Want to Boost Your Brain Power? Become a “Wonder Junkie”

With the rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, more folks than ever are paying attention to brain health these days. However, conventional medical wisdom hasn’t always been overly encouraging on this subject. We’ve been taught that once the brain developed in the formative years, that was it. Our adult brain was “hardwired,” and it was all downhill from there. We were also told that our brain cells slowly dwindled in number and could never be replaced.  

The exciting news is that researchers are finding that simply exposing yourself to new, positive experiences can spark a phenomenon called synaptogenesis in the brain. Read on to learn more about this way to boost brain power and keep your brain sharp and healthy as you age 

What Is Neuroplasticity? 

hand holding magnifying glass looking at brainBeginning in the 1960s, brain researchers finally began to realize that brain cells, like all cells in the body, are not stagnant. They have the ability to regenerate [1]. What’s more, neural networks can rearrange themselves as well (for better or worse). This process is called neuroplasticity and it is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections

According to Board-Certified Neurologist and best-selling author Dr. David Perlmutter,

Neuroplasticity provides us with a brain that can adapt not only to changes inflicted by damage, but more importantly, allows adaptation to any and all experiences and changes we may encounter, freeing us from merely responding reflexively as a consequence of genetically determined hardwiring [2].”

In other words, we indeed have the ability to “rewire” our brains based on what we expose them to.

You probably already know the influence certain foods can have on brain function. For instance, too much junk food has been found to lead to brain fog, confusion, and even Alzheimer’s [3].

On the other hand, healthy fats [4], green leafy veggies, and high-quality sources of protein can help create crystal-clear focus and mental energy throughout the day. And, did you know that the same goes for other types of input as well? 

Can Watching TV Lead to a Lower IQ? 

Researchers from Tohoku University in Japan found that changes in brain tissue occurred in children and young adults the more television they watched [5].

These changes, especially to the hypothalamus and frontal lobe, correspond to lower verbal IQ scores and possibly to higher rates of depression and aggressive behavior

The good news is that the opposite is also true! Good experiences, happy-smiling-woman-enjoying-her-freedom-at-the-parkespecially those that create a sense of awe and wonder, can create disease-preventing pathways in the brain for a healthy, more robust you!  

Synaptogenesis: A Very Good Thing for Brain Health  

In order to understand why new, novel, and positive experiences can be good for a brain at any age, we have to narrow in on the process of synaptogenesis, or the formation of new brain synapses. 

This, of course, begs the question: what exactly is a brain synapsis and what is its function? For all the “just the facts, ma’am” folks out there, here is the hard-science definition of a brain synapsis, as supplied by researchers at the University of Berlin [6]:

“Synapses are specialized asymmetric cell–cell connections permitting the controlled transfer of an electrical or chemical signal between a presynaptic neuronal cell and a postsynaptic target cell (e.g. neuron or muscle).” 

In translation, healthy brain synapses are what make you a higher-thinking, creative individual with a sound memory and the capability to learn and growThe more synapses you have, the more “neural flexibility” you have. This means the easier it is for you to adapt to the demands of a particular environment. 

Greater Synaptic Density = More Brain Power

It also means a higher-functioning brain when compared to those with reduced “synaptic density.” Studies such as a 2018 investigation at the University of Edinburgh in the UK have found that those with low synapses counts suffer from cognitive impairment, reduced intelligence and more incidents of neurological disorders than those with higher density [7].

3 Ways to Become a Wonder Junkie and Boost Your Brain Power 

One of the best ways to encourage synaptogenesis and increase synaptic density is to expose yourself to new fun, exciting and awe-inspiring eventsHere are three ways to kick up the “wow” factor in your life and grow some healthy brain synapses to boot!  

#1 – Do something you’ve never done before.

smiling-female-friends-rowing-boat-in-lake-having-fun-in-natureLearning something novel promotes new brain synapses to grow. As it turns out, however, not just anything will do when it comes to building a better brain. Activities that involve motor learning as well as cognitive balance are best.

These include activities such as table tennis, juggling, gymnastics, rock climbing, team sports, surfing, even tango lessons… anything that gets your body moving as well as your brain firing in new and different ways would qualify.  

#2 – See something you’ve never seen before.

According to researchers, exposing yourself (or your child) to “enriched environments” can boost brain power. One study found that rats exposed to “enriched environments” had close to 25% more synapses than a control group [8].

For human beings, enriched environments may include an outdoor park with lots of trees and sports going on, a meet up with lively friends, good conversation and a yummy meal, a classroom environment where hands-on learning is the focus, or a trip to a part of the world (or your neighborhood) that you have never been. 

Any environment that creates novelty, learning, positivity and fun will work to increase brain capacity and get synaptogenesis going 

#3 – Do something kind for someone else.

Research also shows that changing behavior creates more synapses in the volunteer-giving-flowers-to-male-patient-hospital-roombrain. Why not get out of your comfort zone and do something outrageous (and kind) for someone else? Commit to doing a good deed for someone else at least once a week. Pay the toll for the car behind you. Compliment someone you don’t know. Help a neighbor carry their groceries out of their car. Volunteer at a shelter over the holidays. Or simply offer a smile to a stranger who looks down in the dumps. 

There is another advantage to using acts of compassion as a behavior-changer. In a study with human participants at the University of Wisconsin, Madison [9], researchers showed that being kind and committing acts of compassion helped to increase activity in specific centers of the brain such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rewarding emotions. 

In turn, acts of love and compassion help to increase important healing hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. These feel-good neurotransmitters, in turn, lower stress responses, according to studies conducted at the State University of New York amongst others [10].

When it comes to brain health (just like the health of the rest of your body) neither your DNA nor your age controls your destiny. As it turns out, the brain is flexible and malleable. It can and does respond to external factors, and not just what you put in your mouth. 

Why not commit to becoming a “wonder junkie.” Have fun, see new things, help others, and boost your brain power while you’re at it.  


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Cat’s Claw Herb: A Rainforest Remedy for Mind & Body Health

Have you have heard of the cat’s claw herb and how good it can be for the body and mind? Cat’s claw is rainforest herb that is traditionally used to fortify immunity, reduce inflammation, and so much more. 

If you are new to cats claw herb, read on to discover the amazing benefits this botanical can have for the body on all levels − especially if you’re concerned about brain health and issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Exciting new research is showing that cat’s claw may also have “nootropic” properties. This means acting as a neuroprotectant (protecting nerve cellsas well as stimulating brain cell regeneration.  

What Is Cat’s Claw Herb? 

There are actually several types of herbs that go by the name “cat’s claw” which hail from rainforest areas of Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. For the purposes in this article, we will be talking about the Uncaria tomentosa variety of cat’s claw. This herb is also known as SaventaroVillacorta and, of course, Uña de Gato (“gato” being the Spanish word for cat). The herb got its name because of the shape of the long thorns that grow on the vine. 

Cat’s claw hails from the highland areas of Peru in South America. Another aerial view of amazon rain forest in South America where Cat's claw growsversion of cat’s claw that grows in the lower regions of Peru, Uncaria Rubiacea, also contains many of the same healing properties

The medicinal part of both varieties is the barky vine that is dried, shredded, and often made into a tea. 

The cat’s claw vine has been on the radar for natural healing in the West since the 1920s and has an interesting beginning in the modern world. Dr. Arturo Brell, a German scientist and naturalist, was working and living in the Peruvian rainforest in the 1920s. He was using cat’s claw for his own arthritis symptoms with great success.

As the story goes, a colonist friend of Brell’s, named Luis Schuler, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Brell gave Schuler a tea made from cat’s claw to drink three times a day. A year later, Schuler’s cancer was reportedly gone [1].
Since then, dozens of studies have been conducted on cat’s claw to determine its benefits. One of the biggest benefits for all organ systems  including the brain  is how the herb can affect inflammatory markers. 

How the Cat’s Claw Herb Can Help With Inflammation Levels

What is cat’s claw herb used for? There have been several research reports which have connected cat’s claw to decreased inflammation to help with arthritis relief, DNA damage prevention, controlling pain receptors, and other disease conditions. 
middle age man with finger pain rubbing sore joints due to arthritisAccording to statistics put out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, as of 2017 23% of the U.S. population has some form of arthritis with this number projected to increase as the population grows and ages. This includes rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia [2]. Some studies have indicated that cat’s claw can help provide relief for these conditions.  

For instance, a 2007 investigation conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte [3] linked cat’s claw to lowering inflammation in osteoarthritis. According to the researchers, cat’s claw can assist in the reduction of pro-inflammatory mediators and effectors and they encouraged further study on the herb for arthritis relief. 

Specifically, the U of NC researchers found that cat’s claw alters signaling of proteins involved in systemic inflammation such as the cytokine TNF alpha and also acts as a powerful antioxidant. 

Chronic pain is another condition which has reached epidemic proportions in America. The National Institutes of Health state that about 25 million Americans (11of the adult population) suffers from chronic pain, defined as having pain every day for the proceeding three months. Forty million (17% of the population) suffer from severe pain [4]. 

Again, studies have shown that Uña de Gato’s amazing anti-inflammatory ability can help. A Brazilian study [5] conducted in 2005 found that this amazing herb can reduce pain by adjusting mechanisms having to do with certain hormonal receptors. 

Can Uncaria Tomentosa Support Brain Health?  

Another of cat’s claw bark uses is helping to reduce free radical doctor-checking-brain-testing-result-with-computer-interfacedamage. This includes within the brain as wellOne of the most impressive studies to date is a 2013 Chinese investigation [6] published in the journal Neurochemistry International.

Researchers found that components in cat’s claw have strong antioxidant effects on many kinds of free radicals, including highly reactive hydroxyl free radicals [7]. It also showed that cat’s claw can protect against the harm of mitochondrial membranes. 

In their report, the researchers hypothesized that cat’s claw may also be beneficial for those with Parkinson’s Disease 
Cat’s claw is turning out to be a solid neuroprotector against some of the most common conditions of cognitive decline. Some studies have discovered that cat’s claw can promote cerebral circulation and help prevent neurotoxic plaque buildup that can lead to Alzheimer’s. 

According to some experts [8], cat’s claw can help with memory and learning and can help stimulate neurogenesis (i.e., the growth of new brain cells). It does this in part by boosting levels of a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). 
confused-senior-woman-with-dementia-adult-daughter-at-homeLow BDNF has been linked to conditions including clinical depression [9], dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other serious cognitive disorders such as schizophrenia. 
In many people, cat’s claws anti-inflammatory and detoxifying qualities can help support balanced brain chemistry as well. According to the same Brazilian study mentioned above, cat’s claw has the ability to affect serotonin (5-HT2) receptors in the brain and increase tryptophan. This can help produce a state of calm and relaxation. 

Many individuals take the cat’s claw herb because it appears to have the ability to calm a racing mind, help with anxiety, and assist in focusing and decision-making abilities 

Important Healing Compounds Found in Uncaria Tomentosa 

Cat’s claw is chock full of phytonutrients which help detoxify and protect against stress and inflammation in the brainAlkaloids are a class of organic compounds found in plants that contain nitrogen. Cat’s claw contains over a dozen types of beneficial alkaloids as well as tannins, flavonoids, and glycosides (quinovic acid in particular) [10].

The specific alkaloids found in cat’s claw (such as isopteropodine, pteropodine, isomitraphylline, and others in the oxindole categorization) – working in conjunction with other phytonutrients in the herb  have been found in various studies to be stroke-preventative [11], helpful for curbing herpes [12], and may even be heart healthy. doctor-checking-patients-heart-with-stethoscope

In addition, plant-based alkaloids, in general, are connected to mechanisms which can help slow down the process of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a 2011 report put out by the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona [13].

Cat’s Claw for Brain Health and Overall Health  

Modern-day researchers are still uncovering the myriad of benefits and uses of cat’s claw. If you’re interested in adding cat’s claw herb to your brain and body health toolbox, it’s always advisable to check first with a trusted holistic health professional. Meanwhile, this herb has been used safely for overall health by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon for centuries… and increasingly by those in the Western world who have learned of its anti-inflammatory and brain-health potential.  


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Brain Health: 10 Tips for Keeping "Senior Moments" at Bay

Brain fog. Senior moments. And more serious concerns: Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia that affect over 7 million Americans each year. It’s important to be proactive about brain health − especially as we age.

There are many aspects to our minds that remain a mystery. Yet there is also a lot about the brain that science has figured out, much of it relatively recently.

One important factor that we do know is that, even though the brain is technically not a muscle, in many ways it functions like one. For your brain to stay healthy and operate at its best, it must be nurtured, nourished, and “exercised” every day.

10 Ways to Keep Your Mind Flexible and Working for You at Any Age

#1: Get Enough Quality Sleep.

SGet Enough Quality Sleeptudies conclude that most individuals need at least 7 hours of quality sleep each night. While you sleep, your brain is busy repairing, clearing out toxins, and organizing all the input from the experiences of the day.

In fact, recent research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found that “extensive wakefulness” may cause permanent damage to neurons responsible for cognition and alertness. For deep, healing sleep to occur, delta and theta brainwave states are best.

#2: Eat a Healthy Brain Diet.

This means staying away from too much sugar, processed foods, and simple carbs. Eat lots of non-GMO, mineral-rich organic veggies and fresh fruits, as well as minimal amounts of complex carbs.

If you eat meat, keep it hormone-free and grass-fed and eat it in moderation. Red meat in particular contains certain forms of iron that have been linked to cognitive decline when consumed in large amounts.

Too much sugar may also adversely affect brain health. The brain requires the most energy of all of the body’s organs, mostly obtained through glucose. According to research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles, however, too much glucose intake can cause premature aging of brain cells.

Other studies have linked excessive glucose with memory loss and cognitive deficiencies. On the other hand, foods such as avocados, nuts, and seeds can give your brain a serious boost.

Blueberries in particular have been found to protect the brain from oxidative stress and may even help prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. (Check out a delicious anti-inflammatory blueberry smoothie recipe here)

#3: Consume healthy fats.

Consuming healthy fats on a regular basis is simply a must-do if you are striving for a sharp mind at any age.

Omega-3 fatty acids in particular – found in organic, cold-pressed olive oil (not heated), avocado oil, fish such as salmon and sardines, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds, among other sources – have been shown to support speaking ability, memory function, and motor skills.

Other studies have found that omega-3s are a good dietary choice for people suffering with neurological conditions such as ADHA, depression, and bipolar disorder. In addition, organic coconut oil has also shown signs of being a brain-healthy fat in addition to its many other benefits.

#4: Exercise.

Not only is moderate quantities of exercise good for your immune system, cardiovascular system, and even your gut, it’s also healthy for your mind as well, according to research conducted at the University of California, Irvine’s Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia.

A report published in the journal Neuroscience states that getting the heart pumping through moderate amounts of walking, jogging, biking, or other activities has an effect on many parts of the brain, but especially on the hippocampus region.

Exercise can stimulate the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the brain which can lead to strengthening and increased production of brain tissue.

Exercise has also been linked to a lower risk of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Most importantly, exercise decreases inflammation. Inflammation has been linked to declining brain function in studies by Yale University and others.

#5. Drink Plenty of Water.

In addition to a heaDrink Plenty of Waterlthy, whole-foods diet and plenty of exercise, keeping yourself hydrated is key for maintaining a healthy brain.

The body of an average adult is made up of around 65% water. Lack of water has been linked to problems with memory, focus, brain fatigue, and “brain fog,” in addition to headaches, insomnia, and even volatile emotional states.

There have been numerous studies which have also connected dehydration to depression as well since lack of fluids may affect the production of serotonin and dopamine.

How do you know how much water to drink? Many experts recommend this: take your weight in pounds, divide that number in half and that is how much water you should be drinking in ounces every day.

Water quality, of course, is paramount. Be sure your water is filtered properly, especially for chlorine and fluoride, two substances that can wreak havoc on brain health. And be sure to stay away from all water bottled in plastic containers that may contain BPA.

#6: Detox your body of neurotoxins.

Aluminum, fluoride, bromide, mold spores, too much iron and copper… the list goes on as to the environmental toxins that exist in our air, water, food, and household products that can effect cognitive function and brain health.

Aluminum, in particular, has been connected to the onset of Alzheimer’s.
You can rid your body of these toxins by being proactive on several fronts. Include a regular detoxing protocol as part of your regimen for good body and brain health.

Take probiotics and prebiotics to balance gut flora and eliminate the production of internal gut-related toxins which may break through the blood-brain barrier.

Remove any amalgam fillings you may still have in your mouth. Most importantly, begin the process of eliminating neuro-toxins from your environment, such as sources of mold and aluminum.

Replacing commercial deodorants and aluminum foils is a great place to start. As is replacing toxic household cleaning supplies and other personal care products  with eco-friendly, and health-promoting options. Meditate

#7: Meditate.

Study after study over the last 20 years has confirmed the amazing effect of regular meditation. The most amazing connections between meditation and mental health has been findings by the University of Calgary in Canada and others regarding telomeres.

Telomeres are tiny bits of DNA found at the end of cellular chromosomes which protect genetic information. Shortened telomeres are associated with stress, disease, and depression. Regular meditators, on the other hand, were found to have longer telomeres overall, which is a very good thing!

There are dozens of ways to meditate, which is basically just the act of slowing down and going into a beta or theta brainwave state so that the brain and body has a chance to rest, relax, and heal.

Some meditative modalities include:

Even coloring has been found to have meditative effects!

#8: Keep learning.

Keep your brain sharp by using it every day. Do crossword puzzles, play challenging games like Scrabble or Soduku, take up a new language, learn how to play an instrument, or read a book (especially on a new to you topic) instead of turning on the tube.

Research has found that flexing the “brain muscle” through focused brain activity stimulates connections between nerve cells, increases neural “plasticity,” and may even lead to the production of new brain cells.

In addition, practice using all of your senses on a regular basis, including sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Doing so will activate different areas of your brain.

One of the best (and most fun) ways to do this is to vacation in places you have never been to before and expose yourself to the sights, sounds, and tastes of a whole new culture

#9: Spend time in nature.

The Japanese have a practice called Shinrin-yoku, which literally translates to “forest bathing.” According to studies conducted at Chiba University and elsewhere, forest trees emit healing substances called phytocides which can ease anxiety, lower cortisol levels, and promote healthy sleep.
Gardener planting flowers

But what if walking in the forest isn’t your thing?That’s okay, just make a pledge to get your “hands dirty” in the earth at least once a week! A 2007 study published in the journal Neuroscience made a surprising discovery: the common garden soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae not only reduces inflammation but also seems to have an effect on serotonin-releasing neurons.

Gardening, yard work or even helping your kids make “mud pies” should do the trick to put you in a “jolly state of mind!”

Another easy way to get at least some of the effects of “forest bathing” is to inhale the aroma of trees oils such as pine, spruce, or eucalyptus essential oil. Place a few drops of essential oil in an essential oil diffuser and recreate the smell of the forest in your home!

And finally, here’s one more tip to keep you on the path towards brain health…

#10: Keep a positive attitude!

Researchers have long known what negative thoughts do to the brain. In a nutshell, they narrow focus.

This may be a good thing when your life is in danger. Then, an emotion such as fear may help you survive. But keeping a positive, upbeat attitude in general is way more beneficial in the long run.

Ground-breaking research conducted in 2011 and led by “positive psychology” pioneer Barbara Fredrickson (director of the PEP Lab at the University of North Carolina) found that a concept called “broaden and build” relates to the long-term benefits of thinking positive.

An open attitude leads to greater skill building, connections with people, and flexibility and strength in all areas of life − both mental and physical.

And according to the Heart Math Institute, a flexible mind is also equated with being able to “bounce back” quickly when challenges arise. This is called “resilience” and it is connected to not only brain health, but cardiovascular health and a longer, more fulfilling life in general.


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