So much of who we are is contained in the folds and crevices of this incredible organ called a brain; we rarely think about brain health, about the mechanics of how we think, or about how this truly miraculous organ works, until it begins to fail.
The good news? It doesn’t have to. But in order to create that future, we need to start thinking differently now.
My friend Charis Lindrooth has been studying the brain for years. Below, in her own words, is her very best advice:
As a student in chiropractic school one of the greatest privileges I experienced was holding a human brain in my hands. Just three pounds of what feels and looks like a pile of fresh sausages governs the entire workings of our body and is entirely responsible for who we are, what we think, how we behave, as well as a myriad of bodily functions.
The mystery that remains hidden within these grey coils still astounds and intrigues me.
The internet is full of news breaking the old way of thinking that fat is bad, and by now most of us have a clue that we need healthy fats to stay healthy, and even that eating these fats can help us lose weight. But did you know that almost two-thirds of your brain is made of fatty tissues, and that the integrity of these tissues depends on a diet rich in fatty acids, the building block for fatty tissues?
Most likely you have been convinced in the past that eating fat is a bad thing for your health. The media, advertisers, food manufacturers and even scientists have warned against the deleterious effects of eating foods with any sort of fats. Products such as phony eggs, or egg white only eggs, no fat milk, cheese and other dairy products, have replaced the real deal. Low fat processed foods have relied on sugar and other not-so-healthy additives to make them more satisfying… and less nourishing.
The consequence? Our brains are starving. The consequence of that? Our nation suffers from a startling rise in Alzheimer’s and cognitive issues.
- 1:3 people over the age of 85 have Alzheimer’s disease. With an increase in age span, the thought of living for years with dementia can be frightening.
- The rate of autism in children has increased more than 100% since the year 2000, from 1:150 to 1:68 kids.
- Approximately 7% of adults in the US suffers from anxiety and depression—diagnosed, that is. We know that many cases of mild depression go undiagnosed or ignored.
David Ludwig, MD, PhD at Harvard University writes about the connection between obesity, cravings and dietary consumption of fat. His book, Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells and Lose Weight Permanently, highlights the important role dietary fat plays in our feelings of satisfaction.
Dr. Ludwig points to insulin as a type of “Miracle Grow for your fat cells.” When we eat too many refined carbohydrates, a habit that often results when we are avoiding fat, our pancreas releases a rush of insulin.
Insulin is a good thing. It acts like an usher escorting glucose molecules out of the blood, where it can wreak havoc, into the cells of the body where it is needed for energy production.
Too much sugar intake is handily stored as fat, a sort of storage unit to be used when food later becomes scarce. But when our carb intake rises, insulin does too, and persistent levels of insulin create a myriad of problems which ultimately leads to Type II and Type III diabetes. Chronic high levels of insulin not only strain the pancreas, but also keep us feeling hungry, never satiated, and make it impossible for us to burn the fat we are so busy stockpiling.
Dr. Ludwig states that the simplest way to reduce chronically high insulin is to eat more fat. Ironically his research indicates that a healthy intake of fat reduces our cravings for sugary foods, helps us feel full and helps us maintain healthy blood sugar and insulin levels. There is evidence that periodic fasting is also helpful, since it helps to make the cells more responsive to insulin, potentially decreasing the need for higher and higher levels of insulin to clear the blood stream of glucose.
I wish to high heaven this meant we could eat ice cream for breakfast, and potato chips for lunch.
But there is a difference between healthy and not so healthy fats. Naturally, one can only achieve good health at the hands of healthy fats—foods like avocados that contain raw, unadulterated nourishment. Coldwater fish like salmon, raw nuts and seeds, and eggs from chickens that eat vegetation and insects regularly. Grass-fed and finished meats are also helpful.
This same principle can be applied to healthy brain function as well. A diet rich in healthy fats is essential to maintain a youthful, high-functioning brain.
Fats that occur in processed foods, or that contain heated, processed or hydrogenated fats are obviously on the “NO!” list. These fats are found in foods like french fries, packaged crackers, chips, cookies, donuts, fried foods, ketchup, mayonnaise, salad dressings and bread. These fats can make the cell membranes of your brain, of the neurons, rigid and unresponsive.
And guess what? Rigid unresponsive cell membranes don’t work well. They can’t receive proper nourishment, or send messages properly.
They degenerate, and then they promote brain inflammation. If your brain isn’t working as well as you’d like it to, take a look at your diet first thing and entirely eliminate foods which contain unhealthy fats. Which fats promote healthy brain and body functions? Essential fatty acids are the key components of healthy fats. Two essential fatty acids that should be part of your diet are omega 3 and omega 6.
Essential fatty acids provide building blocks for:
- Fluid cell membranes which conduct messages fluently and easily take in nourishment to stay healthy
- Fatty tissues that make up our brain and nervous tissue
- Healthy hormone and cholesterol production
- Healthy immune and inflammatory responses
- Blood pressure and stroke prevention
- Healthy skin and hair
Signs of fatty acid deficiency include poor brain function and endurance, inflammation, achey joints or muscles, arthritis, dry skin or skin rashes, dandruff and hormone imbalances. Eating fried foods, partially hydrogenated processed foods can bring on deficiencies, as can lack of dietary consumption of fatty fish, raw nuts and seeds, uncooked olive oil and avocados.
Omega 3’s are readily available in cold water fish such as salmon and sardines. If you are vegetarian you can also get them from micro algae products. This is the essential fatty acid-rich algae that the cold water fish eat. Fish oil contains 2 very important fatty acids: DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid). When you buy a standard fish oil supplement these two are usually in a ratio of approximately 1:1.
DHA is particularly useful for brain function, especially brain fatigue or brain fog. You might consider using a product that has a high DHA level if you have memory issues, concentration or focus issues, mood swings or other chemical imbalance in your brain, or a family history of dementia. This is because DHA is a major building block of the brain and essential nutrient for function of the neurons, supporting growth of neuronal dendrites, improving the ability of the neurons to release neurotransmitters and enhancing communication between neurons.
DHA has also been shown to boost brain endurance, improve quality of life and reduce the incidence of dementia by improving both long and short term memory. The only limiting factor of high DHA oils is their price tag.
Fish oil high in EPA is anti-inflammatory and supportive of healthy immune function. It is useful if you have system-wide inflammation such as achy joints, sore muscles, skin rashes, allergies, or autoimmune disease.
Vegetarian sources of omega 3’s are highest in flax oil, but also chlorella, dark green veggies such as kale, eggs, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. These omega 3’s provide ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which the body must convert to DHA and EPA to be useful. This can be problematic especially if dietary protein is lacking or someone is insulin resistant. A diet high in omega 6’s also inhibit the conversion. A better option might be microalgae omega 3 oil. It is expensive, but may be more sustainable for the environment than fish oils.
How much omega 3 is enough?
Research is now indicating that greater quantities than previously thought are needed for good health. In general you may need about 3500 mg/2000 calories. Most people are falling short of this target, so are not getting the benefit they need from proper supplementation. If you prefer to eat your omega 3s, rather than supplement them, note that a can of Wild Planet Sardines contains about 1000 mg of DHA/EPA as well as B12, Vitamin D, CoQ10 and selenium.
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Charis Lindrooth, D.C. has helped her patients for more than 20 years, working with plant medicine and natural methods to restore well-being on all levels. During her formal training she fell in love with the brain and spent many hours tutoring the entire neurology class, one of the toughest subjects for students to grasp. Since then she has continued her studies on the brain, focusing especially on natural methods to improve memory and cognition. She has a reputation for teaching difficult topics in a way that is easy to understand. Learn more about her work at CharisLindrooth.com.