The brain is the most complex instrument in the known Universe. An adult brain contains around 100 Billion nerve cells, each capable of forming thousands of connections with other cells. It is fascinating to ponder that all of our thoughts and memories are housed in a biological supercomputer made mostly of fat and water.
The brain is protected from the outside world by our skull bones, protective tissues called the meninges, and fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Life throws a lot at us - tumbles, falls, accidents - the good news is that most of the time we are able to quickly recover and return to our normal lives. However, with enough force or repetition, long-term damage may occur and will require lifestyle changes in order to heal.
The brain also protects itself from the internal world (our own bodies) via the blood brain barrier. The BBB is like a high-paid security guard, only letting in those they trust and keeping everyone else out. In other words, it tightly controls the movement of molecules in and out of the brain. There are many things circulating in our body that could harm the brain if it got past security. Sometimes our chosen behaviours prove to me more than the BBB can handle and we actually damage our brains from the inside.
Despite all its padding and security, the brain is susceptible to external and internal damage. Here are 4 things that destroy the brain, and how we can start to heal:
1. Chronic Stress
Stress is not some invisible force. It is the body's physiological reaction to perceived dangers. The body reacts by releasing various stress hormones into the blood stream such as adrenaline and cortisol. Short-term exposure to stress temporarily shrinks neurons (brain cells) but they recover once the stressful episode passes. The real danger is with long-term stress, which can result in more serious damage to an area of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is imperative for learning, memory, and perceiving the world around us.
What to do about it:
Write it out, pen to paper, what is the true source of your stress. The tip of the stress iceberg may be coming from your workplace or home life, but there are often deeper seeded issues to reflect on.
Talk it out. We all have blind spots that are tough to maneuver on our own. Counselling from a health professional such as myself is imperative; we need each other to heal.
Adaptogenic herbs can help, as can manual therapies such as massage or acupuncture. Even Vitamin C (dosed properly) can help curb cortisol levels.
Physical exercise and movement should not be discounted here. The key is to find something that you will repeat throughout the week. What is enjoyed is repeated! Also important to note that over-exercising can add to your overall stress.
2. Concussions, Contusions
It may be obvious to state that forceful or repetitive blows to the head are detrimental to brain health, but, it wasn't until nearly the 2010s that major sports organizations began to recognize the correlation between contact sports and concussions. Football players, hockey players, boxers, military personnel, and martial artists are at high risk of sustaining a brain injury. Accidents can also happen at home during seemingly benign activities. Always play safe and be aware of your environment.
What to do about it:
Regularly supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) and curcumin have demonstrated protective effects for brain injuries.
Improving musculature in and around your neck will greatly decrease risk of serious injury. Pay particular attention a muscle called the longus colli.
If an accident or injury has occurred, immediately go to the hospital and follow the doctor's advice that will likely include plenty of rest.
Creatine may be part of a comprehensive post-concussion protocol.
3. Repetitive Negative Thinking
It is said that humans have an ingrained negative-thinking-bias. This means it is completely natural to have negative thoughts, but we must be aware our chronic negative thinking patterns and strive to control them before they turn into long-standing issues. Negative thinking can also affect our physical health beyond the brain. Further, persistently engaging in negative thinking patterns may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
What to do about it:
Engage in more activities throughout the day that put you into flow-state or create a sense of satisfaction or enjoyment.
Learn and practice the 4 Rs of managing intrusive thoughts.
Chronic negative thinking, just like chronic stress, can create pro-inflammatory states in the brain and can damage neurons. Certain supplements that cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) can help heal the brain including curcumin, acetyl-l-carnitine, and gingko biloba. Please contact me for more information.
4. Junk Food, Drugs, Alcohol
There are a variety of things we can put into our bodies that will bring temporary pleasure at the tremendous cost of brain and bodily harm. The choices we make regarding what we eat/drink/input can all have significant impact on our brain health. I completely understand the need to seek comfort food or to relax with a few drinks every once in awhile. The issue arises when we lose our discernment and discipline and allow our bad habits to runaway from us. Junk food, drugs, and alcohol (and to a lesser extent digital media) can disrupt the way that our brain cells communicate with one another and can even cause cellular death.
What to do about it:
Be humble, realize you are human, and seek help. Naturopathic doctors such as myself are trained in the realm of mental health and addictions. We have our limitations but can often co-manage even serious cases with other providers in your circle of care.
Medical nutritional therapy is a dietary strategy to heal your brain. It targets certain amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to restore healthy neurotransmitters.
Supplements to support healing may include vitamins B/C/D, l-glutamine, acetyl-l-carnitine, DLPA, fish oil, curcumin, and much more depending on the individual.
This is a large topic, please contact me for more information.
Start your journey:
To discover more about naturopathic medicine, or to book your first appointment, click here https://www.naturopathyyc.ca/book-now
Ashbaugh A, McGrew C. The Role of NutriConal Supplements in Sports Concussion
Treatment. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2016;15(1):16-19.