In March, I wrote "Replace fear with fortitude and freedom" on my status. Now, nearly 5 months on since the world was plunged into huge uncertainty due to covid, I realise how true that statement was and how desperately the fear, still gripping so many, needs to be shed.
The fact that most of the fear has been deliberately manufactured makes not a jot of difference to our physiology. The UK Government is not alone in this widespread public emotional manipulation, but minutes from the early UK SAGE meetings document the intent to, "Use media to increase sense of personal threat" and the mainstream media have jumped to it and excelled in their mission.
The state of personal threat and fear is pervasive. It lights the touch paper on the full stress response, engaging our physiology in a potentially damaging dance of endogenous chemicals, hormones and inflammation. Prolong the sense of threat and fear, continuously turn up the heat with terrifying media reports, add further burdens from financial pain, fear of the future, an unstable, insecure (unsafe for some) home life and the stress reaction becomes chronic. This causes damage to our physiology at multiple levels and sets the scene for igniting the fire of inflammation. Inflammation that risks the health not only of our bodies, but our brains too.
The emotion of fear is so powerful because it triggers our survival hot buttons at the deepest genetic and cellular level. It is such an uncomfortable state to be in that human beings will mostly do anything to ameliorate the feeling, even if it means the loss of hard won rights and freedoms. For others who have never feared the virus, the increasing and prolonged stress from watching the free and democratic world, as we knew it, become subsumed by emergency pandemic legislation riding roughshod over many civil liberties, the physiological effects can be similar.
Chronic inflammation arising from prolonged stress, emotional trauma, metabolic dysfunction, serious infections or head trauma are all triggers that can cause brain inflammation that, if left unchecked, can deteriorate to neurodegeneration. Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, dementia and Parkinsons are all on the rise. These now are amongst the biggest burdens on health care systems around the world, as well as massively impacting quality of life in the later years. Much less well recognised are the red flags along that way that seem so innocuous, like brain fog, fatigue and a bad memory.
Given the challenges of the past few months and the impacts for our brain and nervous systems, this week's video feature focuses on brain inflammation and what to do about it - naturally. Our bodies and our brains are hardwired to be well, so once you recognise the warning signs that yours may be under duress, there is actually a lot you can do to 'put the fire out' and protect your brain. It's not been possible to cover the full spectrum in one video, but there are references near the end for further reading to take you farther along your brain-health journey.
Why not sit down to watch with a cup of brain-friendly turmeric, green or tulsi (holy basil) tea?
Have the challenges and isolation of the past few months taken their toll on your brain health? Perhaps you’ve let your diet slip and indulged in foods you know aren’t good for you? In the UK we’ve been lucky and allowed to continue to exercise outdoors throughout lockdown, but other countries have had stricter rules which have severely impacted physical activity.
Prolonged stress and trauma, poor diets, a lack of exercise as well as a genetic predisposition are some of the key factors that impact brain health. Literally lighting your brain tissue up in the fire of ‘inflammaging’, because inflammation accelerates brain aging, no matter how old you are.
But the good news is that you can reverse the inflammaging process and stop the decline in brain function that leads to neurodegeneration. If you recognise the initial signs and take action.
Hi, I’m Meleni Aldridge, the executive coordinator of Alliance for Natural Health International. I’m also an integrative medicine practitioner with particular interests in functional medicine and clinical psychoneuroimmunology. A bit of a mouthful, but more simply, I use nutritional and lifestyle modifications to support and optimise function across all the body systems.
Like our brains, our bodies strive to be well. By interpreting our body's messages and allowing it to guide you, reaching and maintaining wellness can be easier than you might expect. I’ve first-hand experience of successfully traversing the terrain of autoimmune disease, which, like many other chronic diseases, also has inflammation at its core.
But this video is about safeguarding a most crucial asset - your brain, so let’s dive in and look at how your brain raises red flags and what to do about them. For many people the unexpected changes brought on by Covid have created major challenges for our mental health. So there’s never been a more important time to focus on the things we can all do to achieve more balanced brain function and mental well being.
Do you remember a time in your life when you used to feel sharper? When you made quicker, more decisive decisions? When you could concentrate easily? When you weren’t as affected by stress and being in a good headspace was natural?
What about brain fog, brain fatigue or getting tongue-tied searching for a word? Do you brush such episodes under the ‘senior moment’ carpet — even if you’re not that senior? Or maybe you feel brain-tired after eating, overly emotional or aggressive at the slightest trigger or just overwhelmed by life?
If any of this seems familiar, then you could be suffering with brain inflammation and hopefully this video will help you take immediate action.
I think most of us would agree that our brains are one of our body’s most important assets. We only have one and despite the advances of modern medicine, we can’t yet replace it or survive its removal. Good brain health is essential for a good quality of life. Yet neurodegenerative disorders and diseases are rife and increasing year on year. Brain disorders are threatening the very fabric of society because it’s not just the person that’s affected, but also their families, carers and communities too.
Conventional doctrine says that “…there is currently no way to slow disease progression and no known cures”. But, like the rest of the body, the brain is very susceptible to inflammation, which accelerates aging and degeneration - no matter what age you are. Bad diets, poor lifestyle choices, environmental toxins and too much stress are inflaming our brains and setting us on the road to neurodegeneration with brain disorders and diseases as the final destination.
Inflammation anywhere in the body is destructive, particularly if it’s unresolved, but Inflammation in the brain alters brain function and destroys brain tissue.
Functional medicine clinician and researcher, Dr Datis Kharrazian, says that “Most people will have their brain deteriorate more every year thinking that is part of normal aging, until they become impaired enough to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia - with virtually no treatment options to make any difference at that point.”
But the good news is that if you recognise your brain’s red flags and catch them early enough you CAN put out the fire of inflammation. Your brain has a deep evolutionary drive to be well and it’s not as hard as you think to take care of it. But it’s not down to a magic pill, it’s down to you! To the steps you’re able and willing to take with your diet and lifestyle to safeguard and future-proof your brain.
Dampening brain inflammation will slow the aging process and boost brain function no matter what age you are. Your brain function and your immune system are intimately entwined. Events that trigger your systemic immune response that aren’t resolved in a timely fashion become a risk for triggering your brain’s immune cells - the microglia. They’re your brain’s macrophages, the clean-up team responsible for first line defence and they make up a whopping 10-15% of all the cells in brain tissue.
However, once activated, the microglia never return to their pre-primed, natural M0 state, but specific nutrients and targeted lifestyle choices can help them transition to a calmer, non-inflammatory M2 state.
In their M1 pro-inflammatory state, the microglia stop being protective. Instead they pump out inflammatory messenger chemicals called cytokines creating higher levels of inflammation and tissue damage, which if unresolved, leads to loss of function and ultimately, neurodegeneration.
Even one acute cytokine storm that can be brought about by a serious infection, including a hyper response by the adaptive immune system such as in serious cases of covid-19, can prime your microglia into their M1 proinflammatory state.
If you are suffering with any chronic condition that nothing seems to help, then the root cause could be brain dysfunction and early degeneration caused by inflammation.
There are 5 areas that you should know about in terms of triggers for brain inflammation:
The first and most obvious being a traumatic brain injury like a bang on the head or loss of consciousness. Yet what’s probably less obvious is that the injury doesn’t have to be huge and even a minor head trauma can result in priming the microglia.
Then there’s that old chestnut, stress - whether that’s early life trauma from some form of abuse; PTSD or just chronic, prolonged emotional stress, because emotional wounds create inflammation too.
Moving up the priority list is gastrointestinal distress arising from poor digestion, leaky gut and the movement of gut bacteria out into the body cavity. Lipopolysaccharides or LPS, are powerful bacterial endotoxins that create massive inflammation systemically. However, if your gut is leaking, your blood brain barrier is likely to be too, which allows the LPS to get into your brain priming your microglia as they struggle to clear the endotoxins. People with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons have been found to have high levels of endotoxins in their blood stream, which is why gut health and brain health is so closely linked. And why making sure you have a healthy gut and a properly functioning microbiome is essential.
Systemic inflammation from metabolic dysfunction isn’t always talked about in the same sentence as neurodegeneration, but it is intimately linked. Metabolic dysfunction arising out of poor blood sugar handling, insulin resistance, obesity and particularly weight around your middle, creates chronic low grade inflammation that lights up the body first and then the brain.
And last but not least, ageing - either premature or normal - as microglia can become primed through degeneration.
Our brain’s ability to handle the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines is much better if your microglia haven’t already been primed by a previous trigger. Your brain also doesn’t do well when there’s been prolonged exposure to free radicals leading to a condition that underlies nearly all chronic diseases, including inflamaging. It’s called oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress typically happens when the body’s natural reserves of antioxidants get overwhelmed, often because we’re producing lesser amounts as we get older, or when we don’t get enough antioxidants in the plant components of our diets – or, worse still, all of these together.
Antioxidants, whether produced naturally in the body or derived from the diet, are therefore really important for the repair and clearing out of the resulting damage and debris from the inflammatory healing response in a timely fashion.
But just as importantly, we can’t do without the oxidants. It’s about getting the balance – or the dance if you like – between oxidants and antioxidants just right, in concert with our evolutionary backgrounds. Oxidation itself is of course a natural response to free radicals in the body and far from being bad, it’s actually really critical in signalling to the immune system. But when it gets out of hand and your body is unable to sufficiently quench the free radicals with antioxidants, or when our mitochondria - the energy factories in our cells - are damaged, dysfunctional or just too few in number to make enough energy, it causes oxidative stress. Oxidative stress accelerates aging and damage of tissues and contributes to a long list of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and of course the neurodegeneration that leads to a catalogue of brain disorders from mild cognitive decline through to Parkinson’s and different forms of dementia including Alzheimer’s. Even diseases such as Huntingdon’s, ALS and Motor Neurone Diseases that tend to have a partially genetic basis, are linked to brain damage from oxidative stress.
The brain is especially susceptible to oxidative stress because of its high requirement for oxygen. Did you know that nearly a quarter of the oxygen you breathe in goes to power around 86 billion neurons in your brain? Our brains have always needed to ‘breathe’ to function. But to do this safely we need to provide enough antioxidants and healthy fats through our diet, we need outdoor physical activity, we need sufficient good quality sleep and we need good reserves of healthy, working mitochondria - which, by no accident, benefit from much the same things as our brains!
Here you can see 13 causes for this susceptibility, but there are many more, which makes it all the more important to take some of the brain protective steps we’ll look at in a moment.
So, what can we really do to support our brains, resolve inflammation and drive our primed microglia into a safer, calmer M2 state? No prizes for guessing that your diet is the first step! Food was, and still is, our first medicine.
In particular, a keto-adapted diet, that’s low in starchy carbs, has moderate protein and higher healthy fats as in ANH’s Food4health guidelines is very brain-friendly. It’s also anti-inflammatory and promotes healthy weight management and metabolic flexibility when you use it in conjunction with intermittent fasting. Have a look at our Food4Health campaign page on our website for lots more information on how to use the food guidelines. But more than that, it’s based on our evolutionary norm, so helps food talk to our bodies in a language they understand. Because of this, it’s safe for everyone, even pregnant women and the elderly.
We recommend radically cutting down or cutting out grains, particularly gluten-containing grains, which drive gut permeability that creates systemic inflammation and allows the LPS to flood your system and cross the blood brain barrier. Cutting out gluten is like shutting the door before the horse bolts!
You’ll have noticed that our plate is loaded with largely unprocessed vegetables, particularly leafy greens and those from the cruciferous family like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choi, rocket (or arugula!), brussel sprouts and watercress. The sulphur contained in these vegetables transports oxygen across cell membranes helping cells to repair and regenerate. They’re also like sticky fly paper when it comes to trapping toxins, even in the brain. They’re also chock full of antioxidants, particularly if you can find farm sources that haven’t been out of the ground long.
On the subject of antioxidants - and particularly those that cross the blood brain barrier, you want to load up on flavonoids. These are highly beneficial plant chemicals found in curcumin, green tea and resveratrol that lower inflammation.
Our brains can also benefit from Nature’s bounty in the form of herbs and mushrooms. There are many more advanced food or dietary supplement products available now that combine powerful neuroprotective herbs like ashwagandha, skullcap, Bacopa monnieri and bilberry with nutrients like choline and phosphatidyl serine that protect cell membranes and mitochondria.
Turning to ‘shrooms… Reishi mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in Asia to boost cognitive function because they're neuroprotective. Cordyceps is particularly anti-inflammatory and helps to prevent the death of precious neuronal cells that cause memory loss. And Lion's Mane, with its distinctive shaggy look, can particularly support nerve growth factor and the brain's growth hormone - BDNF that we talk about later.
Liposomal glutathione can also cross the blood brain barrier and is very useful as a daily food supplement to quell inflammation. Levels of glutathione in the body can be very low when inflammation is high. It’s the most powerful antioxidant our bodies make, but levels also decline with age, so it makes sense to supplement with it when we need it most.
And let’s not forget our valiant mitochondria, which need support too when our brains are inflamed. Using supplements that include phospholipids and magnesium in the threonate form can help counter some of the processes underlying fatigue. Egg yolks, liver and lecithin are potent food sources of phospholipids, with almonds and spinach being good sources of magnesium threonate. However, when your brain is in need, taking a concentrated dose in a food supplement is often the best way to go. CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid, both powerful antioxidants, have been shown to decrease oxidative stress in the brain and through reversing the damage, support and protect cognitive function.
And a last word on the food front, let’s talk frequency. Our genetic blueprint has been built for famine and not for feast. Meaning that our bodies function much better on way less food than most people eat. One or two meals a day is all we need - although we don’t advise going cold turkey overnight. It may take you 10 - 12 weeks to adapt your body to this kind of intermittent fasting. But your brain will love you for it! Shift to making ketones for energy rather than burning sugars, eat less, have large food-free periods of time by leaving over 5 hours between meals and cut out sugary, refined and starchy carbs. You’ll likely feel a noticeable difference in 2 weeks or less, so stick with it even though it’s not always easy in the beginning.
In terms of lifestyle changes - it’s the usual suspects - 7-8 hours sleep a night in a pitch-dark room; digital detox for at least an hour before bed with your phone on airplane mode, and try not to have a load of electrical sockets behind your head when you’re sleeping; daily physical activity (hopefully out in nature) is part of the prescription with at least 2 HIIT sessions a week to build mitochondrial reserve and enhance function and please don’t forget your Me time for a little decompression. If meditation isn’t your thing, no problem, listening to music, a candlelit bath, tinkering in the garage or just some gazing out of the window is all good for resting your brain.
For those of you breathing a sigh of relief that I’ve not yet mentioned alcohol… Sorry! Here it comes. Alcohol as much as it feels like a stress reliever, is unfortunately a toxin and has to be completely out of the equation when you’re trying to resolve brain inflammation or neurodegeneration. Thankfully alcohol-free drinks have finally made it to the 21st Century, so feel free to imbibe as long as they’re not loaded with sugar or chemicals like artificial sweeteners, preservatives and lurid colourings!
No discussion on the brain could be complete without a mention of BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It’s our brains’ growth hormone that influences brain function as well as the whole central nervous system - our brain architect if you like. We have it in abundance in our youth, but it declines rapidly with age if we don’t put enough demand on our brains. Truly, “use it before you lose it”!
BDNF is a neuropeptide protein, so maintaining good protein levels in our diet is a good start, but most important is keeping our brains active through learning new skills, concentrating on challenging tasks and daily physical activity. Researchers found that old rats who exercised daily had similar brain function to younger rats and that people who exercised daily built up BDNF levels rapidly, but they fell off just as rapidly after 2 weeks of no exercise. So as inviting as that couch looks… your brain needs you to put your trainers on get moving!
There are some excellent books out now to help us fix our brains and keep them fixed. I’d recommend Dr Datis Kharrazian’s “Why my brain isn’t working”; all of functional neurologist, Dr David Perlmutter’s books, but “Brain Maker” and “Brain Wash” in particular and a bit of a heavier read for those that really want to dive deep, “Nutrient Power: Heal your biochemistry and Heal your brain” by Dr William Walsh.
If your problems are advanced or you have been experiencing difficulties for some time now, I’d recommend seeing a functional or integrative medicine practitioner, a clinical psychoneuroimmunologist or a health professional with experience of working with natural approaches for brain inflammation.
But in all we’ve talked about thus far, you’ll have noticed that all the things we need to do to help bring brain function back into balance are things that relate directly to our evolutionary survival. Our modern lives often take us in a direction that no longer provides the resources or environments that our brains have adapted to over millennia. Resolving this requires that we speak to our brains - and bodies - in an evolutionary language that they understand.
The great thing to remember is that we’re literally hardwired to get well, which is also linked to our evolutionary survival mechanisms.
Thank you for watching. I hope this video has shown you how much we can do for ourselves self-caring at home. We don’t need to wait for a medical diagnosis if we recognise the signs early on that our brains are under stress and take that all important restorative action. Neurodegeneration doesn’t have to be an incurable death sentence if we take steps early enough, so please hit the share button and let’s make a difference to brain inflammation together.
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