When it comes to business, optimising systems within a business, is a key way to yield greater efficiency and reduce potentially painful and costly mistakes in the long term.
Initially, there may be an upfront investment, changes to be made, old habits to be replaced with new ones and a period of discomfort until automation and seamless integration takes over. But you are committed, as you know the long term results will pay off for you - automation, low maintenance, less money spent over the long term and more time spent to do the things you love.
We all know the feeling of working with a well integrated, optimised system right? - You have Apple products don't you ;). Working within an organisation with well functioning system allows for greater moments of growth, expansion, satisfaction, joy and happiness as things feel easier more effortless.
The same is true when systems in the body are well functioning and optimised. Each body is made up of multiple systems that come together to create one very unique organisation, you. As it relates to entrepreneuralism / leadership / business ownership one of the key systems in the body that we want to optimise and ensure it functions well for as long as possible is the nervous system and in particular the brain. After all it was probably your process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through your unique thought, experience, and the senses (which is the definition of cognition) that got you where you are today. Mixed in with passion, determination and hard work of course.
But more than it getting you where you are today, maintaining high levels of focus, executive function, attention, memory, judgement, learning, creativity, decision making and social skills are all imperative for the future success of the legacy you have created within your business and the legacy that is you.
Alarmingly though, cognitive decline and brain related illnesses are on the rise.
- Major brain related diseases and cognitive dysfunction cost more than physical injury and obesity combined
- More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s today, but that number is expected to more than triple by 2050
- Alzheimer’s is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S and the second leading cause of death in Australia.
- Alzheimer’s kills more people than prostate and breast cancer combined
- According to the latest estimates, one in forty children now have autism spectrum disorder, up from just one in 500 in 1999
- More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than AIDS, diabetes, and cancer combined
- Antidepressants are the number two most prescribed class of drugs in the US
- and this list could sadly continue...
It was once thought that these conditions were written in our DNA and they just became our destiny. What more recent research is indicating is that many of the diseases we see today, like Alzeihmers, depression, anxiety, MS, undoubtedly do have a genetic component however whether we go on to develop one is much more largely associated with our environment and how that then interacts with our genes. Meaning that everything we have been exposed to from conception (even preconception with what our parents did), to how we are birthed, the air we breath, the food we eat, how well we sleep, the connections we have, how physically active we are and more, all contribute to our risk of developing said condition. This is exciting and important news as it means that we have a lot more control over our health than we once thought.
As it relates to nutrition, let's take a look at 10 key nutrients to consider for optimal brain health.
1. Omega 3 fatty acids
Long chain omega 3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA are the prodigy children of healthy fats amongst nutritionists (maybe on par with monounsaturated fats as found in avacado). No-one is arguing that these guys aren't great for brain health (and overall health). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) makes up 35% of our brain cell membranes. It plays an important role in the growth of structures in the brain, neurotransmitter (brain chemical) release and communication between neurons. It is especially important for growing healthy brains as a change in the composition in infants is associated with children who have reduced brain function and intelligence.
Now, because we cannot change the past, there is no point blaming our mothers for their potential omega 3 shortcomings, we can however start incorporating more seafood nights into our week.
BEST SOURCES: as it turns out the highest sources of omega 3 fatty acids are in cold water fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, herring, anchovies) and shellfish like oysters and mussels. If you hate seafood, it may be worth considering supplementing with a high quality fish or cod liver oil. **If you have any medical conditions or take other medications check with your medical practitioner first.
2. Vitamin B12
- Next up is Vitamin B12. Deficiencies in this vitamin have been associated with Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive decline, memory loss, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and psychosis. So I think it is an important one to get checked on a routine annual check up. It is particularly important for the myelination (a process of producing the protective sheathing that insulates nerves) of brain and nerve fibres. It is also important for the production of neurotransmitters and has been shown to improve concentration, alertness and sleep quality.
BEST SOURCES: Clams are the highest source, then liver, yes liver, think delicious duck pate if you have too. Followed by oysters, mackerel, herring, mussels, crab, sardines and salmon. If you really aren't into seafood, muscle meat like quality beef, lamb and poultry do contain B12 but much less than in organ meats.
**Note there are no plant sources of vitamin B12, so if you don't eat animal products this is a key nutrient to get checked and supplement with.
Embracing the whole "nose to tail", "eat the whole animal", "The Revenant with Leo DiCaprio knows best (there is a reason why when they killed that beast he went straight for the liver to eat" concepts and incorporating more odd bits (especially liver) into your routine is a great way to ensure you get Vitamin B12 and loads of other nutrients as we will continue to see. If you just aren't that into liver you may consider a supplemental form of freeze dried liver. It comes in a capsule or as a powder you can add to meals.
- Never heard of it? That's ok, it's been slightly overlooked. But when it comes to brain it plays an important role in memory enhancement (in particular the laying down on long term memory), attention and protection against neurotoxicity.
BEST SOURCES: include our new friend liver (chicken & beef) and egg yolk (no more egg white omelettes).
A pretty important nutrient in the body. However, too much is bad, too little is bad. It's all about the "Just Right" - not the cereal variety but the Goldilocks lesson! Therefore getting your iron levels checked is also a good idea.
Iron is important for the delivery of oxygen to the brain and plays an important role in neuronal processes. Deficiencies are associated with learning and memory impairment.
BEST SOURCES: you guessed it, liver again! I told you, lots and lots of good stuff in there. If your still skeptical clams and oysters are up there too. Haem-iron is the form found in animal foods and is more readily absorbed than non-haem iron found in plants. I thought you might like to know, that alcohol improves the absorption of iron. So maybe a glass of red wine with pate for entree is not a bad combination? (unless you have Haemochromotosis whereby you produce too much iron, then please stay away from the pate and oysters).
5. Vitamin D
King of the all important vitamins. Often referred to as a "hormone like vitamin" due to it's very extensive list of jobs in the body, like activating genes that release all important brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin (associated with feeling pleasure and happiness). Vitamin D also appears to be important for preserving cognitive function as we age. Best to get it checked out too.
BEST SOURCES: poolside baby! Sunlight, at the right time of course and again a goldilocks amount of just right. Other sourses include: high quality cod liver oil, egg yolks, cold water fatty fish (as above for omega 3 fatty acids).
6. Healthy Fats
The human brain is made up of 60% fat. Getting a mixed fat intake is optimal for brain health. Medium-chain triglyceride and beta-hydroxybutyrate, which are found in coconut oil and butter, can improve cognitive function in older adults with memory disorders like Alzheimer’s.
Monounsaturated fat increases the production of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter that increases blood flow to the brain. Cholesterol is a component of the myelin sheath, that insulates nerves. And as mentioned above omega 3 fatty acids are really key to optimal brain health
BEST SOURCES: Including a variety of healthy fats from whole food sources like that found in coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds, seafood, grass fed meat, eggs, grass fed butter and avocado is key.
Protein that we eat is broken down into amino acids (AA). Neurotransmitters are created from amino acids. Therefore to little protein can exacerbate mood disorders, especially if the diet is not containing all of the essential amino acids. Hence, getting protein from a variety of different foods is really key again.
BEST SOURCES: Fish, poultry, grass fed meat, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, bone broth, and good quality protein powder should cut it.
8. Whole food Carbohydrates
Provide glucose to the brain to be used as fuel for function and a host of plant nutrients that act as antioxidants as well as fibre which is very important for maintaining healthy gut microbes, which as you will soon see are key for brain health too.
TIP: Try adding in different coloured fruits and vegetables throughout your day. That way you can be sure to get all the unique benefits found within them. Aim for a rainbow assortment of fruit and veg each day!
9. Probiotic and Prebiotics
The gut has been referred to as the second brain. The gut and the brain are a part of a unified central nervous system (via the vagus nerve) that communicates back and forth to each other. Most of us know the feeling of butterflies in our stomach when we are nervous or excited or that quick trip to the toilet prior to a presentation.
But what most people don't realise is while the brain communicates to the gut 10% of the time the other 90% of the time the gut it communicating to the brain.
PRO-BIOTIC SOURCE: ensure you have a diversity of beneficial bacteria in your gut. This can be achieved by regular consumptions of fermented foods that contain beneficial bacteria and yeast like sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, beet kvass or by taking a high quality, multi-strain probiotic.
PRE-BIOTIC SOURCE: The bacteria then need to be fed. So next time you do the shopping give the little guys some thought. Trust me, if you have their back they will have yours ten fold. This can be achieved by consuming foods that have pre-biotic fibres such as onion, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus, radish, kiwi, carrots, tomatoes and leeks. Or adding in fibres like psyllium husk, acacia fibre, green banana flour, cooked and cooled white rice/potato's.
10. And finally VITAMIN N
Haven't heard of this one either? That is OK, I made it up as there are so many more nutrients that support brain health that this post could continue for a long time. Vitamin N is for Nature. Getting outside in nature will do wonders for your brain health. Beyond the Vitamin D benefits getting out in nature also simulates the release of feel good brain chemicals like serotonin. It also connects you to the bigger picture and allows for greater creativity.
Ok, well that turned out to be a little longer than anticipated. If you have made it all the way to the end, congratulations, your attention span is impressive and with the above tips I hope your investment into your cognitive health only gets better and better.