In the action-thriller blockbuster movie Limitless released in 2011, a writer takes an experimental drug that allows him to use 100% of his mind, making him evolve into the perfect version of himself. Everything he ever read, heard or saw was instantly available to him. As a former ‘nobody’, he meteorically rose to the top of the financial world. While this is pure Hollywood fiction, we all would reap the benefit of a healthy and optimised brain, which would help us to reach top performance in our daily life.
Research shows that the COMT gene has an impact on your mood and brain performance. This gene is responsible for the active form of folate (L-methyl-folate), important for producing brain-communicating chemicals called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine among others. A lack of these chemicals in our brains can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety, as well as memory loss and slower cognitive functions.
Whether or not your COMT gene is optimum, what can you do to reap the benefits of a fully switched on brain?
Here are 5 ways to optimise your brain:
Nutrition and botanical interventions can nicely neutralise these symptoms and protect against hormone-related disease. Key interventions would be to increase insoluble fibre, managing the quality of fat intake, with a preference for olive oil as a dressing or for cooking. Watercress is a great hormone regulator and we should create a habit of having it regularly in our diet within our daily green intake. Go for the bitter version, which contains higher Phytonutrients (cancer fighters), helping prevent disease and keeping your body working properly.
To optimise our brain we need a folate-rich food intake with vitamins B12, B6, B2, B3, choline, serine, and magnesium. Folate-rich foods include dark leafy greens, beans, liver and avocado. The active form of folate is important to produce brain-communicating chemicals called neurotransmitters
Green tea and herbal adaptogens are two of many ways to healthily drive motivation and performance. Matcha tea is delicious and a very rich antioxidant! It’s packed with antioxidants including the powerful EGCg, which provides vitamin C, selenium, chromium, zinc and magnesium while boosting your metabolism. It also supports detoxifying both effectively and naturally, is rich in fibre and chlorophyll, in addition to being a mood enhancer, aiding concentration. Matcha tea ticks all the boxes and I recommend you add it to your daily routine. Something to be aware of is that caffeine can stimulate or magnify anxiety symptoms.
Promoting mood-boosting activities goes hand in hand with nutrition. Exploring, hiking, starting a creative or new type of exercise will trigger dopamine to kick in and regulate hormones. To paraphrase last week’s blog about longevity - "A walk in nature is proven to create a phenomenon called Neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells).” Exercise, including resistance weight training, can also do the trick.
3. Sleep more
Science still has a lot to learn about how sleep deprivation affects us. Research is starting to paint a bleak picture, especially in light of new studies suggesting that a crucial function of sleep is to purge the brain of biochemical waste products that are the result of conscious brain activity. This means that not sleeping enough could be contributing to the build-up of harmful proteins like beta-amyloids, which could, in turn, predispose us to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
So how do you fix your bad sleep habits? Not easily. It requires nothing less than a major lifestyle change. Recovering from one night with too little sleep is easy, but recovering from chronic sleep deprivation requires nothing less than chronic sleep restoration.
4. Practice mindfulness
Take 10 to 15 minutes each day, set them aside, and designate them as your time for not doing anything. For instance, you can sit in your office chair and close your eyes for 10 minutes and focus on your breathing, just the ins and outs of your breath…and that’s it. For a lot of people it is considered as time wasted, but do it regularly and within a week or so you will realise how much more efficient, focused and productive you have become. Leaving you with a lot of time saved.
Research shows that mindfulness exercises help improve your attention and your focus. It’s like a muscle; it starts growing stronger and bigger. Soon you will be able to focus much more easily and for longer stretches of time.
5. The uprising of Nootropics
Coming back to the Limitless movie, hacking our brain through pharmaceutical drugs seems to be less and less like fiction. Sometimes called smart drugs, Nootropics are compounds that enhance brain function, and they’re becoming a popular way to give your mind an extra boost. According to one Telegraph report, up to 25% of students at leading UK universities have taken the prescription smart drug Modafinil, and California tech start-up employees are trying everything from Adderall to LSD to push their brains into a higher gear. However, you may understand that with so many ways to enhance your brain function, many of which have significant risks, it’s most valuable to look at Nootropics on a case-by-case basis. There are a good dozen pharmaceutical grade drugs being used to enhance brain function, but personalisation here once again is key, as the side effects will vary from one person to another. Another thing to take into consideration with Nootropics is the non-regulated supplement industry in the UK, which allows some companies to promote pre-made Nootropic stacks that contain ingredients like blue agave (fructose!), food colouring – and even pieces of metal. So don't forget to read your labels!
Before trying Nootropics, I suggest you start with the basics:
Clean nutrition, good lifestyle habits with lots of movement and exercise, removing all things that reduce cognitive performance. Then try herbal and natural Nootropics like Gingko and certain essential oils.
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