Brain Health Part 2 – Debbie Downer Strikes Back

January 24, 2011

Brain Health Part 2 – Debbie Downer Strikes Back 

 Reference:  Brain-Building Nutrition by Michael Schmidt Third Edition 

 What can you do to keep a healthy brain?  First, repeat after me what you have to avoid from last week.  Remember?  No tobacco.  Cut the alcohol to one drink a day.  Trans fats are poison! (No French fries).  Saturated fat isn’t much better.  Processed meats don’t get any brownie points.  Whoa on sugar!  Down to one ounce a day, max.  White bread has gotta go.  MSG is a disaster.  Look at the label for hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, or anything with glutamate in it.  Most soups from the store, even those labeled NO MSG are full of it.  Don’t!  And finally, yes, finally, you stopped getting the blue stuff for your sweetener didn’t you?  And did you look at the can of diet soda to see if it had any in it.   And of course, you aren’t intentionally playing with lead any more.  It’s just that you don’t know what’s in your lipstick. 

 Well, this makes for a real Debbie Downer Date.  Nothing fun left.  That’s actually not quite true.  There is just a ton of stuff out there that is delicious food, good for you, easy to find.  We just have to start thinking differently as we make changes in our lifestyle and patterns. But first, the big picture. 

 It’s all about the FAT.  The RIGHT Fat.  We need to stop thinking simplistically about fat as being bad because it’s high-calorie.  We have to get some nuance to the idea that fat is what our brains are all about.  You have to have the right fat.  Our brains are mostly fat.  That’s the key.  And our diets have changed dramatically in the last 100 years.  Our meat used to have omega fatty acids in them that was good for our brains.  Beef, raised on grass, is about the same as bison, deer, or elk in regard to its fat content.  They are about 7 % fat content, of which a large portion is omega fatty acid (good for your brain, just like salmon).  

When you raise a cow, or deer, or elk or bison on corn and beans, they get a different fat in their meat, just like we do when we raise ourselves on corn and beans (and sugar and soda and fries).  They turn their meat into a product that still has the exact same protein.  That doesn’t change.  But the fat changes from omega fatty acid to saturated fat.  Your brain wants the omega fats, not the saturated fat.  Your brain is about 40% by dry weight DHA and EPA, the two dominant omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.  But fish oil is simply a natural food chain product starting with green algae in the ocean that gets eaten by little tiny fish, that get eaten by bigger fish.  Green plants make DHA and EPA, whether in the ocean or on land.  

Our ancestors used to eat either those green plants or the animals that ate them.  And our brains are made from those healthy, essential fats. What’s happened in America isn’t just the loss of the omega-3 fats but a flood of omega-6s.  Omega 6 fats are the precursors to inflammatory signaling compounds called eicosanoids.  They come from vegetable oils like corn oil, soybean oil etc.  Omega-3’s are the precursors to the anti-inflammatory signaling eicosanoids.  It stands to reason that you may want more anti-inflammatory products when the chronic diseases we all suffer from are based on inflammation. 

 WWW.  What will work for me?  I’m trying to change my eating habits to avoid vegetable oils and add omega-three fats.  There is evidence that those folks who take at least a gram a day of fish oil have a brain that’s 1-2% larger than those who don’t.  Want a bigger brain or a smaller one?  I’m opting for the bigger helping.  I’ve bought a grass-raised cow from a farmer.  It’s taking a year for it to grow.  It will cost me about $ 3 a pound if I do all the delivery, pick up, and sorting out.  Sounds like a bargain for my brain.  Can you buy local?  Get together with friends. Help a Wisconsin organic farmer make a local living.

Column written by Dr. John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI 53122