Food & Nutrients For Brain Health

March 26, 2018

 

Ok, i'll confess, this past weekend I allowed myself to live like i did in my 20's and did some not so awesome things for my brain. It's like I put dirty, unstable oil in my car, it was not the best choices for the internal mechanisms that propel it. Thank goodness this is not my lifestyle. If it was, sooner or later, smoke would start rising up out of the hood.

 

You've heard that "you are what you eat. "Which means how well you function relies on the quality of the food you put into your body and this even includes what your food eats. When you’re digging into a burger or ribeye steak, you’re ingesting whatever that cow ate, be it grass, skittles or corn. No other organ demonstrates this truth better than the brain. The average human brain is about three pounds, which, for a 150-pound person, makes the brain just two percent of total body weight. But despite its small size relative to your overall body weight, the brain uses a whopping twenty percent of the oxygen in your body, meaning twenty percent of the calories you consume are used by that potentially powerful brain. 

 

Every single organ of your body is comprised of billions of cells. And every living cell in your body has a membrane around it that’s responsible for allowing things in and out of the cell so it can function properly, like a well-oiled car engine. These cell membranes allow things like hormones and nutrients into the cell, and waste products like toxins out of the cell. Although there are other components, your cell membranes are comprised primarily of fats that you get from food. This means that the state your cells, how flexible the membranes are, and how permeable they are to nutrients is utterly dependent on the type and amount of fats you get from your diet. 

 

This is incredibly important when thinking about brain health because the brain is actually the fattest organ of the human body, being comprised of sixty percent fat. Fatty acids are crucial in determining your brain’s ability to perform, with studies linking imbalanced dietary intake of fatty acids to impaired cognitive performance and many diseases.

 

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are particularly important because they are required for optimal health but your body cannot produce them on its own, meaning they must be obtained through your diet. EFAs, and particularly omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and are important for brain development and cognitive and behavioral function. However, the typical modern day diet generally consists of too little omega-3 fatty acids and a much higher amount of omega-6 fatty acids, creating a suboptimal fatty acid ratio.

 

The Importance Of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio

 

The diets of our ancestors included an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of about 1:1. That is far different from the modern ratio that has steadily been increasing since the industrial revolution, with estimates putting it between 10:1 to up to 25:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fats. The increase of omega-6 fats in the diet can be linked to increases in chronic inflammatory diseases such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer's disease because Omega-6 fats are pro-inflammatory.

 

Add to that the fact that most processed foods are using omega-6 oils that are rancid, processed using a high amount of damaging heat and pressure, and then combined with highly refined carbs to make things like potato chips, french fries, doughnuts, snack cakes and more, and you’ve got extremely pro-inflammatory food-like products unlike anything the human body has ever seen before.

 

Our human biology has not evolved fast enough for the this change. Eating traditional foods for optimal health like bone broth, bone marrow, pastured and raw full-fat dairy, seeds, nuts, vegetables, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish, is what makes our engine run smoothly

 

Those who mean to replace natural, traditional foods with modern-day food-like products in the name of health are championing the position that nature doesn’t know best; a corporation does. This is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence — a burden that as we can see in the overall health trends has failed to meet.

 

A generation ago Dr. Ancel Keys, who got his Ph.D. studying saltwater eels, used highly selective and inaccurate statistical data to suggest that a high-fat diet has long been connected with mortal cardiovascular disease. This data was the catalyst that caused the low-fat craze that we now know was unnecessary and actually damaging to human health, considering that we need fat to function. We are fatter than ever today clearly coorelating that the low fat craze was not the way to go.

 

 Fat, for centuries, has been an integral part of many ancestral diets. Our bodies need it. Dozens of people groups across the world have eaten high-fat diets for millennia because of how calorically dense good fat is. Their bodies learned to use that fat to construct highly complex cardiovascular and neural systems and so our genes have developed to the point that any departure from a relatively high-fat diet, which is what the last 50+ years have seen, leads to catastrophic bodily dysfunction. Health care problem, anyone?

 

For example, the northern European diet is high in fatty fish, red meat, and fermented, full-fat dairy products. Which means that if your ancestors are northern Europeans, whether you like it or not you’ve inherited a wealth of genes that rely heavily on fats. The same thing applies to a traditional Mediterranean diet. Although this diet consists of carbohydrates as well, like bread and pasta, in coastal countries like Italy, a large part of the daily meal plan is fish, nuts, and full-fat milk and cheeses like pecorino or mozzarella di bufala.

 

Because our brains use so much fat, a diet that is either largely fat-free or consists of inflammatory fats is going to have a huge impact on your cognitive health, Alzheimer's anyone? Now, we turn our attention to a diet abounding with beneficial lipids.

 

Supple Cells: Undoing and Repairing the Damage

 

The key to healthy cells and a well-functioning brain is consuming the proper nutrients in an optimally balanced ratio. The first step is reducing the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids like those found in soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and margarine and increasing your intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3s.

Omega-3 fatty acids directly affect the function of your cell receptors on the cell membrane. The cell receptors are where your nutrients and hormones dock to get absorbed into the cell. This not only allows for proper absorption of the foods you eat but also allows for your cells to regulate your genetic function. Omega-3 fatty acids are an important precursor to your hormones and fight inflammation on a cellular level. Therefore, omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to aid in the prevention of heart disease, stroke, childhood allergies, and cancer, and may help control inflammatory and autoimmune conditions such as lupus, arthritis, and intestinal dysfunction.

DHA, a type of omega-3 acid that stands for docosahexaenoic acid, is most prevalent in the brain and neural tissues. It is critical for optimal cognitive performance, for the cells to communicate with each other, and most importantly, to tame any inflammation that is destroying the health of the cell membrane. In turn, DHA has been shown to help with depression, cognitive function, ADHD, cardiovascular health, and tumor growth in cancer cells. 

 

One study observed the effects of DHA supplementation on the memory and reaction times of young adults who had a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and found that it did, in fact, improve both, particularly the episodic memory of the women, and the working memory of the men. Another study revealed that the fatty acid prevented extra aggression from increasing in young students during times of mental stress.

The best sources of DHA include: 

· Wild-caught fish
· High-quality fish oil
· Grass-fed beef
· Organ meats like liver
· Algae
· Spirulina
· Chlorella

 

DHA is also found in small amounts in nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and chia seeds. However, only a small amount actually gets converted into usable DHA. One major contributor to the block in conversion is inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acids such as vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils. Vegetable oils such as corn, cottonseed, sunflower, and soy oil actually work to prevent the fatty acids from the nuts and seeds to be converted into usable DHA. That’s not to say that those seeds and nuts aren’t good for you, but there are more potent methods of getting your DHA.

 

Dietary sources of DHA and omega-3 fatty acids are very similar, so by incorporating these foods into your diet every single day, you will begin to reduce inflammation and heal your cell membrane. Once your cell membrane is healthy, your body can start recognizing your hormones and nutrients again and become more efficient at detoxification. Eat these foods on a daily basis and say goodbye to poor malabsorption of what you eat, poor cognitive function, stubborn or slow weight loss, and fatigue.

Easy ways to incorporate DHA and Omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Slice an avocado and pour extra-virgin olive oil over the top with a pinch of sea salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, or fresh lime juice.

  • Add avocado oil mayonnaise to a can of wild-caught salmon and wrap in a leafy green lettuce leaf or almond flour tortilla shell.

  • Add flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds to grass-fed, organic plain yogurt with a little bit of organic fruit, vanilla extract, cinnamon, or stevia drops.

  • Smash an avocado with salt and pepper and smear on to a leafy green lettuce leaf or almond flour tortilla shell. Add scrambled organic, pastured eggs for a “breakfast burrito.”

  • Start your day or travel with ENERGYbits algae.

  • Bring a small container filled with extra-virgin olive oil when you travel or go out to restaurants to drench on your salad or meal instead of eating inflammatory vegetable oils most restaurants use.

  • Combine almond milk, chia seeds, and stevia drops into a mason jar. Put in the refrigerator for a quick grab and go breakfast of overnight chia pudding. Try adding additional nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseeds for more healthy fatty acids.

  • Bake kale chips with avocado oil, flaxseeds, and sea salt for a nutty flavor.

  • Add a can of wild-caught sardines to a salad or shirataki noodles for a rich protein and healthy fat source. Wild-caught sardines are also very easy to travel with.

 Other Critical Nutrients For Brain Health

 

Besides the actual cells of the brain, cognitive function is also determined by neurotransmitter levels. Neurotransmitters are little chemical messengers that cross between nerve cells. Nerve cells do not actually touch, but instead come very close together at what is called a synapse. At the synapse, the two nerve cells are separated by a small gap, which is called a synaptic cleft. The sending neuron is called the pre-synaptic cell (AKA an axon) while the receiving neuron is called the post-synaptic cell (AKA a dendrite).

In a one-way direction across the synapse from the pre-synaptic cell to post-synaptic cell, your body sends neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters affect every system in your body and regulate a wide variety of processes including emotions, mood, memory, cognition, attention, concentration, alertness, energy, appetite, cravings, sleep, and the perception of pain.

Neurotransmitters are primarily made of B vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. A deficiency of any of these three crucial compounds can leave you with inadequate neurotransmitter building blocks and unbalanced neurotransmitter levels.

 

B Vitamins
 

B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins that are essential to cell functioning and act as co-enzymes in a number of enzymatic reactions. In regards to brain function, B vitamins are involved in energy production, DNA and RNA synthesis and repair, genomic and non-genomic methylation, and the synthesis of numerous neurochemicals and neurotransmitters. All of the B vitamins are actively transported across the blood-brain barrier and are kept at high levels.

 

In order for the nervous system to synthesize and circulate the neurotransmitters formed by amino acid precursors, you need to have an adequate intake of B complex vitamins, and Vitamins B6, B12, and folate are especially important in nerve metabolism. For instance, vitamin B6 is an essential cofactor for over 140 enzymes needed for the synthesis, degradation, and interconversion of amino acids. Even mild deficiencies result in down-regulation GABA and serotonin synthesis, resulting in disordered sleep, behavior disorders, and disrupted hormone secretion.

 

Folate (vitamin B9) and vitamin B12 are both hugely important to brain tissue, DNA stability of brain cells, and brain cell membranes. They are both also necessary for the conversion of amino acids into the neurotransmitters serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline, and nitric oxide.

 

Excellent food sources of vitamin B6 include bell peppers, turnip greens, and spinach; excellent sources of folate include spinach, parsley, broccoli, beets, turnip and mustard greens, asparagus, romaine lettuce, calf’s liver, and lentils, and excellent sources of B12 include calf’s liver and snapper. For Vitamin B supplementation, look into full spectrum vitamin B blends such as Lifeshotz.

 

Minerals
 

You’ll get very good doses of minerals from a well-balanced diet that includes a broad spectrum of real foods. If you’re frequently sweating or under high amounts of exercise or lifestyle stress, then you should also include a mineral-rich source of protein such as a goat-based protein powder or colostrum and a daily dose of a trace liquid mineral supplement.

 

Amino Acids
 

Dietary amino acids can influence brain function, especially the aromatic amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylalanine, which are the precursors for the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Single meals can rapidly influence uptake of aromatic amino acids into the brain and thus affect neurotransmitter levels and brain function.

 

Studies show that supplementing with amino acids can reduce symptoms of mental disorders because amino acids are converted into neurotransmitters. The amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine have been shown to be helpful in treating many mood disorders including depression. For instance, tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and tyrosine and its precursor phenylalanine are often converted into dopamine and norepinephrine.

 

Some of the best high-quality amino acid sources include grass-fed beef, wild salmon, eggs from pastured chickens, raw organic dairy, almond and almond butter, quinoa, and spirulina or chlorella sources.

 

Amino acid deficiencies and imbalances can cause significant negative physiological effects. These can occur easily from poor diet, leaky gut and malabsorption, low stomach acid, and blood sugar imbalances.

 

If you suspect an amino acid deficiency or imbalance due to poor sleep, low mood or mood swings, depression, anxiety, trouble learning or concentrating, low energy, weak immune system, trouble building muscle or a number of other symptoms, rather than assessing the amino acid levels and ratios in all of your dietary protein, a foolproof approach is to supplement with essential amino acids.

 

With each amino acid performing a variety of functions within your body, you want to ensure you have enough of them at the ready and in the proper ratios. 

 

Summary

 

It’s all too easy to think that the foods you include in your diet don’t matter all that much as long as you’re checking the standard “healthy” boxes, but in order to optimize brain function, you need to prioritize certain foods and nutrients. To improve your cognitive capacity and the overall health of your cells, decrease your intake of omega-6 fatty acids and increase your omega-3 fatty acid consumption, eat more foods dense in essential vitamins and minerals such as grass-fed meats and a wide array of vegetables, and ensure you’re getting the proper amount of amino acids and monitor for any symptoms of an imbalance.

 

Here's to your wealth and health!

 

 

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