Top 10 Ways to Abuse Your Brain
Avoid human contact and new ideas. BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) is produced inside brain neurons or nerve cells, particularly in learning centres. While neurotransmitters (NTs) busily deliver instructions, BDNF builds and maintains the motorway structure that supports their journey. If you sprinkle BDNF on neurons in a Petri dish they will grow new branches. You can increase BDNF with mental, physical and social exercise. In animal and human studies this swiftly improved moods; ability to learn, focus, recall, and manage stress. Social and emotional deprivation can physically shrink brains, while positive stimuli produces heavier brains with improved nerve structures that fire signals efficiently.
Never exercise. One of the speediest ways to produce more BDNF is with physical exercise. It unleashes when blood is pumping vigorously. In contrast, refined sugar suppresses BDNF activity. It and damaged fats (see my website articles on the TIPS page: The Fats of Life; Sugar) generate Inflammation (TIPS), which is linked with depression, dementias and schizophrenia. Exercise triggers the production of more receptors on cells as docking sites for insulin. Insulin is the hormonal courier driver that delivers glucose – your chief brain fuel source – to hungry cells.
Exercise helps reduce the apathy linked to depression and ageing (TIPS: Free Medicine). The risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias reduces by 50% with regular exercise. After a walking programme, MRI scans have shown an improved volume in the pre-frontal cortex among older adults, people with early Parkinson’s disease or dyslexia. This improved motor ability, mood, memory and concentration. It also enhances dopamine levels – a NT necessary for a well regulated sense of reward and satisfaction, which minimises self-sabotaging compulsions.
Forget sleep. Brain neurons need lots of fuel as they are always active. During Sleep (TIPS) they repair worn out structural components. One half of all your brain’s energy is spent communicating throughout the nervous system via bio-electrical signals. Neurons are unable to store glucose. Without it you soon feel weak, unable to concentrate, nervous or depressed. At night you easily awake and the return to sleep is difficult. People need 7-8 hours of sustained, refreshing sleep or Adrenal (TIPS) hormones such as cortisol up blood pressure and blood sugar levels (BSL) to deal with the emergency. Too much cortisol accelerates ageing, Weight problems (TIPS), inflammation; worsens memory, immunity – and impairs sleep.
Avoid all fats. Your brain is more than 50% fat and most of that is DHA – a form of Omega 3 fatty acids (also found in dark, oily types of fish). DHA is primarily used to make membranes that envelop nerve cells. Omega 3 makes the membrane more flexible and receptive to incoming signals. This can benefit memory, moods, cognition and conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD and anxiety. The American Psychiatric Association recommends all patients with depression or bipolar disorder take Omega 3 fish oils. A Framingham study of 900 elderly over 9 years found that those with high Omega 3 intake had 50% less risk for dementia, and 40% less for Alzheimer’s.
Remember the science of common sense. Balance the flexibility factors of unsaturated fats (monounsaturates and polyunsaturates) with the firm cellular strength provided by top quality saturated sources (egg yolks, free range meat, coconut, cocoa). Eggs additionally contain choline needed to produce NTs. B vitamins are also critical for NT manufacture (and for the liver’s building, energy and detoxification functions; brewers/savoury yeast is a top food source – see my yummy Dynamite recipe in The Shape Diet).
Eat low fibre carbs. About 25% of your food energy is needed to run your onsite computer (while cats and dogs need only 8%). The brain must have glucose – or blood sugar – to operate, but not all sources are equal. Highly refined carbohydrates (most light, white, starchy or sugary cereals, bread, baking and highly processed grains) break down rapidly into glucose which leads to levels attractively spiking up, followed by an exhausting down. High fibre foods have dense cellulose structures that resist digestion and act like time release capsules. BSL then stay steady without a savage fall.
Fibre feeds the beneficial gut bacteria so they can manufacture vitamin K and some Bs; keep pathogens low (bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic); create fatty acids that the liver uses to produce HDL cholesterol (which helps remove excess, blood-flow-impeding LDL cholesterol). In one study people given high fibre cooked cereal were able to remember 25% more facts than a control group which had only a glucose and lemon drink. Soluble fibre (see Linseed Cereal recipe in The Shape Diet) is needed to bind and eliminate excess LDL, heavy metals, toxins and unwanted hormones, or they are stored in the Liver (TIPS) impeding its function and yours.
Increase stress and decrease relaxation. Too much mental concentration drains glucose from the hippocampus: a key part of the brain associated with memory and learning. Studies show this is especially true for older brains. This makes taking breaks and maintaining BSL imperative for full function. A few minutes spent on exercise, socialising or a replenishing snack (try nuts with fresh/dried fruit for minerals, fibre, protein, healthy fats and low GI/slow release carbs) will save you from unproductive time.
Stress depletes tyrosine (Thyroid; TIPS) which then limits alertness and memory. It depletes magnesium, which is essential (as is DHA) for the release of motivating dopamine. Anxiety and depression lead to high cortisol levels, which kill brain cells in the hippocampus. Stress weakens the blood-brain barrier: a complex blood vessel network that tries to prohibit circulating toxins from entry. Adults can grow new brain cells (neurogenesis) by increasing the NT serotonin through simple pleasures; and good GUT health (TIPS).
Pick the minerals out of your food. Most animals can produce a wide variety of their own vitamins. Humans substantially lost this ability, since as omnivores and strategists we could get enough from high nutrient content natural foods. Now 70% of what we eat is classified as ‘novel’ or lab altered. Food may have changed more in the last 40 years than the last 40,000.
Vitamins need minerals to function – no animal can produce its own. Minerals must first be in the soil or waterways if they are to be present in foods growing there. Minerals are critical for delivering brain messages (basically “more brake/relaxation” or “more accelerator/alertness”); for operating the nervous system governing sleep, digestion, stress response and more. Narrowed blood vessels increase damage to the brain, the risk of stroke and dementia. Minerals such as potassium, magnesium and calcium keep blood vessels (and their owners) relaxed and flexible. They are critical for alkalinity (TIPS: Acidic) calming nerves and thus ensuring healthy Digestion (TIPS) and sleep. Top providers of most minerals (soil dependent) are nuts, seeds, seaweed, fish, seafood, dried fruit followed by Legumes and dark leafy greens (TIPS: Potassium; Calcium; Magnesium; Zinc; Chromium; Minerals).
Refuse fruits and vegetables. High antioxidant foods can shield the brain from inflammation, obstructive plaques and free radicals. Tufts University rankings in order per 100 grams: kale, spinach, prunes, raisins, berries, Brussels/alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, beetroot, red pepper, onion, corn, eggplant, citrus, grapes, cherries, kiwifruit. Deeply coloured foods are tops, especially when you eat the skin. Enjoy 5+ fruit and veg servings/handfuls; 5 colours daily. Dark green veg for folate (protects DNA; slows brain ageing; 55% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s: Baltimore Longitudinal Study). Brassicas or crucifers (eg broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower) for DIM-diindolylmethane (helps reduce lethargy-inducing high estrogen). High potassium levels (apricots, mushroom, potato, banana and dark dried fruit) can mean 5 x less stroke risk.
Take up smoking, street drugs, lots of alcohol and long term medications. Cigarettes and street drugs are high in toxic heavy metals. These kick minerals out of storage sites and disturb brain transmissions, altering behaviours and moods. Alcohol (TIPS), like types and quantity of food, can be life enhancing or life threatening. It can dehydrate the brain; spike blood sugar and cortisol; decrease nutrient absorption; increase estrogen; impair liver detoxification. Medications (TIPS) side effects vary. Most common is impaired digestion, especially due to compromised liver and gut function. 95% of sleep/feel-good, pain-reducing serotonin is made in the gut which many, especially mood meds impair. Antacids reduce nutrients; pain relievers injure stomach lining; steroids spike BSL and cortisol; blood pressure meds up BSL, decrease minerals; oral contraceptives up depression risk, decrease Bs and zinc.
Encourage circulatory and hormonal problems. Good circulation of nutrients is critical to your hungry brain. Anything that helps cardiovascular health will enhance brain function. Vitamin E scavenges free radicals. B6, folate and B12 protect DNA, and lower homocysteine – high levels linked with thickened blood vessels and poor circulation to brain and heart. #1 dietary way to increase mind/mood deteriorating, inflammatory chemicals and free radicals is with poor quality fats (overheated at home or commercially as in most supermarket oils, prepared foods and table spreads). Use cold pressed or virgin oils at lowest possible temperature. Inflammation is also caused by spiking BSL (poorly controlled diabetes ups mental decline). Excess glucose is converted to blood fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides, which in excess impede circulation.
Excess glucose is also formed into fatty flesh, which is like growing an extra estrogen producing organ. Pulsating hormones and NTs stimulate or inhibit activity to achieve dynamic balance in your body. Estrogen is a fat storage Sex Hormone (TIPS) and when too high it leads to lowered serotonin and metabolic rate, sluggish mental and physical function. High levels are common due to hormone treated foods (dairy, meat); medications (oral contraceptive, HRT, steroids); chemical mimics (agrochemicals, plastics, standard toiletries and cleaning agents; TIPS: Chemicals). Magnesium, B6 and zinc particularly help men and women produce sufficient progesterone and testosterone to keep estrogen in balance.