• Health Coach Jessica

Brains on Fire

Worldwide, depression will be the single biggest cause of disability in the next 20 years. But unfortunately, treatment for it has not changed much in the last three decades. In the world of psychiatry, time has apparently stood still... until now.


For many years, the medical field has only looked at medication to treat depression, and has not fully acknowledged the connection between mood and food.


Today, things are looking up, albeit slowly. As more research is carried out in the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry as well as neuroimmunology – the study of disorders affecting the immune and nervous systems, scientists are uncovering the correlations between not only what you eat, how you feel, and how you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut.


To see the effect of inflammation on the brain, let’s take a quick look at the research that's been done. Groundbreaking research carried out by neuroscientists like Professor Edward Bullmore, author of The Inflamed Mind, suggests that antibodies made by a rogue immune system may attack the brain, causing inflammation and resulting in depression, and possibly other neurological disorders as well.


The amazing story of journalist Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire: my month of madness, later made into a gripping movie, is indeed encouraging for those who are experiencing seemingly inexplicable bouts of “madness.” She started off feeling “not quite herself,” experiencing tiredness, insomnia, and mood swings preceding paranoid delusions and hallucinations. “I nearly jumped out of the window…,” she shared.


Following a brain biopsy that revealed inflammation, she was subsequently tested positive for anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a disease in which the body’s own antibodies attack the brain.


Says Professor Carmine Pariante of Kings College UK, “We think that the immune system is the key mechanism… life events trigger changes in the immune system, priming it to increase the risk of depression.”


Looking at nutrition is indeed not a panacea, respecting the fact that not everybody is depressed for the same reason, but nonetheless, eating healthfully can certainly do no harm.


Anti-Inflammatory Foods


Below are 10 foods and nutrients that may help you clear the inflammation in your body (and brain) and beat depression:

1. Dark Leafy Greens: A Nutrient Dense Inflammation Fighter

Antioxidants are crucial to help you fight free radicals. Free radicals are damaged molecules that can build up in different cells in the body and cause problems, such as inflammation, premature aging, and cell death.

The brain may be more prone to this type of damage than other areas of the body. As a result, it needs a good way to get rid of these free radicals and avoid problems. Foods rich in antioxidants are believed to help reduce or reverse the damage caused by free radicals.


2. Walnuts: Rich in Mind-Boosting Omega-3

In a study posted to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, researchers observed that populations that do not eat enough omega-3 fatty acids might have higher rates of depressive disorders.

Eating omega-3 fatty acids may increase the level of healthy fats available to the brain, preserve the myelin sheath that protects nerve cells, and keep the brain working at the highest level. In turn, this can reduce the risk of mood disorders and brain diseases occurring.


Good sources of omega-3s include: cold water fish, such as salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel; flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and chia seeds; nuts such as walnuts and almonds.


3. Avocado: Brain Power with Oleic Acid

Avocados are a rich source of potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sodium, iron, vitamin E, A, C, K, copper, zinc and many other mineral components. It’s also full of natural omega 3 fatty acids and glutathione, the ultimate master antioxidant that can enhance nutrient metabolism and immune-system health.


And the best part is, it helps your body absorb the carotenoids in other vegetables, so simply adding a few slices of avocado in your salads will enhance absorption of nutrients up to five times more!


4. Berrylicious Cell Repairing Antioxidants

Berries are a delightful way to increase necessary cell repairing antioxidants in your body. They are chockful of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and folate, with phytochemicals and flavonoids that may help your body cells to repair and renew.


5. Tomatoes: Packed with Depression Fighters

Tomatoes are a rich source of the carotenoid, Lycopene, vitamins A, B, C, K and essential minerals like iron, phosphorus, calcium and potassium. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant. Tomatoes also contain glutathione.


6. Fatty Fish & Fish Oil: EPA & DHA Brain Boosters

There’s no doubt that we need eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to boost brain function, and what better source of these omega-3 fatty acids than fatty fish and fish oils.


In a study posted to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, researchers observed that populations that do not eat enough omega-3 fatty acids might have higher rates of depressive disorders.

Fatty fish like trout, salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and tuna are also rich in essential minerals like iron, calcium, zinc, selenium and phosphorus and vitamins A, B and D. Selenium is necessary for building up of tissues, hair, nails etc. while Vitamin D helps boost glutathione level.


And not forgetting that fish is an excellent source of easy digestible proteins (amino acids, like tryptophan for building serotonin – the happy hormone.)


7. B Vitamins: Essential Brain Vitamins

The B vitamins are indispensable in more ways than one. Not only are they essential in the formation of healthy red blood cells, and overall healthy functioning of the whole body, but I like to call them “Brain Vitamins” as they are especially valuable to the brain and nervous system. They help your body’s neurotransmitters pass signals between nerves.They help your cells produce energy and talk to each other. They help your body “read” genetic code so you can function at your best.


Especially important for those suffering from depression or mood disorders is vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine.


Good sources of B vitamins: salmon (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12); leafy greens (B9); liver and other organ meats (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12); eggs (B2,B5, B7, B9 and B12); beef (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12); chicken and turkey (B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12); and for the vegetarians, beans and legumes.


8. Mushrooms: Gut-Friendly Food

Rich source of quality vitamin D, which is associated with telomere length, as well as copper and potassium, riboflavin, niacin and selenium.


Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that works with vitamin E to protect against free radicals. Low selenium levels have been linked to poor moods. Selenium can also be found in supplement form or in a variety of foods, including whole grains, Brazil nuts, and some seafood. Organ meats, such as liver, are also high in selenium.


Meanwhile, Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many mood disorders, including depression. This vitamin is obtained easily through full body exposure to the sun, and there are also many high-quality supplements on the market that contain vitamin D.


9. Protein-Rich Foods: Rich in Tryptophan for Building Serotonin

Serotonin deficiency was once thought to be a major cause of depression. We now know that the link between serotonin and depression is very complex, but it does seem to influence depression in many people.


Serotonin is a chemical messenger that’s believed to act as a mood stabilizer. Studies show that serotonin levels help produce healthy sleeping patterns, and can have an effect on mood and behavior.


Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan. Serotonin isn’t found in foods, but tryptophan is. Foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin and vitamin B6 all tend to contain large amounts of this amino acid: Eggs, cheese, pineapples, tofu, salmon, nuts and seeds, turkey.


However, take note that the tryptophan you find in food has to compete with other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, so it may not have much of an effect on your serotonin levels. A better option may be supplementation.


So, for those who are not sure what are some good quality supplements they can rely on, I would recommend FitLine PowerCocktail which is chockful of vegetables, probiotics, B vitamins and highly bioavailable curcumin, with FitLine Omega3 and ProShape Aminos.


I will be writing in the next article on Foods to Avoid. Meanwhile, if you have any queries, write to me at coach@health-coach-international.com!


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