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The Care and Feeding of the Brain

by Charles K. Bens, Ph.D.

Feed your Brain!

The brain is probably our most complicated and influential organ because it is the control center for virtually everything that happens in our body. Whether we are working, playing, eating or sleeping it is the brain that decides how well we perform and the choices we make. In spite of this extremely high level of importance, it is amazing how little attention we give our brain in terms of what we feed it and how we pay attention to its needs. We take it for granted and then are quite amazed when we become distressed or disabled by some brain-related illness or disease. Consider the following list of very prevalent brain related difficulties.

Alcoholism

Memory loss/dementia

Alzheimer’s disease

Menopause

Anxiety

Parkinson’s Disease

Attention Deficit Disorder

Schizophrenia

Autism

Smoking dependency

Depression

Sleep disorder

Headache/migraine

Stress

Taken all together these brain-related ailments impact a significant proportion of our population, some health authorities suggest as many as 80 percent of the population. How can this be and what are the causes of these mental challenges? And, more importantly, are these mental challenges caused by, or made worse by, something that we consume or don’t consume?

The brain is part of our body, which consists of 60 trillion cells, all in need of nutrition in order to function properly. Without essential nutrients, these cells, including those in the brain, become stressed or toxic, which then inhibits their ability to function in the way they were intended to. Each part of the body needs certain specific nutrients, and the brain is no different, as we shall see in the analysis that follows.

Common Nutritional Deficiencies of the Brain

As doctors and scientists conduct studies on people with the aforementioned mental challenges they have identified various patterns including consistent nutritional deficiencies. Using a number of such studies and publications the following chart of common nutritional deficiencies was developed for the selected brain related illnesses.

Common Nutritional Deficiencies

Magnesium Calcium Vitamin B Vitamin C Vitamin E Omega 3 & 6 GABA Beta Carotene Amino Acids Zinc Hormones Co Q10 Potassium Lecithin Selenium

ADD/ADHD

X X X X X X X X X X X

Alcoholism

X X X X X X X X X X X

X

Alzheimer’s

X X X X X X X X X X X

X

Anxiety

X X X X X X X X X X X

X

Autism

X X X X X X X X X X X

X

Depression

X X X X X X X X X X X

X

Headache/Migranes

X X X X X X X X X

Memory loss/Dementia

X X X X X X X X X X X

X

Menopause

X X X X X X X X X X X X

X

Parkinson’s Disease

X X X X X X X X X X

X

Schizophrenia

X X X X X X X X X X X

Smoking dependency

X X X X X X X X

X

Sleep disorder

X X X X X X X X

Stress

X X X X X X X X X X X X

X

TOTAL 12 12 14 14 13 12 7 5 13 12 8 9 8 9

9

In this analysis fifteen essential nutrients were identified as the most commonly deficient nutrients for the selected brain related illnesses. An additional ten essential nutrients were also identified which also play a significant role in the health of the brain, especially related to some of the brain-related illnesses. Out of these fifteen essential nutrients, eight have been found to be deficient 85 percent or more of the time in the fourteen selected brain related illnesses. These deficiencies in rank order are as follows.

Essential Nutrient

Illness Deficiencies Identified

Vitamin

Deficiencies in 14 out of 14 illnesses

Vitamin C

Deficiencies in 14 out of 14 illnesses

Amino acids

Deficiencies in 13 out of 14 illnesses

Magnesium

Deficiencies in 12 out of 14 illnesses

Calcium

Deficiencies in 12 out of 14 illnesses

Vitamin E

Deficiencies in 13 out of 14 illnesses

Omega 3 and 6

Deficiencies in 12 out of 14 illnesses

Zinc

Deficiencies in 12 out of 14 illnesses

There were several other nutrients which were found to be deficient in the various fourteen brain-related illnesses, but these eight were clearly the eight most deficient. How do such consistent deficiencies occur and what action can be taken to correct these dietary patterns?

Why Nutritional Deficiencies Occur

The obvious reason for any nutritional deficiencies can be traced back to poor eating habits or poor assimilation of nutrients. However, before these eating related issues are examined it is important to establish the actual levels of deficiency for these eight essential brain nutrients. Patrick Holford, a brilliant nutritionist, has studied American eating habits extensively and has identified the nutrient intake for the average person, as well as someone considered to have an above average diet. These nutrient intake patterns can be compared to both the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for nutrients as well as the Optimal Daily Allowance (ODA) for nutrients. Most nutritional scientists agree that the RDA is totally inadequate and that most people need nutrients at the ODA level.

Nutrient

Average Diet

Good Diet RDA ODA Shorage ODA

Good diet deficiency %

1. Vitamin E (IU)

21

75 60 440 365

85 %

2. Vitamin C (mg)

100

200 60 2000 1800

90%

3. Vitamin B1 (mg)

2 5 1.5 35 30

85%

4. Vitamin B2 (mg)

2.18

5 1.7 35 30

85%

5. Vitamin B3 (mg)

39.6

50 20 85 35

41%

6. Vitamin B5 (mg)

2.175

20 10 100 80

80%

7. Vitamin B6 (mg)

3.1

5 2 75 70

93%

8. Folic Acid (mcg)

325.5

400 400 800 400

50%

9. Vitamin B12 (mcg)

5.95

10 60 1000 990

990%

10. Omega 6 (mg)

20 40 150 110

73%

11. Omega 3 (mg)

60

100 700 600

85%

12. Calcium (mg)

800

912.5 1000 87.5

8.75%

13. Magnesium (mg)

272

350 400 500 150

30%

14. Zinc (mg)

9.3 10 15 20 10

50%

15. Amino Acids (mg)

500 1000 NA 2000 1000

50%

The range of nutrient deficiency or shortfall between the good diet and the ODA is from a low of 20 percent to a high of 93 percent deficiency. The average deficiency for all nutrients combined was 66 percent of the Optimal Daily Requirement.

Two very significant conclusions can be drawn from this analysis. The first is the total inadequacy of the Recommended Daily Allowance. With so many people suffering from brain-related illnesses, which can be traced back to consistent nutrient deficiencies, it can be postulated that the nutrient guidelines established by the Federal Government certainly come into question for being too low. The second conclusion concerns the inadequate diet of even those people who are eating better than the average person does. A 66 percent deficiency in brain essential nutrients is quite significant, especially since these are people with a so-called “good diet.” The average person is deficient by 76 percent, which raises the question of how these deficiencies are occurring in a country with such a high level of economic prosperity. These deficiencies are very consistent with the nutritional deficiencies identified for common mental challenges on the previous chart.

The American diet has been evaluated quite often over the past several years and the common deficiencies have been duly noted. It is quite clear that the average person does not eat enough fruit, vegetables, whole grains (not wheat) and cold water fish, just to mention the most obvious shortfalls. However, when considering the nutrient needs related to brain health it might be useful to look more carefully at what foods are not being consumed in order to create the substantial nutritional deficiencies just noted.

Food Deficiencies

Nutrient Food Sources
Vitamin E

Whole grains, eggs, non-cow meat, cold-pressed oils, nuts, oatmeal

Vitamin C

Tomatoes, cherries, citrus fruit, berries, broccoli

Vitamin B1

Nuts, poultry, fish, whole grains, non-cow meat, brown rice

Vitamin B2

Non-cow dairy, eggs, nuts, whole grains

Vitamin B3

Broccoli, carrots, non-cow dairy, eggs, fish, beef liver, tomatoes

Vitamin B5

Eggs, vegetables, beef, legumes, nuts, salt water fish, whole grains

Vitamin B6

Non-cow milk, cabbage, whole grains, brown rice, green vegetables

Folic Acid

Barley, brown rice, non-cow cheese, chicken, green vegetables, fish

Vitamin B12

Eggs, non-cow dairy products, soybeans, sea vegetables, herring

Omega 6

Cold pressed oils (flax, borage, etc.), salmon

Omega 3

Cold pressed oils (flax, borage, etc.), salmon

Calcium

Green vegetables, sardines, non-cow dairy products, salmon, tofu

Magnesium

Seafood, non-cow dairy products, fruits, vegetables, whole grains

Zinc

Egg yolks, fish, whole grains, seeds, poultry, legumes

Amino acids

Non-cow meat products, eggs, non-cow dairy products, soy products

Upon close examination of the best food sources for the brain deficient nutrients, we can see some of the foods that people should eat more of. Whole grains (not wheat) are vital and most people are eating highly processed grains. Fruits and vegetables are a dominant source of many nutrients and studies consistently report that most people do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Nuts and fish are also rich sources of many of these nutrients, and once again the average person does not regularly consume them.

Even if people did eat more of these desirable foods this might not be enough to change a person’s tendency to experience a brain-related illness or disease. Zolton Rona, M.D., has stated that a person would need to eat six large meals every day in order to get all of the nutrients they need from the food they eat. Dr. Rona and many other medical experts point to the loss of nutrients due to poor soil, long transportation time, processing and cooking of foods as the primary reasons why foods have lost 60-80 percent of their nutritional value over the past 50 years. And, there are many other reasons why our bodies often do not get the nutrients we think they are getting from the food we eat.

Why Eating Better May Not Be Enough

In addition to the loss of nutrients from the farm to our plates, there are other reasons why many people may not be getting enough nutrients to keep their brains happy.

Toxicity – Our bodies are subjected to many environmental pollutants in the form of pesticides, air pollutants, food additives, manufacturing chemicals and much more. This toxic load is stressful to the body and the brain requiring the body to work overtime to get rid of these toxins. High levels of energy and antioxidants are needed to neutralize and expel these toxins that diminish the nutrients available for cell replacement and cell health.

Digestion – If food is not chewed properly, broken down by enzymes and acids in the stomach or further broken down by friendly bacteria in the intestines the nutrients in that food will not be properly absorbed. Many people have digestion problems due to the depletion of enzymes and hydrochloric acid (declines by more than 50 percent by age 50). Many people have depleted friendly bacteria from taking antibiotics. Health experts have estimated that as much as 80 percent of nutrients can be lost or unabsorbed due to these assimilation factors.

Cellular Assimilation – The final step in the assimilation of nutrients occurs at the cellular level. Cell membranes can become hard over time thus preventing the proper intake of nutrients and the outflow of waste. This hardening occurs due to the consumption of foods high in saturated fat or high in sugar as well as the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Cells often harden as a defense mechanism but in the long-term, this deprives the cells of the nutrients they need to function properly and causes waste to accumulate in the cells. This can lead to DNA damage.

Biochemical Individuality – Dr. Roger Williams, a brilliant biochemist, was one of the first scientists to establish that some people have different nutritional needs than others. According to his research, these needs can vary by as much as 30 times, which is 3000 percent. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer built on this basic research during his research into the nutritional needs of people suffering from anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. Dr. Pfeiffer found that many of his patients needed super doses of nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and various B vitamins. In most cases, he was able to find a dose that returned his patients to very acceptable levels of normalcy and they were able to sustain these levels as long as they took the recommended dosages of these nutrients. This research has been confirmed by many others including Dr. Joan Larson who has been building on the work of Dr. Williams and Dr. Pfeiffer.

The bottom line is this. Even if you go through detoxification, eat a healthy diet, take extra supplemental enzymes, restore friendly bacteria levels, keep cell membranes soft and eat an excellent diet, you may still need to take certain supplements in order to achieve optimal brain health.

Why Drugs Are Usually Not the Best Option

For each of the fourteen brain related illnesses originally listed there is a pharmacological answer offered by conventional medicine. Whether it is Prozac for depression or Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopause most doctors only know how to treat these illnesses with drugs. This is unfortunate because many of these drugs have serious side effects including liver damage, heart attack and the encouragement of cancer cell growth. There are some medicines that are relatively safe and very effective but even these drugs do not correct the basic nutritional deficiency of the patient. These drugs are usually designed to fool the brain into thinking something happened when it really hasn’t or to by-pass certain reactions in order to avoid the brain related symptom.

The first line of therapy should almost always involve a series of health improvement actions including detoxification, stress management (i.e. yoga, meditation), exercise (to help produce endorphins), diet change, lifestyle change (stopping alcohol or smoking) and supplementation. With these changes, most people suffering from one or more of these brain-related illnesses can achieve an impressive decline in symptoms and a return to good health.

The Perfect Example: Smoking Cessation

The fourteen brain related illnesses covered in this article have various origins and causes including genetic predisposition, workplace pressures, family pressures, hormone imbalances, age deterioration, lifestyle

A classic example of the benefits of using a natural approach, including nutrition, can be seen in a new program designed to address smoking addiction. The program is described in a book entitled, The Healthy Smoker: How To Quit Smoking By Becoming Healthier First. The theory behind this book is based on the fact that smoking is a stronger addiction than heroin addiction and as such is extremely difficult to overcome. Over 90 percent of smokers would like to quit but 90 percent of those who try to quit fail and are smoking again within 18 months. The second part of the theory behind this book suggests that the body, and the brain, can become less dependent on the addictive ingredients in tobacco by gradually making the body healthier with some relatively easy lifestyle and health changes. Some of the suggested changes include:

  • Sauna or steam baths for detoxification
  • Massage for detoxification and stress relief (endorphin production)
  • Exercise (walking, swimming, etc.) for improved oxygen delivery, improved detoxification, improved nutrient delivery, and the production of endorphins
  • Taking supplements for nutritional enhancement, cell recovery, detoxification, craving control, extra energy and stress reduction
  • Deep breathing for oxygen delivery, endorphin production, and lung development
  • Nutritional changes to reduce harmful foods, increase energy, improve cellular health and assist detoxification

There are many other healthy strategies to choose from in this book but the primary focus of these changes is to begin slowly with things that are much easier to do than quitting cold turkey. Over a three month period, smokers are guided through a gradual step-by-step improvement in their health, which allows them to begin cutting back on the number of cigarettes they smoke each day. There is even a plan to select the best cigarettes to eliminate and a recommended craving spray to help smokers get past those very tempting times when they are used to smoking. Gradually the body and brain get back some of their lost resiliency as cells become healthier, nutritionally produced neurotransmitters replace the ones induced by smoking and the body actually starts to reject the toxins and addictive agents contained in tobacco.

The proof of efficacy for the Healthy Smoker program comes primarily from two sources. The first is the 125 scientific studies that support every recommendation from sauna and massage to the health benefits of supplements such as taurine and turmeric. Every supplement and diet change recommended has been proven to neutralize and/or reverse the damage done by smoking to the body and the brain. The second proof of efficacy comes from a similar program for alcoholics developed by Dr. Joan Larson. For nearly 25 years Dr. Larson has been able to achieve an astounding 74 percent success rate in helping alcoholics to quit drinking and remain not drinking. This is impressive when you realize that Alcoholics Anonymous and other similar programs only have a 15-25 percent success rate. Dr. Larson’s program stresses detoxification, diet change, supplementation and other natural therapies in much the same manner as The Healthy Smoker Program.

The bottom line is taking a common sense approach to becoming healthier first as a way to improve the chances of successfully quitting. Even ex-smokers or those subjected to second-hand smoke would be wise to adopt the Healthy Smoker Program. Recently newsman Peter Jennings died of cancer even though he had quit smoking twenty years ago. Perhaps he could have avoided this disease had he been more aggressive in his efforts to improve his health using a program similar to The Health Smoker Program. This delayed disease occurrence is commonplace and is clear evidence that quitting is not enough. The quick and easy smoking cessation efforts such as the patch, the shot, and gum not only don’t work for most people, they do not make you as healthy as you should be to avoid future disease.

The Health Smoker Program requires some effort on the part of the would-be quitter. But if the goals are to be successful in quitting and become healthier as well, then this is the program that can deliver on these goals. More information on this program can be found at www.behealthyatwork.com.

References

  1. Prescription for Nutritional Healing by James Balch, M.D.
  2. Optimum Nutrition for the Mind by Patrick Holford.
  3. Biochemical Individuality by Roger J. Williams, Ph.D.
  4. The Brain Chemistry Diet by Michael Lesser, M.D.
  5. Brain Recovery.com by David Perlmutter, M.D.
  6. Depression Free Naturally by Joan Mathews Larson, Ph.D.
  7. Nutrition and Mental Illness by Carl C. Pfeiffer, Ph.D., M.D.
  8. The Edge Effect by Eric R. Braverman, M.D.
  9. Genetic Nutritioneering by Jeffery Bland, Ph.D.
  10. The Healthy Smoker: How To Quit Smoking By Becoming Healthier First by Charles K. Bens, Ph.D.
Photo – Copyright: sifotography / 123RF Stock Photo

 

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