brain health

Nutrition for Brain Health

Building a Healthy Brain, Part 1

My son has brain injury. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as an infant, experienced wide variations in his blood sugar at a critical time in his early childhood, resulting in part of his brain being damaged. The damage continued through the years with a prescribed diet filled with artificial sweeteners and a low fat, carbohydrate counting diet. He began to believe he was worse than his peers, unable to eat what they could eat, unable to think the way they thought, unable to socialize in a positive way. Eventually he fell into a state of constant anxiety, believing with every cell of his body that he was not worthy of living.

Today my son is happy and although he still struggles with slight brain injury, he looks forward to every day, using his artistic creativity and his positive mindset to make friends everywhere he goes.  He has transformed his life with the help of amazing healers who helped him learn how to build a healthy brain while building a healthy belief system.

Why do I tell you my son’s story? It is because every single one of us over the years has struggled at times with self-doubt and anxiety. We find ourselves under stress, believing we are in a dark valley with no way out. These beliefs affect our health, our happiness and how we function in daily life.  It affects our relationships with our family, at work, and everyone around us. The good news is that we can overcome this negative “stinking thinking” and move forward with our lives. The first step in moving forward is to take care of our brain health through nutrition.

Brain Health: How Does It Work?

A chiropractor friend of mine gave a compelling demonstration during a business presentation. By using ropes and rubber bands held together by his audience, he then proceeded to show how important it is for our nerves to be properly connected with nerve impulses flowing freely without interference. The junction between the nerves need to be healthy to allow proper communication. Dysfunction leads to disease. The brain itself has 100 billion nerve cells, and each cell is connected to ~10,000 other cells. There are more nerve connections in our body than there are the number of leaves in a rainforest.

Five Steps to Brain Health through Nutrition

We have become a society who loves our sweet drinks and desserts. Even our core foods have become filled with added sugars to “improve taste”.  Processed foods not only contain added sugars or even worse, artificial sugar substitutes, but other additives that act as excitotoxins in our brain.  Switching away from processed foods to whole foods including clean, organic meats, vegetables and fruit will make an enormous difference in your health, including your brain health.

produce challengeComplex Carbohydrates and Protein: Brain cells need a constant source of energy from glucose to survive. Both high blood sugar levels and low levels affect your brain negatively. This is how my son acquired his brain injury, for his tiny body was unable to balance the injected insulin appropriately. The best complex carbohydrates are found in unprocessed vegetables and fruits.  Wheat, even whole wheat products spike your blood sugar. Eating white sugar and refined carbohydrates lead to chronically high blood sugar and eventually shrinks your brain. Protein breaks down into key amino acids that are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters allow our brain cells to communicate with each other. The healthiest protein comes from animals raised as nature intended, free of antibiotics, steroids, and hormones, but vegetarians can get enough protein with extra planning.

USANA supplementsCellular Nutrition:  Even as adults, our cells require proper nutrition to function properly. Whole foods are better than any processed foods, but even so, science has shown that foods today do not contain the quantity of nutrients needed for optimal health. Everyone, regardless of how well you eat, needs to add a high quality multivitamin supplement containing the correct ratios of micronutrients as well as being 100% pure of contaminants.

coconut oilGood Fats: Coconut oil has gotten a bad rap for 20 years, because of its saturated fat content. Actually the medium chain medium-chain triacylglycerols are extraordinarily healthy for our brain cells. The process of breaking down coconut oil in the liver produces ketones and short-chain fatty acids—both shown to help support cognition.  Fish oils containing omega-3 fatty acids also have brain protective effects.  Just be sure that the fish you eat and the fish oil supplements you take are not contaminated with mercury, a known heavy metal toxin that damages the brain.

lemon waterFresh Water: Brain cells that are deprived of too much water lose efficiency. Dehydration can cause impairment to the attention span, short-term memory, long-term memory and mathematical abilities. 75% of US population are chronically dehydrated.  It only takes 2% dehydration to affect your attention, memory and other cognitive skills. Drink plenty of fresh water daily. A good rule of thumb is to divide your weight (lbs) in half and drink that many ounces of water daily.

bubbles of oxygenOxygen: We don’t generally think about oxygen being a nutrient, but actually it is the most important!  Of course you cannot live without oxygen for more than a few minutes, but did you know that many of us are walking around deprived of adequate oxygen? Stop slouching. When you stand up tall with good posture, you actually increase lung capacity 5%.  Practice deep breathing techniques. Taking deep breaths calms the mind and replenishes oxygen to the brain. If you smoke, STOP. Carbon monoxide from inhaled cigarette smoke decreases oxygen intake and damages lungs.

Making these healthy changes to your nutrition and diet will go a long way to help you or a loved one feel better, think more clearly, and improve overall brain health. Other factors are also very important to brain health and will be addressed in a future article here at Living Well Connections.

Live Well,

Robin

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Resources:

Olney JW, Excitotoxins in foods. Neurotoxicology. 1994 Fall;15(3):535-44. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7854587

Lucia Kerti, MA, A. Veronica Witte, PhD, Angela Winkler, MA, Ulrike Grittner, PhD, Dan Rujescu, MD and Agnes Flöel, MD, Higher glucose levels associated with lower memory and reduced hippocampal microstructure. Neurology. Published online before print October 23, 2013. http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2013/10/23/01.wnl.0000435561.00234.ee.short

Chang CY, Ke DS, Chen JY. Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2009 Dec;18(4):231-41. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20329590

Dyall, Simon C, Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK  http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052/abstract

Nafar F, Mearow KM. Coconut oil attenuates the effects of amyloid-β on cortical neurons in vitro. J Alzheimers Dis. 2014;39(2):233-7 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24150106

Wolpert, Stuart. Scientists learn how what you eat affects your brain — and those of your kids. UCLA Online Newsroom. July 09, 2008. As seen on July 28, 2015. http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/scientists-learn-how-food-affects-52668

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