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Better brains: 7 foundational strategies for cognitive health

Updated: Jul 8

Health strategies surrounding a healthy brain

In today's fast-paced world, where multitasking is more a necessity than a choice, maintaining cognitive health is crucial for our lives. Cognitive health encompasses our ability to think, learn and remember - essentially, it's the bedrock of our daily functioning and a vital component of our overall health and wellbeing. With the rise in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and cognitive decline in modern society, understanding and nurturing our cognitive health has never been more critical.


Symptoms of cognitive decline include:

  • Progressive, persistent and frequent memory loss or difficulties, especially of recent events

  • Vagueness in everyday conversation

  • Confusion

  • Personality changes and emotional unpredictability

  • Apathy and withdrawal

  • Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks

  • Apparent loss of enthusiasm for previously enjoyed activities

  • Taking longer to do routine tasks

  • Forgetting well-known people or places

  • Inability to process questions and instructions

  • Deterioration of social skills


The alarming rise of cognitive decline

Recent statistics paint a concerning picture: Alzheimer's disease and related forms of cognitive decline are on the rise, affecting millions globally. There are 250 people diagnosed everyday with dementia in Australia and it is the leading cause of death for women.[1,2]

But why are these numbers soaring? Our daily lifestyle choices and environmental factors have a profound impact on our brain health. Sedentary lifestyle, poor diets and unchecked stress are just the tip of the iceberg. However, the silver lining is that 40% of dementia cases are associated with some easily modifiable risk factors[3] and positive changes in our lifestyle can significantly bolster our cognitive function.


The basics for cognitive health and resilience

Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to change, at any age, for better or worse. This flexibility plays an important role in our brain development (or decline) and in shaping our distinct personalities. It is a process that involves structural and functional changes to the brain, whereby the brain reorganises and adapts to stimuli and external influences.[4]

There are seven pillars that are crucial for promoting neuroplasticity and cognitive health – diet/nutrition, physical exercise, mental stimulation, sleep, stress management, detox and supplements.


These foundations have been coined by Dr Dale Bredesen, internationally recognised expert in neurodegenerative diseases, author of The End of Alzheimer’s and founder of the ReCODE Protocol™, as the Bredesen 7.


1. Nourishment for the mind: Diet and cognitive function

A brain-healthy diet is rich in nutrients, emphasising plant-based foods, lean proteins and healthy fats, like those found in the Mediterranean and KetoFLEX 12/3 diets. Such diets, coupled with intermittent fasting, provide the brain with the necessary nutrients for optimal function, while also reducing inflammation and supporting metabolic health.


2. The role of physical exercise in brain health

Physical activity povides a powerhouse of cognitive benefits. Regular exercise, particularly a mix of aerobic, strength training and mind-body practices, can enhance blood flow to the brain, improve neurotransmitter function and stimulate the growth of new neural connections.


3. Mental stimulation: The key to longevity

Challenging the brain through continuous learning and mental engagement fosters neuroplasticity, and can significantly enhance cognitive resilience and delay cognitive decline. Daily activities to support these processes should include: learning new skills or hobbies, participating in groups and building a supportive social network, listening to music, dancing, doing puzzles and crosswords or using brain training programs.


The importance of social connections for mental wellbeing

Human beings are inherently social creatures, and maintaining strong social connections can have a profound positive effect on cognitive health. Engaging in social activities, nurturing relationships and even pet ownership can provide mental stimulation and emotional support, contributing to a healthier brain.


4. Sleep: The unsung hero of cognitive health

Sleep is not just rest for the body but also for the brain. It plays a critical role in memory consolidation, the removal of toxins (such as beta-amyloid) by the glymphatic system and overall cognitive maintenance.


Ensuring 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night can dramatically improve cognitive function and health, and enhance focus, learning, memory formation and decision-making.


5. Managing stress for cognitive wellbeing

Chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on the brain, affecting cognition, concentration and decision making.[5] Incorporating stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, meditative movement practices like qigong, tai chi and yoga, breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and gratitude, as powerful tools into daily routines can help mitigate the effects of stress, promoting a healthier, more resilient brain.


6. Detoxification processes and cognitive function

Reducing exposure to toxins and pollutants is essential for cognitive health. Simple steps like using water and air filters, choosing organic foods and supporting the body's natural detoxification processes (via the liver, kidneys and skin) can contribute significantly to maintaining cognitive function.


7. Supplements: An additional layer of support

While a balanced diet and a healthy, happy lifestyle is the cornerstone of good health, as outlined in the first 6 foundations, certain supplements can provide additional support for better cognitive function.


Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, magnesium, curcumin and nootropics such as gingko and withania, tailored to individual needs and determined through specific assessments and testing, can enhance brain health and offer an extra layer of protection against cognitive decline.


Embracing a holistic approach to cognitive health

Cognitive decline (and AD) is not caused by a single event or just one risk factor; there are many inputs that affect the complex systems of our body and influence brain health and whether AD develops or progresses. And just like any risk factors: the more you eliminate, the lower your risk.


Cognitive health is an integral part of a healthy and happy life (for you and your family) that requires a proactive, holistic approach. By integrating these 7 foundational strategies into your daily life, you can not only enhance your cognitive function but also significantly reduce the risk of cognitive decline. It's a journey worth embarking on, to ensure your cognitive faculties remain sharp and resilient, enabling enjoyment of a fulfilling, vibrant life.


References:

  1. CSIRO 2021, https://www.csiro.au/en/research/health-medical/diseases/detecting-alzheimers-disease-risk 

  2. Dementia Australia 2023, https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/dementia-facts-and-figures 

  3. Livingston G, et al. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet Commission. Lancet 2020;396:413-446.

  4. Pacific Neuroscience Institute 2024, https://www.pacificneuroscienceinstitute.org/blog/brain-health/neuroplasticity-and-healthy-aging-what-you-need-to-know/ 

  5. McEwen BS. Neurobiological and systemic effects of chronic stress. Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks) 2017;1:2470547017692328.


*As published for ATMS Natural Medicine Week 2024 on their website: article


 

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