Key messages in this article.
The brain a complex organ that allows us to think and be conscious. When we starting wondering about the brain and how it functions we’re really looking at what makes us, us.
We’re talking about what it is to be conscious.
A crazy thing when you start to unravel thoughts and consciousness. Emotive and religious impulses can take over and then once we’ve gone through that crazy feeling of being finite and destructible. One day our consciousness will cease to exist and that’s a difficult concept for many people to grasp. I’m not sure I’m there yet.
Religious musing aside we’re in a tangible, influenceable world so what can we do to help our brains function better?
We then reprocess the flow and begin to see the science the black and white of how the brain actually functions and makes us feel, believe and behave in the ways it’s been programmed through its inputs, our upbringing our DNA – personality and behaviours choices over riding the processes to a certain extent.
Separating ourselves from the black and white biochemistry and biology of our being is a strange and wonderful process.
The plasticity of the brain is amazing new pathways can be built each time we learn new tasks or force ourselves to analyse problems or riddles and clues – these rebuild and our brain and potentially consciousness builds through this process. Our chosen behaviour affects this change.
But nothing can build without the correct nutrition – supplying the brain with adequate nutrients has to fuel the re breed of mindfulness training the rebirth of meditative actions and habits – coming forth now our environment takes on seriously stressful, complex and crowded tasks.
Supporting behavioural changes through optimising body and brain biochemistry is a fundamental tenant in the Amino Man functional medicine approach.
The brain a complex mesh of fat, powered by electricity, the master controller a web of neurons which constantly adjusts and updates – as long as we stimulate it with what it needs and feed it the building blocks and stimulating nutrients it requires.
The dry weight of the brain is 60% fat, primarily essential fats EPA and DHA along with phospholipids.
TOP BRAIN TAKE HOMES
The brain is plastic, in that it can develop and learn, evolve and build new systems at any age. Just like the muscles the brain need to be trained and stretched.
The stimulus for the brain to change involves learning new skills and this means practicing in the right way. In the learning style suited to the individual.
The dry weight of the brain is 60% fats and it’s predominantly made from essential fatty acids, EPA, DHA and DPA. Other fats are important for development (aracadonic acid) and a small amount of structural fat is also required (saturated fats).
Trans and hydrogenated fats interfere with brain formation, chemistry and can cause early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Our brain produces neurotransmitters these influence and control various aspects of our behaviour and metabolism. The better our brain functions the better we feel, think and perform.
The neocortex composes 76% of the brain and is primarily focused on the language processes in the brain. This may be why learning new languages is so protective to longer term brain health. The music and language learning process is different but housed in the same areas.
20% of the blood supply and 20% of the oxygen available to the body is used by the brain at any given time. A healthy blood supply and oxygen supply ensures good brain health. The brain uses a lot of energy and oxygen given it’s only 2% of the total bodies weight.
The primary fuel for the brain is glucose variations in glucose supply can alter energy and brain function. A steady supply is normally the key. The brain can also use ketones which are perhaps a more efficient brain fuel. There are therapeutic applications for ketosis and exogenous ketones relating to brain health and recovery.
Fasting assists neurogenesis, fast mimicking compounds also assist.
Protecting the heart and all behaviours associated with avoiding heart disease and metabolic syndrome also happen to be very healthy for the brain. A healthy hear normally ensures healthy brain function.
A healthy brain and neurotransmitter release ensures optimum levels of hormones like testosterone and melatonin are released.
Amino acids are used to build neurotransmitters.
Sleep is crucial for brain health, we consolidate memories, pay down new synapses and neurons and clean up debris which accumulate during the day.
Chronic stress has a highly negative effect on the brain, learning, depression and behaviour. Elevated long term cortisol can even shrink the brain’s prefrontal cortex. Short term stress is stimulating and helps the brain.
Short term stress associated with high intensity training also helps brain health and brain volume over time. Doing it keeps the brain healthy and strong.
Because stress management is so important for longer term mental health and brain function we’ll cover all that off in the adrenals, thyroid and immune system section.
Neurogenesis is boosted by fasting through stimulating AMPK – AMPK simulating herbs and nutrients can support this. Read the fasting chapter for more information.
Here’s a few key areas and nutrients which affect brain function and chemistry. I’ve kept the links separate as the hyperlinks sometimes don’t copy across that well.
Other key nutrients to support brain function include;
“The B-vitamins comprise a group of eight water soluble vitamins that perform essential, closely inter-related roles in cellular functioning, acting as co-enzymes in a vast array of catabolic and anabolic enzymatic reactions. Their collective effects are particularly prevalent to numerous aspects of brain function, including energy production, DNA/RNA synthesis/repair, genomic and non-genomic methylation, and the synthesis of numerous neurochemicals and signaling molecules”.
The brain needs most essential nutrients just like any other system or organ in the body. Neurotransmitters some listed below require cofactors for synthesis. The nerves and structures need essential fats and b-vitamins for formation and protection.
The brain consumes a huge amount of energy – therefore any nutrients associated with supporting energy production are highly useful to brain function.
Nutrients and brain function
Vitamin D is vital for protecting brain function especially as we get older severe vitamin D deficiency was associated with 125% increased likelihood of dementia and even a slightly deficient range increased this risk by 50%.
Inflammation plays a key role in brain function, depression and behaviour.
Brain evolution and DHA
Exercise and neuroplasticity
General brain health and DHA
Independent and shared roles of EPA, DHA and DPA
Relationship between saturated and trans fat intake and brain health
Top 10 good things for the brain
- Stimulus + learning new tasks and skills
- Good fats
- B-vitamins + other essential nutrients
- Vitamin D / Sunshine
- Practice and making mistakes
- Clean food, air and water
Top 10 bad things for the brain
- Lack of stimulus
- Isolation and lack of interaction
- Bad fats
- Lack of good nutrients, b-vitamins and other essential nutrients
- Lack of vitamin D / sunshine
- Lack of goals
- Toxins + processed food
In terms of changing the way you think to protect brain function the fundamental way to begin doing this is to limit the amount of time you allow the reptilian brain to engage you into stressful outcomes. The part of the brain is basic. It responds to stress quickly and often aggressively although it can also incur a flight or freeze response. The conscious ‘higher brain’ controls most of these functions, but is a stressor by passes this then we get an instant ‘hit’ of stress hormones. In terms of longevity this is fine, as long as you quickly go back to ‘stasis’ or equilibrium. If you stay switched into the stress response, damage can occur – damage to neurons and perhaps more importantly the inability to being repair of these vital neurons can’t work efficiently in a stressed state.
A relaxed brain repairs and learns much more efficiently.
As we age we need to protect the brain from glycation and neuron bundling. The best way to do this is follow practices which are known to be good for the heart. Healthy heart normally = healthy brain. Anti-glycation elements include alpha lipoic acid, carnitine, CO Q 10 and fat soluble B1 benfotamine. We discuss these in detail elsewhere in the boo.
Again the best way to get these is from supplements, food sources don’t really match the dosages, effects or purity of the types you can get from a balanced supplementation programme. Meat’s contain carnitine as an amino acid, CO Q 10 occurs in liver and offal, along with alpha lipoic acid. For the b-vitamins again organ meats are the best source for these or marmite / vegemite as well as the sources listed below.
Some of the best natural food sources for vitamin B1 are from: whole grain products, whole rice, wheat germ, brewer's yeast, egg yolk, peanuts, bananas, sunflower seeds. The special, fat-soluble, food-form of B1 called benfotiamine is only obtained from crushed garlic, onions, leeks and shallots.
Amongst many others. Cooking methods influence this massively with a reduction in AGE forming compounds during cooking playing a massive in reducing glycation load
- Cooking at lower temperatures and for shorter times
- Cooking in a fluid / steamy environment
- Cooking with abundant spices and herbs
- Cooking with lemon juice or vinegar
- Marinating your meats before cooking
- Avoiding burnt, charred or excessive grilled meats or foods
- Avoiding high AGE foods e.g. roasted duck, donuts, cakes and granola in excess
Charred and well-done meats can contain heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are cancer-causing compounds that form when meat is seared at high temperatures. Try adding rosemary and thyme to a marinade and soak the meat for at least an hour before cooking. Researchers at Kansas State University say the spices have antioxidants than can help cut HCAs by as much as 87 percent!
Kanithaporn Puangsombat and J. Scott Smith, Inhibition of Heterocyclic Amine Formation in Beef Patties by Ethanolic Extracts of Rosemary, Journal of Food Science T40-T47 (2) (11, January 2010) [Correspondence: J. Scott Smith, Professor, Graduate Program Chair, Animal Sciences and Industry Department, Food Science Institute, Kansas State University
My cat once has the most awful of all fights, I saw it. She made her way back afterwards – home and within a few minutes was complete at rests, scarred and bleeding but purring and safe. Any human would normally have been switched on for days afterwards. We need to take a leaf from the cat’s book and switch on and off as we need. The mindfulness techniques of the ancient samurai are a great place to start, daily readiness for death meant daily preparation for death, after all in a death ready state – what do you have left to lose?
Their practice of meditation often occurred at night, they’d imagine all their friends burying them saying goodbye – lying in their grave dead – after a series of mindful breathing techniques which to be fair they’ve have known since they were able to speak.
The quickly we can incur a relaxation response after a stressful event the more we can stay in stasis and only switch onto stress when we need to – the more we nourish our hearts, brains and systems with the right nutrients the better able we will be to mount successful and aggressive stress responses and then be asleep by the fire with our loved ones afterwards – with no worries in the world (until we need them next) the better we will age and the better we will function.
Maybe the world will be a better place as a result.
Supporting neurotransmitter production supports optimal hormone function
What are neurotransmitters?
The saying where the mind goes the body will follow is never truer when it comes to keeping T levels high and avoiding depression. Maintaining a healthy brain chemistry is key. There’s links between lower levels of neurotransmitters and lower levels of drive, determination, happiness, sleep and testosterone levels. Specifically, lower dopamine lowers T levels and higher levels increase T levels, drive to train and compete along with sex drive. The cheapest way to increase dopamine is to purchase the amino acid tyrosine. If you want more overall brain support consider an all in one nootropic such as focus formula www.aminoman.com which contains gram levels of aminos, botanicals and cofactors for optimum brain function, memory, healthy mood state and bloods flow. Of course the brain is primarily composed of essential fats DHA and EPA – so eating clean oily fish 4 x per week and sticking to genuine grass fed meat is also a fabulous idea.
A positive mental attitude and healthy brain will product essential neurotransmitters to keep testosterone levels high, in turn normal T levels help with all neurotransmitter production.
There’s a saying in the functional medicine community, good for the heart = good for the brain. It’s true that most habits and supplements which help with heart health also help with brain health. There’s a few ways to keep heart healthy, one of the best is to maintain great circulatory system. This by the way is also a great way to make sure you get daily wood. E.g. strong am erections. These rely on 3 things, strong circulation, high levels of dopamine and high levels of morning testosterone. In fact, morning wood often reflects directly on your daily free testosterone production. We’ll deal with T boosting supplements in a moment.
Right now, the best single way you can increase blood flow is by increasing nitric oxide production. The best way to do this is by increasing nitric oxide pre-cursors and facilitators. Really good nitric oxide production can be achieved with citrulline malate, an additive and synergistic effect can be attained by using vinitroplus a high dosed polyphenol complex made from apple and grape skins. It takes 2.5kg of grape skin and 500g apple skin to make one single tablet.
Maintaining vascular flexibility and blood flow is a corner stone to aging gracefully and keeping morning wood going strong.
Neurotransmitter is the name given to a chemical produced within the body which communicates signals between a neuron (nerve-cell) and another cell. These same chemicals may be produced by an organ, rather than a nerve, acting as a chemical signal in either a specific area (a paracrine hormone) or around the whole body (an endocrine hormone). These chemicals are of great importance to a sportsman as they control the body’s responses to various stimuli.
So we produce these in the brain, the muscle and the adrenal glands. Certain supplements can assist with upregulating our natural production of these critical compounds. As such we can enhance performance and delay fatigue with the right ‘set’ of interventions.
Adrenaline (or epinephrine) for example, is just one of several related chemical messengers that can act as a neurotransmitter or hormone to initiate a “stress response” within the body. It is one of a family of sympathetic hormones/neurotransmitters called the catecholamines, produced by the adrenal glands and within nerve-cells. The catecholamines are synthesised from phenylalanine and tyrosine
The synthesis of catecholamines
When exercising or feeling under threat, adrenalin is released, acting as a signal to break down energy reserves to fuel this “fight or flight” response. It also acts as a neurotransmitter, linking the relevant parts of the body and mind in coordinating the various components of this response. Blood is redirected to the muscles, the heart speeds up, and the body switches from storing energy to breaking down glycogen and fat to support increased activity. Areas of the brain where catecholamines work as neurotransmitters are involved in feelings of motivation and reward, making catecholamines essential for both the physiological and psychological aspects of sport.
Supplementing with tyrosine at 100mg / kg can help the body function under a number of different stressful situations (Banderet 1989).
Another important neurotransmitter in the brain is serotonin. Serotonin is synthesised from the amino-acid tryptophan (Fig 2), and is often released in parts of the brain involved in feelings of happiness. However, it may is also involved in signalling fatigue during exercise (Chaouloff, Laude et al. 1989).
Fig. 2; The synthesis of Serotonin
Ascribing a single effect to a neurotransmitter isn’t really appropriate, as it’s action will depend on the time and area of release as well as interactions with other events in the brain. As an example, a chronic imbalance in serotonin has been reported in overtrained marathon runners, that also effected it’s interaction with catecholamines (Conlay, Sabounjian et al. 1992). Trying to nutritionally balance the production and regulation of these chemicals, so the body can cope with a variety of different situations, is one of the main goals of nutrition.
5HTP – or tryptophan can help in a number of ways to encourage a relaxed less stressful outlook, assist sleeping patterns and help control carbohydrate cravings. Some people though find the opposite for sleep at least – although these are in the minority (1 in 30) approximately.
Start with 50mg and take more if you feel you need to. Taking in during the day or pre workout is not advised as it may take the edge of training and increase perception of pain during exercise.
Running on empty - Overtraining
Overtraining has been described as an imbalance between training and recovery that, in turn, leads to decreases in performance (Lehmann, Foster et al. 1998). Overtrained individuals often take far longer to recover and usually display hormonal, biochemical and inflammatory imbalances, including psychological impairments that may take months to correct. These imbalances may often be corrected with nutritional strategies.
The “parasympathetic type” of overtraining, is also referred to as “adrenal fatigue”. Essentially, this is the impairment of the “fight or flight” response due to decreased stress hormone action (Uusitalo, Huttunen et al. 1998).
Decreased circulating levels of catecholamines have been reported in male footballers following weeks of overtraining (Lehman 1998), as well as in female endurance athletes (Uusitalo, et al., 1998). However, elevated catecholamine release is also consistently reported in overtrained athletes (Hooper, MacKinnon et al. 1993). This may be due to a lack of catecholamine sensitivity. Elevations or falls in catecholamine levels may also reflect different stages of overtraining (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3; The Catecholamine Response in Different Stages of Overtraining
The best way to avoid over-training is to pay proper attention to recovery and immune function. To see an extract of perform and functions immune and over training guide please click here http://sportsnutritionvlog.com/immunesystem.htm
Dietary Nutritional Strategies and Supplementation Protocols to Support Neurotransmitter Function
A frequently used nutritional strategy to support neurotransmitter function is to provide the precursors for these chemicals, as well as providing cofactors (often vitamins and minerals) that support the metabolic pathways involved. Some would argue that actual depletion of neurotransmitters is unlikely given the body’s seemingly limitless capacity for synthesis (Thoren and Anniko 1986), but providing precursors also may work due their actions of stimulating gene transcription and indirectly boosting synthesis. Supporting and stimulating the body’s ability to produce neurotransmitters is the target of many nutritional interventions.
Tyrosine supplementation has been proposed as a method of regulating and maintaining adequate catecholamine levels. Supplmentation may have an impact on mood regulation by aiding the synthesis of dopamine (DA), noradrenalin and adrenalin (Balch 1997) levels are recommended at 100mg / kg.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Branched chain supplementation has been theorised to offer relief from central fatigue and overtraining (Gastmann and Lehmann 1998; Armstrong and VanHeest 2002) as BCAAs compete with tryptophan for the same transport proteins in order to cross the blood-brain barrier. An increased BCAA/free-tryptophan ratio has been seen to impact upon serotonin synthesis (Chaouloff, Laude et al. 1989), reducing central fatigue. For best effectiveness use 0.44g /kg for each hour of exercise, this can be split with half taken before and half after or sipped throghout.
Combining BCAAs and tyrosine can be very beneficial for supporting lean mass, accelerating fat loss and maintaining concentration and drive during workouts. It’s of particular benefit when training in the depleted state to enhance adaptation.
5HTP and Tryptophan
Some would suggest that dysregulated serotonin metabolism is involved in depression, as well as fatigue. Supplementation with these serotonin precursors has been seen to normalise neurotransmission in depression (Shaw, Turner et al. 2001), so may well be able to address any dysregulation in athletes that may cause fatigue.
With a subject as complicated as neurotransmition, the best strategy is often the simplest one
Providing the nutritents for neurotransmitter synthesis may well give the body the resources and the stimulus to put right any deficits and cope with demands of a hard-working athlete!
Essentially a few ways you can upregulate things;
Provide substrate = need to understand pathways.
Provide co factors either independently or in conjunction with substrate.
Increase receptor site sensitivity
Chiechio, S. l-Acetylcarnitine induces analgesia by selectively up-regulating mGlu2 metabotropic glutamate receptors. Mol Pharmacol(2002) 61: 989-996.