Brain Power: Nurturing your Billions of Neurons*
“The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.”- Thomas Edison
It seems appropriate to share the quote above when discussing the brain, as I think we would all agree that Thomas Edison had many bright ideas. To think that the human brain is comprised of approximately 100 billion neurons (nerve cells) and that it has the innate ability to adapt and even grow its network as needed.
It is this “neuroplasticity” - the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life - that allows the neurons in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to adjust its activities in response to new situations or to changes in the environment. This capacity is vitally important as life can be challenging and injury to the brain can be either overt, such as a concussion or stroke, or more subtle due to exposure to today’s world of toxins and electromagnetic pollution.
The average healthy individual is said to lose 86,400 brain cells per day (thank goodness for neuroplasticity). When looking to sustain the body and brain, one can think of the daily project as though you are tending a lush and vibrant garden. Irrigation and nutrient delivery are essential, as well as strategic ways to avoid the ravages of pests.
Let's take a look at some compelling nutrients and botanicals that can help you tend to your 100 billion nerve farm called the brain.
Lion’s Mane – (Hericium erinaceus)- Used traditionally to support mental clarity, heart health, modulate inflammation and provides antioxidant activity and even a sense of wellbeing. As a clinician if this amazing mushroom was only to temper inflammation and quench free radicals with its antioxidant properties, that would qualify Lion’s Mane as a go-to when it comes to managing the ravages of aging. Yet, it also has been studied for its specific ability to help with brain function. There are numerous animal and research models (not using humans) that have demonstrated the promising nature of Lion’s Mane to help with nerve damage and brain protection. An interesting human study was published in 2009, in the medical journal called Phytotherapy Research.
B Vitamins – Clinically, I use a wide array of B vitamins as they offer individual and synergistic effects throughout the body and brain. When it comes to supporting brain chemistry and stress, B vitamins are foundational to support one’s innate brain power. Even being low in a single B vitamin, like folate or B6, often results in my patients reporting symptoms of feeling lackluster or at times even lethargic and blue.
Ginkgo – (Ginkgo biloba) Renowned for thousands of years, this amazing herb has been studied extensively for brain support, antioxidant, circulation and even mood balancing. Ginkgo has long been a favorite of mine as it offers support for circulation, so vitally critical for nutrient delivery to the brain and body, while having enjoyed both empirical and research findings that it can be part of a brain-nurturing wellness program.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D has many well-known benefits to the body, and this Scientific American, Mind 2009, speaks volumes to its role in supporting brain health:
“We know there are receptors for vitamin D throughout the central nervous system and in the hippocampus,” said Robert J. Przybelski, a doctor and research scientist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. “We also know vitamin D activates and deactivates enzymes in the brain and the cerebrospinal fluid that are involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and nerve growth.”
In addition, animal and laboratory studies suggest vitamin D protects neurons and reduces inflammation.