Healthy Brain, Happy Life! Part I: Brain Health 101

You Need A Healthy Brain! The World Needs Healthy Brains!

I am unashamed to call myself a brain health, neurosciences, and mind-body connection nerd!

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My passion for these areas of study was initially motivated by a very long journey to recover my health and life from the wreckage brought on by disabling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Lyme and Company, and more!

After I completed my training at the Neurosculpting Institute in Denver, CO, in 2014, I became particularly interested in taking a deeper dive into brain health and the field of pyscho-neuro-immunology.

Yes! This is a real word and field of study. It refers to the study of the interplay between the human psyche, the neurological system, and the immune system. When these systems do not play nicely with one another the body falls out of balance and becomes vulnerable to symptoms, illness, and ultimately dis-ease.

I continue to read and study everything I can get my hands on and have also completed numerous other trainings on these subject matters. The Amen Clinic’s Brain Health Coaching Program is my latest endeavor, which inspired this series on brain health. I'm passionate about sharing this wisdom with others!   

Here is an inescapable fact rarely taken into consideration: our brains are involved in all aspects of our lives. In fact, our brains are top level managers of everything -- our bodies, our relationships, our households, our schools, our communities, our cities, our governments, and even the world!

When your brain is troubled, your health and your life will be troubled, and when your brain is working right, you will work right. A healthy brain is vital to feeling well, being functional, and creating a happy life for yourself! 

Most people are unaware that almost any health or life challenge can be linked to an unhealthy brain. Most of us, if not all, are aware that mental illness and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are related to brain health (and gut health!!), but maybe we've never considered that body pain, fatigue, digestive conditions, relationship issues, financial and career struggles, and other life struggles are also linked to brain health.

Learning about brain function and what the brain needs to be healthy is an important piece of getting well, taking charge of your life, and reaching your full potential. Let's get to know our brains!

Some Basic Brain Facts

It's densely packed. There are more connections in the brain than there are stars in the Universe. It may not take up much volume -- only 2% of your body’s weight -- but it uses 20-30% of your calories and 20-25% of your oxygen and blood flow. The brain is comprised of approximately 60% fat and toxins are mostly stored in fat cells. Think about that for a moment!

Your daily behavior either accelerates or decelerates brain aging, and it's the most easily damaged organ in the body. Furthermore, a wide array of physical, biochemical, and emotional insults can damage the brain.

Damage most often begins decades before symptoms manifest, and 50% of those lucky enough to see their 85th birthday will be diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's. Yikes! And the damage, which most could have been averted through lifestyle and diet, was brewing long before health challenges showed up.

There is a long list of insults that cause brain damage, including brain injuries (even minor ones such as heading soccer balls), drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, toxic insults from prescription drugs, inactivity, poor diet, emotional trauma, environmental toxins, diabetes, high or low blood pressure, nicotine and caffeine, low hormones, long term depression, poor decision-making, unhealthy peer groups, and not knowing or respecting your limitations -- overdoing it!

I was a chronic over-doer and perfectionist my entire life up until my battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome finally forced me to learn new ways of showing up in the world; which continues to be a work in progress for me!

Minor Brain Injuries Can Cause Major Problems!

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Humans are not meant to hit soccer balls with their heads and play tackle football, and you don't need to lose consciousness to have incurred a brain injury. Brain injuries can come in all forms and over long periods of time: They may be physical, biochemical, or emotional.

Mild, hidden brain traumas add up over time and can wreak havoc on a life resulting in mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse, under or unemployment, dementia, learning problems, behavioral issues, and chronic illness, to name some of the most commonly seen issues.

The prefrontal cortex, which is home to the best version of ourselves, is affected 91% of the time when brain injury occurs.

This area controls higher-level functioning such as focus, forethought, impulse control, organization, planning, judgment, empathy, insight, and learning from mistakes. Can you see how brain injury or inflammation can wreak havoc on our lives? 

Healthy Weight Is Critical For Brain Health

Fat is the largest endocrine organ in the body. You do not get fat from eating fat though! You get fat from eating sugar and foods such as unhealthy carbs that turn to sugar. These dietary practices can cause roller coaster blood sugar levels and insulin resistance; which pave the way for obesity and diabetes.

Fat stores toxins, releases lipid droplets, produces inflammatory cytokines, promotes insulin resistance, and decreases testosterone in men by turning it into unhealthy forms of estrogen. All of these things, including the foods that cause us to put on fat, have an impact on brain health.

There is an inverse relationship in obesity and brain health. The more you weigh, the more your brain atrophies. Conversely, being too thin and undernourished can also take a toll on the brain. Being at a healthy weight is integral for a robust brain!

Some Warning Signs That Your Brain Is In Trouble

If you recognize any of the following in your life, your brain needs support: memory problems, low energy or chronic fatigue, low mood, irritability, easily triggered or overwhelmed, anxiety, stress, worry, a short attention span, brain fog, low impulse control, bad decisions, insomnia (lower blood flow in the brain), blood pressure or blood sugar deregulation, weight problems, sexual dysfunction, non-compliance for health-promoting behaviors, and lack of follow-through.

Are We Stuck With The Brain We Have Now? The Answer Is NO!

There is hope because the brain is extremely neuroplastic and can be regenerated and healed.

Your brain has the ability to respond to lifestyle changes and targeted therapeutic interventions, and there are many practical ways to support brain health. 

Neuroplasticity simply means that every time we learn something new, we are mapping new neural networks somewhere in our brains. The brain is made to learn, and we can rewire our brains for health.

What Does Your Brain Need To Be Healthy?

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Your brain needs good decision-making. In other words, your brain needs you to avoid destructive habits, not as punishment or to live a “boring” life as some might consider, but rather out of love for yourself and the desire to be the best version of yourself. 

Your brain needs to be challenged in healthy ways with mental workouts that aim at enhancing neuroplasticity. 

You brain needs physical activity, proper sleep habits, and a clean environment.

Your brain needs a healthy body and so addressing physiological imbalances such as leaky gut, chronic infections, and toxic overload are integral!       

Your brain needs you to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water that is been filtered to remove chlorine, flouride, and other toxic substances.     

Your brain needs your body to be at a healthy weight and maintain even keel blood sugar levels. This requires ditching the SAD (Standard American Diet) and eating a healthy, whole-food diet the emphasizes plenty of fresh veggies and low glycemic fruits, moderate amounts of healthy and clean protein, and the right ratio of healthy fats for your particular bio-chemistry and genetic predispositions.

You brain needs appropriate stress. Some stress and anxiety are a good thing and necessary! 

Your brain needs satisfying relationships and a positive peer group.           

Your brain needs to you overcome destructive thinking patterns such as rumination, worry, and self-doubt.

Your brain needs stress management and mind-body healing techniques. Research in the field of psycho-neuro-immunology has confirmed that repressed, painful emotions and habitual, stressful thought patterns activate a chronic stress response.  The way I see it, it is “easy” to run labs, take supplements, do detox protocols, etc. 

Cultivating a healing mindset amidst the healing path, letting go of patterns that no longer serve us, and not allowing ourselves to spiral into an abyss of negative thinking, however, can often be an insurmountable and overwhelming task.  Many people, myself included at one time, do not know where to begin with this aspect of healing.  For this reason, I offer extensive services in this area of healing to compliment the functional health consulting work I do.

You brain needs some targeted supplements that feed it the raw materials for optimum function.

Your brain needs you to know and respect your own limitations. If you are constantly overdoing it and living in state of unhealthy stress, your brain will suffer.

Your brain needs autonomic nervous system dysfunction to be addressed. The autonomic nervous system is what controls life-supportive functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiration, elimination, sexual function, and more. Imbalance within this system can greatly contribute to fatigue, weight loss resistance, digestive issues, ADHD, and a myriad of other chronic health issues. Most people are on the spectrum of autonomic nervous system dysfunction due to a series of health insults over many years and spending more time in a stressed state than in a state of rest and digest. Stay tuned for future articles on this topic!

Your brain needs you to set and maintain healthy boundaries with others.

Your brain needs you to reduce exposure to technology, EMF’s (electromagnetic frequencies), and blue light.

In short, your brain needs you to know what makes it healthy and then make it a priority to adjust your lifestyle habits!

 SPECT Imaging May Be Something To Consider!

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If some cases, if we don't look at the brain, we might not know what we're dealing with. Awareness provides the opportunity for change, and SPECT imaging, while controversial, can provide a window into where the damage is and what caused it.

Spect scans are performed mostly by integrative medical doctors. Per the Amen Clinic website, “SPECT stands for Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography. It is a nuclear medicine procedure widely used to study heart, liver, thyroid, bone and brain problems. Brain SPECT imaging is a measure of cerebral blood flow. Because brain activity is directly related to blood flow, SPECT effectively shows us the patterns of activity in the brain.”

While I remain cautious about the use of SPECT imaging due to high levels of radiation and I feel much can be deduced and done to improve brain health based on history, presenting symptoms, and less aggressive testing, it can provide necessary validation for a person with invisible illness. I have come to learn that it is common for those suffering with severe mental illness or invisible illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to be dismissed by the conventional medical community, family, and friends. SPECT imaging may very well provide necessary and overdue validation, which is very therapeutic on its own, as well as help guide the right interventions in some scenarios.

What Can You Begin Doing To Support Your Brain? 

Maintaining a healthy brain absolutely begins with lifestyle and dietary interventions! Aside from the tips presented in this article, you can also begin by taking targeted brain health nutritional supplements. Taking supplements to feed your brain is simple and you can begin getting your brain what it needs to be strong and healthy! Please keep in mind, however, that it is always best to choose supplements with the guidance of a qualified health and wellness professional.

B Complex:

Homocysteine is an inflammatory compound caused by B vitamin deficiency.

B complex helps with anxiety and stress. The body tends to dump B vitamins under stress and keeping them available helps with neurotransmitter balance and many other issues affecting mood, the ability to think clearly, and stress management.

Magnesium:

Magnesium is one of the macro minerals. It's also an electrolyte, which is used in almost every function of the body. It is involved in cell health and helps to conduct electricity through muscles and nerves.

It is difficult to get magnesium into the brain, however, where it is needed most, and low levels of magnesium in the brain translate into an aging brain. Magnesium L-Threonate has the ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and to regenerate synaptic density. It also enables the brain to recover plasticity, the ability to learn. (1)

Lion’s Mane:

Lion's mane is a powerhouse of support for brain health. It's a mushroom which contains two compounds that have been shown to stimulate the growth of brain cells: hericenones and erinacines. (2)

Hericenones have also been shown to decrease blood clotting and may reduce the risk of stroke. (3)

Lion's Mane may help to protect against Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

It also helps with memory and it supports neuronal damage repair. It speeds recovery from nervous system damage.

It acts as an anti-inflammatory for the hippocampus, where memories and emotional responses are processed! 

Lions Mane speeds fat metabolism and lowers triglyceride levels, and it helps control blood sugar and diabetes.

Adding to this already long list of benefits, it may help fight cancer, and it boosts the immune system.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Acetyl-L-Carnitine is an amino acid. It helps the body produce energy and also acts as a powerful antioxidant that helps detox the brain.

It crosses the blood-brain barrier and it is a precursor to the production of acetylcholine, one of the important neurotransmitters in the brain that controls the ability to think quickly and solve problems. It also supports blood flow to the brain, which is an issue with insomnia.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine assist with memory, anxiety, mood, temper, depression and learning problems. (4)

GPC Liquid (a specialized form of choline)

GPC is a great and potent source of choline and phospholipids. Choline is so important to brain function that without it, we wouldn't be able to move or function. Like Acetyl-L-Carnitine, it is used for the production of acetylcholine and assists in all the brain cells communicating with each other. GPC is more effective at increasing acetylcholine than other forms of choline.

Choline is vital to brain function and repair. GPC Liquid is a great product to supply the brain with high levels levels choline. It helps with blood flow and repairs neurons and supplies acetylcholine. (5). Furthermore, choline deficiency is becoming more common, especially in those with a history of compromised digestion, poor diet, and the use of anticholinergic medications such as antihistamines.

Omega 3’s (especially DHA)

DHA makes up more than 90 percent of the omega-3 fats in the brain and half of a neuron’s membrane is made of DHA. It's also an important component of heart tissue. (6)

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, and DHA assists with blood flow.

Recover your health and recover your life by focusing on building a healthy brain!

Stay tuned for Part II of the Healthy Brain; Happy Life Series where I will be taking a deeper dive into brain health and providing more tips and strategies for how you can keep your brain in tip top shape!

References:

1. https://www.lifeextension.com/Magazine/2018/6/Reverse-Clinical-Measures-of-Brain-Aging/Page-01

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24266378

3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lions-mane-mushroom#section9

4. https://www.brainmdhealth.com/blog/acetyl-l-carnitine-the-dark-horse-brain-health-supplement-that-you-need-to-know/

5. https://www.smart-publications.com/articles/gpc-the-new-choline-that-enhances-your-mental-function-now/

6. https://www.amenclinics.com/the-science/why-spect/

7. Perlmutter, David. Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life (p. 214). Little, Brown and Company.