Brain Health, Easy Steps

Tl;dr: sleep, sunlight, seafood, and exercise. Maybe some others. No industrial foods.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) comes up a lot, so I'll just tell you now, it's like brain-fertilizer.

Sunlight promotes dopamine synthesis in your brain (eg, de Lima et al., 2011). Dopamine, via D5 receptor, has a lot of direct effects on memory and learning, but also stimulates BDNF (Perreault et al., 2013). Take a walk outside after breakfast and/or lunch. Bonus: vitamin D is also good for the brain and exercise after meals promotes +nutrient partitioning.

At night, you need melatonin, and for that, you need darkness. In my experience, it's harder to control sleep onset & duration than time in darkness. T.S. Wiley recommends 9.5 hours of darkness. That's a lot, I know, but I have a lot of respect for Wiley and she explains it well in Lights Out!

The studies on melatonin supps are mixed (eg, 1, 2, 3, 4) but those on crappy sleep aren't (eg, 1, 2, 3), so come on fam, at least get some blue blockers. The positive influence of exercise on brain health seems to have many mechanisms, BDNF being one of them (Seifert et al., 2010). Myokines from exercising muscles have a part in this (Philips et al., 2014); so does beta-hydroxybutyrate (eg, Sleiman et al., 2016 and Marosi et al., 2016). Possible role for exogenous bHB esters?

Niacin boosts BDNF (eg, Fu et al., 2014). Fortunately, it's fairly abundant in the diet, but if you wanna try something new, nutritional yeast can add cheesy deliciousness to just about anything.

Niacin is also a precursor to NAD+, and this company really REALLY thinks NAD+ is the bomb (see their website for a round-up of the science). Rodent studies have suggested nicotinamide riboside is better at boosting brain NAD+ than niacin (eg, Collins and Chaykin, 1972), but as mentioned above, niacin isn't hard to find via diet.

Diet: seafood, my bias is salmon & oysters. Literally almost every single study on DHA and cognition, memory, neurogenesis, all-things-brain-health are positive. Seriously, search Pubmed for DHA vs any neuro-outcome in which you're interested. And gram for gram, DHA from food beats supps by a little bit at every step (absorption, bioavailability, incorporation into tissues, etc.) (just something to keep in mind). But if you absolutely won't eat seafood, here... it's probably the most important dietary factor.

Eggs and sulfur-rich plants like asparagus & Brussels are cool because a lot of studies on NAC/glutathione show neurological benefits. Bonus: good for liver, too.

Lastly, don't eat industrial foods. I don't mean saturated fat and cholesterol, I mean cheese puffs and cola (eg, Molteni et al., 2002). There are loads of studies on flavanols, so including stuff like green tea, blueberries, dark chocolate, etc., might be prudent... And if you're a "moderation-type," a little red wine now & then (I stress "moderation" here because alcohol in excess is a neurotoxin (the exact opposite of the point of this whole blog post) (eg, Hunt, 1993 and Harper, 1998)

Other: curcumin. Many promising pre-clinical studies on neurological outcomes. Bonus: IT BOOSTS BRAIN DHA so you can get away with eating a bit less seafood (actually, not sure if this counts as a bonus, or if this is curcumin's primary neuroprotective mechanism). Curcumin may also reduce the neurotoxicity of alcohol (Tiwari and Chopra, 2013).


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