Brain Health & Energy
Fatigue, energy dips, brain fog, inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, mood swings and depression. One or more of these symptoms tend to be a factor in most cases but we don’t always realise, or are not aware, how often we are experiencing them and how big the impact is in our daily lives until the first real signs of cognitive decline begin to show. Quite often a client will have gut or spine issues alongside some of these symptoms.
Brain health and vitality is my special interest as a nutritional therapist. Without our command centre firing on all cylinders and sufficient energy for it to do that, (the brain is responsible for about 20% of our total body energy usage!) how can our bodies cope with what they face on a daily basis in this crazy world of information overload? Brain health is a very important factor of lifestyle medicine but it is quite often overlooked. Thankfully we are now becoming more and more aware of the risks of cognitive decline and realise that now is the time to start taking steps to reduce the risk of it happening, happening to YOU.
As a nutritionist and lifestyle coach, I’ll be bringing brain health workshops to Essex very soon. This will be a course of six, two hour, weekly sessions with groups of approximately 8-10 people where I will explain clearly and concisely what you can do to support your brain health. We work as a group to keep everyone focused and motivated and I give you the tools to continue looking after your brain long after the course has ended. You never know, you may even make some new friends in the process. Watch this space, I’ll advertise a free introductory session soon.
For more information about brain health and vitality read my page below that a has a few nuggets of health information that you may find interesting….
Central to brain health: cognition, so what is it?
Cognition is defined as ‘the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses’ and it refers to a number of mental processes relating to the acquisition, storage, manipulation, and retrieval of information by the brain. So what brain functions contribute to cognition? Reasoning, memory, perception, attention, motor skills, language and verbal fluency, visual and spatial processing, flexibility, problem-solving, decision-making, working memory, emotional self-regulation, sequencing and focus, to name but a few. The brain contains an estimated 100 billion neurons with thousands of neuronal networks that support these functions which can be maintained well into old age when supported by a diet, lifestyle and environment tailored specifically for the individual. We can even grow new brains cells – actually grow our brains in a process called neurogenesis!
Mood and Stress
So cognition has a part to play here. Cognition helps us identify our emotions and regulate them. If you can identify your emotions, that can help you react in a more positive way when something not so favourable happens. There are numerous factors than can affect our mood negatively: certain foods, lack of sunlight, exercise and social interaction, genetic predispositions and nutrient deficiency (and many more). Often low mood is accompagnied by anxiety. If you find that you get stressed out quite easily and fly off the handle, or experience long-term chronic stress, or have done in the past, it may make you more susceptible to bouts of low mood or even depression. This is because stress can over-activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which connects our brain, hormones and adrenal glands. Ongoing stress can reduce levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain resulting in lack of motivation and depression. Nutritional therapy and lifestyle support can give you the tools to readjust the balance.
How does energy fit in?
Brain function and energy are intimately connected. The brain uses up around 20% of the body’s energy so if we don’t have enough energy our brains won’t work at full capacity and if we overuse our brains our energy greatly diminishes. Did you know that multitasking, negative thoughts and over-thinking zaps our brain energy and makes us less efficient? Mitochondrion are the powerhouses of our cells where ATP the energy currency of our bodies is produced. If these little fellas aren’t functioning optimally, are damaged, aren’t fed the right nutrients, or are over-worked, energy production is limited resulting in tiredness, lethargy and sub-optimal brain function. The little energy that is produced will be directed to survival functions so energy is key! If you are tired all the time your brain will not be working optimally either so focusing therapy on both together can help.
The gut-brain connection
More and more evidence is now coming to light as to how our gut bacteria can influence brain function. Gut bacteria produce metabolites that travel to the brain via the vagus nerve that can affect behaviour, satiety, induce cravings and even change taste receptors1. The intestinal flora can also communicate with the brain via the immune system and the hormones produced in the gut. This means that our gut bacteria can influence the function of the Central Nervous System in a positive AND negative way. Not only that, scientists have now discovered that the microbiota communicate through signalling molecules with our mitochondria (remember, the energy power houses of our cells) so they can in fact control mitochondrial function and therefore our energy levels, the energy required to power our brains! Mitochondrion are thought to be descendents of bacteria themselves who hitched a ride into the human cell many moons ago so inter-bacterial communication does make sense. Therefore ensuring that your gut is healthy and has a good balance of the right bacteria is key to optimal brain function, energy production and a reduced risk of brain disease2.
Neurodegeneration is now considered the greatest threat to our society. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of age-related cognitive decline with 30 million affected globally in 2014; an increase of around 130-150 million is expected by 20503. Dementia is now the leading cause of death in the UK4. The incidence of neurological and mental illness now surpasses that of cancer and cardiovascular disease and accounts for approximately 13% of global disease prevalence5. Neurodegeneration is not decided by our genes. Our genetic code advises us of our potential strengths and weaknesses. With this information, alongside functional testing and case history we can adjust our environment to support optimal brain function and quality of life. So if you feel your brain isn’t functioning as well as it could why not take action now? If not for yourself, for your loved-ones who need the best-ever version of you?