You’re probably already a pretty firm believer in brain health. You understand how important it is to take steps to fight mental decline and stay sharp. But there’s plenty of things most of us do in everyday life that hurts our brain and causes cognitive impairment. Don’t let all your brain health efforts go to waste by falling into one of these common traps.
1. Skipping Your Brain Vitamins
If you’re not taking vitamins, it’s more than your muscles and bones that are suffering. Your brain is paying the price too! Specifically, your brain needs B vitamins. That’s because, as a recent study by researchers at NYU showed, even a slight B12 deficiency has the potential to affect cognition.1 If you’re not feeling mentally sharp, a lack B vitamins might be the culprit.
In fact, one in four Americans have been shown to be deficient in B12. It’s hard to come by in a standard diet, and nearly impossible for those avoiding meat. For carnivores and pescatarians, liver, mackerel, and shellfish are all very rich in B12.2 Vegetarians and picky eaters would be best off sticking to vitamin supplements, which can be found in any pharmacy.
2. Eating Foods with Dangerous Neurotoxins
Speaking of diet, it’s important to avoid more than just sugar, starch, and saturated fats. You also need to be on the lookout for neurotoxins. These dangerous chemicals are the result of foods treated with pesticides or herbicides. A study at the Salk Institute identified a gene – NTE – which can be damaged by these chemicals. This can result in ADHD and the so-called “Gulf War syndrome” which causes extreme forgetfulness.3
The best way to avoid chemicals in your food is by going organic. Avoiding pesticides and herbicides is not just the right answer for your brain, it’s also best for the planet. So next time you go grocery shopping spring the extra few bucks to go organic and sleep a little easier. You also should make sure to watch this presentation on the 5 foods that contain dangerous neurotoxins.
3. Drinking Alcohol
Many of us like to unwind with a drink, and there’s nothing wrong with that. An occasional glass of wine can even fight heart disease and slow brain decline.4 The problem is when it’s more than that. Moderate to heavy drinking can be quite detrimental to your brain functioning.
We know that being intoxicated impairs our cognition, but your brain feels the effects long after the hangover is gone. A paper published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) concluded that those who drank moderately to heavily over a period of years suffered from memory impairment, mental fog, and learning problems.5 Next time you’re tempted to cut loose, do your brain a favor and lay off the booze.
4. Smoking Cigarettes
It’s not news that smoking is bad. We’re all well aware, despite the efforts of Big Tobacco, that it causes cancer, heart disease, and COPD. It’s definitely bad for your body in a number of ways. But what most people don’t know is that smoking can also permanently and irreversibly damage your brain.
The damage occurs when a compound in tobacco causes the body’s white blood cells to attack healthy blood cells in the central nervous system.6 This in turn causes neuroinflammation (swelling of the brain tissue) which has been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s. If you won’t do it for your mind, do it for your body. Put the cigarettes down!
5. Living Under a Dark Cloud
Depression is a serious problem, and it often goes untreated. This is doubly tragic because in addition to the misery that depression causes, it also physically shrinks the brain.7 That’s according to a Stanford University study which showed that glucocorticoid hormones, released by stress and depression, are very damaging to brain cells. Prolonged exposure to glucocorticoids can even kill neurons in the brain.
If you or someone you know is depressed, seek help! Great ways to avoid depression are exercise, meditation, and spending time with loved ones. Being happy feels good and keeps your body healthy. If you feel overwhelmed, make sure to carve out some time for your own mental health. Your brain will thank you for it.