Recent neuroscience studies have proven that what we eat and how we live can have huge impacts on our brains. Neurogenesis, or the process of making new brain cells, is the topic of today’s blog. This is fascinating stuff on so many levels! Old think was that we quit growing brain cells in our 20’s and then we just went downhill from there. In the late ‘90’s, scientists discovered we can actually make new brain cells our entire life. The rate of neurogenesis (brain cell development/growth) is an important biomarker of brain health –which ultimately impacts the quality of our lives, as you can imagine!
It makes sense that a low rate of making new brain cells is associated with cognitive decline, anxiety, memory problems, stress/depression and lower immunity. While on the other hand, people with a high rate of new brain cell growth have cognitive enhancements, faster problem solving, protection against stress/anxiety, etc. Even more interesting is that people can increase the rate of neurogenesis at least 5 times. Holy cow. Now you see how the rate of neurogenesis can have a big impact on the quality of your life? FIVE TIMES!! (Dayam Daniel!)
What can we do? Well, first of all, understand that the best results come from multiple ways to create a synergistic effect. An analogy Dr. Cortright uses is that if you want to build a beautiful house, you have to use high quality materials. Seems simple enough. In his book, “The Neurogenesis Diet & Lifestyle”, Dr. Cortright tells us what mental activities we can do to increase neurogenesis, along with spiritual things we can do, active things we can do, and of course, DIETARY things we can do. In a nutshell, the dietary piece is twofold: we want to decrease the things that are neurotoxic because they slow down the rate of brain cell development AND at the same time increase the things that enhance neurogenesis.
Here are a few points made in his book:
- Neurotoxins to avoid include bad, unhealthy fats and sugar/carbohydrates. We can thank the government since the 60’s for their recommendations that fail to distinguish good fats from unhealthy, oxidized (trans) fats. When bad fats get into blood stream, it produces a host of problems. The good ol’ outdated food pyramid was heavy on carbohydrates. Don’t’ cook with vegetable oils. Instead cook with coconut oil, butter, or ghee. Avoid eating fried foods.
- Include good fats from avocados, nuts, grass fed beef, pastured chicken/eggs, wild caught fish, etc. Omega 3’s fatty acids are the bomb (especially DHA since 1/3 of our brains are made up of this stuff). Taking 4-5 grams a day of omega-3’s that are molecularly distilled (to avoid mercury which is a neurotoxin) is recommended by Dr. Cortright.
- Green tea (ECGCs) are beneficial, as is
- Quercetin, and
The book is full of more detailed information, as is his website: www.BrantCortright.com. I really can’t do it justice in one blog entry. Just know how important it is to reduce inflammatory responses within the body/bloodstream. Repeated inflammation literally chews up the inside of our blood vessels. Because your brain gets 20% of your blood, when you ingest/expose bad fats/sugar/toxins, that junk literally goes to your head. Say you eat a burger and fries…the fries supply nasty fat/carbs and the bread supplies additional easily digested carbohydrates. Congrats, you just flooded your bloodstream with one big inflammatory responses. Do that throughout the week/month/year….well you get the picture. A high sugar diet will cut the rate of brain cell building in HALF. Scientists have tracked cognitive decline directly with sugar intake and alzheimers is now dubbed Type 3 Diabetes. Things that make you go, hmm..!
Today, about 80% of the American population has some degree of glucose intolerance, meaning they have higher levels of insulin than is healthy, creating toxicity in every organ of the body. Accelerated aging, or glycation, begins to occur whenever sugar/glucose enters the body. So yeah, I’m sitting here thinking about the handful of peanut M&M’s I grabbed off an associate’s desk last week! (Sidebar: a blood test called a “hemoglobin A1C” can show the levels of glucose from the past 3 months.) High fructose is a nasty culprit in a lot of foods.
But, I digress. There’s so much good information in this book! I’d like to share his information regarding antidepressants, as well. But, that’s a dialogue for another day.
To wrap this up, here are the take-aways:
- A high sugar diet will cut the rate of brain cell building IN HALF. We live in such a neurotoxic world and most of our brains are functioning well below what is possible. With our bodies lasting longer, why kill brain cells when we can enhance cognitive development so we don’t become a statistic? Right now, 1 in 3 Americans develop Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia.
- We can enhance brain cell building FIVE times, maybe more, with the right activities (dietary, movement, spiritual).
- Read the book.
What have you got to gain? Just cognitive enhancement, mood elevation and an enhanced quality of life!
Until next time, choose fit, laugh often, reduce sugar, & add omega-3’s.