By Ron Hunninghake, M.D.
We are born with a hundred billion neurons or cells in our brains and each neuron has hundreds of dendrites or little armson it. These arms connect with other brain cells in many complex ways. It has been calculated that when you take a hundred billion neurons, each one having hundreds of dendrites, there are more possible connections in the brain than there are molecules in the universe!
The brain is only 2% of your body weight but 20% of your blood is pumped there.
Our nutrition can either boost brain functioning or limit it. Most of us would rather boost functioning.
Life occurs on levels. The fast level is your physical body which runs by the biochemistry in each cell. If a cell is missing one or more of the essential nutrients that are part of the biochemical team, it functions poorly. At The Center we look for the gaps in the biochemical team. Testing allows us to see these gaps.
Your emotions or your feelings are the next level. How you feel is influenced by biochemistry. Your cells are like machines. If something is missing that they need, the cells won’t function as well as they should. That goes for neurons of the brain especially. It seems like the brain is extremely sensitive to imbalances in biochemistry. The third level is relational aspects of life. This is our biography.
There is an interaction between these different levels. If you are living an extremely stressful life, you are going to deplete your biochemical reserves. If you are eating less than the optimal type of food, this, too, is going to have an influence on biochemical reserves. If you are thinking negative thoughts, these thoughts will have an effect on your biochemistry.
The brain boosters are nutrients, herbals, hormonal support, and medication. We will look primarily at nutrients.
There are three basic ways to look at nutrients. The first is macronutrients, the ones you eat and can see. It is the quality of the food. The second is micronutrients. The third category is the antioxidant or nutrient-like substances that are present in food that work beyond just the biochemistry. They can protect you from long-term damage.
If you can eat foods as they grew in nature (whole foods), you are going to help your brain function better. Whole foods retain their cellular structure. For a whole food to grow in nature it has to
be composed of cells. For those cells to grow, they must have specific vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in order for the cellular processes to work. When you eat a whole food you take in that menu of biochemicals which that particular food had to have in order for its cells to grow.
There are about four levels of micronutrients. We want to have a wide variety of nutrients available to our cells so we can handle the stressors that will inevitably come our way. Having an optimal level is the best. Having an adequate level will get you by, but that’s not going to give you optimal brain functioning. If anything, you are going to be tired, dull, and more forgetful if your diet is mediocre.
Antioxidants are important to the brain. The brain is only 2% of your body weight but 20% of your blood is pumped there. There is a lot of metabolic activity in the brain. A lot of oxygen is being utilized to fuel the metabolic activity in the brain. For that to occur you have to have something to control the excess of free radicals that are formed from too much oxygen. The brain is one of the biggest consumers of antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene. If you want to improve the functioning in your brain, you need to be sure that you are getting adequate antioxidants.
If you are deficient in vitamin A and you start replenishing that deficiency, you can improve your IQ ten points, according to recent research. Vitamin C is the premier antioxidant. The blood plasma level of vitamin C is 1/20th the level of vitamin C found in the brain. Vitamin C is necessary for the production of endorphins. If you are experiencing a lot of pain, vitamin C can help your body cope with that pain. Vitamin C enhances immune function and longevity.
One of our greatest fears is developing some kind of dementia. Anything that helps protect brain functioning will help insulate it against the ravages of aging. Antioxidants have a protective effect on our cell membranes, the nuclei, the DNA, and the various structures of the cell that keep it functioning properly and that is very true in terms of the brain. VitaminE protects your blood vessels against heart disease. If vitamin E can protect the blood vessels to your heart, it should protect against stroke, which is a brain attack. Vitamin E is crucial to maintaining long term functioning of your brain. In the short term it also helps maintain good antioxidant control of free radicals within the brain. It will help short term functioning of the brain by maintaining better blood circulation.
B complex supports the other antioxidant vitamins. For example, vitamin C donates electrons to neutralize free radicals. The B vitamins help replenish that donated electron so that vitamin C can go back into action and act as an antioxidant again and again. Niacin, a B vitamin, has been shown to improve memory. Vitamin B6 will help you have better dream function. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, Dr. Riordan’s mentor, used dream recall as a functional measurement of adequate vitamin B6. Dreaming is a normal function of stress reduction that occurs during the night.
Folic acid, B12, and B6 have recently been shown to control homocysteine. Homocysteine can be destructive to your blood vessels so if you can keep that under control you can maintain good circulation to your brain.
Magnesium, one of the trace elements, is necessary to keep enzyme systems functioning. It is the enzymes that make the biochemistry of the cells run.
There is the part of the brain, called the hypocampus, which some people feel is essential for memory function. The hypocampus has the highest concentration of zinc in the body. Zinc plays an important role in terms of memory.
Potassium is necessary for maintaining the electrical charge on the surfaces of the membranes for your nerve cells to transmit impulses properly. Your best sources of potassium are fresh fruits and vegetables.
Calcium is also important in terms of this nerve transmission along the neurons, so adequate amounts of calcium are important. You can get calcium from dairy products, but green leafy vegetables are an excellent source, too.
Selenium aids in the body’s antioxidant factors. Selenium also helps with thyroid functioning.
Amino acids are the precursors to neurotransmitters. Anyone who is depressed, fatigued, or has what we call brain fog, has a good reason to get an amino acid profile. Amino acids are necessary for the elimination of toxic chemicals from your body. Amino acids are conjugates to these toxic chemicals in the liver, which will actually cannibalize amino acids in an effort to get rid of toxins as a first priority.
The essential fatty acids are very important because they are utilized in the formation of cell membranes in order for your brain to function well. Remember, the brain is very high in fat.
Trans fatty acids, such as margarine and the hydrogenated fats, are junk fats that we see so much in our culture. They tend to promote free radicals and cause a kind of deterioration process.
Lecithin is a phosphyl-lipid needed for the production of healthy membranes in the brain. It is a source for choline and your brain makes acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter. You can use acetylcholine to enhance your overall mood and brain function. If there is a decline in acetylcholine, research shows that memory will not work as well.
Various herbs can enhance brain function as well, but that is a subject for another Health Hunter article. If you work on getting the first line of brain boosters, your vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids, as close to optimal as possible, you should notice an increase in brain functioning. Your friends certainly will.