From BrainLine.org – Nutrition and Your Brain

Tina Sullivan is a certified integrative health and nutrition coach and speaker. Her 14-year-old son, Shane, sustained a brain injury in mid-2010 and has been recovering from Post Concussion Syndrome ever since. Sullivan came to understand that what a person eats can positively or negatively effect his or her brain’s ability to heal.

What you eat greatly influences your body’s ability to function well. The foods that you eat and drinks that you choose affect you on a cellular level and become your blood, muscles, organs (your brain being the biggest and most important one!), skin, hair, and even your moods. As you have probably heard before, food is “fuel.” This “fuel” contains nutrients. Nutrients come in the form of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, water, amino acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. Nutrients do everything from combating infection to repairing tissue to helping you to think.

If you make food choices that are comprised of lots of processed food and drive-thru bargains, then your body’s nutritional needs are not being met. A deficiency in good nutrients will impair your body’s normal tasks and can cause body parts to malfunction and break down. How well your body is working can be seen in observing your brain function, memory, skin elasticity, eyesight, energy, the ratio of lean to fat tissue in the body, and an overall feeling of well-being.

Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that regulate your behavior are controlled by the food and beverages that you choose to take in. Neurotransmitters are responsible for your moods. The most commonly known neurotransmitters are dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When you eat foods that increase serotonin, you become less tense. When the brain creates more dopamine and norepinephrine, you act and think clearer and are more alert.

Why are these neurotransmitters so crucial? They are responsible for relaying impulses between your nerve cells. If you don’t have enough serotonin, it can lead to depression, anxiety, and disturbed sleep. When you eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates (like whole grains, veggies, and fruits), it raises the amino acid, tryptophan. Consuming foods containing tryptophan elevates the level of serotonin in the brain, which in turn calms you down. When you eat good quality, high protein foods (like grass-fed meats, free-range eggs, quinoa, etc.), you increase the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in your body keeping you alert and present.

Depression can be one of the unfortunate side effects after suffering a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. One of the most common types of depression is a chronic underlying depression called dysthymia. It includes long-term and recurring depression symptoms that don’t necessary disable you, but they do keep you from functioning normally and can interfere with enjoying your life. Arming your food arsenal with healthy choices that combat depression may help keep these symptoms under control.

A brain-healthy diet consists of water, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients. It may sound like a mouthful, but let me break it down into usable components for you. I’ll quickly highlight the major categories: water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Then I will show you the essential vitamins and minerals; how they support brain health; and how a deficiency in each compromises brain function. Note: When I discuss vitamins and minerals, I will refer only to how these relate to brain health and body healing, even though each vitamin and mineral mentioned may benefit other functions in the body.

Vitamins & Minerals

All of the vitamins and minerals that I mention here should be first taken in through a varied, whole-foods diet. The information contained here is not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. If you choose to add supplements to your diet, please discuss it first with your doctor.

Vitamins

Vitamins are very important. They help to regulate the metabolism and the biochemical processes that release the energy from food that has been digested. Enzymes are catalysts (activators) in the constant chemical reactions that are always happening in the body. Vitamins work with these enzymes to make sure all of the actions are carried out in the body according to plan.

Vitamin A: Vitamin A strengthens the immune system, and is needed for the maintenance and repair of epithelial tissue. It aids in fat storage, acts as an antioxidant, and is necessary for new cell growth. Protein cannot be used in the body without Vitamin A. The carotenoids are a group of compounds related to Vitamin A. They are beta-carotene, alpha and gamma carotene, and lycopene. Beta-carotene is the best source through the diet, because the liver converts only the amount that the body actually needs — thus, preventing toxicity. Deficiencies in Vitamin A may be insomnia, fatigue, and night blindness. If you have diabetes or hypothyroidism, your body may not be able to convert beta-carotene into Vitamin A.
Vitamin B Complex: B vitamins maintain healthy nerves, proper brain function and healthy muscle tone. They assist enzymes in their chemical reactions and with energy production. Let’s break them down.
B1/Thiamine: B1 helps with blood formation and circulation. It maximizes cognitive activity and brain function. It affects energy, growth, appetite, and learning ability. Thiamine deficiency symptoms may be fatigue, forgetfulness, irritability, nervousness, numbness, pain and sensitivity, poor coordination, and tingling. Antibiotics, Dilantin (a seizure drug), sulfa drugs, heavy alcohol or caffeine intake may decrease thiamine in the body.
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Excerpted from NOURISH YOUR NOGGIN: Brain-Building Foods and Easy-to-Make Recipes to Hasten Your Healing from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury by Tina M. Sullivan. Copyright © 2012 Tina M. Sullivan. Outskirts Press. For more information on the book, go here.

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