Biohacking is using biological, natural, and technological tools to track and enhance your health. By reading this post you learn 5 powerful (yet simple) “brain hacks” that can enhance your brain health and help to improve your energy levels, focus, and mood, and slower the brain aging.
Meditation for the brain is what exercise is for the body. In other words, the brain matter and function can be strengthened and enhanced with meditation. For example, meditation can increase the gray matter volume around the cortex and increase the connectivity between brain areas. (S) Improvements in the brain can increase focus, control of emotions, processing speed, planning, and creativity.
Recently, three forms of meditation have been widely studied in regards to neuroplasticity:
1.Loving-Kindness Meditation: Loving-kindness Meditation is linked to stronger activation in brain areas processing empathy and emotions and can increase the frequency of positive emotions over time. Increased positive emotions have shown to reduce stress, mediate better social relationships, better job success, and lead to engagement in health behaviors. These benefits have shown to improve overall well being and life satisfaction. (S)(S)
2. Focused Attention meditation: Focused Attention meditation can increase brain matter in areas linked to self-control, attention, and focus. It can also reduce stress and rumination. In addition, FAM meditation combined with mindfulness can help to control pain-related negative emotions and other pain-related pathways and thus decrease pain. (S) (S)
3. Mindfulness or Open Monitoring meditation: has shown to decrease the volume of the amygdala, which is linked to stress response and increase the volume of the hippocampus – the brain area important for encoding new memories and balancing emotions. (S)
Try these tools to kickstart or deepen your meditation practice:
- Apps: The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm
- Youtube: 10-minute Loving-Kindness Meditation
- Youtube: 3-minute Mindfulness meditation by Honest Guys
- Youtube: 3-minute Mindfulness meditation by Mark Williams
- Book: Jon-Kabat Zinn: Full Catastrophe Living
- Meditation in Virtual Reality: Flow VR
2. Light (Phototherapy)
Light affects the hormonal system, cellular processes and can contribute to gene expression. Through several biological and biopsychological mechanisms, it can lead to structural and functional changes in the brain. (S) (S) (S). For example, Red light and near-infrared light can penetrate through the skull and reach brain cells initiation energy production, cell repair, and neuroprotection. (S)(S) Similarly, blue light can recover white matter structure in the brain and increase healing after Traumatic Brain Injury leading improvements in sleep, memory, and mood (S). In contrast, circadian disturbances can shrink the brain matter, which can lead to decreased emotion regulation, increased stress and decreased memory. (S). Optimal lighting throughout the day contributes to healthy brain structure and function, uplifted energy levels, bright and positive mood, and better overall wellbeing. (S)(S)
In regards to light, especially two important practices can boost brain health:
1. Exposure to sunlight during the day: during winter even 15 % of people have depression symptoms due to the lack of sunlight. (S) Exposure to the sunlight during the day helps to maintain healthy levels of serotonin (“the happy hormone”) (S) and vitamin D levels important for memory, strong neural connections and protecting the brain from inflammation (S)
2. Blocking blue light at the evening time (phones, computer screens, led light bulbs etc: blue light exposure in the evening time can block melatonin production and decrease sleep quality and quantity and cause daytime drowsiness. (S) (S) Women should note that blue light at night time is also linked to a higher risk of breast cancer (S) (S)(S).
Tools for dark times (getting more bright light):
- Take walking meetings, Take breaks in natural environments, Sit nearby a window when inside
- Use Seasonal Affective Light in mornings in dark seasons (make sure it is min 10 000 lux; specifically designed for Seasonal Affective Disorder; clinically tested)
- Use HumanCharger: This device is portable and offers bright light through the ear canals; it is easy to carry with you and use during the day, while in travels, when jet lagged etc.
Tools for blocking blue light in the night:
- Blue light blocking glasses: BBGs should be used in the night 1.5-3 hours prior to sleep in order to stop blue light hitting the eyes because it can prevent the natural the melatonin (sleep hormone) production in the brain
- Adapt the computer display according to the time of day
- Blue light filter Apps for the phone
- Optimizing home lighting system to adjust the time of the day (blue light in the day, warm light in the night)
- Other tools I find useful:
Sleep predicts memory (S), mood (S), energy levels (S), and burnout symptoms (S) and is one of the most important times for the brain to recover and consolidate memories after the day. (S) Sleep quantity and quality both matters to health. You need a sufficient amount of REM sleep and Deep sleep for optimal recovery, mood, and memory. Moreover, during sleep a powerful cleaning process is happening in the brain: the space between neurons widen and activity in the lymphatic system speeds up to remove the neurotoxic waste products accumulated in the brain. “Cleaning” the brain from unwanted waste contributes to preventing memory diseases like Alzheimer’s dementia. Good sleep also contributes to efficient work, staying energized during the day, and remaining calm and happy. (S)(S)
Nootropics, also called smart drugs, are neuroactive compounds (e.g. foods or supplements) that has beneficial effects on the brain. (S) Due to their potential to alter the state of the nervous system they can be used to improve concentration, mood, and memory. Some nootropics have an immediate effect on the nervous system (like caffeine’s power to boost energy immediately) whereas other nootropics are more beneficial in long-term usage (such as Lions Mane mushroom for neurite growth)
Examples of nootropics:
- L-theanine: 50-200 mg of L-theanine increase the alpha oscillation throughout the brain and can be used for concentration and calmness without causing drowsiness (S). When combined with caffeine, it can improve cognitive performance, alertness, attention, and reaction times (S) (S).
- Caffeine: Caffeine boosts alertness, arousal, and mood and can increase performance after sleep deprivation (S). However, high amounts of caffeine can increase anxiety and nervousness which can decrease performance and mood (S). The proper amount of caffeine depends on individual characteristics (i.e. are you a slow or a fast metabolizer or caffeine (S).
- Lions Mane: Have been shown to increase the nerve growth factor supporting the brain structure and function. (S)
- Ashwagandha: And important brain supporting herb that can protect the brain from oxidative damage and decrease neuroinflammation. It has also shown to have positive effects on mood, decreasing stress and improving overall brain health slowing down the brain aging processes. (S) (S) (S) (S) (S)
5. The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet has many benefits in the brain. Being in a state of ketosis have been shown to increase neurotransmitter GABA, which is linked to calmness (S). Moreover, ketones can protect the brain cells from oxidative damages caused by free radicals (S). In one study, 152 Alzheimer patients who ate exogenous ketones for 90 days improved their memory, language, praxis, and attention compared to the group that did not eat ketones. After they stopped taking the MCT-supplement, they were no longer superior in these skills compared to the other group. (S)
I recently wrote an article that lists several other brain benefits of the ketogenic diet, which you can find here.
What are your favorites?
Tell me in the comments
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