Scientists used to think that you were born with all the neurons you’d ever have. If you drank alcohol and killed brain cells, well, good luck. Then in 1998 researchers discovered the birth of new neurons in individuals who were near death. Turns out your brain–no matter how old or young–can generate new neurons.
One key to brain growth? Diet. What you eat helps generate healthy neurons with bushels of dendrites (nerve receptors). It also keeps nerve endings firing and allows you to maintain brain flexibility. Even if your memory’s so fried you can’t remember your spouse’s cell phone number, food still provides brain sustenance.
We’ve been in food information overkill ever since scientists discovered that you are what you eat. Contradictory studies analyze every type of food, vitamin, mineral, herb, and combination thereof. Even so, research does reveal old-time wisdom: what you swallow makes you smarter and happier (or slower and more blue).
Turmeric. So, will a little Indian curry help your brain? The chemical curcumin that makes turmeric yellow appears to activate a key antioxidizing enzyme that reduces plaque buildup. It also is an anti-inflammatory that fights some cancers and multiple sclerosis.
Saffron fights depression in humans, as well as improving learning and memory in animals. Saffron twice daily was as effective as Prozac in treating mild to moderate depression, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Sage, the aptly named herb, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Chinese sage root contains compounds similar to Alzheimer’s disease drugs, and just 50 microliters (.001690 fl oz) of sage oil extract significantly enhanced memory, according to research in Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior. Sage is a great addition to salads, in soups, even on pizza. It tastes and smells better fresh.
Cinnamon. A whiff of cinnamon boosts your brain. Even cinnamon-flavored gum enhances memory, visual-motor speed, recognition, attention, and focus. Cinnamon is a wonder spice: it helps to regulate sugar levels; reduces proliferation of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells; reduces clotting of blood platelets; acts as a antimicrobial, which means it helps with yeast infections; contains the trace mineral manganese and is a very good source of dietary fiber, iron, and calcium. Try some apples and cinnamon for a snack–especially for your kids before homework.
Excerpted from A Better Brain at Any Age (Conari Press, 2009) by Sandra Kornblatt.