Health

5 Habits for a Healthy Brain

Have you been struggling with fatigue, gut problems, weight gain, depression, anxiety, or other reoccurring health issues? The truth is, it might be all in your head. I don't mean to say that you're making it up, as these issues are very real and all too common. Rather, your health problems may be the result of an unhealthy brain.  

The human brain is a vital organ that does more than thinking and learning.  It governs everything that goes on in your body including digestion, metabolism, muscle contraction, sleep, breathing, moods, and energy. Brain problems aren't just for those with head injuries and the elderly. The health of your brain can suffer, just as any other body part can. 

Symptoms of an unhealthy brain:  

  • Brain "fog" or trouble focusing
  • Poor memory
  • Low motivation
  • Low moods or mood swings
  • Food or alcohol cravings
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues
  • Insomnia
  • Hormonal imbalances 
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight problems
  • Anxiety, irritability, or anger
  • Impulsiveness or obsessive thoughts/behaviors
  • Poor muscle control

Ups and downs are a part of life, but a healthy brain is generally optimistic, focused, calm, energized, able to handle life's challenges, and keeps all the parts running smoothly. I'd say that's some motivation to care care of that squishy gray matter upstairs. 

Caring for your brain

Check out 5 things you can do to maintain a healthy brain. Don't want all the details? Scroll down for the summary of do's and don't's. 

1. Balance blood sugar: Your brain's main source of fuel is glucose; sugar in the bloodstream. That doesn't mean you should head to the nearest doughnut shop for some brain fuel.  It means to balance the amount of glucose circulating at any given time. It's a complicated system that involves insulin, glucagon, and sometimes cortisol, but basically- too much or too little glucose circulating is damaging to the brain. Avoid things that cause blood sugar dysregulation such as excessive sugar/carbs, large meals, skipping meals, caffeine, chronic stress, and lack of sleep. Instead, eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day that include protein, healthy fats, veggies, and complex carbs. Exercise regularly and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. 

2. Oxygen: Like glucose, oxygen is also crucial for optimal brain function. As we go through our day to day routines, most of us aren't giving much thought into how we're breathing. Many people (especially when stressed) breath in short, shallow bursts or even periodically hold the breath. This limits the amount of oxygen available for the brain to function optimally. Practices like meditation and diaphragmatic breathing are excellent for increasing oxygen to the brain. Also, don't forget to exercise regularly. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, allowing for more oxygen to be delivered up there. 

3. Anti-inflammatory diet: Just as our joints, muscles, and gut can become inflamed, so can the brain. This causes the communication between neurons to slow, meaning slow thinking, slow movement, and slow reflexes. Include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods in your diet such as turmeric, ginger, salmon, tuna, fruits, and veggies (especially dark leafy greens). Avoid pro-inflammatory foods such alcohol, caffeine, sugar, refined starches, margarine, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and any foods that you may be sensitive to such as gluten, dairy, soy, peanuts, and/or shellfish.  Stress also exacerbates inflammation, so find healthy ways to manage the stressors in your life. 

4. Essential fatty acids: Just as your brain loves glucose and oxygen, it also loves EFA's. In fact, your brain is composed primarily of fat. In order to balance blood sugar as mentioned above, you'll want to add healthy fats to every meal. These include avocados, olives and olive oil, coconut, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, organic butter, and organic eggs. Avoid the brain damaging fast found in junk food, fast food, fried food, and conventional animal meats. Omega 3 fats are especially great for brain health, and I highly recommend including a fish or krill oil supplement to your diet. 

5. Amino acid therapy*: All of your neurotransmitters are built from amino acids, found in protein-rich foods. Eating a diet rich in protein not only stabilizes blood sugar, but gives your body the materials it needs to maintain healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and catecholamines.  Even with a good diet, sometimes amino acid levels can be too low for ideal brain health, especially if mental health problems run in your family. If you eat generally healthy and still have symptoms of depression, anxiety, low motivation, brain fog, or fatigue, it is a good idea to have your amino acid and neurotransmitter levels tested. Taking concentrated amounts of specific amino acids can help increase NT levels and give a significant boost to your mental health. 

*The specific aminos necessary to promote healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and chatecholamines will vary depending on the individual. Consult your holistic practitioner or contact me for more info. 

Summary

Do's:

  • Eat 3 meals per day with protein-rich snacks in between.
  • Aim for 20-30 g protein per meal.
  • Eat lots of healthy fats and omega 3- rich foods. 
  • Exercise.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods.
  • Supplement with specific amino acids to boost neurotransmitter levels*. 
  • Find healthy ways to manage the stress in your life. 

Don't's:

  • Skip meals.
  • Eat meals high in carbs.
  • Eat excessive sugar or refined carbs. 
  • Eat unhealthy trans fats or hydrogenated oils. 
  • Consume excess caffeine or alcohol. 
  • Hold your breath or breath shallowly. 

*The specific aminos necessary to promote healthy levels of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, and chatecholamines will vary depending on the individual. Consult your holistic practitioner or contact me for more info. 

Resources: 

Bauman, Ed. Therapeutic Nutrition. Vol. 2. Penngrove, Ca: Bauman College, 2014. Print.

Kharrazian, Datis. Why Isn't My Brain Working?: A Revolutionary Understanding of Brain Decline and Effective Strategies to Recover Your Brain's Health. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Pizzorno, Joseph E., Michael T. Murray, and Herb Joiner-Bey. The Clinician's Handbook of Natural Medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2002. Print.

 

 

5 Minute Energy Boosters; Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual

It's 3pm, and you're f***ing tired.

Maybe you sit behind a desk all day. Or maybe you stay at home and run around with your little humans. Or possibly you're a fitness coach and moving non-stop is your job. It doesn't matter who you are or what you do on a daily basis, I will bet my bank account that you get a case of the yawns at some point during the day. We all do, even if not every single day. 

The easy fix may be to reach for another cup of coffee, an energy drink, or sugary snack of sorts. These things can provide temporary energy, but negative effects usually outweigh the short lived boost. Relying on stimulants such as caffeine and sugar can cause blood sugar imbalances, resulting in energy crashes, cravings, mood swings, and hormonal disruption. 

I'm all about moderation and I LOVE my coffee, but it's important to have tools to maintain energy without relying on caffeine. Here is a list of some of my favorite ways to boost energy that you can do in 5 minutes or less. 
 

5-Minute Energy Boosters 

  • Deep breathing: Notice how you're breathing right now. Are you taking relaxed, full belly breaths? If not, you may be taking short and shallow breaths or even holding your breath for short periods. This limits the oxygen that gets to your brain and your body, hence the yawn mechanism.
  • Move: If you're feeling tired and sluggish, moving your body may be the last thing you feel like doing. Even a short walk or several minutes of movement can get the blood flowing and give you a nice burst of energy. Try doing a couple sets of something that requires your whole body, such as 10-15 squat jumps, push-ups, or burpees. If you're concerned about getting sweaty, try a brisk walk or some stretching. 
  • Laugh: Getting some giggles is a great way to shift your energy and lift your mood, especially if fatigue is a result of mental energy expenditure. Listen to a few minutes of your favorite comedy or watch kitten videos if that's more your thing.
  • Gratitude: Low energy is not always a physical issue, but is often mental, emotional, or spiritual. If you're feeling down or sluggish, try taking a few minutes to focus your attention on the good things in your life. Numerous studies are showing that directing your focus to gratitude has a powerful impact on health and happiness. Read more here
  • Music: Listen to a song or two that make you feel AWESOME. We all have those jams that bring back good memories or calm us down. Keep a few on hand for those mid-day blues.  
  • Healthy snacks: As I mentioned above, stimulants such as caffeine and sugary snacks can provide a temporary boost but usually cause a drop of energy later on, leaving you needing more. Have a protein rich snack to promote a steadier release of energy. A protein bar, nuts, hummus and veggies, or a small green smoothie are all excellent options
  • A focused and fun task: Sometimes boosting energy can be as simple as shifting your attention. A fun, yet mentally stimulating task such as juggling, engaging in a sport, playing a computer game, or drawing can give you a temporary break from your work and leave you feeling refreshed and focused. This can be anything that requires all of your attention so that your a taking a "brain break.

The next time you find yourself falling asleep at your desk, try one of these strategies before pouring that tenth coffee. If you're especially tuned in to your energy, take note of whether your fatigue is physical, mental, or emotional/spiritual. Fatigue isn't always about sleep deprivation or lack of healthy snacks. Sometimes it's a result of mentally taxing work or a stressful day. Feeling overwhelmed and frustrated is draining in itself, in which case you may need a gratitude list or comedian. Play around with it, and find what works for you.