It’s no secret that stress is an ever-increasing element among British adults. It can contribute to sleeping troubles, poor diet choices, low mood and general health problems. In fact, a recent study has revealed that just one major stressful experience could age your brain by up to 4 years![i] While you’re probably all too aware of some of the factors in your life that can contribute to stress – money, work/life balance and family – stress doesn’t always have to come from these obvious sources. Some causes of stress can surprise you…
Firstly, how do these factors make contribute to your stress levels? Dr Marilyn Glenville, leading UK Nutritionist and author of Natural Solutions to Dementia and Alzheimer’s (www.marilynglenville.com ) explains, “Millions of years ago, our bodies were designed to react quickly to danger. We were on constant alert so we could run or fight, if threatened. When your brain thinks your life is in danger, it stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol, known as the fight or flight response.”
“These days, many of us live under chronic stress. However, our bodies can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, spiralling debt, infuriating work colleagues and the truly life-threatening stress. That is why our body still gears up to ‘flight or fight’ and reacts exactly the same way it has been programmed to”, adds Marilyn.
We’ve asked our experts what surprising factors can age your brain and how to improve them…
1. Poor Diet
You will certainly know that a poor diet can have a negative effect on your body, but it also has an impact on your brain health too. Nutritionist Cassandra Barns explains, “A poor diet can age your brain in at least two ways. Firstly, eating lots of processed or sugary foods causes frequently high blood sugar levels, including in our brain. High levels of sugar in our blood can increase a process called glycation, which happens when sugars bind to proteins and fats and damage them. This accelerates ageing throughout the body, including in the brain. There’s even a link between high blood sugar levels and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Cassandra adds, “A poor diet can also age your brain by not providing enough of the right nutrients to nourish and protect it. Examples include the omega-3 DHA from oily fish, which is vital for our brain structure, vitamin B12 and choline, which are essential for our nerves, and antioxidants that help to protect and prevent damage. If you don’t eat oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, mackerel or trout – at least two to three times a week, I’d suggest adding a good-quality fish oil supplement to your daily regime, such as Natural Health Practice Omega 3 Support (£29.77, www.naturalhealthpractice.com). Deficiency in vitamin B12 can be relatively common because it’s only found in animal foods and some people may not absorb it very well from their food. For those lacking B12, taking a B12 supplement can be beneficial, if not essential, to keep their energy levels up. I recommend Nature’s Plus Source of Life Garden Vitamin B12 (£17.50, www.naturesplus.co.uk), this wholefood supplement is certified organic, so you know you’re getting a good-quality product.”
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Sometimes it’s the little things like annoying co-workers, rude shop assistants, a delayed train or trying to find a parking space for 15 minutes that can build up some serious agitation. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and put things into perspective! Take a few seconds to take some slow, deep breaths and relax. Need a little help to switch off? Try popping a (natural) chill pill, as certain nutrients can be very helpful in reducing stress levels. “Go for the B vitamins, especially B5 for stress relief and energy, magnesium (nature’s tranquiliser) for relaxation and sleep, chromium for blood sugar balance, L-theanine for reducing anxiety and finally Siberian Ginseng, which acts as a tonic to the adrenal glands. Try NHP’s Tranquil Woman Support, to help you take back control of your life (from www.naturalhealthpractice.com),” suggests Marilyn.
3. Take a step back from social media
Ever feel like social media is starting to control your life? Worrying about how many likes you got on a photo, getting ‘FOMO’ from other friend’s pictures, or thinking how ‘perfect’ someone’s life looks in the world of Instagram. Try not to get too caught up in it, as it can make you overthink things that aren’t important. Cassandra explains, “Lack of true face-to-face contact and interactions with others, good friendships and a good support group is linked with faster cognitive decline (i.e. brain ageing) and a shorter lifespan. ‘Virtual’ friendships on social media don’t replace face-to-face contact and true relationships. So, get out there and meet other people in the real world if you want to keep your brain young!”
4. Get moving
“Exercise improves circulation to the brain, and helps with blood sugar control too. So, it stands to reason that lack of exercise could speed up brain ageing,” adds Cassandra. Going for a run releases endorphins and is a great way to switch off and clear your mind from stress. Cassandra adds, “Getting the balance right is important when it comes to exercise. Exercise stimulates release of endorphins, which make us feel happy and relaxed afterwards. Getting enough exercise can also help us sleep better, which then helps us to cope with stress.”
5. Lack of sunlight
“Deficiencies in vitamin D through lack of sunlight may also increase risk of memory problems and cognitive decline. This is another good reason to take a vitamin D supplement over winter – or throughout the year if you’re not getting regular sun exposure. Try Quest Once a Day Sunshine D tablets (from £3.08, www.qnutrapharma.com)”, explains Cassandra.
Cassandra adds, “If you would like additional support, try Nature’s Plus AgeLoss Brain Support capsules (£24.45, www.lifestyle-labs.com). This is a comprehensive blend of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and plant extracts designed to nourish and protect the brain.”