Think Your Way to Good Brain Health - Part 2
Welcome to second and final part of our "Think Your Way to Good Brain Health " series!
So what's the key to strong brain health?
Let's jump in...
And let's talk "LTP."
Long-term potentiation (LTP) is the constant strengthening of synapses based on consistent patterns of activity. It goes beyond negative and positive neuroplasticity, creating long-lasting experience-dependent changes in the efficacy of synaptic transmission. This could be the key to remaining mentally “sharp” as you age.
Interestingly, a breakthrough study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 demonstrated that the simple act of thinking could cause long-term potentiation changes in the brain.
“Learning-induced potentiation of synaptic strength is also accompanied by an increase in the threshold for further synaptic enhancements.”Lüscher, C., & Malenka, R. C. (2012). NMDA receptor-dependent long-term potentiation and long-term depression (LTP/LTD). Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in biology, 4(6), a005710. https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a005710
It’s a complicated process that researchers are still trying to figure out. But essentially, the more you concentrate on doing things that are good for you, the deeper those habits are entrenched in your brain. This is why as we age, it becomes harder to change things about our lifestyles and personalities. However, neuronal plasticity is not reserved for the young. Anyone can take this knowledge and use it to hack the brain.
Can You Really “Re-wire” Your Brain?
There’s a myriad of brain supplements, apps, and how-to guides claiming to help you “re-wire” your brain- but your brain doesn’t actually have “wires”. It’s a vast array of structures, chemical reactions, and impulses that do not act independently from one another. It’s a living, evolving organ that will literally re-organize itself to meet your demands.
So what do you demand of it? Do you make your brain read and take in new information? Do you allow your brain to quiet and be in the moment? Do you load your brain with to-do lists? Do you concentrate on the things that are wrong in your life or the things you enjoy?
If you find yourself burdened with mood disorders, poor cognitive performance, or even just want to sustain mental clarity into old age, there are proactive steps you can take to align your brain with your goals.
- Supplement. Just like any other part of your body, your brain must have the correct fuel to work properly. At the Institute for Human Optimization, we recommend supplements with scientific data to back them up. Taking a reliable multi-vitamin to cover the basics is always a good idea. There are also supplements you can use for brain health specifically.
One of these substances is Alpha-GPC, a natural choline compound found in the brain. It’s also a precursor for acetylcholine, a vital neurotransmitter, and has been studied for its potential for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Choline is a nutrient that improves focus and boosts cognitive performance. It can be obtained from a diet high in whole vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, but statistically, westerners do not get enough choline from their food and should supplement if possible.
- Meditate. You don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to reap the benefits of meditation. While many people link this mental exercise with spirituality, there are countless studies measuring the physical benefits of sitting still and trying not to think. One study shows meditators had more blood flow in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision making and cognitive abilities. Another study found that meditation increased serotonin production, making it a possible treatment for depression and anxiety which are often a symptom of imbalanced serotonin levels. There are so many free meditation apps and videos out there, but all you really need is 20 minutes a day, a quiet room, and your breath.
- Keep learning. “A brain at rest tends to stay at rest”. That’s Newton again, but still relevant. Your brain needs stimuli to make neurons fire. Doing the same tasks everyday fire up the same neurons in the same patterns, leading to synaptic pruning of all the pathways you’re not using. This is why people who move to a new country often become “rusty” in their native language if they’re not speaking it often. The brain says, “I need these new neural pathways to speak this language, but these others haven’t been used in a while- let’s re-wire.”
The good news is that by knowing this, you can consciously choose which pathways you want to keep and which ones you allow your brain to prune. You can make it a goal to learn new skills throughout your life, keeping your brain resilient and life exciting.
- Think positive. Your neurons fire according to your thoughts. If you think you’re in danger, adrenaline is released to help you fight or run. If you think you’re in love, dopamine and serotonin are released to make you feel happy and content. The more you think about something, the deeper you dig the pathway that repeats those thoughts.
Therefore, it’s beneficial to use our thoughts to help our brains. Focusing on positive things, things you’re grateful for, and taking time to talk nicely to yourself help your brain wire itself to keep doing the same. Neurons that fire together, wire together. So next time you’re feeling anxious or stressed, try naming three things you’re happy about. Make those “positive feeling” neurons fire. The more you practice this, the easier it’ll get.
At the Institute for Human Optimization, we believe longevity shouldn’t be measured just by the length of life, but by the quality. Keeping your mental faculties working correctly and avoiding neurodegenerative disease is one of our key points when working with patients. Every person has their own unique relationship with their brain and our goal is to make it a positive, long-lasting one.
To discuss how we can help optimize your brain health, you can schedule a discovery call.
To your longevity,
Anil Bajnath MD
CEO/Founder, Institute for Human Optimization
Chief Medical Advisor, Longevity Insider HQ
* Today's content is provided by the Institute for Human Optimization.