Few things in nature that weigh a mere three pounds are as complex and amazing as the human brain. For comparison, an elephant brain is closer to thirteen pounds, yet elephants have not done things like paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, composed a symphony, or sent a rocket to the moon. That’s not to say that elephants aren’t intelligent or self-aware (they are) or can’t communicate (they can). But given the compact size of an adult human brain, the range of what it can do of is amazing.
The brain needs nourishment
The brain is like a Command Central for all things physical, mental and emotional. That’s a lot of responsibility and activity. Furthermore, unlike the body, the brain never sleeps. It works around the clock. While it only comprises about 2% of normal body weight, it uses about one fifth (20%) of available resources:
- It uses up about 20% of normal resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy spent during a day of normal activity)
- It requires 20% of the oxygen we breathe
- And 20% of the blood pumped by the heart is directed to the brain
The brain is made up of 100 billion neurons or nerve cells, and each one is connected to 10,000 others – a grand total of 100 trillion connections. The nerve cells busily transmit and receive electrical and biochemical signals along pathways of connections with practically unimaginable speed as the brain processes information. The main source of energy to support such activity, the brain relies on glucose (a simple bioavailable sugar carried by blood vessels) to produce a compound called ATP. ATP is considered the “molecular unit of currency” for the transfer or electrical energy in cells.
“Feeding” your brain
With all that activity going on, the brain needs constant nourishment. Yet we rarely hear about what to eat in order to feed the brain. The media and the internet are filled with information about dietary wellness for the heart, blood pressure, blood sugar, muscles, joints, cancer prevention, etc. By contrast, when’s the last time you picked up a magazine with an article on nourishment for your brain, or compared notes with a friend on what foods keep your brain in peak performance?
Here are some of the best ways to put your Command Central on a healthy food program.
- Omega-3 fatty acids aren’t only for your cardiovascular system, but also for the brain’s cell membranes and nerve cell insulators. Plus, they have anti-inflammatory properties that are important for maximum blood flow to and in the brain. When an area of the brain is working especially hard, studies show that the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) in that area expand to provide extra blood, oxygen and glucose. Any inflammation has the potential to reduce blood flow by constricting capillaries. The best omega-3 supply sources are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout, herring and sardines.
- Protein helps equalize a stead supply of glucose to the brain because it takes more time for the body to digest than carbohydrates. The body breaks protein down into amino acids, and these molecules are precursors for substances called neurotransmitters that facilitate the brain’s messaging systems. In addition to protein from meats, fish and poultry, dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt) and eggs are good sources of protein and other nutrients that feed the brain.
- Vitamins meet a variety of needs. The B-complex vitamins counteract levels of homocysteine, an inflammatory byproduct of how the brain utilizes protein by breaking it down. The antioxidant vitamins (e.g. vitamins C and E) help keep the brain from “rusting” – the damage to aging cells as they oxidize. Vitamins abound in fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts.
- Supplements can be used to boost your intake of vitamins and minerals but be cautious. Experts agree that our bodies were designed for best absorption of nutrients through foods. However, there may be a place for supplements since “… fruits and vegetables grown decades ago were much richer in vitamins and minerals than the varieties most of us get today. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows.”i
Well-fed brain pathways
It’s incredible that with all the three-dimensional messaging traffic in our brain’s pathways, “accidents” are quite rare. Whether we are awake or asleep, the brain is generally successful as it coordinates everything from bodily functions to ideas, emotions, imaginings, intellect, etc. The pathways for all this effort are precious, so we want to keep them well fed.
When nutrition alone isn’t enough
However, nutrition alone can’t guarantee healthy brain function. We do not yet understand what sparks the abnormal messages that result in Essential Tremor (ET). While studies have shown that certain dietary factors can lessen or aggravate tremors, the results are not consistent. But there is hope for those with ET. When tremors don’t respond to medication, they can be safely and effectively treated using noninvasive MR-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS). Visit our website to learn more.
iScientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/