Brain Health and Inflammation: Staying Sharp

Brain Health and Inflammation: Staying Sharp

If you are concerned about the very real dangers of brain degeneration and the increasing prevalence of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, then I say you are paying attention, so read on. Our modern lifestyle and environment are in fact wreaking havoc on our brain health. Look around and you are sure to know at least a few people who are struggling with some variety of brain disorder, even as common as depression. Our lifestyle choices have serious consequences to our health, and the burgeoning degenerative malaise is in large part a function of these poor choices.

What's causing all this degenerative disease and disorder?

There is now one acknowledged primary cause. Research has clearly shown that the main reason our brains deteriorate over time is due to inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation is more dangerous to our health than anything else. Moreover, inflammatory processes in the periphery of the body also trigger destructive inflammatory processes in the brain. 

Inflammation is the reason why our brains degrade.

When you fall over and injure your knee, you know something is inflamed because you can feel the pain and see the swelling. You quickly do what you can, maybe applying ice or a salve to reduce the swelling. However your brain is also subject to such inflammation, but unlike the rest of your body, it has no pain receptors. This means that when you have a problem and your brain becomes inflamed, you probably won't know it. You can't tell when you need to act to reduce swelling so it continues unchecked, causing a myriad of damage. This is a big part of what makes this problem so insidious.

There are various causes of inflammation, but regardless, they all lead to the same result: damaging your most important organ, and over time, this damage can be catastrophic. Studies are piling up that clearly show a clear link between inflammation and serious health problems throughout the body, but most importantly, in the brain. Recognizing the problem and attending to a solution is paramount.

It's simple...

If you want to protect and maintain your brain, you must prevent inflammation.

One direct result of inflammation is the production of free radicals. We discuss them so often because they are responsible for so many health issues. They are unstable molecules that attach to the wall of cells and steal essential elements resulting in oxidative damage. Oxidation in the human body is very akin to the oxidation or rusting of metal. It is a toxic event that causes significant harm to our bodies, right down to a cellular level, and is the main reason we age.

Inflammation and free radical damage are the enemy. They damage every part of the body.

If we diligently work to prevent inflammation, the result is a healthy, vital, sharp and active mind for a long life. If we don't, we face a future filled with memory problems, minds that slowly degrade our quality of life, and some serious degenerative illnesses including diabetes, depression, autism, epilepsy, cancer, and arguably every chronic illness that exists! Remember that disease is not an actual thing, but a manifestation of a system dysfunction brought on by inflammation, oxidative stress or glycation. And because these three things are all connected, solving this solves virtually every issue.

So what can we do to prevent inflammation and free radicals?

Fortunately, the solution to the problem is not complex and doesn't require medical intervention. What we eat is not only the cause but also the cure. So the basic approach is to remove the foods that cause inflammation and embrace the foods that do not and that we are meant to eat for proper brain health. We've talked good brain foods in various posts, but for this discussion, I want to focus on the what we should cut out.

A two-pronged attack then:

First we eliminate foods that inflame and lead to this damage. There are two of them that create the lion's share of problems. Number one is sugar. In so many ways, sugar is toxic and directly leads to inflammation in the body. Glycation is the degradation of proteins by sugar derivatives, and is extremely damaging to the body. The key to preventing inflammation and all sorts of associated issues is to avoid sugar as much as possible, and to reduce carbohydrate intake as well. Keeping your blood sugar levels at very low numbers is the best thing you can do for your brain. 

Moreover, research shows that sugar has the same effect on areas of the brain as people suffering from Alzheimer's. It affects the hippocampus, the memory center, and causes long term damage if consistent. So for your continued brain health, just say no to sugar, and keep your carbs under a tight rein. Grab a list of the food glycemic index to use as a guide for choosing the right foods.

Second, get rid of gluten in your diet. Humans are not designed to process the gluten protein. It causes inflammation in all people, and although it does not show for some, it can cause all sorts of problems for those with a sensitivity. We are starting to discover that many serious illnesses have their roots in gluten reactions, especially given the chronic low-grade impacts over time. Add to this the fact that gluten comes from carbohydrate-rich foods (like bread) and you have a double whammy.

So cut out the gluten as much as you can, even if you don't see any gluten-related problems, and your brain will thank you.

So now that we have eliminated sugar, gluten, and lowered carb intake, what's next?

The answer is to eat plenty of good fats. The brain is mostly made of fat, like DHA, so eating unsaturated fats is the key to good brain health. This is where the Mediterranean diet does it for me. Olive oil, avocados, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds are all excellent sources of omega fatty acids. These foods not only nourish your brain but they also prevent inflammation. I read an article recently that talked about the low rates of degenerative disorders in some of the Scandinavian countries, and the researchers attributed this to the diet high in omega fatty acids (fish) and vegetables, and relatively low in carb intake.

The other important type of food is anything rich in anti-oxidants, particularly resveratrol, all berries, grapes, leafy greens, tomatoes, and spices like turmeric and oregano. Anti-oxidants fight against free radicals and prevent oxidative damage, so check out the ORAC value of foods and go for the big guns. This is also an area where supplements can be very effective in maintaining good brain health. We combined the potent resveratrol with the major "super" fruits in our anti-oxidant powerhouse formula, to give you an example of how nutrition can keep you sharp and vital.

And finally, it is worth mentioning that exercise is very helpful in this endeavor. According to Dr Stephen Maier, a neuroscientist at the Univ. of Colorado, exercise negated much of the inflammatory responses in the brain by inducing the brain to produce a molecule called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. So don't forget to get regular exercise of about 30 minutes a day. While we are rounding up, he also mentions the damage done by cell phone radiation, so use a headset or the speaker phone, just to be smart.

Of course, I have over simplified things to a great deal, but what's important is the big picture anyway. Follow this approach of cutting out the bad foods and putting in the good foods and the rest will take care of itself. This is your path to an optimally-functioning, long-lived brain, and a total disappearance of any kind of chronic disease. Pass it on.

Related Posts:

4 Foundations of Brain Health - Do it or Lose It
Attention Problems and Diet - How You Lose Focus
The Marvel of Vinpocetine for Better Brain Health
Understanding Memory and How to Enhance it  

References:
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Rikki Coleman et al. Caloric restriction reduces age-related and all-cause mortality in rhesus monkeys. Nature Communications. Apr 2014.
ILAR Committee on Animal Models for Research on Ageing. Mammalian Models for Research on Ageing 243278, National Academy (1981). 
Fontana, L.Partridge, L. & Longo, V. D. Extending healthy life span--from yeast to humansScience; 328, 321–326;2010.



The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


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