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Music Music Music

There is a whole area of research dedicated to how music affects your brain- it’s called neuromusicology. (what a great name!)

Music activates all areas of your brain and whether you are listening to it, playing it or humming it – music is a brain health must. Why? Music has been shown to make you happier, healthier and even more productive throughout life. 

Those who play a lot of music, such a professional musicians, have been shown on brain scanning techniques to have bigger, better connected brains. But you don’t have to be listening to music or playing it full time to see benefits 

In times of stress researchers have seen that by listening to and playing music, the stress hormone cortisol is lowered. And we don’t need researchers to confirm that listening to mood supporting music can help us feel happier, empowered, motivated and emotional. 

One of the ways in which music does this is be stimulating a brain chemical- so called neuro transmitter- which helps brain cells communicate. Music stimulates dopamine which is a part of the in built reward mechanism. A feel good chemical (like we also get from eating chocolate)

And what scientists have further shown is that by when you have a playlist on shuffle mode, and one of your favourite tunes comes on, you experience a further surge of dopamine! Our brains really are amazing. 

Some people swear by listening to music when they work or study and that can be a good thing as background music has been shown to make us more productive, feel happier at work and can even help us perform better in high pressure situations. 

Whether you are on our own or in a group, playing or listening to music has been shown to help us be kinder and more inclined to spend time together, this has been seen in both adults and children – even as young as under 2 

And what about music for little ones?  Early music lessons have been shown to encourage brain plasticity- which as we know is the capacity for our brain to change and evolve that occurs although life – and blood flow to different parts of our children brains. But it doesn’t have to be learning concert pieces or Mozart, banging a drum or singing nursery rhymes are also a helpful way to encourage our little ones brains, and of course and interest in music. 

But with all things brain health, there is no age to your OR old to benefit. There are proven social benefits to being  part of a choir or music group for older people and even just listening to music has been shown to help memory in older adults 

For those with conditions affecting their mental health, music can improve symptoms including those with anxiety, depression, PTSD and schizophrenia. Music has even been shown to help with reducing stress levels before and after surgery.

In these challenging times we need all the help we can get, so getting the tunes on is a great way to help us relax or maybe lift our mood, or motivated to get stuff done when we might be feeling overwhelmed.

Let us know any favourites on your playlist 

Dr Clara Russell ( currently listening to the soundtrack of ‘Hamilton’ on repeat ) 

Reading books can help your brain and stress levels- at any age.

Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” 

Over the coming weeks as our children are off school, it’s a great opportunity to look after your child’s brain health with reading. 

Diving into a good book opens up a whole world of knowledge and exposure to vocabulary through reading. 

Regular reading can help make you smarter and it can increase your brain power. 

Just like going for a brisk walk exercises your cardiovascular system, reading regularly improves memory function by giving your brain a good workout. 

As we age, we can experience a decline in memory and brain function, but regular reading may help slow down the process, keeping minds sharper longer. 

Frequent brain exercise was able to lower mental decline by 32%, reports The Huffington Post*.

Reading can help reduce stress

Research suggests that reading can work as a serious stress buster, reading for 6 minutes each day can reduce stress by 68%**. 

“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination,” cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis told The Telegraph.

Reading can make you more empathetic 

Fiction titles have the power to help us understand what others are thinking by reading and paying attention to other people’s emotions.

The impact is much more significant on those who read literary fiction as opposed to those who read nonfiction.

Reading before bed can help you sleep

Creating a bedtime ritual, like  switching off devices, taking a bath or reading before bed, signals to your body that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. Reading a real book helps you relax more than zoning out in front of your mobile, laptop, TV or Kindle ( yes we prefer real books ) before bed. Reach for the literal page-turners before switching off the light.

(And it’s pretty much guaranteed that you won’t be able to put a good book down after just 6 minutes)

Dr Clara Russell 

https://www.realsimple.com/health/preventative-health/benefits-of-reading-real-books

** https://articles.aplus.com/a/reading-6-minutes-each-day-reduce-stress-68-percent?no_monetization=true

One thing you can do tonight ( and every night ) to help support your immune system.

 

Sleep.

In these scary and uncertain times our immune systems are facing a potential unknown threat. This in itself is stressful which is not beneficial for the intricacies of our immune system response.

The good news is sleep is a key component to helping us feel better and supporting our immune systems year round. 

Our immune system is our own built in army against the good, the bad and the ugly that we face day in and day out. 

An immune response is activated when our immune system recognises antigens (bad guys. possible infection be it viral or bacteria) – things that can be harmful essentially to our body. 

Antibodies (good guys) are made by our amazing bodies to remember this particular assault and hopefully protect us from getting this again

Sleep helps with your immune system and helps it work as efficiently as possible. 

As it was explained to me- sleep is the half time break that players take when playing a sportsmatch. They need the break between each half to re group, assess what the issues are, hydrate, and take a minute to fire up and energise for the second half.

Sleep helps our immune system have a half time break. If we don’t get good sleep, particularly if this becomes ongoing, our immune system is affected and not as efficient.

The Sciencey stuff:

When our immune system is under threat it makes certain types of cells and chemicals to try to fight the assault. One of these cells are called T cells. Sleep boosts the production of these types of cells.

A study* published recently looked at this in more detail and found that those who got a full nights sleep reported a higher level of T cell activity versus those who did not get enough sleep.

Not enough sleep also has an effect on how efficient the T cells are in terms of reasoning to threats- making it difficulty for the body to fight illness. 

Another important chemical that is made when we are faced with an unknown assault are cytokines ( sy-toe-kine-s).

By sleeping well- meaning that you are sleeping your way through our natural sleep cycle (https://nogginbrain.co.uk/what-happens-when-you-close-your-eyes-at-night/) – you are helping production of cytokines.

This is important as these guys provide an important supporting role to the bigger immune response needed against a threat – speeding up communication between cells and mobilising these cells in the right direction of the threat. 

Broken, insufficient sleep can reduce cytokine production and therefore slow up our immune responses. Which is not what we want. 

Ways to help you sleep better?

  1. Regular bed time
  2. Keep your room cool
  3. Stay off social media in the evenings- especially at the moment
  4. Make time to relax- we love www.calm.com for a good sleep story or some chill out music 
  5. Write down your worries before you drift off

Sleep well,

Dr Clara Russell. 

Food for thought

Our gut health is an important part of our immune system and also for our general well being. Bloating, pain and problems with constipation, gas and burping are symptoms I hear about from my patients regularly. 

Here are some tips I give my patients*:

  • Eat slowly- we are always in a rush, onto the next thing and in the middle of doing something else. Take your time when you eat, chew properly – these simple things form an important part of the start of the digestive process
  • Portion sizes- heard the one that ‘your eyes are bigger than your belly’- well it’s true. We eat with our eyes rather than our stomachs sometimes so think about your portions, put less on your plate and see how you feel towards the end of the smaller amount. Eating too much at a meal is a simple cause of indigestion and bloating
  • Eat regularly- Regularly having big gaps between meals can affect your stomach when you sit down to eat. It can also mean we are more likely to eat more as we are starving if we’ve not eaten for a long time. Unless you are Fasting, eating at regular times is helpful for your gut and digestion.
  • Eat early- eating late at night delays digestion and also affects your sleep. And we know that is not a good combination for overall wellbeing 
  • Its not just what you eat- its what you drink too. Water, water, water. Essential for digestion and good gut health. We can pretty much always drink more. Remember coffee and tea are dehydrating so ensure you match these with another glass of water during the day
  • Fibre- not eating enough fibre has been linked to increased risk of bowel cancer and cardiovascular disease. How much is enough? 25-30g for adult per day is recommended. Eating enough fibre can also help weight management and wellbeing. In real terms suggestions1 medium pear, 2 carrots 50g of oats ( a good portion of morning porridge) 1 apple, a portion of broccoli 
  • Fermented foods- these have been shown to be helpful for digestion and the bugs that live in our gut. Pickles, sauerkraut, you can even make your own ( blog)
  • Sources of probiotic bacteria- by eating a diet with lots of vegetables and fermented foods as well as yoghurt with live cultures we can help the bacteria in our gut. Sometimes we need a bit more support and live cultures/‘probiotic’ products can be an addition to our daily routine- especially if you have been on antibiotics or been unwell.

Dr Clara Russell 

*If symptoms persist or your are worried it’s essential you consult your doctor as sometimes things need a bit more investigation. This is not a substitute for medical advice 

Keeping an eye on your eye health

It’s not always easy to pack your diet with body-boosting vitamins and minerals throughout the day, so multi-vitamin supplements can help give your brain, eyes and body the nutrition it needs. Healthy eyes rely on a number of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to stay healthy.

Vitamin A

This helps keep the cornea (the clear front part of the eye that acts as a barrier against dirt, germs and other particles) clear. High levels of Vitamin A can also reduce risks of cataracts and macular degeneration. The nutrient can also aid in seeing in low lighting conditions.

Vitamin E 

Helps defend against oxidative stress when there’s an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals. This can be naturally found in foods such as nuts, salmon, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin C 

is a strong antioxidant that produces collagen and it’s also been suggested it may reduce the risk of cataracts. Citrus and tropical fruits are rich in Vitamin C, as are vegetables like broccoli and kale.

Vitamin B

Vitamins B6, B9, and B12 lower the levels of homocysteine, a protein that causes inflammation and an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Riboflavin otherwise known as Vitamin B2, reduces oxidative stress and can help prevents cataracts. In fact, cataract sufferers are usually deficient in this mineral.

Niacin, which is also referred to as Vitamin B3 helps convert food into energy. Niacin can also help prevent glaucoma, a condition where the optic nerve of the eye becomes damaged.

Noggin vitamins and minerals contain a number of B vitamins, vitamin C, D, Zinc, Magnesium and Glutathione, all specially formulated for good eye and brain health.

Tips to maintain wellbeing, and reduce stress around the coronavirus and self-isolation

It’s natural to feel anxious at times like this, when the news around the global  coronavirus pandemic can feel overwhelming. It’s also highly possible that you, or those around you, if you’re self-isolating or working at home for an extended period of time may be prone to feelings of stress,  irritability, restlessness, boredom and loneliness.

Here are some tips from our co-founder Dr Clara Russell, on how to stay well.

Nourish your brain and your body

Comfort eating is natural when people become stressed, for others not eating can also be a coping mechanism. Opting for nourishing foods when you can, will benefit both your body and your brain. Swap white refined foods like rice, bread and pasta for brown wholegrain foods. Drink plenty of water for general well-being and good brain health and try to eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and oily fish.

Stay connected

Whether its Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, Facetime, Snapchat, Skype or the good old fashioned dog and bone, make sure you’re dialling in to friends and family, for your wellbeing and that of your nearest and dearest. This is especially important if you’re in self-isolation, and if that’s not your thing, send a letter or a postcard. The important thing is that you ‘connect’ – particularly during times of increased stress.

Train your brain

Challenge your mind with puzzles like Suduko, cross words or a game of chess. Or why not learn something new? Try a new recipe, take up a DIY skill, learn to play a musical instrument or start getting your garden or window box ready for Spring. Our brains, as well as our bodies need exercise to ensure optimum health for now, and for the future.

Get some fresh air

Whether it’s taking the bins out, tending your garden, watering your window box, or going for a short walk, try and get some fresh air and get some Vitamin D, if only for a few minutes. Spending time in green spaces or bringing nature into your everyday life can really benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing.

Get moving

Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body, and exercise is also one of the most effective ways to boost your mental wellbeing. The science tells us that even light exercise can relieve stress, improve your memory, helps you sleep better, boosts overall mood and help you people feel positive about themselves and their lives. It’s also powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges. 

If you don’t have much time try https://seven.app- we love it at Noggin HQ, and can be used by the whole family 

Dr Clara Russell

No doubt about sauerkraut

Can Sauerkraut help your gut health?

What is Sauerkraut?

Pronounced sow-er-krowt, it is thought to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago and is a type of fermented cabbage with major health benefits.

Fermentation is one of the new buzz words when it comes to wellness and gut health and Sauerkraut is especially appreciated in Germany, where its name originates from.

Due to the fermentation process it undergoes, Sauerkraut offers nutrition and health benefits far beyond those of fresh cabbage, though fresh cabbage is also very good for you.

Vitamin C, B6, Iron, Folate and Potassium are just some of the nutrients to be found in Sauerkraut and you’ll be pleased to know it is also low in calories and high in fibre.

It is particularly nutritious because it undergoes fermentation, a process during which microorganisms on the cabbage digest its natural sugars and convert them into carbon dioxide and organic acids.

Sauerkraut fermentation creates conditions that promote the growth of beneficial probiotics, which are also found in products like yogurt and kefir.

The Sciencey Bit

Your gut is said to contain over 100 trillion microorganisms or “gut flora,” which is more than 10 times the total number of cells in your body.

Unpasteurised Sauerkraut contain probiotics, and these are beneficial bacteria that act as the first line of defence against toxins and harmful bacteria. 

They can also improve your digestion, gut and overall health.

Probiotics help improve the bacterial balance in your gut after it has been disturbed by the use of, for example, antibiotics. 

Research* also shows that probiotics help reduce wind, diarrhoea, bloating, constipation and symptoms linked to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Probiotics are bacteria that provide powerful health benefits, they can also help make foods more digestible, which increases your gut’s ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals they contain.

Your Immune System

Sauerkraut is a source of what we call immune-boosting probiotics and nutrients.

Bacteria which populate your gut can have a strong influence on your immune system.

Adding probiotic foods like Sauerkraut may reduce your risk of developing infections, such as the common cold and urinary tract infections.

If you do become ill, regularly consuming probiotic-rich foods may help you recover faster.

In addition to being a source of probiotics, sauerkraut is rich in vitamin C and iron, both of which contribute to a healthy immune system.

Your Brain Health

While your mood can affect what you eat, the reverse is also true: what you eat can affect your mood and brain function.

An increasing number of studies** are discovering an intimate connection between your gut and brain.

Probiotics have been found to help improve memory and reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and more.

Sauerkraut may also maintain brain health by increasing your gut’s absorption of mood-regulating minerals, including Zinc and Magnesium. More studies are being done to look into this connection. 

Summary

Food is the best source of nutrition but it’s not always easy to get the right stuff onto our plates. 

Our probiotics also support your gut health and can be bought from our shop on this website.

And if you fancy making your own Sauerkraut, the BBC Good Food website has a recipe: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/simple-sauerkraut

The Guardian also has some more recipes if you’re feeling adventurous : https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/mar/07/pickle-ferment-recipes-six-of-the-best

* https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327389#best-sources-of-probiotics

**https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/346479

How to keep coronavirus fears from affecting your mental health

Here are some tips on how to reduce anxiety, stay calm and manage worries around the coronavirus global pandemic.

1. First things first, keep calm and wash your hands. Let me reiterate that: keep calm and wash your hands.

2. Allow yourself to be worried or anxious, this is natural. 

3. Limit your time on social media and watching the news, too much exposure to negative news is bad for your mental wellbeing.

4. Follow news sources you trust – whether that’s WHO or the BBC. 

5. Limit the frequency of how often you are checking the news updates.

6. Stay hydrated, your brain and your body will thank you.

7. Get fresh air, open a window, breathe deeply and be mindful. 

8. Keep up physical activity and endorphinate when you can, whether that’s an exercise routine at home, yoga or a workout video from You Tube.

9. Get adequate, quality sleep. See our earlier blog posts on this.

10. If you or someone you know are self isolating, watch, listen to, or read uplifting material. This is interesting and stimulating to watch : https://bit.ly/2Qgkc1q

11. Don’t bottle your feelings up, call a friend, send a text, start a family WhatsApp group or show your elderly relatives how to Skype or FaceTime, staying connected is important.

12. Revisit hobbies, whether it’s cooking, chess, crocheting or crosswords, activities like this are good for your neural pathways.

13. Learn something new, websites like UDEMY https://www.udemy.com/ have more than 100,000 courses you can sign up for and new activities are also great for your brain health.

14. This too shall pass. Remember: You Don’t Control What Happens, You Control How You Respond. Check out this philosophy website: https://dailystoic.com/ 

We hope these tips from Team Noggin help. You can also check out our earlier blog posts on how to be well and take care of your gut and brain health.

Dr Clara Russell

How some foods can help our immune system all year round

Food and our immune system- fact or fiction?

No miracle cures BUT can certain foods make any difference you your immune response to coughs and colds?

Berries-

Berries have been found to have some cough and cold fighting abilities 

Why? They contain compounds ( known as flav-en-oids) with anti oxidants which are anti inflammatory. 

Any evidence? Yes- a study in New Zealand showed that adults could be up to 1/3 more protected from the common cold if they consumed flavonoid rich foods including black currants and elderberries.

Blackcurrant drinks can also be soothing and comforting ( hot ribena takes me right back to child hood)  and a study in Rhinology showed that they also relieved common cold symptoms that affect your throat and give ruby nose

Elderberries are particularly studied for flu like symptoms and results from a small number of adults taking elderberry syrup 4x daily found symptom relief 4 days early versus placebo syrup. 

Ginger- also full of anti inflammatory properties- this super spice can help with dry throats and blocked noses when symptoms start according to a study in the International Journal of Preventative medicine. Best used regularly as a prevention measure, it can also make a tasty and soothing ( if a little spicy) hot drink when symptoms start. 

Yoghurt- the live bacteria that are part of yoghurts and drinks like kefir can certainly be immune supporting. A study in 2012 in the British Journal of Nutrition found that in a group of students who had a cold, those who took probiotics reduced the number of days of their symptoms and severity of symptoms too. 

Watch what you pick though- natural or greek style yoghurts have less sugars sweeteners or flavourings added so you can concentrate on getting the good stuff.

Seeds and nuts- chock full of zinc, these little guys can be an immune supporting snack, especially if you don’t feel like eating much when you are feeling rubbish. 

Why? Zinc as a mineral is anti inflammatory and also contains anti oxidants which are good for your immune system- ideally to be chomped on all year round. 

Dr Clara Russell 

Dementia and Brain Health

What’s the leading killer of women in Scotland and what can you do about it?

A quick review of The National Records of Scotland shows that Dementia & Alzheimer Disease is the leading cause of female deaths in Scotland accounting for 14.4% of all deaths in 20181. What’s frightening is although causes such as heart disease appear to be on the decrease, there has been an acceleration of dementia related deaths; increasing from approx. 5% in 2001 to the over 14% seen in 2018. 

It’s time for some serious attention to help arrest these terrible statistics. The good news is that there have been some tremendous advances in brain science understanding over the last number of years. We’re beginning to understand more about concepts like neuroplasticity – how the brain can grow new brain cells (called neurons) & how these neurons wire & rewire themselves to help us learn new skills. We’re also beginning to learn that the seeds of dementia related illnesses occur earlier some 20 years before they manifest into a full-blown diagnosis.

We’re also learning that small lifestyle interventions can make a big difference to how we feel and even help keep our noggins working as well as they can.

As we age our brains change and our mental function changes also. Although mental decline is common & is a feared consequence of ageing, mental decline should not inevitable. 

Here are 10 suggestions2 for you to help maintain brain function.

1. Read more, paint more or take up some crafts.

Over the years scientists have found that many mentally stimulating activities can stimulate new connections between nerve cells and may even help the brain generate new cells, (neuroplasticity). It’s been suggested that this helps build up a reserve of brain cells.

2. Movement – the more the better.

Research shows that using your muscles also helps your mind. Animals who exercise regularly increase the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the region of the brain that is responsible for thought. Exercise also spurs the development of new nerve cells and increases the connections between brain cells (synapses). This results in brains that are more efficient, plastic, and adaptive, which translates into better performance in aging animals. Exercise also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, helps blood sugar balance and reduces mental stress, all of which can help your brain as well as your heart.

3. Look at your diet

Good nutrition can help your mind as well as your body. It’s been suggested that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils (olive oil) and plant sources of proteins are good for your overall health.

4. Look to improve your blood pressure

Keep your blood pressure in ‘the normal range’. Exercising, reducing alcohol and managing stress can help with this. If you don’t know your blood pressure check it using home measuring devices, equipment in some gyms or with your practice nurse

5. Improve your blood sugar

It’s been shown that diabetes is an important risk factor for dementia. You can help prevent diabetes by eating right, exercising regularly, and staying lean. 

6. Don’t smoke

7. Everything in moderation – even alcohol.

Excessive drinking is a major risk factor for dementia. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to 14 units a week

8. Manage your emotions.

People who are anxious, depressed, sleep-deprived, or exhausted tend to score poorly on cognitive function tests which look at thinking and memory. Poor scores don’t necessarily predict an increased risk of cognitive decline in old age, but restful & restorative sleep certainly helps with your day to day emotional state.

9. Look after your noggin.

Moderate to severe head injuries, even without diagnosed concussions, increase the risk of cognitive impairment. Look after your head, it’s precious. 

10. We’re all social animals for a reason

Strong social ties have been associated with a lower risk of dementia, as well as lower blood pressure and longer life expectancy. If you can’t get out to see friends or family, do pick up the phone or go old school and write them a letter. 

Dr Clara Russell 

Source:

1: The National Records of Scotland 2018

2: Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School 29th Jan 2020

Disclaimer:Although well researched, if concerned, no content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor.