Have you ever noticed changes in your memory and attention? There are a few reasons why this occurs during your lifetime. The ageing process is just one of them that continues to be a real concern among many, but unfortunately, that cannot be avoided. So let’s look into cognition and cognitive decline from a preventable perspective. Here we will chat about the common causes of poor cognition and how you can best manage them.
1. Poor stress management
Stress is the body’s way of responding to demand or pressures. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. In many cases, stress is a healthy reaction. It helps you cope with life’s challenges (Tool Kit Overcoming Stress, 2009). Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Stress and anxious feelings are common responses to situations where you feel under pressure, they should pass once the stressful situation has finished, however, anxiety can remain long after the stressor has been removed (“Beyond Blue,” 2019). Prolonged anxiety can then also lead to depression and other health-related concerns, including digestive issues and autoimmunity (Tool Kit Overcoming Stress, 2009).
It is essential that stress management is included in your regular routine including eating a nutrient-rich diet, performing at least 30 minutes of exercise, drinking 2-3 litres of water, using mindfulness techniques like meditation or breathwork, grounding yourself by getting into nature, and making time to do activities that you enjoy as much as possible.
2. Nervous system imbalances
When you feel anxious, you are unable to focus on more than one task at a time. Have you ever had this happen? You may make decisions based on emotions alone or our fight-or-flight response, this obviously may not always have the best logic. This tunnel-like thought pattern manifests as absent-mindedness and lapses in memory.
Additional research also suggests that hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation, inflammation and oxidative stress may lead to imbalances in the production of cortisol (stress hormone), production of neurotransmitters like serotonin (happy hormone) and GABA (relaxing hormone), and poor mitochondrial function that often present as mood disorders and fatigue.
If you feel like you are in a losing battle with your mental health then it’s time to take action. There is a lot that natural medicine can do to help in addition to talking to a close friend or family member, reaching out to your doctor, or mental health support line.
In any biological organism, the cells only stay alive as long as they are receiving messages (Neighbors, 2010). If communication to the cell is cut off, the cell will die. In the same way, your brain needs to be stimulated and used, or it will just stop functioning normally. If you stop doing activities that stimulate the mind you are potentially cutting off vital pathways that need to be nurtured (Hötting & Röder, 2013).
For this reason, it is recommended that you get involved with mentally stimulating activities like joining social events, reading a book, listening to music, learning a new skill, starting a new hobby or project, playing games, or using brain-training apps.
4. Poor diet
Maintaining a balanced blood glucose level is essential in protecting cognitive health (Molinuevo et al., 2017). Blood glucose that is too high will result in damage to the arteries, while blood glucose that is too low will result in starvation of the brain cells (Lee et al., 2018). Diets consisting of high sugar, high salt and artificial fats and oils, not only damage arteries due to their inflammatory nature (McGrattan et al., 2019) they also result in blood glucose spikes and hypoglycaemia. The diet ideal for maintaining cognitive health remains the antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet containing foods with a low glycaemic index (Lee et al., 2018).
Some of the common nutrients that support a healthy nervous system and brain include B vitamins, essential fatty acids (especially DHA from omega-3), vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin C, choline, calcium, zinc, selenium, copper, and iron (Fernando, 2008). These can be found in fresh leafy greens, citrus and berries, nuts and seeds, plant oils, avocadoes, lean meats, eggs, and oily fish.
Maintaining cognitive health is something that you consciously do, by using your brain and making informed decisions every day. Times in your life where you are overly stressed tunnel your vision which will impact your cognitive ability. Chronic health concerns, medication and sleep difficulties may also negatively impact cognition. Ensuring that you address any potential causes by improving your lifestyle choices and seeking the appropriate help will ensure that you maintain healthy cognition throughout your years.
Herbal medicine can be very effective at maintaining healthy cognition and preventing cognitive decline. Herbs like Ginkgo biloba and Gotu Kola are commonly used by herbalists as they provide cerebral circulatory stimulant action. Cognitive enhancing herbs like Bacopa, Guarana, and Cocoa may also be considered in a herbal mix to support cognition.
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