Train Your Brain in August: By Being Social

All month we will explore the brain. Specifically, we’ll walk you through the methods for training your brain to be stronger, smarter, and faster!

Friends Walking Together

Your brain is so well connected, and you should be too! In fact, interacting with one another is like food for the brain. This may be why regular contact with others decreases the risk of early onset of dementia.

A study at the University of Chicago found that loneliness has doubled in the U.S. since the 1980s, affecting up to 60 million Americans. All these feelings of isolation can increase a person’s chances of premature death by 14 percent and early death in the elderly by 45 percent. This may be because loneliness actually suppresses your immune system, boosts inflammation and is associated with heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and even dementia, cancer and fatigue.

The neuropsychological impact of isolation in the general population is clear, but how does this apply to you?

Isolation in the workplace is costly. Lack of social support can lead to mental sluggishness that impairs productivity, stifles creativity, and hinders decision-making.  Several papers have documented a link between loneliness and lowered organizational commitment among hotel workers, school principals, medical workers, and others. A study conducted at five companies in China showed a relationship between loneliness and lowered creativity.

In this equation, subtracting social interaction in humans causes all the illness companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to prevent.

On the other side of the equation, data show that adding social interaction doesn’t just boost your mood, it basically feeds our brains. People who connect with others perform better on tests of memory and other cognitive skills. And, in the long run, people with active social lives are less likely to develop age related cognitive decline. In the workplace, positive social relationships strengthen employee retention and productivity.

Listen, social contact with others does not even have to be a deep conversation. Just being there with them and doing things together is enough to get the cognitive benefits. So, go have a coffee. Pick up the phone.

Your brain will thank you.

Train Your Brain in August: By Trying Something New

All month we will explore the brain. Specifically, we’ll walk you through the methods for training your brain to be stronger, smarter, and faster!

Train Your Brain on a sticky note, on the bulls eye of a dart boardResearch demonstrates what we probably already knew. Learning new things is a process that exercises your brain, and makes it healthier. The same thing is true for having new experiences, which can aid in preventing memory loss and keep the brain alert in the process.

In fact, engaging in novel activities is like taking your brain tissue to the gym. It causes your brain to engage its learning and memory areas, and the critical appraisal areas as well. Plus, the dopamine arousal system that kicks in whenever there is something exciting or interesting going on is a key component in learning and memory itself.

By engaging areas involved in learning, the process of learning is exercised. By engaging critical thinking areas, those brain regions are also turned up so they don’t degrade as fast over time. In other words, the more you do, the more you can do.  Nowhere in the body is this truer than in the brain, as your actions encourage more connections to be formed and strengthened.

The outcome is that individuals who actively engage with their environment through fun new games and activities tend to have less age-related cognitive decline and memory loss.

Make it fun for you, and …

  • Cook a food you’ve never prepared before.
  • Pick a word and learn to say it in a variety of languages.
  • Give a new sport a try.
  • Learn a new dance.
  • Pick up a new hobby.

Your brain will be more likely to remember to thank you!!

 

Train Your Brain In August: With exercise

All month we will explore the brain. Specifically, we’ll walk you through the methods for training your brain to be stronger, smarter, and faster!

CG Brain Lifting Weights

In my former life as a neuroscientist, I recorded brain cells to understand how the nervous system controlls behavior. I have this memory of speaking with some of the physicians at the time, saying that I thought exercise should provide strong positive benefits for brain health.

“What’s your evidence,” I was asked? Well, kinda common sense really. It’s associated with better blood flow in other parts of the body, and healthier arteries as well, and both of those things should benefit the health and therefore performance of neurons.

This conversation didn’t go well for me though because at the time there was just no research support for the idea. It was just a guess that seemed like it should be true.

Fast forward to today, and a great deal of research has been generated since that time showing the relationship between regular activity and measures of a healthy brain. It is associated with slower age-related cognitive decline, a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s Disease, and reduced risk for the arterial problems that lead to stroke, including cerebral stroke.

In fact, both aerobic and strength training exercises lead the brain to release neurohormones that have positive effects on brain health. These chemicals improve the health of brain cells, encourage the growth of new blood vessels, and increase the longevity of new brain cells when they are formed. Exercise also improves cognition by reducing insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and by releasing “growth factors”.

The key is to focus on activities you love doing. When you enjoy what you are doing, you will stick with them longer!

 

Chocolate For Skin Health? Yes Sir!

Chocolate ChunksThose of you who know me saw this coming from a mile away. Hmmm, wonder what the number one good-for-your-skin food is going to be?? It turns out that the cocoa in the chocolate that you love to love can also protect your skin from UV damage from the sun.
In a study in London, researchers gave two very happy subject groups chocolate to eat for 12 weeks. However, one of them received a high–flavanol chocolate, such as you might get with a high-cocoa chocolate. The second received a low-flavanol chocolate, such as you might get with lighter milk chocolates and “chocolate” confections. After 12 weeks, they tested the skin of these participants with a challenge of UV light to see whether the cocoa flavanols did anything more that make the subjects happy every day.
Over the 12 weeks of chocolate eating, the skin of those who ate the low-flavanol version was no more or less protected from UV radiation.
No change.
However, those who ate the high-flavanol chocolate doubled their protection compared to the baseline. In other words, after less than 2 weeks of eating high-flavanol chocolate, subjects’ skin was protected from burning even at twice the UV level. Why would this be? What explanation can make that make sense?
Why would this be? What could be going on physiologically that could explain the outcome? One rationale come from the fact that high-cocoa chocolate can increase microcirculation into the skin itself.
Increased blood flow to the topmost layers of the skin (those within only 1 millimeter of the surface) can provide the healthy oxygenation your skin needs to help protect itself.
Another potential route to skin protection could be the particular polyphenols (catechins and epicatechins) themselves. These specific antioxidants are also found in high concentrations in drinks like green tea, which have a well established effect on suppressing the effects of photoaging, UV-induced radiation, immunosuppression, and carcinogenic activity.

The precise biochemical blah bitty blah is less important for most people than learning that high cocoa chocolate is amazing for your heart, your mind, and now even your skin. In fact, you should treat it like your daily vitamin (vitamin Ch)!

Good-For-Your-Skin Foods!

Best Foods for Healthy Skin InfographicThe largest organ of your body is your skin. To care for this organ, so it can better take care of you, proper nutrition is important. But what foods are good for the skin?

One group of good-for-your-skin foods are those rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They can be found in, Anchovies, Mackerel, Salmon, Soybeans, Walnuts.

Another group of good-for-your-skin foods are those containing beta-carotene. The carotenes can become deposited in your skin, and serve as a natural sun block for you. Beta-carotene can be found in orange colored produce such as carrots, squash, papaya, and pumpkin.

Some of the tastiest good-for-your-skin foods are those high in water content! Proper hydration is important for skin health and can come from food sources such as fruits and vegetables. Watermelon, tomatoes, and cucumbers are over 90 percent water. To make sure you are properly hydrated, use your urine as an indicator. If it is not clear, you may be under-hydrated. Certain medications and supplements can affect the color as well.

 

Vitamin D, Foods, and Sun Safety Tips in the Summer versus Winter Months

Vitamin D sources infographicVitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is produced in your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. However, there are times when this is not advisable or even possible.

If you have very fair skin and are susceptible to sunburn, you will need to protect yourself from exposure through sun screens and clothing that protects your skin area.

In addition, in winter months the angle of the sun’s rays are not direct enough to cause the reaction that creates Vitamin D. For this reason, it is important to add foods with vitamin D in them:

  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Egg yolks
  • Mushrooms (especially Shiitake)

To attain enough vitamin D, it is helpful to get a healthy amount of exposure to the sun. But the advice changes from summer to winter months.

Summer Months

If you are planning to be outside for many hours in a day, give yourself the first 10 minutes of sun exposure on your skin before applying sunscreen. This will allow it to produce vitamin D before blocking exposure by applying sunscreen.

 

Winter Months

During the winter months when the day lengths are shortest, your skin is not able to make vitamin D from sun exposure. Once the season moves into spring, try to give yourself at least 10 minutes outside with either your face or hands being exposed. Do this when the sun is highest, between 11am and 1pm.

Color Your Plate … Yellow/Orange!

Oil painting of orange and yellow colorsYAll through June we are showing the vibrant and beautiful colors of health that we should be adding to our plates whenever possible.This week we show you why yellow and orange are some of the most delicious health foods you could ever have!

Consuming foods rich with the carotenoids found in orange/yellow foods like pumpkin, corn, papaya, tangerines, oranges and peaches, may significantly lower one’s risk of developing lung cancer. A study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention reviewed dietary and lifestyle data collected from over 60,000 adults and found that those eating the most carotene-rich foods showed a 27% reduction in lung cancer risk.

When current smokers were evaluated, those who were also in the group consuming these foods were found to have a 37% lower risk of lung cancer compared to smokers who ate the least of these health-protective foods.

Particular nutritional standouts that contain carotenes include their namesakes the carrots, as well as the rich delicious butternut squash. By the way, the very same super healthy antioxidants are found in the yellow summer squash as well and the list below.

Examples of Orange and Yellow Foods:

Apricots, butternut squash, summer squash, cantaloupe, carrots, mangos, peaches, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, sweet corn, oranges, nectarines, mandarins, tangerines.

Sweet Potato: The Most Delicious Multi-Vitamin You’ve Ever Eaten

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Open this simple root vegetable and find an absolute trove of vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin C, manganese, as well as being a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium and iron. The beta-carotene and vitamin C are very powerful antioxidants that work in the body to eliminate the free radicals that damage cells and cell membranes and are associated with the development of conditions like atherosclerosis, diabetic heart disease, and colon cancer.

Since these nutrients are also anti-inflammatory, they can be helpful in reducing the severity of conditions where inflammation plays a role, such as asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

PUMPKIN/Squash

Spicy pumpkin soup

We are just beginning to discover the wealth of nourishment supplied by the mildly sweet flavored and finely textured winter squash like pumpkin. In research studies, extracts from squash have also been found to help reduce symptoms of a condition occurring in men called benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH.

In this condition, the prostate gland becomes enlarged, which can cause difficulty with urinary and sexual function. Particularly in combination with other phytonutrient-containing foods, squash may be helpful in reducing BPH symptoms.

CORN

Ear of Corn on PlantHot fresh corn-on-the-cob is an almost essential part of any summertime outdoor cooking event. Fortunately, it is also a worthy part of any healthful menu. Sweetcorn is an excellent source of protein and vitamin B1, which works in the body to break down carbohydrates and convert them to that all-important body fuel, glucose, for energy. Lentils are rich in isoflavones – cancer-preventing phytochemicals that prevent the growth of oestrogen-dependent tumours. They are one of the best sources of genistein – the best-known of the isoflavones, which has been shown to kill off leukaemia cells in mice.

A good thing about corn is that frozen and canned corn has about the same nutritional value as fresh corn. So, for the many Americans who are not able to get fresh corn, they can still enjoy frozen or canned for nearly the same nutritional value as fresh corn. In addition to the carotenes, corn also provides a good source of vitamin C, thiamin, and the B vitamin that is especially valuable when you’re under stress, since it supports the function of the adrenal glands. A single cup of corn supplies 14.4% of the daily value for this B vitamin.

Color Your Plate … Red!!

All month long we show the importance of adding healthy vibrant color to your plate. This week, go red for health!

Red is the color of love, and you are definitely going to love the amazingly sweet (think cherries, strawberries, apples) and savory (think beets) fruits and vegetables that are some of the healthiest foods on Earth. Once you get started with the red foods, you will discover many more ways to prepare them right at your own home.

 

What Gives red fruits/veggies their red color?

Lycopene is a pigment that gives vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon, their red color. It also appears to have strong antioxidant capabilities, with several studies showing that the consumption of foods rich in lycopene is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.

 

Tomatoes

Laughing woman holding tomatoes over eyesTomatoes are a member of the deadly nightshade family, and because of this were considered toxic at one time. They were thought to cause many health problems like appendicitis, “brain fever”, and even cancer. But in reality, they seem to have just the opposite effect. A Harvard University study with almost 50,000 men found that eating 10 or more servings a week of tomato products was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer by as much as 34 percent. And its benefits are not limited to the prostate.

  • Italian researchers have found that those who consume more that 7 servings of raw tomatoes lower the risk of developing rectal colon or stomach cancer by 60 percent.
  • Research has also indicated that the lycopene in tomatoes can help older people stay active longer.
  • New research is beginning to indicate that tomatoes may be used to help prevent lung cancer.

There are many reasons that tomatoes are so healthy for you, but let’s just start with the basics. Tomatoes contain large amounts of vitamin C, providing 40 percent of the daily value (DV). They also contain 15 percent DV of vitamin A, 8 percent DV of potassium, and 7 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iron for women and 10 percent RDA for men. Though raw tomatoes are great for you, cooking them releases even more of the benefits. The heart healthy lycopene located in the cell wall of the tomato is fully released upon cooking. Even better, cooking the tomato in olive oil allows your body to absorb the lycopene more efficiently. Don’t worry about the availability of fresh tomatoes because they don’t lose any of their nutritional value when processed into canned tomatoes and tomato sauce.


Cherries

Happy young boy eats cherriesFor decades, cherries slid by on reputation only. The tangy little orbs of deliciousness have been credited with an array of health advantages, from soothing gout and arthritis to helping with a good night’s sleep. Without hard data though, nutrition science dismissed these claims as old wives’ tales. Well I guess sometimes old wives know what they’re talking about.

It was always anecdotal, but it’s been reported so frequently, by so many different people, that you have to think there may be something to it,” says Dr. Russell J. Reiter, professor of neuroendocrinology at The University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Reiter recently put some hard science behind the cherry folklore. He conducted a five-month study and found that tart cherries contain significant amounts of melatonin — a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland that has been credited with slowing the aging process, and fighting insomnia and jet lag. It’s also being studied as a potential treatment for cancer, depression and other diseases and disorders.

His findings marked the first time melatonin has been pegged as a naturally occurring substance in food, although trace amounts are evident in bananas, corn and other foods.

The most recent studies confirm that tart cherries reduce inflammation and its associated pain. Researchers also confirmed that tart red cherries offer benefits for patients with autoimmune, neurodegenerative and connective tissue diseases, particularly rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Studies show that tart red cherries reduce pain and inflammation and also offer protection against cancer. These effects are caused by plant phytochemicals known as anthocyanins, which can also help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer as well.

Beets

Fresh cut beetsDon’t forget about beets! One of the main healthy component of beets is something called betaine. Research shows that those consuming more betaine had much lower inflammation molecules (homocysteine, C-reactive protein, and tumor necrosis factor). These markers of chronic inflammation have been linked to heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Beets are amazing when roasted alone or with other root vegetables.