By Chris Taleghani, M.D., M.B.A. –
It’s easier than ever to take care of your brain! Increasing your intake of these substances can seriously boost your brain power.
CAFFEINE & THEANINE: THE DYNAMIC DUO
What is it? Caffeine is a naturally occurring chemical stimulant. Theanine is an amino acid typically used for treating anxiety.
What does it do? Theanine helps transmit nerve impulses in the brain and helps naturally calm and focus the brain. Caffeine is a stimulant that increases alertness. When you combine these two chemicals, the calming effects of the Theanine counteract the stimulating effects of the caffeine, resulting in a balanced alert-yet-focused brain. This magic combination of chemicals has been used as a non-pharmaceutical treatment for ADHD.
Where can I get it? Caffeine is abundant in what we eat and drink. But, as I mentioned before, it’s this duo that benefits us most. You’re in luck, because these chemicals naturally occur together in both black and green varieties of tea.
How much should I have? Up to 400mg of caffeine per day is safe for most adults. This amount equates to 4 cups of coffee, 10 cans of soda, or 2 energy drinks. About the same is recommended for maximum Theanine consumption. High doses of either of these chemicals can cause you to feel over-alert, or over-relaxed, so finding a balance is important.
POLYPHENOLS: BRAIN DEFENSE
What is it? Polyphenols are antioxidants that help the brain stay healthy by reducing toxicity, abnormal brain function, and inflammation.
What does it do? Polyphenols help protect the brain’s neurons against injury and promote improved memory, learning, and overall cognitive function.
Where can I get it? Polyphenols aren’t too difficult to get in your diet. In fact, you may really enjoy consuming these antioxidants! Polyphenols can be found in dark chocolate (with at least 60% cacao), red wines (like pinot noir, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon), teas (including decaffeinated varieties), and many fruits and vegetables.
How much should I have? As we all know, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. It is difficult to overdose on antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, but it is possible when taking supplements with high concentrations. Taking antioxidants in excess can overwhelm the free radicals that cells use to talk to one another and function properly.
CREATINE: THE TURBO BOOST
What is it? Creatine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body, mostly in muscles.
What does it do? Creatine improves brain efficiency and boosts memory and attention span. It is particularly useful for short-term memory.
Where can I get it? The body makes creatine, but it can also be obtained from certain foods and supplements. Creatine is found almost exclusively in meat and fish.
How much should I have? Unless you are a vegetarian, you probably don’t need to take creatine supplements. Skeletal muscle will only hold a certain amount of creatine, so adding more to your diet won’t raise your creatine levels beyond a certain point. Excess creatine is removed from the body by the kidneys; so prolonged exposure to excess creatine can cause kidney damage.
OMEGA-3: BRAIN FOOD
What is it? Omega-3s are fatty acids. There are three major types, each with distinct health benefits—ALA, EPA, and DHA.
What does it do? DHA is the omega-3 that benefits the brain the most. It accounts for up to 97% of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain, and it ensures that our brain cells develop and function properly.
Where can I get it? Nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel are a good source of omega-3s. Keep in mind that farmed fish have much lower DHA levels than ocean fish do. Many vegetables, like spinach and broccoli, are also rich in omega-3s. You can also take a supplement if you are not getting enough in your daily diet.
How much should I have? The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has not yet established a recommended intake for omega-3s. Most people do not have to worry about getting too much omega-3, because most of us are not getting enough. Unless you are taking anti-coagulant drugs, or have blood coagulation problems, it is unlikely that you are getting too much omega-3.
VITAMIN-D: THE SUNSHINE VITAMIN
What is it? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble chemical responsible for enhancing the body’s absorption of calcium, as well as magnesium, iron, phosphate, and zinc.
What does it do? Vitamin D plays a vital role in the body’s immune system and neuromuscular system. Some studies show that adequate levels of vitamin D may be required for the brain to produce serotonin (a neurotransmitter that affects mood, sleep, memory, and behavior). Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to certain cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Where can I get it? Many other vitamins come from the foods you eat or supplements you take, but your body can make it’s own vitamin D! The best and easiest way to increase your Vitamin D is to get some sunlight.
How much should I have? Vitamin D (along with vitamins K, A, E) is not water-soluble, so the body cannot excrete excess of this vitamin—it is possible to get too much. Vitamin D overuse almost always occurs from overuse of supplements; excessive sun exposure doesn’t commonly cause vitamin D poisoning because the body limits the amount of this vitamin in produces.
Chris Taleghani, M.D., M.B.A.
Dr. Taleghani is a board certified neurosurgeon who specializes in minimally invasive surgery and complex spine and brain conditions. He received his Medical Degree at Georgetown University School of Medicine and completed his Neurosurgery Residency training at Pennsylvania State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Taleghani also earned his MBA from George Washington University while completing medical school.
To schedule an appointment, please call Pinnacle Surgical Partners at 615.885.2778 or visit us online at www.pinnacleneurosurgery.com