Nourishing Your Brain
By Laura McCready, ND and Steven Horne

Nourishing The Brain

The brain is described in the dictionary as the part of the central nervous system enclosed in the cranium of vertebrates, serving to control and coordinate the mental and physical actions. However, in the common speech, brains means intelligence— the ability to comprehend, remember and process information. Sometimes we think that having “brains” is just a matter of genes or plain “luck.”
However, our capacity to think is not something that is set in stone at birth. IQ can change and there are many things that can be done to improve our “brains.” Like any other organ of the body, the brain can be strengthened by good nutrition. It can also be developed with use or diminished with abuse.
In this issue you will learn some of the herbs, nutrients and practices that can enhance your “brain power.” You will also discover some of the things that diminish it. So, exercise your “central nervous system processing center” (i.e., brain) and read on.

Starting Right

Good nutrition during pregnancy and early childhood is vital to the development of the brain.
Essential fatty acids are also extremely important, so children should not be put on a low fat diet. Healthy sources of fat are vital to their developing central nervous systems.

Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar diminishes brain power. The brain consumes more sugar than any other organ in the body. When blood sugar levels drop, many of the higher processing centers of the brain start to shut down. Mental confusion, irritability, inability to concentrate and even “crazy” behavior can result.

Refined sugars and carbohydrates give the brain a “quick fix” of sugar, but lack the other nutrients the body needs to control and process the sugar in a stable manner. Hence, they produce rapid increases and decreases in blood sugar levels creating a blood sugar “roller coaster” with corresponding behavior. If you or your children behave like angels at one time and demons at others, you may be on this blood sugar roller coaster. Other symptoms include a sudden inability to concentrate, sleepiness or a drop in body temperature (cold nose or limbs). This usually happens in mid-afternoon or when the person has not eaten for a while.

Getting out of the refined carbohydrate “amusement park” and onto a diet rich in complex carbohydrates can help the brain stay focused. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much clearer you can think on a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and natural sweeteners (like unprocessed honey, real maple syrup, xylitol etc.). These foods keep the brain supplied with a constant, controlled level of sugar that helps keep thought processes focused and stable. Once you’ve been on a diet free of refined carbohydrates for about three to four weeks, you’ll be amazed at the clarity of your thought processes. It’s like the proverbial “light bulb” turning on in the mind.

Licorice root can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and kill the craving for sugar and stimulants. GTF chromium can also be useful for the same purpose. Another supplement that can help is the Chinese formula Nervous Fatigue Formula (HS-C). It builds the adrenal glands and pancreas and helps overcome mental fatigue, confusion, inability to concentrate and emotional mood swings.

Scientific evidence suggests that schizophrenia, depression and other brain and behavioral disorders can be treated with vitamins, amino acids, essential oils and other nutrients. The standard American diet [SAD] is sadly lacking in B vitamins, vitamin C and E and iron, just to name a few deficiencies. The average American eats too much fat and too little complex carbohydrates and primary proteins. Problems such as these can create minor or severe imbalances in the chemistry of the brain.

The fact that the brain is dependent on oxygen is evident in the fact that unconsciousness can occur in as little as ten seconds if blood flow to the brain is inhibited. Supplements that increase blood flow and therefore oxygen to the brain can be very beneficial in supporting and increasing mental function. Ginkgo Biloba is just such an herb. Ginkgo is a powerful antioxidant that acts as a vasodilator (opens blood vessels) and natural blood thinner so that circulation, and thereby oxygen levels, to the brain are increased. Clinical trials using ginkgo have shown improvement in mobility of the legs, improved brain function and memory, help in overcoming vertigo (dizziness), elimination of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and help in treating the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

Blood sugar is the main fuel of the brain, and while the brain requires about twenty percent of the body's blood sugar, more is not better. When blood sugar is too high throughout the body, larger organs in the body's abdomen switch from fat burning to blood sugar use. Not only is this switch counterproductive to weight management, it also leaves the brain robbed of its fuel source as the abdominal organs have a much greater combined mass than the brain and therefore uptake most of the blood sugar.

L-glutamine (used alone or in Focus Attention or GABA Plus) is an amino acid that helps regulate glucose usage in the brain and clear the waste products of its metabolism. L-glutamine can be converted by the body into glutamic acid, which has a calming effect on the brain and can actually be used as a brain fuel.

Increased mental focus combined with a generalized calming effect is what many children and adults erroneously seek for when using drugs.

In addition to L-glutamine, Focus Attention also contains DMAE or dimethylaminoethanol. DMAE helps improve memory retention, elevate mood, increase intelligence and expand learning capacity by accelerating the brain's synthesis of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in mental acuity.
Focus Attention can be used for children with hyperactivity, shortened attention span, speech problems and learning disabilities.

Amino Acids & B-Complex
Neurons (nerve cells) must communicate with one another across tiny gaps or synapses. Larger numbers of synapses are associated with increased learning. Impulse transmission across the synapses is accomplished by neuropeptides (specialized proteins) called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters not only aid in brain cell communication, they also affect other mental functions such as mood, emotions and pain.

Amino acids, in the presence of certain vitamins and minerals, are necessary for the body to make neurotransmitters. NSP's Free Amino Acids and B-Complex capsules are supplements that can supply such neurotransinitter precursors.

Focus Attention PowderFocus Attention Powder

Millions of people, children and adults alike, have over-stimulated and undernourished brains.
Mental undernourishment can affect the entire nervous system as the body tries to compensate for missing nutrients. Even normal tasks can become difficult.
Nature Sunshine has developed Focus Attention Powder to guard you from poor mental nutrition and its effects on attention and activity levels.
This easy to prepare powder is
perfect for children (and adults!) in need of mental nourishment.

Supports normal brain stimulation levels.
Helps modulate brain activity and energy levels.
Promotes blood circulation and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Quenches damaging free radicals.
As an added benefit, other body systems reacting to mental stress are often relieved as the brain receives needed nutrients.

5-HTP Power

5-HTP Power is a product designed to help the body make a specific neurotransmitter, serotonin, which helps the body to regulate appetite, mood and sleep.

5 HTP5-HTP Power contains hydroxytryptophan (a form of the amino acid 1-tryptophan) and vitamin B6, which the body uses to make serotonin. 5-HTP Power is also specially formulated so that the serotonin is formed in the brain where it is needed and not in the intestine where it would be wasted.

Blood Brain Barrier
The importance of the brain in sustaining life is well demonstrated by the body's protective coverings for the brain. The brain is encased by a thick bony skull and surrounded by layers of protective membranes called the meninges. These meninges offer not only a physical cushion of webbing and fluid but they offer chemical protection as well. The connective tissue, neurons and capillaries (tiny blood vessels) of the brain and meninges are different than those of most other organs in that they do not allow passive transport of molecules into brain tissue. Each molecule must be "allowed" or "approved" entrance. These specialized cells that prevent molecule passage are collectively referred to as the blood-brain barrier.

Molecules that are essential to the brain such as water, oxygen and glucose (blood sugar) pass through to the brain easily, whereas molecules needed in lesser concentrations such as calcium and potassium pass more slowly. Certain proteins, lipids (fats), creatine, urea, certain toxins and most antibiotics are not allowed passage into the delicate brain tissue. Many nutrients are also denied entrance.

Brain-Protex contains antioxidants, like ginkgo, that can cross the blood-brain barrier and other substances that have profound effects on brain tissue. One such substance is phosphatidyl serine, a nutrient that is found concentrated in brain cells. Clinical studies indicate that phosphatidyl serine can help
slow mental decline associated with aging. Phosphatidyl serine has shown benefit for cognitive functions such as attention, short-term memory, apathy, telephone number recall, paragraph recall, name-face acquisition, reading concentration, conversing and misplaced object recall. Not only did test subjects perform better on cognitive tests but also Positron Emission Topography (P.E.T.) scans of their brains showed significantly greater brain activity.

Brain-Protex also contains Huperzine from Chinese club moss. Huperzine prevents breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, vital to memory retrieval and concentration. Brain-Protex helps with memory enhancement, treatment of Alzheimer's disease and possibly Parkinson's, dementia, senile memory deficit, concentration and mental focus.

NSP's Grapine contains two sources of an antioxidant that can cross the blood-brain barrier making it an important protector of delicate brain tissue from free radical damage.

SAM-e is a raw material for glutathione, the main antioxidant in neutralizing brain toxins and free radicals.
SAM-e promotes fluidity of the cell membrane, a process that is essential for proper nerve cell function. Studies have shown SAM-e to have rapid effectiveness in
stopping depression.

One study showed 100% improvement in less than ten days. SAM-e outperformed pharmaceuticals and it did it without side effects.

The antidepressant qualities of SAMe may come from the fact that it seems to support the function of the neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, both important in preventing depression.

Lecithin is also a good source of nourishment for the brain as it contains trace amounts of phosphatidyl serine and helps the body to build protective rnyelin sheaths. Myelin is a covering that insulates and protects many neurons. In certain degenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis, the integrity of the blood-brain barrier is compromised allowing an increased flow of substances that are damaging to brain tissue. For such individuals, MPJ scans can show inflammatory damage to the protective myelin sheaths.

Various regions of the brain house concentrations of different types of neurons and neurotransrmitters thus creating varied mental functions in different areas. The cerebrum is the largest and most prominent area of the brain. Its convoluted surface allows for great surface area for more neurons. It controls higher mental functions such as reasoning, memory and intelligence. It also controls most sensory and motor activities along with some instinctual or limbic functions.

Right and Left Hemispheres

The cerebrum is divided into left and right hemispheres. Each hemisphere controls functions on the opposite side of the body and they also create different kinds of thinking. In most people, the left side allows for analytical and verbal skills such as math, reading and writing while the right side allows for spatial and artistic kinds of intelligence.

Connections between the two hemispheres allow for a sharing of learning and memory although most people usually have one dominant hemisphere. The two hemispheres, however, respond independently to odors. Since the left hemisphere is concerned with reasoning, words and logic, it intellectually responds by identifying the odor and possibly making a personal memory connection.

The right hemisphere that deals with imagination, emotion and aesthetic awareness, responds to an odor with a deeper emotional or hormonal reaction, such as pleasure or euphoria. Normally, both hemispheres of the brain work harmoniously to integrate all incoming data, yet researchers have found that when a fragrance which was considered pleasant was inhaled, a wave of electrical activity was noticed in the right hemisphere which then spread to areas of the left hemisphere, as if the brain confirmed that the smell had been pleasant.


Inhalation of essential oils is an excellent way to access and activate the brain as this therapy bypasses the blood-brain barrier.
Aroma has been used for thousands of years to uplift and alter one's state of mind. Documents recorded on clay tablets from the Sumerian period of Mesopotamia, dating back to as early as 550 BC, show evidence of essential oil use. Today researchers have established a connection between the brain and the power of aromas. Aromas access deep areas of the brain. Brain disturbances can actually develop in an atmosphere devoid of smell.

Fetal studies have shown that if the left nasal cavity is malformed, so is the left hemisphere of the brain. After birth, if air devoid of odors is inhaled, the brain shows further degenerative changes. One of the most coveted items in early space missions became lemon-scented hand wipes. In the controlled atmosphere of space they were the only items with a fragrance.

Aromas can have profound physical, mental and emotional effects on the body.