Your brain is one of the most important organs in your body. As we all know, our lifestyle habits affect our general health. For example, when a person doesn’t get enough exercise and overeats, he / she will put on weight. If you have a stressful day at work, you may come home with a headache. There are also many damaging habits that can affect the brain. Unfortunately, we rarely immediately feel the effects of these bad habits that can damage the brain.
As we age, it is normal to experience some loss of brain function. However, some damaging habits can actually speed up the degeneration process of the brain. For example, the BBC reported on a study into unhealthy habits and the link to brain function. Dr. Hanneke Joosten, the author of the study, said that habits that are bad for the heart are also bad for the brain.1
In this article I am going to look at 8 brain damaging habits and I’ll give you practical advice on how to avoid them to boost your brain power.
8 Brain Damaging Habits
1. Skipping Breakfast
Being in the habit of skipping breakfast can have a negative impact on your brain health. We have all heard the saying that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Research seems to indicate that when it comes to brain health, skipping breakfast is not a good habit.
For example, a study in Japan on over 80,000 people found that skipping breakfast increased the risk of having a stroke and high blood pressure. The study, conducted over a 15 year period, looked at people who did not have any history of heart disease or cancer and found that eating breakfast every day can help a person avoid suffering a stroke. The researchers also noted that blood pressure drops after breakfast and therefore, having breakfast can also reduce the risk of a brain hemorrhage.2
Having breakfast regularly also has a positive effect on concentration and mental abilities. This is backed up by a study into the effects of breakfast and academic performance in children. The journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published evidence that children who were in the habit of eating breakfast performed better academically in the classroom, especially in math and arithmetic.3
To make sure that you always get a good and nutritious breakfast, you can try a green smoothie, these healthy options for a quick breakfast, or one of my 10 delicious smoothies for breakfast. These are quick and easy recipes to get a great start to the day and boost your brain activity.
2. Cellphone Radiation May Cause Brain Cancer
There has been an ongoing debate whether radiation from cellphones can cause cancer. A clinical trial carried out in 2016 has uncovered a link between cell phone radiation and cancer in rats. The trial exposed rats to the type of radiation found in cell phones for 9 hours a day for 2 years. The study found that there was an increased risk of tumors in the brain and heart. Consumer Reports says that this is enough to establish a link between the use of cell phones and long-term cancer risks.4
This doesn’t mean that we need to ditch our cell phones. Most cell phones and smartphones have the antenna inside the casing, meaning that it is marginally away from your head. However, Consumer Reports recommends using some common-sense precautions to avoid the risk of cell phone radiation causing cancer. Some of these are:
Use the speakerphone or a hands-free headset when speaking.
If the cellular signal is weak, try to keep the cell phone away from your body.
Send text messages or use video calling when possible.
Don’t keep your phone in your shirt or pants pocket.
You should also be aware of the warning signs that cellular radiation is affecting your health.
3. Overeating of Fat Damages the Brain
We all know about the dangers of having too much fat in our diets, however, eating too much fat can also damage your brain. Scientists have discovered that fatty foods can rewire the brain to start craving foods that are high in fat.
A study carried out by the Neuroscience Program in Substance Abuse at Vanderbilt University found that people who regularly overeat fatty foods develop a defect in the brain. This defect causes the brain to send signals to continue eating, even though the person is technically feeling full.5 So, the brain’s system that is used to curb appetite starts to make a person crave fatty foods and this results in obesity and other health problems.
Having good eating habits can help the brain to function properly and avoid developing cravings for fatty foods. For example, researcher on neuroscience, Dr. Mark P. Mattson says that studies have shown that alternative day fasting can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, or Parkinson’s diseases.6
Alternative fasting diets are sometimes called the 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Diet. Intermittent fasting means eating normally for 5 days and then reducing calorie intake to 500 calories for women or 600 calories for men on 2 non-consecutive days. Does this type of fasting boost the brain’s mental abilities? A study published in PLoS One showed that in clinical trials intermittent fasting improves brain functions.7
4. Lack of Social Integration
Psychologists generally agree that our brains function best when we have opportunities to socialize with others. The website Psychology Today says that lack of social contact can lead to depression, feelings of loneliness, and even affect our ability to remember things. Children who don’t get enough social contact with their parents and peers are more likely to develop psycho-social problems. In adults, a lack of social integration can also lead to forming bad habits like over drinking and drug abuse.
To avoid a lack of social integration, it is important to look for ways to socialize with others. For example, the University of Michigan studied how social integration can help boost mental abilities. The researchers reported that even just regularly talking for 10 minutes a day can boost memory and mental performance.8
To avoid a lack of social integration it’s important to look for ways to meet and socialize with others. Counselors at the University of Florida recommend joining a gym, community center or enroll in an activity class. Physical activity will help you feel better and give you opportunities to meet other people. Even just picking up the phone to call a relative or friend can help you socialize more and keep your brain active.9
5. Sleep Deprivation
All of us feel much more refreshed when we get a good night’s sleep. However, being in the habit of not getting enough sleep can have a damaging effect on the brain. Dr. Hansa D. Bhargava on WebMD says that sleep deprivation negatively impacts the brain because of the following:10
Your thought processes slow down and it’s more difficult to perform tasks.
It makes you more forgetful and affects short-term memory.
Learning is more difficult.
Causes irritability and mood swings.
However, sleep deprivation may actually physically damage your brain. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reported that when we sleep, cellular structures in the brain alter to flush out toxins that have built up during the day.11 Therefore, to avoid degenerative brain disorders it is important to always get a good night’s sleep.
However, there are more ways that lack of sleep negatively impacts your body which you can read about in the article 23 dangers of sleep deprivation.
Smoking is a damaging habit for your brain and other organs in your body. A team of researchers found that chronic smokers experience a drop in dopamine function in the brain. This drop in dopamine is a factor that leads to addiction and also increases the chance of relapse when trying to quit. The researchers found that when a person quits smoking, dopamine levels normalized, thus showing that low dopamine function isn’t a precursor to smoking.12
Doctors have also seen that smokers have a thinner cortex than non-smokers. This part of the brain is essential for memory, language, and perception. Doctors agree that a thinner cortex is connected with mental decline.13
Quitting smoking will help boost your mental abilities and help you enjoy a healthier life. It is possible to quit smoking and I have written about 5 scientifically proven natural ways to quit smoking.
7. Too Much Sugar
As well as causing your waistline to bulge and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes due to obesity, too much sugar can also have a damaging effect on your brain.
A study published by 2 researchers from the University of New South Wales found that in young mice, too much sugar had just as much negative impact on brain development as extreme stress or abuse. They think that if the same happens in children and young adults, too much sugar could have long-term effects on the brain and behavior.14
It’s important to cut out as much as possible sugary sodas and candies. You should also be careful of added sugar to foods like fructose corn syrup, invert sugar and sucrose. Also, many low-fat foods have added sugar to help improve the taste. So, try to look for products that are unsweetened or have no sugar added.
However, quitting sugar can be difficult. You can find some practical ideas on how to quit sugar effectively in my article. Reducing your sugar intake to a minimum has many health benefits and it will help keep your brain functioning well.
8. Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol consumption affects your body in many ways and it has long lasting damaging effects on your brain even after it left your body.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, alcohol affects the brain in many ways, such as impaired memory and slowing in reaction times. People who have been consuming large amounts of alcohol for extended periods of time run the risk of developing serious and persistent changes in the brain that persist well after the person achieves sobriety. The damage can be a result of the direct effects of alcohol on the brain or may result indirectly, from a poor general health status or from severe liver disease.15
A new study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found reductions in middle-aged recovering alcoholics’ white matter pathways compared to non-alcoholics.16
The researchers showed that chronic misuse of alcohol results in measurable damage to the brain. These results further indicate that individuals at high risk for alcoholism may have differences in their brain structure. One of the researchers, professor of psychiatry and psychology M. Keane, states that the longer you misuse alcohol the greater your chances are of permanent brain damage.17
If you drink alcohol, you may also be interested to read my article on how long alcohol stays in your system.