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written by Jennifer Coomes CN, E-RYT I have recently been studying quite a bit into the area of neurology, and part of my interest came to me literally quite on accident through a car accident and the other part came to me through my doctorate work on the topic. I've been learning some very fascinating ideas and important realities about the brain in regards to healing and longevity. This information came to me simply because of my need to dig deep into understanding the brain and how it works so I could figure out what it would take to heal the post-concussion syndrome that resulted from my rear-end accident in February. This condition affected my level of focus, the amount of time it took me to do things, what I could tolerate, how I functioned, and more. I had very difficult biochemical and blood pressure surges from PTSD (which had started to get better), and then, the car accident made it worse. Safe to say, I was pretty overwhelmed, and a number of people were worried about me and my resilience. I was too. The first deep feeling I had coming out of this accident was: "I'm broken." I wasn't myself and I didn't want to believe that I couldn't get back to a fully functioning and happy person. I wanted to come out of this car accident resolving my injuries, so learning about brain health was pretty important for my success. What I learned, however, goes well beyond that, and it's so important that I believe everyone should have some core brain knowledge to make key choices for thriving. Thankfully, for me, I've had incredible physical therapy focused on trauma, post-concussion care, and strength building, which has allowed me to make many strides in recovering my brain health, and I want others to have the same.
This important knowledge really isn't out there for many people like you to see and understand, or it's out there and you may not even know why you should know about it. There's a key reality in this info. Having good brain knowledge early will help build good longevity and reduce the impacts of injury, inflammation, and lifestyle by making more informed choices. This knowledge will give you practical tools and empowerment to do what you need to do now about how you age, how you function, and how well you live your life. So, let's dig in! The veil is off!
The truth is, we take the brain for granted. We really do. It's a miracle that our brain puts up with us so well some days, especially in our very driven society that pushes our brain to the limits and more. The pandemic has also pushed our brains to cope with more and more stress. We have all done this in different ways. The more you learn about how you can take care of your brain, the better you will feel and function.
The brain is an organ that weighs a few pounds and yet uses 30% of the glucose we take into our body through food. What is glucose, you ask? Glucose, in short, is one of our main fuels for the body to help us function. We take larger amounts of glucose into our body through fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, honey, and what we drink. Protein and fats can also offer some sources of glucose, but neither are strong enough sources to fully affect blood sugar regulation. Protein may stabilize blood sugar. Good fat is considered to be an alternative fuel to provide energy (think ketogenic diet) for the body, but fats in general do not have the intense effect on blood sugar as much as carbohydrates do.
If the brain needs glucose, then you need to eat core glucose foods to re-stabilize, and you need to do it in a way that is healthy for you and doesn't generate the blood sugar problems that are so common to Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes. In fact, Type 3 Diabetes is known as Alzheimer's Disease. So, getting how to regulate glucose is very important. A Clinical Nutritionist can help you get this on track.
The brain needs a huge amount of energy to function, and if your brain is injured, toxic, and inflamed, it takes even more energy to function. This is a huge reason why we must pay attention to the action of eating: how we eat, when we eat, what we eat, and even the new fad of fasting. When we change how we fuel our brain or take away any portion of the necessary fuel that is absolutely needed for functioning, we immediately, and possibly detrimentally, affect the function of our brain. If we get into bad habits about how we eat and feed our brain, we can lay down bad habits for how the brain functions. Those habits can lead to brain dysfunction, neuroinflammation, and chronic diseases like Alzheimer's disease or autoimmune diseases. Conditions like anemia and blood sugar dysfunction (dysglycemia) is also associated with brain function.
To fix the functioning of the brain, it's important to deal with how you fuel your brain and what happens when it runs out fuel. This is why intermittent fasting is not ideal for someone who wants to heal the brain because it changes the blood sugar regulation around glucose needs and can increase sympathetic nervous system dysfunction. It can create a state of reactive hypoglycemia, which can be detrimental to the brain because the brain is not getting enough glucose. We need nutrient dense and consistent eating habits that are best for our body in order to stabilize the functioning of the brain. For each of us, that looks a bit different, which is why the help of a Clinical Nutritionist is extremely important.
The first really big ah-ha moment comes here: Food matters to your brain. Your brain needs fuel. It needs glucose, protein, and good fats. Your relationship to food will have a very important impact on how how your brain functions. If you have a difficult relationship around food, it could cause serious brain dysfunction that can affect how you age, function, and thrive. This can start as young as birth. You can change the outcome.
The key component in getting your brain to function optimally comes from the healthy firing of a neuron or a network of neurons. Neurons are cells in your nervous system and brain that rely on protein, sodium, potassium, ATP, and mitochondria to function. I always like to call the mitochondria your energy powerhouse cell, and if these cells are not functioning properly, then the rest of your body is strongly affected. The function of neurons, ATP, and mitochondria is key to brain function. When you have dysfunctional mitochondria, you'll experience fatigue, chronic disease, and even mood disorders. If you have dysfunctional neurons, your brain and nervous system cannot fully function correctly and you'll start to have difficulties in memory, mood, body coordination, coping with stress, and more.
Neurons function in relationship with other neurons. There are thousands of neurons working in synergy to perform functions in your body. The best way to think of this is that your body is a huge network of synergistic actions and if something is off, it affects other actions in the body. The biggest issue that will drive a problem at the neuron is the function of ATP, which is really dictating how energy is moving or not moving into cells and in the body so that a neuron does what it's supposed to do. So, it all comes back to energy. Your energy comes from fuel, and your fuel comes from your food.
There's one topic in this complicated conversation on neurology that we can all relate to: STRESS. You know what it feels like and what it does for you and how it hurts you. It also hurts the brain. This is a perfect time to learn how to transform your brain based on how you manage stress.
Stress can cause a pattern of neuron behavior in the brain called hyperexcitability or neurodegeneration. The ability for our brain to adapt to internal and external stressors on it is something known as neuroplasticity. You want to have a good level of neuroplasticity in the brain because it increases your level of healthy functioning. We have better neuroplasticity when our brain has enough fuel, can adapt to stressors, and experiences healthy and consistent neuron firing so that we can easily think, move, adapt, and function. Neuroplasticity reduces with both hyperexcitability and neurodegeneration. This is not beneficial for long term brain health. Hyperexcitability happens when neurons are stressed and overstimulated with bad stimulants (bad food, alcohol, smoking, etc). This can happen when we either haven't had enough correct food (essential fuel), when we are experiencing high levels of stress that we cannot adapt to appropriately, or when we have deficiencies from gene dysfunction and lack of vitamin/minerals. It can also come from inflammation, anemia, oxidative stress, and blood sugar regulation problems. All of this is causing dysfunction in the central nervous system and can cause increased excitability of the sympathetic nervous system. One of the best ways to get your brain and nervous system in check to fix how you eat and deal with stress so that your body and brain can function optimally.
The second big takeaway: Neuroplasticity is the ability for our brain to respond to and adapt to internal and external stressors and find new ways to function in healthy ways. It is increased with healthy and functional neurons. Hyperexcitability of our neurons creates neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. With more neurodegeneration, we lose brain function. This can be changed by feeding the brain with good fuel (food), paying attention to stress, and knowing how your body functions.
As I mentioned before, Clinical Nutrition is extremely important at this juncture. Improving brain function means that you actually need to know that there is a problem and where the problem is coming from. Some doctors have training in functional medicine, but many doctors do not, so they may not think like this in terms of brain health.
Functional medicine ties in the important reality that our body is full of connections and our organs and body systems function with each other not separate and apart. This specialized training allows healthcare practitioners to draw important conclusions and find answers that may be hiding in the standard of care model in mainstream medicine. Functional nutrition takes the foundations of functional medicine and applies it to Clinical Nutrition. This means that you get an assessment of your brain health from a functional nutrition perspective that is based on functional medicine. This gives you a much better chance to become whole and optimally functioning by giving you the answers that you may not be getting in the standard of care model of care.
So, how can you start getting your brain back in check? Start with a Clinical Nutrition evaluation. Please look at the Clinical Nutrition services below for more information on Essence Health and Research services and reach out to Jennifer Coomes CN, E-RYT for an appointment here!
Do you want to know more about how to save money on Clinical Nutrition services? Click here to learn more about EH&R's Goals for Health 2021 incentive program!
An FBCA helps to let you know more about vitamin, mineral, and macronutrient deficiencies based on your most recent blood labs from an annual physical or doctor's appointment. It will also tell you more about organ function and possible health conditions that can be reversed if addressed early. This is an excellent place to start for learning more about brain health! This service can be done virtually, by phone, or in person.