Published on June 7th, 2019 | by Diane Eaton0
Healthy Brain Care: Insights from Three Atlanta Practitioners
by Diane Eaton
Our world is rich with conditions that can compromise brain function. We talked with three Atlanta health practitioners whose services include helping people improve mental clarity and brain wellness to understand how best to approach the issue.
“Many things contribute to the degeneration of the brain over time,” says Martin Van Lear, an integrative and functional medicine practitioner and owner of Tree of Light Health clinic in Decatur. From his research and experience, he concludes that the biggest contributor to reduced mental clarity, poor memory and other symptoms of decreased brain function is stress.
Rest and digest
“We walk around with multiple stressors upon us every day. Some are well-known but many of them are hidden,” says Van Lear. Piling on stressors without relief causes the nervous system to go into sympathetic dominance, or fight-or-flight mode. Martin estimates that 90 percent of his patients come in with that condition, and as a result, their bodies can’t rest and can’t digest, and their brains can’t calm down well enough for them to sleep.
Beth Coghlin, owner of Living Foods Institute wellness center in Atlanta, agrees. “To shift out of stress, we need to be able to shift into ‘rest and digest’ mode,” she says. Stress limits the healthy flow of blood and oxygen to the gut, she explains, and causes poor digestion, so beneficial nutrients aren’t as readily available to the body. But more significantly, neurotransmitters that help calm the body and regulate mood, sleep and memory—including serotonin, dopamine and GABA—are produced in the intestines. When the gut is compromised by incessant stress or inflammation, these essential chemicals aren’t available as much as they need to be, making it that much harder for the system to recover.
Stress to the brain can originate from numerous sources; it’s not limited to the psychological or emotional overload that most associate with the word “stress.” The body’s reactions to chemical toxins from food, water and air, as well as electromagnetic toxins, can disrupt healthy body and brain functions. This can result in inflammation in the brain, impairing brain function and inciting brain fog, poor memory and lack of concentration.
Managing blood sugar
Landria Voight, nutritional consultant in Atlanta and author of Super Paleo Snacks, teaches that managing blood sugar wisely can make a significant difference in the stress and inflammation in the brain, and feed it better at the same time. “That up and down of blood sugar is very stressful on our bodies and brain activity,” she says. “Instead of this up down up down, you want to have a flat plane. It gives you more energy and more focus.”
Voight points out that many of us have been taught to aim to eat about a “fist-sized” portion of protein at meals. “And then people might be good and eat a salad to go with it,” she says. “But then they go home and eat a box of crackers 45 minutes later.” So their blood sugar goes back into ping-pong mode.
She recommends eating more protein, more healthy fats and more fiber, in addition to veggies, to keep blood sugar nice and even. Fats have been given a bad rap, too, which is unfortunate since healthy fats are essential to reduced stress and improved health. “Your body will either burn fats or carbs,” Voight explains. “Make the switch and the carb issue will go away. If you burn fat, your brain gets fed and you don’t have the insulin ups and downs. You just feel better.” Healthy fats include coconut oil, avocado oil and ghee. “Coconut oil is immediate brain energy,” she says. Healthy proteins include nuts, seeds, grass-fed meats and chia seeds.
Repairing the damage
Every day, our bodies and brains are deluged with conditions that can be harmful. Chemical toxins in the environment and food supply, natural toxins such as mold and mildew, “dirty electricity” from power stations and electric cables, proximity to electronic devices, and certain electromagnetic frequencies have been shown to cause stress and inflammation. “The brain is like a walking antenna,” says Van Lear, and it responds to a wide band of frequencies regardless of whether they might be harmful.
Since damage is inevitable, finding ways to repair it becomes a priority to keep the brain functioning as well as possible. While “rest and digest” is critically important to the brain’s health, it is simply not enough to repair cell membranes and prevent toxins from accumulating and causing more inflammation and damage, says Van Lear.
The top recommendations from our experts to minimize and repair damage include stress-reduction practices, modifying eating habits to manage blood sugar, and minimizing inflammation-promoting foods, including sugar, trans fats, refined carbs, processed meats, vegetable oils and alcohol. Detoxing and whole-food plant-based diet programs can help clean out harmful accumulations of toxins and reduce their effects. Devices are available that are designed to protect from harmful electromagnetic frequencies. And energy medicine can be helpful to reduce stress on the brain and the body.
Beth Coghlin, M.S. Ed.
Owner, Living Foods Institute
Martin Van Lear, FNP
Owner, Tree of Light Health