by Jeff Roberts |
“Can we change your human brain in just 15 minutes together? Sure, because there is something I know about you, you all eat food.” This remark comes from psychiatrist Dr. Drew Ramsey during a talk he gave for Revitalize, a live chat sector of MindBodyGreen.com.
“We can start making a change, giving you a more resilient, happier, smarter brain starting with your next meal, starting with your very first bite. That is the simple and delicious scientific truth. And it’s the truth, our human brains are in trouble” states Ramsey to an intrigued audience.
Our brain is a powerhouse of bio-chemical, electric impulses firing rapidly between your two ears. It is the essence of who you are, it holds your dreams, your aspirations, your thought patterns. But the brain is a sensitive organ, highly dependent on the nutrients you are choosing to feed it on a daily basis, and sadly, most of the population is missing these essentials.
Forgetting Our Vitamins & Minerals
Take zinc for example, a nutrient which is responsible for over 300 bio-chemical reactions in the brain. It is estimated that 2 billion people in our world do not receive enough zinc from their diets. Magnesium, a mineral that literally tells your brain, “Hey! Grow more!” is deficient in almost 70% of Americans’ diets. Omega fats are also essential to the function of every cell in the human brain, and unfortunately most people are lacking the nutrient.
A large majority of our social discourse has become consumed with healthy diets and how it relates to the prevention of obesity, heart disease and cancer. Ramsey explains that one of the biggest benefits of eating clean is for the healthy function of our brain. We can grow stronger, more ‘resilient’ brains by feeding it the right nutrients.
The keyword here is nutrition, a subject often neglected in the presence of our general practitioners, perhaps due to the lack of emphasis placed on nutrition in doctor’s med-school training, or perhaps due to the ease of prescribing a pill to quickly deal with a patient’s condition. Whatever the case may be, Ramsey believes that nutrition should be at the forefront of discussion when looking at any disease or disorder, whether physiological or psychological.
The top diseases around the world today include mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. As a result, some of the most prevalent medications prescribed are anti-depressants, with 1 in every 10 people using anti-depressants in America alone. Think about that statistic for a moment- something is clearly out of whack, and a large majority of researchers are now attributing this imbalance with our diet.
A Doctor’s Epiphany About Prescription Pills
“I was 28 years old when I wrote my first prescription for Prozac.” Ramsey admits. “I can still remember, I was working in the residence clinic and a young woman came in who seemed very irritable, sleepless and suicidal. [It was then] I began to feel the power of my prescription pad for the very first time.”
Ramsey goes on to explain how the lady had left his office with a prescription to Prozac and called his office the next morning thanking him for her first good sleep in months. Ramsey checked in on her over the course of the next month, the time it takes for anti-depressants to take full effect. A month later, she was back in his office for an evaluation, a happy, vibrant, sleeping woman. This moment hit Ramsey in a profound way.
“Then I wondered, what happened? What did I just do? Did I heal her? If I ‘fixed’ that brain, what was broken in it?”
The answer had to do with the massive anti-inflammatory effect that anti-depressants have on our brain.When a brain is inflamed, it is anxious, irritable and chaotic. Over time, anti-depressants reduce this inflammation, soothing the correlated psychological issues. It was then Ramsey asked the question, could diet also reduce inflammation in the brain, thereby eliminating the need for prescription pills?
What if a majority of people with mental health disorders really were suffering from a malnourished brain? Considering that prescription pills don’t work for a high percentage of patients, Ramsey states “we are in urgent need of more robust, more holistic health care methods. Food makes our brain grow, it’s a miracle.”
He confessed a guilt that was growing inside him, a guilt that likely exists in the conscience of other healthcare professionals as well, “the brain is the most delicate and complex organ on our planet, and I just felt I could have been doing something more than giving a prescription.”
Looking For The Right Nutrients
The human brain consumes about 400 calories a day, a ravenous organ when considered. It is truly electric. Each one of those hundred billion brain cells has the ability to continue to reach out and connect to more -essentially our brains can grow, with the proper molecules and chemistry. This, Ramsey says, is provided by the food we eat.
One of the brain chemicals essential to brain cell growth is called brain derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. It coaxes the brain to give birth to new brain cells. BDNF is promoted in diets which contain whole food nutrition. Conversely, BDNF levels drop in diets high in processed carbs and fats.
One of the most important factors when looking to improve our overall nutrition involves the consumption of foods based on their nutritional density, as opposed to total calories.
Take kale for example, the fibrous green leafy plant known for its distinct ‘crunch.’ There’s two reasons kale should be included in everyone’s diet. One, it feeds our natural microbiome, the healthy bacteria in our gut, which is in direct conjunction with our brain. And reason two involves the nutritional density of kale.
One cup of kale is 33 calories which contains 9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and a whopping 684% of vitamin K, a fat soluble vitamin essential in keeping our brains healthy. It is also a good source of the minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. It is literally nature’s multi-vitamin. You get more absorbable calcium than in a glass of milk. All in 33 calories.
Adding kale to your diet reduces inflammation of the brain, increases BDNF levels, promoting the growth of more brain cells, as well as clears your liver to allow more efficient detoxification.
Our brain is largely composed of fats, therefore the proper fats are also essential for cognitive function. Plant-based diet eaters can look to hemp, chia, or flax seeds for the same nutrients. Nuts and seeds also provide the brain with vitamin E, a fat-soluble nutrient which is used to prevent nervous system diseases like Alzheimer’s.
A study actually found people who consumed almonds and other nuts on a regular basis were less likely to have low levels of BDNF.
Beans and lentils are also fantastic brain foods. Lentils are rich in folate, a B-vitamin essential in making serotonin and dopamine, two important neurotransmitters.
When it comes to meat, Ramsey has a few thoughts. Although he doesn’t advocate for the complete restriction of meat in his patients’ diets, he does try to get them off of cheap, processed meat and onto a diet of more lean and higher quality meat- grass-fed, organic, or wild for example, so there is less toxins being consumed.
The Importance of Connecting To Our Food Supply Community
Ramsey ends his talk while discussing the importance of supporting local and organically grown food.
“We have to remember that our food is what connects all of us. The brain is an organ of human connection. And when we connect to our food supply, when we connect with our community, when you shake the hand of the farmer who grew your kale, when you go to that farmer’s market and you feel that connection of community, that also has a positive influence on your brain.”
Today we see the importance and implications of proper nutrition is finding its way into the mainstream discourse. There seems to be a health revolution of sorts taking place, with activities such as juicing and blending becoming commonplace in people’s daily routines more and more.
The notion of “you are what you eat” really couldn’t be more accurate, and hopefully soon we will see this trend and knowledge extending into the practices of both physicians and psychiatrists alike, potentially stifling the overuse of pharmaceutical drugs.
What are your thoughts on the idea of nutrition as mankind’s medicine? Do you feel physicians should be focusing more on the implications of proper nutrition rather than prescription remedies? Share with us below!
by Jeff Roberts