I never really thought too much about diet. I usually just eat, and it has gotten me through life quite well. My philosphy was always that everyone needs to find out what works for them in terms of food, and then just not get too dogmatic about it. Keep sensing and experimenting.
And I still feel that way. But I must admit that Norman Doidge’s lectures last week opened me up to the idea that eating might impact the state of the brain more than I had ever even considered.
More precisely, I am getting curious how eating habits can influence neuroplasticity and a brain affected by pathologies, on its path to healing.
Here is the essence.
- A healthy and adaptable brain requires healthy brain cells. The blood-brain-barrier is a major contributor to heathy cells, as it keeps toxins in check.
- The first line of defense against toxins, however, is the gut. So if the gut is not working well (“leaky gut”) and toxins get into the blood streams, they will start compromising the blood-brain-barrier.
- The result will be toxins, free radicals, waste, and infections/inflammations in the brain.
- A brain which is dealing with 3. will react in several ways – but the outcome will most likely involve difficulty to form new connections, cell death, noisy signalling or all of it together.
So the key takeaway for diet: Eating for neuroplasticity has a lot to do with maintaining or improving gut health!
In fact, Norman Doidge brought up three kind of pathologies that seem to be closely related to such a break-down of the gut and the blood-brain-barrier:
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (in this case, the cause is obviously some kind of blow to the head; it turns out, tough, that recovering from them – or the inability to recover from them – has a lot to do with food ingested).
So: It’s a good idea to eat in a way that eliminates or prevents the build-up of toxins, waste, infections and inflammation in the brain. Consider that those things accumulate over a lifetime and can very gradually deteriorate brain cell health. So what we commonly thinks as age-related decrease of brain function (like getting slower, forgetting things, trouble learning new things up to dementia and Alzheimer’s) may actually been a life-time of not enough intellectual challenges, stress - and toxins!
Ok, so what to do about the toxins?
Norman Doidge says: Avoid their intake through food. Which is not easy, as toxins are everywhere (even babys have about 200 toxins in their blood when they are born – some of these toxins were banned several decades ago!). But you can still do your homework:
- Buy and eat organic food, avoid GMO foods
- Filter your water. BRITA seems not to be good enough. He recommends Clearly Filtered, or reverse osmosis
- Don’t eat foods that you are sensitive to (which is kind of weird to say, but you might need to really get clear on what kind of foods do not make you feel well)
- Avoid mercury-loaded sea food and other heavy metal sources
- According to Doidge, dairy products and grains are problematic, for several reasons – seem to compromise gut health, and emulsifiers from e.g. bread add toxins. Best recommendation is to not eat them.
As for recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (e.g. concussions), he adds the following to the list:
- Polyphenols to decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines – contained e.g. in wild blueberries (now is the season!)
- Choline containing foods – (organic) eggs, turkey, collard greens (Kohlblätter), Brussel sprouts (Rosenkohl), Swiss chard (Mangold), cauliflower (Blumenkohl), asparagus (Spargel)
Do NOT eat:
- Hidden MSG aspartame
- Calcium supplements (since they are excitotoxic, i.e. they excessively stimulate nerve cells)
- Processed and GMO foods
- Coffee, Alcohol, cosmetics, antiperspirant (always a good idea to not eat the latter)
Supplements (as recommended by Dr. Muscinck, presented by Norman Doidge):
- Vitamins: B2, C, D3, E d-alpha with tocopherols
- R-alpha lipoic acid
- Omega 3, fatty acids, bias towards DHA
- Rhodiola, Hyperzine
* * *
So should we all now get obsessed with brain-healing foods and clearly filtered water?
I think when pathologies, infections, and inflammations are present – it can have a huge impact, as suggested by the Bredesen protocol, a breakthrough treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
As for the rest of us: Whatever you choose to do, it needs to be sustainable. So maybe it’s good to take it step by step. Buying organic, not eating processed food and filtering your water is easy to implement – completely eliminating grains and diary might be hard when they’ve been part of your diet forever. Maybe you can start by reducing, and seeing how it feels.
In the end, diet is just one of many key components for a healthy and flexible brain. Seeking novelty, challenges, and surrounding yourself by good people is just as important.
But it's good to keep in mind (haha!) that anything you feed your body will eventually show up in your brain. So it's your choice what you want to find there.