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How does dietary fat consumption affect the brain?

Did you know that the make up of your cell membrane depends on what you eat? In that sense, you are what you eat. The way your brain talks to your body is via cell-to-cell communication along nerves or neuronal tissue. If you eat a lot of trans fats such as those found in vegetable shortening, fried foods, and arachadonic acid found in red meat, these fats send an inflammatory signal to the nervous system.

Inflammation in the nervous system causes in increase in glutamate, which is an excitatory chemical in the brain. This can lead to symptoms of anxiety, hyperactivity, addictive tendencies and in-attention. Increase in inflammation and glutamate in the brain long term from chronic excessive brain firing causes neuron damage. This contributes to degenerative diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease develop due to the oxidative damage this excessive inflammation produces. Also, consumption of inflammatory fats make cell membranes hard and rigid, blocking cell-to-cell communication.

If you eat lots of omega-3 fats found in fish, flax and walnuts your cell membranes are nice and malleable improving the structure and function of receptors on the cell. This allows for brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine to communicate better with the cell helping positive mood, attention and memory. Another large component of cell membranes are phospholipids such as phosphatidyl choline and serine, which are found in high concentrations in the brain. They help balance stress hormone levels, decrease anxiety, improve memory, improve mood, and decrease aggression. Phospholipids can be found in lecithin, soy lecithin, egg yolks, sardines and nuts.  

Many studies show a correlation between depression and deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids. According to the journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging, DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid is “one of the major building structures of membrane phospholipids of the brain and absolutely necessary for neuronal function”. The British Journal of Psychiatry, Did a study on prisoners. One group had their regular prison diet, and the other group was supplemented with Omega-3 fats. The prisoners who were given omega-3 fats had a 35% reduction in violent crime in prison. I’ve seen in my practice patients having great symptom improvement from depressive mood, anxiety and improvement in focus on a therapeutic dose of EPA and DHA.

Often times we think of supplements that are neurotransmitter specific first when seeing brain issues, but it is important to remember that basic nutritional sufficiency can make a very large difference in neurology. Be careful of low fat fad diets, as these diets often compromise brain function and lead to teenage learning problems and depression. Your brain needs fat to function, so eat the good fats.



How do you know the quality of your supplements?

The answer is sometimes an enigma. Two bottles may seem to have similar ingredients but one is clinically effective and the other not. For those that are not clinically effective, it can be a costly mistake.

My microbiology professor in medical school ran an experiment on probiotic supplements, culturing many different brands. Of the several brands she tested, unfortunately only three brands matched the advertized label. All the other probiotics did not meet label claims, for example, if the bottle claims 10 billion lactbaccilus accidophilus per servings, only about 4 billion were present indicating the product was not manufactured to be shelf stable. Even more shocking she found that some brands contained unwanted bacterial contaminants.

This is why I take the time to research supplements I use for my patients to ensure that they recieve the quality that they pay for and that they do not inadvertently get pesticides, heavy metals, PCBs, unwanted microbes in their products. I may not be able to tell if a certain product found on the internet is of good quality, because it is not possible to put hours of research to investigate the quality control protocols of the many companies that are out there.  I am however careful to choose products in my practice i can be confident that are of the highest quality.

When you purchase supplements, ensure that they are GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) certified. For example, Metagenics, a company I use in my practice is certified by three third party GMP organizations, one of which is an Australian agency, TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) who's standards are 10 times  stricter than the FDA in the United States. Metagenics is the only company to achieve GMP certification from 3 leading external quality control agencies. That is not to say that there are not many other wonderful companies who manufacture products that are effacacious, environmentally friendly, and pure.

The shocking video below shows how supplements can be manufactured in people's home kitchen, and illustrates that nutritional supplements vary in quality. It is important to do your research or consult a health professional who is knowledgeable in this field. However, this article is not intended to create paranoia about supplements but to empower you to choose sources that are manufactured properly, meet label claims, and give you what you pay for. The graph (right) shows how safe nutritional supplements are compared to medications even if some were not manufactured in "Cadillac" quality facilities. In 2008, the US had 48,700% more AERs (Adverse Event Reports) for prescription drugs compared to supplements. According to the FDA, an AER is anything from a concern that a supplement isn’t working, to a serious illness that follows the consumption of said supplement. In conclusion, using a natural product is still more safe, produces less side effects, and is less invasive than prescription drugs.


Keeping Your Immune System Strong

1. Hot and Cool Showers: You have heard the old wives tale about catching a cold when you get chilled. Even though western medicine says that it is a myth, it may have some truth to it. While you do not necesarrily "get" a virus from the cold, energy may be diverted away from your immune system when you are chilled in efforts of keeping your body temperature stable.

Hot and Cool showers are different because you are exposing yourself to about two rounds of 15-30 seconds of cool water when your body is already warm from the hot shower. That burst of cold actually trains and stimulates your vascular system to constrict faster in response to cold, thus better preserving the heat in your body. You may notice that after taking hot and cool showers for a while that you feel warmer and retain heat better in the cold months. Also brief cold water exposure increases your white blood cells, interleukin-4 and gamma interferon which help fight viruses.

2. Laugh: Laughing and enjoying company can raise endorphin levels (happy hormones), which have a possitive effect on decreasing your stress hormones such as cortisol, and balance your immune system. If your family is stressing you out, try cracking some jokes. You may find that even if you force yourself to laugh, pretty soon, you truly feel happier.

A field of medicine called psychoneuroimmunology studies the relationship of your mood with your nervous sytem and immune system. A research article titled, Sociability and Suceptibility to the common cold showed that people who were more sociable had a lower probability of developing the common cold. Sociability in this study was associated with extraversion, agreeableness and positive relationship style.

3. Vitamin C: When it comes to the immune system, we always think about Vitamin C. Yes, taking 1000-3000mg of vitamin C with bioflavonoids daily during the winter months is a great way to give your immune system a boost. I find that if you feel run down, immediately taking 500-1000mg of vitamin C every hour can in some cases prevent you from geting sick. If your stools get loose, decrease your dosage of vitamin C, but many people can easily tolerate 10,000mg of vitamin C a day.

It is important to recognize the beginning signs of fighting an infection and learn be in tune with your body. Once you come down with a cold, you will still have to go through it, so it is easier to prevent one. Sometimes people will only feel more tired as a sign that they are fighting a virus, and will have no cold symtpoms. Other symptoms that you are possibly fighting a virus may be back pain, headache, feeling more moody, sneezing, or a light tickle in the throat. If you can learn to feel and quickly take action when you have a virus coming on, you've now learned a new tool to increase your chances of eleminating the bug before you even get sick.

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