BECAUSE YOUR BRAIN MATTERS: THE 9 POINT BRAIN PLASTICITY CHECKLIST

You know your brain is important, but do you know how to take care of it?

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure your brain stays healthy and to make sure your brain plasticity isn’t compromised.

WHAT IS BRAIN PLASTICITY?

Plasticity is defined as changes in neural (brain) pathways and synapses due to changes in the environment, which allows for changes in mental and motor function to occur.  A simple definition of plasticity is that it is the brain's ability to change itself.  Whether you know it or not, you want good plasticity, and there is a lot you can do to support it.

WHY YOUR BRAIN MATTERS?

If you want to develop a new skill, prevent mental decline as you age, or keep learning throughout your life, then you want a plastic brain.  Learning requires brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity has far reaching implications.  There are a growing number of fascinating therapies that utilize brain plasticity.  These therapies challenge the brain in areas where there are weaknesses, such as with learning disorders, or developmental delays.  There are therapies to help stroke victims regain the function lost in the damaged area of the brain such as movement, vision or speech.  People with Alzheimer’s can gain lost cognitive function using specialized computer games.  Plasticity is being utilized increasingly in neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis where movement may be compromised, and there are even applications for regaining movement after a spinal cord injury. 

If you want to find out more about some of the therapies that can help your brain regain lost or missing skills, then I would highly recommend Norman Doidge’s books The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing.

WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW!

Here’s a 9 point checklist you can use to make sure your brain has everything it needs to be primed for learning or to get the most out of rehab therapies.

1.  Vitamin D:  Make sure your vitamin D levels are good.  Ask your doctor to do a blood test to check your levels.  Supplement if your levels are low.  Get plenty of sunshine too – when the sunshine hits your skin, your body makes vitamin D.

2.  Omega 3:  Like vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids are an important nutrient for brain plasticity.  Eat wild, cold-water fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines regularly, or supplement with a fish oil.  My favorite is cod liver oil, because it contains vitamin D as well.

3.  Biomarkers:  Go to your doctor and request blood tests for homocysteine, fasting insulin and CRP (c-reactive protein).  If these aren’t in the normal range it could be affecting your brain.  Diet, exercise and supplementation can help improve these biomarkers.

4.  Hormones:  Hormonal balance is important to brain health, so while you are getting other biomarkers tested, you might as well ask your doc for a full hormone panel that includes estradiol and testosterone. There are different ways to bring your hormones back into balance.  If you have eliminated toxins, are eating organic food, managing your stress and exercising (see below) and your hormones are still out of balance you can talk to your doctor or naturopathic doctor about options.

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5.  Exercise:  Do whatever you enjoy to get yourself moving.  Exercise promotes BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which is a necessary protein in the body that stimulates brain growth, and is necessary to support plasticity.

6.  Sleep: Most people don’t get adequate sleep. If you don’t wake up feeling refreshed then it could be a sign that you are getting too little sleep or your sleep is interrupted.  Your brain takes a “bath” when you are asleep to clear out metabolic debris and detox itself.

7.  Stress:  Finding ways to reduce or manage stress can be challenging for many people, but it is extremely important.  Ask yourself if you have enough time to do the things you love, spend time with the people who make you happy or to just be lazy.  If not, then it’s time to simplify life or start implementing some strategies to manage stress such as restorative exercise such as yoga, deep breathing or whatever works to calm you.  Sometimes counseling or additional support may be needed.

8.  Toxins:  Your brain is very susceptible to toxins, so take a look at some of the toxins you expose yourself to daily and try to reduce them.  Start with your body care products (shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant etc) and look for a natural ingredient list free of chemicals.  Do the same thing for your household cleaners and laundry products.  Health food stores are great places to find natural body care and cleaning products.  Is the air you are breathing clean?  If not get an air filter.  Is the food you eat clean or is it sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides?  Start eating more organically grown foods.

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9.  Good nutrition:  Eating to support your brain goes a little deeper than just healthy eating.  If your biomarkers showed problems with homocysteine, blood sugar levels or inflammation, then diet can be customized to help bring test results back into a healthy range.  Eating to support plasticity also involves getting the nutrients the brain needs, as well as providing the building blocks for nerves and neurotransmitter production.  Eating to feed your gut microbiome is also important.  The organisms that live in your gut communicate a lot of information to your brain via the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

Wondering how your brain is doing?  Visit  Food For the Brain  and do their Cognitive Function Test.  Whether your score isn't as high as you'd like, or you just want to do everything you can to keep your brain at its best, then follow these 9 points.
Start by scheduling a doctor's appointment to get biomarkers tested, including vitamin D and hormones.  Then decide what your next step will be.

Happy, Healthy Eating!
Tracey

 

CREATINE - A BRAIN BUILDING SUPPLEMENT

Did you know that creatine can help your brain? Creatine is best known as a body building supplement, but taking this amino acid can also have huge implications for brain health.  Creatine is used in the body for energy production, and the highest concentrations are found in muscles and the brain.  Since it is highest in the muscles, it makes sense that body builders use creatine to support recovery from intense exercise and to build muscle mass.  It can be an important supplement for many brain conditions too.

Research has been done looking at creatine supplementation for a wide variety of neurological conditions, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy.  Much of the research has been done on mouse models, but one practitioner who translated those mouse model dosages to human doses is Terry Wahls, MD.  Dr Wahls is best known for The Wahls Protocol, which she developed to reverse her multiple sclerosis.  In the initial stages of experimenting on herself, she started taking creatine along with other supplements including carnitine and CoQ10.  It is important to note, she did this under medical supervision.  As her protocol evolved she moved towards food sources of these nutrients.  Two of the best sources of these nutrients are liver and heart.

Who Should Consider Creatine Supplementation?

Food sources will always be better utilized by the body, so if you have any kind of neurological condition then consider adding liver or heart to your diet.  Pasture-raised versions of these can be found at health food stores, or you can talk to local farmers about sources.  Don't like liver or heart?  I hide them in meat loaf at a ratio of 3 parts ground meat to 1 part ground liver or heart.  You can also put the liver into a blender and liquify it and mix it into soups.

In acute stages of a disease, or where muscle wasting or muscle function is a concern, therapeutic supplementation might also be beneficial.  If you absolutely can't stomach the idea of consuming organ meats, then supplementation can offer an alternative.

If you think creatine supplementation might be of benefit to you then consult your doctor.  If you have any kidney problems, then this supplement may not be appropriate for you.  Any type of therapeutic supplementation should be medically supervised, whether it's with your GP or an ND.

Creatine Deficiency

Our bodies produce creatine from other amino acids, but there are genetic conditions that hinder the body's ability to use creatine.  These conditions are called cerebral creatine deficiency syndromes, and there are several different conditions that fall under this category: guanidinoacetate methyltranferase (GAMT) deficiency, and l-arginine:glycine amidinotransferase (AGAT) deficiency, and creatine transporter (CRTR) deficiency.

Who Do These Conditions Affect?

Since these disorders are genetic, a diagnosis can be made at any age, but males tend to be affected more due to the fact that it is an x-linked disorder.  These disorders primarily affect the brain including mild to severe cognitive impairment, and speech delays.  People with diagnosis such as autism, ADHD or developmental coordination disorder may have a creatine deficiency syndrome.  Other symptoms can include seizures, slow growth, and delayed motor skills.  A small number of individuals will also have microcephaly,  and/or unusual heart rhythms.

What Do I Do If I Suspect A Creatine Deficiency Syndrome?

If your child or loved one has the symptoms above then it might be worth exploring a creatine deficiency syndrome.  Talk to your doctor to see if it has already been ruled out, and if not, then a urine test can be done to measure creatine levels.  If levels are high, then it means that the body hasn't been able to use the creatine, and is excreting it instead.  If urine tests come back high, then the next step will likely be genetic testing.  Once a creatine deficiency syndrome is confirmed, then a supplement protocol will be suggested.  Supplementation may or may not be beneficial for individuals with these diagnosis, and it is not yet understood why some people benefit and others don't.

Creatine as a Brain Building Supplement

If you suffer from a neurological condition, then getting more creatine into your body is an important dietary step.  Adding liver and/or heart to your meals might just be what your brain craves.  Or talk to your doc about supplementing.

If a creatine deficiency syndrome is present, then testing might provide you with some answers to why symptoms are occurring. 

Start adding liver or heart to your diet today.  A homemade liver pate is hard to resist.  http://paleoleap.com/simple-and-delicious-liver-pate-recipes/

Have you ever supplemented with creatine?  What was your experience?

Happy, Healthy Eating!

Tracey

 

 

DIETARY INTERVENTION FOR CHILDREN WITH AUTISM, ADHD, DEVELOPMENTAL DELAYS AND LEARNING DISORDERS

Chances are you know someone with a child who has been diagnosed with some sort of brain disorder, or you may be parenting one or more children with a diagnosis that falls into the spectrum of brain or psychological disorders.  Supporting these children through diet is an often overlooked method of reducing symptoms, but it is one that is gaining popularity as people see the drastic changes it can produce.

 School programs and the various therapies that exist to help children are primarily geared towards adaptive strategies that help the child to work around their area of weakness.  An example of such an adaptive strategy might be giving a child who has extreme fine motor issues a computer with a voice activated program so that the child is able to have the computer transcribe for him or her.

 But what if, instead of giving your child the adaptive strategy, you could address the underlying reason.  As a nutritionist, when I am considering brain health, I have to consider gut health as an underlying reason for brain dysfunction.  It seems like a strange connection if you haven’t heard of it before, but the connection is well documented and researched, especially in the area of autism.

 Restoring digestive and intestinal health is a cornerstone to good brain function.  When families make the decision to change their children’s diets to support the gut, then changes that can be seen include a reduction in undesirable behaviours (ie stimming, self-injury, anxiety, aggression), improved communication skills and a better ability to focus, make eye contact and keep attention on a task. Some of the other symptoms that may also be reduced are an improvement in toileting issues (potty training, bed-wetting), rashes, eczema or other skin conditions, and dark circles under the eyes may disappear.

 If a dietary approach is one that you think you might be interested in for your child, then a good place to start is by educating yourself about the dietary protocols available to you.  The first of those protocols is called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, and a good place to find out about it is by reading Breaking the Viscious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall.  The second protocol is called the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet, which builds on the first diet, but is more specifically geared to autism, ADHD and other learning disorders.  Read Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.  Websites and on-line communities exist for both of these protocols, and Calgary has several GAPS certified practitioners who can guide and support you through dietary changes.  Support groups are also locally available through GAPS practitioners.  Accessing these sites or practitioners is an important component to ensure you have the support you need to succeed.

Diet is one more approach you can add to your child’s program to help them succeed!