Mood boosting foods: why you should add these five de-stressing ingredients to your shopping list right now
Nutrition

Mood boosting foods: why you should add these five de-stressing ingredients to your shopping list right now

Right now we can all benefit from a little TLC, what with the January blues and everything going on in the world.  When it comes to our mental health, what you choose to eat or drink can positively affect your mental health. In the same way a mug of hot milk can make you feel sleepy or a banana gives you a boost before exercising, what we eat can sometimes impact how we feel.
Can Wine And Cheese Support Brain Function?
Nutrition

Can Wine And Cheese Support Brain Function?

Can cheese and wine have health benefits?
Have a Berry Christmas
Nutrition

Have a Berry Christmas

Not a typo or a connection to the baking delights of Mary, rather this is a piece on the strong scientific evidence which exists to demonstrate that eating blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and other berry fruits has beneficial effects on the brain and may help prevent age-related memory loss and other changes.
The Power of a Simple Hug on Brain Health
Brain Health

The Power of a Simple Hug on Brain Health

We’ve blogged before on the importance of giving your brain a break and when it comes to simple ways to feel better hugs can really do the trick. Here at Noggin, we love hugging and we miss the physical contact with friends and family and hugging is one simple act which many of us are unable to do presently, due to Covid. Read on to understand how a simple act can change your brain and physical chemistry. When it comes to hugs, the chemical we need to know about is Oxytocin. Oxytocin the so-called "love hormone" is being increasingly shown to trigger a wide variety of physical and psychological effects in humans. The hormone's influence on our behaviour and physiology originates in the brain, where it's produced by the by a structure called the hypothalamus, and then transfers to the pituitary gland which releases into the bloodstream. The presence of oxytocin actually speeds the physical healing of wounds. Studies  have shown that even a brief touch of the hand from someone who cares can start your oxytocin pumping which is a good sign. When you offer a comforting hug to someone in pain, or you’re on the receiving end of one, you not only begin the healing process,  you also allow your body to shut down memories of the painful stimulus.  Oxytocin encourages us to warm up to others and creates a sense of safety. A number of scientific studies have conveyed positive findings on the benefit of both giving and receiving hugs, especially when there has been a conflict. Oxytocin production ramps up when we're touched by another caring human. This is because our bodies are made to provide and respond to physical comfort, so next time you see someone in pain or feel as if the world is crumbling around you, open yourself to a hug. A 2018 study of 400 people over a two-week period found that that receiving a hug following a conflict can help with squelching those bad feelings.  We know 2020 has been the cause of hug deficiency for many of us but better times are ahead - for now, hug your pet, those close to you, or even hug a tree - it works! Keep Well Dr Clara Russell
Going for (another) walk ? Time to step up your speed
Mental Health

Going for (another) walk ? Time to step up your speed

Going for a walk has been the new going out in 2020 and it's a resolution to think about keeping up as we move into the New Year. Walking speed at age 40+ linked to physical well-being and brain health Here at Noggin HQ we're a fan of walking and have blogged on the many benefits of this simple and free way to “endorphinate”. Recent research findings have found that the walking speed of a person at age 45 was associated with both physical health and also with brain health in midlife according to an NIA-supported study.  The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, suggest that a simple test of how fast a person walks could be a helpful indicator of how both the body and brain are ageing. A team led by researchers at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, looked at data from 904 participants in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, a population-based study that has followed 1,037 people born between 1972 and 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand. At the most recent assessment, researchers measured the 45-year-old participants’ physical and cognitive functioning and imaged their brains in an MRI scanner. All participants had their cognitive function first measured at age 3.This study showed that gait speed – which is how fast someone walks – has a relationship with physical and brain health. Participants with slower gait speed had more physical limitations, such as weaker hand-grip strength and more difficulty getting up from a chair, than those who walked faster. Also, participants with slower gait speed were aging faster, as measured by a set of 19 biomarkers that included body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, cardiorespiratory fitness and gum health. These biomarkers were measured at ages 26, 32, 38 and 45, allowing the researchers to assess how the participants had aged over time. In terms of brain health, participants with slower gait speed had signs more typically found in older adults, the MRI results showed. Compared with participants who walked faster, they had a smaller brain, a thinner brain cortex (which controls thinking, information processing and other brain functions) and more white matter hyperintensities — a sign of vascular disease and a risk factor for stroke and dementia. Participants with slower gait speed also performed worse on tests of memory, processing speed, reasoning and other cognitive functions. So, the takeaway is keep moving, and stay as active as you can, whatever age you are. This article originally appeared on the National Institute of Aging in the US.
Give a Fig about your Brain Health this Festive Season
Brain Health

Give a Fig about your Brain Health this Festive Season

The big figs of brain health – four foods you might not associate with brain health. With winter upon us, it’s so tempting to reach for comfort foods to snack on and big carb laden dinners to feel cosy with and  if you feel the need to balance out any food indulgence over the coming weeks during the festive period, try some of these recommendations. You can enjoy them on their own or cook or bake with them. Figs Figs are high in natural sugars, minerals and soluble fibre, rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper and are a good source of antioxidant vitamins A and K that contribute to health and wellness. So whether you enjoy them paired with cheese or tossed in salad, figs are a surprising health booster. Unsure how to prep, store or consume them? The BBC has this helpful page dedicated to figs and I think we’ll be having the healthy winter salad soon here at Noggin HQ. Bananas The banana is a food genius and we’ve blogged about our love of bananas before. The average banana has about 100 calories and is loaded with potassium and fibre and contains zero fat. Bananas also boast tryptophan and 30 percent of your day’s vitamin B6, which helps the brain produce mellowing serotonin so you get through the day with less stress. Avocadoes Whilst we are raving about bananas, let’s also respect the avocado. This creamy fruit contains 60 percent more potassium per ounce than bananas and is an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. They’re rich in plant sterols, which have been shown to lower cholesterol.  Pop some avocado in your green juice and blend for a creamy consistency or why not try this recipe for chocolate mousse, made with avocadoes. Finally, if you add some avocado slices to a sandwich, the fat will slow the digestion of the bread, which will in turn ease the impact it has on your blood sugar levels.  Celery Low in calories and high on the chew factor, celery is a good source of potassium, a mineral that aids muscle function and offsets some of sodium’s damaging effects on blood pressure. And phytochemicals in celery help destroy benzopyrene, a carcinogen that occurs in foods cooked at a high temperature. You can also add celery to your green juices and to soups and bolognaise sauces. Keep Well Dr Clara Russell
'Tis the Season to be thirsty
Nutrition

'Tis the Season to be thirsty

With the festive season upon us with spiced pumpkin and cinnamon lattes or mulled wine being offered, here’s our guide to the drinks which you could choose to benefit your brain health. As always, it’s about balance and we've blogged before about the brain health benefits of coffee, water and wine. Here are some other options we recommend. Green Tea Not everyone is a fan of the taste of green tea but if you don’t mind it’s flavour this is a good source of two brain boosting chemicals. Green tea’s caffeine content is much lower than that of coffee but it’s also good for us as it contains two promising nootropic compounds, stick with me these are — l-theanine and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Studies have suggested that l-theanine may promote relaxation, as well as that l-theanine combined with caffeine may improve attention. Kombucha Kombucha is a fermented drink usually made from green or black tea, plus fruit or botanicals and its major benefit lies in its ability to introduce beneficial bacteria called probiotics to your gut. There are a number of companies in the UK making it. One supplier we recommend in Scotland, is Clever Kombucha. Check out their FAQs on everything you need to know about Komubucha. Green juices and smoothies We generally recommend making your own green juices or buy from a fresh supplier as the bottled ones you see in some coffee shops in plastic bottles can be packed with sugar and are lower in nutrients than the fresh alternatives. Always try to add leafy greens and fruits low in sugar. We’ve compiled a list of brain boosting foods you can add to your juices. You could also add a protein powder Turmeric lattes You can buy matcha or turmeric lattes from many high street and independent coffee shops.Sometimes known as golden milk, turmeric lattes are warming, creamy drinks featuring the yellow spice turmeric. This powerful spice contains the antioxidant curcumin, which may increase your body’s production of what is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor . Low BDNF is associated with mental deficits and neurological disorders, raising BDNF levels has been linked with improved brain function. Kefir Like kombucha, kefir is a fermented beverage packed with probiotics and is made from fermented milk rather than tea. A study has found that it may aid brain function by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut and we know gut and brain health are intrinsically linked. We are a fan of the award-winning Chuckling Goat kefir, read more on their product here. Fruit juice - ideally along with the rest of the fruit When it comes to getting your five a day, eating an orange is the better way to consume vitamin C over drinking orange juice because the whole fruit is lower in calories and sugar and higher in fibre but hey, this post is about drinking it. One review of 50 human studies found that those with higher blood levels of vitamin C or a higher self-reported vitamin C intake had better attention, memory, and language scores than those with lower blood or intake levels. Keep Well, Dr Clara Russell
How to add life to your years and years to your life.
Brain Health

How to add life to your years and years to your life.

Every Little Helps The new WHO guidelines and key facts released on 26th November, on physical activity, suggest that every little bit of physical activity helps with our wellbeing. We’ve blogged about the brain health benefits of walking and regular exercise and the latest guidelines from WHO state that physical activity is beneficial and can be done as part of our work, sport and leisure or transport and  this includes dance, play and everyday household tasks such as gardening, cleaning and a visit to the shops. The new guidelines recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for all adults. Women are encouraged to maintain regular exercise throughout pregnancy and post-delivery and people living with physical disabilities should also maintain a level of physical activity Older adults – those people aged 65 years or older, are advised to add activities which emphasise balance and coordination, as well as muscle strengthening, to help prevent falls and improve health. “Being physically active is critical for health and well-being – it can help to add years to life and life to years,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Every move counts, especially now as we manage the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all move every day – safely and creatively.”  “Physical activity of any type, and any duration can improve health and wellbeing, but more is always better,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion, World Health Organization, “and if you must spend a lot of time sitting still, whether at work or school, you should do more physical activity to counter the harmful effects of sedentary behaviour.” “These new guidelines highlight how important being active is for our hearts, bodies and minds, and how the favourable outcomes benefit everyone, of all ages and abilities”, said Dr Fiona Bull, Head of the Physical Activity Unit which led the development of the new WHO guidelines. Regular physical activity is key to preventing and helping to manage heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer, as well as reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, reducing cognitive decline, improving memory and boosting brain health. So whether its open water swimming, yoga, tai chi or walking, every little helps! Keep Well ( and moving) , Dr Clara Russell
"Chess is the gymnasium of the mind"
Brain Health

"Chess is the gymnasium of the mind"

So said Blaise Pascal, child prodigy and subsequent mathematician, inventor and physicist. And we can understand why. Chess is often seen as a brain game for intellectually gifted people, rightly so, as it is exercises the brain. Thanks to the runaway success of The Queen’s Gambit, the TV miniseries on Netflix, chess is enjoying a new found popularity and is widely played by young and old people. Chess is what we could call a cerebral game and with it comes benefits for brain health. It’s also a game you can play online or via an app if you’re unable to play a physical game with an opponent sat opposite you. Here are some top line benefits of playing chess. Stimulates brain growth Chess and other brain-games challenges the brain and stimulates the neurons to form connections across the brain.  More connections mean that neural communication within the brain becomes faster at an optimal state.  Chess is an ideal example of how interaction with people can stimulate neural connections. Promotes creativity Playing chess activates the right side of the brain responsible for creativity, which unleashes originality among players. One study that lasted four years focused on identifying the activity that fosters the most growth in creative thinking. They had students from grades 7 to 9 to play chess, use computers, and engage in other activities once a week for 32 weeks. The results showed that the students who played chess scored higher in all measures of creativity and interestingly, their biggest area of gain proved to be originality.  Improves memory Playing chess can improve your memory because of its complex rules which players have to remember when playing. When it comes to making your next move your brain also uses your memory recall function to help you avoid previous mistakes or help you remember the playing style of your opponent.  Good chess players have an excellent memory and it can significantly improve a person’s memory and verbal skills. Improves problem-solving skills When playing a game of chess, players must think fast, and their problem-solving skills must be first rate because the opponent constantly changes the parameters as the game evolves.  It’s a game of combinations and players must be adept at understanding what can be at times, complex rules. According to a 1992 study in New Brunswick conducted on 450 fifth-grade students, those who played chess have significantly higher scores on tests than those who did not play chess. Increases IQ A study of 4,000 students from Venezuela showed that playing chess can significantly increase the IQ scores of both boys and girls after four months of playing the brain-game. That means that it is possible to increase IQ by playing brain-games such as chess. Exercises both hemispheres of the brain A study in Germany found that both left and right hemispheres are activated when chess players are asked to identify chess positions and geometric shapes. Children also benefit from learning to play chess at an early age. And for those of you who’ve not watched the Netflix series and are wondering what the title refers to, it’s a chess move.  Specifically, "The Queen's Gambit refers to a move in chess, the oldest opening move in its history. It dates back to the 15th century, and sees white move their Queen's pawn to the middle of the board, then sacrificing its adjacent pawn in the next move”.
Keeping It Simple - 5 ways to nurture your Noggin
Brain Health

Keeping It Simple - 5 ways to nurture your Noggin

Looking after your brain health needn’t be taxing or expensive. In fact, there are things you can do on a daily basis which will support good brain health. Here are 5 simple ways to support your brain health as of this moment and one of them involves the use of social media. Do tweet me @DrClaraR with the ways in which you’re taking positive steps to improve your brain health, it’s a great way to stay connected and I’m interested in  what steps you are taking to maintain good brain health. Drink Water Simple and free and easy to do but sometimes we forget to drink water. Drinking water is great for improving concentration and cognition.  Hydration also helps balance your mood, maintain a good mood and prevent headaches. Staying hydrated also helps manage and reduce stress. Aim to drink at least one litre of water per day if you can. Sleep Sleep plays a central role in our brain health it also plays a key role in memory. Studies have found that sleep rinses the toxins from our brain which in turn enhances our attention, creativity and ability to solve problems. We’ve blogged before on the power of a nap which can be beneficial for brain health. Chess If you’ve not watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, we highly recommend it.  It’s a colourful, stylish drama based on a book by Walter Tevis who also wrote books which went onto become hugely successful films.  This includes The Hustler, The Colour of Money and The Man Who Fell To Earth.  The Queen’s Gambit is a fictitious tale set in the US in the 1960s and it may well encourage you to get into chess, which is a good thing.  Games such as draughts or chess can improve creativity, problem solving, memory concentration and decision making. Give a Hug Many of us are missing hugging friends and family due to Covid restrictions to if you’re able to hug your partner or your pet we recommend this. Hugging lowers cortisol levels and boosts oxytocin levels and can also relieve pain. In 2010, The New York Times reported on a study that found that athletes performed better when they showed physical camaraderie such as hugging.  The study found that teams that showed the most touch-bonding were among the highest ranking and best performing. Social Media There are many pitfalls to spending too much time on social media - doomscrolling.  However, social media can help us stay connected with friends and family especiallyduring times of tighter Covid restrictions.  Whether its  WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook You Tube, Zoom, Skype, Google hang outs or FaceTime, just one of these apps can help you stay connected with the wider world. This study extols the benefits of social media and like everything else we suggest you consume and use it in a balanced way. Keep well, Dr Clara Russell
Tis the season to Eat
Nutrition

Tis the season to Eat

Whilst many aspects of this Christmas are going to be different to 'normal', there are still lots of yummy Christmas treats around to snack on. As the evenings get longer and without a Christmas Night Out in sight, those stollen bites, mince pies and chocolate Santas look even more appealing. Whilst we know how tasty these treats are, and as much a part of the Festive season as watching Elf and tree decorating, it's a good idea to balance these with some healthier more nutritious options too. Too much sugar can make us irritable and tired and we don't need any more reasons to feel like that in 2020. Snacking When it comes to snacking, it’s always better to reach for the healthier, lower sugar snack if you can. With so many of us working form home, there is the temptation to have a cuppa and a biscuit whenever the kettle is on. Try to swap out tea or coffee with a sugary snack for a glass of water and one of these suggestions for healthier snacks. Bananas Bananas  are full of fibre, and brain friendly vitamin B6 as well as Vitamin C and other anti oxidants. Bananas also contain magnesium, a nutrient that might improve sleep quality.  Pistachios Pistachios have many health benefits and also are one of the most vitamin B6-rich foods around. They contain a lot of melatonin compared to other foods. Melatonin is a hormone that is associated with sleep. Seeds Seeds can be high in tryptophan which is a chemical associated with sleepiness and serotonin. Pumpkin seeds contain a lot of tryptophan and are easy to eat. Fresh Berries Fresh berries are a great snack as they’re low-calorie, packed with nutrients, easy to prepare. Blueberries in particular have been found to be beneficial for brain health. Cherries Cherries are high in melatonin and low in calories. Some research on cherries and cognition can be read here. Keep well, Dr Clara Russell
Cholesterol-brain friend or foe?
Nutrition

Cholesterol-brain friend or foe?

“I’ve got a cholesterol of 6.4, is that bad?” is the type of question I often hear people ask.  If only there were a simple answer.... First things first-what is cholesterol anyway and why do we need it? Or do we need it at all? Cholesterol is a waxy type of fat found within our cells. We have heard about cholesterol for decades and its role in our chances of suffering with heart disease. The first version of this story was that high cholesterol is bad and increases for having a heart attack. But over recent years we have learned that there is a lot more to the cholesterol question than interpreting a single number Cholesterol is a heart thing right, so why does that matter for my brain? Zoom quiz fact coming up. Your brain accounts for only 2% of your body’s weight but it contains 20%, yes 20%, of your cholesterol. So your brain cares about how much cholesterol you have circulating.  I thought cholesterol was responsible for blockages in blood vessels? Cholesterol is a multi tasker -in the brain, cholesterol is involved in a number of key processes.  These include contributing to communication channels between brain cells allowing neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin to get to work. Cholesterol also has an important job in the insulation of brain cells by forming the basis of myelin, a nerve cell coating that has a crucial role in keeping these cells running smoothly. Is if that wasn't enough, cholesterol substance also forms the basis of some our hormones which are essential to overall health  So should cholesterol be low or high, I’m confused? Blood results only reveal a limited part of the puzzle. Whilst high cholesterol has been long associated with an increased risk of stroke or some types of dementia, there is more to it when we are considering brain health. With regard to our brains, studies have shown that having cholesterol on the higher side of normal may actually improve cognitive performance in some populations in later life. But the key is understanding that not all cholesterol is equal so we have to think more about what we eat, specifically in regards to both fat and sugar intake.  The F word Fats act as a source of energy and also are involved in forming building blocks of brain cells. Eating fat is important for the health of your brain. But before you order another takeaway, remember that not all fats are equal. Trans fats- the types of fat that are found in processed foods- are the opposite of brain friendly fats. It can be hard to avoid trans fats totally as they creep into many foods that we have in a packet in our cupboards as well as the more obvious sources such as deep fried foods. So should I be eating fat or not?  Our brains thrive on healthy fats. Especially growing brains, studies have shown that pregnant women who eat more fish and have higher levels of so-called long chain omega 3 have offspring with higher verbal IQs. Foods rich in omega 3 fats have also been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. Rather than getting fixed on numbers, thinking about how we can increase our intake of healthy omega 3s, reduce intake of transfats and keeping sugar filled processed food to a minimum is essential to looking after our brain health at all stages of life.  Brain healthy sources of fat include avocados, wild salmon, nuts and seeds. Keep Well Dr Clara Russell