Welcome back to today’s guest blogger, Susanna Janssen!
Susanna is a foreign language educator and newspaper columnist on everything about words, language, and culture. In her life as a writer, speaker, and teacher, she is dedicated to contributing to the linguistic culture of America and advocating for learning a foreign language at any age. To learn more about Susanna and her programs, visit http://www.susannajanssen.com
See Susanna on Dr. Veronica’s Wellness Revolution video podcast here.
The Best Brain Elixer
Did someone say “brain elixir”? Let’s make it something we can drink, tasting like a piña colada. Or eat, preferably with the flavor and texture of fine dark chocolate. Lacking that, at least give it to us in pill form since this is, after all, 21st century America. We expect things fast, effortless, and effective. No pill? Okay then, how about a surgical procedure? You know—risk-free, quick recovery, and lift this saggy jowl while you’re at it.
Actually, there are many substances we can drink, eat, and pop that benefit the brain. Ginseng is tops among several herbs said to improve memory and mental performance. Gingko Biloba is another, known as the memory booster and widely used in Europe to treat dementia. The list of “brain foods” tacked to your refrigerator door probably includes blueberries, wild salmon, avocados, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, whole grains and, yes, dark chocolate. It could be that coffee and tea not only improve mood but memory and cognitive function as well. There’s wheatgrass versus brain fog, pomegranate juice versus forgetfulness, and of course exercise as one of the best ways to maintain brain health into old age. Studies show that people who walk just five miles a week increase their brain volume and show less development of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
London cab interns undergo three to four years of intensive training and then take a test of the accuracy of their mental map of the city’s 25,000 streets and thousands of landmarks, and their ability to quickly calculate routes and avoid jams. Only about half of them pass to become taxi drivers in one of the world’s busiest cities and craziest street grids. In a study begun in 2000 of the brain size of trainees, MRIs showed that the posterior hippocampus had grown remarkably and continued to develop as they spent hours each day behind the wheel mentally mapping the quickest route between two points.
In 2011, there was another landmark study in Sweden using recruits in the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy. Testing occurred before and after a three-month period of intensive foreign language study. Compared to the control group, the language students showed growth in the hippocampus, and in three areas of the cerebral cortex. Since the hippocampus is responsible for spatial navigation and learning new material, and the cerebral cortex for language learning, the findings in both studies seem logical. Yet it is stunning to realize that the brain actually behaves like a muscle, increasing in size and strength with exercise.
Foreign Language Learning and Bilingualism
Let’s focus on foreign language learning and bilingualism, going deeper and earlier—way back before birth, into the womb. Recent studies overwhelmingly demonstrate that at least during the last trimester of pregnancy, unborn babies are tasting, smelling, feeling their way around, perhaps seeing changes in light, and definitely hearing, remembering, and responding to sounds, especially those of mother’s voice.
There is no doubt that language is imprinted on the fetal brain. Landmark studies show babies in their first day outside the womb distinguish between mom’s voice and an unfamiliar female voice. Within minutes, they adapted their pacifier sucking pattern to connect with the sound of their own mother’s voice. Pacifier experiments also suggest newborns can distinguish between native language and foreign language.
Now, say the parents are bilingual. The newborn infant, far too young to utter a word, is sponging up the sounds of two languages. Researchers say growing up in a multi-language home can produce memory enhancement, problem-solving, creativity, interpersonal relationships, communication and language development. If that’s just passive exposure, imagine the brain boost when the child starts speaking a second language! Neurological-based skills called executive functioning are said to accelerate in development as well. These include emotional control, flexible thinking, self-monitoring, planning, and organization. If the individual maintains and develops bilingualism, neurological benefits manifest throughout life.
Bilingualism is no guarantee of higher intelligence, let alone happiness or success. It undeniably offers the proverbial “leg up” in life from babyhood onward.
(Excerpted from Susanna Janssen’s book Wordstruck! published November 2016 by Lexicon Alley Press.)
Dr. Veronica Anderson is an MD, Functional Medicine practitioner, Homeopath. and Medical Intuitive. As a national speaker and designer of the Functional Fix and Rejuvenation Journey programs, she helps people who feel like their doctors have failed them. She advocates science-based natural, holistic, and complementary treatments to address the root cause of disease. Dr. Veronica is a highly-sought guest on national television and syndicated radio and hosts her own radio show, Wellness for the REAL World, on FOX Sports 920 AM “the Jersey” on Mondays at 7:00 pm ET.
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