Nutrition & Brain Health
Nutrition, Digestion & detoxification
One of the most powerful tools we have to change our brain is nutrition. Food is one of the fastest acting and powerful medicines you can change to change your brain functioning. The fuel we put into our bodies can affect our genes, turning them on and off. This discovery in a new area of science called ‘nutrigenomics’. If genes are looked at as the software that run our body, food can be considered what we type into the computer to make the computer program run. Through this we can create health or disease. If we eat greasy burgers with fries and a coke versus eating brown rice and stir-fried vegetables with some lean meat, we send very different messages to our genes. Nutrigenomics now shows that our individual genetic makeup can determine what we individually need to be optimally healthy. When it comes to body and brain health there is no ‘one program fits all’, however there are some over-riding principles we need to understand. We need to establish where we are out of balance and then apply the science of nutrigenomics to help reestablish the balance. This website cannot give you personalised answers to medical issues and you should always see a health care professional if you have issues. Remember, this information is about peak performance and maximising potential in order to enhance brain functioning (rather than treat disease or dysfunction) and should not be considered medical advice.
Removing the bad stuff
Our brains are our most sensitive organ so we need to stop negatively impacting them. We need to start by first understanding what harms our brain. Some of the most highly consumed products are all significantly brain-altering drugs: sugar, caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. All of these drugs change our brain, and any addiction can create some serious damage. Occasional moderate use can be harmless, but we need to really examine our own use of these things and understand the effects they have on our bodies. Regular use will create premature brain ageing and significant affects to mood.
We are a pill-popping society and believe that drugs are safe and have been adequately tested for long-term use. Most of these pills come with a long sheet that lists potential side effects and many of these involve potential damage to the brain. The most common side effects of any medications after the digestive issues they can cause are neurological problems like dizziness, fatigue, irritability. How often do we see on a box of pills the warning ‘may cause drowsiness’? Of course we should not stop our medications, but we should look at what the medications do and try and see whether we can actually change the CAUSE of the condition, rather than just mask the symptoms. For example, if we suffer from reflux we should try and change our diet and do things to support our digestive health to address the cause of excess acidity, rather than just treat the symptoms.
Toxic chemicals have also been shown to affect brain functioning. These can be found in both our general environment as well as the foods we eat. We consume masses of hormones, antibiotics, food chemicals, additives, MSG, and artificial sweeteners, and each one of these has been shown to have negative impacts upon our brains. Non-organic fruit and vegetables are covered in neurotoxic pesticides and herbicides (they are designed to kill and harm living beings but are in quantities too small to kill humans). This doesn’t mean that over time they can’t build up and have toxic effects.
Sugar and trans or hydrogenated fats are two substances within food that can have both short-term and long-term detrimental effects upon brain health when eaten in excess. Where possible eat as many non-processed ‘whole’ foods, free of chemical preservatives and additives.
Adding the good stuff
We have all been told that eating healthy foods is beneficial for both our mind and body, but many of us are left thinking what really are the best foods to consume? There exists a body of literature that talks of certain types of “brain foods,” of which have been known to protect against things such as stress, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. In particular, these foods are said to increase neurogenesis, or the birth of new neurons in the brain. Our brains have now be shown to have strong levels of ‘neuroplasticity’. That is, the brain can create new brain cells as well as new connections. We have the ability to regain lost cognitive skills and develop new ways of thinking, patterns and habits. To support progress and change in our lives we need to increase neurogenesis in the brain.
It is important to make sure you are getting a variety of different “neurohealthy” foods. As a rule, a diet high in healthy fats that is anti-inflammatory, low-glycemic, high fibre, and antioxidant rich promotes neurogenesis. We need foods rich in Omega 3 (EPA & DHA), B6, B12, folate, calcium and magnesium. If we struggle to gain these nutrients through food we can utilise supplements, however where possible maximising through food is beneficial.
- wild fish and fish oil (DHA & EPA)
- high quality proteins (amino acids from proteins are the building blocks of neurotransmitters which are key to mood and memory in the brain)
- carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. These food contain slow release sources of energy that prevents surges of blood sugar and insulin
- Folate, B6, B12 to support brain methylation.
- Magnesium, Zinc and Selenium for a happy, healthy brain and body.
- To enhance digestion (if weak): probiotics
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