By Tina Paymaster, PHASE IV Functional Nutrition & Health Specialist
June is Alzheimers Disease and Brain Awareness Month. So we’ll be sharing information on the foods and habits that are harmful to your brain health and those that will support it.
Think of your brain as the CEO of your body. It controls most major functions of the body such as breathing, blood pressure, swallowing, sleep, bladder control, hearing, taste, eye movement, reflexes, cognition, movement, mood and hormone secretion – to name just a few things.
With 100 billion neurons in the brain, it demands the most energy out of all the organs in the body. This energy comes from the food you eat. The brain also contains millions of mitochondria which are susceptible to free radicals and oxidative stress. Poor food choices and unhealthy lifestyle habits can all contribute to an increase in free radical activity in the body which can accelerate aging of the brain and cause all sorts of neurodegenerative issues.
Just like a car needs good quality fuel to make sure it runs optimally, your brain needs the best quality fuel as well.
While we often think of the impact food has on our weight and digestion, there is a growing body of research about the effect it has on the brain as well.
GLUCOSE – FRIEND OR FOE?
Most of the food we eat, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, breads, pastas, pastries, etc. have carbohydrates that get broken down into glucose in the body. Our body needs glucose to provide energy to the cells and it is the body’s preferred source of energy.
There are simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs include fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and sucrose (refined white sugar). These get broken down, converted into glucose and absorbed into the blood stream quickly. Complex carbs are typically found in starches like peas, beans, whole grains and vegetables. They require more work to convert into glucose.
The body uses the glucose it needs immediately and what isn’t used up by the cells, gets stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. When the body runs out of available glucose it will tap into these glycogen stores to get the energy it needs.
While too little glucose can impact the production of neurotransmitters in the brain and communication between the neurons, leading to poor focus and cognitive function, too much glucose can impair brain function too. A 2009 Study out of the University of Montreal and Boston College showed a link between excess glucose consumptions and memory and cognitive decline.
This is typically the case for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar levels can accelerate brain aging, cause the brain to shrink, restrict blood flow to the brain causing cognitive difficulties and if serious enough, can lead to dementia and Alzheimers. In fact, many researchers are calling Alzheimers, Tye 3 diabetes.
A 2012 study on rats, showed that a high sugar diet caused rats to develop insulin resistance. Insulin strengthens the communication between brain cells. With reduced insulin levels, cognitive and memory became impaired.
In addition, too much sugary foods can deplete the stores of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that controls mood, appetite and sleep. 90% of the serotonin in the body is produced in the gut, therefore supporting digestion is not only vital to gut health, but brain health. Studies have shown that decreased serotonin levels can contribute to symptoms of depression.
Chronic high blood sugar levels have also been linked to inflammation in the brain. Some studies have shown that even mild blood sugar elevations can increase toxic compounds called AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) which age the brain, increase inflammation and contribute to cognitive decline. In addition, researchers have found a link between reduced brain-derived neurotropic factor and Alzheimers, depression and dementia. Sugar reduces BDNF.
Keep in mind, that most of these negative effects typically come from excess fructose and sucrose. You don’t have to put down the veggies and beans if you’re looking to lower your blood sugar. These foods contain lots of fiber which not only slow down the absorption of glucose, but are also necessary to support a healthy digestive system.
Reduce or avoid foods that spike blood sugar and insulin levels such as:
- Soda and other sugary beverages (including diet varieties and alcoholic drinks)
- Sports drinks with added sugar
- Refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup
- Refined white flour in pastries, cookies, pastas and breads
- Fruit or flavored yogurt
- Breakfast cereals with added sugar
When in doubt always read nutrition labels on packaged food. Just because something says “healthy,” “vegan,” or “gluten-free,” doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you. Stick to foods that only use real ingredients and when in doubt do your best to chose whole foods.
Stay tuned for next week’s brain health article, where we’ll be covering even more foods that impact the health of your brain.
Want personalized one-on-one support to get your health back in balance? Schedule a complimentary consultation with our Nutrition Specialist today! Call 310-582-8212 to book your appointment today!