Tips for a Better Brain and Better Mood

The relationship between food and mood has always been so central to my life, and I’ve struggled for years trying to get the best diet for myself so that I feel the best and most energetic I can. I’ve tried all sorts of things, and over the last ten years, I’ve tinkered with and learned what works – and what doesn’t – for me and my body and mind. I know too many carbohydrates crash my system, and I’ve learned how the role of stimulants and depressants (read: caffeine, sugar and alcohol) negatively play into my overall mood, sleep and ability to bring my full self to my life and the people in it.

I read this book recently, called “Grain Brain,” (Hatchette, 2013) that really made a lot of sense to me, and I wanted to pass along some tips I learned from it. Written by a neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter, the book explains a lot about the relationship between diseases of the brain and what we eat and how we live our lifestyles. He lays out solid tips to improve mood, energy and invest in the long-term aging of your brain.

Here goes:

A lot of the book repeats the the idea that gluten is really something that we shouldn’t be eating, and that it’s only really recently that it’s been introduced into our diets. Gluten is a protein composite that acts as an adhesive material that holds flour together to make bread products, like cookies, crackers, pasta, and pizza dough, and is found not just in wheat, but in rye, barley, spelt, kamut and bulgur. The “sticky” attribute in gluten interferes with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients.

Gluten consumption is linked with a host of behavioral and mental disorders. Gluten intolerance, or even celiac disease, has been implicated in studies linking it to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, and depression in adults. Gluten-free foods have become so widely popular now, that’s its easier than ever to incorporate them into your diet, and cut gluten out of your diet.

Gluten: is correlated with headaches, depression, ADHD and schizophrenia; there are cytokines, or mediators of inflammation on the cellular level, that block the production of much needed brain neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is needed in regulating mood.

Vitamin D: low levels are linked to depression and chronic fatigue, and is Vitamin D is responsible for mood regulation; Perlmutter says to aim for 5,000 IU daily.

Zinc: used to create and use the neurotransmitters in the brain, and helps keep memory sharp. One 2009 study the author sites shows that zinc can supplement antidepressant medication, and can enhance the effects of the drug with people experiencing major depression. 

Probiotics: can influence brain behavior and help alleviate stress, anxiety and depression by the production and absorption of neurochemicals to the brain like serotonin, dopamine and nerve growth factor, good for healthy brain and nerve function.

Coconut oil: he says to take one teaspoon daily, either straight or used as cooking oil. Coconut oil has been shown to help prevent and treat neurodegenerative disease states, and Perlmutter calls it “a superfuel for the brain,” which also reduces inflammation. Coconut oil contains beta-HBA, which improves antioxidant function, and stimulates the growth of new brain cells.

DHA: Is an omega-3 fatty acid, and represents more than 90% of the omega-3 fats in the brain. DHA helps to protect the brain. He says to aim for 1,000 mg/day, either through fish oil or marine algae supplements, and can be combined with EPA in supplement form.

Image of a neuron

As far as lifestyle things you can do, several are mentioned, including intermittent fasting, calorie restriction, meditation, exercise and the power of regular, deep sleep – all things that not only create a better, healthier you, but help you invest in better aging for yourself.

Not just to prevent from having issues down the road, like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or the like, making choices aligned in favor of your better health now pays off in the short term, through more energy, a happier mood, and ability to be better for the people in your life who need you at your best.

It’s important to talk with your doctor or medical professional before implementing these strategies, especially if you have a medical condition, and if you’re medicated for it. Of course, choosing to implement all of these tips won’t bulletproof you from medical issues down the road, or even emotional or mental problems today, but sometimes mental or emotional functioning is multi-tiered, meaning there are various layers to consider when trying to heal oneself, from the nutritional, to the mental, to the lifestyle choices we make.

Best of luck, and I hope you can get some value from these ideas. Thanks to Dr. Perlmutter for writing this excellent book.

About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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