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article imageOp-Ed: Top 5 ways to improve cognitive functions

By Alyssa Sellors     Sep 30, 2014 in Health
World Alzheimer’s Day, which was on September 21st, 2014, aims to raise awareness on Alzheimer’s and dementia by pulling together organizations from around the world.
As we age, we are seemingly always trying to find ways to maintain and improve our cognitive functioning. Whether it’s to protect against degenerative disorders of the brain, like Alzheimer’s, or to simply maintain your current cognitive functioning, people seek multiple methods to enhance cognitive functioning, and here are a few of the top methods.
Get your Flavonoids. Believe it or not, current research shows that compounds found in hops (used in beer production) can improve the cognitive functioning ability in young animals. The findings looked at specifically at mice and the effects of the flavonoid called xanthohumol, a compound that gives plants their color. Flavonoids are also found in red wine and dark chocolate, and known to have health benefits. The goal of the researchers was to look at a process called “palmitoylation,” a normal biological process that can become harmful but in older animals, and note if the flavonoid had any effect on that process. In an article in Science World Report, the author cites that researchers found the flavonoid xanthohumol did in fact “speed the metabolism, reduce fatty acids in the liver, and, at least with young mice, appeared to improve their cognitive flexibility, or higher level thinking.” While this is great news for beer drinkers, this is not a green light to overdo the booze. The amounts of the flavonoid used in this study were extremely high and the benefits equated to someone having to drink somewhere around 2,000 liters of beer a day to reach those same levels in the study; however, the idea that this flavonoid can improve cognitive functioning is an excellent finding that proves it can be useful and possibly used in other sources in the near future.
Smart Drugs. While many people initially try natural methods for enhancing cognitive functioning, some people must seek supplements or medication in the form of what’s commonly known as “smart drugs.” Essentially, smart drugs are any supplement that enhances cognitive functioning by increasing the natural functions of the brain chemicals to improve specific cognitive functioning. These drugs work by enhancing the already existing processes of information exchanges associated with cognitive brain activity. Some of these smart drugs are Alertec, Adrafinal and Ritalin. One study recently took a look at a number of these drugs (specifically Ritalin and Adderall) and asked the question, “Are prescription stimulants smart pills?” Focusing on four areas: memory and learning, working memory, cognitive control and other executive functions, the researchers found a “positive effect on long-term memory recall, and some indication that these drugs work better for people with weaker cognitive performance.” While everyone is different, one major thing to mention is that there have been no publications or results published on negative results of these smart drugs, so depending on your needs, this may be an option.
Physical Activity. Most people have figured out the link between physical activity and cognitive functioning, and it really is a no-brainer. The more we move, the more blood flow to the brain, but one study proves that just one hour a day can really enhance cognitive functioning long-term. Published in the Journal of Pediatrics, the study conducted by researchers out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researched 221 children from ages 7 to 9 over the span of nine months and looked at the differences in the children enrolled in an exercise program called FITKids and the others that were not. The children were split in half and randomly assigned to these groups. What the team found was that just one hour of exercise per day did in fact lead to improves in academic performance, attention, and the ability to switch between cognitive tasks, more so that the children not enrolled in the exercise program. One focus of the study was on “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block distractions while focusing on task. They found that in addition to being able to hold a longer attention span, these children were also able to exhibit better “cognitive flexibility,” or the ability to switch from task to another without distraction. This is especially excellent news for parents and teachers of children who suffer from ADHD or similarly related disorders, but it’s also great news for adults who also suffer from such disabilities.
Play Games. Almost all of us have smartphones but who knew that your smartphone could actually make you in fact smarter? The idea of “training your brain” is smart, and makes sense. You train your muscles to work out and stay toned, and your brain is the same way. And what better way to train than with fun games? CNN just came out with a list of their top “10 best apps to train your brain,” which include popular apps like Luminosity and CogniFit Brain Fitness. Luminosity is an app, which you may have actually seen commercials for in the past, that features types of games that focus on memory, attention, problem solving, processing speed or flexibility of thinking. Each game is timed and allows users to set personal goals, track progress, and focus in on one particular area to work on. CogniFit Brain Fitness is also an app that can track your progress in a number of areas like memory or concentration, but also allows users to compete with friends. With neither of these apps are free, they get excellent reviews by users.
Live Smart. When it comes down to it, living “smart” and taking care of our bodies is the first step in taking care of our minds. What we put in our bodies is directly correlated to the functioning our brain. In fact, one study just came out that linked the eating of junk food to impaired cognitive functioning in teens. This study looked at 602 teens, and followed these teens from the age of 14 up to 17 at the conclusion of the study. The researchers used surveys and various cognitive tasks to find that “participants who ate more healthy foods (like fruits and vegetables) were more likely to score higher on the cognitive tests.” Researchers also found that in this critical time period of brain development, teens that ate higher amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, saturated fats, and simple carbohydrates, experienced damage to the hippocampus in the brain, which is responsible for memory and learning. But, whether you are a teen or an adult, diet matters. Consider a diet rich in colorful, natural foods like green leafy vegetables, carrots, beets, and other fruits and vegetables. The goal is to cut out processed foods and cut back on red meat.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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