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How to Improve Your Brain Health

10 Ways to Get Smarter, Build Your Memory & Increase Your Intellect
By Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

“Whenever you read a book or have a conversation, the experience causes physical
changes in your brain,” says science writer George Johnson, author of In the Palaces of
Memory. “It's a little frightening to think that every time you walk away from an
encounter, your brain has been altered, sometimes permanently.”

These tips for getting smarter and strengthening your memory will improve the way your
brain functions – and the way you think.

10 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

1. Do “neurobic” exercises. Certain cognitive exercises can create new associations

between different brain parts, says neurobiologist Lawrence Katz of Duke University.
Neurobics include getting dressed or showering in the dark, switching what you
normally wear on one side to the other (e.g., put your watch or bracelet on your
opposite wrist), using your opposite hand to brush your teeth, hanging pictures upside
down, and cooking ethnic foods that you’ve never prepared before.

2. Limit your alcohol intake. The more alcohol you consume, the lower your brain
volume becomes. Scientists at Wellesley College in Massachusetts found that low to
moderate levels of alcohol helps protect your health from cardiovascular disease, but
heavy drinking shrinks brains. These researchers define heavy drinking as more than
14 drinks per week, moderate drinking as 8 to 14 drinks per week, and low as less than
7 drinks per week. To increase your intellect and cognitive ability, keep the alcohol
consumption to a minimum.

4. Try something new. An active brain can slow the mental decline that comes with
age. “A lifetime of good mental habits pays off,” says University of Alberta researcher Dr.
Dennis Foth. “People who are curious at a young age are more likely to be mentally
active and stay active as they age. And we found it's never too late to start. With a little
effort, even people in their 70s and 80s can see dramatic improvements.” Memorizing
poetry, learning a new musical instrument, or taking Spanish or French lessons are
great ways to strengthen your memory and improve your brain health.

4. Smell the sandalwood. “Natural scents have a direct pathway to the brain and
research shows that some chemical constituents of aromatherapy oils, particularly…
sesquiterpenes can cross the blood-brain barrier and increase oxygen flow to the brain,”
says Michelle Schoffro Cook, doctor of natural medicine and author of The Brain Wash.
Extra oxygen increases energy, immune function, positive moods, and learning.
Frankincense and sandalwood are particularly effective at increasing oxygen levels in
the brain. An easy way to improve your brain health could involve a little aromatherapy.

5. Do the tango. Dance requires twists and turns that strengthens brain connections.
Learning the cha-cha-cha can nourish brain cells, which translates to quick thinking in
the real world. “Exercise can protect the brain against environmental toxins by
counteracting free radicals and reducing inflammation,” says Schoffro Cook, author of
The Brain Wash. Physical activity is one of the best ways to promote the growth of new
brain cells and strengthen your memory.

6. Sleep well. Your brain requires huge amounts of energy to function properly; sleep
boost memory and allows your brain to process information. “Though it's not sexy, the
traditional sleep advice is still effective,” says Dr Rachel Morehouse of the Atlantic Sleep
Centre. Sleep little – if at all – during the day because naps rob you of sleep at night. To
improve your brain health, get up and go to bed at set times. Stay active but avoid
exercising in the evening because it keeps you awake. Wind down before you go to bed
with music or a book. Enjoy healthy food, eat light meals at night, and avoid caffeine.

7. Volunteer. “Good Samaritans have been found to have lower stress levels and a
sense of well-being, factors that add up to better overall health, including brain health,”
says Schoffro Cook, author of The Brain Wash. The brain benefits of volunteering
include increased mental functioning and better communication skills. The key may be
in the “helper’s high” – the sense of calmness and well-being that comes from helping
others. Volunteering can also improve your brain health by raising your self-esteem and
feelings of self-efficacy.

8. Socialize with people. Talking can improve memory and thinking skills, says Oscar
Ybarra, a psychologist at the University of Michigan. Further, he believes that visiting
with a friend or neighbor may be as helpful as doing a crossword puzzle. About his
study, he said, “Short-term social interaction lasting for just 10 minutes boosted
participants’ intellectual performance as much as engaging in so-called ‘intellectual’
activities for the same amount of time.”

9. Strive for variety. Don’t rely on a particular practice, supplement, or food to improve
your brain health. Instead, incorporate different activities into your life. For instance,
take a child hiking if you normally spend time with adults; go for a run instead of the
usual yoga class. The more you challenge your brain and body, the healthier and
stronger they become.

10. Reduce your exposure to neurotoxins. Harmful chemicals, food additives, and
chemically altered ingredients can harm your brain and body health. While it’s not
possible to completely eliminate pollution from your environment, you can limit it. Pure
products, organic produce, natural fragrances, whole foods, and fresh air will improve
your brain health and strengthen your memory.


Autism Symptoms and Treatments

Possible Causes and Effective Remedies for Kids with Autism
By Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

Childhood autism is increasing, and so are the treatments and information. Though
autism research is growing, doctors haven't identified a single cause of childhood

Childhood autism is four times more likely to strike boys than girls.

Signs of childhood autism

Kids with autism tend to isolate themselves from the people around them, preferring
instead to stay in their own worlds. Children with autism are withdrawn – usually
severely so – and have trouble with verbal expression. Kids with autism often live in
fantasy worlds that they've created.

Children with autism tend to have a weaker immune system, and struggle with chronic
infections (this is less a sign of autism, and could rather be a symptom).

Causes of childhood autism

Many factors seem to play a role in childhood autism:

• Brain defects that developed during the birth process

• Vaccination
• Poor nutrition
• Food or food additive sensitivities
• Brain inflammation
• Fluctuating blood sugar levels
• Fetal alcohol syndrome

Autism research includes the possibility that viruses or other pathogens are connected
with causes of autism.

Childhood autism & food sensitivities

According to Michelle Schroffo Cook, author of The Brain Wash, "many autistic children
have food sensitivities." This supports Jenny McCarthy's experience with childhood
autism (she wrote a book about her son Evan's childhood autism, called Louder Than
Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism).

Food sensitivities often have a delayed reaction, making it difficult to identify which are
affecting kids with autism. Cook says, "May of the symptoms of autism are comparable
to the symptoms of food sensitivities, although the list of symptoms of food sensitivities

Treatments of childhood autism

Music or dance therapy can bring a child with autism out of isolation. Play therapy is
effective for some kids with autism.

Go gluten-free. Dealing with environmental and food sensitivities is important in

treating childhood autism. Since gluten is a common food sensitivity in both adults and
kids with autism, it's best to eat gluten-free products. Autism research shows that almost
50% of people with autism have improved symptoms when on a gluten-free diet.

Go dairy-free. Different elements in dairy products can cause food sensitivities – it's not
just lactose that causes problems. Lactase does help with lactose intolerance, but not
with other proteins and elements that can be problematic in childhood autism.

Schroffo Cook stresses the complete elimination of gluten, dairy, and food additives
from the diets of kids with autism. While this may not cure childhood autism, it may
improve the signs and symptoms in kids with autism.

How Stress Affects Your Memory
The Relationship Between Short-term Anxiety & Brain Functioning
© Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

Maybe you’re forgetful during periods of high stress, or maybe your brain “freezes.” Or,
perhaps taking a test causes you to blank on everything you've learned. Maybe you’re
at your worst during a job interview (when you want to be at your best). When you’re
stressed out, the anxiety and stress hormones affect your brain functioning and
communication skills.

Impaired thinking ability and learning skills are common during stressful moments.
Research shows that stress impairs brain functioning, which leads to poor learning skills
and memory loss. Scientists have long known that long-term stress impairs brain cell
communication, but they’re just now learning that even short-term stress – such as a
few hours of anxiety – can negatively affect cognitive skills.

How Short-term Stress Affects Memory

Cortisol is a stress hormone that circulates through your body when you’re stressed or
anxious. Researchers at the University of California found that there’s another stress
hormone called corticotopin that disrupts how our brains collect and store memories.

“Stress is a constant in our lives and cannot be avoided,” said Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, the
Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences in the University of California (Irvine)
School of Medicine. “Our findings can play an important role in the current development
of drugs that might prevent these undesirable effects and offer insights into why some
people are forgetful or have difficulty retaining information during stressful situations.”

See below for links to articles about dealing with stress.

How Long-term Stress Affects Memory

The stress hormone cortisol plays a big role in long-term stress. Doctors at the Douglas
Hospital Research Center found that people who have continuously high levels of
cortisol perform poorly on memory tests. Their cognitive functioning – such as learning
and memory skills – were impaired when they were exposed to stress over a period of
three to six years.

“This study clearly shows the negative effects of long-term stress,” says Sonia J.
Lupien, PhD, lead author and director of the Laboratory of Stress Research at the
Douglas. “This explains why some older adults show poor brain function while others
perform very well.”

Though long-term stress impairs learning, memory, and other cognitive skills, there are
ways to manage the effects of stress. You may not be able to feel the stress hormone
cortisol racing through your veins, but you know when you’re stressed. And you know
what relieves your anxiety and tension.

Stress relief is different for everyone – massage, exercise, bubble baths, yoga, walking
the dog – but one thing is the same: we all need to deal with it successfully. Stress
damages not only our brain functioning, but our health as well.
We may never get rid of long or short-term stress, but we can counteract its effects.