The choices we make daily can have a profound affect on our health and especially how our brains function. At Proactive Health and Wellness we use integrative techniques to get to the root of the problem. Today I’d like to discuss how food and lifestyle can affect our mood, memory and our health overall. No doubt you’ve experienced how irritable you can be after a poor nights sleep or how the smell of french fries can be addictive.
First, let’s talk about diet. Our culture has become such a fast moving machine and as a result our food has become more and more processed for convenience. With the addition of food additives, artificial colors, flavors, salt and sweeteners we’ve turned our food into something unrecognizable by our immune system. In fact, food coloring and additives can cause our digestive system to not fully break down proteins and cause our immune system to perceive the food as a pathogen. The result is an overactive immune response where the body can’t react to other threats in our environment or become hypervigilant and start attacking everything including our own tissues.
Our ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 may also play a role in our overall inflammation and thus brain inflammation. In some cultures the ratio of omega 6 to 3 is approximately 4:1 which is why there has been so much research to the benefit of the Mediterrean diet. Unfortunately our culture has upwards of 22:1 ratios which is very inflammatory. Omega 3 oils essentially turn off the inflammatory cascade by telling macrophages to come into the tissue and stop neutrophils from coming to the tissue. It’s a bit beyond the scope of this letter, but trust me you want the body to react to a trauma or pathogen and then turn off inflammation so we can react to the next situation. It’s like hitting the brakes. You certainly aren’t doing your car any favors by always pressing the gas. Eventually the car stops working or you run out of gas.
Stress is another big contributor to inflammation and brain changes. Stress is a good thing as long as it is short and sweet. If we have to run from a car or fire we certainly want our stress response to kick in, but chronic stress is detrimental to health. When we preceive stress it creates biochemical changes in the body where our heartrate and breathing increase to supply oxygen and blood to the muscles so we can run or fight. Our digestive system takes a downturn as well as our detoxification and reproductive systems. When you don’t know if you’ll survive your body certainly isn’t going to prioritize digestion, bowel movements and the ability to conceive. It can affect the brain by slowing our ability to learn. Think of a time you were stressed and had to try to remember something. It doesn’t work! Why bother learning something new if your body thinks it won’t survive? It also releases a steroid that can help with pain. It is antiinflammatory, but once it becomes chronic the receptors in the body no longer respond and it becomes inflammatory.
Lack of sleep is a producer of stress and can cause immune issues which is why we most likely get sick not because of cold weather conditions, but the fact we tend to seek comfort foods, binge watch our favorite programs and lose our desire to exercise.
These all play a role in how the brain works. We might have heard the term “leaky gut.” Our intestines are designed to allow small nutrients into the body to manufacture proteins, fuel our cells and perform daily tasks like making hormones, etc. Poor food choices, lack of sleep and stress can cause these small passages to get bigger and allow larger protein molecules into the blood which cause the immune system to be alarmed. Certain prescription and over the counter drugs can also cause these passages to become larger. There has been a great deal of research that concludes body inflammation can cause brain inflammtion. Symptoms like mood swings, lack of motivation, brain fog, depression and anxiety are only a few symptoms we can experience from our diet and lifestyle choices.
Exercise has been beneficial for a multitude of reasons. First, it releases something called Brain derived neurotrophic factor. Notice how you tend to be able to concentrate more when you had a great workout? It reduces stress, improves sugar utilization and generally a good mood lifter especially if you’re enjoying exercise in nature. Not to mention it tends to result in better weight management.
So, what have we learned ? I hope it’s how a supplement may help, but won’t fix everything else that can be affecting how your brain works or not. Diet and lifestyle are interconnected and have profound affects on your health.
If you or someone you know need help addressing what is preventing them from living a vibrant, healthy life please consider Proactive Health and Wellness. We are also offering virtual appointments at this time. Please call (973) 534-5132 or find us on the web at www.proactivehealthnj.com