Food for Thought

 

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The idea of using food as medicine has always fascinated me thanks to my dad, who’s used it to naturally heal so many things over the years. I used to giggle when I’d see him dab a little distilled vinegar around his nostrils (OK, I still do) to keep germs at bay… but as I write this today, I’d like to raise a toast to my 80 years young and vibrant dad (*touch wood*)!!  Clearly, he knew what he was doing all these years.

Over time, I’ve personally been called to seek natural ways to get and stay healthy. And I’ve made it my mission to share this information with everyone I can – with the goal of prevention first. Oftentimes, there are natural alternatives that doctors may not know about. And I believe each and every one of us has a right to choose – knowledge is potential power.

When my grandmother developed Alzheimer’s shortly after the death of my grandfather, it wasn’t yet known that diet/exercise and lifestyle could play such a large preventive role. I recall one of the things she would cook the most at that time: white rice with raisins. She also became very depressed. To this day, my mom still says that grandma died of a broken heart. All she wished for after my grandpa was gone was for nighttime to come so she could go to sleep – the days suddenly seemed so long and lonely. Is it possible that a person could self-induce a sort of unconscious state to cope with trauma? I believe it is, and the studies are beginning to confirm this notion [3, 4]. Sometimes I wonder how I could have helped her if I had known some of the things I know today.

While diet is important, there are things we can do to “feed” our mind, body, and soul. Maintaining balance in all of these areas leads us to optimal health – this includes having a healthy brain. Please know that you can choose to include some or all of the items I’ve listed. Even the smallest of changes are helpful, and will contribute to your overall quality of life.

Let’s start with the easy stuff: nutrition. There is overwhelming evidence to show that fasting, intermittent fasting, high-intensity exercise training, and restricted calorie diets improve overall health [2, 7]. Studies also seem to point to neuroprotective benefits associated with a ketogenic diet or modified ketogenic diet [8, 9]. This means maintaining a diet that is high in fat, contains little carbs, and low-moderate amounts of protein (please consult with your physician). Limiting your sugar intake (this includes sugar from fruit) to no more than** [14]:

  • 9 teaspoons (38 grams) for men
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for women
  • 6 teaspoons (25 grams) for toddlers and teens between the ages of 2 and 18
  • Zero added sugars for kids under the age of 2

** When it comes to sugar, less is better.

Coffee (at least 7 hours before bedtime) – If you don’t have anxiety, coffee is a great way to boost mood and energy, sharpen mental performance, and slow age-related mental decline.

Tea – If you do have anxiety, an organic tea may be a better choice. Tea provides many of the same benefits coffee does, without the accompanying anxiety. Tea contains theanine, which helps soften the effects of caffeine, boosts mood, and helps curb anxiety.  Black teas are higher in both caffeine and theanine. Just go with your favorite variety, whether that’s black, white, green, or oolong!

Supplements for brain health:

Turmeric – one of my favorite herbs for overall health (helps fight inflammation, and has so many other benefits – read more about it here)

Cognitex by Life Extension (a blend of adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, and calming herbs – this comes with or without the hormone precursor pregnenolone, which can have a stimulating effect for some); take this supplement in the morning as directed.

Ginkgo Biloba [10]

Ashwagandha [11]

Resveratrol [13]

Lions Mane mushroom [12]

Shilajit (read more here)

 

(PS… your brain *loves* fat!!)

Walnuts – in homeopathic medicine, there is something called the law of signatures; meaning that a food that resembles a particular part of the body is likely to be beneficial for it. Modern science has begun to catch up with this theory, with recent studies showing that foods (like the walnut) that are rich in antioxidants, poly-unsaturated fats, and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals are the perfect “brain food” [15].

MCT – high quality MCT oil has concentrated amounts of the beneficial fatty acids lauric, capric, and caprylic; caprylic acid is the brain’s preferred form of energy. To avoid “disaster pants”, start with a teaspoon, and work your way up to 3-4 daily. I like to blend mine into a smoothie. Look for a sustainably sourced product.

Palm or Coconut oil – If you cannot find MCT oil, coconut oil is the next best option.* Again, look for a responsibly sourced product.

Fish oil

Lifestyle changes:

(PPS… your brain *loves* oxygen!!)

Vigorous exercise oxygenates the brain – Remember (and if you can’t, this will help with that!) : if it’s good for your heart, it’s good for your brain. Exercise improves brain function, and repairs damaged brain cells [6]. Try walking briskly for just a few minutes a day, gradually increasing this amount by five or 10 minutes every week until you’re up to at least half an hour on most days.

High intensity interval training (HIIT/ HIT) – Anaerobic exercise training is *excellent* for the brain [16] – likely superior to traditional/ aerobic exercise training, and a real time-saver. A form of interval training, it involves alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise (like sprinting) with less intense recovery periods (like jogging).

Inverting your legs above your heart daily increases circulation to the brain. Note: people with certain conditions should avoid inversions.

Meditation – helps calm an anxious, overstimulated mind. Helps sharpen concentration. Has also been shown to change the makeup of the brain, strengthening key areas related to learning, cognition, memory, emotional regulation, perspective taking, empathy, and compassion [5].

Social interaction – Scientific studies confirm that if you don’t use it, you lose it [17]. As human beings, we are hardwired to connect with one another. When we use different parts of our brain, they grow, change and become strengthened much like our muscles. Perhaps most importantly, we’re happier and less stressed.

References

1- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26677204

2- https://law.stanford.edu/2015/01/09/lawandbiosciences-2015-01-09-intermittent-fasting-try-this-at-home-for-brain-health/

3- http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/739654

4- https://www.livescience.com/13358-widowhood-raise-dementia-risk.html

5- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/05/26/harvard-neuroscientist-meditation-not-only-reduces-stress-it-literally-changes-your-brain/?utm_term=.9c68e9b8dd81

6- https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

7- http://www.johnshopkinshealthreview.com/issues/spring-summer-2016/articles/are-there-any-proven-benefits-to-fasting

8- https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-fat-fueled-brain-unnatural-or-advantageous/

9- http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-fat-burning-brain-what-are-the-cognitive-effects-of-ketosis/

10- http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/05/15/ginkgo-biloba-brain-benefits.aspx

11- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/

12- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3924982/

13- https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160727140041.htm

14- http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/09/07/recommended-sugar-intake.aspx

15- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24500933

16- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4640257/

17- https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/demystifying-psychiatry/201206/social-interactions-and-brain-cell-connections

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