Over the past decade, it has become nearly impossible to pick up a newspaper, journal, or magazine that doesn’t include the effects foods have on our hearts, bodies, and brains. More and more we are becoming aware of trans fats, artificial sweeteners, GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), and of course the effects of gluten. What was once the “food pyramid” has now changed to a “food circle” with various portions of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. More and more clinical trials have shown how different foods, especially processed foods, effect how you sleep, think, feel and even react. This is especially true if you have been diagnosed with any of the following:
What all the above diagnoses have in common is a dysregulation of the vascular network and neuroconnectivity. It is extremely important to understand that certain foods can affect, and even worsen dysregulation in these areas. Unfortunately, refined cooked sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, wine, and beer all fall into this category.
If there is direct injury to the brain, such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or an aneurysm that results with brain surgery, it causes an inflammatory response and dysregulates the hormonal and endocrine systems. What you eat eventually enters the bloodstream, affects your body systems, and can either reduce or increase inflammation in the brain. For example, eating foods that contain Omega-3 fatty acids, such as flax seed, chia seed, krill oil, walnuts, butter from grass-fed cows, sockeye salmon, sardines, and tuna help the brain. Coconut oil also has unique fatty acids that reduce inflammation. Conversely, consumption of Omega-6 fatty acids found in beef, for instance, should be reduced.
There are several great resources for getting the right nutrients for your brain. Dr. Stephen Kiraly, M.D.’s book, Your Healthy Brain, has an entire chapter devoted to nutrition. Tufts University School of Nutrition releases a great pamphlet called “The Heart-Brain Diet.” Also, Dr. Kathleen DesMaison has written several resourceful books on the subject, including sugar addiction. Her website is loaded with lots of helpful suggestions for nutrition and how to deal with addiction to sugar. Another resourceful book about nutrition is Jean Carper’s book, Your Miracle Brain. A book solely devoted to brain-building foods and recipes specifically designed for mTBI is Nourish Your Noggin, by Tina Sullivan.
I do want to note that I do not always agree with some of the foods that are suggested in these resources; however I believe the overall suggestions are very helpful. For recipes that I know are brain boosting, you can visit the Brain Health Recipes on my website.
The link between nutrition and recovery from brain injury is becoming widely known and accepted. Proof of this is the fact that the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an independent nonprofit organization that provides unbiased and authoritative advice to decision-makers and the public, has been asked by the Department of Defense and the Defense Center of Excellence to research nutrition as it relates to mTBI and PTSD. Both of these conditions, of course, are of significant concern to the military.
Dietitians, nutritionists, and nutrition educators are specialists who can help you learn about the best foods to promote brain regulation. The terms “dietician” and “nutritionist” are often interchangeable. Nutrition educators often have additional training in Nutrition Response Testing. Most of these specialists are certified or licensed and work either in rehabilitation facilities or privately. You may also wish to consider seeing an endocrinologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the hormonal and endocrine systems and understands the impact of inflammation on the brain.
Regardless of whom you choose to consult, it is extremely important to ensure that they have knowledge of and experience with brain injury and that they possess the most current information on specific foods that help with brain regulation.