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Can eating certain foods help us sleep?

It’s a no brainer that coffee or caffeine before bed can be a sleep disrupter. But did your know that  certain foods can be helpful to our sleep?

Melatonin is a hormone that is released in larger amounts as we get closer to bed time, the peak usually in the early evening to prep is for sleep at night time. 

In the UK, melatonin is not available as  supplement although is frequently found as on over the counter product in other countries such as the US. The good news is that we can help increase our natural melatonin production by what we eat. 

Food rich in tryptophan ( trip-toe-fan) are also important to help increase our natural melatonin production.

Tryptophan is converted into serotonin – which is another chemical that’s part of the sleep jigsaw- and then this gets converted to melatonin. 

Increasing melatonin naturally in the evening can help us sleep better and foods rich in tryptophan are one way to help with this

Cherries*

Specifically tart cherries, or sour montmorency cherries. Cherry juice was shown to reduce sleep problems when consumed twice a day in a study published in 2010*. Cherries have been found to be rich in melatonin and are a natural source of this sleep aiding hormone. 

Kiwi Fruit**

Packed with vitamin C and anti oxidants , kiwi fruits are healthy and tasty at any time of day. Research has also shown that in small studies, eating 2 kiwi fruits before bed helped people sleep better- that is, fall asleep more quickly and sleep for longer. This needs more research but one of the reasons for this is that kiwi fruits are high in serotonin. Which as we know, is important in the cycle of hormone and brain chemical release that is involved in getting us off to the land of nod. 

Bananas

Bananas contains carbohydrates that trigger tryptophan production which can promote sleep  as well as muscle relaxing magnesium.

And to drink? Try warm milk

A long time favourite to help a good nights’ sleep – any warm drink before bed can help increase our body temperature ever so slightly which can help relax our muscles at bedtime.

But I thought you weren’t meant to eat before bed? 

That is true in terms of eating a meal that takes time to digest but sometimes eating small amounts of foods that are light may sometimes help the sleep process such as a banana, some warm milk or natural yoghurt with s drizzle of honey might actually help us nod off. 

Dr Clara Russell 

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3133468/

**https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21669584

Ways to keep our brains ticking

Learn new words

Reading, crosswords and word play have long been recognised as important for keeping our brains active. In these days of lockdown, we are all looking for ways to a) keep it together and b) keep our minds active and distracted from what is going on around us. And of course there is the home schooling.

Learning new words can literally be mind expanding and its not just for kids – look in a dictionary and pick a new word or two and practise ways to use it in sentences.

Get creative

Creation of art at any age has been shown to reduce stress regardless if what we make is any good ( thanks goodness!) A study looked at this particularly for older adults who took part in art classes. They found that doing art can help with interaction between different parts of our brain and helping our brains stay healthy

Doodle 

Are you a doodler? If not try it! Whilst people are coming to terms with home working for the foreseeable future, taking work calls is the norm all round the country. Trying to focus on the call and not let our minds wander can be difficult at home with so much going on both in our homes and in our minds. Doodling can hep people remember information, particularly if it was (ahem) less than interesting.

The act of doodling helped people focus their minds, reduced their minds wandering and helped them pay attention to what was being said. Doodling is a type of ‘visual language’ that can help with creativity as well 

Sing

Singing or attaching a melody to some information has been shown to help us retain it. Singing stimulates a part of the brain ( the temporal lobe) which is involved in memory. Humming is also an option if you feel self conscious singing or feel you can’t carry a tunes.

Singing ( or humming) releases feel good brain chemicals ( neurotransmitters). Making music this way can also help you feel more focused on the moment and can prevent your mind from wandering

Anti Oxidants- Why they are important for brain health

To understand why antioxidants are important  here is a little refresher on school science 

Remember that electrons, proteins and neutrons make up atoms?

Atoms want their electrons to be in pairs to be seen as stable 

Unstable groups of atoms have one or more unpaired electrons.

In our bodies, these unstable atoms are called free radicals and they try to make themselves a pair by stealing electrons from other atoms-this can cause a problem.

Our bodies make free radicals as part of natural reactions and that is a normal process. 

Stress, trauma pollution, highly processed food rich diets can create more free radicals than we want. 

Over time these XS free radicals, among other things can cause havoc with normal healthy cells .

Its important we keep these free radicals under control and we can help with this by looking at our diet and lifestyle and ensuring we have lots of anti oxidant rich foods in our diet. 

Anti oxidants work to mop up the free radicals before they get a chance to do their worst. Examples of some of these are: 

Vitamin A (aka retinol, beta carotene )

A is an anti- oxidant which helps our cells from the effects of XS free radicals.

Sources of A include milk, yoghurt, carrots, kale, broccoli , sweet potatoes 

Vitamin E 

Another anti oxidant fighting the good fight against free radicals

Sources include nuts, seeds, peanut butter and green leafy vegetables 

Nutrient Headlines part 2

B6 (aka pyridoxine ad pyridoxal)

Along with other B vitamins, B6 is a team player and helps convert sugar into glucose which our brain and body needs for fuel. 

B6 is also important for general circulation and facilities storage of energy  from our food. 

B6, B9 and B12 work together to lower the level of homocysteine (ho-mo-cis-teene)- high levels of homocysteine are linked to heart disease. And what is good for your heart is also good for your brain.

Foods rich in B6 include avocadoes, bananas, beef, carrots, chicken, fish , lentils, whole grains 

B3 (aka niacin)

Another team player, this B vitamin works with its 7 other team mates to help carbohydrates be broken down into energy

Niacin is also important for cholesterol- increasing ‘good cholesterol’ and helping to keep triglycerides (a type of not so good cholesterol) at bay

Diet sources include  poultry, peanuts, sunflower seeds, whole grain foods, eggs, milk  and fish

Calcium

We think about calcium as being a key bone builder. 

Ensuring we are eating enough calcium is also important for our brain as it forms part of the communication network for electrical signals within the brain. 

Calcium and Vitamin D work together to help with your bone health so ensuring you have enough is essential for general health also

Well known sources of calcium are milk cheese and yoghurt 

BUT dark green leafy vegetables such as brocolli, spinach, kale as well as certain types of fish such as salmon are also excellent calcium sources

Coffee, water and wine- how they can help your brain health

What we drink, when and how much of it also matters for how we feel, our memory and brain health

Water Water Water

We can almost always benefit from drinking more water.

Our brains are 73% water and only 2% dehydration can affect your memory and focus/ attention. 

It is estimated that 75% of us do not drink adequate fluids during the day. ( that definitely includes me) 

And bearing in mind that drinking coffee, tea or drinks with caffeine can dehydrate us further it’s important to grab another glass of water when ever you are making yourself a brew. With all of us indoors that’s something else to think about. 

8 glasses a day is what we’ve been told, but if you want to work out exactly how much you need try this:

https://www.camelbak.com/en/hydrated/hydration-calculator

Caffeine

The world’s most used drug ( yes really)  can help us feel more alert and energised when drunk early enough in the day. 

Too much, or towards bedtime, for most of us, can have negative effects 

So drink coffee in moderation, even when home working, and always pour yourself a glass of water to go with it. Also remember that some teas- green tea or flavoured black teas- also contain caffeine so this still ‘counts’. 

Alcohol

Red wine has been shown on many studies to be helpful as a source of anti oxidants ( reservatrol) and also beneficial for the bacteria in our gut. This can be helpful for our brain.

Drinking  moderately thought adult life has been shown in a study published in 2008 as a possible protective factor for memory and dementia risk*

Only in moderation however – more than the recommended safe amount ( 14 units a week in the UK) can be harmful for your general health as well as brain and your memory. 

And the night cap/ one for the road? This can actually disrupt your sleep more than support it which isn’t helpful for your brain health 

https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/

Nutrient Headlines

Bite sized information on our favourite nutrients

Vitamin B1 – thiamine

Why do we need it ? 

This helps us use carbohydrates effectively so it’s vital to our metabolism. Not having enough B1 can result in confusion, memory loss and mood changes such as a feeling of not being interested in things ( apathy)  Having sufficiency B1 can help with energy and some evidence has shown it can help with learning also. Drinking alcohol in excess can increase risk for B1 deficiency as it impacts the way we absorb vitamin B1 from fro 

Vitamin B1 can be found in yeast, nuts, beans, oats and meat. 

Vitamin B2- known as Riboflavin

Why do we need it?

Vitamin B2 helps in energy release to all cells in our body. It also helps production of B3- niacin- another important type of vitamin B 

B2 helps with hormone production, formation of red blood cells and nerve function

The function of B vitamins in their production of energy from other nutrients is a key part of their role in brain health

Vitamin B2 can be found in Beef liver, milk, whole grains foods and our favourite – Green Leafy Vegetables. 

We’ve probably all heard that vitamin C is good for our #immune system and helps with coughs and colds. But it’s also really important for our brains 

Why? Not only is it a powerful anti oxidant , it also helps the production of brain essential chemicals known as neurotransmitters (such as dopamine and acetylcholine ). These guys are vital to our brain function and every day health and can also help maintain healthy arteries so also important for our heart and blood pressure.

And Vitamin C is not just in oranges- mangoes. green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and kiwi fruit are also loaded with this essential vitamin. 

Vitamin C  is water soluble which means our bodies natural filtration system ensures we remove any excesses so that means we need to keep our intake of Vitamin C rich foods topped up 

Dr Clara Russell

B Vitamins- why they matter

Noggin vitamins and minerals supplements contain a multivitamin and mineral complex, including all 8 forms of vitamin B, to help support energy levels and your immune system. 

The 8 forms of vitamin B are:

• thiamin (vitamin B1)

• riboflavin (vitamin B2)

• niacin (vitamin B3)

• pantothenic acid

• vitamin B6

• biotin (vitamin B7)

• folate and folic acid (B9)

• vitamin B12

B vitamins are important for making sure the body’s cells are functioning properly. 

They help the body convert food into energy (metabolism), create new blood cells, and maintain healthy skin cells, brain cells, and other body tissues.

Noggin vitamins and minerals are formulated to help support your energy production for active lifestyles and to support overall brain health.

Our Noggin supplements contain all 8 forms of vitamin B including folic acid, biotin and one of the most active and naturally occurring form of vitamin B12, Methycobalamin.

They also contains zinc, vitamin D ( as recommended by NHS guidance) and vitamin C for immune support master antioxidant- Glutathione- helps to support our bodies abilities to process toxins and boost overall health.

The B vitamin family are renowned for energy production and your brain is responsible for 20% of all your body’s energy so sometimes it needs some help – B vitamins are crucial in helping our brains be at their best.

Our bodies can’t store vitamin B for very long, so we need to refuel daily. 

Dietary sources of vitamins and minerals are always the best way of obtaining what we need but it can be hard to ensure we are getting enough of what we need all of the time. And sometimes we are at more risk of specific deficiencies depending on our lifestyle, for example, older people and those following vegetarian diets are often more at risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency.

For more, including dietary sources of vitamin B 

try https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamins/vitamin-b/ 

Nutrition is such a key part of our health and keeping ourselves well we will be focusing on difference nutrients all this week and next to give the headlines on what is important for brain health and why

Dr Clara Russell

Meditation – could there be a better time to learn?

Learning to meditate while staying at home may not only help you cope with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, it may even keep your brain from ageing

Many of us are stressed out and that’s completely understandable given the global pandemic and the feeling of things being out of control.

If you haven’t tried meditation then now might be the best time ever to try it, and I say that as from experience I have found it to be hugely beneficial for my state of mind and my patients.

Many people self medicate in times of stress by eating, drinking, smoking, gambling, shopping or other compulsive behaviours. Wouldn’t it be great if we moved from self medicating to self-meditating ?

And the science also supports the belief that meditation is good for your brain, now and for the future.

A recently published 18-year analysis* of the mind of a Buddhist monk by the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that daily, intensive meditation slowed the monk’s brain ageing by as much as eight years when compared to a control group.

The project was started in the 1990s by neuroscientist Richard Davidson and his relationship with the Dalai Lama. Davidson started making connections between positive emotions and brain health, which jump-started research for the study.

Using MRI and a machine learning framework which estimates “brain-age” from brain imaging, Davidson and lead scientist Nagesh Adluru studied the mind of Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche over the course of almost two decades.

The goal of the research project was to find out whether there was a difference in the rate of ageing between the brains of seasoned meditation masters compared to those who were novice practitioners. 

Rinpoche was first scanned in 2002 at the age of 27 when at the time, he had already completed almost ten years of taking part in meditation retreats. He was scanned again when he reached the following ages:  30, 32 and 41 years old.

The last time he was scanned, he had just returned from a four-and-a-half-year wandering retreat, and his brain was calculated to be 33-years-old, eight years younger than his biological age.

The researchers compared Rinpoche’s ageing brain to a control group and his appeared to age much slower than the general focus group. 

We can’t all be Buddhist meditation masters or meditate intensely but we can learn to be mindful and let our brains meditate, for even just a few minutes a day. There are a number of apps including Calm and Headspace and mental health charity Mind also has this resource: https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/

Dr Clara Russell 

https://centerhealthyminds.org/assets/files-publications/adluru-brainage.pdf

We Love to Boogie

We love to boogie, and not just on a Saturday night

Can dancing make us feel better? According to Dr Peter Lovatt, psychologist and dance expert, the answer is a big YES ( what an amazing job that must be…)

Dancing, in different ways to other types of exercise, has the power to change the way we think, how we feel and boost our mood

Dance is unique in the way it combines signalling from out brain to our body making for a a full body and brain work out. This is turn can help improve our creativity and help our mood and feelings of anxiety or helplessness. Part of this is due to the release of dopamine- the feel good brain chemical ( neuro- transmitter ) – which increases our natural levels of this chemical to improve our mood. 

Dancing is a complicated work out for our brain as it takes into account so many different things- the beat of the music, our immediate surroundings, the rhythm or pattern for a routine , as well as possibly triggering memories or feelings around the type of music we are listening to. And that’s even before we get our toes tapping or start moving.

Dr Lovatt’s research also shows the benefit of having no routine, no set pattern to dancing- so called improvised dance ( the type that probably most of us do in the kitchen or when we think no one can see) 

By making it up as we go along when dancing, we move away from set ways of thinking and this can be helpful for us in day to day thought processes. 

Research from 2019 showed that regular dancing led to a 20-30% lower risk of depression and dementia, 30% lower risk of colon cancer, 20% reduction in breast cancer and 20% reduction in cardiovascular disease. 

Zumba is suggested as a good starting point if complete free wheeling isn’t your thing and if you are looking for an all-round work out

As dance classes are a thing of the past for now in the current climate we will all be looking for online options to get our heart rate going and our brain buzzing

We like :

Dr Clara Russell 

Look after your gut & it will look after you!

We now know that more than half of your body is not human! Human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest make up the body’s microbiome and is made up of bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea (similar to bacteria). This means that you’re more microbe than you are human.

The microbiome is a complex ecosystem composed of millions of organisms, found mainly but not exclusively in the gut. Science is discovering that it affects not just our gut health, but also our noses, throats, urinary tracts, genitals, and skin, and entire digestive system. Bacteria within the microbiome work with our bodies to help modulate immunity, protect us from toxins, better absorb foods, and fight disease.

One explanation of why the microbiome is so important to the human body could be the extra genetic material that it brings to the party. The human genome, the full set of instructions for a human being, is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes. But add all the genes in our microbiome together and the figure comes out at between 2 and 20 million microbial genes. And when you find out that a fruit fly has 14,000 genes, you conclude that our microbiome has a very important part to play for a human to function. 

We haven’t always thought of bacteria as helpful, and when scientists discovered antibiotics in the 1930’s, they were used to save millions of lives by killing the bugs responsible for infectious diseases. But this assault on the bad guys has done untold damage on the good guys that live within the microbiome. And although the incidence of infectious disease has fallen dramatically, we have seen a rapid increase in autoimmune disease and allergy. Changes in the microbiome is being linked to a whole host of health conditions including obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression and autism.

Although the majority of the microbiome is found in the gut, it has a profound effect on the working of the brain, and vice-versa. Have you ever noticed how a ‘gut feeling’ can influence the decisions that you make? This is often referred to as the gut-brain axis, a two-way street between the central nervous system and the enteric (or gut) nervous system. It involves direct and indirect pathways between the cognitive and emotional centres of the brain with intestinal functions.

Through this link, the gut bacteria can help minimise the effects of stress, as they help produce mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin that communicates with the brain. In turn, the brain signals the release of less cortisol, the stress hormone, helping us cope with mental turmoil.

The flipside of the coin is that consistent stress negatively effects the amount and diversity of your good gut bacteria. This can weaken the gut itself, making you more susceptible to inflammation, illness and nutritional deficiencies.

In order to look after your good microbes so that they can look after you, eat a wholefood diet with plenty of plant fibre, take a probiotic containing healthy live strains of bacteria and incorporate lifestyle stress reduction practices such as cutting down on stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, getting good sleep and practicing yoga or meditation.

1 Lloyd-Price, J. Abu-Ali, G. & Huttenhower, C. (2016). ‘The healthy human microbiome’ Genome Medicine’ 8:51.

2 Becattini, S. Taur, Y. & Pamer, E. (2016) ‘Antibiotic-induced changes in the intestinal microbiota and disease’ Trends in Molecular Medicine 22(6):458-478.

3 Carabotti, M. Scirocco, A. Maselli, M. et al. (2015) ‘The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems’ Annals of Gastroenterology 28(2):203-209.

4 Yano, J. Yu, K. Donaldson, G. et al. (2015) ‘Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis’ Cell 161(2):264-276.

5 Konturek, P. Brzozowski, T. & Konturek, S. (2011). ‘Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options’ Journal of physiology and pharmacology’ 6:591-599.

6 Breit, S. Kupferberg, A. Rogler, G. et al. (2018) ‘Vagus nerve as a modulator of the brain-gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders’ Psychiatry 9(44).