Attention deficit disorder, clinic depression, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, multiple personalities, anxiety, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia. We have all heard of these brain disorders that cause loss of productivity, memory loss, and even death. In the United States and places where western medicine is practiced, these conditions are often blamed on chemical imbalances that require a special prescription drug in order to fix. Upon further scientific inspection, it is obvious that the chemical imbalances in the brain are caused by diet, exercise, and stress more than anything else. Instead of creating further imbalance within the brain by encouraging chemical concoctions, it is time people recognized the natural methods to live happier and clearer in their everyday lives.
The Power of Pills
Growing up in an upper-middle class American neighborhood, I witnessed my fair share of medicating for attention deficit disorder and a multitude of other brain disorders. In fact, my best friend was prescribed a drug similar to Adderall in order to perform better in school. He went from being one of the most fun, energetic, and spontaneous children I’d ever met to one of the most studious, least creative, and focused. For a span of 2 – 3 years as much as I wanted to be friends with him, it was like spending time with a totally different person. He had different friends that fit his medicated personality and we rarely spent time together.
The same friend always had a reputation for his diet, though. He was a maniac for sweet and sour candies and although his parents tried, his daily diet was atrocious. Meals were few and far between with candy or other processed foods comprising a large percentage of his diet. Essential vitamins and minerals were missing completely from his diet and when his mom cooked, it often came out of a box.
Although he eventually stopped taking the prescription pills and became the same best friend I have to this day, the story does not always turn out so great. The poor diet is indicative of a huge percentage of American youth and the increasing number of parents willing to medicate children to fix the problem is astounding. Unfortunately, the prescription pills are extremely powerful, but not in the way billion dollar prescription drug companies would have you believe.
Using Diet to Balance the Brain
If you think of your body as a car, plane, or machine of some sort then you might recognize just how important your diet is. The human body, and particularly the brain, is arguably one of the most complex and beautiful of any machines. Like cars and planes, the human body needs fuel to provide power for our everyday lives. It is important to fill your body with the optimum fuel in order to see the most efficient results.
The brain is mostly comprised of fat and the primary way of maintaining a well-powered mind is through the fats that you eat. As you may have heard, Omega 3 fatty acids are the healthiest type of fats that you can supply as fuel for your brain. The Omega 3 fatty acids help to build the cell membranes, balance your blood sugar, and increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) activity. The BDNF activity is essential for supporting existing neurons and promoting neurogenesis. Perhaps most important for fixing the unbalanced brain is the Omega 3 fatty acids’ ability to reduce the inflammation of the brain that is the cause of many brain disorders commonly treated with prescription pills.
The cell membranes in your body are also made of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are more fluid and allow connections to be made more freely. In comparison, trans-fats that comprise the largest percentage in our fry-happy culture are rigid and stiff. This has a direct correlation to slower and stiffer connections between cell membranes.
Hacking Neuro-transmitters to Achieve Balance
The food and drink that you ingest on a daily basis has a profound impact on the neuro-transmitters that influence your mood and allow your brain to function at a much higher capacity. Maintaining a balance with these four important neuro-transmitters is necessary:
3. GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid)
Most common processed foods distort the balances in the body in the short-term and provide long-term problems for your body. Many refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, and pizza, and refined sugars will temporarily increase the body’s serotonin levels, but this prohibits the body from making and regulating levels efficiently over the long-term. Even if you do not gain weight, abusing refined carbohydrates can lead to all types of brain imbalances and mood disorders.
The lopsided consumption of complex carbohydrates and sugar leads to many of the chemical imbalances that are treated with prescription drugs. Consumption of carbs increase the abundance of cortisol in the body in addition to the short serotonin spike. This increased cortisol activity is responsible for reducing the serotonin beyond balanced levels. Interestingly, common depression and many other brain and mood disorders are treated with prescription drugs that are designed to artificially boost serotonin receptors in the brain. If you remove certain foods, you will not have this problem in the first place!
Food for Thought – Increase Mood and Balance
Even though this is only the first part of this series to re-balance your mind, we will provide some food choices to guide you. Try to incorporate these into your daily diet and phase out some of the refined carbohydrates that we warn you to avoid. Some of these can be used as standalone meals, while others provide a great snack while you’re on the go or at work / school.
• Omega 3 Fatty Acids – if you are going to consume high fat products try to get as many Omega 3 fatty acids as you possibly can. There are many high protein products that are full of these including eggs and salmon. Many small fish will have a healthy dosage of Omega 3s, but make sure you are avoiding high mercury fish that might be harmful for your brain. If you use oil at low heat, opt for extra-virgin olive oil that is also packed with Omega 3 fatty acids. Most corn and soy oils have excess Omega 6s, which can cause inflammation of the brain and contribute to mood or degenerative disorders.
• Carbohydrates vs. Complex Carbohydrates – do not let anyone tell you that carbohydrates are bad for your body. In most cases, carbohydrates from natural foods, such as nuts and vegetables, are packed with fiber and phytonutrients. The fiber within the natural carbohydrates is useful because it slows the absorption of sugar and fat and keeps a balance of neuro-transmitters within the brain. In comparison with the complex carbohydrates (such as pizza, pasta, and bread), the slow release of natural carbs helps to avoid a surge to the brain, which causes imbalance and depression. You can find natural carbs through raw / hulled sunflower seeds, shelled and dry roasted pumpkin seeds, dry roasted cashews, raw pecans, and raw almonds. Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, arugula, spinach, and chard are all good sources of natural carbohydrates as well.
Hacking Your Unbalanced Brain
Sometimes our environment can provide serious enough stimulus to make us anxious, nervous, or depressed. Unfortunately, that is a part of life, but we can limit the bad moods and chronic depression with dietary habits, a healthy exercise regimen, and ample stress relief techniques. Many degenerative and mood disorders have been linked to imbalances of chemicals within the brain, but instead of correcting these problems through natural methods, prescription drugs are often the quick fix. In the remaining parts, I will analyze the effects of diet on your brain further as well as exercise and stress.