Food for Focus
Food For Focus
Does your brain have enough energy to focus? When, What and How you eat has a tremendous effect on all of the operations of your brain.
Reduction in attention span and difficulty with focusing are key indicators of imbalanced brain chemistry. Broadly speaking, symptoms include: Attention deficit, poor comprehension and retention of information (listening or reading!). Also intense bursts of energy characterized by hypervigilance, an inability to calm down, impulsivity, and even anxiety, can all be attributed to an imbalance in brain chemistry. There are pharmaceuticals that may be prescribed for such conditions, but these medications are often are a quick, short-term solution. They do not create a sustainable and balanced situation in many cases.
Your brain needs energy to operate. In fact, 20% of the energy that you consume goes to the 3 pound mass between your ears. It would be hard to overstate the complexity of the vast network of specialized cells that make up your nervous system. The average human brain houses over 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) with each connected to 10,000 or so other cells which, if you do the math, equals approximately 1000 trillion connections in your brain. This means you have, even on a slow day, roughly 10,000 times more connections in your brain than there are stars in the Milky Way. Everything we do – all of our movements, thoughts, and feelings – is the result of these nerve cells talking with one another via electrical and chemical signals.
Neurons are not in direct contact with each other; in order to communicate with each other, they rely on highly specialized chemicals called neurotransmitters.
What are Neurotransmitters?
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that coordinate the transmission of signals from one nerve cell (neuron) to the next. These all important brain chemicals interact with target sites called receptors located throughout the brain (and body) to regulate a wide variety of processes including:
Mood, memory, cognition, attention, concentration, alertness, energy, appetite -cravings or suppression, emotions, fear, pleasure, joy, anger, sleep, and the perception of pain all occur within us, within our nervous system because of these chemical messengers and their key-in-lock targets.
We are Connected
Whatever goes on in one part of our brain/body network, certainly is connected to other systems. Our neurotransmitters chemically link the brain and spinal cord with the rest of your body: muscles, organs, and glands. Thus, our metabolism, hormones stress response are all interconnected. Keep in mind that our brain is not only an array of wires (nerve cells/neurons) but also a highly evolved organ with a broad range of chemical happenings (neurotransmitters). Neurotransmitters affect every cell, tissue, and system in your body.
And as I mentioned previously, because neurotransmitters are functionally integrated with the immune system, metabolism via our thyroid, the endocrine system as well as our stress response system, via the adrenal glands, neurotransmitter imbalances can cause widespread health issues. Research has shown neurotransmitter imbalances connected to:
- Brain fog experienced as loss of mental focus, ADD, ADHD, impaired memory, and poor decision making
- Insomnia experienced difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both;
- Pain from migraines and fibromyalgia;
- Obesity due to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and diabetes;
- Mood disorders such as depression, mood swings, and irritability;
- Anxiety with or without panic, obsessions, at PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)
- Behavioral disturbances such as addictions, binge eating, compulsions impulsivity, gambling, autism; and
- Hormonal imbalances (outside of age appropriate levels) manifesting as PMS, estrogen dominance, low testosterone, and hypothyroidism.
Stress, poor diet, neurotoxins, genetic predisposition and certain pharmaceuticals can cause our neurotransmitter levels to be out of optimal range creating a host of symptoms as mentioned above, resulting in a decline in our health.
The good news is that for each neurotransmitter we discover is out of balance, there are usually natural remedies such as foods, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, or homeopathy that can help restore proper balance.
Here are some suggestions from basic foundational nutritional principles for nourishing your brain properly.
Carbohydrates fuel the brain; provide energy
Fats insulate the brain; support neurotransmission
Proteins connect our brain; make neurotransmitters
Vitamins and Minerals protect our brain; help to combat aging free radicals
Let’s take a look at each one of these.
Eat Carbohydrates: Whole and Processed Plant Foods
Complex carbohydrates—those that do not spike your insulin levels— are the best fuel for the brain and they provide fiber for your gut. Best sources for carbohydrates are vegetables, legumes, and fruits with some whole grains if you can tolerate grains.
Vegetables should be a first choice because they provide for the brain chemistry of well-being.
Seven to thirteen half a cup servings of low carbohydrate vegetables daily in every color you can find provide hundreds of phytonutrients that not only help you feel clear and tranquil, but have been shown to provide protective compounds.
Choose organic whenever possible, since pesticide and herbicides damage the gut and the brain. We will talk about pesticide and herbicide use in at another time , since there is much to report.
Choose Lean Protein
The 8 or 9 Key essential amino acids that come from protein sources that we eat serve to build the docking stations for our neurotransmitters that are part of our cell membranes. So the importance of consuming complete proteins, or proper sources for all essential amino acids, cannot be denied.
We need enough protein at every meal and some sources say 30 to 40 grams.
Animal proteins have all the key amino acids but plant sources when consumed in the correct combinations provide all amino acids as well. You may combine legumes and grain —beans and rice as consumed by so many people around the world when animal sources are scarce or discouraged because of social or religious reasons. Vegans or vegetarians have to be more aware of getting the necessary amount of protein.
Keep in Mind Your Brain is Fat
We’ve become very confused about what a good fat really is. Our brain is made up of 60% fat. This fat helps the conduction of nerve impulses in our brain. Good fats are saturated fats and omega 3 essential fatty acids. Saturated fats are very stable fats and burn at an even steady pace, which makes them essential for your brain and heart. Research as far back as 1997 indicates there is no association between intake of saturated fat and the risk of coronary death, so don’t hesitate to eat 3 tablespoons of saturated (eg coconut oil) and Omega 3 fat daily. Foods like coconut oil, butter, ghee (clarified butter) or extra virgin olive oil are great for cooking. Avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut milk, can be consumed also. Try raw soaked nuts and seeds-almonds, sunflower, pumpkin, walnut.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and Minerals are essential compounds that help cells communicate as well as manufacture amino acids. Brain Nutrients that have been implicated in brain health are folate, B6, B12, Vitamin D, Zinc, Selenium, and Magnesium.
Some research has shown that supplementing with the amino acid, tyrosine, essential fats, folate, B12 and B 6 can lift depression and reduce symptoms of ADHD and Parkinson’s Disease…
Keep in mind the proper diet and nutrition not only improves function of our brain receptors but help to reprogram our microbiome. If you want the Guts to Be Happy, you must start with your Gut Microbiome because the Gut-Brain Axis is the key to being Happy.
Of Course it is best to say …If you feel you are suffering physical, problems, the best thing to do is to get yourself checked by a functional medicine physician who is aware of diet and nutrition and treats the whole person as an individual with an individual biochemistry.