Natural Ways to Boost Your Brain Power
Who doesn’t want better memory, focus, concentration and mental performance? Whether you are a stay at home mum with little kids, a corporate executive, a student or a builder working on a complex building project – we all need our brain to be in top gear. Let’s explore some natural ways to boost your brain power with herbs and nutrients.
One of my favourite herbs that can help sharpen the mind and adapt to stress is Bacopa. Bacopa monnieri is a herb, which hails from the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, has been used for thousands of years to aid memory and learning. It is also a wonderful adaptogen, which essentially means it can help us adapt to stress by supporting adrenal and nerve health. This small creeper thrives in wet and marshy conditions and is found in many regions throughout the world, including Australia. I have some growing in my garden in a water pond and the small leaves and white flowers are very pleasant, though quite bitter to taste!
Modern research has revealed that Bacopa is indeed a valuable herb to improve cognition, mental performance and memory. There has been a large body of research including clinical trials that have been done on a specific Bacopa extract that have found it to be neuroprotective, antioxidant, anxiolytic and antiinflammatory – which basically means it can protect our brain cells, decrease inflammation and decrease anxiety. It has been shown to improve the speed at which we learn and process information as well as improve our short and long term memory. As Bacopa also helps us when we feel stressed and anxious, it makes it a valuable herb for modern times.
Indeed, stress is a big impediment to mental performance and memory. When our brain is in a flight or fight response, we tend to access our primitive brain centres and act on impulse rather than being able to utilise our higher brain centres involved with reason, logic and even intuition. Stress makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed and will adversely affect our ability to think, remember and perform mental tasks. Our brain is really not designed to multitask the way modern life dictates. While we can certainly be engaged in many things at once, we tend to lack accuracy and focus and our performance declines. We really are far better to switch off our phone and email and remove ourselves from other distractions when we need to engage with some serious study, learning or mental work tasks.
Herbs and nutrients that can help us with stress will often indirectly improve our brain function and performance. In addition to Bacopa, other herbs we often use to improve mental function include Gingko, Rhodiola, Gotu Kola and the Ginsengs. The B complex vitamins, magnesium and omega 3 fats (fish oils) are probably the most important nutrients to optimise memory, concentration and brain function. Making sure you have regular meals and protein rich snacks will also ensure your blood sugar is stable and this will in turn enhance performance and mood. Nuts are a great option as a snack as they are rich in magnesium which has been shown to increase the cell connections in our brain. I love the way walnuts just look like little brains – a perfect example of the doctrine of signatures! Generally increasing fruit and vegetables will provide the antioxidants your brain needs for optimal function.
It is well known that when it comes to brain power if we “don’t use it, we lose it.” This motto is behind the push to exercise our brain as we get older, engaging it in specific tasks to improve mental performance and memory such as crosswords, puzzles and learning a new skill like an instrument or creative activity. Working with using all aspects of your brain, gives you a well rounded function that supports learning and cognition as you age.
Working with your stress levels and engaging in relaxing practices like breathing, yoga, sitting down with a cup of tea for a conscious break, walking in nature, playing with a pet, doing a craft project, playing an instrument or getting some sunshine are all important. Choose one that resonates with you and give yourself regular small “time outs” that will make a big difference to stress and performance!
Lastly, ensure that you get adequate sleep as being sleep deprived is a certain recipe for poor brain function! Research shows that learning is also consolidated at night when we sleep, so the old traditional saying that “the morning is always wiser than the evening” is true.