Category: Health and Wellness

5 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health

Good Foods for brain. Healthy eating Concept. Top view; blog: improve brain health

 

We may be a bit biased but we believe that your brain is the most important organ in your body. Here’s why: It controls and coordinates your actions and reactions, make it possible for you to feel and think, and gives you the ability to have feelings and memories. Essentially, your brain is what makes you human. Since your brain is a big part of who you are, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these five ways to improve brain health.

1. Quit Smoking

In addition to hurting your lungs and heart, smoking can take a serious toll on your brain. Believe it or not, people who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day are twice as likely to get dementia when they’re older than non-smokers. If you smoke, make every effort to ditch this bad habit once and for all. 

2. Get Enough Sleep

Although it may be easier said than done, especially if you lead a busy life, make sure you get 8 to 9 hours of sleep each day. It can be difficult to achieve optimal cognitive function if you wake up exhausted and restless every morning. Getting enough sleep can get your brain ready for the day ahead.

3. Eat Healthily

Fill your body with the nutritious foods it needs to remain healthy. Keep fatty and sugary food to a minimum and ensure you’re eating plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein, whole grains, and fatty fish. Remember, you are what you eat so you can’t expect to load up on junk food and enjoy a healthy brain.

4. Stay Active

When we say stay active, we mean physically and mentally active. While it’s a good idea to exercise every day, your brain also needs to be engaged on a mental level as much as possible. Participate in hobbies, volunteer, take classes at a local college for fun and have thought-provoking conversations with your loved ones.

5. Get Social

Socialization is one of the keys to a healthy brain. Try to surround yourself with friends and family members as much as you can. Talk to them. Spend time with them. Make wonderful memories with them. All of these things can do wonders for your brain and overall quality of life.

Contact Regional Neurological Associates

If you have further questions on how to keep your brain in good shape, we encourage you to contact us today. Call Regional Neurological Associates at (718) 515-4347 to schedule an appointment.

What is the Social Brain?

blog: what is the social brain?

 

For years, the power of the social brain has been completely underestimated. So, what exactly is the social brain? We like to think of it as the driving force in learning and gateway to cognition. Time after time, research demonstrates that the social brain operates to assist learning throughout our lives. 

Here’s a study that demonstrates just how powerful the social brain is. Babies are exposed to a foreign language by a human speaker while they are growing up in an English family. If 9-month-old babies have 12 sessions of play with a live human speaker, they learn the foreign language so well that they’re statistically equivalent to the babies in a foreign country. On the other hand, if the babies are exposed to the same material at the same time in the same room and same dosage but not exposed to a DVD rather than a live human being, they barely learn anything.

This study just goes to show how important social interaction is to lifelong learning. Being in the presence of another human being, watching their eyes and movements, and paying attention to what that person is doing is extremely crucial. 

School-aged children as well as college students, adults, and seniors use the social brain every day when they collaborate with others. Without the information and motivation that the social brain provides, optimal learning and living a high quality of life can be quite challenging to achieve. 

Analytical Thinking vs. Social Thinking

While one network of your brain is responsible for analytical thinking, the other is focused on social thinking. Any moment that you’re not using your analytical thinking power, you are using its social thinking power. 

You go from being an information consumer to an information DJ because you go and tell your friends about what happened or share something on social media. Sharing what we learn with the world around us is essential to the success of mankind.

Socialization is Essential to Cognitive Success 

Social interactions are just as effective as brain games and puzzles at building cognition and reducing the risk of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. By getting more social, you can lead a smarter, happier, and more productive life. 

Contact Regional Neurological Associates

For more information on the social brain and how it affects our learning and everyday lives, we encourage you to contact us today. Call Regional Neurological Associates at (718) 515-4347 to schedule an appointment.

How Meditation Can Actually Change Your Brain

Meditation and the brain; Young attractive boy exercising, man practicing meditation indoors, Yoga and Healthy lifestyle concept.

Over the years, many of us have heard how meditation can set the mind free. While it can be tough to know what this means or even what one should expect, those who practice meditation regularly have a great sense for just how effective these methods are.

For centuries, many societies have linked meditation to various degrees of spiritual enlightenment, wisdom, and self-control. While these effects were largely misunderstood or somewhat unknown, recent research has come to light in which the actual biochemical changes of the brain reflect what many have long believed about meditation.

Volume Changes in Key Areas of the Brain

It has been shown that long-term meditation helps to preserve grey matter volume in the brain. This preservation helps to maintain mental acuity and prevents early decay, potentially assisting with certain neurological disease prevention such as Alzheimer’s and dementia

Other volume changes include an addition in mass to the hippocampus. This area of the brain oversees learning and memory and has been shown to grow even after a couple of months of meditation. Cell volume during this time has been shown to decrease at the amygdala, an area of the brain often associated with stress, anxiety, and depression. 

What are the Benefits?

  • Improved Mental Health

With reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression, there is a coupled effect in helping those with addiction fight back against their disease. This effect is coupled as many who suffer from addiction often have some sort of mental illness co-morbidity and often this stems from, or creates, poor perception of self. Additionally, meditation has the ability to help individuals have a clearer picture of their goal and in turn, may help overcome cravings of relapse or usage.

  • Improved Behavior

For younger children, meditation has been shown to be especially helpful in reducing erratic behavior in schools. Many school systems are starting to transition over to meditation from the traditional path of punishment and have seen amazing results. Often, students are less likely to continue getting in trouble and begin to show signs of greater academic prowess than previously believed. 

  • Improved Concentration and Attention

Meditation has also been shown to decrease activity at the default mode network of the brain. This area of the brain is closely associated with jumping from thought to thought, or “mind-wandering.” When this area is highly active, it becomes increasingly difficult for individuals to concentrate on tasks that need to be accomplished. This provides a feeling of unproductivity and is associated with a lack of happiness in one’s life.

When considering meditation and other relaxation techniques, it is important to find one that works well for you and your lifestyle. Even 10 minutes a day may start to produce changes in the brain that can immediately impact your quality of life for the better.

About Regional Neurological Associates

Founded in 1997, Regional Neurological Associates is one of the oldest neurology and psychiatry practices in the Bronx and Westchester. At our New York practice, based in the Bronx with satellites throughout Westchester and Manhattan, we manage a range of neurologic conditions including headaches and migraines, movement and balance disorders, strokes and neuromuscular disorders. Our University-affiliated neurologists provide cutting edge care tailored to each of our patient’s needs. To schedule an appointment, call (718) 515-4347.

10 Foods That Can Help Relieve Your Chronic Pain

Foods That Can Help Relieve Your Chronic Pain; Quickly sauteed kale with chili flakes in a cast iron pan with olive oil pouring over, healthy cooking concept

In the modern day, we often look at pain as something that can only be modulated through the use of medication. Western society is grown accustomed to instant gratification in all areas of our lives that the majority have drifted away from natural remedies in exchange for a magic bullet approach through traditional medicine.

One treatment method that is often overlooked for the treatment of chronic pain is nutrition. Poor nutrition and nutritional deficiencies are common and can have a significant impact on both your physical and mental health. In some cases, certain conditions may be fully resolved through nutritional interventions.

Diet is closely related to the levels of inflammation in our bodies, and as you may already be aware, inflammation is often a leading contributor to chronic pain. By reducing inflammation, you can take the pressure off different receptors, alleviating pain throughout the body.

Whether your goal is to avoid or supplement other treatment methods, here are 10 foods that can help relieve your chronic pain:

  1. Olive oil contains a chemical known as oleocanthal. This chemical ingredient blocks prostaglandins from reaching their target pathways in a similar fashion to common over the counter anti-inflammatory medications.
  2. Kale, along with other green and leafy vegetables, is rich in an ingredient called carotenoids. Carotenoids have a number of anti-inflammatory qualities, making it beneficial to eat greens for more reasons than we may have thought as kids.3
  3. Cherries contain a chemical ingredient called anthocyanins which assists with blockage similar to olive oil and may serve to reduce inflammation in the body in a similar fashion to certain anti-inflammatory medications.
  4. Broccoli contains a chemical known as sulforaphane. This chemical is able to directly attack chemical mediators that cause inflammation in response to micro-trauma or stresses in the body. This works at the cellular level and greatly enhances health throughout the body as a whole.
  5. Ginger works in a similar fashion to aspirin. It can reduce inflammation while also helping to relieve muscle pain. Regularly consuming this root may be advised for athletes who are constantly putting their body through the wringer and pushing their muscles to the limits.
  6. Tumeric has great anti-inflammatory properties but is also believed to help with nerve pain by preventing the breakdown of nerve cells. Through this preservation, neural pathways are able to avoid “false” pain signaling through the afferent nervous system.
  7. Yogurt is a great probiotic and supports healthy bacteria within the gastrointestinal (GI) system. For those with stomach pain such as or mimicking heartburn, yogurt is a great option. Healthy probiotics can eliminate the pain in many cases while promoting a healthy environment in the stomach.
  8. Fish, particularly haddock and salmon are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. This compound is a great anti-inflammatory agent and has profound effects on general inflammation. It has even been shown to reduce overall muscle soreness in addition to chronic migraine severity and pain.
  9. Avocados are one of the most nutrient dense foods available and are no different when it comes to reducing pain and inflammation. They contain a wide array of chemical ingredients including carotenoids that help reduce systemic inflammation, providing the body with profound benefits.
  10. Mint contains a menthol component that has an extremely soothing capacity when considering gastrointestinal distress. There are a number of conditions that can cause intense stomach pain and spasm, all relieved to varying degrees by incorporating mint into the diet whether through food or drink.

About Regional Neurological Associates

Founded in 1997, Regional Neurological Associates is one of the oldest neurology and psychiatry practices in the Bronx and Westchester. Our team of dedicated professionals is committed to providing expert medical care using the latest technology and advanced training, but we also believe in the mind-body connection. We specialize in diagnosing and treating all neurological conditions, including chronic neck and back pain, by identifying the cause of your condition rather than only treating the symptoms.

To schedule an appointment at one of our five New York locations, call (718) 515-4347.

6 Benefits of Meditation

Benefits of Meditation

 

It seems like talk about mindfulness and meditation is everywhere these days. While various religions and cultures have been using these techniques for millennia, the practice has experienced a resurgence in recent years. There are classes, studios, and phone apps dedicated to the practice. Its devotees sing its praises, claiming a myriad of health benefits, both mental and physical. But like anything that gains immense popularity quickly, it is necessary to examine what it entails and what the benefits really are.

About Meditation

Meditation is defined as a “mind-body practice” with a number of purposes that mostly boil down to increasing overall health and wellbeing. There are a number of different types of meditation but most include four basic elements; a quiet space without distractions, a focus of attention, a specific and comfortable position, and an open mental state.

Researchers have spent a lot of time looking into the merits of meditation and many have concluded that it is indeed beneficial in a multitude of physical, mental, and emotional ways. Some research even suggests that meditation can actually change your brain.

However, it should be noted that meditation is not a replacement for seeing your health care provider or following a prescribed medical regimen. Before you start, you should research any program or instructor you are considering, and consult your physician before making changes in your care routine.

Benefits of Meditation

If you’re considering taking up meditation or some type of mindfulness, take a look at some of the potential benefits below.

  1. Improved Concentration

One of the most common reasons people initially seek out meditation and mindfulness is to improve their concentration and declutter their minds. Thinking more clearly is often a goal of meditation. And it makes sense because much of the practice is focused on, well, focus.  One study found that people’s focus and memory improved after just a few weeks of practice.

  1. Physical Structural Changes to the Brain

According to a 2012 study, adults who were long-term meditators had more folds in the outer layer of their brains. The process that produces these folds is called gyrification, and may improve the brain’s processing ability.

Other research has found that mindfulness meditation can also decrease volume in the amygdala, which is where fear, anxiety, and stress responses are formed. In addition, the thickness of the cortical cortex of the hippocampus increased after just eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This part of the brain is responsible for learning and memory. Other areas that saw increases in thickness deal with emotional regulation. Participants in the study reported that along with these physical changes, they felt better psychologically.

  1. Preservation of the Brain as it Ages

As a result of some of the changes to the brain mentioned above, meditation has been linked to preserving an aging brain. In fact, research suggests that meditating could slow or even partially reverse changes in the brain related to aging. This has possible future implications in the treatment or prevention of certain age-related issues.

  1. Stress Reduction

Along with concentration, many people look to meditation to reduce stress or deal with anxiety. And while there may be differences between an anxiety disorder and everyday stress, meditation may help with both, but especially the latter. There’s even a specific form of meditation for those looking to de-stress; the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. This method, developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Mindfulness is also helpful with social anxiety. The reasoning behind this effect is that it accesses and controls the “Me Center” of the brain, which deals with thoughts that are centered on only yourself.

Research into meditation’s potential impact on the treatment and management of other mental disorders and illnesses such as depression and addiction also suggest those patients may benefit from the practice as well.

  1. Increased Empathy

Studies at the University of Wisconsin show that a certain form of Buddhist meditation called compassion meditation, may increase people’s empathic instincts according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers monitored subjects’ responses to sounds that might provoke an emotional response, be it positive, negative, or neutral. Expert meditators showed more reaction to negative sounds, indicating a greater capacity for empathy when compared to beginning meditators.

  1. Pain Reduction

While there are mixed conclusions about meditation’s physical effect on pain, some research and many practitioners claim that mediation is a nice addition to their pain management plan. That research suggests that meditating can activate certain areas of the brain that deal with the body’s response to pain. Even if it only allows the subject to focus on something outside the pain for a period of time, it could be worth a try for those recovering from injuries or who are dealing with frequent or chronic pain.

Again, it’s important to consult your entire healthcare team before deciding to change your treatment plan. Meditation is not a cure-all or a replacement for conventional care. And while the benefits above may seem miraculous, like any treatment, results vary from person to person. It should also be noted that the practice has to be consistent to experience these benefits.

Comprehensive Care at Regional Neurological Associates

If you’re thinking of supplementing your neurological care with mediation, contact us to discuss how it might best fit your situation. The doctors at Regional Neurological Associates set themselves apart from other neurology specialists by maintaining the most advanced and in-depth training in neurological subspecialties. To make an appointment, call (718) 515-4347, or contact us here.

Mediterranean Diet: Here’s What You Need to Know

mediterranean diet

Many seem to constantly be searching for a diet to help us maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle without sacrificing flavor. Unlike fad diets which often are not sustainable in the long-term, the Mediterranean diet offers a variety of health benefits that make it worth considering. Here’s what you need to know:

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is based on combining a variety of necessary dietary components while substituting unhealthy fats for better, more natural options. The structure itself is primarily centered on plant foods, olive oil, poultry, fish, grains, and beans.

In addition to the combination of many different food groups, many people enjoy the fact that this diet option incorporates much more wine than most other diets. A key to the wine component, as with all other aspects of dietary consumption, is that the Mediterranean diet focuses on moderation across the board.  

How Did it Originate?

While the diet is commonly considered to have a specific origin, the Mediterranean diet is based off the habits of a number of countries in Southern Europe, such as Italy, France, Morocco, Spain, and Greece. The diet itself is reflective of the natural options in southern Europe and has traditionally been referred to as a “poor man’s diet.” As fish and grains are in abundance in the region, learning how to take advantage of the resources available was necessary for early survival.

As southern Europe provides a somewhat harsh condition for crops, the few that flourished, such as olives and grapes, were incorporated into dishes in a variety of ways. As bread, olive oil, and wine had served as a staple in the region from Roman times, the incorporation of meats came with the clash of Roman and Germanic cultures, providing more complex sauces blending the two cultures.

What Foods Can I Eat?

As the Mediterranean diet is based off multiple cultures, it can see a fair amount of variety from one person to the next while maintaining the same core components. Many of the following food are typically included:

  • Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Fish and poultry
  • Red wine
  • Olive oil as a main source of fat (opposed to butter)
  • Herbs and spices
  • Nuts (tree nuts)

Some components may have a greater emphasis than others due to the variety among the different countries in southern Europe. For example, pasta from grains in Italy is consumed far more regularly than in Greece, where fruits and vegetables make up a significant portion of the diet.

What Foods Should I Avoid?

Generally speaking, the foods that are most important to avoid are those that are high in trans fats or are processed. Trans fats have been shown to increase cholesterol and, in turn, increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. Some of the key components to limit are as follows:

  • Red meat (no more than a couple times a month)
  • Butter
  • Processed foods

In order to ensure all health benefits possible from following the Mediterranean diet, buying fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and poultry on a weekly basis is highly recommended. Additionally, it is important to stay away from bread and pasta that contain excess preservatives.

What Are the Health Benefits?

While there is still some degree of speculation as to how the Mediterranean diet improves health, it has been shown that those who follow it are at a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease than the general public.

The focus on healthy sources of fats, opposed to trans fats, lowers cholesterol and prevents clogging of the arteries. This promotes adequate blood flow, especially when paired with exercise, and provides benefits from heart health to circulatory benefits.

Antioxidants from grapes, whether consumed through wine or juice, can help fight any number of diseases, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

Bone health is also believed to be improved through the incorporation of this diet. While the mechanism itself is not well understood, olive oil has shown an ability to increase bone strength, helping fight against conditions like osteoporosis.

Finally, and certainly not least important, is the Mediterranean diet’s focus on sharing food with others. Sharing meals in a social setting regularly can provide for amazing mental health benefits, combating depression and other mental health conditions.

Consult a Physician

Before beginning any new diet or exercise regimen, it is recommended to consult a licensed healthcare professional. At Regional Neurological Associates in New York, our physicians believe in treating the causes of neurological conditions, not just the symptoms. In many cases, this includes a combination of lifestyle changes such as diet, along with the latest technology and procedures to provide the best possible patient outcomes. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (718) 515-4347.

5 Ways Sleep Affects the Brain

Ways Sleep Affects the Brain

You’ve probably heard the old expression, ‘woke up on the wrong side of the bed’ before. But, have you ever considered the science behind it?

Sleep actually affects the brain in a series of ways and a bad night’s rest actually can leave you in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Although your mood is a huge aspect of how sleep affects the brain, below we’ve compiled five on the most common ways sleep can help your mind and improve your daily life.

  1. Helps Improve Memory

Have you ever had a bad night’s rest and then woken up in a bit of a daze? Maybe you forgot your keys or didn’t wear your jacket as you ran out the door. No matter how many careless little mistakes you made, you know that isn’t the kind of thing a focused ‘you’ would do.

Well, you’re right. A focused version of yourself would certainly remember their keys and jacket—so why did you forget them? The answer is simple: the bad night’s rest.

According to Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley sleep researcher, when we are young, we have deep sleep that helps the brain store and retain new facts and information. But as we get older, the quality of our sleep deteriorates and prevents those memories from being saved by the brain at night.

Similarly, Walker discovered that bad sleep actually led to brain deterioration and, later in life, signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

With this said, getting an inadequate amount of sleep has the potential to significantly affect your memory and overall brain function significantly both in the short-term and long-term.

  1. Encourages Creativity

Highly creative people are often known for being restless among other notable traits. But, sleep can actually wake up your creativity as it promotes dreams and brain activity. The benefits can carry over into your daily routine.

For creative individuals, this could mean an increase in productivity at work and success in your daily tasks. For instance, if your profession is graphic design, an adequate amount of sleep may actually help you to create more designs that are unique and completed in a quicker time frame. Similarly, if your job is teaching students, you may develop new and creative ways to teach them their lessons that actually help them to score better on tests and get better grades in your class.

With this said, an increase in creativity from quality sleep may actually help you to make more money, see more success in your daily routine, and have more results to prove your capabilities in your creative profession.

  1. Helps aid in Depression and Anxiety

Perhaps, one of the most incredible effects sleep has on the brain is in conjunction with your actual mood and outlook on life. Sleep disorders haven’t been proven as a direct cause of depression, but lack of sleep does play a vital role in mental health. Lack of sleep caused by another medical illness or by personal problems can trigger or worsen depression and anxiety.

Lack of sleep can make you feel lethargic, diminish your focus and determination, eliminate your social desires, and even lead to weight gain. All of these factors can significantly affect your mental health and lead to depression and anxiety which only further insomnia. It can be a difficult cycle to escape and may require help from a licensed medical professional.

  1. Promotes Productivity and Focus

Similar to improving your memory, a good night’s rest can boost your productivity and focus. Sleep gives your brain time to ‘recharge’. Without it, the brain does not have the focus it would otherwise. Without focus during the day, you may find yourself not wanting to complete work, focusing on less important details, and looking for ways to take the ‘easy way out’ more often.

Of course, all of these characteristics are not ideal for a hardworking individual and, therefore, are reasons why you should always get sleep before a long day of work, tests, errands, or projects. When your mind is well-rested, you are sure to be more productive, have more of a drive and energy to you, and have more focus to put towards the things that matter most each and every day.

Furthermore, since productivity is so crucial to your self-confidence and mental health, this productivity is another way for you to aid your depression and anxiety and develop a brighter outlook on your personal and professional life.

  1. Improves Your Physical Health

Despite many of these elements solely pertaining to your mind, the brain does not just control your mental health and productivity but also has implications on your physical health.

Quality and adequate sleep helps strengthen your brain’s memory, focus, and productivity which can help motivate you to exercise, help regulate your metabolism, and reduce physical pain. Because your body is moving and being productive throughout the day, you are losing weight, toning muscles, staying alert, and helping your body’s system to become healthier slowly but surely.

Good sleep hygiene practices

Sleep requirements vary over the course of a lifetime, with the most hours of sleep needed in infancy and interestingly, fewest needed after the age of 65. Generally, adults should sleep between seven and nine hours a night, but individual requirements may vary.

If you’re having trouble getting a good night’s sleep or have insomnia, consider the following good sleep hygiene practices:

  1. Limit napping to 20 minutes
  2. Avoid caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime
  3. Exercise! The daily burst of endorphins are a great way to help you fall asleep more quickly and for longer periods in time. Typically avoid 1-2 hours close to bedtime
  4. Avoid foods that might trigger indigestion right before bed.
  5. Some supplements that have been reported to help with sleep include chamomile tea, theanine, melatonin and valerian root but would discuss with your physician before using.
  6. Try to keep a regular sleep routine — this helps the body know it’s time to sleep.
  7. Keep your environment pleasant. Consider soft music or gently scented oils to transition to a better sleep mode.

As we can experience hectic daily lives, it is even more important to give our minds the rest it deserves – and get some good sleep!

Mind-Body Connection

At Regional Neurological Associates, we have a keen understanding of the mind-body connection. The way the sleep has the ability to affect the brain in various ways is just one example. That is why we combine two specialties–neurology and psychiatry–under one roof to provide you with the most unique and comprehensive care.

By embracing this connection between psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences, we are able to more accurately diagnose and treat patients in the Bronx and surrounding New York areas who are experiencing a wide variety of conditions affecting the brain. To request an appointment, call (718) 515-4347 or (914) 410-3633.