” Our greatest discovery is to explore the space that lies between our ears”
What is the brain, and how does it differentiate from the mind? The brain doesn’t initiate thought, that is the mind’s job, the brain mainly processes information and is the control center for many bodily functions. For the brain to properly process and understand complex sequences of information it requires peak performance, and that doesn’t just happen, it must be groomed and nurtured just like we groom and nurture our bodies.
Proper brain care involves four basic components: sleep, diet, nutritional supplements and beneficial activities such as exercise. Each component is equally important, skimping on one and overemphasizing another will produce unbalanced results. Everything you put into your body directly or indirectly affects your brain’s performance. It is essentially a chemically operated machine where messages and instructions are conveyed through the brain mechanism via interactions of chemicals and neurotransmitters. Of some 60 neurotransmitters, 7 are the most common in daily use:
- Acetylcholine – affects memory and movement
- Serotonin – regulates waking/sleep cycles& counter balances adrenaline
- GABA – alleviates anxiety, aids concentration
- Glycine – inhibits seizures
- Dopamine – regulates libido and pleasure
- Histamine – needed for sensory integration
- Adrenaline – stimulates alertness, activity and mood elevation
All the food and nutrition you take in has to be converted into “fuel” in the form of ATP to run the brain’s engine. ATP releases energy stored in food and nutrients to generate neurotransmitters, transport protein to cells and aid in conducting electrical impulses within the brain and the rest of the body. When the brain gets the right chemicals it works at its peak, when it gets the wrong chemicals or inadequate supplies of the right ones, its performance degrades. Control what you eat and you control the raw materials supplied to your brain’s factory. What are the brain’s essential fuel components?
- Fats – The brain is largely composed of fatty acids which help create and repair new connections between nerve cells. Food processing destroys these fatty acids and deny the proper development and repair mechanism for the brain. Good foods to eat for these essential fatty acids are: salmon, tuna, olive oil, avocado, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and eggs.
- Protein – The brain uses proteins and amino acids to balance hormone production which affects mental function. Good brain protein foods include: eggs, beans nuts and seeds and all animal foods.
- Carbohydrates – These provide a short term energy boost for the brain. The best foods for proper brain function, here, include: all fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as amaranth, quinoa, oats, wild or brown rice, sweet potatoes and buckwheat.
Weight Gain/Loss and Serotonin
Serotonin is a happy hormone and is greatly affected by nutrition. When the brain is flooded by serotonin, satiety occurs. Serotonin deficiency has been associated with carbohydrate deficiency that contributes to the accumulation of excess body fat, hence, obese individuals have low serotonin levels which indicates that their sugar/carb cravings and overeating patterns are related to serotonin deficiency in the brain. If there are high levels of other amino acids in relation to serotonin in the blood, little serotonin will enter the brain, causing chronic serotonin deficiency and as a result, constant hunger. Serotonin depleting enzymes increase as people age, therefore, older people tend to suffer sleep deprivation miseries because serotonin helps one to calm down and relax. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is used to make serotonin and it is the least plentiful of all the amino acids. It is also essential, which means the body cannot make it on its own, so it must be obtained from food and supplements. Tryptophan is scarce in the body so there is a great demand for it. It is used by the liver to make needed vitamins, such as B-3, so if you supplement with B-3, the tryptophan can go elsewhere. In the body, serotonin levels are enhanced by sugar/carb ingestion, as insulin accelerates the serum removal of other amino acids that compete for transport through the blood brain barrier. If you increase serotonin, it suppresses the need for sugar and carbs. With this small step, many are helped with their desire for sugar/carb consumption and hence lose weight naturally.
Brain Chemicals and Modern Life
Almost everything here comes down to chemistry. Concentration, fidgeting, sleep, energy levels, mood swings and even the ability to sweat are controlled by chemicals lurking in our bodies. The chemicals I am talking about include serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, melatonin, norepinepherine, insulin, and prostaglandins, which are some of the more important hormones of the brain and organs. These chemicals are strongly influenced by diet, stress, exercise, sunlight, sleep and other lifestyle factors:
- indoor air – is deionized and reduces serotonin
- being indoors – lack of sunlight which reduces vitamin D and melatonin
- bedroom lighting – reduces melatonin
- stress – reduces serotonin
- food processing – fatty acid imbalance and chemical sensitivities
- high sugar/carb/low fat diet – creates more insulin and prostaglandin imbalance
- lack of exercise – decreases serotonin and dopamine
- lack of sleep – reduces serotonin, melatonin and adrenaline
- poor nutrition – reduces all good brain chemicals
- boredom – reduces dopamine and norepinepherine
If someone adheres to the above factors that negatively influence brain chemicals, the results usually manifest as: ADD, irritability, aggression, depression, anxiety, lack of concentration, chronic pain, restlessness, fatigue, nausea, OCD, weight gain/loss, fibromyalgia, CFS, arthritis and heat intolerance.
One way of helping yourself is to go to bed before midnight and wake up at the same time each morning, as the deepest sleep occurs before midnight, and the body can recharge its store of hormones. Another helpful way is to keep cool, as heat lowers serotonin levels as serotonin is used to cool down the body, that’s why many people get cranky when they are hot. If you have low serotonin levels, you will have trouble sweating and staying cool. Sleeping in the darkest room possible is also a good idea, as an increase in light, even from a night light, signals melatonin to stop releasing into the body, which signals the body to wake up.
The following points are to be avoided as much as possible as they not only cancel out your efforts to build a better brain, but can also degrade your mental abilities.
- stress/anger/anxiety – these trigger emergency flows of certain hormones, leading not only to brain imbalances, but a host of other physical problems as well.
- smoking -floods the brain with toxic chemicals.
- excessive alcohol – destroys brain cells.
- medications – sedatives and sleeping pills dramatically affect memory and clarity of thinking, as do cholesterol reducers.
- head injuries – trauma to the head such as whiplash, a fall or a direct hit to the head.
- packaged foods – processed sugar, soft drinks, all processed foods and coffee as they all prevent proper absorption of nutrients.
- other negative factors – heavy metals, parasitic infections, toxic dental materials, anti-perspirants, toxic skin care products, food dyes, MSG, artificial sweeteners and fluoride.
Lifestyle changes to consider that are brain friendly:
- decrease stress by exercising
- change to a more natural diet – drop refined carbs and sugar both natural and artificial
- get daily sunlight
- avoid processed foods and carbs, as they are not broken down properly by the cells for the brain to use them effectively. After all, paper mache is made from just flour and water, so imagine what it does inside your body. Avoid breads, cereal, chips and pasta
- eat amino acids derived from beans rather than animal protein as the amino acids are used to build vital hormones, proteins, enzymes and neurotransmitters
- eat plenty of antioxidants – these are especially important for adults to prevent cells and the brain from unstable oxygen atoms (free radicals). This is called oxidation, and is precipitated by cigarette smoke, hydrogenated oils, car exhaust, ozone, prescription drugs, toxins, pollution and radiation, including microwaved foods.
- eat – all vegetables, all berries, pomegranate, plums, almonds, pecans and walnuts
- optimize brain function with – Vitamin C, tocotrienols amino acids, DHLA, B vitamins, lycopene, glutathione DHEA, pregnenolone, melatonin, noni, magnesium, zinc, DHA, turmeric and ginko biloba
- turn your mind off daily for at least a few minutes (meditation)
If you can avoid the brain depleting foods and actions described above, supplement with the proper brain building components and adhere to healthy lifestyle changes, you will see and feel remarkable changes in your life. Remember, lasting results will take some time to achieve, but if you make small changes on a daily basis, you brain and body will be the better for it.