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Protecting Brain Health

One of the most strategic approaches to achieving and maintaining a healthy life is to protect the health of our amazing brain. As has been stated previously, all but the most unfortunate of us have been born with a wonderful body and an amazing brain. Our brains take on increasingly "smart function" based on the experience it encounters. The brain is the organ that is most affected by what we eat. It burns about 25% of the food energy we consume. The brain is about 60% fat and is influenced by the fat we ingest. There is a vast amount of research that indicates that omega-3 fatty acids benefit brain health. The brain requires more of it than any other organ. Seafood therefore is high on the list of brain food. Omega-3 helps regrow deteriorating brain cells.  One reason for the shrinkage of gray matter as we age is the decline in production of nutritional building blocks of the brain mainly supported by omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega 3's facilitate the action of "neuropectin", critical to the structure of brain cell membrane. The cell membrane is like a bag, and the more flexible the bag is, the healthier the membrane. Omega 3's are "fluid fast" and keep the brain cell membrane supple. A healthy brain cell membrane facilitates chemical selectivity: it lets in nutrients the cell needs and keeps out harmful toxins. Omega-3's also make myelin, the fatty sheath that surrounds nerve cells and helps speed transmission of nerve impulses throughout the brain. The more omega-3 DHA you have in your myelin, the faster and more efficiently these nerve messages travel, which improves cognitive function. Omega-3 facilitates neurotransmitter function necessary for cognition. When the brain is exposed to unhealthy fats such as hydrogenated oils, neurotransmission slows and hence impairs cognitive function. Omega-3's also seem to act like serotonin - boosting drugs, producing mood stabilization and antidepressant effects, but without the unpleasant side effects of antidepressant medication.

Blueberries are one of the best examples of the color principle of nutrition; the deeper the color of the food, the better it is for you. Studies have demonstrated that deep colored foods, like blueberries and blackberries contain high levels of antioxidants that keep the blood brain barrier healthy. Blueberries have also been shown to improve memory, as well as reverse some of the degenerative changes often seen with aging nerve tissue. Blueberries improve blood flow by decreasing excessive blood clotting, reducing inflammation and inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol that improve blood vessel function.

Many of the brain-health benefits of blueberries are also found in greens. Greens contain folate that helps preserve neurotransmitter function. While green leafy vegetables tend to be one of the best sources of folic acid, other sources include lentils, kidney beans, avocados, chickpeas and artichokes.

The brain also needs a lot of the "right carbohydrates" to function properly. Unlike the muscles, the brain does not store glucose. It needs a steady supply of glucose for steady brain function. Unlike other organs that can use fats and even protein for energy in an emergency, the brain can only use glucose as its primary fuel. The healthy carbs have two or three partners: protein, fiber, and fat. They never travel alone. The partners "hold hands" with the carbs to keep them from rushing into the brain too fast and getting the brain too excited. Refined sugar travels alone and excites the brain too much and acts as fuel for inflammation. "Healthy carbs" are found in nature - in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eating or drinking refined sugar alone such as in sweetened beverages results in impaired brain health, including an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. The brain functions best when it receives it's glucose slow and steady. Frequent small amounts of food intake satisfy the sugar craving brain to minimize the release of stress hormones that ask the body to quickly release some stored sugar from the liver. It can be this release that contributes to uncomfortable mood swings.  "Shorten the space between feedings, and you're less likely to feel spacey."

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