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How to keep stress under control and your mind sharp all day long?

Adult human brain weighs about 3 pounds (1,300-1,400 gr). While the brain makes up only 2% of the total body weight, it uses 20% of our daily total energy and oxygen intake.

The brain is comprised of about 100 billion neurons, or nerve cells. The neurons which reside in the brain’s parenchyma (the meat of the brain) are the basic working units of the brain. They are designed to transmit information both as receiver and as transmitter to other nerve cells, muscle, or gland cells.

Most neurons have a cell body, an axon, and dendrites.

  • The cell body contains the nucleus and cytoplasm.
  • The axon extends from the cell body and often gives rise to many smaller branches before ending at axon terminals.
  • Dendrites extend from the neuron cell body and receive messages from other neurons.
  • Viewed under a microscope, neurons look like a dense forest of trees whose branches are closely intertwined.
  • Each neuron cell is separated from its neighbors by tiny gaps called “synapses.” The neurons communicate with each other through these 1,000 trillion synaptic connections.
  • The dendrites are covered with synapses formed by the ends of axons from other neurons.

The synapses transfer signals and information from neuron to neuron through the branch-like dendrites as fast as 268 mph (430 km/h). When a neuron receives a signal, it generates an electrical impulse. This impulse travels through the neuron and down the axon to its end (the axon terminal).

The electrical signals cannot bridge the synapses space without help. Stored in the axon terminal are chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Of the more than 20 so far discovered neurotransmitters, only a few are fairly well understood. Several of them are involved in streamlining the neural connections which make up the memory, including acetylcholine, serotonin, and dopamine. Many of these neurotransmitters have additional functions too; for example, serotonin helps regulate sleep and sensory perception, while dopamine helps regulate movement.

The electrical impulse opens tiny pores in the axon terminal, allowing a supply of neurotransmitters (neuron’s chemical signal messengers) to flood into the synapse. The chemicals then attach to receptors on a neighboring neuron. What happens next depends on whether the neurotransmitter has an exciting or inhibiting effect on the neuron. The signal is then passed on to other neurons.

Transmission from cell to cell takes about a thousandth of a second. In addition, one nerve cell may have more than 1,000 synapses and, with a single impulse, can transmit simultaneously to all its neighbors.

We must also pay close attention to our daily Sodium-Potassium (Na+– K+) intake ratio which does play an important role in the transmission of the electrical impulses as a result of membrane potential charge differences. 60-70% of the energy needed by the brain is used to power transport mechanisms that maintain the Na+– K+ membrane potential (Sodium-Potassium balance) required for the transmission of the nerve impulses. Read more here and here.

This amazingly complex neural system makes everything we do possible, from making a cup of coffee to driving a car. Considering our massive brain power why do we have occasional mental fog? When we function at high speed for longer periods of time, we will inevitably crash and burn.

We at MyKetoPal suggest a few ways to keep stress under control and your mind sharp all day long:

 

  1. Get plenty of sleep.

We spend one-third of our lives asleep. Most of us need seven to eight hours of sleep a night for our brains’ neurons to rebuild and rejuvenate. A good night’s sleep has ample brain benefits from making clearer decisions and solving problems faster to stimulating creativity and increasing innovative thinking.

Reducing our sleep time to four or five hours a night over as little as one week reduces our cognitive capacity to the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.01 percent.

Sleep deprivation costs American companies over $400 billion a year in lost productivity. That’s why some major companies such as Google, Ben & Jerry’s have on-site nap rooms, and quiet spaces for meditation.

If you do get an opportunity to take an afternoon nap, make sure to keep it shorter than 20 minutes to avoid sleep inertia (feeling of grogginess after a deep sleep). And also do not take a nap after 3 p.m. to avoid messing with your nighttime sleep patterns.

Sleep isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity, and brain will rebel if it doesn’t have enough. So it may be time to change our attitudes about sleep and give it a little more attention than it usually gets.

Here are some great reasons to make sure we get enough sleep:

  • Sleep helps solidify long term memory through strengthening certain neural connections, while pruning back unwanted ones. Sleep is the time in which the brain streamlines the connections it “needs.”
  • A very recent study shows that negative emotional memories are less likely to be suppressed but consolidated during sleep. This means good and bad memories are likely to stick around, less likely to be forgotten.
  • Sleep helps us remember things we’ve learned during the day.
  • Sleep promotes creativity, fluency, flexibility and originality, divergent thinking—thinking outside the box, in new and imaginative ways.
The brain clears out toxins much more rapidly while we’re asleep than when we’re awake. Toxins, including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease, are cleared during sleep.
  • The lymphatic system of the brain opens up at night. The space between brain cells expands significantly during sleep, which facilitates the clearing of the gunk (toxins) through cerebrospinal fluid.
  • Much of this gunk is the β-amyloid protein, which is a precursor to the plaques in Alzheimer’s disease. These proteins and other toxins seem to accumulate during the day, and are cleared during sleep.
Sleep deprivation can affect our cognitive functions, everything from cognition to working short-term memory to attention to decision-making.
  • Sleep deprivation affects our ability to multitask (such as driving) and drains your executive function.
  • Sleep deprivation may cause depression and anxiety, and certainly worsens these complications.
  • Depression and sleep problems are intimately connected. The part of the brain that governs the daily sleep-awake cycle in depressed people is disrupted. People with depression often have a hard time sleeping, or they may sleep a lot.
  • Sleep deprivation is linked to obesity and poor glucose control.
  • Sleep deprivation increases contractility of the heart, blood pressure, heart rate and levels of thyroid hormone and the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Sleep deprivation increases heart disease and diabetes risk, as well as inflammation, which itself may increase one’s risk of cancer.

 

  1. Do one thing at a time.

Studies show that our brains can’t perform multiple mental tasks at the same time.

  • Multi-taskers are 40% less productive.
  • Multi-taskers are 50% more likely to make a mistake.
  • It takes a person 25 minutes, on average, to pick up a task again after an interruption.

Best way to manage cognitive energy is in chunks of time. That is because our brains are designed to work in a rhythm that alternates between 90 minutes of high mental performance followed by 20 minutes of down time.

Try repeating this 90-20 minutes high/down mental performance cycle throughout the work day by engaging in about an hour and a half of intense concentration followed by a coffee break or a walk outside.

Also, if  you are not working, retired or on vacation, keep yourself engaged at all times. Cognitive stimulation increases hippocampal neurogenesis. This means that we need to keep our brain engaged: learn new skills, interact with people, travel, try new things, and keep stepping outside of our comfort zone.

 

  1. Snack “sparingly” on brain-healthy keto-friendly foods.

Eating a poor diet that’s loaded with industrial fats (vegetable oils), refined grains, and sugar-sweetened treats shrinks our brain. Data shows that the more junk food a person eats, the smaller their hippocampus tends to be.

The hippocampus, Latin for seahorse, is named for its shape. It is part of the limbic system that is located near the center of the brain. This system directs many bodily functions. The hippocampus is involved in the storage of long-term memory, which includes all past knowledge and experiences.  Those that have lost function or had removed major portions of the limbic system but still have the hippocampus, have only long-term memory and cannot record any new memories or functions.

The hippocampus is not involved with short-term memory and procedural memory types (memory of how to do motor actions, like walking). These are primarily handled by the cortex and the cerebellum.

Our brains need a steady supply of energy at all times. Skipping meals can result in low blood sugar levels, which clouds thinking and saps cognitive energy. We can recover cognitive stamina simply by drinking a cup of coffee with blended in coconut oil (the so-called bullet-proof coffee).
Here are some keto-friendly snacks loaded with good fats which we prefer. These snacks require no prep:

  • Nuts (walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, macadamias)
  • Jerky
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • String or sliced cheese
  • Olives – green olives are energy denser
  • Avocado – all you need is a little salt for a great high fiber snack
  • Pickled vegetables – Giardiniera
  • Lunch meat – ham, salame
  • Hummus – dip pork rinds, celery, bell peppers
  • Kale chips
  • Seaweed
  • Berries – a handful
  • Dark chocolate  (stevia sweetened, or 80% dark chocolate like Lily’s)
  • Cocoa nibs – a great, quick, sugarless alternative to chocolate bars
  • Sardines  – in own fish oil, or olive oil
  • Pork rinds – great with any sugar-free, transfat-free dip
  • Seeds – sunflower, pumpkin

 

 

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