Brain Waves

How to reignite yours through food, ex­er­cise and an app

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It’s been 18 years since for­mer Happy Days star An­son Wil­liams fell asleep be­hind the wheel and veered onto the side of the road while driv­ing through Cal­i­for­nia’s Palm­dale Desert. The ex­pe­ri­ence left the ac­tor-di­rec­tor, best known for his role as War­ren (Pot­sie) We­ber, shaken to the core. “I only woke up when I started bounc­ing around,” Wil­liams, 68, re­calls. “I’m lucky to be alive.”

With that life-al­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence came a de­ter­mi­na­tion to com­bat drowsy driv­ing, the re­ported cause of one in ev­ery five car ac­ci­dents. Wil­liams en­listed the help of his un­cle, Dr. Henry Heim­lich (yes, cre­ator of the Heim­lich ma­noeu­vre), who en­cour­aged him to keep lemon slices in his car and bite into one any time he felt slug­gish.

“He ex­plained how the cit­ric acid in a lemon hits the lin­gual nerve [at the cen­tre of the tongue] and wakes your brain up in­stantly,” Wil­liams says. “You know how you go to a doc­tor’s of­fice and they test your re­flexes by tap­ping your knees? It’s the same thing. It’s an au­to­matic re­ac­tion.”

And its ef­fects are quicker than most peo­ple’s go-to: caf­feine. “Cof­fee takes about 20 min­utes to take ef­fect,” Wil­liams says. “You could be dead three times [over] by that time.”

Wil­liams and his busi­ness part­ner Joanna Con­nell de­vel­oped Alert Drops (US$18, www.alert­, a pocket-sized wakeup aid – us­ing cit­ric acid from lemon juice and nat­u­ral preser­va­tives – that re­quires only a sim­ple spritz to the tongue to in­duce a nat­u­ral adrenalin jolt.

“It took al­most killing my­self to learn all this,” Wil­liams says. “It’s all very old sci­ence – all we did was take the in­for­ma­tion and cre­ate a more con­ve­nient way of dis­tribut­ing it. Dur­ing one of my last phone calls [with Heim­lich] be­fore he passed away in De­cem­ber 2016, he said, ‘An­son, this will save more lives than the Heim­lich ma­noeu­vre.’”

Here, seven more brain boost­ers to add to your gro­cery cart.

Black Cur­rants Sci­en­tists in New Zealand have dis­cov­ered that in­gest­ing the berries can in­crease men­tal per­for­mance (such as at­ten­tion span and mood) while al­le­vi­at­ing symp­toms of age-re­lated brain de­gen­er­a­tion and dis­or­ders such as Parkin­son’s dis­ease.

Broc­coli Kids and adults alike may wrin­kle their nose, but broc­coli is a proven source of two es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents: vi­ta­min K, which strength­ens cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties, and choline, which im­proves mem­ory. As a bonus, broc­coli also con­tains a healthy dose of folic acid, which can help ward off Alzheimer’s dis­ease.

Dan­de­lion Greens This mighty veg­etable can ward off in­flam­ma­tion and pre­vent can­cer, thanks to lutein, a pig­ment found in dark­green veg­eta­bles that also preserves cog­ni­tive func­tion and men­tal clar­ity as the brain ages. And dan­de­lions have the high­est lutein con­tent of any food – so be sure to eat your greens!

Kim­chi This cen­turies-old Korean dish of fer­mented veg­eta­bles – most com­monly cab­bage and radish – is low-calo­rie, low-fat and nu­tri­ent­dense. It also con­tains the pro­bi­otic lac­to­bacilli (lac­tic acid bac­te­ria) present in the fer­ment­ing process, which pro­duces neu­ro­chem­i­cals that pro­mote brain health and men­tal well-be­ing.

Pump­kin Seeds Did you know a hand­ful of pump­kin seeds a day can keep mem­ory loss at bay? The per­fect ex­am­ple of brain food, pump­kin seeds con­tains omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for aid­ing in mem­ory and im­prov­ing over­all men­tal health. They also con­tain a rich amount of mag­ne­sium, which has a calm­ing ef­fect on the brain.

Sage Part of the mint fam­ily, sage has long been her­alded as a mem­ory en­hancer and can act as a pro­tec­tor against Alzheimer’s dis­ease. It has both an­tiox­i­dants and anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties that help de­fend the chem­i­cal mes­sen­gers that are es­sen­tial to mem­ory re­call. It’s been found that, whether eaten fresh – added to your favourite soup or salad – or taken in the form of an oil sup­ple­ment, sage can pro­vide a sig­nif­i­cant boost to mem­ory re­call.

Turmeric A sta­ple in cur­ries or added to a casse­role or egg salad, it’s easy to em­brace the pow­er­ful ef­fects of this herb from In­dia. A po­tent anti-in­flam­ma­tory and an­tiox­i­dant, cur­cumin – the chem­i­cal that gives turmeric its mus­tard-yellow colour – has been shown to im­prove cog­ni­tion mem­ory and mood. —Laura Grande


Ex­er­cise is also good for the brain. For one, it stim­u­lates the pro­duc­tion of neu­rons – the cells through which your brain com­mu­ni­cates with nerves. That’s not news but what is new is how a work­out can be neu­ro­pro­tec­tive.

In a re­cent Ger­man study, par­tic­i­pants 65 and older who per­formed 30 min­utes of mod­er­ate-in­ten­sity aer­o­bic ex­er­cise, three times a week, sta­bi­lized cere­bral con­cen­tra­tions of choline. Al­though ele- vated lev­els of choline have been linked to cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment and loss of brain func­tion, we still need this nu­tri­ent in our diet as it’s in­volved in many of our body’s func­tions in­clud­ing mem­ory, as men­tioned above. But ex­er­cise seems in­te­gral at keep­ing choline lev­els in check. Can’t think (get it?) of a bet­ter rea­son to take a brisk walk, mow the lawn and swim some laps this week. —Tara Losin­ski


A study pub­lished ear­lier this year by the Univer­sité de Mon­tréal re­in­forces pre­vi­ous find­ings that be­ing bilin­gual can help com­bat cog­ni­tive ag­ing. Sci­en­tists from the univer­sity’s geri­atric re­search cen­tre found that se­niors work­ing in two lan­guages had bet­ter fo­cus when per­form­ing tasks, thereby im­prov­ing their brain’s ef­fi­ciency and sub­se­quently help­ing re­duce its wear and tear.

Speak­ing two or more lan­guages has also been shown to de­lay the on­set of de­men­tia and Alzheimer’s dis­ease de­spite a per­son’s ed­u­ca­tion, gen­der, oc­cu­pa­tion and whether they are city- or coun­try-dwellers. So, brush up on your French, or Span­ish or even Man­darin. Or master the local lingo be­fore your next va­ca­tion abroad. On­line pro­grams have taken lan­guage learn­ing from the class­room to, well, any room with Wi-Fi. Babbel (, for one, of­fers self­di­rected cour­ses in 13 lan­guages and a mo­bile app so you can down­load lessons to go – en route to a buck­etlist des­ti­na­tion, per­haps. Sub­scrip­tions from US$13 (one month) to US$85 (12 months) —TL

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