Our brains use over 20% of the body's energy but makes up only 2.5% of the body weight. We lose 10,000 neurons (brain cells) everyday. Our diet and lifestyle are key factors in how it recovers or degenerates.
What will decrease your mental performance and brain health the most? I love reading about how we can improve our brains but it's important to know what will actually make it worse.
As Charlie Munger says: 'Always invert'. To focus on what you should do, it is vital to know what you SHOULDN'T do.
Here are 6 'brain killers' to avoid, in order of the most important first.
1. < 6 hours sleep a night
No matter what you do or eat there is very little that can overcome the effects of sleep deprivation. So called 'Smart drugs', like modafinil, are dangerously papering over the cracks
Sleep deprivation can impair attention and working memory. It also affects decision-making and ironically judgement, so you lose the ability to tell if you are getting the sleep you need (1)It reduces your emotional processing, so you are less likely to empathise and can develop a short temper (2)
Recent research shows lack of sleep may increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers. Sleep helps to clear beta amyloid, a protein that builds up during the progression of Alzheimers (3)
Adriana Huffington, of the Huffington Post, has been much more productive since getting more sleep. She has written about our increased arrogance about how little sleep we need is destroying our health AND performance (4)
- Set a 'go to bed' alarm to get in a routine
- Read more here
2. Low Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is vital for brain health and can be found in many animal products eg. meat/eggs. Vegans and vegetarians may need to supplement this. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause fatigue, memory impairment, irritability, and depression. Recent evidence has shown that deficinecy can lead to brain shrinkage (atrophy) as it does not rebuild from neuron loss (6)
If looking for B12 supplements find those with methylcobalamin, not cyanocobalamin. It is more expensive but has a better absorption profile and has better retention in tissues than cyanocobalamin
- Look at your diet, are you getting enough vitamin B12?
3. Excess sugar
Impairs cognitive function and can cause memory defects (7)
Will decrease the amount of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor when consumed with high fat. BDNF is essential for growing new neurons in the brain (9). So avoid those doughnuts they are high in fat, sugar plus are part of #4 below
- Change fizzy sugary drinks for water
4. Deep fried & processed foods
Many packaged foods contain transfats. A recent study shows that they cause a significant reduction in working memory and recall (9)
Deep fried foods also put you at greater risk of congitive decline (10)
Drinking 3 alcoholic drinks a day, for men, leads to fast decline in all cognitive areas, especially memory. However, in women the results are less clear, and in some instances abstinence lead to faster cognitive decline in this study (11)
- Keep alcohol for non work days to improve productivity
6. Use it or lose it
Like a muscle, if you do not use your brain it will deteriorate. Don't just eat smarter, think smarter. As Warren Buffet once said ' The more you learn, the more you earn'. I like the sound of that!
- Order a book of something you find interesting