The stress that accompanies our lives can, at times, overwhelm us. Sadly, we are coping with stress by becoming a nation of addicts. According to a 2002 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there are nineteen million drug users, sixteen million heavy drinkers, and seventy-one million smokers in the United States. These numbers don’t reflect those addicted to shopping, gambling, cybersex, video games, MP3 players, and caffeine. There are centers for Internet addiction and recovery, and establishments like Starbucks seem to be sprouting up all over the country like tulips in springtime.

The Pleasure Chemical

Scientists studying the neurochemistry of addiction found greater levels of dopamine and adrenaline in the brains of addicts. Dopamine is a brain chemical associated with feelings of pleasure, well-being, and motivation. But stress lowers dopamine levels, in addition to serotonin, another neurotransmitter. In attempting to restore homeostasis, the brain transmits signals to increase these neurochemicals. Dopamine, with its powerful ability to form triggers with anything that is pleasurable, motivates us to seek satisfaction. Little surprise that the greatest surges of dopamine are caused by sex, drugs, and food.
Neuroplasticity

Research on the effects of long-term stress found that adults with elevated cortisol, the stress hormone, had, on average, a 14 percent smaller hippocampus.3 The hippocampus is the brain region critical to the formation of new memories, and although prolonged stress can wreak havoc on the hippocampus, the brain is not defenseless.

One of the most important adaptive mechanisms we have is that our brain is not hard-wired with a predetermined number of neuronal circuits. The brain has a remarkable ability to remodel neuronal connections in response to the acquisition of new information and experience, a function known as neuroplasticity. About 90 percent of brain cells are composed of a type of cell known as glias. These cells stimulate the growth of neurons and appear to guide them to the exact place to form synapses. Glial cells also help in the repair of damaged synapses. In a fascinating analysis completed after dissecting Einstein’s brain, researchers found that he had 73 percent more glial cells in comparison to the number observed in the brains of average people. The researchers concluded that Einstein’s high percentage of glial cells is the result of greater connectivity between neurons and synapses.

Creating the Twenty-first-Century Mind

Managing Stress

Reducing stress is one of the best things you can do for the health of your brain. Integrating these proven stress busters into your daily regimen will have a beneficial effect on brain function.

* Laughter, humor, and play. These lead to the formation of new neural connections, increase activity in the nucleus acumbens, and stimulate dopamine and GABA production, thus promoting creativity, relaxation, and alertness.

* Visualization. Alternately known as guided imagery, visualization consciously directs your imagination and creates a sense of well-being and relaxation.

* Deep breathing. We tend to take shallow breaths when feeling stress. One way to ensure deep breathing is with the practice of yoga. There is a breathing technique called “pranayama” (breath control), and one of its purposes is to bring more oxygen to the blood and brain.

* Meditation. This can provide proven benefits for the mind and body, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and promote greater focus and concentration.

* Physical activity. Exercise or any vigorous movement will result in greater blood flow to the brain, promote neurogenesis, and increase dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and endorphin levels. Exercise is a natural antidepressant.

* Brain wave training. Creative thinking occurs best when your brain is in a state called “alpha and theta.” However, accessing an alpha and theta state is not all that easy. But with a brain wave machine, you can easily glide into alpha and theta states. It’s like a digital drug, allowing you to access parts of your mind that are usually activated during peak experiences.

Raw Energy

Quite possibly the healthiest diet to detoxify, cleanse, and rejuvenate the brain is a raw food diet. I know firsthand about the amazing power of raw foods for it became the catalyst to a remarkable transformation in my life. During my tenure as a raw food chef at Hippocrates Health Institute, I stood witness to the miraculous healing properties of living foods in others.

The basic raw and living food diet consists of uncooked fruits, vegetables, and nuts; sprouted seeds, legumes, and grains; fermented foods and green drinks. Whole foods that are raw and alive are packed with enzymes that accelerate our metabolic processes. This is one of the reasons why raw foods are so healing. These enzymes provide tremendous vibrational energies, and the transfer of this energy into our bodies cleanses the blood and lymph system and removes toxins from the brain and other major organs.

There is a subset of the population that may not thrive in the long run on a raw food diet. And yet, even for those individuals, raw foods can still offer important health benefits.

Supplements for a Super Brain

It would be ideal to obtain concentrated amounts of brain-building nutrients from natural food. In truth, it is very difficult. The next best thing, however, is to take high-quality supplements to ensure optimal amounts of these valuable nutrients. Following are some of my favorites for maximizing brain power.

1. Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) prevents brain cells from deteriorating with its powerful antioxidant properties. ALC protects against the loss of receptors in brain cells as we age. It also strengthens the mitochondria, the power plants inside each cell, and increases acetylcholine levels, a neurotransmitter critical to memory.
2. Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) is the coenzyme form of vitamin B3 and is needed by cells to produce energy. NADH boosts levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which powers the activity in every cell. NADH stimulates brain activity by facilitating the turnover of tyrosine to dopamine, thus supporting mood, energy, and drive.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in the structure of the brain and help optimize its function. The two most important omega-3 fatty acids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EFA). In the brain, DHA is found at the cell membrane and the synapse, facilitating the transmission of signals between neurons. DHA is also found in glial cells, assisting in their functions. Both DHA and EFA help inhibit inflammatory prostaglandins and promote blood flow in the brain through vasodilation. Some of the best food sources for omega-3s are wild Atlantic salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and flax oil.
4. DHEA is a hormone that acts as a neuroprotector and counteracts the effects of cortisol. It has been shown to inhibit the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque, which is commonly found in persons with Alzheimer’s disease. DHEA declines with age, particularly after forty.
5. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is present in every cell of the body and heavily concentrated in the membranes of brain cells. PS maintains the fluidity of cell membranes, promoting cell-to-cell communication. In the brain, PS protects dendritic connections in the hippocampus, promotes the availability of acetylcholine, stimulates the release of dopamine, lowers levels of cortisol, and increases the uptake of glucose.
6. L-theanine is an amino acid naturally found in green tea. Research has shown that L-theanine increases production of alpha brain waves, the brain waves responsible for relaxed wakefulness. L-theanine also heightens mental acuity and concentration, while reducing stress and anxiety. These seemingly contradictory effects are thought be to achieved by increases in GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, and dopamine, a stimulating neurotransmitter, as well as by changes in serotonin levels.
7. Ginkgo biloba improves blood flow to the brain, increases the amount of neural transmission, and increases the number of receptor sites for neural transmission.

Recreating the Self Recreates the World

Awakening to our full human potential begins by eliminating the negative stress in our lives, detoxifying our brains, and overcoming the addictions that block the flow of our energy. By breaking the shackles that bind us, we release a power akin to a supernova. A brain that is irrigated with living foods, supernutrients, and a nurturing environment becomes alive to the world and its breathtaking possibilities. The premise and promise of the twenty-first-century mind is to transform our lives and manifest our inner genius. If ever there was a time to tap into the wellspring of creativity and vitality that resides within each of us, that time is now.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit http://selfgrowth.com/healthbook3.html

Author's Bio: 

Alessandro Tamborrino is a health and nutrition writer, medical copywriter, musician, and was a raw food chef at Hippocrates Health Institute. Early on in his career, he wrote satire for a national humor magazine. His writing has been featured on Gary Null’s “Natural Living” radio program, and his work was commissioned by psychologist Armand DeMille for the WBAI radio program “The Positive Mind.” At present, he is working on a communication program for mass media. Visit his Web site at http://www.VitaCreativa.com.