KEY BRAIN NUTRIENTS

KEY BRAIN NUTRIENTS

THE BASICS
  • The brain unlike other parts of the body and internal organs has special requirements.
  • If these are not met mental functioning does not work so well.
  • In addition to all the micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and enzymes the brain needs three major nutrients:
  • Adequate blood flow
  • Stable Blood Sugar
  • An Omega-3 essential fatty acid Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

THE COMMENTARY

Introduction

In other articles on this site we have discussed various brain nutrients especially the Omega-3 Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LC-PUFAs). The complex molecules in the Omega-3 chain, such as EPA and DHA, some people have difficulty in producing from our basic food and seeds. If these molecules are so important, could we not say: “OK, let’s get our DHA and EPA from fish oil and all will be well.” But, as always, it’s not that simple. We humans are complex beings, of course. And our hormone and chemical systems talk to each other and influence each other. So, by throwing in some expensive DHA pills will it fix everything? Sadly no.

The following quotes are from the book by Dr Barry Sears “The OMEGA Rx Zone”, Regan Books, 2002. He emphasises the need to balance other systems for the wonder of DHA to work consistently.

There are three critical elements that the brain loves so it can work efficiently:

“Adequate Blood Flow

The most important thing the brain needs is an excellent supply of oxygen, and this comes only from adequate blood flow, since your blood cells carry oxygen to your brain and the rest of your organs. Your brain's energy, as well as the energy in the rest of your body, is made by energy power houses called mitochondria that are found in each cell. Oxygen enables mitochondria in your brain cells to pump out an energy chemical, adenosine triphosphate {ATP). Without adequate levels of ATP, your brain has an energy drain, and its function decreases.

The best way to increase blood flow to the brain (and every other organ, for that matter) is to generate more "good" eicosanoids (which are powerful vasodilators that widen the opening of arteries, veins, and capillaries) and fewer "bad" eicosanoids (which are powerful vasoconstrictors that have the opposite effect). The long-chain omega-3 fatty acid contained in fish oil, EPA, will increase the production of "good" eicosanoids by decreasing the levels of AA (arachidonic acid, the building block of "bad" eicosanoids). The higher the level of EPA in the diet, the more your cells will be induced to make more "good" eicosanoids.

Stable Blood Sugar

Even if you have adequate oxygen flow to the brain, you still need a stable supply of glucose, since the brain also needs this fuel to make ATP. The only way to maintain a steady supply of glucose to the brain is to control insulin levels. Having a spike in your insulin levels (which comes from eating too many carbohydrates) can drive glucose levels down so low that your brain function is compromised. That's why you feel so sleepy two hours after eating a huge pasta meal. Your thinking becomes fuzzy, you have difficulty concentrating, and all you want to do is take a nap.

At this point, your brain, deprived of adequate levels of blood sugar to make ATP is desperately seeking any way possible to get more blood sugar. As a result, you are driven by an almost manic urge to eat carbohydrates. That's your brain's way of telling you that you have to get some glucose into the bloodstream quickly - or else. The more carbohydrate-rich that food is, the faster it can reach your bloodstream and then your brain. Candy bars, soft drinks, and other types of junk food are just a quick way to self-medicate the low blood sugar induced by elevated insulin levels from your last meal.

These carbohydrate fixes temporarily solve the problem of low blood sugar but create a new cycle of increased insulin levels, and you soon find yourself with one bout after another of craving carbohydrates. To keep yourself out of this vicious circle, you need to prevent your brain from sending out the distress call in the first place. The way to do that is to keep it supplied with steady amounts of glucose by maintaining insulin levels within a defined zone that is neither too high nor too low.

As I will explain later ... the only way to stabilize blood sugar levels is by maintaining a relatively constant protein-to-carbohydrate balance every time you eat.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

The final thing the brain loves is an adequate level of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This is one of the two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil (EPA is the other). More than 60 percent of the weight of the brain is fat, and most of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the body are concentrated in the brain.

Virtually all of this long-chain omega-3 fat, however, is in the form of DHA, since the brain contains very little EPA. One reason the brain demands such high levels of DHA is that it's critical for certain cell membranes such as the synapse (to transfer information), the retina (to receive visual inputs), and the mitochondria (to make ATP). Thus, the key brain cells can't perform at peak levels without adequate DHA in their membranes.

Trying to maintain your brain function without adequate DHA is like trying to build the sturdiest brick house in town without enough bricks. You might have the best architect, the best location, and the best contractor, but if you don't have enough bricks, the dream house will never be built properly. Without adequate DHA, your brain can't function adequately and can't form new neural connections, let alone maintain old ones.”
[End of Sears quote.]

Daily Duties.

Now that we know the above we can start to do something about it.

1. Breathe deeper and deeper as often as you remember it. Do some aerobic exercise. Get up from your desk and go up and down the stairs every now and then. And supplement with ultra-refined fish oil.

2. Balance your diet so you have a little protein, a little oil and some vegetable carbo, every meal and snack. This obviates the big swings of insulin which give us the craving for refined carbos.

3. Supplement with ultra-refined fish oil to get the DHA we need and which is generally missing in our diet. But unless we get the steady supply of sugar in line we are wasting our money on the supplements.
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