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Dr. Raghu Appasani, Neuroscientist and Chief Medical Officer of PYM

By Dana Drahos

Q&A with a Neuroscientist: 5 Ways to Prevent Cognitive Decline and Keep your Brain Healthy

We interviewed our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Raghu Appasani, a Neuroscientist and Psychiatrist, to discuss how to Prepare Your Mind for aging. He discusses science-based hacks to improve your long-term brain health.

Brain plasticity is an important concept to understand, and it's especially relevant now. Learn how chronic stress impacts learning and memory loss, and ways to prevent cognitive decline and keep your brain healthy.

Thanks for chatting with us Dr. Raghu! Can you tell us what neuroplasticity is in simple terms?

Yes! Neuroplasticity essentially speaks to our brains ability to change and grow. Practicing and implementing new habits can change our brains over time. As we improve at them, these behaviors become automatic.

When we practice something, such as riding a bike or reading a book, our brain cells (neurons) form new neural pathways. It's like creating new roads between cities. As we continue to practice certain rituals, these neurons also develop stronger connections with one another.

 

What are the benefits of improving our neuroplasticity before old age?

When we challenge our brains with new experiences and behaviors, our brains form new connections between neurons and strengthen existing connections. This keeps our brains flexible and adaptable, and helps improve learning and memory. This allows us to better cope with changes and challenges in our lives.

On the other hand, if we don’t prepare our minds for aging, our brains can become less flexible and adaptable. This makes it harder to learn new things and adapt to new situations. This can lead to cognitive decline and diseases such as Alzheimer's, which impacts our ability to learn and remember things.

So, it's important to keep our brains nourished, active and engaged through learning, exercise, and social connection to maintain an environment for optimal functioning and enriching neuroplasticity.

How does stress impact neuroplasticity?

Stress can have both positive and negative effects on neuroplasticity, depending on the duration and intensity of the stress.

In the short term, stress can actually enhance neuroplasticity by activating certain brain regions involved in learning and memory. This can help us learn and remember important information in high-pressure situations.

However, chronic or severe stress can have negative effects on neuroplasticity. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones like cortisol and inflammatory cytokines can damage neurons in certain brain regions, particularly the hippocampus, which is important for learning and memory.

Chronic stress can also cause changes in the brain’s structural and functional connectivity, making it more difficult for neurons to communicate with each other and form new connections.

 

How can supplementing with amino acids benefit neuroplasticity?

Certain amino acids have been shown to reduce stress, so supplementing with amino acids is a great thing to do if you struggle with sticking to other stress-reducing activities like meditation, breathwork, or yoga. They're also great as an add-on to the mental hygiene routine you already have!

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and play many important roles in the body, including in the brain where they are involved in neurotransmitter synthesis and energy metabolism. 

For example, studies have shown that supplementing with the amino acid tyrosine can improve cognitive performance and working memory in situations of high stress or fatigue. Tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in reward, motivation, and memory, and increasing tyrosine levels can enhance dopamine synthesis and improve cognitive performance under stress.

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps to regulate brain activity and promote relaxation. Some research has suggested that supplementing with GABA may enhance neuroplasticity by enhancing and strengthening communication between neurons.

L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves that has been found to have relaxing and stress-reducing effects. L-theanine may also enhance neuroplasticity by increasing the levels of certain neurotrophic factors, which are proteins that promote the growth and survival of neurons.

In addition, L-theanine has been found to increase alpha brain waves, which are associated with relaxation and improved focus, and decrease beta brain waves, which are associated with stress and anxiety.

Looking for an easy first step to improving neuroplasticity and to reduce stress? Our Mood Chews contain 130mg of GABA and 90mg of L-Theanine to support stress and overwhelm, which can improve your long-term brain health.*

 

What are some other ways to improve your long term brain health and boost neuroplasticity?

Overall, engaging in activities that challenge the brain, promoting overall physical and mental health, reducing stress, staying socially active, and maintaining a healthy diet are all ways to maintain cognitive function. 

Learn new things

In terms of challenging the brain, a great way is to learn new things, like learning a new language or musical instrument, or how to cook a new recipe. This helps promote the growth of new neural connections which enhances neuroplasticity.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity helps the brain in several ways. It increases blood flow, which promotes the growth of new neurons. Additionally, it increases the production of certain neurotransmitters. 

We also know from multiple research studies that exercise has a dramatic effect on improving depression.

Improve your sleep

I can’t emphasize enough how important sleep is for long term brain health. The brain consolidates memories and forms new neural connections during sleep. So try to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, turn off electronics at least an hour before bed, maintain a consistent sleep schedule, and supplement with magnesium to help with falling asleep and getting restful sleep throughout the night.

Psst, have you tried our new Best Sleep Ever bundle? This includes our Mood Magnesium, Mood Chews, and Mood Biotics!

Feed your brain with nutrients

Your overall nutrition has a huge impact on your brain health as well. Getting a balanced and healthy diet rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B6 and B12, and probiotics to support the gut-brain axis can support neuroplasticity by providing the brain with the necessary building blocks for new neural connections and reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. That’s why I love our Total Reset Kit, which includes probiotics, methylated B vitamins, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids…we should just call it the Neuroplasticity Kit!

 

Spend time with loved ones

Social interaction has been found to promote neuroplasticity by stimulating the brain and promoting the formation of new neural connections. It also boosts the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which has been shown to lower cortisol levels (aka reduce stress!). I love our Oxytocin Boost bundle to help with this as well.

 

Thank you so much for sharing with us Dr. Raghu!

In conclusion, you can boost neuroplasticity and improve your long-term brain health by reducing stress with amino acids and other brain-boosting nutrients like omega-3's, probiotics, B vitamins and magnesium. Other great ways are to learn new things, get regular exercise, improve sleep, feed your brain with the nutrients it needs, and spend time with loved ones.