Well it’s back to school and back to the books. Learning is a multi modal complex process that uses sophisticated higher brain processes to memorize and assimilate information so comprehension, analyses and recall can occur. It sounds pretty brainy but really, it’s a full body operation. Aside from learning, the brain is constantly checking in on physiologic functions like temperature, heat, hunger and pain.
If we want to optimize learning behavior, its important to take into considers the whole person. Here’s how.
Prime the Pre-frontal Cortex – the prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that is mostly involved in complex behavior patterns like memory, recall and comprehension and its’ functions are basically responsible for separating us from our cousins the apes. Blood flow to this area will allow for support of its functioning. How to do this is:
- Sleep: consistent quality sleep, especially during periods of growth (childhood and adolescents) is required for optimal reasoning, recall and attention (1). Read more about sleep and the brain here.
- Stress: stress (mental / emotionally or physiologically) can lead to higher output of cortisol, which decreases important chemicals for memory such as BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) in the hippocampus (an area linked to memory function) (2), raises blood pressure and long term, increases inflammation.
- Inflammation: unresolved, inflammation can perpetuate further inflammation and increase production of stress hormones. Often as a consequence or as a cause, inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract (GALT & MALT) can lead to systemic inflammation affection mood, behavior and cognitive functioning (3). Check out more on testing for food sensitivities to help reduces inflammation related to the GUT.
- Immediate attention and support for traumatic brain injury – Acute localized inflammation to the brain via trauma can surely impact brain health. Research demonstrates the sooner therapies are provided, the better the outcome. In this case I would still support the recommendation I’ve listed as well as additional supplements listed below, discussed with your health care provider of course for applicability to your situation and dosage recommendations. As well, I would recommend seeking the care of a professional with specialized training in programs such as shift concussion management, available at Ascent Integrative Health
- Exercise – regular exercise is a well-documented powerful tool for supporting brain function. It. Is. Imperative. Read more about this here
- Manage stress well to decrease the deleterious effects of stress mediated hormones.
- Eat well – avoid your inflammatory triggers, manage sugar intake and eat consistently throughout the day
Some supplements to support brain function:
- PQQ – this compound is a potent antioxidant with nerve growth effects. Some studies indicate it may helps with memory and sleep. (4)
- DHA – found in fish oil, this omega 3 fatty acids has long since been associated with decreasing inflammation and is found in high concentrations in the brain. Its effects are believed to be anti-inflammatory and supportive of nerve growth.
- Acetyl L Carnatine – is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, this nutrient provides benefit to cognitive function & short-term memory along with being protective against damage to brain cells and blood vessels.
As you can see, brain support is a whole body processes. Start where you can and improve your capacity to learn and focus through diet, sleep, stress management and even possibly supplementation.
Dr. Sarah Kent is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor specializing in your health. She blends traditional knowledge with current scientiﬁc understanding to generate wellness within her patients. She has received specialized training in naturopathic sports medicine, applying the principles and tools of naturopathic care in treating athletes.
1.Alhola, P. Polo-Kantola P. Sleep Deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2007: 3(5)
- Lupien, S et al. Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behavior and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. June 2009. 10, 434-445
- Bongiorno P, ND.Mood and leaky gut. March 2014. NDNR.
- Nakano M, et al. Effects of oral supplementation with pyrroloquinoline quinone on stress, fatigue and sleep. Functonal Foods in Health and Disease. 2012, 2(8): 307-324.
leep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance REVIEW Paula AlholaPäivi Polo-