Biohack Your Brain: How to Boost Cognitive Health, Performance Powerby Kristen Willeumier
The book demonstrates how you can adjust your lifestyle to improve your brain. You'll learn the most effective strategies for avoiding memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and how to deal with negative thoughts and stress. You'll also learn how to improve your nutrition, utilize vitamins, play brain games, and engage in physical activity to support your brain health or overcome cognitive issues caused by previous injuries or the effects of contemporary life.
Changing Your Brain
“Yes, you can change your brain.”
The brain is the most important organ in your body, managing all physical, mental, and emotional processes. It comprises around 100 billion brain cells and billions of glial cells that support them. It also evaluates and transmits sensory input from your body's other systems.
A damaged brain causes various diseases and problems, including Alzheimer's, dementia, neurodegenerative issues, anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, self-harm, suicidal ideation, ADHD, anger issues, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
The good news is that we can change our brains for the better by growing new brain cells, improving blood flow, and calming the sympathetic nervous system.
- Growing new cells - Every day, we lose thousands of brain cells due to normal aging, excessive stress, and exposure to heavy metals, pesticides, and other hazardous substances in our environment, water, and food. But these brain cells can be regenerated at any age through neurogenesis, a process of creating new brain cells; we may stimulate new neurons' development by adjusting exercise, food, stress, sleep, and supplement habits.
- Improving blood flow - Enhancing brain blood flow promotes cognitive health and performance. Our brain comprises just 2% of our whole body mass, but it requires 15% to 20% of our overall blood supply. When the blood flow to the brain is insufficient, brain cells die. But why may we have insufficient blood flow? It’s simply because of our modern lifestyle habits, including how we eat, drink, sleep, exercise, and deal with everyday stress.
- Calming the sympathetic nervous system - The body's stress response is a regular process that helps us deal with numerous difficulties and life-threatening circumstances. When a dangerous animal is chasing us, for example, the body produces hormones, chemicals, and brain activity that enable us to run quickly and avoid danger. A small bit of acute stress may also motivate us to act. Chronic stress, a continually agitated state of the body, and therefore a constantly active sympathetic nervous system, inhibits neurogenesis. Instead of forming new cells, we damage the ones we already have. Chronic stress causes illness. Stress may be emotional, mental, or physical, but it can also be chemical, as in chemical compounds in our diet and surroundings. We may calm down our sympathetic nervous system by making lifestyle adjustments.
Actions to take
Support Your Brain With A Diet
“What’s so terrible about processed foods? In a nutshell, everything.”
Changing your diet is the first step toward a healthy body and brain. This means avoiding processed foods and consuming whole foods instead.
Processed foods are high in calories, sugar, bad fat, useless carbohydrates, and dangerous chemicals. They also lack the nutrients that the brain needs not just to operate efficiently but also to survive.
Whole foods, on the other hand, contain complex carbohydrates, lipids, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients that your brain and body need to function. So instead of eating crackers, morning cereals, frozen meals, soda, cookies, ketchup, etc., we must switch to consuming whole foods instead. These may include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, meat, fish, and so on.
Since our brain is 60% fat, we should also consume fat as it helps improve cognitive performance. Fats build neuronal membranes and help cells operate. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are the fats the brain requires most. But because our body can't make EFAs, we must take them from food such as fish and seafood or take supplements like Omega 3.
Aside from this, our brain also requires a constant supply of glucose. Carbohydrates are the finest source of glucose because the body breaks them down more quickly into simple sugars than fat or protein. You shouldn't eat refined carbs. Instead, you should eat slow carbs.
The best foods for brain health and performance are:
- Fruits: Fruits have a lot of vitamins and antioxidants, which help minimize oxidative stress and cognitive inflammation. Because of their capacity to stimulate neurogenesis, blueberries are considered one of the healthiest brain nutrients.
- Vegetables: All vegetables as good for body and brain health, but dark green vegetables provide the most vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients per calorie. They're rich in magnesium, a crucial mineral for cognitive function, as well as vitamins K, C, and E, and lutein, folate, and beta-carotene, which are all essential in promoting mood and mental alertness and preventing cognitive decline. They’re also a good source of glucosinolates, which combat oxidative stress in the brain, and chlorophyll, which oxygenates and purifies the blood. Multiple regular portions of dark green vegetables help combat neurodegeneration aging and decline and boost brain function.
- Legumes: Legumes are high in protein, fiber, folate, and B vitamins, which are crucial for brain function and serotonin levels.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts are high in vitamin E, which helps fight oxidative stress, and reduce inflammation, LDL (or bad) cholesterol, and the risk of Alzheimer's. Moreover, it can also protect neurons. If you eat just two teaspoons of nuts every day, you can improve your cognitive function.
Gut health affects the brain's physical, mental, and emotional functions. This includes how neurotransmitters are made, how we act, how we deal with pain, and how we deal with stress. The microbiome is at the heart of the gut-brain axis. Eating mostly plant-based foods is the best way to keep a healthy balance in your microbiome.
Finally, we should also perform intermittent fasting. This improves memory, focus, and cognitive functions. Those who follow regular intermittent fasting had reduced body fat, resting heart rates, blood sugar and insulin levels, harmful cholesterol, and poor blood fats
Actions to take
Support Your Brain With A Workout
“Exercise is one of the most powerful ways to biohack your brain.”
One of the most effective ways you can use to biohack your brain is to exercise. When you work out, more blood flows to the brain, and it gets more oxygen, sugar, and nutrients.
Improving brain circulation increases brain volume, improves synaptic connections, aids in the production of proteins and hormones, removes toxins that may contribute to dementia, and promotes the growth of new brain cells.
Even ten days of not exercising might impair brain circulation by up to 30%. Aerobic yoga, running, cycling, and other exercises that increase your heart rate are the best options to perform. You can also stimulate neurogenesis through particular types of exercise, primarily running and other continuous aerobic activities.
Exercise is also beneficial in losing weight, which is important for overall and brain health. When our brain carries extra fat, it affects our thinking. Fat cell toxins may take over the brain, invading the hippocampus and causing cognitive synapses to misfire. Memory, learning, and general cognitive deterioration ensue.
More than that, exercise can also make you smarter. Aerobic exercises boost the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. The larger your hippocampus, the better your brain can remember and learn new things.
Exercise lowers stress by reducing cortisol levels. Some signs you have high cortisol levels are anxiety, fatigue, problems with focus, and sleep.
Besides making your brain healthier, smarter, and relaxed, exercise can also make you feel better. It may reduce unhappiness, agitation, boredom, discontent, poor self-esteem, and even depression. Once you start performing any exercise you like, you’ll notice how your mood suddenly changes.
Actions to take
Support Your Brain With Supplements
“People can change their brain health—and even reverse the damage—simply by adding supplements that support brain-smart nutrient choices.”
Although food is the best source of vitamins and minerals, six supplements may have a significant impact on the brain:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are located in every cell membrane in our body and are essential for neurons to operate properly. These fats also aid in the reduction of stress and inflammation, lowering the risk of cancer, heart disease, depression, and arthritis. Taking an omega-3 supplement increases brain circulation, stimulates the production of new neurons, and improves cognition.
- Multivitamin: Even those who consume a healthy diet may benefit from a multivitamin. This is because even the healthiest diet in the world cannot compensate for absorption problems induced by prescription medicines, gastrointestinal diseases, and certain lifestyle choices, such as excessive gym usage or alcohol use.
- Probiotics: The more probiotics you take, the healthier your total microbiome will be, benefiting your brain and the rest of your body. Probiotics are gut microorganisms that balance out harmful bacteria. Beneficial bacteria aid digestion, enhance immunity and maintain good skin. Probiotics help the gastrointestinal (GI) tract make feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, and serotonin. This improves mood and reduces stress and anxiety.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble substance that aids calcium absorption in bones and teeth and is required for optimal immunological function and cell development. Vitamin D deficiency may result in inflammation and insulin resistance, leading to cognitive impairment and metabolic problems. Vitamin D supplementation may lower the risk of osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes, and other diseases.
- Liquid Trace Minerals Formula: Trace mineral deficiency causes major negative effects. Depending on the mineral, a brain deficit might cause emotional disorders and lower mental function. Trace minerals (iron, vanadium, copper, chromium, iodine, boron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, silicon, germanium, sulfur, and zinc) help make enzymes, hormones, and brain cells.
- Curcumin: Curcumin is a powerful brain supplement that reduces inflammation and improves cognitive function. Used as medicine in India for generations, it neutralizes free radicals that cause oxidative stress and harm brain cells. Curcumin boosts BDNF, a protein crucial for neuron survival, development, and maintenance. Optimized BDNF levels in mood-related brain areas reduce the risk of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative illnesses.
Actions to take
Support Your Brain With Hydration
“The side effects of poor hydration habits can be brutal.”
Too many people are dehydrated, despite the fact that our brain is 75% water—and needs to maintain 75% water to function correctly. Dehydration may induce disorientation, decreased concentration, short-term memory problems, slower reaction times, mental fatigue, anxiety, and emotional instability.
If it becomes severe, it may cause disorientation and lethargy, seizures, difficulty breathing, and even coma when your blood pressure drops drastically, which can be fatal.
Hydration involves more than just drinking water. We also need electrolytes to stay hydrated. Electrolytes are minerals found in various beverages and meals that help control water levels in the body and brain while transporting nutrients into cells and eliminating waste. Electrolyte imbalances occur when we lose water through sweat, diarrhea, vomiting, or high fever and may produce an abnormal pulse, confusion, weakness, and excessive tiredness.
To avoid being dehydrated, we must drink the right amount of water regularly. Men should drink 3.7 liters of water per day, while women should drink 2.7 liters. You can get water from fruits and vegetables, too, such as cucumber, watermelon, strawberries, plain yogurt, grapefruit, blueberries, raspberries, bell pepper, etc.
Actions to take
Help Your Brain Rest And Relax
“From a cognitive perspective, stress kills nerve cells, shrinks gray matter, ruins your ability to think clearly, and significantly increases your risk of age-related decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.”
You can change your diet, drink lots of water, and exercise every day all you want, but if you're constantly stressed, you won't be able to improve your brain's function and health adequately.
Stress reduces cerebral circulation, decreases neurogenesis, and over-activates neurons, which may impair intellectual function. Too much stress reduces memory formation and memory and increases anxiety. These changes may be permanent, impairing our ability to think clearly, solve problems, make wise decisions, concentrate, and be healthy and happy.
While you may have no control over the things that cause stress, there are steps you can take to lower your stress levels. This includes getting adequate sleep and performing yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises.
Sleep is the main opportunity for your brain to rejuvenate and restore itself. During sleep, our bodies cleanse themselves and detoxify. Sleep is also essential for our memory and executive function, allowing us to plan, make good judgments, stay organized, and concentrate better.
Contrastingly, getting fewer than seven hours of sleep raises stress and anxiety by up to 30% and increases the risk of depression ten times more than getting enough sleep.
Aside from adequate sleep, meditation is another helpful way to enhance brain function. Meditation increases gray matter in the brain, especially the hippocampus (the brain's memory area), and reduces the size of the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, allowing you to manage emotions better and relax.
Taking a few deep breaths regularly is also beneficial as it helps reduce cortisol levels quickly, reducing blood pressure and heart rate. It also helps in relieving the symptoms of anxiety and other stress-related mental and emotional illnesses, including claustrophobia, motion sickness, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Actions to take
Support Your Brain By Changing Your Thoughts
“Quite simply, every thought we have influences cognitive function.”
We are constantly filled with everyday thoughts, the majority of which are repetitive or negative. Repetitive thoughts arise when we keep thinking the same thing over and over again, whether remembering the past, predicting the future, or thinking about what's happening around us.
You can recognize repetitive thinking habits if you are constantly concerned about anything in the future or the past that causes you to feel insecure, sad, guilty, angry, or gloomy. This habit may lead to despair, anxiety, and other brain and body issues.
Negativity lowers cerebellar and temporal lobe activity, causing memory impairments, impulse control issues, and mood disorders and raising the chance of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. Moreover, since negative thinking stimulates the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, adopting it also results in negative emotions.
Every thought we have has the potential to reorganize the brain's neuronal connections and synaptic strength, ultimately resulting in the formation of new neural pathways. Therefore, we must adopt healthy and positive thoughts that will support our brain instead of the negative ones that may damage it.
Positivity lowers stress, improves cognitive function, increases well-being and pain tolerance, and aids in treating the common cold. Positive thinking reduces cortisol and inflammation in the brain while increasing feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Positivity activates the prefrontal cortex, which controls thoughts and emotions, as well as the hippocampus, which improves cognition and learning.
Positivity also helps us make better decisions and solve problems, which slows down the aging process. Optimism lowers the risk of chronic illness while increasing mortality and quality of life. Positive thinking may help improve our overall health.
Actions to take
“Brain games don’t just hone the mind—they can also provide a critical outlet for stress release.”
Playing brain games or engaging in other forms of cognitive training may help you sharpen a wide range of mental abilities, including memory, focus, awareness, interpretation, analysis, creativity, and intelligence. Brain games may also aid in the treatment of cognitive impairment and the prevention of brain aging. Here's how to make brain training fun and effective:
- Reading: We all have three types of intelligence: crystallized intelligence, which refers to the accumulation of knowledge, facts, and skills; fluid intelligence, which refers to how well we reason and solve problems regardless of what we know; and emotional intelligence, which refers to how well we respond to individuals and in social situations. Reading for at least a half hour every day, particularly long-form narratives like novels, is the best way to improve all three.
- Learning a new language: This improves our working memory, a component of our short-term memory that is essential for both basic memory and general intelligence. Studies have shown that learning a new language can delay dementia by as much as ten years.
- Playing brain-boosting video games: This is a concrete way to improve your brain functions more engagingly. You can also choose which cognitive skill you want to improve, such as your intelligence, memory, cognitive speed, navigation, spatial orientation, attention, or focus.
- Doing some art: Art improves cognitive ability more than brain games. Visual art, for example, increases brain connections, making us more stress-resistant. This explains why artists have more gray matter in their brains, which is associated with creativity, boosting their ability to handle difficulties.
- Volunteering: Research shows that charitable work may help prevent and even repair age-related volume loss in certain brain parts, such as the hippocampus.
- Writing: Creative writing grows new brain cells in the hippocampus. Handwriting improves thinking, language, and idea production.
- Completing puzzles or sudoku: Playing these games frequently will help improve your ability to focus. It has been scientifically shown that frequent crossword and sudoku solvers have brains as sharp as those ten years younger.
- Changing your regular walking path: Taking a different walking path stimulates your brain, growing gray matter and enhancing your capacity to concentrate, think, remember, and learn. This explains why cab drivers continually navigating new streets had a much bigger hippocampus.
- Simply trying something new: Many brain games have the same goal: to teach you something new. If you're looking for a simple way to keep your mind active every day, just try anything new.