HJ: The beauty of a healthy, whole food, well-rounded diet is that it accomplishes many tasks in one fell swoop. It provides a solid foundation on which health can be built. Then, if one desires to focus their efforts on enhancing the health and function of a specific organ or part of the body, they can do so knowing they are getting all the required nutrition that is essential to facilitate the process.
In the case of the brain, there are specific foods and nutrients that one should focus on above and beyond what is part of a normal diet. It’s amazing how well the body can function in a deficient state. I often find myself explaining to people who claim to feel good without eating a healthy diet how its possible to feel even better than they ever thought possible. Such is the case with improving ones diet and focusing on the health of specific organs. New levels of awareness and happiness can be experienced. This is especially true when it comes to brain health. By supplying our brains with high quality protein, EFA’s (Omega 3’s), a few select foods and oxygen through deep breathing, one can literally experience a world of difference in their mood and mental functioning.
To further harmonize brain function and experience transcendent states of heightened awareness and creativity, we recommend using the Gamma Wave Sound Healing. It is a powerful piece of music that allows anyone who uses it to access profound states of awareness normally only accessible by advanced meditators and buddhist monks.
Diet and Your Brain
By Nancy Lonsdorf M.D. | Ayurveda Ayurvedic
To function optimally as you age, your brain needs nutritional support in two ways: First is proper nourishment and secondly, the ability to receive and respond to the nourishment properly. The right nutrients must be supplied through diet, but also, the channels within the brain must be open and clear of ama so that the nourishment can penetrate into the brain tissue and carry out its desired effects. Alsoadequate supply of hormones or phyto-hormonal molecules must be provided to our tissues. Again, the gaps within the tissue must also be clear, healthy and free of ama so these hormonal messenger molecules can penetrate your tissues and bring about their desired results. Supply—both nutritional and hormonal—is one essential factor, Delivery and interaction with the target tissue, in this case the brain, is another.
Supplying Your Brain with Nourishment. The brain needs four basic types of nourishment: oxygen, glucose (blood sugar), fat and protein. Let’s look at how each of these impacts the health and functioning of your brain.
The brain is exquisitely sensitive to oxygen deprivation. In fact, the brain can survive only four minutes without oxygen, and then often with irreparable damage. Proper oxygen delivery of course relies on good circulation. Primarily, channels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the brain, i.e. your arteries, must be free of atherosclerosis to deliver optimal oxygenation to the brain. Moreover, healthy lungs and healthy red blood cells are also key elements in adequate oxygen delivery to the brain. (We women must be particularly alert to the latter, as iron deficiency with or without anemia, can lead to reduced brain oxygen, less productivity, and poorer mental performance.)
RX: Exercise (especially in unpolluted outdoor settings), pranayama, more deep breaths during the day, small amounts of black pepper in your food, and fresh fruits and vegetables can all enhance oxygenation of the brain, and thereby mental function.
The brain’s preferred food is glucose, although it can also adjust to burning ketones, a type of fat metabolite, for its primary fuel. But eating lots of refined sugar, as discussed above, is not good for the brain, as any women who has had sleepiness, moodiness or other type of mental backlash after overdosing on chocolate chip cookies knows.
RX: Instead of refined sweets, keep your brain fuel tanked with slower-release carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Sweet, juicy fruits such as pears or a rich medjool date are especially good. Eating such fruits when you experience an energy dip in the late afternoon rather than a candy bar or cookie will give you tripti (trip tee,) a feeling of being truly nourished and satisfied.
Include the following special “brain foods” in your diet: medjool dates, almonds, walnuts, warm boiled milk, panir, stewed apples, sweet mango, cous cous, coconut meat in small amounts, and sweet, juicy pears.
The brain is an astonishing 60 percent fat. Every one of your neurons (brain cells) is insulated by a layer of fat. So it is no wonder that your brain needs fat for nourishment. However, the quality of the fat you give it determines the quality of the brain constituents your body will make from your diet. It is therefore important to eat healthy, pure oils, like organic olive oil. Stay away from non-organic, mechanically processed (over-heated), hydrogenated or otherwise altered fats. Avoid trans-fatty acids, such as margarine and other foods containing partially hydrogenated fats, and fatty cuts of meat.
Recent research has elucidated the importance of the essential fatty acids (EFA’s) for normal mood and brain function. For example, omega-3 fatty acids (one kind of EFA) found in wheat germ, walnuts, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale, some fish and flax seed, have been found to be especially important in helping to regulate mood. Declining levels of these foods in the American diet since earlier in the twentieth century may be partly responsible for high rates of mental disorders such as major depression, bipolar disorder, post-partum depression and suicide, according to a Newsweek interview with Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist at the National Institutes of Health who conducted dietary surveys on these oils. Yet at the same time, Dr. Hibbeln cautions against drawing early conclusions as the field is still in its infancy.
Interestingly, Vedic medicine has traditionally viewed walnuts as “brain food,” and cited the structural allegory implicit in the walnut’s shape matching that of the cerebral cortex. We know they are rich in omega three fatty acids, one of those essential to brain health.
In addition, Vedic medicine extols the virtues of ghee and dairy for the brain. Despite the fact that ghee is nearly 70 percent saturated fat, a frightening enough statistic to send most cardiologists shuddering and running the other way, it is revered in Ayurveda as an oil that in small amounts is extremely beneficial to health. Indeed, ghee is a rich source of omega three fatty acids, contains mono-unsaturated fats, as well as is highly resistant to oxidation. While most of its fat is saturated, unlike other dairy and meat fats, it is composed of short chain fatty acids that are readily used for energy and tend to be quickly metabolized. There is an Ayurvedic saying that “Ghee should be sipped, not drunk.” A small amount, of 1-2 tsp. per day, is considered a rasayana, or rejuvenative, for the brain.
Rather than adding to foods after cooking, or slathering on bread, cook your ghee with a little turmeric (anti-oxidant and detoxifying,) and a pinch of black pepper. This will help the ghee cross your blood-brain barrier to fortify your brain, not your waistline.
Like for any food, fats should be of the purest quality, consumed in moderation, and in proper balance with respect to the rest of the diet, and the needs of the individual. “Fat-free” diets may lower essential fatty acids and cholesterol too far, leading to mood disorders. Too much fat, on the other hand, especially in children, may lead to inferior intelligence, according to studies in animals subjected to a high fat diet in early life (28.)
RX: Include walnuts, green leafy vegetables, ghee 1-2 tsp. per day (unless your cholesterol is very high), sesame seeds, almonds.
While adequate protein isn’t an issue for most Americans, vegetarians do need to pay attention to getting enough protein, especially if they do a lot of physical exercise. Another group that needs to attend to protein intake is women who have gone on low-fat diets and skip high protein foods that contain more fat—meat and dairy—in an attempt to lose weight. Also, those who are very lean may need to consume more calories so that the body can use the dietary protein for building up the body, rather than as an energy source.
The brain also needs protein, especially certain amino acids, such as tyrosine, tryptophan and cysteine. The two former amino acids are essential for the manufacture of key neurotransmitters (brain messenger molecules), such as dopamine, and serotonin, while cysteine is a critical amino acid necessary for detoxing the brain (and body) of certain chemicals and heavy metals.
Vitamins and minerals are also needed by the brain, specifically B12, which can get low in vegetarians who do not eat dairy products on a daily basis, and who do not take vitamin supplements. Deficiency in vitamin B12 prevents the proper synthesis of myelin, the insulating sheaths that coat the nerves. This can result in memory loss, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, depression, poor mental performance, and a host of other psycho-neurological symptoms. Taking a B12 supplement can often reverse the symptoms. However, it is best to check with your doctor if you suspect that you may be low in B12.
Also, many vegetarians rely heavily on tofu as their main source of protein. While soy and tofu have many benefits, there is some question about the long-term effects of mid-life tofu consumption, based on a study conducted at the University of Hawaii on Japanese-Hawaiians. This study (29) found that those who consumed tofu at least twice a week had a substantially higher risk of dementia and brain atrophy later in life than those who ate tofu less than twice a week. Researchers suggest that the high levels of certain enzyme inhibitors in tofu may be responsible. Remember naprilysin, the enzyme that breaks down the dementia-related amyloid clumps in the brain? It would not be good to eat foods that inhibit these garbage-collecting enzymes. While the results have yet to be confirmed in subsequent studies, it may be wise to broaden your selection of protein-rich vegetarian foods and consume tofu no more than once a week.
Also, always be sure to sautee your tofu in spices, including a little black pepper and turmeric, to help increase its digestibility in your stomach and its metabolism in your brain. Other soy products, including tempeh, which are fermented, do not such high levels of enzyme inhibitors, and may provide a suitable alternative. However, a wide variety of legumes, dairy, nuts and seeds is always wise, since each food comes with its own inherent complement of vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients, helping to ensure that you are getting all the nutrition that you need.
Dr. Lonsdorf studied Ayurvedic medicine in India and the US with top Ayurvedic physicians and scholars and has worked closely with distinguished Ayurvedic vaidyas throughout her 22 years of practice. Named “one of the nation’s most prominent Ayurvedic doctors” by the Chicago Tribune, Nancy Lonsdorf, M.D. is a popular speaker, author and recognized Ayurvedic expert specializing in healthy longevity and women’s health issues. Over the past twenty years, she has treated more than 15,000 patients using Maharishi Ayurveda (Eye-yur-VAY-duh), the natural health practice from ancient India. She is formerly the medical director of The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa, an award-winning center for Ayurvedic treatment (2000-2005), and of The Maharishi Ayurveda Medical Center in Washington D.C. (1987-2000), a pioneering Ayurvedic medical clinic. Visit her website: Ayurveda Ayurvedic