Foods That Harm Your Brain

March 03, 2014
Foods that Harm Your Brain
Reference:  Jacka PloS One 2011,  Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study,Hordaland Health Study,

Ok!  Food is our strongest medicine.  We know that food has a huge impact on our internal metabolism. And the case is clear that many of our illnesses are caused by inflammation, diffusely prevalent and persistent.  Now, we are beginning to make that link with the inflammation set off by the food we eat and the effect that has on brain health and metabolism. What do you think would be the effect we would find on our brain if you accepted the premise that our brain is about 50% white cells,  each of which responds to inflammatory signals?   Our glia, those cells that shrink-wrap our neurons in a protective sheath called the blood-brain barrier, are effectively white cells.  They have many surface markers and proteins that allow them to react to inflammatory signaling.  If you have inflammation going on in your body, you are going to have your brain affected. 

And what foods set off inflammation?  Right:  sugar, lack of omega-three fats (fish oil) and excess of omega-six fats (vegetable oil), trans fats (Crisco), excess saturated fat without omega fats. That sounds to me like a trip to a fast-food restaurant.  Or, anything from a machine with a pull level that drops packages to the bottom.  Or, how about being contained in a plastic bag – chips, cookies, nachos.  It’s what we call “junk food”.  It’s what our kids eat with enthusiasm because it’s food that is designed to dramatically affect all our taste receptors.  The most insidious effect of all may be from “processing” that makes fine white flour and raises the glycemic index. 

The persistent assault of elevated carbohydrates on our brain may be an integral part of that damage. What do the above-referenced studies show?  From Australia, 2054 adolescents eating lots of chips, chocolate, pizza, and soda were associated with a worsening of their mental health status.  Or, 23,020 pregnant mothers from Norway eating lots of junk food during pregnancy and during the first 5 years of life predicted future aggression, hyperactivity, tantrums all independent of other confounding factors.    Or 5731 adults who had a “better quality” diet had less depression and anxiety.  Another study from Spain (The Sun Project) following 12,059 students who were initially free of depression found that trans fats predicted the onset of depression. 

More and more studies like this all point the same way. Why all this?  It may not just be inflammation.  My read is that your brain is mostly fatty molecules.  Omega fats are incredibly mobile and fluid.  They comprise the majority of your brain fats.  But saturated fat and trans fats in particular just don’t fit into your membranes.  It may not be just inflammation.  It may be the simple geometry of our brains’ building blocks, fats.  The two together add up to a double whammy.

 WWW:  What will work for me. So here I am poised between foods designed to tempt me beyond imagination, and desire to keep my brain healthy.  What we call junk food may be junkier than we realize.  When I pull into McDonald’s to get two grilled chicken sandwiches (and throw out the buns), I really can’t have the 700 calorie Frappuccino coffee/trans-fat/sugar drink.  No really.  Can’t.  
Pop Quiz

spacer (1K)

1.   Many studies are now showing that eating of "junk food" worsens mental health in children. T or F.                          Answer:  True
 2.   The effect can be measured starting with what mothers eat when they are pregnant.  T or F                               Answer:  Again, true.
 3.  Eating junk food as an adult also has measurable effects on mental health.  T or F      Answer:   Alas, true.
 4.   The common threads in junk food include trans fats, omega fats, saturated fats.  T or F  Answer:   Actually, a trick question.  It's probably the lack of omega-three fats, the excess of saturated fat without omega fats, and high glycemic foods that make the majority of the difference.
 5.  Your brain is almost half white blood cells, and those cells respond to inflammation.  T or F                          Answer:   If you call the glia white cells, it's true. The glia are the protective cells the shrink-wrap your neurons and protect them from outside damage.
 6.   High glycemic foods may also be part of the problem.  T or F                    Answer:  My belief is that this is true.  It's quite a controversial topic. Read the book "Grain Brain" and tell me what you think.
 7.  A trip to any fast food restaurant is likely great for your attention and focus if you get a great cup of coffee.  T or F                       Answer:  True.  If you just get the black coffee.  Otherwise, go back and read all the articles above and see if you still want to eat fast food.

Written by John E Whitcomb MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield Wisconsin