No one gets out of this life alive… but your best chance at living long and living well is a resilient brain.
Not resilient emotions, or resilient habits, or resilient relationships — we’re talking about the brain objectively as an organ, not as the physical form of your personality.
The health and strength of the brain is paramount to the rest of our functionality.
Some of the reasons for this are obvious. Without a well-oiled command center, what else in our lives could possibly run well?
But others take more digging. My personal favorite reason is that without a healthy, strong, and cared for brain, we are in danger of making terrible decisions.
It’s the ability to reason, weigh cost versus benefit, and follow choices to their logical conclusions that make introspection a worthy endeavor. If we didn’t know that our lives were a series of incremental moves in various directions, we wouldn’t be able to feel pride or regret, or longing. (Valuable feelings, all appropriate in their times and places.)
And the thing is, your brain is busy. Even when it sleeps it’s busy. And since it’s mostly made of fats, we need to make sure what we’re eating is supporting our fatty brains so that it can function autonomically and critically.
The best thing you can do for your brain is feed it well. Every nutrient has benefits — that’s why they’re considered nutrients — but your brain loves some more than others.
If you want to build a resilient and plastic noggin, make sure you’re getting these nutrients in your diet.
Your brain loves these nutrients because they’re neuroprotectors — as in, they safeguard your neurons.
Without getting too in the weeds, the metabolites in polyphenols activate stress-response pathways in the brain which triggers the upregulation of genes that encode neuroprotection.
Basically, they tell the brain to get serious about caring for its cells, even going so far as to reduce the expression of certain genes — like ones that cause inflammation, for example.
They can also improve cognitive function (such as learning and memory formation) while at the same time protecting against the natural cognitive decline that tends to accompany aging.
You can find polyphenols in cloves, dark chocolate, berries, fruits, legumes, soy, and more.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Remember we said the brain is mostly fat? (Well, and water.) That means fat isn’t the enemy the way we thought it was in the 90s — our brains need it.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that are responsible for most of the benefits of fish oil. The most important kinds of omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are found almost exclusively in fish. ALA is found in plant-based foods and can be converted into EPA and DHA in the body — although it’s less efficient than simply getting your recommended dosage.
They are critical for maintaining high-level brain functions. Omega-3 fatty acids strengthen cell membranes, allow for communication between brain cells, improve brain function in those with intellectual disabilities, and improve memory retention.
You can find them in cold-water fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and plant oils.
All antioxidants help to protect the brain and body against free radicals, or molecules containing oxygen and an uneven number of electrons. That instability allows them to come into contact with other molecules as they attempt to pair with other electrons.
Antioxidants can donate one of their electrons without destabilizing themselves, which halts the chain reaction free radicals can begin.
Oxidative stress is what happens when there’s an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals.
Because the brain uses so much oxygen, it’s especially vulnerable to free radical attacks.
Antioxidants, and especially lycopene, are great for brain health. Lycopene, found in the red pigment of foods such as tomatoes, can not only enhance cognition, it can also reduce inflammation caused by oxidative stress.
You can find them in tomatoes, red oranges, watermelons, grapefruit, and other red-hued food.
Circumin, the compound found in turmeric that makes it yellow, is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. What does that mean?
The blood vessels that surround the central nervous system regulate what can cross into the brain from the rest of the body — not everything makes it through. But circumin can!
It also increases BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which are growth hormones in your brain that contribute to neurogenesis. Degenerative disorders and lower cognitive ability is often linked to decreased levels of this hormone.
But consuming circumin (with pepper or fatty meals, to help with absorption) can raise the level of BDNF!
These aren’t the only nutrients you need for high-level brain resilience. Vitamin B, zinc, and water — don’t forget, the brain is 73% and being even 2% dehydrated seriously affects cognition — are also vital.
When you’re eating or taking supplements, do so with your brain health in mind!