In my last article, 6 Science-Based Tips For A Healthy & Happy Brain, I gave natural ways to promote optimal mental health. In this article, I want to give you biggest negative life factors to get rid of to achieve the healthiest brain possible. These eight culprits from all areas of life will have a negative impact on your mood, and eliminating them will be another piece in the multifaceted puzzle of feeling your best:
Refined sugar and its many synonyms are ubiquitous on ingredient lists. For a healthy brain, the first thing you should dump is sugar. There are at least two potential mechanisms through which refined sugar intake could exert a toxic effect on your mental health. First, sugar actually suppresses activity of a key growth hormone in the brain called BDNF. BDNF levels are low in people with depression. Second, eating sugar-containing foods will trigger a myriad of chemical reactions in your body that will upregulate chronic systemic inflammation. Over time, inflammation will disrupt the normal functioning of your immune system, and wreak havoc on your brain.
There are many ways in which eating grains will affect your brain. Just like refined sugar, grains can cause inflammation in your body that will affect your brain. Grain proteins like gluten and lectins are also well linked in the literature with having a negative impact on your gut, which in turn affects your brain.
3. Artificial sweeteners
Those little yellow, blue and pink bags are wreaking havoc on your mood. In a double-blind study of the effects of aspartame on people with mood disorders, findings showed a large increase in serious symptoms for those taking aspartame. Fifty percent of aspartame is the isolated amino acid phenylalanine, which is neurotoxic and goes directly into the brain, depleting your serotonin levels. When you lower serotonin, it can trigger a variety of different mood disorders.
Monosodium glutamate or MSG is a processed flavor enhancer that is commonly added to many convenience food, soups, processed meats, Asian foods, and frozen dinners. MSG is an excitotoxin which can affect your brain chemistry and your body's endocrine (hormone) system. Sometimes it's difficult to spot a food containing MSG because it hides in food ingredient labels behind many different names, including glutamic acid, glutamate, autolyzed yeast protein, textured protein, natural flavors and hydrolyzed corn.
5. Toxic household products
There is no doubt that we are inundated with toxic chemicals in our world. As far as environmental toxins, there are some things that are out of our immediate control. With that said, here are many things that we can control what we are exposed to. Chemicals that are used in common household cleaning products have been linked to altered brain function. The majority of beauty products used today are filled with chemicals that will literally interfere with your body's hormones, affecting how you feel and think. These ingredients in beauty products are anything but pretty. The Environmental Working Group found that one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, many of them linked to hormone and mood disorders. Remember, your skin is your largest organ and highly absorptive. If you can't eat it, don't put it on your skin.
6. Heavy metals
Chronic heavy metal toxicity is overlooked as a factor for brain problems. There are two types of heavy metal poisoning: acute and chronic. Chronic heavy metal levels of mercury or lead can be an insidious issue for chronic conditions like depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue and brain fog, and can be linked to almost any mood or brain disorder. One reason why chronic heavy metal toxicity goes undiagnosed is because unlike acute poisoning, which is circulating in your blood, chronic metal toxicity has leached in your bodies tissues like your bones, fat, and brain. Because of this, a blood test might come back normal. Proper diagnostic testing is essential for this issue. Pulling the metals from the body using chelating agents and measuring those levels using a Urine Heavy Metals test is how I uncover this piece of the puzzle for my patients.
7. Chronic gut infections
To have a healthy brain you need to have a healthy gut. I've written extensively about a healthy gut in my MindBodyGreen series. Your gut is your second brain, with around 95 percent of your serotonin residing there. Underlying infections of yeast, fungus or bacteria will wreak havoc on your gut and brain. Many mood and brain disorders are linked to an unhealthy gut.
Everybody has a unique combination of factors that are causing them to feel the way they feel. A comprehensive health history, labs and customized health program should be designed for the individual.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian,The Inflammation Spectrum, and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.