Simple Nutrition Strategies to Improve Brain Health
Brain Health = Hormone Health
Disclaimer: the information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not designed to replace individualized recommendations from a practitioner. Always check with your doctor before adding supplements or making changes to your treatment plan. Additionally, please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Before we get into the details of how to support brain health, let’s chat about WHY brain health is essential for hormone health (or overall health for that matter).
The brain - not the ovaries, thyroid or adrenals - calls the shots for hormone production.
1. Your brain gets input from you:
how much you eat
how much you move
your thoughts and beliefs, etc.
2. Your brain then communicates with the rest of your body to dictate:
what hormones to make
when to make them
how much to make
This intricate system is set up in this way so that your body can support fertility only when the environment is safe to do so (i.e. enough food, low stress, etc). Your body’s got your back!
Hormone issues happen when the brain doesn’t feel safe + happy. Hopefully you’re feeling excited because this highlights just how much power we have over our health and wellbeing. Now that we’ve got the basics covered, let’s dive into how to support that beautiful brain of yours!
Simple Strategies for Brain Health:
The Basics (eat + sleep enough)
Remember how it’s the inputs we give our brain that determine hormone production? Well two of the most potent inputs that our brains gather from us are the amount of food we eat and the amount/quality of our sleep. In order for your brain to feel safe enough to produce hormones you MUST be doing the basics of eating enough and sleeping enough.
Chronic undereating, whether it’s intentional or not, is one of the most common causes I see in my practice for hormone issues like absent or irregular cycles and thyroid issues. While there’s no perfect science for determining your calorie needs short of a DEXA scan, you can drop your details into an online calculator like this one to get an idea of where you should be. From there, gradually adjust your current intake. Pay attention to how you feel, take it slow and adjust as needed.
As for sleep, aim for 8-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly. For more specifics about your bedtime routine and supporting your circadian rhythm, check out this post.
Keep your gut healthy
The brain and the gut are intimately connected - in fact, they were developed from the same tissue at the same time during fetal development and are connected directly via the Vagus nerve. There is an incredible amount of cross-talk going on between the gut and brain via the Vagus nerve and making sure your gut is healthy and happy is a crucial part of keeping your brain healthy.
FOODS: Aim to eat a wide variety of real foods. Different foods will feed different types of bacteria in your gut which is great because a healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome! Many experts recommend aiming for around 50 different foods each week to keep microbial diversity up. This can be challenging for me sometimes because I tend to get into ruts where I make the same thing over and over again. Here are a few things you can rotate on a weekly basis to help keep things diverse:
Greens: alternate between lettuces, arugula, spinach, kale, etc
Fruits & Veggies: aim to try a different fruit and vegetable each week
Starches: rotate between potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, rice, quinoa, gf oats, etc
Nuts & Seeds: buy different nuts to snack on and/or consider changing up the type of nut butter you use periodically
FIBER: Fiber is what provides prebiotics, aka food for your microbiome. This goes hand in hand with a diverse diet but aiming for 30-40g of fiber daily is the goal. If you’re not sure where you fall, I’d recommend tracking your intake for a few days on an app like Chronometer or My Fitness Pal and seeing what your total fiber intake looks like. From there you can increase gradually as needed. Here are a few ways to boost your fiber intake:
Include a variety of fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, gf grains and legumes (if tolerated)
Add a sneaky, flavor-less serving of veggies to your smoothies by adding frozen zucchini or riced cauliflower
Top your salads with chia and/or ground flaxseeds
PROBIOTICS: including fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir on a regular basis is a great way to get natural probiotics in your diet. If you’re not a fan of those foods, have recently been on antibiotics or have any other reason to want to improve your microbiome you can check out my recommended probiotic supplements at Fullscript.
Improve blood flow
In order for brain cells to be healthy, they need an abundant supply of nutrients and oxygen and need to be able to efficiently clear toxins by “taking out the trash” so to speak. These things are accomplished if there is adequate blood flow to and from the brain. Now keep in mind we’re not just talking big arteries and veins here, we’re talking teeny, tiny microvasculature that deliver nutrient-rich blood at the cellular level.
When the brain isn’t getting adequate blood flow it can show up as symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, depression, HPA axis issues, etc.
In fact, low brain blood flow is the #1 imaging predictor for Alzheimer’s Disease according to the Amen Clinic data (high family risk over here so you KNOW I’m paying attention to this)!
Guess what the good news is? Improving blood flow to your brain also improves blood flow to every other body system. Here’s how:
MOVE - we are not meant to be couch potatoes. Aim for 10k+ steps daily and to get up and move every hour
Limit Caffeine to 2 cups of coffee or less per day
Identify and treat issues like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and hypothyroidism
Incorporate deep belly breathing daily
Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth (these have helped me SO much with nose breathing while sleeping, but be prepared to be made fun of by your significant other ;))
Consume foods like beets, dark leafy greens, lemons, walnuts, chia seeds, fatty fish and egg yolks
I recently attended the IMMH conference in San Diego and there was a heavy focus on how toxins negatively impact our brains and overall health as a result.
I found myself sinking further and further down in my chair wishing we could just live on a remote island and not worry about all of this because, frankly, it’s a lot and it’s stressful!
I know it can feel like an overwhelming, uphill battle to try and decrease your toxic burden in today’s society - and the truth is it is impossible to control every aspect of this, but don’t give up the control you DO have simply because you can’t control it all.
Your brain is highly metabolically active (lots of mitochondria, #tbt to high school biology) which means it is very susceptible to damage from toxins. In fact, oftentimes the first symptoms of toxicity are neurological - brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, depression, etc.
By decreasing your exposure from things within your control you can help your brain out big time!
Top 4 areas my clients and I focus on:
safer beauty products
safer household cleaners
DO: control the things you can
DON’T: stress about the things you can’t
Linking some of my favorite low-tox products here for you:
Detox me Tuesday (Lauren is a good friend of mine and SO incredibly helpful with practical tips for switching to safer products)
BONUS TIP: audit your thoughts and beliefs
Last but definitely not least: a discussion on brain health wouldn’t be complete without addressing this aspect! Your thoughts and beliefs have a profound impact on your overall health. The real bummer is there are no magic foods or supplements to get this piece locked down for you, just plain hard work on your end! Meditation, breathwork, journaling and therapy are my best recommendations to start rewiring your thoughts and beliefs. Please, please don’t overlook this step!
Thanks for reading! Here’s to healthy brains!