The ultimate guide to improving brain health and mental clarity

The human brain weighs an average of 1.4 kg for adult males and 1.3 kg for adult males. If you want to imagine the size of your brain, your two clenched fists are roughly the size of your brain.

From the outside, it has crevices and folds and looks like a large walnut. Imagine from this small organ, sensations and information from the outside world and within the body are processed to stimulate an appropriate body response. 

The brain is like a vast computer that processes all information. If computers have different wiring systems and chips to process information, the brain has neurons to receive, transmit and process data or stimuli. 

Can you tell how many neurons there are in the brain? It is about 100 billion neurons or nerve cells! This is not all. An additional one trillion supporting cells in the brain stabilise brain tissues and neurons! 

How can you improve brain health? 

Improving brain health is crucial to promote wellness and well-being. However, the brain remains a complex organ, and neuroscientists are still deciphering many of the brain’s unknown functions.

However, what is clear for these neuroscientists is the role that nutrients have on brain health. In addition, they also found out that exercise and physical activities are strongly related to brain health!

Do you feel it is hard to focus because of stress? Are you having trouble remembering where you last put your car keys? Do you have mental fogginess, especially late in the day? All these challenges are just some indicators of your brain health. 

Read on to discover the latest information from scientific studies on how to boost your brain health naturally. 

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How can you improve your mental energy and mental acuity? 

You are in for a busy day with deadlines hounding you the whole day. However, by late afternoon, you find yourself staring at the computer and find it difficult to process information. You feel like your brain is simply mushy. Does this scenario sound familiar? 

Hitting a wall late in the afternoon while catching up on your deadline feels like the world is closing in on you. You crave that additional brain fuel to power you through but can’t find any. Don’t worry! The good news is you can improve your diet to boost brain energy. 

Here are some scientific ways how to increase your mental energy. 

Avoid diets high in refined sugar

It is best to avoid diets high in refined sugar to improve your brain health. These include sugar-sweetened beverages such as cola drinks, desserts, sugar-sweetened cakes and junk foods high in refined sugar.

A study [1] has found that individuals with added sugar (refined sugar) intake of more than 33 grams/day or six teaspoons per day had lower mini-mental state examination scores compared wiht those with lower refined sugar in their diet.

In addition, the same study found that the higher intake of refined sugar (higher than 6 tsp per day), the lower the scores in the mini-mental exam (MMSE). The MMSE is used to measure the cognitive impairment of individuals. 

To prevent excessive refined sugar intake, consider that a 350 ml cola drink contains 39 grams, higher than the recommended 33 grams/day of sugar. This is 18% higher than the allowable refined sugar intake per day. 

Animal model studies [2] have shown that rats fed with sugar solution, notably sucrose, showed impaired memory and spatial learning.

These studies reiterate that diets high in sugar could impair spatial memory by damaging a brain region called the hippocampus. This part of the brain is responsible for memory and spatial learning. 

Brain fogginess and poor mental acuity are signs that your brain might not perform well. Constant brain fogginess may be an early sign of cognitive impairment.

Hence, improving your diet by removing excess refined sugar could help boost mental energy during the day and reduce brain fogginess. 

Try a “traditional” diet to improve brain energy and mental acuity 

Traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets have improved cognitive and brain functioning [3]. Specifically, in older adults at risk of dementia, these diets were associated with the prevention of dementia or delays in disease progression [3]. 

What are cognitive functions? These refer to mental processes that allow individuals to remember, recognise, adapt to ever-changing conditions in the environment and learn.

These cognitive functions include learning, thinning, memory, speech, drawing and writing. When some or most of these cognitive abilities are lost, an individual is said to suffer from cognitive impairment. One of the best-known diseases characterised by cognitive impairment includes dementia. 

Like older adults, you can sharpen your memory and improve your learning by eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and fish and meat, as seen in the Mediterranean and Japanese diets.

However, the exact mechanisms of how traditional diets can improve the brain’s memory function and learning are not yet clear. It is believed that the effects of these diets are multifactorial.

It is also proposed that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of fruits and vegetables in traditional diets influence brain health. 

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The gut-brain connection 

Do you know that your gut health may influence your brain health? Some might laugh it off that the brain is connected to the gut and vice versa. However, this connection is no joke.

Have you ever experienced a gut-wrenching situation? Or, when faced with certain conditions, do you become nauseous? Are there butterflies in your stomach before you sing on stage?

All these expressions are used for a reason. The digestive system is sensitive to your emotions. Emotions such as fear, excitement, sadness, anxiety, or anger can trigger stomach upsets or some symptoms in your gut. 

The brain is known to affect the intestines and stomach directly. Thinking about food alone can trigger the release of digestive juices even before the food reaches the stomach and intestine.

The connection is not one way. When the intestine and stomach have health issues, they send signals to the brain like a troubled brain sends signals to the gut. 

In recent years, evidence from studies [4] has emerged and shown that gut microbiota, the microorganisms living in the gut, are associated with learning, memory, mood, stress and even neurodegenerative diseases and neurodevelopmental diseases.

A study [5] suggested that probiotics supplementation is related to mental flexibility, better cognitive functioning and stress alleviation in older adults.

Although more studies are still needed to determine if the same results can be seen in younger populations, the study’s findings [5] are promising. This indicated that the intake of probiotic supplements could indirectly improve brain health and brain energy and mental acuity. 

Support a healthy diet with regular exercise 

Studies [6] have shown that frequent and constant moderate physical activities each week can lead to better mood, lower risk of depression, better sleep and better mental clarity.

So, how long and how frequently should you exercise to gain mental health benefits? As the studies pointed out, you should exercise at least three times a week in moderate to vigorous physical activities such as brisk walking and running or aerobic exercises to improve mental health.

You should engage in 160 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercises each week. This is equivalent to two hours and 40 minutes of exercise per week divided into three sessions. 

Aim for at least 40 minutes of exercise per session to maximise mental health benefits. Interestingly, a review of studies [6] reported that the benefits of exercise are enhanced when a nap follows this.

Hence, exercising before napping can lead to more excellent mental acuity and health benefits than exercising alone. Accordingly, in your next exercise, you can plan to have a short nap after the walk or run in the neighbourhood. 

Try intermittent fasting 

Intermittent fasting means eating food within the first 6-8 hours and then going without food (fasting) in the next 14-16 hours. You cycle between eating and not eating. 

A review of the literature [7] revealed that intermittent fasting is associated with an improvement in mood.

Mood improvement following fasting may be due to improved quality of sleep, changes in neurotransmitters and synthesis of neurotrophic factors. It is also suggested that the ketones released during intermittent fasting improve recovery of the brain and lessen brain damage.

These ketones have also been associated with reducing inflammation, thereby protecting the brain from damage. Further, intermittent fasting is associated with better cognition and reduced brain-related diseases [7]. 

In a nutshell, protecting your brain and improving brain health are critical in ensuring that you have sufficient brain energy and mental acuity to perform your daily tasks.

The good news is you can integrate walking and exercise into your daily activities, napping at regular times and eating a healthy diet to improve your brain health!

You can also take probiotic supplementation to have that added boost to your mental health. Your choice of probiotic supplements would be dependent on your preference.

However, there are numerous probiotic supplements available now. You can consult your doctor and ask which probiotic supplement will help improve memory and learning or your mood. 

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6662517/
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18510803/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8235742/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32300799/
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20223924/ 
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8470960/ 

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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.