I don’t like the brain. It’s egotistical and bumpy and effing complicated with words like gyrus, mesensephalon, and pontomedullary reticular formation that make you want to curl up in the fetal position with a Snuggy. I have tried as hard as I can to stay away from this amazing structure even though my lab group performs functional brain scans on a weekly basis. Also, my colleague Grace Shearrer is an absolute brain genius and can rattle off neuroanatomy and how these different areas of the brain influence physiology and vice versa. It’s awesome and I love listening to her lectures, but a good portion of my time at UT with her being so amazing allowed me to say, “Grace will handle it.” Yet, over the last year I have had to come to terms with the fact that ultimately the brain controls everything and although we cannot fix the brain without fixing physiology, many times we cannot fix physiology without respecting and understanding brain chemistry, anatomy, and physiology.
“You are your brain – the health of the brain dictates everything about you. The brain is one of the most susceptible and fragile organs to the imbalances caused by poor diets and chronic stress. ”
Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS, MNeuroSci, FAACP, DACBN, DABCN, DIBAK, CNS
And we are not doing well at respecting or supporting our brain health
One in eight senior citizens develop Alzheimer’s. One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s Disease or some other type of dementia.
One in eight children are diagnosed with brain development disorders (autism, ADD, ADHD)
The brain needs oxygen, glucose, and stimulation to survive. Period. The brain weighs about 3 pounds, yet utilizes up to a third of our glucose supply. Evolutionarily, we literally grew bigger, more expensive brains at the cost of our digestive system (for more on this read the book Catching Fire by Harvard primatologist Dr. Richard Wrangham.) This means that suppling our brain with the proper amount of energy, oxygen, and stimulation is absolutely critical to our health and further evolution.
Let’s look at the energy and oxygen side of this equation first. Proper neuronal signaling is maintained by a concentration gradient across neuronal membranes. There is more Potassium (+) inside the cell and higher Sodium (2+) concentrations outside the cell, thus the inside of the cell has a net negative charge. When a neuron is stimulated Sodium enters the cell which causes an action potential or the neuron to fire.
This membrane potential is maintained by ATP (energy) created by the electron transport chain (housed in the mitochondria) which needs energy substrates and oxygen (among other things) to run effectively. So if we don’t fuel and provide oxygen to our brains resting potential cannot be maintained adequately. Our brains can become overstimulated and fatigue more easily, and eventually this over excitation can even cause neuronal death. Enter chronic fatigue, lack of brain endurance, and neurodegeneration. NO Bueno.
Well that was a mouthful.
Let me go get a snack.
That mouthful is called the Energy Linked Excitotoxic Model of Neurodegeneration. I don’t think there is a real need for the vast majority of people to memorize any of this, but health professionals need to be able explain and perhaps draw this concept if necessary and more than anything be able to think through the repercussions.
For example, when most of our young athletes come to us in a very hyperventilated state (not getting adequate oxygen) and eating highly processed and sugar laden diets (massive swings in blood sugar). We also see either severely overstimulated Central Nervous Systems (CNS) or CNS patterns that are completely bottomed out – dunzo – fatigued – finish him!
Thus, we have to know that without adequately addressing proper nutrition and breathing mechanics with these youngsters they are never going to be able to pay attention to the words. that. are. coming. out. of. our. mouths. and we will be limited in what we can teach them in the weight room, how much, and what if anything sticks.
I have walked out to one of our client’s cars to see all of the kids death gripping volcano red big gulp slurpies. The sedan looked like Gremlins. Guess what, on any given day this little guy can take about 25-30 minutes of speed and power work before his CNS taps out. Coincidence. I think not. How do you change an entire family’s relationship with food? I haven’t figured that out yet, it will likely take a village and at the end of the day they have to buy in, some wont. Wash your hands.
We can then extend this out further to gain a respect for how environmental toxicity, cardiovascular disease, adrenal dysregulation, thyroid problems, and blood sugar issues can all lead to decreased energy and oxygen availability which causes inadequate mitochondrial function in the brain and eventually if left unchecked – neurodegeneration.
What? How in god’s name did you make that jump. Well…
Toxins kill mitochondria. End of story. No mitochondria, no electrochemical gradient and neurons become overstimulated and die. Sad day, take care of your mitochondria. For more on this read Dr. Terry Wahl’s book –The Wahl’s Protocol.
Cardiovascular disease, such as arteriosclerosis and issues like anemia are going to severely limit the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain which is very distal, as well as the most vertically placed structure on the human body. So if your hands and feet get cold or you can’t get a hard on, you can bet your brain ain’t getting what it needs either.
Blood sugar swings are extremely stressful to the brain. The brain needs a steady supply of glucose. In fact, blood sugar instability disrupts all aspects of physiology necessary for healthy brain function. Also, one of the adrenals main jobs is to regulate blood sugar via cortisol, so if the HPA axis is all jacked up blood sugar control will be even more critical due to the fact that their body and brain are not going to be able to take long periods of time without food.
To take it a bit deeper, this aspect is so important the Brain has evolved multiple mechanisms to make sure that blood glucose levels doesn’t get too low, these include the hypothalamus signaling increases in hunger, ramping up cortisol via the HPA axis, and even the secretion of sympathetic hormones like adrenaline.
Let’s now think through one of the most common reasons people wake up in the middle of the night – blood glucose drops too low while sleeping, sleep walk eating might help, but better yet would be a slow rise in cortisol, however the adrenals might be too kicked to make this happen so then the last resort is to pump out adrenaline to raise blood glucose in a matter of minutes via glycogenolysis and you jump out of bed screaming with little chance of getting back to sleep.
So the next time your client comes in and can’t pay attention ask them what they had for breakfast, ask them if they eat any high quality sources of fish, ask them about their sleep, and creepily watch their breathing mechanics. Over time with the right interpretation, advice, and buy-in your client will be able to get more productive work done in each session.
They may even see a massive difference in their everyday life, and who knows over time you may even be able to stop someone from getting Alzheimer’s or type 3 diabetes. Don’t think that’s a big deal – volunteer to get dementia or forget your kid’s names. If that doesn’t scare you into action maybe this will by 2025 Alzheimer’s related costs will exceed the entire fiscal budget of the United States.
By: Ben House PhD Candidate, FDN, fNMT