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Posts tagged ‘brain’

6 Easy & Effective Ways to Fight Forgetfulness

6 Easy & Effective Ways to Fight Forgetfulness

Do you often find yourself losing keys, forgetting names, and wondering if you took your medicine this morning? Forgetfulness can be frustrating, indeed. But here is a handful of at-home ideas to help you keep your memory razor-sharp.

Smell some rosemary.

The essential oils of rosemary and basil have been shown to increase the brain’s production of beta waves. This increases awareness of your surroundings and clears confusion. Just sprinkle a few drops of the oil on a clean handkerchief and take a deep breath. (Leesa recommends organic rosemary and organic basil!)

Drink more coffee.

Coffee really can be the cup that cheers your memory cells. Research shows that coffee may have a positive effect on long-term memory. (Leesa recommends organic coffee!)

 

 

Exercise.

A Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine study, quoted by Harvard Health Publications, found that physically fit people have less brain shrinkage than less active people. The cells particularly helped by exercise are those that control memory, communication, and learning.

Keep your blood sugar in check.

Keep your blood sugar under control, and you will find your memory improving. This may sound surprising, but a study published in the journal Neurology says that those with high blood sugar are seen to suffer from cognitive impairment. Scientists say this happens because high blood sugar causes structural changes in the areas of the brain that govern learning. Find helpful blood-sugar regulating tips here.

 

 

Get your B & C.

The B vitamin group makes and repairs brain tissue. Foods that endow you with the B vitamins are nuts and seeds, wheatgerm, bananas and chickpeas. Vitamin C has been correlated with mental sharpness, so include more strawberries, citrus fruits, kiwi and leafy greens in your diet. (Leesa recommends Chews4Health!) 

Go musical.

Learning to play a musical instrument develops motor skills and enhances your brain’s ability to focus and analyze.

By Shubhra Krishan

Shubhra Krishan

Writer, editor and journalist Shubhra Krishan is the author of Essential Ayurveda: What it is and what it can do for you (New World Library, 2003), Radiant Body, Restful Mind: A Woman’s book of comfort (New World Library, 2004), and The 9 to 5 Yogi: How to feel like a sage while working like a dog (Hay House India, 2011).

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Excellent Health is found along your journey and not just at your destination. Would it make sense for us to spend several minutes together to discuss your Health Issues or Problems and how HealthyHighway can help YOU Live YOUR Optimum Life? Please complete the information on our Contact Us page to schedule your consultation today! I look forward to helping YOU Live YOUR Optimum Life!

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Leesa Wheeler

Leesa A. Wheeler

Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Artisan, Author

ring ~ 770-393-1284

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6 Surprising Things That Affect Your Brain

6 Surprising Things That Affect Your Brain

 

Brain scientists in recent years have discovered a number of surprising ways that the brain influences our overall health, as well as how our behavior influences the health of our brain. And unlike in the days of old — when scientists believed the brain was “fixed” after childhood, only to start an inexorable decline in the middle to later years — today, research is showing that the brain is perfectly capable of changing, healing and “rewiring” itself to an unexpected degree.

It turns out that the age of your brain may be a lesser influence on its structure than what you do with it. Pursuits that require intense mental focus, like language learning, “switch on” the nucleus basalis, the control mechanism for neuroplasticity.

In short, neuroplasticity means you have some control over your cranial fitness. While brain function naturally deteriorates somewhat as you age (though not nearly as much as you might think), various strategic approaches can create new neural pathways and strengthen existing ones as long as you live. What’s more, these efforts to build a better brain can deliver lasting rewards for your overall health.

Here are just a few of neuroscience’s most empowering recent discoveries.

Your Thoughts Affect Your Genes

We tend to think of our genetic heritage as a fait accompli. At our conception, our parents handed down whatever genetic legacy they inherited — genes for baldness, tallness, disease or whatever — and now we’re left playing the hand of DNA we were dealt. But, in fact, our genes are open to being influenced throughout our lifetime, both by what we do and by what we think, feel and believe.

The new and growing field of “epigenetics” studies extra-cellular factors that influence genetic expression. While you may have heard that genes can be influenced by diet and exercise, many researchers are now exploring the ways that thoughts, feelings and beliefs can exert the same epigenetic effect. It turns out that the chemicals catalyzed by our mental activity can interact with our genes in a powerful way. Much like the impacts of diet, exercise and environmental toxins, various thought patterns have been shown to turn certain genes “on” or “off.”

The Research

In his book The Genie in Your Genes (Elite Books, 2009), researcher Dawson Church, PhD, explains the relationship between thought and belief patterns and the expression of healing- or disease-related genes. “Your body reads your mind,” Church says. “Science is discovering that while we may have a fixed set of genes in our chromosomes, which of those genes is active has a great deal to do with our subjective experiences, and how we process them.”

One recent study conducted at Ohio University demonstrates vividly the effect of mental stress on healing. Researchers gave married couples small suction blisters on their skin, after which they were instructed to discuss either a neutral topic or a topic of dispute for half an hour. Researchers then monitored the production of three wound-repair proteins in the subjects’ bodies for the next several weeks, and found that the blisters healed 40 percent slower in those who’d had especially sarcastic, argumentative conversations than those who’d had neutral ones.

Church explains how this works. The body sends a protein signal to activate the genes associated with wound healing, and those activated genes then code blank stem cells to create new skin cells to seal the wound. But when the body’s energy is being “sucked up” by the production of stress biochemicals like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine, like it is during a nasty fight, the signal to your wound-healing genes is significantly weaker, and the repair process slows way down. By contrast, when the body is not preparing for a perceived threat, its energy stores remain readily available for healing missions.

Why It Matters to You

Just about every body comes equipped with the genetic material it needs to deal optimally with the physical challenges of daily life, and the degree to which you can maintain your mental equilibrium has a real impact on your body’s ability to access those genetic resources. While habits of mind can be challenging to break, deliberate activities like meditation (see the following studies) can help you refashion your neural pathways to support less reactive thought patterns.

Chronic Stress Can Prematurely Age Your Brain

“There’s always going to be stress in the environment,” says Howard Fillit, MD, clinical professor of geriatrics and medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine and executive director of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. “But what’s damaging is the distress we feel internally in response to it.”

Fillit’s distinction points to the bodywide reaction our bodies experience when we routinely respond to stress by going into fight-or-flight mode. In our brains, the stress response can cause memory and other aspects of cognition to become impaired, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and accelerated memory loss with aging. One thing that can happen is you can start feeling a lot older, mentally, than you are.

“Patients come in complaining of faulty memory and wonder if they’re beginning to get Alzheimer’s,” says Roberta Lee, MD, vice-chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center and author of The Superstress Solution (Random House, 2010). “Their workups and MRI scans look normal. In the interview, I ask them about their lifestyle and almost invariably they have compounded stress.”

The Research

Studies at the University of California–San Francisco have shown that repeated instances of the stress response (and their accompanying floods of cortisol) can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus — a key part of the brain’s limbic system vital to both stress regulation and long-term memory. Call it the downside of neuroplasticity.

Why It Matters to You

Aside from the obvious — no one wants his or her brain to age faster than it’s already going to — this research matters because it suggests that you have some influence over the rate of your own cognitive change.

To protect the brain from cortisol-related premature aging, Lee suggests building stress disruptors into your regular routine: “A five-minute period in the middle of every day during which you do absolutely nothing — nothing! — can help a lot, especially if you are consistent about it,” she says.

Her other recommendations include eating breakfast every day — complex carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies) and some protein. “Breakfast helps your metabolism feel like it won’t be stressed — caught up in a starvation-gluttony pattern,” she explains.

And when anxiety does strike, a good way to initiate the relaxation response is her “four-five breath” routine: breathing in through the nose to a count of four, then out through the mouth to a count of five. “Repeat it four times and you’ll feel the relaxation,” she says. “Best of all, do the four breaths twice daily, at the beginning and end of the day.”

Meditation Rewires Your Brain

Meditation and other forms of relaxation and mindfulness not only change your immediate state of mind (and, correspondingly, your biochemical stress level and gene expression), they also can alter the very structure of your brain. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, cofounder of the San Francisco–based Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, has extensively studied the effect of meditation on the brain, with a particular focus on how neuroplasticity allows for permanent changes for the better in your gray matter.

The Research

“Of all the mental trainings — affirmations, psychotherapy, positive thinking, yoga — the one that has been far and away the most studied, in terms of effects on the brain, is meditation,” Hanson says. Some of the most prominent research has come from the collaboration between French-born Buddhist monk and author Matthieu Ricard and University of Wisconsin–Madison neuroscientist Richard Davidson, PhD. Their studies have shown that a high ratio of activity in the left prefrontal areas of the brain can mark either a fleeting positive mood or a more ingrained positive outlook.

Brain-imaging tests have shown that Ricard and other veteran Buddhist meditators demonstrate initial heightened activity in this region, along with a rapid ability to recover from negative responses brought on by frightening images shown to them by researchers. This suggests that their long-term meditation practice has helped build brains that are able to not just enjoy but sustain a sense of positive well-being, even in stressful moments.

Why It Matters to You

“Stimulating areas of the brain that handle positive emotions strengthens those neural networks, just as working muscles strengthens them,” Hanson says, repeating one of the basic premises of neuroplasticity. The inverse is also true, he explains: “If you routinely think about things that make you feel mad or wounded, you are sensitizing and strengthening the amygdala, which is primed to respond to negative experiences. So it will become more reactive, and you will get more upset more easily in the future.”

By contrast, meditative practices stimulate the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain’s outermost layer that controls attention (this is how meditation can lead to greater mindfulness, Hanson explains), as well as the insula, which controls interoception — the internal awareness of one’s own body. “Being in tune with your body via interoception keeps you from damaging it when you exercise,” Hanson says, “as well as building that pleasant, simple sense of being ‘in your body.’” Another plus of a strong insula is an increased sensitivity to “gut feelings” and intuitions and greater empathy with others.

Perhaps best of all, meditation develops the circuitry in the left prefrontal cortex, where the unruffled monks showed so much activity. “That’s an area that dampens negative emotion, so you don’t get so rattled by anger or fear, shame or sorrow,” Hanson says.

“Deciding to be mindful can alter your brain so that being mindful is easier and more natural,” he explains. “In other words, you can use your mind to change your brain to affect your mind.”

Your Brain Learns By Doing

The mirror neuron system is the name for those regions of the brain with synapses that fire whether you’re actually doing or merely watching an action — as long as you’ve done it previously. Doing an action lays down neural connections that fire again when you watch the same action. This accounts for the connection you feel when viewing a sport you’ve played, or why you wince when you see someone else get hurt.

The Research

Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Parma in Italy first noted the mirror effect while studying the brains of macaque monkeys. When a monkey was watching one of the researchers pick up a peanut, the same neurons fired as if the monkey — likely a seasoned peanut gatherer — had picked up the nut itself. The researchers labeled these specific cells “mirror neurons.” In the human brain, entire regions light up in response to a familiar action; this endows us with a full-fledged mirror system.

Why It Matters to You

The existence of the mirror system helps explain why learning a new skill is easier if you try doing it early in life. This includes doing it clumsily, rather than hanging back watching your instructor or a video until you think you “have it.” Watching before you try means that you will probably see very little; watching after you try will engage the mirror system, increasing your brain’s power to “get it.”

As London-based neuroscientist Daniel Glaser, PhD, puts it, “When you look at something you have done before, you are actually using more of your brain to see it, so there’s a richer information flow. Until you started playing tennis, you couldn’t see the difference between a good topspin stroke and a bad one; after a few weeks of practice, when your coach demonstrates the stroke, you really get it visually. And you can thank the mirror system for that.”

The mirror system is also what endows you with the empathic ability to feel the pain or joy of others, based on what you register on their faces. “When we see someone else suffering or in pain, mirror neurons help us to read her or his facial expression and actually make us feel the suffering or the pain of the other person,” writes UCLA neurologist Marco Iacoboni, MD, PhD, in his book, Mirroring People (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). “These moments, I will argue, are the foundation of empathy.”

Growing Older Can Make You Smarter

For some time, the prevailing view of a brain at midlife was that it’s “simply a young brain slowly closing down,” observes Barbara Strauch. But she notes that recent research has shown that middle age is actually a kind of cranial prime time, with a few comedic twists thrown in for fun.

“Researchers have found that — despite some bad habits — the brain is at its peak in those years. As it helps us navigate through our lives, the middle-age brain cuts through the muddle to find solutions, knows whom and what to ignore, when to zig and when to zag,” she writes. “It stays cool. It adjusts.”

The Research

Brain scientists used to be convinced that the main “driver” of brain aging was loss of neurons — brain-cell death. But new scanning technology has shown that most brains maintain most of their neurons over time. And, while some aspects of the aging process do involve losses — to memory, to reaction time — there are also some net gains, including a neat trick researchers call “bilateralization,” which involves using both the brain’s right and left hemispheres at once.

Strauch cites a University of Toronto study from the 1990s, soon after scanning technology became available, that measured the comparative ability of young and middle-age research subjects to match faces with names. The expected outcome was that older subjects would do worse at the task, but not only were they just as competent as younger subjects, PET scans revealed that, in addition to the brain circuits used by the younger crowd, the older subjects also tapped into the brain’s powerful prefrontal cortex. As some of their circuits weakened, they compensated by using other parts of the brain.

Ultimately, this means the effects of age caused them to use — and strengthen — more of their brains, not less.

Why It Matters to You

Gene Cohen, MD, PhD, who directs the Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at George Washington University Medical Center, notes that this ability to use more of your cognitive reserves strengthens your problem-solving ability as you enter the middle years, and it makes you more capable of comfortably negotiating contradictory thoughts and emotions. “This neural integration makes it easier to reconcile our thoughts with our feelings,” he wrote in “The Myth of the Midlife Crisis” (Newsweek, Jan. 16, 2006). Like meditation, the middle-age tendency toward bilateralization seems to promote your ability to stay cool under pressure.

There are things you can do to amplify this increased strength. “Our brains are built to roll with the punches,” Strauch writes, “and better — or more carefully cared for — brains roll best.” Studies show multiple ways to build long-term brain health: from healthy eating, exercise and conscious relaxation to active social bonds, challenging work and continuing education. Good advice, it would seem, for a brain at any age.

A Teenage Brain is Wired Differently

While it was once thought that the brain’s architecture was basically set by age five or six, New York Times medical science and health editor Barbara Strauch explains her book The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries About the Teenage Brain Tell Us About Our Kids (Anchor, 2003), new research shows that the teen brain is “still very much a work in progress, a giant construction project. Millions of connections are being hooked up; millions more are swept away. Neurochemicals wash over the teenage brain, giving it a new paint job, a new look, a new chance at life.”

The neurochemical dopamine floods the teen brain, increasing alertness, sensitivity, movement, and the capacity to feel intense pleasure; it’s a recipe for risk-taking. And, as anyone who has tried to rouse a sleepy teen should appreciate, brain chemicals that help set sleep patterns go through major shifts.

Knowing about these brain gyrations in young people can help parents be a little more patient and tolerant—and they offer some opportunities too.  As Jay Giedd told PBS’s Frontline, “If a teen is doing music or sports or academics [during this period of brain change and consolidation], those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”

By Jon Spayde, Experience Life

 

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

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Excellent Health is found along your journey and not just at your destination. Would it make sense for us to spend several minutes together to discuss your Health Issues or Problems and how HealthyHighway can help YOU Live YOUR Optimum Life? Please complete the information on our Contact Us page to schedule your consultation today! I look forward to helping YOU Live YOUR Optimum Life!

Live Well!

 Leesa Wheeler

Leesa A. Wheeler

Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Artisan, Author

ring ~ 770-393-1284

write ~ info@healthyhighway.org

visit ~ www.HealthyHighway.org

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9 Brain Superfoods…Are You Enjoying Them Daily?

9 Brain Superfoods

 

Your brain controls every function in your body yet we rarely give it a  second thought.  And, few of us choose foods that protect or heal our  brain.  Here are some of the best foods for thought (literally):

1.  Spinach—More than Just for Popeye

A study of middle-aged rats fed diets with added spinach, strawberry extract,  or vitamin E for nine months found that spinach proved most potent in protecting  nerve cells against the effects of aging in two parts of the brain.  More  research needs to be done but it looks like Popeye was building more than  muscles when he ate spinach.

2.  Benefits of Blue for Grey Matter

Blueberries contain a group of plant nutrients called  proanthocyanidins.  Proanthocyanidins have a unique capacity to protect  both the watery and fatty parts of the brain against damage from some  environmental toxins.  Proanthocyanidins decrease free radical activity  within and between brain cells.  Blueberry proanthocyanidins have greater  antioxidant properties than vitamins C and E.  Blueberries appear to have  some of the highest concentrations of these powerful antioxidants.  In  other studies, researchers found that compounds in blueberries may reverse some  age-related memory loss and motor skill decline.

Blueberries are excellent anti-inflammatory agents. They increase the amounts  of compounds called heat-shock proteins that decrease as people age, thereby  causing inflammation and damage, particularly in the brain. By eating  blueberries regularly, research shows that these heat-shock proteins stop  declining and inflammation lessens, not to mention that they just taste  fabulous.

3.  From the Vine to Your Palate

A plant nutrient found in grapes, grape juice and red wine appears to protect  the brain against Alzheimer’s disease.  It’s called resveratrol, and it is  an antioxidant thought to be responsible for many of the purported benefits of  red wine on brain cells.  The researchers found that resveratrol protected  brain cells by mopping up free radicals before they can cause brain  damage.  And while people may prefer to hear that red wine is the best  source, the alcohol in wine is still damaging to brain cells.  Red or  purple grapes are the best option to load up on resveratrol.

4-7.  Omega 3s to Maintain a Healthy Brain (Wild Salmon,  Walnuts, Flax or Hemp Seeds)

The brain is 60% fat and requires healthy fats to reduce inflammation (linked  to most brain disorders) and maintain a healthy blood-brain barrier—a mechanism  intended to protect the brain from harmful substances.  Omega 3 fatty acids  like those found in salmon, walnuts, flax seeds or flax seed oil, or hemp seeds,  help to quell inflammation and support a strong blood-brain barrier, while  boosting our memory.  Be sure to choose only wild salmon  since high levels of mercury and PCBs have been found in farmed salmon and both  of these substances may have adverse effects on the brain.  Also, be sure  to choose raw walnuts, flax or hemp seeds or the oil made from  them since the fats contained in these nuts and seeds can have damaging effects  on brain health when heated.

8.  The Memory-Boosting Power of Tomatoes

Tomatoes contain a powerful memory-boosting phytonutrient called “lycopene.”  Research shows that those who consume lycopene in their daily  diets had sharper memories than those who didn’t consume high amounts of  lycopene.  Tomatoes aren’t the only source.  Another great source of  lycopene is watermelon.

9.  Tea for Two Hemispheres

Researchers found that people who drank two or more cups of tea each day were  less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.  Black and green tea  (especially green tea) contains potent antioxidants with twenty times the power  to protect against free radicals than vitamin E.  Green tea also lowers the  risk of blood clots and clumping linked to stroke.

By Michelle Schoffro Cook

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international  best-selling and 14-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine,  whose works include: 60 Seconds  to Slim, Healing Recipes, The  Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body Detox, The  Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan,  and The Phytozyme Cure.  Check out her natural health resources and  subscribe to her free e-magazine World’s Healthiest News at WorldsHealthiestDiet.com  to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow her on Twitter @mschoffrocook  and Facebook.

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Excellent Health is found along your journey and not just at your destination. Would it make sense for us to spend several minutes together to discuss your Health Issues or Problems and how HealthyHighway can help YOU Live YOUR Optimum Life?  Please complete the information at www.healthyhighway.org/contact.html to schedule your consultation.  I look forward to helping YOU Live YOUR Optimum Life!

Live Well!

Leesa A. Wheeler

Healthy Lifestyle Coach, Artisan, Author

ring ~ 770-393-1284

write ~ info@healthyhighway.org

visit ~ www.HealthyHighway.org

consult ~  www.healthyhighway.org/contact.html

chews ~ www.Chews4Health.com/Leesa

enjoy ~ www.Chewcolat.com

follow ~ www.twitter.com/HealthyHighway

learn ~ www.healthyhighway.wordpress.com

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link ~ www.linkedin.com/in/leesawheeler

3 Myths to Dispel About the Brain

What if we could improve our memory, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and keep our brains young with just a few simple mindfulness techniques?

Deepak Chopra recently appeared on the Dr. Oz show discussing memory and the brain. With the recent release of his new book, Super Brain, co-authored by Harvard neuroscientist Rudy Tanzi, there has been a lot in the air about the connection between the mind, aging and brain health. Deepak and Rudy discuss some key themes from the book, including memory, love, and sleep, on The Chopra Well series, SUPER BRAIN.

As it turns out, we have more of a say in the strength and resilience of our brains than we may have thought. Here are three myths to dispel before we can harness the power of our “super brains.” If we can wrap our minds around these, then we are off to a great start.

Myth #1: Over the course of our lives, our brains continuously lose cells that will never be replaced.

Truth: We do lose brain cells as a natural course of wear and tear (about one per second), but these cells are replaced and can even increase in a process called “neurogenesis.” Several thousand new nerve cells come into being every day in the hippocampus, home of short-term memory. We can promote the birth of these new cells by choosing to learn new things, take risks, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes avoiding emotional stress and trauma, which have been shown to inhibit neurogenesis.

Myth #2: The brain is hardwired and cannot be changed.

Truth: Our brains are actually incredibly flexible, if we can just learn to nurture and foster their development. The term for this “re-wiring” is neuroplasticity and is dependent on our own will to try new things, tackle new goals and experience change. The brain’s circuitry can be reshaped by our thoughts, desires, and experiences. This property has been vividly illustrated by dramatic recoveries after injuries, but it also comes to bear every time you take a new route to work or learn a new skill.

Myth #3: Memory loss with age is irreversible.

Truth: It is possible to prevent and even reverse memory loss! Ever misplaced your keys and blamed it on old age? The fact is, you have to learn something in the first place before you can forget it. So it may be that you just never learned where you placed your keys. Practice mindfulness as the first step toward building a resilient memory. Also, memories associated with feelings are much stronger than memories based in simple, hard fact. We must take an interest in everything going on around us, stay alert, and resist feeling hopeless or apathetic about the aging process. Our brains are capable of miracles, regardless of age.

By The Chopra Well

10 Foods That Promote Brain Health

10 Foods That Promote Brain Health

 

Who doesn’t want to become smarter? Who wants to look better or feel  healthier? Many recent studies have shown how certain nutrients can positively  affect the brain, specifically in areas of the brain related to cognitive  processing or feelings and emotions. Generally speaking, you want to follow a  healthy diet  for your brain that will lead to strong blood flow, maintenance of  mental sharpness and reduce the risk of heart disease and neurodegenerative  diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

We know that foods play a great role in our brain, as concluded in several  studies led by a phenomenal neuroscientist at UCLA, Gomez Pinilla.

According to one study, the super fats your brain needs most are omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain converts them into DHA  (docosahexaenoic acid) which enhances neuronal communication and promotes  neuronal growth.

Food and nutrients represent fuel to our bodies the same way that when we use  our car we need to fill the gas tank. Unfortunately, we generally take better  care of our cars than our bodies. Why is that? We are hearing frequently that  consuming the right nutrients can help our health, aging process, and more  efficient brain-body functioning.

With that said, I want to share with you ten foods you must keep in your diet to maintain brain health:

1. Apples: Eating an apple a day protects the brain from oxidative  damage that causes neurodegenerative diseases such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  This magical nutrient that acts as protection is quercetin, which is a phytonutrient.

2. Asparagus: Asparagus is rich in folic acid, which is essential for the  metabolism of the long chain fatty acids in your brain.

3. Lean Beef: Lean beef is rich in vitamin B12, iron and  zinc. These vitamins and minerals have been shown to maintain a healthy neural  tissue.

4. Blueberries and strawberries: Studies show that people  who eat berries improve their memory and their motor skills. In addition, their  antioxidant properties can protect your brain from the oxidative process. (Leesa recommends Chews4Health!)

5. Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate offers incredible concentration powers. It is  a very powerful antioxidant containing natural stimulants that increase the  production of feel-good endorphins. Trick: you need to find dark chocolate with  less than 10 grams of sugar per serving for optimal benefits. (Have you tasted this dark, decadent, delicious organic chocolate? http://tinyurl.com/orgdarkchocolate ?  It’s the one Leesa recommends and it’s 85% dark chocolate!)

6. Salmon: Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which  studies have shown to be essential for brain function.

7. Dried oregano: Certain spices have powerful antioxidant properties. In  several studies, this powerful spice has shown to have 40 times more antioxidant  properties than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges,  and 4 times more than that of blueberries or strawberries.

8. Walnuts: Walnuts are rich in protein and contain omega-3  fatty acids, vitamins E and B6 which all promote healthy neural tissue.

9. Whole grains: Whole grains deliver fiber and vitamin E  that help promote cardiovascular health, which helps improve the circulation to  the brain.

10. Yogurt: Yogurt and other dairy foods are filled with  protein and vitamin B that are essential to improve the communication between  nerve cells. (Leesa recommends Coconut Yougurt by Raw Sprout Foods found at Return to Eden in Atlanta, GA.)

Make sure that from now on you select and plan a great menu that include  these brain foods. Life is about choices and selecting the right  nutrients can play a key role in your health.

By Michael Gonzalez-Wallace, who is the author of Super Body,  Super Brain. You can read more from him at www.superbodysuperbrain.com or pick up his book Super Body, Super Brain.

5 Diet Tips to Boost Your Memory

5 Diet Tips to Boost Your Memory

Doctors have been recommending dietary changes to their patients with such  conditions as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure for years.  Soon they may be doing the same for patients suffering from poor memory  function.

That’s because a host of new clinical studies have all found that specific nutritional  interventions can significantly improve memory function in patients with  Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and those with mild cognitive impairment.

But you don’t have to have Alzheimer’s to benefit from the new findings.  Eating a brain-healthy diet can also help those of us who, as we age, notice  that our mind and memory just aren’t as sharp as they used to be.

Here are 5 memory-boosting dietary recommendations, based on the latest  scientific research and clinical experience treating patients with AD and  MCI.

1. Proportion your fat-carb-protein intake.

Every day, make sure that you aim for 25% of your total calories from  brain-healthy good fat, which includes olive oil, avocados, certain  nuts, natural peanut butter, certain seeds, and certain fish. Limit your intake  of bad fats (most fast foods, anything hydrogenated, dried coconut, butter,  animal fats, milk chocolate and white chocolate, and cheese). Consume 30-45% of your daily calories from complex carbohydrates  (fruits, vegetables and whole foods that are low on the glycemic index), and  wean yourself off high glycemic carbs (sugars, high-fructose corn syrup,  processed cereals and grains, anything baked, whole milk and cream, ice cream  and sorbet, crackers, salty snacks such as chips and pretzels, and anything made  with white flour). Finally, get the other 25-35% of your calories from  high-quality lean protein.

2. Boost your brain nutrients.

Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are essential for memory  function and brain health. Most of us don’t get enough from dietary sources  (such as fish), so consider high-quality, pure fish oil supplements that contain  a minimum of 250 mg of DHA in each capsule, and aim for 1,000-1,500 mg of DHA  daily if approved by the treating physician. Antioxidant-rich  foods are also great for mental function. Some of the best are berries,  kale, 100% pure unsweetened cocoa powder, mushrooms, onions, beans, seeds,  sardines, herring, trout, and Alaskan wild salmon. Finally, ensure adequate  intake of folic acid, B6, B12, and vitamin D in particular. If  you’re not eating vitamin-rich foods on a regular basis, it’s good to supplement  as needed in pill or liquid form.

3. Eat whole foods, Mediterranean style.

A brain-healthy Mediterranean-style diet includes fruits and vegetables, lean  protein (fish, chicken, and turkey); low-fat yogurt and cheeses; and grains,  nuts, and seeds. Stay away from red meat and processed foods. Get in the habit  of eating whole foods. What are whole foods? They’re foods that have only one  ingredient–for example, strawberries, broccoli, or barley. If you must have a  convenience (manufactured) food on occasion, find those packaged, canned, and  frozen items with the fewest ingredients–especially ingredients that you readily  recognize and understand.

4. Enjoy coffee and pure cocoa.

Good news for coffee lovers! Caffeinated coffee, 1-3 cups early in  the day, may be beneficial over time to your brain. Studies done in  Europe over several years demonstrate that men who drank coffee regularly for  many years showed less of a decline on memory tests than those who did not drink  coffee. More good news: An exciting new study released August 2012 showed that  patients with mild cognitive impairment who had regular intake of the strong  antioxidants found in pure dark cocoa powder had improvement in  memory function.  (Leesa recommends that your coffee and your chocolate be organic!)

5. Fast 12 hours at night.

If you routinely wake up at 6 a.m., try to eat your last meal at 6 p.m. the  night before. There is scientific evidence that substances called ketone bodies,  which are produced when there are no carbohydrates to burn for fuel, may have a  protective effect on brain cells. This means no late-night snacking  between dinner and breakfast.

* * * * *

Learn more about nutritional interventions for Alzheimer’s disease and mild  cognitive impairment in The Alzheimer’s Diet: A Step-by-Step  Nutritional Approach for Memory Loss Prevention and Treatment (www.thealzheimersdiet.com), coauthored by Harvard-trained  neurologist Richard Isaacson MD and Christopher Ochner PhD. Dr. Isaacson is an  associate professor of clinical neurology specializing in Alzheimer’s disease  and other memory and cognitive impairments at the University of Miami Miller  School of Medicine. Dr. Ochner is a leading researcher on nutrition and the  brain at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the New York Obesity Nutrition  Research Center (Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons).

Care2 Healthy Living Guest  Blogger

6 Surprising Things That Affect Your Brain

6 Surprising Things That Affect Your Brain

 

Brain scientists in recent years have discovered a number of  surprising ways  that the brain influences our overall health, as well as  how our behavior  influences the health of our brain. And unlike in the  days of old — when  scientists believed the brain was “fixed” after  childhood, only to start an  inexorable decline in the middle to later  years — today, research is showing  that the brain is perfectly capable  of changing, healing and “rewiring” itself  to an unexpected degree.

It turns out that the age of your brain may be a lesser influence on its  structure than what you do with it. Pursuits that require intense  mental focus, like language  learning, “switch on” the nucleus basalis, the  control mechanism for  neuroplasticity.

In short, neuroplasticity means you have some control over your  cranial  fitness. While brain function naturally deteriorates somewhat as  you age  (though not nearly as much as you might think), various  strategic approaches  can create new neural pathways and strengthen  existing ones as long as you  live. What’s more, these efforts to build a  better brain can deliver lasting  rewards for your overall health.

Here are just a few of neuroscience’s most empowering recent discoveries.

Your Thoughts Affect Your  Genes

We tend to think of our genetic heritage as a fait accompli.  At our  conception, our parents handed down whatever genetic legacy they  inherited — genes for baldness, tallness, disease or whatever — and now  we’re left playing  the hand of DNA we were dealt. But, in fact, our  genes are open to being  influenced throughout our lifetime, both by what  we do and by what we think,  feel and believe.

The new and growing field of “epigenetics” studies extra-cellular  factors  that influence genetic expression. While you may have heard that  genes can be  influenced by diet and exercise, many researchers are now  exploring the ways  that thoughts, feelings and beliefs can exert the  same epigenetic effect. It  turns out that the chemicals catalyzed by our  mental activity can interact with  our genes in a powerful way. Much  like the impacts of diet, exercise and  environmental toxins, various  thought patterns have been shown to turn certain  genes “on” or “off.”

The Research

In his book The  Genie in Your Genes (Elite Books, 2009), researcher Dawson Church, PhD,  explains the  relationship between thought and belief patterns and the  expression of  healing- or disease-related genes. “Your body reads your mind,” Church  says. “Science is discovering that while we may have a fixed set of   genes in our chromosomes, which of those genes is active has a great  deal to do  with our subjective experiences, and how we process them.”

One recent study conducted at Ohio University demonstrates vividly  the  effect of mental stress on healing. Researchers gave married couples  small  suction blisters on their skin, after which they were instructed  to discuss  either a neutral topic or a topic of dispute for half an  hour. Researchers then  monitored the production of three wound-repair  proteins in the subjects’ bodies  for the next several weeks, and found  that the blisters healed 40 percent  slower in those who’d had especially  sarcastic, argumentative conversations  than those who’d had neutral  ones.

Church explains how this works. The body sends a protein signal to  activate  the genes associated with wound healing, and those activated  genes then code  blank stem cells to create new skin cells to seal the  wound. But when the  body’s energy is being “sucked up” by the production  of stress biochemicals  like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine,  like it is during a nasty fight,  the signal to your wound-healing genes  is significantly weaker, and the repair  process slows way down. By  contrast, when the body is not preparing for a  perceived threat, its  energy stores remain readily available for healing  missions.

Why It Matters to You

Just about every body comes equipped with the genetic material  it needs to  deal optimally with the physical challenges of daily life,  and the degree to  which you can maintain your mental equilibrium has a  real impact on your body’s  ability to access those genetic resources.  While habits of mind can be  challenging to break, deliberate activities  like meditation (see the following  studies) can help you refashion your  neural pathways to support less reactive  thought patterns.

Chronic Stress Can Prematurely Age  Your Brain

“There’s always going to be stress in the environment,” says Howard  Fillit,  MD, clinical professor of geriatrics and medicine at New York’s  Mount Sinai  School of Medicine and executive director of the Alzheimer’s  Drug Discovery  Foundation. “But what’s damaging is the distress we feel  internally in response  to it.”

Fillit’s distinction points to the bodywide reaction our bodies  experience  when we routinely respond to stress by going into  fight-or-flight mode. In our  brains, the stress response can cause  memory and other aspects of cognition to  become impaired, which is a  risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and accelerated  memory loss with  aging. One thing that can happen is you can start feeling a  lot older,  mentally, than you are.

“Patients come in complaining of faulty memory and wonder if they’re   beginning to get Alzheimer’s,” says Roberta Lee, MD, vice-chair of the   Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center and  author of The  Superstress Solution (Random House, 2010). “Their workups and MRI scans  look normal. In the  interview, I ask them about their lifestyle and almost  invariably they  have compounded stress.”

The Research

Studies at the University of California–San Francisco have  shown that  repeated instances of the stress response (and their  accompanying floods of  cortisol) can cause shrinkage of the hippocampus —  a key part of the brain’s  limbic system vital to both stress regulation  and long-term memory. Call it the  downside of neuroplasticity.

Why It Matters to You

Aside from the obvious — no one wants his or her brain to age  faster than  it’s already going to — this research matters because it  suggests that you have  some influence over the rate of your own  cognitive change.

To protect the brain from cortisol-related premature aging, Lee  suggests  building stress disruptors into your regular routine: “A  five-minute period in  the middle of every day during which you do  absolutely nothing — nothing! — can  help a lot, especially if you are  consistent about it,” she says.

Her other recommendations include eating breakfast every day —  complex  carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies) and some protein.  “Breakfast helps your  metabolism feel like it won’t be stressed — caught  up in a starvation-gluttony  pattern,” she explains.

And when anxiety does strike, a good way to initiate the relaxation  response  is her “four-five breath” routine: breathing in through the  nose to a count of  four, then out through the mouth to a count of five.  “Repeat it four times and  you’ll feel the relaxation,” she says. “Best  of all, do the four breaths twice  daily, at the beginning and end of the  day.”

Meditation Rewires Your  Brain

Meditation and other forms of relaxation and mindfulness not only  change  your immediate state of mind (and, correspondingly, your  biochemical stress  level and gene expression), they also can alter the  very structure of your  brain. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD,  cofounder of the San Francisco–based  Wellspring Institute for  Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, has extensively  studied the  effect of meditation on the brain, with a particular focus on how   neuroplasticity allows for permanent changes for the better in your gray   matter.

The Research

“Of all the mental trainings — affirmations, psychotherapy,  positive  thinking, yoga — the one that has been far and away the most  studied, in terms  of effects on the brain, is meditation,” Hanson says.  Some of the most  prominent research has come from the collaboration  between French-born Buddhist  monk and author Matthieu Ricard and  University of Wisconsin–Madison  neuroscientist Richard Davidson, PhD.  Their studies have shown that a high  ratio of activity in the left  prefrontal areas of the brain can mark either a  fleeting positive mood  or a more ingrained positive outlook.

Brain-imaging tests have shown that Ricard and other veteran Buddhist   meditators demonstrate initial heightened activity in this region,  along with a  rapid ability to recover from negative responses brought on  by frightening  images shown to them by researchers. This suggests that  their long-term  meditation practice has helped build brains that are  able to not just enjoy but  sustain a sense of positive well-being, even  in stressful moments.

Why It Matters to You

“Stimulating areas of the brain that handle positive emotions  strengthens  those neural networks, just as working muscles strengthens  them,” Hanson says,  repeating one of the basic premises of  neuroplasticity. The inverse is also  true, he explains: “If you  routinely think about things that make you feel mad  or wounded, you are  sensitizing and strengthening the amygdala, which is primed  to respond  to negative experiences. So it will become more reactive, and you  will  get more upset more easily in the future.”

By contrast, meditative practices stimulate the anterior cingulate  cortex,  the part of the brain’s outermost layer that controls attention  (this is how  meditation can lead to greater mindfulness, Hanson  explains), as well as the  insula, which controls interoception — the  internal awareness of one’s own  body. “Being in tune with your body via  interoception keeps you from damaging  it when you exercise,” Hanson  says, “as well as building that pleasant, simple  sense of being ‘in your  body.’” Another plus of a strong insula is an increased  sensitivity to  “gut feelings” and intuitions and greater empathy with  others.

Perhaps best of all, meditation develops the circuitry in the left   prefrontal cortex, where the unruffled monks showed so much activity.  “That’s  an area that dampens negative emotion, so you don’t get so  rattled by anger or  fear, shame or sorrow,” Hanson says.

“Deciding to be mindful can alter your brain so that being mindful is  easier  and more natural,” he explains. “In other words, you can use  your mind to  change your brain to affect your mind.”

Your Brain Learns By  Doing

The mirror neuron system is the name for those regions of the brain  with  synapses that fire whether you’re actually doing or merely watching  an action — as long as you’ve done it previously. Doing an action lays  down neural  connections that fire again when you watch the same action.  This accounts for  the connection you feel when viewing a sport you’ve  played, or why you wince  when you see someone else get hurt.

The Research

Giacomo Rizzolatti and his colleagues in the Department of  Neuroscience at  the University of Parma in Italy first noted the mirror  effect while studying  the brains of macaque monkeys. When a monkey was  watching one of the  researchers pick up a peanut, the same neurons fired  as if the monkey — likely  a seasoned peanut gatherer — had picked up  the nut itself. The researchers  labeled these specific cells “mirror  neurons.” In the human brain, entire  regions light up in response to a  familiar action; this endows us with a  full-fledged mirror system.

Why It Matters to You

The existence of the mirror system helps explain why learning a  new skill is  easier if you try doing it early in life. This includes  doing it clumsily,  rather than hanging back watching your instructor or a  video until you think  you “have it.” Watching before you try means that  you will probably see very  little; watching after you try will engage  the mirror system, increasing your  brain’s power to “get it.”

As London-based neuroscientist Daniel Glaser, PhD, puts it, “When you  look  at something you have done before, you are actually using more of  your brain to  see it, so there’s a richer information flow. Until you  started playing tennis,  you couldn’t see the difference between a good  topspin stroke and a bad one;  after a few weeks of practice, when your  coach demonstrates the stroke, you  really get it visually. And you can  thank the mirror system for that.”

The mirror system is also what endows you with the empathic ability  to feel  the pain or joy of others, based on what you register on their  faces. “When we  see someone else suffering or in pain, mirror neurons  help us to read her or  his facial expression and actually make us feel  the suffering or the pain of  the other person,” writes UCLA neurologist  Marco Iacoboni, MD, PhD, in his  book, Mirroring People (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). “These moments, I will argue, are the foundation of empathy.”

Growing Older Can Make You  Smarter

For some time, the prevailing view of a brain at midlife was that  it’s “simply a young brain slowly closing down,” observes Barbara  Strauch. But she  notes that recent research has shown that middle age is  actually a kind of  cranial prime time, with a few comedic twists thrown  in for fun.

“Researchers have found that — despite some bad habits — the brain is at  its  peak in those years. As it helps us navigate through our lives, the  middle-age  brain cuts through the muddle to find solutions, knows whom  and what to ignore,  when to zig and when to zag,” she writes. “It stays  cool. It adjusts.”

The Research

Brain scientists used to be convinced that the main “driver” of  brain aging  was loss of neurons — brain-cell death. But new scanning  technology has shown  that most brains maintain most of their neurons  over time. And, while some  aspects of the aging process do involve  losses — to memory, to reaction time — there are also some net gains,  including a neat trick researchers call “bilateralization,” which  involves using both the brain’s right and left  hemispheres at once.

Strauch cites a University of Toronto study from the 1990s, soon  after  scanning technology became available, that measured the  comparative ability of  young and middle-age research subjects to match  faces with names. The expected  outcome was that older subjects would do  worse at the task, but not only were  they just as competent as younger  subjects, PET scans revealed that, in  addition to the brain circuits  used by the younger crowd, the older subjects  also tapped into the  brain’s powerful prefrontal cortex. As some of their  circuits weakened,  they compensated by using other parts of the brain.

Ultimately, this means the effects of age caused them to use — and strengthen — more of their brains, not less.

Why It Matters to You

Gene Cohen, MD, PhD, who directs the Center on Aging, Health  and Humanities  at George Washington University Medical Center, notes  that this ability to use  more of your cognitive reserves strengthens  your problem-solving ability as you  enter the middle years, and it makes  you more capable of comfortably  negotiating contradictory thoughts and  emotions. “This neural integration makes  it easier to reconcile our  thoughts with our feelings,” he wrote in “The Myth  of the Midlife  Crisis” (Newsweek, Jan. 16, 2006). Like meditation, the  middle-age tendency toward bilateralization seems to promote your  ability to  stay cool under pressure.

There are things you can do to amplify this increased strength. “Our  brains  are built to roll with the punches,” Strauch writes, “and better —  or more  carefully cared for — brains roll best.” Studies show multiple  ways to build  long-term brain health: from healthy eating, exercise and  conscious relaxation  to active social bonds, challenging work and  continuing education. Good advice,  it would seem, for a brain at any  age.

A Teenage Brain is Wired  Differently

While it was once thought that the brain’s architecture was basically  set by  age five or six, New York Times medical science and health  editor Barbara  Strauch explains her book The Primal Teen: What the New  Discoveries About the  Teenage Brain Tell Us About Our Kids (Anchor,  2003), new research shows that  the teen brain is “still very much a work  in progress, a giant construction  project. Millions of connections are  being hooked up; millions more are swept  away. Neurochemicals wash over  the teenage brain, giving it a new paint job, a  new look, a new chance  at life.”

The neurochemical dopamine floods the teen brain, increasing  alertness,  sensitivity, movement, and the capacity to feel intense  pleasure; it’s a recipe  for risk-taking. And, as anyone who has tried to  rouse a sleepy teen should  appreciate, brain chemicals that help set  sleep patterns go through major  shifts.

Knowing about these brain gyrations in young people can help parents  be a  little more patient and tolerant—and they offer some opportunities  too.   As Jay Giedd told PBS’s Frontline, “If a teen is doing music or  sports or  academics [during this period of brain change and  consolidation], those are the  cells and connections that will be  hardwired. If they’re lying on the couch or  playing video games or MTV,  those are the cells and connections that are going  to survive.”

By Jon Spayde, Experience Life

 

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

10 Foods That Promote Brain Health

10 Foods That Promote Brain Health

Who doesn’t want to become smarter? Who wants to look better or feel healthier? Many recent studies have shown how certain nutrients can positively affect the brain, specifically in areas of the brain related to cognitive processing or feelings and emotions. Generally speaking, you want to follow a healthy diet for your brain that will lead to strong blood flow, maintenance of mental sharpness and reduce the risk of heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

We know that foods play a great role in our brain, as concluded in several studies led by a phenomenal neuroscientist at UCLA, Gomez Pinilla.

According to one study, the super fats your brain needs most are omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain converts them into DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which enhances neuronal communication and promotes neuronal growth.

Food and nutrients represent fuel to our bodies the same way that when we use our car we need to fill the gas tank. Unfortunately, we generally take better care of our cars than our bodies. Why is that? We are hearing frequently that consuming the right nutrients can help our health, aging process, and more efficient brain-body functioning.

With that said, I want to share with you ten foods you must keep in your diet to maintain brain health:

1. Apples: Eating an apple a day protects the brain from oxidative damage that causes neurodegenerative diseases such Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. This magical nutrient that acts as protection is quercetin, which is a phytonutrient.

2. Asparagus: Asparagus is rich in folic acid, which is essential for the metabolism of the long chain fatty acids in your brain.

3. Lean Beef: Lean beef is rich in vitamin B12, iron and zinc. These vitamins and minerals have been shown to maintain a healthy neural tissue.

4. Blueberries and strawberries: Studies show that people who eat berries improve their memory and their motor skills. In addition, their antioxidant properties can protect your brain from the oxidative process.

5. Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate offers incredible concentration powers. It is a very powerful antioxidant containing natural stimulants that increase the production of feel-good endorphins. Trick: you need to find dark chocolate with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving for optimal benefits.

6. Salmon: Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which studies have shown to be essential for brain function.

7. Dried oregano: Certain spices have powerful antioxidant properties. In several studies, this powerful spice has shown to have 40 times more antioxidant properties than apples, 30 times more than potatoes, 12 times more than oranges, and 4 times more than that of blueberries or strawberries.

8. Walnuts: Walnuts are rich in protein and contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E and B6 which all promote healthy neural tissue.

9. Whole grains: Whole grains deliver fiber and vitamin E that help promote cardiovascular health, which helps improve the circulation to the brain.

10. Yogurt: Yogurt and other dairy foods are filled with protein and vitamin B that are essential to improve the communication between nerve cells.

Make sure that from now on you select and plan a great menu that include these brain foods. Life is about choices and selecting the right nutrients can play a key role in your health.

Written by Michael Gonzalez-Wallace, who is the author of Super Body, Super Brain. You can read more from him at www.superbodysuperbrain.com or pick up his book Super Body, Super Brain.

Leesa recommends choosing organic and local as well as wild and grass raised (beef) when possible!

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