Keep Your Brain Healthy

By Anne Salazar-Dunbar, 

Master Herbalist

ginkgoKeeping the brain vital and elastic is a topic of major concern these days. With a focus on Alzheimer's and with the baby boomers heading into their later years, more and more people are looking for ways to keep their mental capacities and abilities strong and viable.

Fortunately, a lot of information and research findings on this topic are readily available. There are many herbs known to be helpful, as well as nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle practices, all of which go hand in hand. With some solid information and a bit of self-discipline, keeping your brain and cognitive abilities strong is not difficult.

First, let's talk about herbs that are great for brain health.

• Gingko biloba: This is a well-known herb used for the purpose of increasing blood supply to the brain. In addition, it neutralizes several kinds of dangerous free radicals that can damage brain cells. Gingko acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, increases neurotransmitter activity, increases sugar metabolism in the brain, increases alpha brain waves associated with mental alertness, and works as an antioxidant to protect the brain.

• Eleutherococcus senticosus (aka, Siberian ginseng): This herb is well known for its adaptogenic abilities, or those abilities proposed to increase the body's resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety, and fatigue. It supports physical as well as mental strength and performance. Predominant research results related to Siberian ginseng show a reduction in errors in mental tasks, improvement in learning and retention, and improvement in overall well-being. Research has also revealed normalization of behavior in patients with brain injuries, trauma, and senility, and a reduction in neurotic behavior, learning disabilities, and anxiety syndromes.

• Gotu Kola: Well known in Ayurveda, this herb stimulates the brain by reducing the processes of anxiety there, increasing clarity, and supporting thought processes. Gotu Kola also helps the circulatory process and may be useful for reducing some types of high blood pressure.

Many herbs help keep the brain healthy and viable. It's particularly important to protect the brain from free-radical damage, which is best achieved with an intake of antioxidants, through herbs and certain foods, such as blueberries, green tea, and cinnamon. You may want to check out the chart for oxygen radical absorbance capacity at and see how the foods you eat rate in regards to their antioxidant values. (Raw unprocessed cocoa beans are off the charts!)

Lifestyle choices are important for brain health, too. Sleep is absolutely necessary for cognitive health; less than six hours lowers overall blood flow to the brain. Meditation helps the brain achieve different levels of awareness. Regular sexual activity helps with mood, memory, pain relief, and blood flow to the brain. New learning experiences — consistent brain "exercise" — keep the brain young and healthy. Positive thinking and gratitude plays a large role, too — studies have shown that a happy person is a healthier person. And exercise increases blood flow and raises serotonin levels.

This article appears courtesy of the Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Market Co-op in 
San Diego, CA.

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