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The Brain Diet: Ways to Optimize Brain Health

Many of us have been affected by family members, friends or loved ones who suffer or have suffered from mental illness, learning or behavioral disorders, or memory loss.  Maybe you have had a grandmother with Alzheimers…maybe a parent with dementia…maybe a spouse with depression.  Or maybe, you have a child with ADHD.  These conditions and illnesses affect us as much as they affect the patient or loved one who has them.  They take a toll on overall happiness, can require a lot of time and money and can be debilitating to our relationships.  Without memory, without mental wellbeing, life just doesn’t seem to be as worthwhile as without it.

When we think of diet, we often attribute it to our physical wellbeing. However, diet can also impact our mental health and, even more importantly, there is scientific evidence that a lot of these conditions may very well be preventable. In my interview with Dr. Alan Logan – author of The Brain Diet: The Connection Between Nutrition, Mental Health, and Intelligence on the Healthy Living Show, we discussed our diets and how they correlate to brain function and health. According to Dr. Logan, leading health research clearly shows a direct link between the decline of healthy eating and the rise of mental disorders including ADHD, depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and more.  He tells us that nutrition really matters with brain development, structure and function.  Some of the major takeaways that resulted from our discussion are below:

  1. Diet’s Impact on Depression: A number of studies show that individuals who have low blood folate levels are more likely to have depression relapse.  Those who up their folic acid during anti-depression therapy see better results. It is recommended that individuals who suffer from depression take 800 mcg of folic acid (as compared to 500 mcg for average adults) and 1.0 mg of Vitamin B12 in order to ward off and fight symptoms of depression. Additionally, consuming plant based foods that are rich in purple pigments have been shown to maintain levels of “mood-enhancing” hormones around for a longer period of time.
  2. ADHD, Behavioral Disorders and Diet: There has been research that shows hyperactivity can be reduced when preservatives, dyes, and other artificial and synthetic ingredients are eliminated from our diet. Even in children without ADHD, dyes, preservatives and benzoates can provoke symptoms of hyperactivity and other behavioral issues.  On the other hand, Dr. Logan tells us that diets rich in Omega-3 EFAs and Gamma Lineoic Acids (GLAs) can be highly beneficial to reducing symptoms of hyperactivity. With ADHD and other behavioral or learning disorders, there is an increased need for GLAs for their anti-inflammatory impacts and their ability to preserve the integrity of Omega-3s, which are important to the development of “brain scaffolding” or structure.  Children who have diets containing GLAs, which can be found in Borage, Black Currant and Evening Primrose oil, show significant improvement in test scores and attention as a whole as compared to those without it.
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  4. Optimizing Learning and Cognitive Function: There is a ton of research that shows having a well-balanced breakfast is important to our ability to function and maintain cognition throughout the day. An optimal “learning breakfast” is high in fiber. Breakfasts high in sugar, however, have the opposite effect. High-sugar breakfasts can negatively impact cognitive abilities and have shown significant decline in cognitive function by late-morning.  Dietary fiber keeps blood sugar and energy levels stable and balanced, which is important in reaching full learning and cognitive potential. Also, a healthy breakfast should include lean proteins and healthy fats (Omega-3s and Monounsaturated Fats).  A breakfast with these three components helps sustain energy and brain function levels throughout the day. Click here for some ideas on healthy breakfasts.
  5. Brain Aging and Diet: In general, the more fruits and vegetables we eat, the better.  However, the deeper colored and pigmented plant foods are most crucial to brain health.  Researchers from Tuft’s University conducted a study where they fed four different groups of animals various plant foods: blueberries, strawberries, spinach and broccoli. Those who consumed blueberries showed the highest level of prevention of many symptoms of aging, such as loss of memory, balance and cognitive skills.  Also, individuals who consume two cups of Green Tea a day have shown a 50% of reduction in brain cognitive function decline.
  6. Extra Weight and Brain Health: Although extra weight isn’t good for many reasons, extra abdominal weight is the worst enemy of optimal brain health. Extra abdominal fat contains bio-active tissue that enhances the secretion of inflammatory chemicals at the brain level.  The greater the amount of mid-life abdominal fat, the greater potential for brain decline later in life.
  7. Organics and Brain Health: If you aren’t already convinced of the benefits of buying organics, you may have yet another reason to reconsider. Studies have shown that the more we consume pesticides and herbicides, the more likely we’ll have cognitive and neurological issues as we get older.

I highly recommend that you consider purchasing The Brain Diet: The Connection Between Nutrition, Mental Health, and Intelligence. What we discussed on the show didn’t even scratch the surface of all of the good information Dr. Logan shares in his book.

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Posted in Brett's Blog, Mind-Body, Nutrition Tagged with: , , , , , , ,