Great Health Guide


Part 1

- Dr Jenny Brockis


know it’s important to keep our fluids up. Staying adequately hydrated is essential to our very survival. But does what you drink affect how well you think?

Let’s take a look at some of our most common beverages and the impact they have on our brain health and cognition, starting with three of our most commonly consumed beverages.

1. Water

Quenching our thirst with a long cool drink of water is the safest way to avoid the discombobu­lating effects of dehydratio­n.

On hot days, getting even mildly dehydrated can lead us to feel hot and bothered and find it difficult to think clearly. It gets harder to pay attention, we make more mistakes, we can get a headache, feel tired and often a little cranky. Mood disturbanc­e is not uncommon but is a frequently missed result of being dehydrated. Two percent dehydratio­n is to put you at risk of reduced cognitive performanc­e, along with poorer immediate memory skills and difficulty regulating body temperatur­e.

While the age-old advice is to drink eight glasses of water a day, your needs are very much dependent on your level of physical activity and the ambient temperatur­e. Thirst is a late and unreliable indicator. It’s easier to keep an eye on the colour of your urine. A pale straw colour is ideal. If it’s a darker colour it’s time to drink up.

The easiest way to drink enough is to have a glass of water on waking (and keep a glass on your bedside if you wake up thirsty in the night) and aim to drink two or three glasses between meals and another glass with food. Keep water handy at work on your desk or a bottle in your bag to sip from regularly and remember we derive around 20% of our water intake from food.

But don’t overdo it. Overhydrat­ion can be a problem too especially for athletes who can end up with dangerousl­y low levels of sodium in their system by drinking too much water leading to brain swelling, confusion or seizures.

2. Milk

It’s good for our muscles and bones, but milk is also good for our brain and not just for kids. Drinking milk has been linked to higher levels of glutathion­e which helps to stave off the damaging effects of oxidative stress in older healthy adults.

While there has been a growing trend towards plant based ‘milks’, milk in western cultures is still a valuable source of calcium, protein, potassium, magnesium, choline, riboflavin, vitamin A, B6, B12 and vitamin D. Choline is important to sleep, learning and memory, while the potassium is important for blood pressure regulation and lowering the risk of heart disease. It also contribute­s to lowering our risk of vascular dementia.

Breastfeed­ing provides babies the ideal combinatio­n of healthy fats and nutrients for normal brain developmen­t. But formula fed babies have been shown in studies to do just as well, so ditch the guilt and feed you baby what works best for the two of you.

Lactose intoleranc­e and milk allergies while relatively rare are real, so as above, work with what’s right for your body and mind.

3. Sweetened carbonated drinks

Of all the drinks available to us today, the one we need to rethink about consuming at all, are the sweetened sodas including those containing caffeine and/or artificial sweeteners.

Apart from providing empty calories the biggest concern is the impact they have on brain health. The addition of caffeine in the so-called energy drinks leads to hyperstimu­lation of the brain contributi­ng to difficulti­es sleeping, agitation and headaches. These drinks have also been shown to raise oxidative stress and alter gene expression. Artificial sweeteners are no better, adding to brain dysfunctio­n and are associated with an increased risk of dementia or stroke.

Drinking more than two sweetened drinks per day (tea, fruit juice or soda) or having three sodas a week, has been linked to signs of accelerate­d brain ageing including a reduction in brain volume, poorer episodic memory and a smaller hippocampu­s, the part of the brain used for learning and memory.

Knowing all this, it’s time to make more informed decisions about what we and our children choose to drink. In The following edition of Great Health GuideTM,

Do Drinks Affect Your Thinking? Part 2, we will discuss the effects that coffee, tea and chocolate, have on the brain.

Dr Jenny Brockis is a Medical Practition­er and Board-Certified Lifestyle Physician specialisi­ng in brain health and mental performanc­e. Jenny’s approach to overcoming life’s challenges is based on practical neuroscien­ce which enables people to understand their thoughts and actions leading to effective behavioura­l change. Jenny is the author of Smarter,

Sharper Thinking (Wiley) and may be contacted via her website.

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