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Six Pillars of Brain Health


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The brain is the “control center” of the body. The brain is a complex organ as it makes up the central nervous system along with the spinal cord. It is involved in every bodily process that allows humans to function. The brain works by sending and receiving chemical and electrical signals to cells throughout the body. The brain has several main parts supported by blood vessels that provide blood and oxygen.

There are many functions of the brain which include cognition, memory, emotion, vision, breathing, body temperature, hunger and satiety, thirst, and sleep.

6 Pillars of Brain Health

There are six pillars to brain health, which are 1) exercise, 2) stress reduction, 3) sleep and relaxation, 4) socialization, 5) medications and supplements and 6) food and nutrition. Lifestyle has a profound impact on your brain health. What you eat and drink, how much you exercise, how well you sleep, the way you socialize, and how you manage stress are all critically important to your brain health. We will dive deeper into the strategies for each pillar of brain health next.

Strategies to Improve Brain Health

  1. Exercise involves regularly engaging in aerobic or cardio exercise because it helps to preserve existing brain cells and promotes the regeneration of new brain cells. The health benefits are improvements in stress management, sleep, physical health, mental health, and immune function. Two types of exercise are aerobic and strength. Aerobic exercise helps preserve existing brain cells and promotes the regeneration of new brain cells. Strength training supports brain health by enhancing concentration and improving decision-making skills.
  2. Stress reduction encompasses how chronic stress can negatively impact the brain by affecting the prefrontal cortex, responsible for memory and learning, as well as the amygdala, involved in emotions and memory. Stress management is possible by getting adequate rest and sleep, practicing saying “no”, spending time in nature, meditating, socializing, exercising regularly, and seeking professional support.
  3. Sleep and relaxation are critically important in helping to manage mood and emotions as well as stress. The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-9 hours per night. Improve the quality and quantity of sleep by setting a regular sleep schedule, unwinding before bed, putting away screens, being mindful of caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening, and introducing calming scents such as lavender. Acupuncture, chiropractic care, and massage are two modalities that can help unwind and soothe the nervous system to help promote relaxation and restful sleep.
  4. Socialization is good for brain health because staying connected to people can help reduce stress, enhance mood, promote feeling calm, and improve the ability to cope with challenges. Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”, is a feel-good chemical produced by the body when in contact with loved ones. Socialize regularly by planning walks with a friend or family member, joining a hobby group or sports team, volunteering, plan a neighborhood potluck, or attending a networking event.
  5. Medications and supplements should be taken as prescribed by your primary provider. Based on medical history, an individual may be advised to take medications or supplements that may reduce the risk for medical conditions linked to brain health. Supplements may be advised to help fill in any potential nutrient deficiencies for important brain-supportive nutrients such as B-vitamins, omega-3 fats, choline, and magnesium.
  6. Food and nutrition contain nutrients that support brain health which are part of the MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). Key foods include plant foods, spices, chocolate, coffee, tea, red wine, whole grains, sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and sources of vitamin D. The way we eat has a direct correlation to the function and health of our brain.


The MIND Diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) is a way of eating recommended to support brain health. It incorporates concepts from both the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet. The diet has plant foods as the base of every meal. The diet encompasses plant foods like fat-free and low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, and lean cuts of meat, sodium-free spices, and ingredients.

Key Nutrients for Brain Health

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential, polyunsaturated fats that promote brain and heart health. The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish - salmon, sardines, herring, tuna – and nuts and seeds – walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds. The other sources of omega-3 fatty acids are some plant oils (flaxseed, walnut, soybean), tofu, and edamame. The recommended servings according to the MIND Diet is 1 serving of cold-water fish per week.

Plant foods are crucial for brain health due to the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals the food provides. These foods are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and plant oils. Fruits and vegetables are berries, leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens), and broccoli. Whole grains are whole wheat products, oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, and farro. Nuts and seeds are walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Legumes are beans and lentils. The recommended serving according to the MIND Diet is 6 servings of leafy greens per week and 2 servings of berries per week.

Spices and chocolate contain antioxidants called flavonoids that can help improve blood flow to the brain and reduce inflammation. Spices include turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. Chocolate is dark chocolate.

Coffee and tea may help improve memory and reduce the risk of dementia. The best sources are black coffee, black tea, and green tea. The recommended serving according to the MIND Diet is up to 3 (8-ounce) cups of black coffee per day, however, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, find decaffeinated options or focus on other brain-supportive foods instead.

Whole grains are staple ingredients in the MIND Diet due to their high content of fiber and B-vitamins. B-vitamins are involved in producing energy, repairing DNA, creating neurochemicals, maintaining neurons, and acting as antioxidants to reduce the harmful effects of free radicals. Whole grain sources are whole wheat products, oats, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, barley, and farro. The recommended servings according to the MIND Diet is 3 servings of whole grains per day.

Vitamin D can be obtained through sun exposure, food, and supplements. The skin can make vitamin D when exposed to the sun, however, many factors impact the body’s ability to make adequate vitamin D. Food sources that contain vitamin D are salmon, tuna, egg yolks, and fortified beverages. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.

Saturated fats are found in animal products such as meat and dairy products. Meat sources include beef, pork, lamb, deli or luncheon meat, sausage, bacon, and ham. The sources of dairy products include whole milk, whole milk yogurt, cheese, and butter. Consuming too many foods high in saturated fats is linked with an increased risk of Alzheimer's Disease. Swap out animal proteins for beans, lentils, and soy foods like tofu. According to the MIND Diet, the recommended serving is no more than four servings of red meat per week.

Adding an integrative provider to your care team to individualize diet and lifestyle approaches to support brain health can be extremely helpful. Take the next step in your health journey by calling the Whole Health Institute at 913-632-3550 and schedule an appointment today!

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