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Foods to Heal Your Brain

By: Cat Ebeling, RN, MSN-PHN, co-author of the best-sellers:  The Fat Burning KitchenThe Top 101 Foods that Fight Aging & The Diabetes Fix

Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, schizophrenia, behavioral problems, ADD/ADHD—the list goes on and on. Mental health issues are increasing by the day.

Pharmaceutical companies make massive amounts of money treating mental health, mood and behavioral disorders. In fact, Americans spend about $188 billion dollars a year on mental health treatments and medications. Of that, $71 billion is on depressive disorders alone. It is estimated that almost 20%, or 1 out of every 5 people in the United States have some form of mental health issue, according to the National Institute on Mental Health (2017).

Medical treatments for depression, autism, attention deficit disorder, insomnia, eating disorders, learning disabilities, drug addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, bipolar, dementia are making pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars!

And then there are things like chronic stress, brain fog, anger management, anxiety, mood swings, sleep issues, irritability, and memory loss. Mental health problems are an ‘invisible epidemic’ that affect 1.1 billion people worldwide.

Physicians have long held onto the belief that the brain and the body do not affect each other. The common belief was that what we put into our bodies did not change anything in our brain. But that is wrong.

We now know, that mood, memory, attention and behavior problems and most other brain diseases have their root cause in the body, especially the gut. Perhaps the conventional medical approach to dealing with brain disorders is totally backwards.

Doctors used to speak of the ‘blood/brain’ barrier in terms of medications, toxins, foods etc. The idea was that most of what we ate or drank did not cross that barrier to the brain. Now we know that that is totally not true.

That holds very true for many of the foods we eat. Toxins in the form of preservatives, hormones, pesticides and other chemicals affect us physically and mentally, and often the result is dementia, ADHD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, memory loss, autism, behavior problems and more.

According to Dr. Hyman in his “UltraMind Solution” book—

“There is such an onslaught of stress and environmental chemicals in our world, and it’s no wonder that our bodies and our brains are challenged and not functioning properly. We are exposed to toxins we were never designed to deal with—and nearly all of them cause brain injury…In fact, a recent government survey found an average of 148 chemicals in our bodies. And those were only the ones they tested.”

We are finding it very clear that the brain is very much linked to the body and the gut, and that what happens in the brain affects the body and what happens in the body most definitely affects the brain.

If our health is off somewhere in our body, then the health of the brain is often off too.

While just treating the brain with pharmaceuticals may lead to drug dependence, a dulled reality, and not treat the REAL problem, treating the body’s systemic natural chemistry and gut microbiome can fix brain chemistry imbalances and lead to genuine healing in the entire physical body.

An imbalance in any of system–nutrition, hormones, immune function, digestion, gut bacteria, detoxification, or metabolism can help to explain many of the symptoms that we think of as mental health issues. Most of these imbalances start in the body and show up eventually in the brain as mood, mental health or behavioral problems.

Messed up physical systems in the body actually can clue us into explanations for the depression, anxiety, dementia, autism, and attention deficit disorder that we see today.

Conventional treatments treat only the symptoms—often with powerful drugs that cause adverse side effects and never get to the root of the problem.

The simple truth is that your body and your brain, and all of your physical systems must interact together in one smooth dynamic system. If you improve your physical body’s health, you improve the health of your brain as well.

To illustrate, think about this– does a sugary snack make you feel anxious, jittery, and sleepy, then irritable later? Do you feel groggy and mentally slow after a big meal? Ever exercise hard and then feel calm, relaxed and happy afterwards?

How well do you focus on anything when you are sick?

We know that PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) is the result of fluctuating hormones, but did you know that alcoholics can actually become ‘crazy’ with something called Wernicke’s encephalopathy that comes from vitamin B1 deficiency and simply treating with this vitamin will cure this condition? Did you know that antibiotics for strep infections can cure some children who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder? And did you know that many schizophrenics often have a gluten sensitivity?

Heal the body, heal the brain.

Changing your diet, nutrients, sleep patterns, exercise, detoxing, balancing your hormones, correcting the bacterial balance in the gut, and removing foods that cause food allergies can all radically transform your mood, behavior and brain function.

These few steps can have a huge difference in your brain function and your physical health:

1. Eat, healthy, clean foods. Avoid any foods that you are sensitive or allergic to.
2. Add in necessary supplements for brain and physical health.
3. Make a habit of exercise, relaxation, meditation, and quality sleep in your daily life.
4. Avoid toxins in your food and environment.

If you can follow these steps for at least 6 weeks, you will see major changes your life, your outlook, and your sense of well being—literally in weeks or days!

Some of the changes you experience may happen almost immediately. If you are gluten sensitive and you stop eating gluten, your gut health and your brain can change within just a week or so. You may notice other major mental health improvements by removing dairy products, corn, and food additives.

More than 90% of the body’s serotonin lies in the gut, as well as about 50% of the body’s dopamine, so feeding the gut bacteria healthy foods, only serves to help your body make ‘happy’ brain chemicals.

Once you begin following these steps you will realize just how good you can feel—and you’ll never want to go back to feeling bad again.

Feed Your Brain the Right Foods

Your fork, you could say, can actually become one of the most powerful tools to use to change your health, your brain and your life.

There is nothing that has a bigger impact on your health. Absolutely nothing.

Here’s how to use that powerful tool:

• Eat REAL Food–Eat whole, real, fresh, organic, local and unprocessed food. If it has more than three ingredients (especially ones you do not immediately recognize), a package, or a barcode, AVOID IT.

• Get Healthy Fats for Your Head—The brain needs omega 3 fat DHA and EPA, which comes from algae, cold-water fatty fish and grass fed meats, along with saturated fats to stay its healthiest.

• Protein Power--Eat high quality, naturally sourced protein for breakfast every day, such as omega 3 eggs, salmon or grass fed meat, plain organic yogurt, or nut butters.

• Boost Your Brain Protectors–Eat piles of fruit and vegetables deeply colored with powerful phytonutrients. The deep red, yellow, orange, green, and blue in foods are a sign of powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, energy boosting, and brain-powering nutrients.

• Eat the RIGHT Kind of Carbs–Eat foods full of fiber, including raw vegetables, raw fruit, nuts, and seeds. This helps to clean out the gut, remove toxins, and grow healthy gut bacteria. A healthy gut has MUCH to do with the brain, and a healthy gut means a healthy brain!

• Remove the Poisons–Eliminate sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, coffee, alcohol, trans fats, food additives and preservatives, all of which poison your brain and disrupt your biochemistry.

If you can just follow these few steps—yes they may be big steps, but you can start instantly eliminating the brain-damaging foods and chemicals from you diet.

There is one other KEY change that is essential–That step is to eliminate the two most common causes of food allergens and hidden reactions in our diet. These come from gluten and pasteurized processed dairy.

Your brain reacts to allergens as well as your body—with increased inflammation. And when this occurs, you can get brain fog, anxiety/depression, autism, ADHD, dementia, and more. Gluten has even been proven to cause some cases of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

You don’t need to break out in hives or have an anaphylaxis reaction to these foods to be allergic. People often have hidden allergies to these foods and not even realize it—especially because these foods are often eaten on a daily basis, so the problem becomes chronic. Actually, that should be the FIRST thing you think of—“I am irritable today, or I feel depressed today,”…Think about WHAT you ate yesterday or the day before.

You can eat a piece of cheesecake on Monday and feel depressed on Tuesday. You eat a bag of cookies one day and the next day you are irritable. Many times, inflammatory reactions occur up to 24 to 48 hours later, but there definitely IS a connection to food sensitivities and changes in mood.

Many people just have ongoing, low-grade, delayed food sensitivities or allergies all the time. What you eat on a regular basis, may be causing a delayed allergic reaction you might not ever know it because those foods are the foods you just can’t do without.

You can get tested for food reactions from a doctor, but this method is not food proof. The best and easiest way is to remove the most common foods that cause reactions. Usually the top two are wheat and dairy.

Then pay close attention to your body and mind when you do this—the first few days may be tough, because you may actually have to break an addiction to these foods, but then you may suddenly feel great!

Remove the poisons in your diet as well including the artificial sweeteners, foods with preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats or vegetable oils, and junk food.

Try this for a minimum of two-six weeks. Then challenge those foods and see how you feel, 1 hour, 4 hours, 12 hours, 24 and 48 hours later. You may be SHOCKED!

Supplements for your brain and physical health

Even those who eat the healthiest diet will probably need some additional supplements. These are ESSENTIAL for brain health and physical health as well.

1. Multivitamin–A high-quality, high-potency, multivitamin.
2. B vitamins that include methylfolate and methylcobalamin. These are forms of B vitamins necessary for brain health, nerve function, energy, and fat metabolism. A deficiency will cause anxiety, depression, loss of energy.
3. Vitamin C 500-1000 mg, take 1000 mg a day. Vitamin C reduces inflammation in the body and brain as well as protecting the immune system.
4. Omega 3 fatty acids with high levels of EPA and DHA.
5. Magnesium Glycinate or Magnesium Theonate to promote calm and overall better health.
6. An all-purpose digestive enzyme.

And be sure to incorporate these lifestyle changes into your life—exercise, relaxation and good sleep. Exercise naturally eases stress, releases ‘feel-good’ hormones, balances your gut bacteria, increases blood flow and helps balance blood sugar. Good sleep helps to ‘rewire’ the brain, eases stress and reboots the brain.

You should have the privilege to live a life that is alert, awake, engaged, present, focused, joyful and balanced. Making these changes in your diet and lifestyle, while healing your body will most definitely help heal your brain as well. You cannot have a truly healthy body without a healthy brain too.

Your body, your brain, your gut, and your health. All are one. Nourish your body and your mind will be nourished as well.

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References
Report on brain aging at the National Institute on Aging:
Elias, M., 2005. “Want a Sharp Mind for Your Golden Years? Start Now,” USA Today, Aug 17, 2005. [accessed April 20, 2007] http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-08-17-save-your-brain_x.htm.

About The Watchdog

Mike Geary has been a Certified Nutrition Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer for over 15 years now. He has been studying nutrition and exercise for almost 25 years, ever since being a young teenager. Mike is originally from Pennsylvania, but has fallen in love with mountain life and now resides in the picturesque mountains of Utah. Mike is an avid adventurist and when he’s not spending his time skiing, mountain biking, hiking, or paddleboarding on the lake, he has enjoyed skydiving, whitewater rafting, piloting an Italian fighter plane (seriously), scuba diving, heli-skiing, and traveling all around the world, enjoying learning about different cultures. At the age of 40, Mike now feels healthier, stronger, and more energetic than when he was 20... All because of a healthy lifestyle and great nutrition!

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