Unlike traditional medicine, functional medicine treats the root cause of symptoms by optimizing hormones, addressing nutrient deficiencies, reducing inflammation, and promoting better sleep. It has been shown to boost memory and cognitive function.
Maintaining optimal brain health requires various factors, grouped into clusters such as physical health, healthy surroundings, safety, lifelong learning, social connection, and access to quality services.
Diet and Nutrition
Unlike conventional medicine, which treats individual symptoms, functional medicine healthcare clinics like Integrated Health Systems can address root causes. This approach considers multiple factors, such as nutrition, toxins, stress, sleep, exercise, and genetics, which impact health and can contribute to illness.
For instance, consuming brain-enhancing foods like fish (salmon, cod, tuna, and halibut) two to three times a week may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Including leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli can provide antioxidants that safeguard your brain from oxidation. Moreover, strawberries, blueberries, and dark chocolate can enhance your brain and heart health.
To assess your overall health and wellness, functional medicine practitioners take a detailed medical history, listen to their patients and look at the interaction of genetics, environment, diet, and lifestyle. They offer personalized health coaching and nutritional counseling. And based on patient demand, some functional medicine practitioners are now offering group appointments so that patients can support one another.
Besides reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol, aerobic exercise improves the health of the brain and body. It increases the density of white and gray matter in the brain, reduces diseased tissue, and helps blood vessels grow. Furthermore, it triggers the production of GABA neurotransmitters that hinder other neurons from firing excessively, thus maintaining a “balance” that prevents the brain from getting overloaded.
Exercise also helps improve episodic memory, our ability to bind together the events, people, and places that make up our everyday experiences (think where you parked your car). Researchers have found that regular exercise increases serotonin levels, beta-endorphins, and other hormones that help manage stress and anxiety and lower depression.
This position paper has been developed through an iterative process of desk reviews and consultations with various technical experts in brain-body medicine, public health and development, and persons with lived experience. It outlines the determinants of brain health and provides a framework for optimizing brain health to advance human potential globally.
While you sleep, your brain processes complex information into short-term memory and reorganizes long-term memories. Your brain also clears out the waste products it produces during wakefulness, such as beta-amyloid and unused neurotransmitters.
A recent study found that people who get seven to eight hours of sleep per night have better cognitive function than those consistently deprived of rest. Moreover, researchers are beginning to understand how getting enough sleep can help you ward off the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
One study involved showing volunteers new animal and celebrity pairings before bed, then testing their ability to recall the pairs the next day. The results showed that participants got more sleep the nights when they did well on the tests, and the longer they slept, the slower their cognition declined. A separate study, which included a large group of seniors who underwent annual clinical and cognitive evaluations and provided blood samples for measuring levels of Alzheimer’s-related proteins, found that poor sleep is associated with the development of Alzheimer’s, but better sleep reduces that risk.
The way you handle stress impacts your brain and your health. While some stress is healthy, too much can damage your mental health and make it harder to think clearly.
Everyone experiences stress. Physiologically, it’s a normal response to pressure and is initially meant to prepare us to fight or flee. However, if you experience constant, ongoing stress or chronic stress, it’s time to address it.
Functional medicine practitioners take a patient-centered approach to healthcare. They spend more time with patients, listening to their histories and looking at the interplay between genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that influence long-term health and complex, chronic diseases.