Brain Health – How it Affects Your Life
Brain Health How it Affects Every Aspect of Your Life
What is brain health? You don’t hear nearly as much about keeping your brain healthy as you do about the importance of keeping your body healthy. Yet, what you do to your brain, and how you do it, directly affects your entire body.
Do you think about breathing, or your heart beating? Do you think about your eyes blinking? If you are like most people, then probably not! Do you realize that your body’s “Command Center” is your BRAIN? It is in charge of these functions and a whole lot more. Most people think that brain power is only related to intelligence and thinking, and overlook the fact that all bodily functions are controlled by the brain.
There is a part of your brain called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This system works automatically (autonomously), without your ever thinking about it. ANS regulates certain body functions, such as blood pressure and the rate of breathing. It controls salivary glands, eye dilation, heartbeat, and organs and muscles such as: lungs, stomach, kidneys, small and large intestines, bladder and rectum.
There are two parts of the Autonomic Nervous System
It increases blood pressure and heart rate when necessary. The parasympathetic system is responsible for slowing down bodily processes. For instance, it decreases blood pressure and heart rate. However, it is the parasympathetic system which stimulates digestion and the urinary system, while the sympathetic system slows these functions down.
The sympathetic system is responsible for activating fight-or-flight responses in emergency and stressful situations. While the parasympathetic system conserves energy and restores tissues for basic functions.
If your brain health is diminished or your brain is injured, then your bodily functions and systems will be affected, and likely will not function properly. So, no matter what measures you take in caring for your body, if you don’t take care of your autonomic nervous system and overall brain health, it may not matter.
Lifestyle has a significant impact on your brain. How you manage stress, how much your exercise, how well you sleep, what you eat and drink, and the way you socialize are all essential to your brain health.
Factors affecting Brain Health:
- Alcohol use
- Drugs and Medications, or improper use of them
- Heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems
- Poor diet
- Too much sugar
- Not enough protein
- Not enough water
- Inflammatory foods
- Holding your cell phone against your head, up to your ear (see this blog for more information)
- Falls – Number 1 cause of brain injury
- Sport or Recreational Injury
- Auto accident
- Domestic Abuse
- Inadequate sleep, Lack of restorative sleep, Sleep Apnea
- Not enough social activity and being alone most of the time.
Effects of Brain Injury to your Brain Health
From any of the above factors you might have structural damage to your brain that can cause issues with memory, speech, motor, depression, anxiety, emotional outburst and other noticeable problems. Not too many people consider that their daily life habits affect their brain, which ultimately affects body and overall health too.
If your autonomic system is not working properly because of lifestyle choices or direct injury, it causes dysregulation of this system. Thus, your heart may not be pumping enough oxygen to your brain, causing you to experience brain fog, memory lapses, motor coordination problems and even loss of consciousness. For instance, if the signal to your lungs is not working, it can cause Hypothalamo-pituitary Dysfunction. This condition is typically observed after traumatic brain injury and aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage. Often, these neuroendocrine consequences of traumatic brain injury are misdiagnosed.
Joanna Lane recently wrote about this topic in her book: Mother of a Suicide: Fighting for the Truth. The description of the book states, “It’s bad enough to lose a child to suicide, but what do you do if you discover that the depression was caused by an underlying medical condition, and that a million others are at risk because vital medical information is being suppressed? Joanna Lane tells the story of her 31-year-old son’s death, her grief and her search for the reason behind his suicide. When she finds that a rarely diagnosed but far from rare condition probably lay behind his despair, she tries to raise the alarm to save others. However, her unsuspecting attempts are met with obstruction after obstruction. Gradually she confronts the truth that the organizations set up to protect the public are not doing their job, and we are all at risk. A must-read for anyone who has ever had a head injury.”
Autonomic disorders commonly cause dizziness or a light-headed sensation from sit to stand position, due to an excessive decrease in blood pressure upon standing. A person with an autonomic disorder may sweat less or not at all. Could become intolerant of heat and also experience dry eyes and mouth may. In addition, people with Autonomic disorders feel full after eating very little or even vomit because the stomach empties very slowly (called gastroparesis). Some people experience urinary incontinence, often because the bladder is overactive, while others difficulty emptying the bladder (urine retention) because the bladder is underactive. Constipation may occur, or control of bowel movements may be lost.
If you have ever had a problem with your bladder problem, would you attribute that to brain health? Probably not! Most would assume something is going awry in the body.
Another common misunderstanding is that forgetfulness comes with age. If you forgot your keys, and are over 60 years old, you would say you’re having a “senior moment” or blame an aging brain. FACT: That is not the truth!
Ask a 20-year-old if they have ever forgotten their keys, or have problems remembering or finding the correct words. They will often say yes! They do NOT give an excuse or give a reason for their inability to function. To them, it just something that happens. Often even after a sports injury, such as concussion, this younger population will not make the connection that a concussion could cause them to feel sick to their stomach or have shortness of breath.
All of which is connected to the autonomic system.
Yes, there is dementia, which is defined as “a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.” As noted in the dictionary definition, many of the symptoms of what is perceived as Dementia are caused from previous brain injuries, along with medications that affect the central nervous system, chemical anesthesia or chemotherapy.
People with dementia have significant problems in cognitive function – the ability to think, remember, or reason – that interferes with normal activities and relationships. They may also lose their ability to solve problems and control their emotions, and sometimes may have personality changes and behavioral problems. Dementia is not a disease, but the general term for these symptoms. The diseases that can cause dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, and other conditions. Some medicines to treat dementia like Alzheimer’s disease can delay symptoms for a
period of time. Certain types of dementia can be reversed with appropriate treatment.
Dr. Diane® has seen multiple patients who come in with some form of dementia only to discover that they had a previous history of multiple concussions, followed by some type of surgery such as, knee surgery or gallbladder surgery, and now are diagnosed with some form of dementia.
According to Alzheimer’s Society there is research to support that people who have suffered from severe head or whiplash injuries in the past are at greater risk of developing dementia.
Research suggests that the inflammation that occurs following head injury may encourage formation of the plaques and tangles which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
How to have a Healthy Brain
There is a lot you can do to you for your brain, including proper diet and frequent exercise. Avoiding accidents, as best you can, such as falls, is an important way to prevent injuries that can harm the brain. Wear helmets and seat belts to help prevent injuries as well.
Keys to Brain Health
- Nutrition – See Brain Health foods
- Eat healthy foods that contain potassium and calcium. These minerals are vital for a healthy nervous system. Eliminate sugar.
- Proper Sleep
- Get eight hours of restorative sleep, which includes REM and NonREM. If you suffer from sleep apnea, seek medical attention.
- Exercise frequently
- Heart Rate Variability Breathing
- Don’t drink alcohol, take drugs, or use tobacco.
Wear a helmet when you ride your bike or play other sports that require head protection.
Do brain challenging activities, such as puzzles, reading, playing music, or anything else that gives your brain a workout!
Along with this, my close friend, Joyce Spector, shared an acronym with me for brain healthy activities in retirement. The acronym is P.I.E.S.S. Her friends from her aquafit class say when you retire you need to do your “PIESS” every day. Here’s what that stands for:
- P: something productive
- I: something intellectual
- E: some exercise
- S: something social.
- S: something spiritual
I agree after you retire this is extremely helpful, yet I also feel P.I.E.S.S. contributes enormously to your brain health at any age.
Brain Fitness for better Brain Health
Like other muscles in the body, the brain can repair itself, also known as neuroplasticity. To stay physically fit, you would go to a gym and learn specific exercises to strengthen your muscles. Similarly, to strengthen the brain there is Brain Fitness. It can be as simple as memory games, such as Sudoku, and crossword puzzles. These types of brain fitness activities can be very effective; however, they are not personalized to meet your specific needs.
Brain Fitness Training with Dr. Diane® is more than just memory games. Brain Fitness with Dr. Diane® and her integrative team of brain health experts offer a complete, concise, and personalized program based on Dr. Diane®’s 5 Prong Approach. This approach to Brain Fitness provides you with customized brain training for optimal brain function at peak performance.
Rehabilitation Treatment for Improved Brain Health
It is estimated that 2.4 million people in the U.S. sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and additional 795,000 people sustain an acquired brain injury (ABI) from non-traumatic causes each year.
Currently, more than 5.3 million people in the U.S. live with a lifelong disability as a result of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and an estimated 1.1 million have a disability due to stroke.
(Statistics courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and the Stroke Fact Sheet also through the Centers for Disease Control).
If you suffer from a brain injury and have symptoms affecting your brain health, there are various conventional, traditional, and alternative medicine treatments to help you regain a resilient brain, mind, and body.
Ways to Achieve Better Brain Health
Whether you are looking for help restoring your Brain Health or want to improve your Brain Health……There is a Way!®
You can see some of the therapies that our integrative teams of brain health experts practice to help people regain their lives and achieve peak performance by following this Therapies Link
As a Neuropsychologist, Board Certified Health Psychologist, and brain injury survivor with over 35 years of experience, Dr. Diane® has treated many patients and clients seeking brain rehabilitation and brain fitness. If your brain and body are not functioning at optimum performance, whether from a brain injury and poor lifestyle choices, know there is Help and Hope. There is a Way!®
Remember, when you think about improving your health, it includes body and brain! Incorporate brain healthy foods and activities into your daily routine. Eliminate habits and dietary choices that are detrimental to optimum brain performance.