How to Feed Your Brain


You walk into your bedroom with great purpose, intending to bring something back downstairs with you. Yet when you arrive there, you’ve completely forgotten what it was. You bump into someone in the street, and you -know- you’ve met them before, but at this very moment, you just can’t place them. You were supposed to pick something up for your spouse on the way home from work, but you completely forgot, and so when you arrive home empty-handed, you are greeted with considerable frustration and disappointment.

Naturally, you’re concerned. Is this normal, or are you having an early encounter with that perennial bogeyman of old age – dementia?

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple over the next 30 years, growing from 50 million to 152 million by the year 2050. The numbers are staggering, the personal implications are frightening. We’d all prefer not to be counted among that group.

According to Lisa Mosconi, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in Neurology at NYU, and Associate Director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, there’s plenty we can do to prevent that. The onset of dementia used to be considered largely genetic, and also a virtually unavoidable part of old age, but Mosconi says her research proves this isn’t true.

Less than 1% of the population will develop dementia as a result of genes. For the rest of us, the health and resilience of our brain depends on our lifestyle, and that is well within our control. In her new book, Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power, Mosconi provides a very helpful list of the most important diet and lifestyle changes we can make to ensure our brain stays as young and healthy as possible.

First and foremost, drink water, plenty of water! The brain is 80% water, so even a very mild dehydration can cause neurological issues, such as fatigue, brain fog, headaches, mood swings. If you use an MRI to look at the brains of people who don’t drink enough water, they are clearly aging faster, with thinner tissues, and reduced volume. Aloe water is better than plain water because it also contains over 200 active compounds that increase hydration.

Secondly, eat fish. Any kind of fish. According to Mosconi, people who eat a portion of fish twice a week have a 40-70% lowered risk of developing dementia as they age, compared with people who eat no fish at all. It’s likely the polyunsaturated fats in fish that are most helpful for brain functioning, as the brain really craves them. However, fish are also a good source of choline, which is required in the manufacture of important neurotransmitters. As soon as you eat polyunsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts, or seeds, they are sent directly to your brain to ensure it gets its share. Your body gets the leftovers.

Thirdly, berries. Berries are packed with anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory components, and other nutrients that help to keep your brain sharp as you age. Importantly, they are also an excellent source of fibre-rich glucose. And glucose your brain’s only source of energy. This doesn’t mean you should start loading up on cakes or cookies for their sugar content. Your brain specifically wants glucose, and the processed sugar in these kinds of pastries requires conversion to glucose within your own body, which causes it a lot of stress. Most of these sugars will just end up packed in your abdomen as fat. The best sources of natural, brain-ready glucose are beetroot, kiwi fruit, whole grains, sweet potatoes, onions and spring onions, and, of course, berries.

Fourthly, exercise regularly. Studies have shown that when you exercise, nutrients and oxygen can get into your brain better, providing it with the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Exercise also stimulates the release of chemicals that are mentally and emotionally beneficial, and help to keep you free from depression. The most beneficial emotion for your brain is love, so try to surround yourself with people who make you feel loved and appreciated.

Finally, sleep well. Just like the rest of your body, your brain gets rid of waste while you sleep. When you regularly have poor sleep, toxins can accumulate in your brain and creating neuron-damaging inflammation. This inflammation can also accumulate from a Western diet high in processed foods, fried foods, and fast foods, so these should be avoided too. As much as possible, try to eat fresh, minimally processed foods. Foods are particularly nutritious when they’re eaten whole, and contain more vastly more nutrients than you would get from a supplement. They’re also cheaper. So, please try to avoid relying on pills or powders to get the nutrients you need.

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The cells in our brain are particularly hungry, requiring more than 20% of our energy haul. Additionally, we keep them for life. Unlike cells in the rest of our body which are continually replaced, brain cells are built to last our entire lifespan. This means that our brain needs extra care and nourishment to protect it from the onslaught of living. Luckily, scientists like Lisa Mosconi are here to help. Through their continued research, they have provided us with the tools we need to keep our brains functioning as optimally as possible. Now, we just have to follow it.


Ditch the Protein Powder. Eat Whole Foods


We all seek purity in the food we eat and the water we drink, not just for ourselves, but also for our children.  Particularly for our children.  It’s sad that in the modern world this goal has become so hard to meet.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about micro-particles of plastic that have been found in most commercially sold bottles of  water.  Now, a new study has found “concerning” levels of heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, mercury, as well as toxins like bisphenol A, in most top-selling protein powders.  Powders that we thought were helping us to become stronger and healthier.

The study was commissioned by a Denver, Colorado-based nonprofit company called Clean Label Project.  They took 134 of the most popular protein powders, as rated by Amazon and Nielsen, and then had them tested.  Virtually all contained detectable levels of at least one heavy metal. 70% of them had detectable levels of lead, while 74% had detectable levels of cadmium.  55% also tested positive for BPA.  One protein powder had 25 times more than the regulatory limit of BPA in just one serving.

If you think that organic, or plant-based protein powders would fare better, you’d be wrong.  Organic and plant-based protein powders made from soy and hemp were even more contaminated than animal-based powders and contained, on average, twice as much lead.  “Plants are especially prone to absorbing heavy metals from soil”, says Sean Callan, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and director of operations at Ellipse Analytics, the lab that tested the protein products.  Animals also have their own detoxification systems which filter out some contaminants, which is why animal-based protein powders, made from whey or egg, tend to be cleaner.

The study helpfully provided a list of the five cleanest protein powders, as well as the five who tested the worst.  The top five cleanest brands were:  Pure Protein, Performix Pro, BodyFortress, BioChem, and Puori.  The five most contaminated were:  Garden of Life, Nature’s Best, Quest 360Cut, and Vega.

With this newest report of rampant heavy metal contamination in a large and popular market niche (consumers spent $12.4 billion on protein powders and supplements in 2016), you might be inclined to shrug your shoulders and overlook it, thinking that everything is polluted now.  Maybe it’s just not possible to find “clean” foods or drinks anymore.  However, some protein powders tested quite clean when compared to others, which shows that it is possible for these companies to do better.  A lot of it is just complacency and lack of oversight.

We should also remember that heavy metals, although ubiquitous because of excessive fertilizer use and manufacturing run-off, are not benign.  High concentrations have been linked to cancer, brain damage and reproductive issues.  Cadmium, an active component of battery acid, is particularly toxic because it can accumulate in the kidneys and cause kidney damage, as can excessive protein consumption itself, particularly among those whose kidneys are already weak.

Which leads us to a possible solution:  why use protein powders and protein shakes in the first place?  Most of us can get plenty of protein through a regular, balanced diet.  A 5 oz. container of Greek yogurt has about 17 grams of protein, and 3.5 ounces of chicken has 31 grams.  Both easily match the 15-25 grams you would get from a serving of protein powder, but are more natural, and also less contaminated with heavy metals.   Since your body can only break down a certain amount of protein per hour, it doesn’t make sense to load up with a big serving all at once.

The bottom line:  protein powders and shakes may be tasty and convenient, but most people don’t need them.  Now that we’re aware of their contamination with heavy metals and BPA, we should try to avoid them and get protein from natural, whole food sources instead.






Kitsungi and the Art of Failure


“Kitsungi” is a form of Japanese art that I’ve always found fascinating.   Really, it’s more a method of repair than a formal art as it requires a broken ceramic object, such as a bowl or plate, that is then mended with a special laquer dusted with gold.   What makes this art form so special, is that there is absolutely no attempt made to camouflage the broken places.  In fact, they are deliberately emphasized.

This practice of accentuating damage and imperfection is related to the Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi”, which encourages us to see beauty in brokenness.   A similar sentiment is definitely operating at the newly opened Museum of Failure in Sweden, with a traveling exhibit currently in Los Angeles.   The idea behind this odd museum came from Dr. Samuel West, a Swedish psychologist  who noticed, and became sickened, by the modern habit of promoting success, while ignoring the importance of failure.

To his mind, it showed a lack of understanding of how crucial failure is for the creative process.  Successful innovators, like Steve Jobs, would never have achieved the wild success for which they eventually became known, if they hadn’t persevered through plenty of early failures.  Dr. West hopes that the Museum of Failure will make people comfortable with the idea of failure, and no longer fear it.   The fact is, if you want to create anything, you will fail, and fail often.  This doesn’t mean you can’t eventually succeed.

Within the Museum of Failure are nearly 100  items, many well-known, all of which went wrong in one way or another.   Select items include:  Google glasses, Sony’s Betamax VCR, New Coke, the “Bic for Her” pen,  and a Blockbuster video rental case.

Says Dr. West:  “It’s liberating to see these brand-name mega-corporations — who are perfect and never do anything wrong — and see them [expletive] up.  You think, when I try new things it’s okay for me to fail.  It’s okay, it’s inevitable. There’s something beautiful about that.”  The Museum of Failure even has a “confession wall” where you can write your own failure on a Post-It note and share it with the world.

This spring, as the trees start to bud, and the grass begins to grow once again, maybe it’s time to revisit an old dream – one that may have failed before, but with new knowledge and effort, may yet be brought to life.   Take inspiration from the art of kitsungi, or from the many items in the Museum of Failure, and see the beauty in any attempt, even if it’s botched or bungled.  As Leonard Cohen once sang, in a 1992 song  called Anthem:

“Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in”.

So, give it a shot.  Let us see your imperfections, unique and precious as they are.  We also won’t miss that special glow you have, that shines through all the broken places from within.