You don’t know what you got till its gone….
That can be said for many things….. Relationships, a great job, money, sunny weather, and I’m sure you’ve felt that way about something specific at some point.
Brain/mental health is one area that we often really take for granted until we, or someone we love, bumps into issues. It is great that mental health is finally starting to be talked about in a way that allows people to feel supported and not judged or condemned. Being “ill” or having diseases in our bodies is accepted, like a cold/flu, arthritis, etc. However, illness or disease in our brains is similar in the way of how it can happen as part of our normal human illnesses, but it has been so poorly handled and not helped in the same way as body illnesses. This needs to change.
The brain is so complex that there is no way to do it justice in a blog. My intention here is to recognize and point out that there are times when we each can feel a dip in the think tank, to which there can be some ways to improve function and health of this amazing tissue in our skulls. Additionally, where there is an actual head or nervous system injury, and not just a day of poor focus, or mood, etc, extra supports are needed both internally and externally. This is where the symptoms can become extremely problematic in day to day living and the need to dig into areas that support the brain and it’s function is critical.
First and foremost, if you or you know of someone who’s had bump to the head or is showing to be very different personality, mood, or memory wise, help get them to a medical professional. Getting help as soon as an injury occurs is key to start the healing process for best results.
In my family and group of friends, there have been a number of concussions as well as strokes and mental illness. These are all areas that deserve attention and understanding that the brain can change and heal and improve. Things may not go back to the way they were, but there is always hope and always healing.
There are a number of different therapies that can be helpful. Since my main area of training is nutrition, I will focus on that. However, it is good to know that acupuncture, chiropractor, massage, physio, cranial sacral, osteopathy, and many other health care providers have shown to provide a piece of the healing puzzle.
So, with nutrition, the goal is to help reduce inflammation (remove processed foods, sugars, unhealthy fats like fried foods, trans fats, etc), and to donate nutrient dense resources to help the brain heal.
Here is a good list to refer to in general:
Healthy fats - Cold water fish, fish oil, free range eggs, coconut oil (MCT), EVOO - extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado, organic grass fed butter, nuts and seeds - especially walnuts.
Since the brain is primarily made up of fat, getting a good amount of Omega 3 (DHA/EPA) fats is crucial for function in anyone, but even more so in those looking to heal an injury or improve cognition. There are many studies showing in the world of autism and ADHD, which both involve neurological challenges, improvements in speech, focus, mood result when adding in good quality fats such as those listed above, and removing problematic fats like highly refined vegetable oils. deep fried and rancid oils. Your brain makes use of all the fats you consume, so guard the quality to be the most positive for your body/brain to use.
Antioxidants - Berries, fruits, veggies, whole grains, kidney beans, nuts, herbs, spices, teas. Don’t underestimate the power of small herbs and spices added in daily - they are powerhouses!
Antioxidants are compounds that inhibits damage, including inflammation, and slows aging in the brain and body. When you see nutrients such a vitamin C, vitamin E, lycopene, flavonoids, carotenoids, beta-carotene, etc, those are a few well known antioxidants.
Less irritants - Sugars, especially artificial sweeteners, and processed foods (white flour and additives/colour/preservatives) are inflammatory and actually rob nutrients from our bodies and are especially problematic for brains. Start to swap out foods that are not whole foods. If you use artificial sweeteners google their side effects and see if you recognize any of those symptoms. In my experience that one change has made life altering improvements in many people.
Water - The importance of water and brain function cannot be understated. Even in a mid day slump, try a glass of water to see how that may improve your focus, mood, and energy level. For some people, this time of day may be when a person reaches for a coffee to push through, where that actually can push us into being even somewhat less hydrated. I am a coffee lover, but that afternoon coffee is not often the best solution for focus and energy. Try a big old glass of water instead and see how that goes.
Movement - Exercise is always a helper for body and brain. It moves lymph (waste) our of our tissues, creates happy hormones, stimulates our nervous system, and oxygenates our cells, plus many other benefits. If we walk in a calming area, like in nature, it can also soothe us, ground us, and reduce stress levels.
Stress - A whole huge area of it’s own that affects health in so many ways. I’ll expand on this area in another blog soon. For now, looking at injecting even 5 minutes of something that gives you a break and take care of yourself each day can help reduce stress levels and break the cycle. A short walk while at work, deep breathing, listen to calming music on the way home, a warm epsom salt bath, reading an affirmation that resonates with you, calling a friend who makes you smile, cute puppy or baby video. Laugh and smile - even just for 5 minutes here and there throughout your day.
Sleep - Lastly, this is when cleanup happens, in the body and in the brain. Without sleep we miss out on this important process not getting fully done. If you had a house cleaner and they vacuumed all the rooms but the kitchen, after a few weeks or months, it would become disgusting to work in that kitchen area. Even though the rest of the house is sparkling clean and fresh, that kitchen does not benefit from any other room, even the bathroom, being clean. Cleaning everywhere needs to be done - it is not optional. You are the same. If you are not sleeping a solid 8 hours a day, look at habits or challenges that may be causing that. I know many “feel” they can get by with less, but physiologically, we were build to fully rest each day so that cleanup and rejuvenation happens, and that is when we sleep.
In summary, eat good quality whole food, drink water, move your body, laugh and lower stress, and get solid sleep. And repeat the next day.
Have a great week.