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4 Ways to a Smarter Brain

Are you one of the 42% of Americans who will make a New Year’s resolution this year?

If so, then losing weight or eating healthier is a likely guess as to your 2019 goal. I say that because according to YouGov, these were among the most common New Year's resolutions for 2018.  Aside from the obvious health benefits, eating healthier is good for brain, too.

Thanks to advances in science and technology, we know that the cells we are born with don’t last forever. Typically, our cells have a life span of about 7 years unless they are killed or damaged. For example, we know that an over production of cortisol shrinks brain cells, pierces the cell walls, and eventually kills them. 

The good news is that the human body is designed to create new ones. But there is a catch. Those new cells are made from what you put in your body. So, the saying, “you are what you eat” is literally true.


Neuroscientists have discovered that when we engage in challenging mental tasks, the brain not only needs more fuel but it needs better fuel. This is because when the brain is working really hard, it produces a lot of oxidants or free radicals. Oxidants or free radicals are atoms or molecules that are missing electrons so they steal what they need from other cells. When they do this they create more damaged, unbalanced cells that turn around and steal electrons from other healthy cells. They’ve been linked to certain cancers, heart disease, premature aging and other age-related diseases.

But for every evil villain there is a hero, and antioxidants would be that hero… and not just because it gives us a reason to drink red wine. Foods that are high in antioxidants—like red wine as well as blueberries, beans, and apples—kill the evil radicals and promote healthy brain cells and healthy brain function.


The brain is 70 to 80 percent water. When it's active 10 to 12 hours a day, it gets dehydrated and that water content needs to be replenished. A 2011 study found that even mild dehydration decreased vigilance and memory and increased tension, anxiety, and fatigue.

If you really want your brain to be operating at maximum efficiency, consider making “super-hydrating” part of your daily routine. Start the day with two glasses of water and avoid "dehydrators," like processed sugary foods, coffee and soda.

If you’re one of those people who trades breakfast for that Starbucks Americano, here is some news you can use: consuming caffeine on an empty stomach is a direct line to the bloodstream, and caffeine depletes serotonin levels. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter released in the brain that contributes to an overall sense of well-being and emotional balance. Serotonin and cortisol are on opposite ends of the neurological see-saw. Lower serotonin means higher cortisol production which inhibits activity in the prefrontal cortex where all of your executive function happens.  

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

What’s all the brouhaha about the benefits of omega-3? Primarily found in fish, some nuts and seeds, omega-3 is one fat that is your friend. Insufficient levels of omega-3 are associated with depression and Alzheimer’s disease. Not only does your body need these fatty acids to function in a variety of physical ways, but every single cell membrane is created with a component provided by omega-3.

Emerging research is studying the link between fish high in omega-3 and higher IQ and better sleep. In a 2017 study conducted in China, researchers followed 541 children between the ages of 9-11. Those who ate fish once a week had almost 5 IQ points more than those who ate little or none. Additionally, the more fish they consumed, the better they slept. A lack of sleep is associated with higher cortisol levels which results in poor cognition, anxiety disorders and antisocial behavior.

It’s important to note that all fish are not created equal – at least in the Omega 3 category. Salmon, mackerel and herring have the highest omega 3 content while cod, snapper and tuna packed in water have levels too small to count. Wild caught, as opposed to farmed, tend to have higher levels.

Start Small

Research shows that only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them. If you want to be part of that winning group and give your brain and your body a fighting chance, focus on small, incremental changes rather than a complete overhaul of your diet. If you only change one eating habit for physical and cognitive health, the most significant habit you can change is to reduce fatty foods. (A Cambridge University study found that high-fat diets made laboratory rats not just slower but dumber.) But, there are lots of little steps you can take to jump on the path to a healthier you.

If soda is your nemesis, try cutting it out of one meal and then another and then as a snack until you can eventually eliminate it. Make fish an entrée choice once or twice a week and then kick it up to three or four. Build water breaks into your schedule throughout the day. And wine… don’t forget the wine… antioxidants, you know.

Cheers to the New Year!

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Check out this clip for the secret to making your New Year's Resolutions stick!

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