Brain Health

Experts say that maintaining a healthy brain requires a few different nutrition and lifestyle choices. First off, opting for healthy brain food, including healthy fats like omega-3s and lean proteins, is vital to providing nourishment for brain function. Regular exercise, as well as brainy activities like puzzles and books, can also keep your brain functioning well as you age. And don’t undercut the power of human relationships when it comes to keeping your brain strong—experts say socializing can be one of the most important tools in brain health. Turn to Project Wellness for advice about how to keep your brain healthy, how to nourish and exercise your brain and other brain health tips.

  • Brain Health Questions: How can I reverse memory loss?

    Our webinar with Dr. Bruce Price on July 27 sparked some interesting questions on brain health from our participants. Since Dr. Price wasn't able to answer all of them during the webinar, we thought we'd tackle some common ones here. These answers come from Dr. Haythum Tayeb, a behavioral neurology and neuropsychiatry fellow in Dr. Price's department of neurology at McLean Hospital.

    Q. Once someone is already experiencing memory loss, is there anything that can stop or reverse the process?

    A. It depends on the cause and pattern of memory dysfunction. There are different memory systems in the brain and these systems can be affected by a number of pathological processes. While some of these processes are completely reversible and others are definitely amenable to modification and improvement, and some are irreversible.

    For example, attention and concentration problems are often felt to cause memory dysfunction, with or without genuine problems in the parts of the brain that store the memories. There are many reversible causes for attention difficulties, including anxiety, depression, medications, inadequate sleep, medical illness and others. Interventions to reverse negative effects of these factors on attention and memory can improve overall memory performance significantly.

    Even in cases where there is a problem in the memory-storage system itself, the cause is not always irreversible. A medical and neurological evaluation is required to search for the treatable causes of amnesia, which include vascular, nutritional, infectious and endocrine, medical and inflammatory problems.

    Furthermore, early cases of memory problems (amnestic mild cognitive impairment), do not always progress to Alzheimer's disease, and sometimes actually reverse spontaneously. Alzheimer's disease, while a common cause for memory problems, is certainly not the only one. In cases of probable Alzheimer's disease, a multi-lateral effort to improve memory and functioning is often very helpful. Factors that can potentially help for variable periods of time include physical exercise, maintaining a reasonable degree of mental and social activities, having an adequate diet, treating depression, and making sure medical and sleep problems are treated appropriately. While there are medications that can temporarily improve symptoms,  none are yet available for clinical use to delay, stop or reverse the process. A large area of research is however progressing promisingly in pursuit of this goal.

    The information provided here is intended for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  • Upcoming webinar with Dr. Bruce Price

    Interested in what you can be doing preventively to keep your brain and memory going strong as you age? Pharmaca is proud to be hosting a free webinar with Dr. Bruce Price of our Integrative Health Advisory Board.

    Boost Your Brain:
    How to maintain good memory and cognitive function as you age

    Wednesday, July 20, 11am PDT/12pm MDT

    Join Dr. Bruce Price, associate professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, as he offers expert advice on supplements and lifestyle changes to keep your brain working smarter at any age.

    Register now and submit your questions! Everyone who attends will receive $10 good toward future shopping purchases in stores and online.


  • Essential Oil of the Month: Rosemary

    Rosemary is one of those quintessential herbs that add flavor to almost any dish. It's native to the Mediterranean region, and is a member of the mint family. Maybe that's why, as an essential oil, it's known for its ability to revitalize and clarify.

    What it does
    Rosemary has been clinically shown to improve cognition, increase alertness and elevate mood. Another study showed that rosemary's active ingredient, carnosic acid, can shield the brain from free radicals that contribute to stroke and other neuro-degenerative conditions (when taken internally).

    Bonus use
    Rosemary has anti-bacterial properties that can make it useful as a household cleaner or disinfectant.

    Ways to use it

    • Inhale directly from the bottle to feel energized
    • Add 5-10 drop to a carrier oil for a nourishing scalp massage
    • Pour a few drops on a damp cloth and wipe down bathroom and kitchen surfaces--any areas you want to disinfect.

    Interesting tidbit
    Rosemary is so at home in the Mediterranean that it is thought to survive only on the humidity brought on sea breezes. In fact, the herb's name originated from the Latin rosmarinus, which is from "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus).

  • Turmeric and brain health? Keep eating that curry



    In doing some research for an upcoming article on men's health, we found a study that shows a strong connection between curcumin, or turmeric, and a reduced risk for Alzheimer's. We've known that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, but we didn't know that it could also reduce inflammation in the brain, thought to be a precursor to the brain plaques that lead to dementia and Alzheimer's.

    The 2008 review, published in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, covered studies that have researched turmeric's effects on various diseases. According to the study, "Curcumin holds a high place in Ayurvedic medicine as a 'cleanser of the body,' and today, science is finding a growing list of diseased conditions that can be healed by the active ingredients of turmeric."

    The review showed a strong correlation between populations whose diets include significant amounts of turmeric (e.g. curry, of which turmeric is an important component, in India) and a lower instance of Alzheimer's. While there is still research to be done about how turmeric affects the brain, it's clear that it has strong potential for treatment of dementia, even after the disease has developed.

    The long and short: Supplementation and dietary sources of turmeric can be a great way to improve your brain's long-term health. So keep eating that curry!

  • Ask a Practitioner: What can I do to increase focus and concentration?

    We get questions nearly every day via Ask a Practitioner from people with a variety of health concerns. Our practitioners take turns answering these questions, offering advice based on their experience and expertise. Each week we'll be posting some of these questions with the hopes that our practitioners' advice can help answer some of your health questions.

    Q. What are your recommendations for increasing focus and concentration? My adult son has ADD and doesn’t want to go the prescription medication route.

    A. Thank you for your question. The following are suggestions to assist your son with focus and concentration:

    1. DHA—is an essential fatty acid found in great concentrations in fish and flax oils. The human brain is approximately 70 percent DHA, so when we supplement with it, we are directly supporting the function of the brain and nervous system. I would recommend taking 2+ grams of a good quality fish oil (Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega is my favorite). Other great brands include: Pharmax, Renew Life, Pharmaca, Metagenics, and New Chapter.

    2. Think Clearly by Supernutrition—I used this product often when I was studying in my doctorate program and had great results. It’s a natural vitamin/herbal supplement, made from whole foods, and has many elements that support brain activity.

    3. A good multivitamin—My favorite is New Chapter’s Men’s Daily, which is also food-based. Supernutrition and Megafood also make fantastic multivitamins.

    4. Bach Flower Essence Clematis—This is literally a formula extracted from the Clematis flower that “helps you live more actively in the present.”

    5. Phosphatidylserine—Helps the brain cells to function properly.

    6. Digestive health—Examine your son’s digestion and diet. Is he getting proper nutrition? Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can lead to poor concentration. Taking a good probiotic can play a crucial role in aiding with digestive and immune issues, which can also have an impact on concentration.

    -Kate Brainard, Naturopathic Doctor, La Jolla

    The information provided here is intended for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  • The (healthy) glory of chocolate

    We just stumbled on this little nugget by John Robbins over at the Huffington Post—we've never seen someone lay out the true health benefits of chocolate quite so well. It turns out it's not just full of antioxidants, it's also great for your heart, your mood, etc. As Robbins says, "There is in fact a growing body of credible scientific evidence that chocolate contains a host of heart-healthy and mood-enhancing phytochemicals, with benefits to both body and mind."

    He goes on to talk about how it's packed with polyphenols that inhibit atherosclerosis, how it helps lower blood pressure, elevate moods by releasing pleasurable endorphins and boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Sounds like a superfood to us! (And it's good to know that the bad rap that chocolate has gotten over the years is mostly due to the additives we put in it--butterfat and sugar, namely--that can boost fat and high cholesterol.)

    Robbins concludes by talking about how much chocolate we really need to reap all those benefits: "According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding only half an ounce of dark chocolate to an average American diet is enough to increase total antioxidant capacity 4 percent, and lessen oxidation of LDL cholesterol."

    The perfect afternoon snack. Grab one of Pharmaca's fair-trade or organic dark chocolates and munch happy (and healthy)!

  • Omega-3s and your health

    Recent Omega-3 research:

    Omega-3s may protect against traumatic brain injury
    January 2011, Neurosurgery

    Omega-3s may reduce gum disease
    October 2010, American Journal of Dietetic Association

    Krill oil may reduce arthritis symptoms
    September 2010, BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders

    Omega-3s' anti-inflammatory mechanism revealed
    September 2010, Cell

    Every day, researchers are finding more links between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and certain health conditions. A recent study, done by Harvard University and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determined that there were 72,000-96,000 preventable deaths each year due to omega-3 deficiency. Here’s how fish oil can be an important addition to your life.

    How fatty acids work: There’s a simple reason why fish oil is thought to be so good for you: It’s rich in the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, required structural components of every single cell in the human body. The human body cannot make EPA and DHA, however. They must be consumed in our diets.

    EPA and DHA work together, but each has its own unique benefits. EPA is thought to reduce inflammation, improve cardiovascular and circulatory health, and can be beneficial for those suffering with autoimmune or inflammatory disorders. DHA is important for brain, nerve and eye cells, and can support cognition, fetal and infant development, pregnancy and combat depression.

    Fish vs. flax Research shows that flax is a less efficient source of EPA and DHA. While flax contains another omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), our bodies can convert only a small percentage of it to EPA and DHA. (Read more about when to choose fish or flax.)

    Dosing: Remember that dosage, freshness and purity are keys to maximizing the benefits of fish oil. Fresh fish oil ensures that you get optimal results—rancid oil can cause free radical damage and may not be assimilated into the body as well. And pure fish oil can protect you from toxins such as PCBs or heavy metals.

    For general maintenance, most practitioners recommend a daily dose of about 500 mg of EPA and DHA. The British Nutrition Foundation Task Force suggests as much 1000–1500 mg/day, the American Heart Association 1000 mg for those with documented heart disease and the American Psychiatric Association 1000 mg for individuals with mood disorders.

    For more information:
  • Food for Thought: Nutrition for a Better Brain

    Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, are essential for a reason—they’re actual structural components of all neural cells. In other words, they’re part of the brain’s building blocks. Because the body can’t manufacture this nutrient on its own, fatty acids have to be obtained through food and dietary supplements. This is especially important for developing babies and children whose diets often don’t include omega-3–rich fish.

    Scientists and doctors are beginning to explore the role omega-3s like DHA play in the cognitive development of children. DHA is vital to both the nervous system and visual functions (particularly the development of the retina), especially during gestation and in the first few years of life. Infants receive DHA in the womb and through breast milk, provided the mother has enough in her own diet. Experts now think adequate DHA intake could have a positive effect on curbing ADD and ADHD symptoms.

    While the human body can convert ALA—another omega-3 that is found in plants like flax oil and evening primrose—into DHA, it’s much less efficient than ingesting DHA in its whole form from fish. That’s why so many doctors are recommending that patients of all ages take a fish-oil supplement that will provide them with the brain boost they need.

    So how do you ensure your children are receiving enough DHA throughout the important stages of cognitive development? Once they’re weaned from breast milk, our practitioners often recommend Nordic Naturals’ Children’s DHA. “Most kids comply with them just fine because they taste good and are easy to swallow,” says Asia Real, a certified nutritionist at our Pacific Palisades store.

    “Nordic also has phenomenal standards for cleanliness,” adds Real. That’s especially important to parents concerned about mercury content in their fish oil: Nordic’s special distillation process ensures that all heavy metals are removed from the final product, and third-party testing continues to confirm Nordic’s purity.

    Nordic Naturals’ Children’s DHA is sold in chewable, soft gels and liquid form, both of which are infused with strawberry essence to make the cod liver oil palatable for little taste buds. Though DHA intake is important in the first few years of life, Real encourages parents to consult with their pediatrician before starting a fish-oil regimen with kids under 3 years.

  • Brain Boosters

    Our favorite brain-boosting supplements:

    Jarrow Formulas BrainBoost
    Helps increase brain circulation and support the synthesis of neurotransmitters to improve memory, recall, focus and mood.

    Thorne Research Memoractive
    Combines ginkgo biloba, Acetyl-L-carnitine, Ayurvedic herbs and more to enhance alertness, learning and reaction time.

    Pharmaca PS Phosphatidylserine
    Increases cell flexibility in the brain, which in turn boosts memory, focus and clarity.

    Turns out that keeping our brains working hard throughout our later years can be governed by how we treat our bodies throughout our lives. We got advice about what you can do to keep your brain working smarter, longer from Dr. Bruce Price, MD, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and Associate in Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Price also served as a member of Pharmaca's Integrative Health Advisory Board.

    Dr. Price has four major areas he encourages people to focus their energy on to ensure good brain health throughout their life: exercise, followed by good nutrition, sleep and happiness.

    1. Exercise. In addition to helping everything from mood to blood pressure, exercise increases blood circulation in the brain, decreases inflammation and can lower the risk for dementia. Dr. Price recommends at least 45 minutes of aerobic exercise 3-5 times per week, in addition to 2-3 strength-training sessions per week. He adds that a healthy exercise routine can help you maintain independence and mobility much longer, adding to your quality of life.

    2. Good nutrition. Dr. Price recommends getting the majority of your necessary vitamins and nutrients from food sources. The best plan? Mimic the Mediterranean diet:lots of fruits, veggies and good fats (like olive oil and fish), and low in dairy, meat and poultry. Add on nuts filled with good fats (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds); antioxidant-rich foods (berries and greens); and an essential fatty acid supplement that contains at least 1200 mg of combined EPA and DHA.

    3. Sleep. Without a full night's sleep, mood, memory, attention, reaction time and learning suffer, says Dr. Price. For most people, 7-8 hours of sleep is optimal, but the quality of sleep is more important than the quantity. As we age, the required sleep time decreases, but it conversely increases the need for those mid-afternoon naps to keep the brain focused.

    To optimize your quality of sleep, Dr. Price suggests maintaining consistent schedules (especially getting up at the same time everyday), eliminating any bad habits that you might do in bed-watching TV, paying bills or worrying-and spending time outdoors during the day to help reinforce the body's natural circadian rhythms. And don't necessarily rely on prescription or over-the-counter sleep remedies; for many people they can hinder quality sleep more than they can help it.

    4. Happiness. Strong social ties may help promote brain health, especially as we age, Dr. Price says. Studies have shown that friendships can be just as important to our wellbeing as our family relationships. So use those social ties to continue to engage the brain, through book groups or volunteer work, Dr. Price says. He also recommends spiritual and meditative practices like yoga or tai chi to keep the mind and body working well.

    To learn more about what to do now to ensure good brain health later, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner.

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