Dr. Erwin Offers ‘Brain Health’ Tips for the New Year
For many, a new year means another shot at meeting self-improvement goals. No matter what promises you plan to keep or habits you hope to break in the New Year, Dr. April A. Erwin, a board certified neurologist at The NeuroMedical Center, challenges you to commit to making better brain health a top priority. To this end, Dr. Erwin offers six recommendations to improve overall neurologic health.
In addition to its well-known lung and cardiovascular disease risks, smoking also increases oxidative stress and inflammation within the central nervous system and is a risk factor for stroke as well as neurologic autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Many smoking cessation aids are available. Talk to your physician, or visit www.smokefree.gov for more information.
REDUCE OR ELIMINATE ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
Alcohol is a known neurotoxin, increases oxidative stress in the central nervous system, decreases production of growth factors, disrupts sleep architecture, and induces neurodegeneration. It is the second leading cause of adult dementia after Alzheimer dementia. The least detrimental way to incorporate alcohol into the diet is red wine, which contains antioxidants such as Resveratrol that may improve cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health, although simply eating red grapes or drinking grape juice likely provide similar benefits. Be kind to your brain by limiting total daily consumption of wine.
Men (< 65) 10 oz./day
Men (65+) 5 oz./day
Women 5 oz./day
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY DIET & A HEALTHY BODY WEIGHT
Elevated ratios of weight to height are associated with increased risk of stroke, multiple sclerosis, and sleep apnea, in addition to many other non-neurologic illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, gallstones, cancer, and infertility. When making choices about healthier foods, consider eliminating all packaged and processed items. Then, devote the majority of food choices to fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats and fish. Attempt to incorporate a variety of colors into the diet. Purple foods in particular contain anthocyanins, important among flavonoid/polyphenol antioxidants for neuronutrition. Talk with your physician about supplementing vitamin D3, the deficiency of which is associated with dementia as well as autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis. Minimize caffeine and sugar intake and DRINK PLENTY OF WATER in order to decrease headaches, fatigue, dizziness, obesity, and muscle spasm. Aim for 64 ounces of water daily. If a full bladder causes nighttime awakenings, consider consolidating the majority of water intake to a few larger servings earlier in the day to avoid disruptions of sleep.
MAINTAIN GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE
During sleep, the body replenishes neurotransmitters, forms new neural pathways, consolidates memory, repairs damaged cells, and performs other functions vital to neural health. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of headaches, seizures, strokes, cognitive impairment, psychosis, and mood disorders, as well as decreasing overall life expectancy. Seven to eight hours of sleep per night is sufficient for the average adult. If insomnia is a problem, discuss treatment options with your physician. Many physicians can safely incorporate natural sleep solutions into a patient’s overall treatment plan. For example, patients may achieve improved sleep patterns with simple lifestyle changes or over-the-counter remedies such as time release Melatonin + Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6).
Even a routine 30-minute daily walk can improve both short-term and long-term memory, slow the rate of brain atrophy, and reduce the risk of dementia, headache, and stroke. Regular exercise also has been shown to improve energy levels, mood, sleep quality, academic performance, and work productivity. If mobility is a problem, talk with your physician about Silver Sneakers, a fitness program provided at no cost by many health plans. Most of the exercises in this program are performed in the seated position and are suitable for the mobility impaired. Visit www.silversneakers.com for more information.
ENGAGE IN REGULAR PRAYER AND MEDITATION
The relatively young field of neurotheology is teaching us that measurable changes occur in brain imaging studies, blood levels of neurotransmitters, and measures of neuroplasticity in patients who regularly devote even 12 minutes per day to focused prayer and meditation. Other benefits noted in recent studies include decreased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, improved mood, and improved immune system function.