So what happens after we have been in a drunken stupor or high on drugs so frequently that it has messed with our mind? Is it game over for us?
No it’s not.
Our brain is a phenomenal organ – the most complex organ in our body! In brief, the brain regulates our body’s basic functions; enables us to interpret and respond to everything we experience; and shapes our thoughts, emotions, and behavior. The bad news is that drugs can alter important brain areas that are necessary for life-sustaining functions and can drive the compulsive drug abuse that marks addiction. The good news is that the brain can be rewired IF and WHEN we do some of the hard work. Just like exercise, the brain requires good nutrition, activity, and lots of repetition to reinforce new learning.
This week we are looking at how we can grow cognitively…and this first article will feature how we can improve our brain function DESPITE what has happened in the past.
Most drugs of abuse directly or indirectly target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that regulate movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. When activated at normal levels, this system rewards our natural behaviors. Over-stimulating the system with drugs, however, produces euphoric effects, which strongly reinforce the behavior of drug use—teaching the user to repeat it.
When some drugs of abuse are taken, they can release significantly more dopamine that natural rewards, such as eating and sex, do and result in a considerably more rewarding effect. In some cases, this occurs almost immediately (as when drugs are smoked or injected), and the effects can last much longer than those produced by natural rewards. The brain adjusts to the overwhelming surges in dopamine (and other neurotransmitters) by producing less dopamine or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals. As a result, dopamine’s impact on the reward circuit of the brain of a drug abuser can become abnormally low, and that person’s ability to experience any pleasure is reduced.
This is why a person who abuses drugs eventually feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable. Now, the person needs to keep taking drugs again and again just to try and bring his or her dopamine function back up to normal—which only makes the problem worse, like a vicious cycle. Also, the person will often need to take larger amounts of the drug to produce the familiar dopamine high—an effect known as tolerance.
Drug abuse and mental illness often co-exist. In some cases, mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia may precede addiction; in other cases, drug abuse may trigger or exacerbate those mental disorders, particularly in people with specific vulnerabilities.
Brain Gain: Your Brain is What YOU Eat…
Are you aware that 1 in 10 people in the USA are using anti-depressants? The top diseases around the world today include mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Many researchers are now attributing the imbalance with brain health to our diet. Do antidepressants heal or fix the brain when it is broken?
In actual fact, anti-depressants have a massive anti-inflammatory effect on the brain. When a brain is inflamed, it is anxious, irritable, and chaotic. Over time, anti-depressants reduce this inflammation, soothing the correlated psychological issues. Dr. Drew Ramsey has been considering whether mental health disorders are a result of a malnourished brain since prescription pills don’t work for a high percentage of patients. However, nutrient dense food makes our brain grow!
We can grow stronger, more resilient brains by feeding it the right nutrients. A happier, smarter brain starts with your next meal, starting with your very first bite! Our brain is a powerhouse of biochemical, electric impulses firing rapidly between our ears. It is the essence of who we are; it holds our dreams, our aspirations, and our thought patterns. But the brain is a sensitive organ, highly dependent on the nutrients we are choosing to feed it on a daily basis. Sadly, most of the population is missing these essentials.
Zinc is a nutrient responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the brain. It is estimated that 2 billion people in our world do not receive enough zinc from their diets. Magnesium, a mineral that literally tells your brain, “Hey, Grow more!” is deficient in almost 70% of Americans’ diets. Omega 3 fatty acids are also essential to the function of every cell in the human brain, and unfortunately (again) most people are lacking this nutrient too.
Some brain facts…
The human brain consumes about 400 calories a day. Each of our 100 billion brain cells has the ability to continue to reach out and connect. Essentially, our brains can grow with the proper molecules and chemistry provided by the food we eat.
One of the brain chemicals essential to brain cell growth is called brain derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF is a protein that is promoted in diets containing whole foods, including omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and flavonols from colourful fruits and vegetables. BDNF declines in diets high in processed carbs and fats.
Kale is a good super nutrient dense vegetable that tastes great sautéed in coconut oil, sea salt and garlic. It is rich in calcium, vitamins A, C, and K and minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus – a solid punch for only 33 calories in a cup!
Since our brain is largely composed of fats, proper fats need to be eaten for cognitive function. Fish and eggs contain omega 3 fatty acids as do hemp, chia, and flax seeds. Nuts and seeds also provide the brain with vitamin E, a fat soluble nutrient which is used to prevent nervous system diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Beans and lentils are also fantastic brain foods. Lentils are rich in folate, a B-vitamin essential in making serotonin and dopamine, two important neurotransmitters.
When eating meat, refrain from eating the cheap, processed meat and focus on eating a diet containing more lean and higher quality meat – grass-fed, organic, or wild – so that there are fewer toxins being consumed.
It is important to realize that dietary changes often affect brain function rather slowly and the full impact of any diet may take many months to be realized. So a stick-to-it attitude is crucial in order to see success long term.
I want you to have the best chance of making your life a success. That is difficult unless you have a healthy brain. So, since good nutrition also feeds your brain I want you to choose at least one serving of high quality meat and/or at least one of the foods I have mentioned above at each meal! You can do it; tell us below how you are making out in order to live long and prosper!
As usual, take what you want and leave the rest.