Typically we don’t think of our brain and equate that with our health. With the concept of ‘the brain’ we usually just think of how we feel. Most people (myself included) hope the brain will stay intact and sharp through old age. The reality is we can do more than hope. First, we must realize that the brain is everything! It is the “motherboard” so to speak, and everything else is software.
The brain is not a separate organ; health is not from the neck down.
Quality of life is dependent on proper brain function. One’s ability to enjoy life depends on brain health. Let that statement soak in for a minute.
As a general rule we associate mood with brain; antidepressants are now the second most prescribed medication in America. ADD, ADHD, anxiety, learning disabilities, brain fog, moodiness, sleep disorders are ALL an issue of brain health. The current healthcare model for early detection of neurodegenerative decline or neuroinflammation is on a miniscule scale. Treatment after diagnosis offers mild improvement at best.
When we wait for the “symptom” of getting lost on our way home or not recognizing family or tremors, we have missed the window of effective treatments.
When we talk about the damage that poor diet and chronic stress can cause, the brain is the most fragile and susceptible organ to this. Ultimately, it comes down to managing those two things.
So much of the function of the brain is Nutrient Dependent. That is to say getting good nutrition is vital to the efficiency of our brain. The gut is said to be the “second brain” – if you have gastrointestinal issues going on, you have brain issues going on. 90% of neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, which invites the question – is depression a brain issue or a gut issue? Biochemical pathways are greatly influenced by the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. (One of the early signs of Parkinson’s is chronic constipation and loss of smell.)
Sugar metabolism is also vital to brain health. One third of the entire glucose load is used by this little 2 pound organ! Forgetting to eat meals or long periods without fuel/steady supply of glucose may cause brain function to suffer. The inverse is also true – too much glucose or fluctuations may cause insulin receptor insensitivity, meaning brain cells can’t get the fuel.
Essential fatty acids are another key fuelling component for brain health and function. The title of “Essential” is given when the body does not produce or lack the enzyme to synthesize them; therefore must be consumed in diet for example, EPA, DHA, fish, nuts, and flaxseed to name a few. These form a phospholipid structure for neuron membranes and are needed for membrane transport and proper neuronal signaling.
This brings us to chronic stress. This kind of stress can be anything that challenges the body, mind or spirit. To the brain there is no difference. Something that ignites an inflammatory response can be a car wreck, losing a loved one, or lack of sleep… these can disrupt hormone and neurochemical reactions that impact normal brain function. Chronic stress accelerates brain degeneration and can cause atrophy of the brain.
All of the above neurodegenerative factors can be managed by better nutritional choices, but also by exercise. Research shows that consistent purposeful movement reduces inflammatory response and damage throughout the body. Caveat: you cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet! Each part plays its role, but exercise unlocks positive brain and body health.
These are definitely only the mere highlights. The brain is a fantastic organ to study with so many components. Brain issues could include: circulation problems, methylation, brain-gut axis, gut-brain axis, neuroautoimmunity, environmental triggers, and gluten sensitivity. When you are considering your health don’t forget about the brain. Take some time to really look at yourself honestly and evaluate your brain status. Growing older does not mean its OK to be forgetful or be too tired to do certain things anymore. Changes in coordination, timing, reflex, job performance, enjoyment in life, mood, are not signs of old age, but a signal from the brain for help.
Remember my motto: if you can you must, if you can’t you must more. If numbers are getting difficult to remember or to count, then you must use those pathways more and instead of finding away around those issues, practice a little everyday to intentionally improve the neuronal synaptic quality. If your balance isn’t what it used to be, you must work on it, etc. Brain pathways are like muscles – they will atrophy if we don’t use them. Use it, don’t lose it.