Most of us don’t think of our brain as needing to detox. But while you sleep your brain shrinks by an incredible 60% as it releases toxins via meningeal lymphatics, otherwise known as glymphatics. These vessels are responsible for clearing old immune cells, metabolic byproducts, and excess fluid from the central nervous system and into the deep cervical lymph nodes. Without good quality sleep, you will be left with an accumulation of toxins, and no doubt start to feel rather unwell.
This certainly explains the fact that sleep deprived individuals pretty much function like they’re drunk.
Truth is, we still have so much to learn about the brain’s role in health and it’s particular needs. Until recently, medical scientists believed that the brain was separate to the rest of the body’s lymphatic vessels and existed in a ‘sterile’ sort of environment. But this has now been proven incorrect (whoops!) and in our new understanding we open up to a completely new paradigm of detoxification, where we can see more clearly how important our diet is to our mental, emotional and cognitive health, as all of this intercepts at a biological level.
Another important area of brain research relates to sugar and the impact of high insulin on the brain. What has been found is that there is effectively a form of ‘type 3’ diabetes where excess sugar irritates and eats away at neuronal fibres causing the brain to deteriorate. This of course has devastating effects and is contributing to a rise in alzheimers and cognitive decline.
Long term over-consumption of carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods is affecting far more than body weight. Your brain is at risk too.
There’s also the matter of what our brain is made of primarily, fats. The human brain is nearly 60% fat and is in fact the fattest organ in the body. So think about it. In order to nourish our brain, we need healthy, intact, ‘uncompromised’ fats. This is pretty straightforward, and in my opinion ‘low-fat’ guidelines are the most negligent and devastating advice ever given. Dietary fats are vital to maintain and build your brain. And no, fats don’t make you fat. Sugar does. (it also wrecks your brain so….)
A compromised fat would be any of the industrialised varieties such as cottonseed, vegetable, safflower and canola to name a few. These are all not healthy for the brain, are highly inflammatory, and in fact are contributing to cognitive decline alongside overuse of sugar.
From a Functional Medicine perspective we’ve identified that sleep, detoxification, dietary fats and managing insulin are all important contributors to brain health.
So where does this leave us? We need to help our body ‘clean up’ the mess, and this is exactly where antioxidants come in.
If you didn’t sleep well, load up on Vitamin C to start.
Anti-oxidants are free radical scavengers in the body. They protect our cellular fatty acids from damage and give the body a natural line of defence against oxidation and damage. Foods like blueberries contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins which are specific to protecting the brain and helping to reduce the formation of amyloid plaques. In addition, many varieties of medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, shiitake, chaga, cordyceps and lions mane are rich in protective beta-glucans and known as nootropics, meaning they are powerhouses at protecting the brain.
A whole world opens up to us once we understand more about how the body works and what’s required nutritionally, beyond the old school calorie model (which frankly keeps the topic of nutrition in the dark ages). Eating foods to nourish your brain, supporting healthy sleep, and being aware of what is needed to help your brain detoxify should be top priorities. Mastering these areas will not only help to improve your energy levels, but also improve your capacity for healthy ageing.