What your brain needs to thrive—according to neuroscientist Dr Tara Swart
As well as being Chief Science Officer at Heights—and helping to create our Smart Supplement—Dr Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, senior lecturer at MIT, and the award-winning author of The Source. So when it comes to taking the best care of your brain, she’s got more know-how than most. Below, she shares her knowledge on how you can create the perfect conditions for your brain to thrive.
The perfect brain care conditions according to Dr Tara Swart
At Heights, we look at the brain in context and understand that great nutrition works alongside hydration and a healthy lifestyle to create the optimal conditions for your brain to thrive.
Ideally, we’d all eat a perfectly balanced, nutrition-dense diet, but life often gets in the way. It’s easy to underplay the importance of nutrition, but when you start to look into it, it’s equally hard to overstate its potential.
Allow me to elaborate. If I were to say there’s a side-effect-free way to boost productivity by 50%; improve your mood to the extent that it matches the impact of an antidepressant for treatment of mild to moderate depression, and create the optimal conditions for your brain to thrive, you’d want to know what that drug was called.
Our brain impacts our energy, sleep, focus, immune system and so much more.
What your brain is made of
It’s commonly quoted that the brain is 75% water and that it is also 60% fat. Confusing! This means that if you took a brain, and drained it (bear with me), 60% of the remaining dry matter would be made up of fat. So even at the most basic level, it’s essential to stay well hydrated and ensure your body has the nutrients it needs to repair itself. Cells repair and regenerate constantly, and brain cells are no exception.
When the brain doesn’t have the raw materials it needs to do this efficiently, there is an increase in oxidative stress, which is the main factor in cognitive decline.
What your brain needs to thrive
There are three key nutrients our brains need to get the job done:
Replacement fats. Particularly two specific types of omega 3 fatty acids called DHA and EPA.
Antioxidants*. Which fight oxidative damage by combatting ‘free radicals’ (not the fun revolutionaries they sound like) - electrons in the brain that attack healthy tissue. These antioxidants in the form of blueberry polyphenols also impact learning, concentration and memory across all ages.
*Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, but it can be tricky to eat enough of them every day to get the maximum benefit. We know that eating two cups a day has a greater benefit than eating one, but how many of us manage this?
You want to make sure you are taking these three key nutrients on a regular basis. Often it is hard to get these just from our diet, which is where supplements come in.
Quality is key for supplements
With these three ingredients, quality is vital. Which, sadly, isn’t the norm—there are plenty of sub-standard supplements out there. Many of the big supplement companies regard the stockists as their customers rather than the end-users.
The result is omega 3 that's missing the more expensive and rarer DHA, antioxidant supplements that have poor bioavailability (which can’t be absorbed and used by the body and brain), and supplements packed with synthetic ‘caking agents’ such as chalk. Yuk!
There are B vitamin supplements that contain only one, not all of this vital group of nutrients, which the body and brain need to convert food into energy. B12 is a classic example, as vegans in particular are told they must supplement with it.
In the past when I have advised clients to take a good quality vitamin C, B-vitamin complex, omega 3, and antioxidant supplement separately, it ends up being a bit of a faff, and it’s easy to run out or just forget.
Why start caring for your brain today?
As I argue in my book, The Source, most of our desires in life—whether that be work, love, or success—are governed by the way we think, and that in turn, is ruled by our brain. Therefore it is essential to start caring for our brain in order to live the life we desire.
On top of that, you might think that, like pension plans, this is something you can afford to park for another 30 years, but increasing evidence shows that cognitive decline begins in our 30s and 40s, and that the signs of Alzheimer’s are often visible 25 years before symptoms appear.
The role diet can play in protecting you from cognitive decline is huge. The research by Professor David Smith at Oxford looking at the impact nutrition on dementia shows results so dramatic, only an ostrich would ignore it. In other words, the time to invest in your future brain is now.
Not only will it have long term benefits but better brain health has been shown to lead to:
Improved sleep & energy
Better mood & stress management
Sharpened focus & memory
Potential protection from cognitive decline
Curious to start looking after your brain health, try our Smart Supplement.
Wondering whether you could be doing more for your brain health? Take our free online brain health assessment to see what your brain health score is.