Food and Your Brain
Food Can Affect Your Brain: Breaking News
This past week, there were several “breaking news” segments on local and national news programs about how food can affect your brain health. The focus of many of these discussions came from a recent study from Oregon State University indicating that high-fat and high-sugar diets can negatively affect brain health. These unhealthy diets cause changes in gut bacteria that appear to be related to a significant loss of cognitive flexibility, which is the power to adapt to changing situations.
Also this past week, Dr. Oz featured a segment on specific foods (notably, protein and good fats) that can help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
I found all of this particularly interesting because for over twenty years, I have recommended a similar Brain Health Diet to help people regain and maintain cognitive and motor function. In addition to my own recommendations, there are some excellent books on this topic:
Your Miracle Brain by Jean Carper, 2000
Eating Well for Optimum Health by Andrew Weil M.D., 2000
Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons Ph.D., 1998
Food as Medicine by Dharma Singh Khalsa M.D., 2003
It is shocking to me that, although Dr. DesMaison’s book was published in 1998 and the others followed soon after, these issues are just hitting the mainstream now. All of these books discuss the interaction of food and brain function, including the importance of getting enough protein and good fats. But it has taken the media fifteen years to support and broadcast the idea that food can and does affect your brain, and that it does have the ability to affect your motor function, as well as alter the way you think, feel, and behave.
I developed the Brain Health Diet as a direct result of my own brain injuries: a cerebral bleed from a cavernous hemangioma, multiple concussions, and brain surgery. The reason I thought to explore the healing properties of food in an attempt to improve my brain function in the first place came from the experiences I had before my cerebral bleed occurred.
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but the cavernous hemangioma in my brain had been leaking for ten years prior to the cerebral bleed that caused my car accident. During this time, I noticed that my speech would sometimes become slurred, but I didn’t know why. I went to multiple doctors, and the prevailing theory was that my symptoms were caused by a post nasal drip from a sinus infection. The ear, nose, and throat specialist recommended that I undergo surgery on my sinuses. However, my husband at the time, an M.D., suggested that the postnasal drip and resulting slurred speech could be due to allergies. Instead of opting for the surgery, I went to an allergist, who put me on a six-month elimination diet to test for food sensitivities. It turned out that I was indeed allergic to multiple foods. I stopped eating those foods, and the resulting changes in my diet helped my brain; my speech improved.
I also had other symptoms from the leak that many doctors attributed to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), such as feeling as though I was about to pass out. On the doctor’s recommendation, I went on a hypoglycemic diet, which eliminated sugar and was high in protein, good carbs and good fats. This diet also helped my symptoms because it was composed of the right combination of foods to strengthen my brain.
Then, in 1990, I had the cerebral bleed that led to my car accident and subsequently underwent brain surgery. Afterwards, I once again had slurred speech and often felt as though I was going to pass out. I also had severe memory loss, poor concentration, brain fog, halted speech, and exhaustion that led me to sleep more than 18 hours per day, all symptoms of Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS). After the accident, every doctor I saw told me that I was permanently brain damaged and that my brain would never get better. But I refused to accept that there was no hope and decided to take my recovery into my own hands. (more info on this and the integrative methods I used to get better!) I remembered from the elimination diet and the hypoglycemic diet that there were various foods that made me feel and think more clearly. I also had some training in Ayurveda; a five-thousand-year-old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India, which is based on the idea of using food as medicine. This helped as well.
Over the following year, my family documented what I ate and how I reacted to those foods. Again, there were some foods that clearly made my symptoms worse, while others helped me to regain better use of my faculties. For me, this was not a scientific experiment; it was a matter of survival. After four years of developing and following the best possible diet for my brain health, along with water therapy, acupuncture, polarity, and neurofeedback, I recovered to the point where I was able to return to being a neuropsychologist. Subsequently, I co-authored the book Coping with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.
As a result of this first-hand experience, I am able to advise my clients and patients of the effects various foods can and do have on memory, thinking, sleep, motor movement, and overall cognitive functioning. The diet I have developed has allowed me to help every client and patient that I have treated since then on a much deeper and more effective level. One of my former patients, Tim Bransfield, wrote about my diet and the way it helped him to regain his life in his book, A Life Interrupted. Look out for a blog post coming soon about Tim’s book.
So, as you can imagine, I experienced a mixed reaction when hearing that food can affect your brain being presented as “breaking news” this past week. It strikes me as sad that it has taken almost twenty years for this information to be widely accepted. On the other hand, it’s wonderful that the media is finally giving food for the brain the same kind of attention it has given food for the heart.
For an idea of what foods complete a healthy, balanced brain diet, see what’s cooking under Dr. Diane®’s Brain Health Recipes.
Martha Lindsay MS, CNE, Certified GAPS practitioner is a member of Dr. Diane® Roberts Stoler’s integrative team of brain health experts with a Master’s degree in Microbiology and Public Health from Michigan State University and certifications in Whole Health Nutrition Education, and GAPS diet. She helps clients develop a nutrition plan that optimizes both brain health and overall health. She holds an advanced clinical certification in Nutrition Response TestingSM, a muscle testing technique which is used to choose the most appropriate specific nutrition products for each individual. The specific nutritional program she develops for each client enhances that individual’s immune system function which then helps their brain and body to function more efficiently.
Whether you are recovering from a concussion or brain injury, getting your brain optimized to function at its peak level, or optimizing your overall health, Martha can work with you to set individualized nutrition plans to help you achieve your goals through diet.
To feel and perform better, schedule an appointment with Martha today! Please call 800-500-9971 or submit an online contact form.