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  • Flora Gandolfo


Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Ahead of Brain Awareness Week on 14-20 March, wellness experts from internationally renowned Chiva-Som offer their tips for supporting brain health. One of the most important organs in the human body, the brain affects all aspects of our daily lives: interpretation of senses and control of movement; maintenance of cognitive, mental and emotional processes; and behavioural functions. Numerous interconnected social and biological determinants play a role in brain development and health, as well as environmental exposures, nutrition, physical health and sleep habits. Dr Jason Culp, Research & Development Director at international wellness resort, Chiva-Som, in Hua Hin, Thailand shares his wellness tips to optimise brain function, whilst Joelle Alkhoury, Family & Child Specialist at Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som, in Qatar, provides guidance on maintaining children's mental wellbeing.


Dr Jason Culp, Research & Development Director at Chiva-Som

Recent research has uncovered promising results on the effects of plant-based and Mediterranean diets on overall brain health. Through the field of metabolomics (how the body metabolises and uses nutrients), the research explores the interactions between diet and gut microbiome, and the cumulative effects key nutrients have on cognitive function. Dr Jason Culp shares his recommendations for key superfoods individuals should incorporate into their diet to improve brain health:

COCOA: Increasing evidence suggests that cocoa has a positive effect on cognitive function in both young adults and the older generation. When digested in its low-pressurised form, the flavanols of cocoa enhance blood flow to the brain and body's sensitivity to the blood sugar-lowering hormone, Insulin.

COFFEE: Research shows that routine coffee drinkers can benefit from a reduced risk of cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer's disease when consumed in moderation. Coffee can also benefit brain health in the short term by enhancing concentration and improving motor control and alertness. Some research has suggested women benefit more the men from regular coffee consumption.

RED WINE: The consumption of red wine has long been deemed heart-healthy and can be found in some of the world’s healthiest diets, including the Mediterranean, and is consumed by the world’s longest-living communities. Research has also demonstrated a cognitive-sparing effect from wine, showing the slowest decline (and therefore most benefit) in those individuals who consume 1.5 glasses of wine per day.

GREEN TEA: Green tea contains plant compounds called catechins which are associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. As well as this potential protective benefit, the consumption of green tea also helps to boost memory, alertness and a sense of calm. L-theanine, a phytochemical found in green tea, has also been linked to these positive effects.

MUSHROOMS: Edible mushrooms contain a variety of healthy nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. Researchers are exploring another potential benefit – their ability to promote cognitive health and prevent decline. Even small amounts have been shown to reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment – a condition that typically precedes Alzheimer’s disease. Shiitake, white button and oyster mushrooms are among the types found to benefit cognitive health.

BERRIES: Blueberries have been reported to improve overall cognitive performance, memory and possibly even mood. On top of that, the powerful antioxidant properties of blueberries protect the heart and blood vessels, improve the vision and health of the retina, and have a positive impact on blood sugar control.


Joelle Alkhoury, Family & Child Specialist at Zulal Wellness Resort by Chiva-Som

Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the mental health of children. Prolonged lockdowns have disrupted education and daily routines, whilst social distancing has resulted in a lack of engagement with friends, neighbours and extended family. Deteriorating mental health can manifest as self-isolation, a loss of interest in daily activities and even depression. Conversely, children may over-attach to others and constantly need reassurance, or even act out with risk-taking behaviours. These negative effects are compounded in children when they cannot identify, communicate and manage their feelings.

The most important response is for parents and other adults in a child’s life is to provide a safe space for communication. Children should be asked to express what they are feeling using open-ended and engaging questions. Especially if they struggle with verbal communication, attention should be paid to facial expressions and body language; validate what the child is feeling, letting them know that they have been heard, that what they are feeling is normal and perfectly acceptable.

Establishing a daily routine is important for mental wellbeing. Activities that are well-balanced, combining relaxation, energetic activities and entertainment will keep children grounded.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for all family members, and this can affect parenting styles. Parents may become less available and responsive to their children, they may even act inconsistently and lash out in frustration. Parents should pay extra attention to how they are behaving towards their children, making sure that they are not negatively affecting them, as mirrored in the child’s behaviour.

Children need to feel secure at home, with a strong family unit to rely on. This extends to multiple generations of the family – cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents – as the severing of bonds can lead to feelings of loss and distress. When physical interaction is not possible, sharing mutual interests online – such as playing games or praying together – is recommended. This will be beneficial for both young and old.

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For the past 10 years, Dr. Culp has held the position of senior Naturopathic physician at Chiva-Som International Health resort, where he conducts natural wellness consultations for in-house clients. In addition to his role as Naturopathic physician, he is the founder and director for the Research and Development department at Chiva-Som, in which the primary objectives are to evaluate and explore the use of evidence-based natural therapies in a holistic wellness setting. He is involved in lecturing internationally on the topic of wellness promotion as well.

Dr. Culp’s wellness philosophy follows that in order to create sustainable health, the client must fully engage and play an active participatory role in their own wellness process. The empowerment of the individual and the client’s authentic understanding of their wellness goals, intentions, and motivations take precedent in health and healing. In this way, each client leaves with the feeling that they are the most powerful advocate in their own wellness journey.


Joelle is a passionate humanitarian and brings with her extensive experience in the fields of psychology, education, social work and research. Her background in counselling makes her perfect for her role at the resort facilitating positive child development, family bonding and parenting skills.

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