Ginseng, Fish, Berries, or Caffeine?
Listen to the buzz about foods and dietary supplements to stay sharp and maintain a healthy brain, and you’ll believe they can do everything from sharpen focus to enhance memory, attention span, and brain function.
But do they really work? There’s no denying that as we age, our body ages right along with us. The good news is that you can improve your chances of maintaining a healthy brain if you add “smart” foods and drinks to your diet.
Caffeine Can Make You More Alert
There’s no magic bullet to boost IQ or make you smarter — but certain substances, like caffeine, can energize you and help you concentrate. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up buzz, though the effects are short-term.But you have to check with your provider before using any of these. Some people should limit having caffeine or energy drinks due to a health condition. Also, having too much is never healthy. Overdo it on caffeine and it can make you jittery and uncomfortable.
Sugar Can Enhance Alertness
Sugar is your brain’s preferred fuel source. I’m not referring to table sugar, but glucose, which your body processes from the sugars and carbs you eat. That’s why a glass of something sweet to drink can offer a short-term boost to memory, thinking, and mental ability.
Have too much, though, and memory can be impaired. Not only that but other health issues may surface along with the unwanted extra number of pounds. Go easy on the sugar so it can enhance memory without packing on the pounds.
Eat Breakfast to Fuel Your Brain
Tempted to skip breakfast? Studies have found that eating breakfast may help in keeping a healthy brain and improve short-term memory and attention. Students who eat it tend to perform better than those who don’t. Foods at the top of researchers’ brain-fuel list include high-fiber whole grains, dairy, and fruits. Just don’t overeat. Researchers also found high-calorie breakfasts appear to hinder concentration.
Fish Really is Brain Food
A protein source linked to a great brain boost is fish — rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are key for brain health. These healthy fats have amazing brain power: A diet with higher levels of them has been linked to lower dementia and stroke risks and slower mental decline; plus, they may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older. For brain and heart health, eat two servings of fish weekly.
Add a Daily Dose of Nuts and Chocolate
Nuts and seeds are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which has been linked in some studies to less cognitive decline as you age. Dark chocolate also has other powerful antioxidant properties, and it contains natural stimulants like caffeine, which can enhance focus.
Enjoy up to an ounce a day of nuts and dark chocolate to get all the benefits you need with a minimum of excess calories, fat, or sugar.
Add Avocados and Whole Grains
Every organ in the body depends on blood flow, especially the heart and brain. A diet high in whole grains and fruits like avocados can cut the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol. This reduces your risk of plaque buildup and enhances blood flow, offering a simple, tasty way to fire up brain cells.
Whole grains, like popcorn and whole wheat, also contribute dietary fiber and vitamin E. Though avocados have fat, it’s the good-for-you, monounsaturated fat that helps with healthy blood flow.
Blueberries Are Super Nutritious
I know I have mentioned the importance of blueberries in previous posts, but it is really beneficial in many ways. Research in animals shows that blueberries may help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Studies also show that diets rich in blueberries improved both the learning and muscle function of aging rats, making them mentally equal to much younger rats. Perhaps these are results of rats researches, but as I mentioned before it has proven to be working with human beings.
Benefits of a Healthy Diet
It may sound trite but it’s true: If your diet lacks essential nutrients, it can hurt your ability to concentrate. Eating too much or too little can also interfere with your focus. A heavy meal may make you feel tired, while too few calories will not stop distracting hunger pangs.
Benefit your brain. Strive for a well-balanced diet full of a wide variety of healthy foods.
Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements?
Store shelves groan with supplements claiming to boost health. Although many of the reports on the brain-boosting power of supplements like vitamins B, C, E, beta-carotene, and magnesium are promising, a supplement is only useful to people whose diets are lacking in that specific nutrient.
Some researchers are cautiously optimistic about ginseng, ginkgo, and vitamin, mineral, and herb combinations and their impact on the brain, but more proof is still needed. Never forget to discuss any supplements or vitamins with your provider before taking them.
I am getting ready for a big day
Want to power up your ability to concentrate? Start with a meal of 100% fruit juice, a whole-grain bagel with salmon, and a cup of coffee. In addition to eating a well-balanced meal, experts also offer this advice:
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Stay hydrated.
- Exercise to help sharpen thinking.
- Meditate to clear thinking and relax.
If you are still having problems focusing or concentrating, then you need to discuss this with your provider to make sure there aren’t any underlying health issues.
Have a powerful day!
What do firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, factory workers, and office cleaning staff have in common? They all are at risk for shift work sleep disorder. If you work at night or often rotate shifts, you may share that risk. Working at night or irregular shifts can keep you from getting the regular snooze time that most daytime workers take for granted.
Working non-traditional hours is more common than you might think. In industrialized nations, up to 20% of workers work either night or rotating shifts, according to an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Although not everyone who works odd hours has shift work sleep disorder, a lot can be at stake. People with shift work disorder have higher rates of absenteeism and accidents related to sleepiness than night workers without the disorder.
Memory and ability to focus can become impaired, and shift workers who are sleep-deprived often get irritable or depressed, says Wesley Elon Fleming, MD, clinical assistant professor at Loma Linda University and director of the Sleep Center Orange County in Southern California. Their relationships and social life can suffer, too.
Shift workers also face potential health problems, researchers have found. Overall, those who work night or rotating shifts seem to have a higher risk of ulcers, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.
Working Shifts: 9 Tips for Better Sleep
If your job requires that you work the night shift or hours other than the traditional 9 to 5, you need to pay close attention to your sleep. These tips can help you get good sleep:
1- Try not to work a number of night shifts in a row. You may become increasingly more sleep-deprived over several nights on the job. You’re more likely to recover if you can limit night shifts and schedule days off in between.
2- Avoid frequently rotating shifts. If you can’t, it’s easier to adjust to a schedule that rotates from day shift to evening to night rather than the reverse order.
3- Try to avoid long commutes that take time away from sleeping.
4- Keep your workplace brightly lighted to promote alertness. If you’re working the night shift, expose yourself to bright light, such as that from special light boxes, lamps, and visors designed for people with circadian-related sleep problems, when you wake up. Circadian rhythms are the body’s internal clock that tells us when to be awake and when to sleep. These rhythms are controlled by a part of the brain that is influenced by light. Fleming says that being exposed to bright light when you start your “day” can help train your body’s internal clock to adjust.
5- Limit caffeine. Drinking a cup of coffee at the beginning of your shift will help promote alertness. But don’t consume caffeine later in the shift or you may have trouble falling asleep when you get home.
6- Avoid bright light on the way home from work, which will make it easier for you to fall asleep once you hit the pillow. Wear dark, wraparound sunglasses and a hat to shield yourself from sunlight. Don’t stop to run errands, tempting as that may be.
7- Stick to a regular sleep-wake schedule as much as you can.
8- Ask your family to limit phone calls and visitors during your sleep hours.
9- Use blackout blinds or heavy curtains to block sunlight when you sleep during the day. “Sunlight is a potent stimulator of the circadian rhythm,” Fleming says. “Even if your eyes are closed, the sunlight coming into the room tells your brain that it’s daytime. Yet your body is exhausted and you’re trying to sleep. That discrepancy … is not a healthy thing for the body to be exposed to.”
Sleep and the Night Shift
Could you have shift work sleep disorder?
Why do night shifts wreak havoc on sleep? “The circadian rhythm is so [ingrained] in each one of us that what we’re doing is going against the body’s natural desire to be asleep at nighttime and to be awake during the daytime,” says Fleming. “Some people have ways of coping that are better than others, but for the most part, it’s very difficult to feel your optimal self when you work the night shift.”
Rotating shifts are even harder on the body, Fleming adds. “The body likes to operate on a routine schedule. The body likes to know what to expect in terms of production of certain hormones,” he says. “When you expose yourself to sunlight at some times during the week, but not others — when you’re sleeping at nighttime some nights and then during daytime at others — the body has difficulty knowing what to anticipate and when to produce those transmitters and neurochemicals for sleep and digestion and proper functioning of the human body.”
Regular, restful sleep is crucial for the body’s repair, Fleming says. “The body’s ability to recover and recuperate from the damage done during the daytime on a cellular level is affected by the night shift –because that’s the purpose of sleep. If our sleep schedule is erratic or irregular, that synchrony of repair that’s supposed to happen at nighttime doesn’t get played out the way it’s supposed to.”
Treating Shift Work Sleep Disorder
Despite the prevalence of irregular work hours in our ’round-the-clock, technological society, sleep experts say that people usually don’t show up at sleep labs with complaints about topsy-turvy schedules. “Most patients feel that there’s nothing they can do about it,” Fleming says. “It’s not a very common source of referrals to a sleep center, even though it should be.”
The hallmarks of shift work sleep disorder are excessive sleepiness during night work and insomnia when a worker tries to sleep during the daytime. Workers with significant symptoms — including headaches, lack of energy and trouble concentrating — should talk to their doctors.
To treat shift work disorder, doctors usually start with improving sleep hygiene with the nine tips covered at the beginning of this article. Using blackout curtains and keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule can help your body adjust to sleeping during the day.
If those behavioral changes don’t help, doctors can prescribe medications to help people stay alert when they need to be awake and help shift workers fall asleep.
Stimulant medications such as Nuvigil and Provigil can relieve sleepiness when people need to be awake. These drugs are approved for the treatment of excessive sleepiness related to shift work disorder, among other conditions.
Sleep aids such as Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata may be prescribed to help with falling asleep. Certain antidepressants and benzodiazepines may also be used to help with sleep.
Dieting sucks! It tends to lead to cravings… and hunger.This generally causes people to give up on their diet and gain the weight back.
For this reason, most conventional weight loss methods have a terrible success rate. Very few people succeed in the long run.
This is where a popular weight loss supplement called Garcinia Cambogia extract steps in.
According to many health experts, it can reduce appetite and help you lose weight, pretty much without effort.
Even Dr. Oz has been touting the benefits of it. He is an American TV doctor and probably the most famous health “guru” in the world.
Last year, Dr. Oz featured Garcinia Cambogia on his show.
He seemed very excited about it… he even used the word magic and said that it might be “the most exciting breakthrough in natural weight loss to date”
Given the raving reviews about Garcinia Cambogia, I got excited and decided to take a closer look at this supplement and the science behind it.
The fruit of the plant looks like a small, green pumpkin and is used in many traditional Asian dishes for its sour flavor.
In the skin of the fruit, there is a large amount of a natural substance called Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA).
This is the active ingredient in Garcinia Cambogia extract… that is, the substance that produces the weight loss effects.
Bottom Line: Garcinia Cambogia is a plant often used in Asian recipes. The skin of the fruit contains a substance called Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA), which is the active ingredient.
Does Garcinia Cambogia Actually Work?
I managed to find several research studies on Garcinia Cambogia, in both animals and humans.
According to some studies in rats, it can inhibit a fat producing enzyme called Citrate Lyase, making it more difficult for the body to produce fat out of carbohydrates.
Other rat studies show increased levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This could theoretically lead to reduced appetite and cravings.
There are actually a whole bunch of studies in rats showing that Garcinia Cambogia consistently leads to significant weight loss.
However, what works in rats doesn’t always work in humans.
Bottom Line: Studies in rats show that the active ingredient in Garcinia Cambogia can inhibit a fat producing enzyme called Citrate Lyase and increase serotonin levels, leading to significant weight loss.
A Look at Some Human Studies
Fortunately, I also found several human studies on Garcinia Cambogia.
All of these studies are so-called randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard of scientific experiments in humans.
The biggest of the studies included 135 overweight individuals, which were split into two groups:
- Treatment group: 3 grams of Garcinia Cambogia Extract (a total of 1500mg Hydroxycitric acid) in three separate doses, 30 minutes before meals.
- Placebo group: The other group took dummy pills (placebo).
Both groups also went on a high-fiber, low calorie diet.
These were the results of the 12 week study, which was published in The Journal of The American Medical Association (a highly respected scientific journal):
As you can see, both groups lost weight.
But the group taking Garcinia Cambogia extract actually lost less weight (3.2 kg – 7 pounds) than the placebo group (4.1 kg – 9 pounds).
The researchers also looked at body fat percentage. The placebo group lost 2.16%, while the group taking Garcinia Cambogia lost only 1.6%.
However, the difference was not statistically significant, meaning that the results could have been due to chance.
In another study with 89 overweight females, Garcinia Cambogia did lead to 1.3 kg (2.8 pounds) more weight loss compared to placebo, over a period of 12 weeks. They found no difference in appetite between groups.
Another study also found that Garcinia Cambogia reduced belly fat and reduced blood triglycerides. However, it did not cause actual weight loss.
Overall, I looked at 4 more studies. Two of them showed weight loss of a few pounds over a period of 8 weeks, but the other two showed no effect.
So… unfortunately, the weight loss effects appear to be both weak and inconsistent.
A review published in the Journal of Obesity in 2011 that looked at 12 clinical trials found that Garcinia Cambogia can increase weight loss by about 0.88 kg, or 2 pounds, on average, over a period of several weeks.
Their conclusion sums it up quite nicely:
“…Garcinia extracts/HCA can cause short-term weight loss. The magnitude of the effect is small, and the clinical relevance is uncertain.”
I agree. It may cause a mild effect in some people, but overall the effects are small and unlikely to make a major difference.
Bottom Line: There have been many studies conducted on Garcinia Cambogia in overweight individuals. Some of them show a small amount of weight loss, while other studies show no effect.
Garcinia Cambogia Appears to be Very Safe
It is important to keep in mind that these studies usually only report averages.
It is possible that some individuals can in fact lose weight with this supplement, although it doesn’t seem to work very well on average.
At least, Garcinia Cambogia appears to be safe. There are no serious side effects, only some reports of mild digestive issues.
If you want to try it out despite the poor results in the studies, then it is best to get a brand with at least 50% Hydroxycitric acid. The most common dose is 500 mg, 3 times per day, half an hour before meals.
If Garcinia Cambogia Doesn’t Work, Then What Does?
I’ve been experimenting with and researching supplements for years, but I have yet to find a weight loss supplement that actually works.
There are a few that appear to be mildly effective. This includes Caffeine, Green Tea and Glucomannan (a fiber that can reduce appetite). However, the results are usually weak and inconsistent and certainly nothing to get excited about.
At the end of the day, the only thing that is really proven to help you lose weight is changing your diet. Exercise can help too, but what you eat is by far the most important.
Take Home Message
One day, science might discover a supplement or a drug that actually works for weight loss… and I hope we do, believe me.
But it is clear from the studies that Garcinia Cambogia isn’t it. Period.
Can that afternoon Americano actually be good for you? Does that Red Bull have more or less caffeine than the same amount of coffee? Test your coffee knowledge with this coffee 101!
Can 3 cups of daily joe helps boost your memory?
In November 2005, Austrian researchers confirmed that caffeinated coffee cantemporarily sharpen your focus and memory. After giving volunteers the caffeine equivalent of about two cups of coffee, their brain activity was increased in two locations – the memory-rich frontal lobe and the attention-controlling anterior cingulum.
Now a new study published in the August 7, 2007, issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found the effects of coffee may be longer lasting – specifically in women. At the end of this four-year study, researchers found that women age 65 and older who drank more than three cups of coffee per day (or the caffeine equivalent in tea) had 33% less decline in memory over time than women who drank one cup or less of coffee or tea per day.
This caffeine-memory association was not observed in men – the authors hypothesize that perhaps that’s because men and women metabolize caffeine differently.
This is exciting news for women, though it’s certainly too premature to recommend caffeine as a memory cure-all. And it’s important to point out that this study found no protective effect for true dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Can Coffee and exercise prevent skin cancer?
According to a new Rutgers University study on mice (it has yet to be tested on humans), the combination of exercise and caffeine increases the body’s ability to combat precancerous cells damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The caffeine consumption alone helped destroy precancerous skin cells, as did the exercise alone. But the two together provided significant protection. Dr. Allan Conney, one of the paper’s authors, points out the possibility of some sort of synergy between the two.
Of course, this is not a substitute for sunscreen!
Could Coffee serve as a potent diuretic?
It’s true the stimulant effect of coffee can act as a slight diuretic. However, the overall volume of water you consume while enjoying your cup of coffee will more than make up for the small amount lost in your urine.
Do Energy drinks deliver more caffeine than coffee?
It varies from drink to drink. For example, Red Bull is known as an ultimate energy drink, but it only contains 80 milligrams of caffeine in one 8-ounce can – less than the 100 milligrams in an average cup of coffee. That said, this is a case-by-case comparison…. check the caffeine amount on the label to know for sure.
Could Coffee enhance your workout?
A burst of caffeine before a workout can give you a slight edge: As little as 100 milligrams of caffeine – the amount in just a cup of coffee – has been shown to improve the athletic performance of dedicated exercisers (though casual exercisers won’t experience the same boost). Researchers aren’t sure why, but it may be because caffeine signals your muscles to ignore fatigue and contract differently.
P.S. The following folks should avoid caffeine altogether:
- People who are caffeine sensitive: The stimulant effects of caffeine will exacerbate restlessness, anxiety, irritability, and/or headaches.
- People with sleeping issues: Caffeine can stay in your system anywhere from three to eight hours. So depending on your personal sensitivity, stop drinking it accordingly.
- People with gastrointestinal problems: A dose of caffeine may irritate your stomach if you have irritable bowel syndrome or ulcers.
- People with elevated blood pressure or abnormal heart rhythms: In this case, your personal physician knows best.
- People with severe PMS and cystic breasts: Caffeine has been shown to worsen these conditions.