Your brain is hungry. It represents only 2% of total body weight, but gobbles up 20% of our oxygen and caloric consumption. Even while asleep.
So what is the best fuel for your energy-hungry brain? Eating meals rich in healthy fats and complete proteins, with a bit of low glycemic carbs, is the best way to maintain steady energy levels that keep your brain humming at peak performance. Eating too much sugar at once causes a huge sugar surge (and insulin surge to deal with the dump of sugar into the bloodstream) in the brain and body. Big sugar surges act like pouring gasoline on dry kindling - a quick burst of fire (energy) that ends up in smoke fast (the infamous post-splurge “crash"). Eating healthy fats acts like building a fire with big heavy logs; it will burn steady and hot for a long time. Hyperglycemia (too much sugar at once) in the brain has been strongly associated with greater risk of dementia and impaired cognitive function.
Along with healthy fats (click HERE for a blog post explaining what those are), protein from animal sources is a critical component of good brain health. Animal proteins contain a complete array of amino acids, which are important in maintaining and repairing cell health. Animal protein also supplies tryptophan, which is readily converted to serotonin in the body. Serotonin has receptor sites in every cell of the body, although it is best known as a neurotransmitter that influences mood and behavior. (Prozac and other anti-depressant medications work as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, meaning they prevent the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain so that more stays in circulation.) Serotonin used in the brain must be made in the brain. Having an ample supply of tryptophan available to manufacture serotonin is important to maintain mood and focus. Serotonin is also a precursor to melatonin production, which is a potent antioxidant as well as necessary sleep hormone. More on the importance of sleep in a moment.
Quality of the source of nutrients is exceptionally important for optimum brain function. (Click HERE for a post about what nutrient-dense foods are.) When one eats industrially produced, highly refined and denatured food-like substances, the body is not supplied with the necessary building blocks to create the neurotransmitters, hormones, and other chemicals that help our brains work their best. Furthermore, rancid, industrially produced vegetable fats (mainly corn and soy, but also canola and other generic “vegetable” oils) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) wreak havoc on our blood vessels. These substances (they don’t qualify as food) along with a host of other synthetic additives and chemicals, cause massive inflammation in the body. This inflammation leads to the vast majority of chronic illness today, including arterial disease. (Cholesterol is NOT the culprit. Cholesterol is the body’s attempt to fix the damage wrought by the substances mentioned above. Inflammation causes weak areas and eventually “holes’ in the delicate lining of the blood vessels. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is deposited by the body to plug up the holes. On-going inflammation leads to more and more arterial wall damage requiring more and more cholesterol to repair the damage.) When blood vessels (our bodies’ fuel lines) are not functioning at optimum capacity, our brains are not getting the optimal amount of oxygen and nutrition, and waste products are not being efficiently removed.
The Self-Cleaning Brain
Sleep is the time that our brains clean out, literally. Cerebro-Spinal Fluid (CSF) is pumped through the brain to nourish and protect the brain and spinal cord. While asleep, the brain’s neurons shrink by up to 60%. This shrinkage allows for greater space and therefore movement of CSF to wash away build up of bio-toxins that accumulate throughout the day. The brain is performing this waste removal all day, every day, but the deep clean happens while you sleep. While you can clean your house without moving the furniture, you will get a much cleaner house if you do move the furniture and clear off the shelves to dust.
One of the substances cleaned away is amyloid-beta (AB). In a healthy brain AB Is removed during sleep. If allowed to accumulate through lack of sleep, AB forms a sticky plaque that is implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Not convinced that 8 hours of sleep is really necessary for brain health? Consider this: A study of 48 healthy 21 - 38 year olds with varying rates of sleep deprivation from the National Center for Biotechnology Information clearly delineates the impairment from prolonged sleep debt. “Chronic restriction of sleep periods to 4 h or 6 h per night over 14 consecutive days resulted in significant cumulative deficits in cognitive performance on all tasks.” In the conclusion to the study, the authors state: “Since chronic restriction of sleep to 6 h or less per night produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to up to 2 nights of total sleep deprivation, it appears that even relatively moderate sleep restriction can seriously impair waking neurobehavioral functions in healthy adults. Sleepiness ratings suggest that subjects were largely unaware of these increasing cognitive deficits, which may explain why the impact of chronic sleep restriction on waking cognitive functions is often assumed to be benign.” 3 Meaning we are not even aware of the negative impacts inadequate sleep has on our own performance.
To learn a few simple rituals to help you get better sleep starting tonight, read the post i wrote about it HERE.
If you are ready to take your energy and health to the next level in just six weeks, check out my ecourse "Six Weeks to Abundant Energy".