Food for Thought - 10 ways to heal your brain from inflammation
Inflammation has long been associated with sports injuries, ailments and ill health, but swelling from a twisted ankle should be the least of your concerns.
I recently came across an article on inflammation and how it affects one’s gut health. I have been diving into the gut health craze for months after realizing that my fiancé struggles with some food allergies.
The Inflammation Conundrum
“In our case it was pretty simple: eliminate any food that sets off an inflammatory response. ”
For much of 2018 and 2019 we were trying out different food products, diets and strategies to combat some of her health problems. It has become quite apparent that if she sticks to a paleo-type, organic, fresh and preservative free diet, her body thrives. What we didn’t expect, however, is the amazing improvements in our mental performance, sleep patterns, energy levels and overall mood.
There are thousands of expert opinions out there on the LCHF, keto, vegan and carnivore diets with theories that range from eliminating glucose and sugar, eliminating carbs, eliminating meat and eliminating everything but meat. Turns out that pretty much any elimination diet will lead to some improvement in overall health. In our case it was pretty simple: eliminate any food that sets off an inflammatory response.
Inflammation, according to bro-science, is a physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful, especially as a reaction to injury or infection. What science tells us is that our bodies react in the same way to exposure to product that shouldn’t be in our bodies. This could be food product, chemical products or any sort of irritant and the resultant reaction is called systemic inflammation. I once heard Tim Noakes state (and I badly paraphrase) that by treating the most prevalent illnesses in today’s time (cancer, heart problems, immune deficiencies), we are actually treating one single issue: Chronic systemic inflammation.
The Brain Drain
“recent research suggests that breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment for depression, psychosis and anxiety has been made by targeting and preventing inflammation in the brain.”
Systemic inflammation, in which our body attacks what it thinks is foreign or adverse, doesn’t only affect our immune system, but possibly to a greater extent our brains. The idea that our brains and immune system are strongly connected has become accepted as fact in the science community. In a recent article by psychiatrist Edward Bullmore, he states that “In the 21st century, it has become clear that they are deeply interconnected and talk to each other all the time.” (One of the best books I’ve recently picked up is called the Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer and I suggest anyone interested in self-healing reads it too).
Along with arthritis and ankle-swelling, Inflammation is now being considered as one of the leading causes for dementia and Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, recent research suggests that breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment for depression, psychosis and anxiety has been made by targeting and preventing inflammation in the brain. In fact, it has become such an area of interest that a drug initially created for treating Multiple Sclerosis is being trialled as a treatment for schizophrenia.
It’s not all depression and psychosis, however. These cases fall on the far end of the spectrum and there are genetic and environmental factors most probably playing a role that can’t be ignored. For the rest of you, brain inflammation is probably hindering your ability to think, sleep, your cognitive performance and your mood. This is how it works: Your brain is dependent on high amounts of fat in the brain cell membranes. The fatty tissue is vital for protecting the brain, brain insulation and temperature maintenance. Fatty acids are also responsible for transferring neural-electrical impulses from neuron to neuron and importantly, play a role in the neurotransmitter levels. These, for if you don’t know, are responsible for mood, energy and sleep. The fats in the brain are called cellular lipids and are solely comprised from the foods you take in through your diet. So, if we are eating foods that cause an inflammatory response, we are directly causing our neurotransmitters to fluctuate and our neural synapses to not fire effectively.
As an athlete, this is particularly important as athletes tend to have higher inflammation levels, due to the micro-damages caused by exercise to the muscles and joints. The oxidants in our body are by-products of metabolic processes. Athletes will naturally have a high rate of metabolic processes and therefore may have a higher rate of oxidants in the brain and body. This is not necessarily unhealthy as it is important for muscle and tissue building, but coupled with a poor diet (which releases a significant amount of oxidants into the body), athletes will put themselves at serious risk of chronic systemic inflammation.
10 tips to change your brain
“CBD oil has great anti-inflammatory properties, is rich in antioxidants, is a great nootropic (brainfood) and does not get you high! In fact, it’s legal and even safe for kids and animals.”
Below are some food tips to avoid an inflamed brain. Note that there are many foods that have different effects on different people, depending on the genetics of the individual. Diets also vary so consider these changes within your own dieting plan.
1. Use olive oil, avocado oil or coconut oil instead of canola, sunflower or industrial seed oils. In fact, avoid any industrial seed or vegetable oils (including the tuna in vegetable oil type stuff.
2. Avoid foods that fluctuate glucose levels such as sugar, candy, pastas (even organic ones), artificially sweetened foods. Canderel is NOT better than sugar. This does not mean sugar-free for most people, but limiting is highly recommended.
3. Add antioxidant foods such as berries, kale, garlic, onions etc. stick to the natural plant source, as some labels might advertise high antioxidants but may be filled with other nasty stuff.
4. Add anti-histamine foods every now and then. You may have heard of Kombucha, kefir or kimchi but if that all sounds a bit Latin then aim for foods like vinegar, fermented foods, dried fruits, olives, BONE BROTH, soured foods (sour cream, sauerkraut etc.)
5. Supplement with magnesium and CBD oil. CBD oil has great anti-inflammatory properties, is rich in antioxidants, is a great nootropic (brainfood) and does not get you high! In fact, it’s legal and even safe for kids and animals.
6. Freshly cooked and bought foods rather than preserved, canned or frozen foods.
7. Eliminate as many preservatives, colourants, stabilizers and heavy metals as possible.
8. Add herbs and spices that are high in anti-inflammatory properties. Cayenne pepper, turmeric, garlic, ginger, pepper, parsley, rosemary and cilantro should be your go to spice, rather than the bottled all-in-one type spices.
9. Periodical fasting. It may be wise to have a restricted eating window to allow the body to stabilize its metabolic processes, oxidant levels and glucose levels. Ladies be aware that at different times this may not be advisable, and I suggest reading a little bit more about it before you try. I usually do a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating period and a 24-48 hour fast once a month. You may want to do 14-10, 18-6 etc. See what works for you.
10. Find organic, free range and grass-fed produce. Many vegetables and produce from industrial farming are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides that are very harmful. This also gets into the food supply of animals and makes them sick. This leads to hormonal and anti-biotic injections that animals receive in an industrialized farm setting and all of this gets into your body. There are tons of shops focusing on healthier produce, it takes a little bit of google to find them.