If you struggle to remember what’s on your shopping list, or where you parked your car at the supermarket, neuroscience has good news for you: the brain can change itself. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the brain’s talent for healing itself—and there’s plenty you can do to push it into action.
Whether you suffer from a disease or injury that affects your cognitive powers or are simply suffering from brain fog and memory loss, there’s plenty you can do to bring about recovery.
Learning New Skills
When you’re an infant, your brain forms new connections at an explosive rate. The adult brain can’t develop as rapidly, but it changes its structure nonetheless. When you learn a new skill, your brain forms new connections like highways. Just as an unused road becomes overgrown with weeds, neural pathways that you’ve stopped using also become poor carriers for traffic.
Exercising your memory clears those pathways and remaps the brain to make it active again. Programs like BrainHQ and BrainGym give you targeted, evidence-based exercises to encourage healing. Simply doing puzzles and changing certain lifestyle factors can have the same effect. You can also do the following:
- Take up new hobbies that develop whole-brain thinking and help the left and right hemispheres communicate better.
- Activities that require focus without distractions like reading, mindfulness meditation, language learning, and new classes.
- Physical exercise encourages blood flow to the brain that improves neuroplasticity.
When Mental Illness Strikes
Memory loss and cognition problems can be caused as much by illness as they can by anxiety and depression. SSRIs and other pharmaceutical therapies are critical to treating them, but there’s a lot you can do for your health to support a new, more peaceful way of life.
- Brain-derived neurotrophic factors that improve learning and synaptic connections.
- Essential fatty acids found in yellow and red fruits as well as vegetables, make up 31% of the prefrontal cortex. Deficiency can worsen depression.
- B vitamins are central to your neurological well-being.
Nootropics are an emerging smart drug class intended to enhance memory and neuroplasticity. Some contain stimulants, which are contraindicated in cardiac disease and other illnesses, so it’s important to speak to your doctor before starting a nootropics stack. However, they’ve been remarkably effective for people with Alzheimer’s and similar diseases.
Because some patients feel sleepy and confused as a result of physical exhaustion, enhancing primary neurotransmitters with nootropics can be effective. Modafinil in MindLabPro, for example, helps some patients to process thoughts faster and with more complexity. Bacopa Monniera can help the brain’s circulation and memory. Citicoline is especially useful for those who have suffered from a stroke or a traumatic brain injury.
You Are What You Eat
Your brain needs nutrients as much as any other part of your body does, and specific vitamins are powerful brain healers. Leptin feeds many parts of the brain by providing energy and aiding neuroplasticity. Insulin changes cognitive processing while omega-3 fatty acids improve plasticity. Other important nutrients include:
- Flavanoids: Improves memory in elderly patients.
- Folate: Improves memory performance, especially in women.
- Vitamin D: Important for older patients.
- Vitamin E and antioxidants: Reduces cognitive decline.
- Selenium: Lifelong deficiencies reduce cognitive function.
- Iron: Important for normalizing concentration problems in young women.
Nutrition is the foundation of brain health. Without a wholesome diet, all your efforts to improve your cognition will fall flat.
Smart drugs don’t occur naturally in the body, but nutrients do. The body metabolizes some nutrients better when they’re taken in through food, so nothing can replace a wholesome meal. Still, if you’re affected by stress or aren’t managing to fit the right foods on your plate, supplements that don’t contain botanical ingredients are usually safe and well absorbed. Most don’t have medicinal effects unless your diet is already lacking, so they aren’t miracle workers. They will have dramatic effects if your diet is lacking in important foods, though, which will help you to fix your imbalance and thus improve your brain’s “fitness”.
Memory and cognitive problems can have powerful effects on your quality of life, especially when they’re severe enough to become disabilities. They have an enormous range of causes, from developmental problems in infancy to medications and neurophysiological changes. Their impact can affect judgment, so they don’t only influence your peace of mind but the actual events in your life as well. At their worst, they have emotional symptoms, causing outbursts that can alienate the patient, so addressing the problem is crucial.