follicles shrinking.  Regardless of whether you are male or female, DHT can be problematic for your hair follicles.  In men it typically shows up as a receding hairline and follows male baldness patterns, but in women it shows up differently.  In women androgenic alopecia can cause either thinning or patterns that resemble male baldness.  Hormonal health is dependent on a balance of hormones, not necessarily on the amount of one or two hormones.  This means that levels of DHT can be low, but still contribute to hair loss if other hormones aren't balanced with the amount of DHT present.  Control of DHT levels is largely regulated by the amounts of testosterone and other hormones present in the body.

Low thyroid function, also known as hypothyroidism, can be another hormonal reason for hair loss.  When thyroid hormones are low it is not uncommon to have thinning hair.  Stress plays a significant role in reducing thyroid function, as does low levels of selenium in the body.  Gut health plays a role as well, as organisms in your gut are responsible for converted about 20% of T4 to T3, the active form of the hormone.  Other indications that you might have a low thyroid condition include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin and hair, and cold hands and feet.

STEPS TO REVERSE HAIR LOSS

1.  Eat a Nutrient Dense Diet

Ensuring you are getting nutrients associated with reduced hair loss is an important first step.  Foods rich in iron include liver, beef, lamb, and nuts and seeds, with pumpkin seeds coming out on top.  Vitamin D is difficult to get from food sources, but some good sources are cod liver oil, oily fish such as trout and salmon, mushrooms and egg yolk.  Exposing your skin to sunlight is one of the best sources of ensuring we get vitamin D, though you want to ensure you don't burn.  High levels of vitamin C can be found in bell peppers, broccoli, dark leafy greens, citrus fruit and berries.  To find biotin, look to eggs, nuts, liver, meat and oily fish.
Luckily some of these foods have more than one of the nutrients you need.  Make sure you regularly consume liver, meat, oily fish, nuts and seeds and a variety of vegetables and fruit.
You can also add a good quality multivitamin that includes a B Complex to ensure that deficiencies get corrected.

2.  Block DHT

Drink green tea.  Green tea contains EGCG, which has been shown to be protective against the effects of DHT (Source).  If you are a coffee drinker, try replacing your coffee with green tea.
Consume pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil.  Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil block the effects of DHT (Source).  Not only will these help block DHT, but they are rich in iron, as well as zinc.  Try a salad with a dressing made with pumpkin seed oil, or sprinkle seeds on salads, soups or just eat on them on their own.

3.  Get your hormones tested

If dietary changes in the first two steps aren't working, then visit your naturopathic or functional doctor to get hormone testing done.  Both of these types of doctors are well equipped to look at how well your hormones are balanced.  For a comprehensive look you should consider testing for sex hormones, thyroid hormones, and even cortisol (stress hormone).  A variety of treatment options will be available to you.  For a look at some herbal options click here.

Further reading:  

Happy, Healthy Eating!

Tracey