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The brain and the nervous system are obviously very critical components to your health, as the brain controls and connects all areas of the body, and the nervous system comprises the main communication pathways within all of your body.
When brain health is superior, all other areas of your health — especially your hormonal balance — will function better.
But more importantly, a healthier brain means better, more intelligent thinking, along with a happier mood and general well-being with greater enjoyment of life.
The brain is the primary controller of everything in your body, and while there are other “brains” in your body (like the gut brain, or the heart brain), the one in your head is the master regulator. Because of this, there is an interplay between your brain receiving information from the other parts of your body and then sending signals based on that feedback.
One great example is your pituitary gland, which controls almost all of the hormones in your body based on the signals your brain receives about its internal and external environment.
When stress and inflammation are high in the body, the pituitary gets these signals and naturally lowers production of the hormones involved in growth and maintenance, in order to direct more energy towards surviving and overcoming the immediate threat. Proper pituitary function is critical for health, but this involves reduction of stress and inflammation so that it gets the appropriate signals.READ MORE: Cognitive Enhancers: How to Use Nootropics To Supercharge Your Brain
In addition, the pineal gland is also critical for controlling states of consciousness that allow your body and mind to work together to allow you to experience the world in a certain way. For example, the pineal gland produces the melatonin that regulates your body’s circadian rhythm and sleep patterns.
In addition to all of this, the nervous system is the main way the body quickly communicates with itself. Similar to how your brain sends an electrical signal to tell a muscle to contract, your brain is sending electrical signals all over the body to unify all the different parts of the body into one coherent organism.
The health of your brain and nervous system comes down to many factors, but the overarching, big picture is based around the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. We briefly talked about serotonin before and how it acts more like the “hibernation hormone” rather than the “happy hormone”, and its action in the brain and body is to slow things down and prevent your body from overextending itself.
It pushes the body more towards the hibernation state — the low energy, inhibition state — and the “play it safe and follow the rules” mentality (aka the authoritarian/learned helplessness state).
On the other hand, dopamine signals energy production to speed up and is elevated when the body is in a healthy state. It motivates us and drives us to act, rather than sleep, as it excites cells into higher states and creates the “explore and seek reward” behavior (aka the “awakened” state).
On a practical level, this means we want to steer our bodies’ away from food and lifestyles that promote excessive serotonin, and instead, move more towards the dopamine state. This is where protein foods with specific amino acid profiles shine, especially foods like bone broth and collagen or gelatin.
These foods contain higher amounts of anti-inflammatory amino acids like glycine, proline and alanine and contain very low amounts of the inflammatory amino acids tryptophan, cysteine and methionine (of which tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin). This helps to reduce the production of serotonin, while simultaneously reducing stress levels and inflammation.
In addition, dopaminergic supplements like dopa mucuna can help to increase dopamine, and even dark chocolate has been shown to keep dopamine levels high. Since dark chocolate is one of the foods highest in polyphenols, it’s a good idea to include it in your regular diet.
To help push your brain more towards the dopamine state, in conjunction with generally reducing stress, you want to ensure adequate consumption of carbohydrates. The brain prefers to run on glucose, and certain parts of it actually can’t run on anything but glucose.
There is evidence that ketones are easily used by the brain, and while this is true, getting into a natural state of high ketones in your body (a state called “ketosis) is a huge stressor to your body, as adrenaline and cortisol rise to prevent glucose from being burned. However, by consuming sources of medium-chain fats (which easily get converted into ketones), like coconut oil, or by supplementing with exogenous ketones, you can achieve the benefits for your brain while continuing to consume a high-carb diet.
In addition to this, it’s important to get enough choline in your diet, which your body can convert into a compound called “phosphatidylcholine,” an important nutrient for brain and cognitive function. You can also supplement with Alpha GPC or CDP choline, which are forms of choline that specifically improve brain function. Another similar compound is phosphatidylserine, or PS, which is abundant in the brain and also helps with overall brain health and stress reduction.
Finally, the practice of meditation — focusing on your breath and quieting your mind — has many benefits not only for the physical health of your brain but also for your experience of the world and ability to focus. Similar to how exercise trains your muscles to be stronger, meditation trains your control over thoughts and allows you to experience more of life than you are able to when too many thoughts are cluttering your experience.