The Brain Foundation’s list of related disorders is surprisingly long. From the unfamiliar Dysautonomia to the seemingly ubiquitous Alzheimer’s Disease it is clear the health of our brains is something that deserves our time and attention. And, if you’ve landed here at SRP before, you know we’re going to talk about the role nutrition plays in giving your brain the best chance to thrive every day, all day.
Don’t you think it’s silly when people discount the relationship between the food choices they make and the way their bodies are functioning? Yeah, me too. Don’t get me wrong, I have been known to gobble up a scoop or two of salted caramel ice cream for sheer pleasure, rather than a handful of blueberries. But I understand this should be the exception, not the rule.
Alrighty then, Paula. What does nutrition to boost your brain look like? I thought you’d never ask. 😉
In his bestselling book, Genius Foods, health and science journalist Max Lugavere shares the exhaustive research he has done on the human brain and the foods it requires to be at its best. When he discovered his mother’s rare form of dementia wasn’t hereditary, nor due to old age (she was only in her fifties), he became curious about the role food plays in brain function.
This led him to research more than just the nutrients various foods offer. Lugavere’s book examines the relationship between brain health and a wide array of other health topics such as:
- Metabolism efficiency: How the body’s hormones, like leptin and insulin, create the energy we need throughout the day.
- Cardiovascular health: What the state of our blood vessels means to the supply of oxygen and nutrients our brains require (20% of the blood pumped by the heart goes to the brain).
- Gut microbiome diversity: Why the bacteria in our guts is crucial to safeguarding the health of our brains.
- Sleep efficacy: Why this basic task is necessary to give your brain a “reset.”
As far as the specific nutrients required, Genius Foods shares ten commonplace foods which offer exactly what your brain needs. I’ll share a few of them here, but I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of his book for your self-health library. You’ll refer to it again and again.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): Containing a powerful phenol called oleocanthal, EVOO jump-starts your body’s repair mechanisms, is anti-inflammatory, and shows potential for reducing the amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer’s, utilizing enzymes that degrade its buildup. EVOO also offers up vitamin E and the healthy monounsaturated fat your whole body needs, including your brain. Make sure you get the highest quality possible, with a grassy flavor rather than greasy, and the more peppery flavor it has, the better.
- Blueberries: Flavonoids are the selling point with this addition to the list, specifically anthocyanins. Lugavere cites studies showing this compound in blueberries being beneficial for improving memory function and mood. Blueberry consumption is also correlated with a delay in cognitive aging, protecting the brain against loss of functionality.
- Grass-fed beef: Other than the protein it provides, seeking out high-quality, grass-fed beef brings a long list of nutrients to your table. Easily absorbed forms of iron and zinc, vitamins B12 and E, as well as Omega-3 fats, are all crucial for brain development in children and ongoing brain health in adults. Actually, Lugavere refers to researchers who believe it was access to these nutrients that played a big part in our brains evolving into the “supermachines” they are today.
The other foods making the Genius Food list are similar nutrient powerhouses—healthy fats (your brain is 70% fat, after all); potassium; zinc; selenium; magnesium; vitamins A, B, and E; choline; folate; various carotenoids; fiber; flavanols; and more. In short, your brain (and other body systems influencing brain health) thrives with a nutrient-dense diet. Your brain wants you to eat real, whole foods on a daily basis.
Closed-Head Injuries Play a Role in Dementia
While our brains are housed inside what appears to be a nearly indestructible skull, with little threat of harm, this just isn’t the case. Closed head injuries, such as concussions, are proof of that. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain, a concussion occurs when something “causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth”—something like a blow to the head or violent shaking of the body. Your brain isn’t supposed to bounce around inside your skull. So, when it does, an injury can occur, and the typical recovery suggestion is simply getting rest.
The piece that tends to be missed when dealing with these common injuries is the need for specialized nutritional support to repair the injured brain tissue. Mark Anderson says: “physical injury to the head can result in significant mental decline,” and suggests this can become a chronic issue when not dealt with properly. On top of that, the decline can become more severe as time goes by.
Dr. Royal Lee explains that the cause of the mental decline isn’t the injury itself, e.g. a blow to the head. Rather, the problems come from the brain autoantibodies that follow the injury. These autoantibodies to brain protein are found in the brains and bloodstreams of those living with neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Multiple Sclerosis. This is why the specialized nutritional support at the time of an initial injury can have a huge impact on your future.
Because proper healing of the injured brain tissue stops the leakage of brain protein into the blood, which in turn stops the formation of anti-brain antibodies, Anderson suggests four nutritional supplements as a foundation for healing a closed-head injury:
- Neurotrophin PMG provides brain cell determinants for structure and function of brain tissue. PMG allows the other nutrients greater access to the injured tissue.
- Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) synthesizes amino acids into proteins to rebuild the injured structure. It’s known as “the memory factor” of the human body. Studies show the lower the RNA concentration in a person’s body, the higher the chances of ending up with dementia.
- Tuna Omega-3 Oil is anti-inflammatory and is a healthy source of the exact fat (EPA/DHA) your brain needs.
- Cataplex G generates anti-pellagra factors of the B complex, essential to repairing and maintaining nerves.
Of course, wholesome nutrition isn’t the only thing your brain needs. Being a curious life-long learner works to your advantage, too. When you learn new concepts and skills, or experience new places and people, you’re establishing new connections between the neurons in your brain. These connections are crucial in determining who we are. So:
- Learn a new language and plan a trip to a locale where it is spoken.
- Listen to your inner musician and master the ukulele that’s been collecting dust in your closet.
- Choose a subject or a person of interest and do an internet search to find the best, most relevant books (audio, if you prefer) to find out more.
Continue the conversation and enhance your self-health education by checking out some of these resources:
- Lugavere’s podcast, The Genius Life: talking with experts on optimizing sleep, how wheat and carbs affect your brain, and using nutrition to reduce anxiety and depression
- Selene River Press’ Historical Archives articles discussing the role of nutrition on all systems of the body, including the brain
- Natasha Campbell-McBride’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome: examining the link between gut health and brain functionality
- Mark R. Anderson’s “Closed-Head Injuries” CD takes you through the exact physiological mechanism by which closed-head trauma leads to mental impairment.