25 Surprising Ways You Are Harming your Brain

Mar 4th, 2009

Taking hard drugs, not wearing a helmet during a drag race and snorting paint are of course harmful to your brain and might even be deadly in some cases. But did you know that getting too much sleep, not having any friends and not reading food labels is also harmful to your brain? Read on for 25 surprising ways you’re not protecting yourself the way you should.

Personal Habits

From negative thinking to letting your brain gelatinize, these harmful personal habits have got to go.

  1. Not getting enough sleep: Besides making you feel sluggish and unfocused the next morning, a consistent lack of sleep affects the body and brain by "disrupting hormones that regulate appetite," according to the Washington Post. This evidence supports scientists’ theory that chronic sleep deprivation also contributes to obesity. Besides the appetite connection, too little sleep also affects memory loss and your brain’s ability to process information, as your mind requires down time to preserve memory and retain information.
  2. Getting in a rut: Just like any muscle or any organ in the body, your brain needs to be flexed and exercised in order to stay in top shape. If you haven’t challenged yourself in any way by trying a new sport, Smoking: Smoking is an unhealthy habit that stresses out your entire body, including your brain. WebMD even maintains that "smoking cigarettes affects [the] brain like heroin," because of its stimulated production of opioids, which "known to play a role in soothing pain, increasing positive emotions, and creating a sense of reward," like heroin.
  3. Lack of practice: Keep your brain sharp and in practice by doing crossword puzzles, playing brain teasers and games, or taking a class. Time even suggests that this activity can reduce your chances of developing dementia.
  4. Too much sleep: Just as too little sleep is harmful, too much sleep can also cause health problems. Oversleeping too much can shorten your life span.
  5. Botox: Botox is actually a very deadly poison, but has been approved for cosmetic use because it isn’t likely that it can enter the bloodstream and affect nerve cells or the brain. Newsweek reports, however, that "contrary to what turned up in preclinical testing, botulinum toxin [Botox] can travel along neurons from the injection site into the brain, at least in lab animals." This discrepancy poses a threat to humans who receive Botox injections, and at least 28 people have died since 1989.
  6. Stress: Even if you think procrastinating leads to an adrenaline rush of panic, scientists believe that stress clouds the brain, especially among males.
  7. Urban life: Boston.com’s Jonah Lehrer reported in January 2009 that urban life actually "impairs our basic mental processes," affecting memory and focus. One of the factors attributed to this finding is the lack of nature in city environments. Apparently, the more trees and natural surroundings we see, the better our brains function.
  8. Watching TV: TV is a common scapegoat for laziness, obesity, ADD and the inability to focus, but this report details a study that may prove watching TV under the age of 2 is harmful to brain development. The 2004 study "suggested that TV might overstimulate and permanently ‘rewire’ the developing brain," according to an Associated Press story published on MSNBC.com.
  9. Head-banging: The myth that head-banging kills brain cells might not be completely true, but the rocker move is still hazardous to your health and "can put you at risk for brian injury, whiplash, and even stroke," according to Discover Magazine

Social and Mental Factors

Work on your attitude to amp up your brain health.

  1. Isolating yourself: A lack of social interaction doesn’t just damper your mood, it can drastically affect your overall mental health and happiness. The AARP reports that "experts say that how socially connected a person tends to be is one of the most important ways of predicting his or her health and independence in later years." Even if you’re shy or content to be alone, try reading a book at a coffee shop or joining a club to buoy your spirits and preserve your health.
  2. Temper tantrums: If you’re constantly losing control and throwing a temper tantrum, you could be shrinking memory censors, according to AARP.
  3. Not exercising: Exercise is paramount to brain health, as it increases blood flow, oxygen intake and manages depression. The Mayo Clinic’s Gabrielle J. Melin, M.D. writes that "exercise definitely can improve your depression and this has been proven in many scientific studies," due to the production of endorphins, "the feel-good chemical that all human bodies make."

Diet and Nutrition

This list of brain foods includes coffee, blueberries, and other low-calorie foods.

  1. Cutting out caffeine: Too much caffeine can cause irritability and cause sleep problems, but cutting it out altogether isn’t wise, either. As it turns out, coffee "may cut the risk of dementia by blocking the damage cholesterol can inflict on the body," according to a report from BBC News.
  2. Not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids: The best brain food contains omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, walnuts and eggs.
  3. Not getting enough berries or other antioxidants: Besides omega-3 fatty acids, the brain also needs lots of antioxidants, which keep the brain young. The best antioxidants contain vitamins C, E, and beta carotene, according to the AARP. Antioxidant-rich foods include strawberries, blueberries oranges, kale, spinach and red bell peppers.
  4. Overdoing alcohol: Red wine in moderation can help your heart block cholesterol, but indulging in too much alcohol is bad for the brain, and may even shrink it, according to CNN.
  5. Too many calories: Medical News Today reports that low calorie diets "may help prevent Alzheimer’s." Low calorie diets are also supposed to improve memory, as long as it isn’t taken to extremes. Malnutrition can impair focus and energy.

Toxins and Chemicals

Understand how toxins and chemicals like MSG are harmful to your brain.

  1. Aspartame: Aspartame is a chemical used in artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet. It is approved by the FDA but is controversial because of its affects on babies, and after a recent study, its capacity to cause brain seizures. Opt for natural sweeteners, like natural honey, when mixing your coffee or tea, not chemically enhanced sugars that contain aspartame.
  2. MSG: MSG, a chemical used to add flavor to certain foods, can cause severe headaches, fatigue and vomiting in humans, as well as other animals. MSG is also thought to negatively impact memory and the brain’s learning sensors. A 2008 study conducted by a high school student in India even showed that MSG slows brain growth.
  3. Not using proper ventilation methods: Gasoline, toxic cleaning supplies and other approved products and chemicals can cause severe headaches and perhaps cause damage to brain cells if you do not properly ventilate the area and take breaks. If you must work around chemicals for a long period of time, wear a face mask and open windows to increase air flow.

Check-ups and Health

Make a point to visit the doctor regularly and ask about the risks of medical treatment in order to promote brain health.

  1. Ignoring headaches: Headaches are caused from all types of conditions, including fatigue, stress, hunger and dehydration. But severe chronic headaches could signify a much more serious problem, like a brain tumor, severe sinuses, or another underlying condition.
  2. Missing check-ups: Missing check-ups means that you have less face time with your doctor to talk about any health concerns or irregularities. It also means that you will miss tests that can catch health problems early on and will only worsen in the future.
  3. Taking Warfarin: The blood-thinning drug Warfarin "can increase the risk of death from a brain haemorrhage," according to the Telegraph. The paper reports that a U.S. study found that Warfarin–usually prescribed to patients at risk from eschemic stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain–risks the chance of making blood too thin, resulting in a brain hemorrhage.
  4. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is now a standard treatment for many types of cancer, but it also poses a risk to the brain. A University of Rochester Medical Center study found that chemotherapy and other "common drugs used to treat cancer may be more harmful to healthy brain cells than the cancer cells that they are intended to destroy." The Mayo Clinic also reports that chemotherapy can cause memory problems.
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