I recently attended an enlightening conference, The Evolution of Psychotherapy, where I had the pleasure of attending a seminar conducted by Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist, brain image specialist and prolific author who focuses on brain health. Here are some the the tips and suggestions that Dr. Amen shared specifically regarding brain health, which invariably affects our emotional health and well-being. The brain is the control center of the body and is involved in everything we do. The brain is too often neglected in both emotional health and physical health. If your brain is not functioning correctly, it is probable that you are not functioning properly. In the same way that each of us could make some changes that would improve our physical health, we can also make some changes to improve our brain health.
Our brain is mostly water and fat. To keep it healthy we need to eat plenty (around 30 – 40 percent of daily caloric intake) of good fat. Examples of good fat are nuts, avocados, coconut oil, olives and olive oil, hemp seeds and flax seeds.
Obesity is harmful to the brain and body. As weight goes up, the physical size of the brain goes down and brain functioning decreases. Fat helps produce inflammation – the beginning phase of all disease processes. Fat also stores toxins in the body – the more the fat, the more the toxins. Toxins aren’t good for the brain or body.
Vitamin D is important for weight loss since low Vitamin D deactivates leptin, a brain hormone that signals satiation or fullness. If leptin doesn’t work, we don’t get the proper signal to stop eating.
Interesting note: Men who have sex 3 times a week decrease heart attack risk by 50%. Unfortunately, the same is not true for women.
Our diet, which is supplemented way too much with corn products, soy and vegetable oil, gives us too many Omega 6 oils and not enough Omega 3 oils. The remedy for this is to check labels to avoid corn, soy and vegetable oil and supplement our diets with Omega 3 fats found in cold water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), nuts and flax seed.
People who are gluten sensitive have increased risk for both anxiety and depression and have decreased blood flow to the brain.
Sucralose, otherwise known as Splenda, was originally made as a pesticide. It works quite well as a pesticide and is used for that purpose in some farming communities! Not surprisingly, Splenda will also kill off the healthy flora in your gut.
Untreated depression had been shown to increase Alzheimer’s dementia two times in women and three times in men. Other conditions that can have a negative impact on brain functioning include chronic stress, untreated depression, unhealthy peer group, emotional trauma, lack of activity, nicotine and caffeine.
Here is what Dr. Amen recommended we do for increased brain health and functioning:
1. Mental workouts help strengthen the brain. He recommends learning something new 15 min each day.
2. Physical activity- weights, resistance training and coordination exercise (i.e. dancing)
3. Nutrition – ½ body weight in ounces of water, high quality foods and clean protein (hormone free, free range, grass fed), smart carbs – low glycemic (slow to convert to sugar in the body) and high in fiber- which are plants, eat a rainbow of colors daily for good antioxidants, the cancer fighters, and plenty of herbs and spices all of which have some healing properties in the body.
4. Probiotics put the good flora back into the gut. This is important since 90% of serotonin, the chemical involved in good mood, is located in the gut. Antibiotics kill the good flora in the gut. It is best to keep the gut balanced and working properly. Probiotics can be taken in supplement form or found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and kim chee.
Finally, Dr. Amen stressed that that emotional health in this country has been negatively affected by our diets. He further theorized that the rise in emotional disorders is likely due to the rise in food additives and genetically modified organisms. As such, gluten, dairy and food additive allergies may be causative factors in many emotional disorders.
Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist.