This is a big deal for me personally so I had share. Mental illness is one of the things I have feared most in life. I lost my mother to early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I am in recovery for grief and anxiety myself and have two children in addiction recovery. As it turns out nutrition may be one of the major pieces that is missing in healing many forms of mental and neurological disorder. Taking care of your brain can save your life in so many different ways. This post is basically a reworking, an abridged version, of an incredible article on mercola.com that I believe every person on the planet should read. It’s based on the work of neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the book Grain Brain. It’s pretty long, has a lot of medical jargon and a focus on Alzheimer’s disease so I thought maybe more of you would be willing to read it if I parsed out the basics. I’ve taken a few liberties but I don’t think Dr. Mercola would mind, we’ve got to get the information out there any way we can. (The link to the full article, with many other links to related studies is at the bottom of this post.)
Eat the Right Types of Fat – Food Is Information
According to Dr. Perlmutter all brain dysfunction is rooted in a flawed diet, particularly our modern-day high-grain diet. At some point we decided all fat was bad and our culture turned to carbs to fill the void. The rise in neurological disorder correlates directly to this trend. We need fat in our diets to stay healthy but the type of fat makes all the difference in the world. A brain healthy diet will benefit all neurological disorders. A high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet is not just for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It’s the right diet for ALL brain-related disorders, including but not limited to: Parkinson’s disease, migraines, seizure disorders like epilepsy, autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and I would add that it plays a major role in depression, fatigue and anxiety as well as playing a major role in recovery from all forms of addiction.
Sources of healthy fats to add to your diet include:
- Butter made from raw, grass-fed organic milk
- Raw dairy
- Organic pastured egg yolks
- Coconuts and coconut oil (coconut oil actually shows promise as an effective Alzheimer’s treatment in and of itself as well as almost immediate benefits for anxiety. 1-2 tablespoons daily)
- Unheated oil extracted from organic nuts
- Raw nuts, such as pecans and macadamia, which are low in protein and high in healthy fats
- Grass-fed meats and wild fish
- Avoid all trans fats or hydrogenated fats that have been modified in such a way to extend their longevity on the grocery store shelf. This includes margarine, vegetable oils, and various butter-like spreads.
Simply put nearly all food contains fat, protein or carbs. While there are many nutrient rich fruits and vegetables that contain carbohydrates, most of the carbs in the modern diet come from breads and pastas that have no such benefit. Careful consideration and attention to adding healthy fats are especially important issues for vegans. No matter what your food or lifestyle preference you must understand two important things:
(1) The human requirement for carbohydrates is zero. Generally speaking, we require no carbohydrates in the diet, we do require nutrients, fat and protein.
(2) Maybe even more important, far beyond being the source of calories that we take in, food is information. The foods that we choose to consume are instructing our DNA in terms of its expression. How empowering is that? What you eat today will create who you are tomorrow. You get to decide.
Rebuilding the Brain – Exercise Promotes Neurogenesis
Beyond its ability to burn calories and fat, aerobic exercise is powerful for regeneration. It can help alter your gene expression to code for a longer and healthier life. Exercise also reduces free radical production and inflammation, both of which are drivers for chronic disease. More directly, exercise has been shown to turn on a brain growth hormone called BDNF, which stands for “brain-derived neurotrophic factor.” BDNF codes for your brain’s ability to both repair itself and grow new brain cells. The latter occurs through a process known as neurogenesis.
Other Important Factors for Brain Health
Intermittent Fasting – Intermittent fasting can jumpstart your body into burning fat instead of carbs as its primary fuel. It is important to note that intermittent fasting is not about binge eating followed by starvation, or any other extreme form of dieting. It involves timing your meals to allow for regular periods of fasting. For daily intermittent fasting to be effective the length of your fast must be at least 16 hours. This means eating only between the hours 9am to 5pm or 11am until 7pm, as examples. Not to in any way suggest eating just one meal a day but rather to make sure that the hours when you are not eating go undisturbed by anything but water. This is because it takes about six to eight hours for your body to metabolize your glycogen stores; after that you start to shift to burning fat. However, if you are replenishing your glycogen by eating every eight hours (or sooner), you make it far more difficult for your body to use your fat stores as fuel.
Naturally Occurring Nutrients and Vitamins – Two biggies for brain health are turmeric and vitamin D. Turmeric, for its anti-inflammatory potential and ability to activate BDNF, the hormone involved in brain health and neurogenesis. Maintain an optimal level of vitamin D through exposure to natural light, responsible sunlight exposure. A vitamin D3 supplement can be used if necessary. Just remember that if you take supplemental vitamin D, you also increase your body’s need for vitamin K2.
Gut Health – Optimize your gut health by reseeding your gut with beneficial bacteria (probiotics). Equally important as adding probiotics is avoiding antibiotics. Poor gut health can place your brain at significant risk. Reduce gluten. The gluten found in wheat, barley and rye can affect neurological health through the inflammation it causes.
Summary for Taking Control of Your Brain Health — For Life
Your lifestyle choices have a huge role to play in determining whether your brain will maintain its function throughout your lifetime, or degenerate with age into a potentially deadly neurological disease like Alzheimer’s. Again, the key lifestyle factors that will promote lifelong brain health are:
- Eat a whole food, low- or no-carb, high-fat diet; ideally organic with a focus on raw foods. Your main source of carbohydrates would be above-ground vegetables, which are low in starch and high in beneficial fiber. Avoid carbohydrates (think processed foods, refined sugars, processed fructose, and all grains).
- Intermittent fasting to help “reset” the body’s ability to use fat as its primary fuel.
- Maintaining a healthy gut flora by regularly eating fermented foods (and/or a probiotic supplement), and avoiding all medically unnecessary sources of antibiotics.
- Optimizing your vitamin D levels and overall nutrition with exposure to sunlight and a nutrient rich diet. I would add B12 or another good B complex supplement here for added benefit.
- Exercise, move your body. Get your heart rate up and the healing energy moving!