Foods and Nutrients that Optimize Brain Health

Volume 1, Part 2

In the Part 1 of this series, we discussed the brain, its connection to the gut, the importance of the gut microbiome, and other critical brain health factors, including glutathione and omega-3. Here in Part 2, we’ll look at specific foods and supplements that boost the brain or improve specific aspects of brain health.

The Role of Detoxification in Brain Health

One important component of brain health is protecting the brain from harmful toxins. In Part 1, we discussed the importance of glutathione in preventing cognitive decline via its capacity to neutralize free radicals. Glutathione also plays a pivotal role in detoxification, not only within the brain, but also throughout the body. One of the most destructive neurotoxins is mercury, which many people are exposed to via amalgam fillings and mercury-contaminated seafood and fish.1

Mercury damages the CNS and the brain in many ways. For example, mercury increases the activity of reactive oxygen species (free radicals).2 Mercury has also been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB), thereafter greatly potentiating its neurotoxic effects.3 Finally, mercury interferes with neurotransmitter messaging, which can contribute to depression, excessive anger, anxiety, and other mental-emotional imbalances.4, 5 The detoxification process by which toxins like mercury are neutralized and eliminated involves three steps:6

  • Phase 1, Enzymatic Transformation: glutathione-dependent enzymes convert fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble toxins.
  • Phase 2, Enzymatic Conjugation: glutathione-dependent enzymes neutralize free radicals and other destructive compounds formed during Phase 1.
  • Phase 3, Transport and Elimination: transporter cells shuttle away and eliminate water-soluble compounds created in Phases 1 and 2.

Liposomes as an Essential Detoxification Technology

Liposomes are microscopic spheres comprised of phospholipids (the basic building blocks of cell membranes). Phospholipids encapsulate molecules like glutathione, thereby enabling them to bypass the digestive processes, which would otherwise inhibit absorption. Scientists have studied liposomes extensively because they exhibit extremely unique properties, including their ability to cross the BBB. Their application for drug and nutraceutical delivery is well documented, as is their application for vivio bio-imaging, a key diagnostic tool for neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and glioma.7

There are many liposome products on the market, but among the best, in my professional opinion, is liposomal glutathione from Quicksilver Scientific. Whereas most liposome products use low-grade phospholipids (like raw lecithin), Quicksilver uses high-phosphatidylcholine phospholipid mixtures of small, stable, tightly distributed single-layer spheres (called unilamellar vesicles). Accordingly, Quicksilver is able to achieve the power of intravenous liposome therapy via an oral delivery device.

Other Brain-Supportive Nutrients

There are many important molecules and formulated products thereof that support optimal brain health and peak cognitive performance. The following is an explanation of some of these products/molecules.

Lithium

Lithium orotate supports balanced mood while fighting against depression. Lithium also inhibits atrophy and age-related deterioration of the hypothalamus, which makes it beneficial in treating depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease. Regarding Alzheimer’s, lithium has been shown to block the production of key proteins involved with the disease’s progression.8

Lithium orotate has also been shown to protect the heart from arrhythmias, help reduce heart-attack damage, stimulate production of red and white blood cells, and help lower mental stress.9

Baccopa Monniera

Baccopa, a perennial with small oblong leaves and purple flowers, found in warm wetlands, is native to Australia and India. The entire plant is used medicinally. Baccopa has been widely studied and has been shown to exhibit the following properties, among others:10

  • Anti-convulsant
  • Anti-depressant
  • Anti-inflamatory
  • Anti-microbial
  • Anti-ulcerogenic
  • Anti-H. pylori
  • Adaptogenic
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Immunostimulatory

Regarding its neuroprotective activity, baccopa has been used in clinical studies to successfully treat anxiety, epilepsy, and other neurodegenerative disorders, while also benefitting cognition, learning, and memory.11

Liposomal GABA (with L-theanine)

Like liposomal glutathione, discussed above, liposomal GABA + L-theanine is another Quicksilver Scientific product. Produced by neurons in the brain, GABA functions as the principle inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA is a mood-stabilizing agent and is associated with the parasympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system, which balances the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) response.12 L-theanine is an amino acid that appears in high amounts in green tea. L-theanine supports relaxation and mood by increasing alpha-wave activity, brain serotonin, dopamine, and GABA levels, and by blocking the binding of L-glutamic acid to excitatory glutamate receptors in the central nervous system.13 This highly absorbable product is ideal for parasympathetic support and balance.

Brain Vibrance Supreme Powder

This product, developed by brain research pioneer Dr. Robert Crayon, based on the research of cell biologist Dr. Parris Kidd, combines three potent brain-boosting ingredients, which are collectively known as the Big 3 for brain vitality and repair. These ingredients are PS (phosphatidylserine), GPC (glycerophosphocholine), and AC (acetylcarnitine). They work individually and synergistically within the Brain Vibrance Supreme formula to:14, 15, 16

  • Promote homeostatic management of mood, anxiety, and the stress response
  • Improve memory, learning, comprehension, and other cognitive functions
  • Enhance mental sharpness and endurance at any age
  • Improve mind-body functional integration, via multiple overlapping mechanisms
  • Revitalize declining mental performance
  • Bolster brain repair and other intrinsic restorative processes
  • Improve pituitary vitality and growth hormone tone
  • Improve brain tissue responsiveness to intrinsic nerve growth factor

SAMe

SAMe is a naturally occurring metabolite, which is found in the human body, as well as in plant and animal foods. It is naturally synthesized in humans from the amino acid methionine in the presence of various co-factors, including vitamin B12 and folate.

Previously, SAMe was not viable in an encapsulated form due to its sensitivity to degradation from air and moisture. However, a unique patented technology from Designs for Health has enabled the production of SAMe in capsule form, which prevents its breakdown by stomach acidity and allows for intact absorption in the small intestine.

SAMe exhibits profound beneficial effects on the brain, liver, and joints. With respect to the brain, it plays critical roles in:17

  • Synthesizing neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine)
  • Synthesizing brain cell membrane phospholipids (phosphatidylcholine and serine)
  • Improving the capacity of neurotransmitters to bind to receptors

SAMe has been shown to improve sleep quality, diminish cognitive decline associated with senile dementia, and regulate mood while preventing/treating depression.

Blueberry Extract

Bluebery Extract is a revolutionary product sold by BioImmersion (a leading therapeutic food company), which consists of a powerful concentration of anthocyanins. Each individual capsule of the extract is equivalent to 1¼ cup of the North American blueberry species, Vaccinium corymbosum. In research conducted by Tufts University scientists, blueberries and blueberry extract have been shown to:

  • Reverse and prevent brain aging18
  • Improve memory and motor skills19
  • Repair neuronal tissue and function20

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone that is involved with controlling circadian (day/night) rhythms. Melatonin mediates the body’s response to variations of natural light from indoor/outdoor exposure or due to seasons (winter/summer). In darkness or decreased light, the eyes message the brain to make melatonin in preparation for sleep mode.

Melatonin production declines significantly with age, due to various causes, such as pineal gland calcification, inadequate brain tissue function and sensitivity, and other unknown factors.21 Melatonin supplements are used to regulate sleep, but melatonin has also been shown to have many other benefits, including:22, 23, 24

  • Anti-ageing properties (increases life span and survival in animal studies)
  • Improves sleep quality, especially during aging
  • Relieves certain types of depression such as SAD (seasonal affective disorder)
  • Stimulates the immune system
  • Increases antioxidant defenses
  • Reduces migraines
  • Protects the liver against toxic injuries
  • Modulates stress hormones
  • Supports prostate health
  • Anti-cancer properties

Healthy Brain Foods

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, omega-3 is enormously beneficial for the brain. With this in mind, we should be consuming a generous amount of foods that are rich in omega-3, particularly the EPA and DHA versions. These include:

  • Oily fish (sardines, anchovies, mackerel, tuna, salmon)
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Omega-3 enriched eggs (from hens fed special diets)

Regarding fish, we should be cognizant of the risks posed by mercury, which accumulates at higher rates in larger fish than in smaller fish. Sardines, anchovies, and mackerel can therefore be consumed as much as desired. Salmon and tuna, on the other hand, should not be «everyday» fish, unless they are from trusted sources and certified as being low in mercury.

The version of omega-3 contained in plant foods is also beneficial. These foods include:

  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Hemp seeds

In Part 1, we also discussed the interrelated nature of the gut and the brain. Since brain health is so dependent on gut health, we should eliminate the latter’s biggest antagonists, namely gluten and dairy.

Gluten is one of the biggest contributors to gut inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and leaky brain.25, 26 The goal should be to eliminate all gluten-containing cereals from our diets. Similarly, dairy is a highly inflammatory food, which should be eliminated or minimized.27 Note that sheep and goat milk have different compositions compared to cow milk, which make them more tolerable for most people. Additionally, fermentation greatly enhances the nutritional status of dairy. With this in mind, kefir, yogurt, and cheese products would be preferable compared to ordinary plain milk. Lastly, the main compounds in milk that induce inflammation and other gut problems are casein (a milk protein) and lactose (a milk sugar). Therefore, foods like butter and nutrition products like whey protein, both of which exclude casein and lactose, are generally beneficial.

Brain Health Summary

To optimize brain health, we must understand its relationship to gut health, the microbiome, the HPA axis, the central nervous system, and many important molecules, like GABA, glutathione, and omega-3. On the foundation of this understanding, we must eliminate foods and stop lifestyle choices that compromise brain health, while incorporating herbal adaptogens, nutraceuticals, and specific foods that enhance brain health.

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