Recently, I was privileged to train with a leading brain specialist who repeatedly reviewed with our team that the brain always does the best it can with the resources it has available. She demonstrated clinical examples how water intake, excellent nutrition, sleep, and listening to body cues alter brain function.
Brain disorders affect 1 in 4 Americans and are the second most common cause of disability in our country. The numbers drastically increase when we expand our definition to include common experiences such as anxiety, headaches, foggy-thinking or insomnia. Research studies and clinical evidence point to the significant effects of dietary choices on mental health and well-being. While it is common to look for medical treatment for brain dysfunction, it is imperative that we alter diet as a first step in any treatment plan for neurological and other disorders, and the most drastic change we can make to prevent brain dysfunction is to remove gluten-containing grains from our diet.
More than 40 neurological and mental disorders are linked to gluten intolerance. From anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease and ADD, to headaches, Parkinson’s and schizophrenia, there is now evidence of gluten intolerance as the source of inflammation. Gluten has unique properties allowing it to cross the blood-brain barrier and attach to our opioid receptors instigating an addictive loop. Foods containing gluten such as whole-wheat bread raise our blood sugar 70% as much as pure sugar, leading to unstable blood sugars and elevated insulin. These effects promote a spiral of inflammation, the cause of almost every brain disorder.
The Archives of Neurology reported in 2012 that poor blood sugar control was correlated with increased cognitive impairment. The New England Journal of Medicine followed suit in 2013 by presenting a study demonstrating that repeated small blood sugar elevations could lead to higher incidence of dementia. In 2008, Dr. Briani reported in The Journal of Neuroimmunology that “depression is found in more than 52% of gluten-sensitive individuals.” While studies demonstrate the impact of gluten and sugar on our brain, the literature is also becoming clear about how to benefit our brains. It’s tempting to hope for one magic food, or a list of brain super-foods that will prevent disease. However, the impact is greatest by sustaining the following actions:
- Eat plenty of healthy fats, especially omega-3: found in fish, nuts, olive oil, and coconut oil.
- Avoid trans-fats or fat-free foods.
- Eat high quality protein to stabilize your blood sugar.
- Eat small snacks between meals throughout the day, as this also stabilizes blood sugar.
- Avoid gluten-containing grains, and processed starches and sugars
- Eat across the rainbow of fruits and vegetables – color indicates higher levels of anti-oxidants. These should make up the most volume of your food intake (5-9 cups daily).
- Enjoy daily cups of tea or coffee for their anti-oxidant boosts.
- Maintain upper-normal range Vitamin D levels through sun or supplementation.
Know that if you are committed to brain health and over-all wellness, you will be joining a community that is happy to have you!
Dr. Brossfield is the medical director at the Eisenhower Wellness Institute and can be reached at (760) 610.3760.