Brain Builders and Brain Drainers
By Mila McManus MD and Nancy Mehlert MS
The human brain is home to more than 100 billion nerve cells that serve as the central command center for the human body. Neuroscientists have confirmed that we do have the ability to make new brain cells, a process called neurogenesis. Learning new things, having sex, and engaging in aerobic activities all increase neurogenesis, whereas stress and poor sleep decrease it. Not surprisingly, scientists have also discovered that nutrition plays a very significant role in the ability to make new brain cells. This means we can be very intentional about taking care of our brain to promote new cell growth thus improving memory, mood and a keeping a sharp mind as we age.
- Keep carbohydrates in check, avoiding boxed, packaged and processed foods, especially grains and pastas as well as gluten, and sugar. All of these convert rapidly to sugar, a highly destructive substance to the brain. Read Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter.
- Avoid alcohol. It’s a depressant, it’s inflammatory, and inhibits neurogenesis of the region of the brain involved with memory.
- Avoid foods high in Omega 6 which are inflammatory fatty acids. This includes natural and processed oils from corn, soybean, cottonseed, canola, grapeseed, safflower and sunflower.
- Toxins-we are exposed to toxins 24/7. Every time we drink, eat, take a breath or shower, we are absorbing toxins. We don’t all detoxify at the same rate. Consider genetic testing that will help determine how well you detoxify. Also consider heavy metal testing. Aluminum, for example, increases acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter involved with memory. Learn more about toxin “blocks and tackles” here.
- Prescription drugs (and well, illicit drugs, too, of course). Statin drugs commonly prescribed for high cholesterol are among the worst offenders. You can also read our series on the dangers of other commonly prescribed drugs, such as antihistamines.
- Electrosmog-this is the invisible electromagnetic radiation emitted from products such as cell phones, cordless phones, wi-fi, baby monitors, and cell phone towers. While the dangers of electrosmog are still controversial, we believe this is a real threat. Studies have shown, for example, that electrosmog emitted from mobile phones increases blood brain barrier (BBB) permeability. The BBB protects our brains from toxins, for example, so if the permeability is increased, consider the flood gates to be open!
- Infection-it’s gross to think about, but we all have a LOT of microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast, parasites) taking up residence in our bodies, including our brain. Lyme disease, for example, is very difficult to diagnose accurately with blood tests, and is known to have a link to brain diseases such as MS, ALS, and Alzheimers. Candida, a form of yeast, produces over 100 neurotoxins.
- And, as mentioned above, stress and poor sleep
- Consider Cognitive assessments to quantify cognition. See a quantitative and objective measure of your cognitive health to help complement any existing subjective assessment methods you’re using as part of your care.
- Consider Intermittent Fasting, a scheduled pattern of eating which includes fasting, with normal eating restricted to a small 6-8 hour window of time each day. Calorie restriction promotes neurogenesis.
- Seek out foods and supplements high in Omega 3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory and make up 15 to 20% of your cerebral cortex. Good food sources include wild Pacific/Alaskan salmon and sardines, egg yolks from pasture raised chickens, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, organic extra virgin olive oil and grass fed beef.
- Your brain loves flavonoids – a very powerful antioxidant essential in the brain’s constant war against oxidation. Great sources of flavonoids include blueberries, dark chocolate, curcumin (found in the spice, curry), kale, citrus fruits and Brussels sprouts just to name a few.
- Improve your gut health. Research has revealed that the health of your brain is largely dictated by the blend of microbes in your gastrointestinal tract.
- Optimize your hormones with a functional medicine specialist. Slow thyroid function, for example, clearly causes slow brain function.
- Boost oxygen! Improving circulation to the brain will provide more oxygen to the brain, thus facilitating brain function. Consider ONDAMED, gingko biloba, and Neo40 to help achieve this.
- Magnesium L-Threonate
- And, as mentioned above, learning new things, having sex, and engaging in aerobic activities.