This is the second installment of The Unbalanced Brain, which is a series providing a guide to increase your mood and decrease chances of degenerative diseases through the use of a well rounded diet, exercise, and stress relieving practices. You can find the first part here.
As you saw in the first part of this series, many of the mood and degenerative diseases that humans face are caused by chemical / hormonal imbalances in the brain. In contrast to taking prescription drugs in order to balance our brains, it is important to search for and treat the root of the problem. Diet is one of the most important parts of maintaining a balanced brain, but I will also explore the ways exercise and stress management can help balance the chemicals in your brain.
Overweight and Malnourished
The greatest tragedy with the standard American diet is the lack of nutrition given the calories consumed. When one envisions malnourished individuals, it is of starving children in places in the world with a low socio-economic status. Just like these starving children, a majority of western populations are malnourished.
There are a number of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that humans need to consume on a regular basis in order to maintain a balance of chemicals in the brain. A lack of these nutrients leads to many of the mood disorders and degenerative diseases that are already common and on the rise.
Vital Nutrients to Maintain a Balanced Brain
The large majority of overweight or obese individuals are missing most, if not all, of the vital nutrients that they need in order to balance the chemicals in their brain. It would be impractical and time consuming to go through the list of these nutrients so I will instead focus on the ones that get little attention in most health sources.
Many of the long-latency deficiency diseases (such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, and autism) are caused or exacerbated by a lack of a few major nutrients. The body undergoes two processes called “methylation” and “sulfation,” which are both relatively unknown but extremely important. In order for your body to perform these processes, you must maintain a sufficient amount of folate (folic acid), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Not only are all three of these necessary for proper methylation and sulfation, but they impact your mood as well.
An insufficient supply of folic acid has been linked to a large number of mood disorders. This includes depression, anxiety, and a number of others one can resolve by eating sunflower seeds, beans, peas, lentils, or any leafy vegetable like spinach. Similarly, vitamin B6, which can be found in many types of meat, regulates and produces serotonin in order to balance your brain. Finally, lacking vitamin B12 can lead to significant depression, memory loss, and other brain problems.
Tip: Eggs are a great source of B12 as are oysters and crab.
Many of the most important nutrients for your body are the ones that help you detoxify /remove toxic chemicals that will negatively affect your brain. In order to maintain a healthy detoxification system you must ingest sufficient doses of:
- Magnesium – this is one of the three important nutrients for detoxification. Sufficient magnesium will help you to relax, but diets that are high in salt will negate this effect. In order to increase the amount of magnesium in your body make sure you ingest enough sunflower or pumpkin seeds, nuts (such as almonds or cashews), and dark chocolate above 70% cocoa. A deficiency in magnesium will also prevent your body from synthesizing enough serotonin. Nonetheless, you want to maintain balance so make sure you do not consume excessive magnesium. A common symptom of this is diarrhea.
- Zinc – while zinc is the least important of the three main detoxification minerals, it is important to maintain sufficient doses. Zinc is needed for dopamine production in the brain and having insufficient amounts is one of the causes for a chemical imbalance. If you are looking for a way to increase zinc, pumpkin seeds are best. Get them dry roasted with the shell remaining. Shell fish are another great source of zinc.
- Celenium – most of the detoxification is done with celenium, which makes it an ultra-important nutrient. Like zinc and magnesium, you can find ample celenium in most types of seeds as well as eggs, lean poultry, and fish.
What Do You Eat Instead?
Instead of getting these vital nutrients, most diets are laden with high carbohydrates and sugar. One of the most dangerous culprits for disrupting the balances in your brain is high fructose corn syrup. Modern media has caught on to the anti-high fructose corn syrup trend, but there are still plenty of foods to watch out for.
The amount of sugar that humans consume has exponentially increased since the Paleolithic era. Even humans two hundred years ago ate a relatively small amount of sugar compared to modern man. One of the causes for this is the invention and large-scale production of high fructose corn syrup.
Just looking in one cupboard of my roommates’ food, I see that over 55% of the processed items have this ingredient. That is relatively low compared to a randomized study of processed foods. High fructose corn syrup is even in non-sweet foods, such as Ketchup.
As it pertains to your brain, high fructose corn syrup is far sweeter than regular sugar and rushes directly to the brain unlike natural sugars. This inflames the brain and causes insulin resistance, which is the leading cause for diabetes as well as hormonal changes that affect mood and degenerative diseases.
Balancing Your Brain Through Diet
As this and the first part have made clear, diet is one of the most important ways to balance your brain and avoid mood and degenerative disorders that will not only decrease your productivity and efficiency, but can even lead to death. Although you have probably spent years abusing your brain and your body, it is never too late to get a fresh start. Reset your diet by removing as much processed food as you can. The only processed food I have remaining in my diet is dark chocolate, which I rigorously examine for the fewest possible ingredients. A good brand with few bad ingredients is Green & Black’s
If you make the change in your diet today, you will face significant changes within only a few weeks. It takes time for the body to acclimate to your new diet and remove the toxins from your old habits, but the human body is exceptionally resilient.
Exercise – Fertilizer for the Brain
Exercise is often prescribed as a way to maintain physical health, but many people do not understand the application of exercise for balancing chemicals within the brain. The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) are both secreted in higher quantity during and after moderate exercise. If you don’t know what these are, don’t worry – simply put, these things act like fertilizer for your brain cells to make faster connections and remain healthier.
Moderate levels of exercise are also known to increase levels of dopamine, which increases your ability to focus. Prescription drugs can perform the same exact task, but are also unnatural and unsustainable.
A regular routine of exercise is far more sustainable and effective for providing the brain with dopamine in the long-term. Pharmaceutical drugs can often imbalance other parts of the brain and lead to chronic depression, poor moods, and general unhappiness.
At the same time, exercise produces serotonin, which is another neurotransmitter that is required for a healthy and balanced brain. Specifically, the serotonin can help you to calm down and purge the cortisol from your body. Not only will purging cortisol help you maintain a better weight, but it will stop brain cell destruction as well.
Testosterone and Detoxification
Exercise can also promote a number of other brain boosts though heightened testosterone production. Increased testosterone is linked to higher brain function and motivation and lacking this vital hormone can lead to depression and other mood disorders. Please note, this does not mean you should go out and buy testosterone supplements. The point of focusing on exercise is to provide a sustainable model for balancing the chemicals in your brain so that you may lead a happier and more productive life.
While your body detoxifies through many methods, regular sweating is one of the main and most effective ways to release harmful toxins. Many of these toxins are not only negatively affecting your body, but are making their way to your brain as well. When toxins enter the brain, it can cause inflammation just like any other part of the body.
Stress Relief Through Sleep and Meditation
With university students surrounding me, I can’t begin to tell you how many think that sleeping is a waste of time. The phrases “you can sleep when you’re dead” and “sleep is for the weak” are common refrains. For the chemical balance in your brain, this is a destructive mentality that will lead to many negative short-term consequences that can detract from your happiness and wellbeing. You may be able to get away with it once in a while, but use it as a tool not a rule.
Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, Alzheimer’s weakened brain function, as well as a number of physical and decision making problems. From a biological standpoint, most peoples’ brain need approximately 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night in order for fundamental neuro-chemical reactions to take place.
This reduces the cortisol hormone to regular levels, which otherwise kills brain cells in the hippocampus region of your brain. Sleep is also a powerful period for the brain to organize thoughts and relieve stress. Commonly, sleep deprivation will also result in a lack of energy that most people try to fill with unhealthy food, which has disastrous effects as you saw in the first two sections of this series.
Taking a Moment to Unwind
For a lot of people “meditation” is a buzzword that has either philosophical or new age connotations, but what I (and many others) really mean is simply taking a moment to rest from the sensory overload we face in this technological world. As your physical stress level has a very real impact on the chemical balance within your body and brain, it is important to take time out of every day in order to just sit or lay down and train your brain. There are many philosophies on meditation and how it should be done, but even a few breaks for five minutes to lay down during the day will be useful.
My Recommendations and Wrap-Up
The chemical balance in your brain can only be healthy when you prioritize things like sleep, relaxation, exercise, and diet. An epidemic of mood disorders and degenerative diseases have made millions of people miserable across the planet and modern prescription pills are not necessarily the answer. The long-term effect of most medication is totally unknown. They haven’t been around long enough so there is no way of knowing how they affect your long-term health and general wellbeing.
Obviously, you might not be able to avoid them completely. Your genetic makeup is totally different and I am no expert on the mutations that occur with brain chemistry. Nonetheless, the large majority of cases can be solved by maintaining a good diet that is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and essential vitamins and minerals, while low in carbohydrates that are not derived from a natural source.
However, maintaining a balanced brain doesn’t just come from diet alone. Try to maintain a sleep schedule that offers at least 7 – 8 hours of sleep every single night. Exercise every day (just a walk!) and take some quiet time every day. This is what has worked for me. I hope that it works for you too.