Foods, Brain Health and Mood

April 2015 Issue

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Foods, Brain Health and Mood

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Research over the last 10 years has firmly established that learning and memory abilities as well as mood can be influenced by diet. For years the general thought in neuroscience was that the brain was a static organ with the inability to grow new cells. Not anymore! Research has shown that certain areas of the adult brain can re-grow after being damaged or traumatized. Two areas, (for the nerds out there are known as the subventicular zone and the dentate gyrus). But unless you’re a neuroscientist doing research in these areas it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that by stimulating the growth of these areas one can combat depression, anxiety and actually increase cognition (i.e. your smarts) and for prevention Alzheimer’s and adult onset dementia.

To help grow certain brain areas there must be some incredible drug, a special machine or something like that right? Not really, the main thing that these studies have shown is that certain components of food can induce, what we nerds call Adult Hippocampal Neurogenesis (AHN). Note that the hippocampus in the brain is the place where memory seems to mainly live. Therefore, by re-growing hippocampal areas that have been damaged, let’s say by chronic stress, you can improve your memory as well as anxiety and reduce depression too! It turns out that the main components in foods that help stimulate the growth of your brain are the phenolics in the foods. OK, so what are the phenolics? Phenolics (pleural for phenolic) are chemicals in food that give blue berries their blue, red wine the red, black berries their black, green tea it’s green. They also give certain tastes like the astringency to tea or wine (tannins are phenolics). Phenolics are found in almost all naturally colored foods, are plant based and turn out to have a large array of positive effects on the body, like anti-inflammation, vessel protection, anti-viral, free radical fighters. They can also stimulate brain growth in certain regions of the brain, are antidepressants, anti-anxiety and boost IQ as well.

So which foods have lots of phenolics? There are hundreds, however I’ll stick with the best ones studied. Let’s start with some of my personal favorites: chocolate (not chocolate bars, sorry), blue berries, green tea, Turmeric, red grapes, black berries, plums, apples, cherries and coffee. Studies have shown that phenolic compounds contained in these foods can stimulate AHN and have other positive effects on the brain. Note that some depressed individuals may have reduced hippocampal volume, so helping it regrow could have beneficial effects on them.

How do they work? It is thought that the phenolics in these foods like green tea or turmeric affect the brain in several different ways that promote feeling good and stimulate brain growth. The phenolics are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory so they protect the brain from general ravages of aging, they can keep the feel good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain for longer periods of time which are linked to lower anxiety and depressive states. Besides supporting brain growth factors, they can stimulate a cell receptor in the brain known as the Gaba receptor which helps you feel more relaxed, how cool is that ? Most studies also incorporate one other food component and that is fish oil or omega 3 fatty acids. This makes sense because the brain is made of a lot of fat. Omega – 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory which also helps in supporting brain neurogenesis as well as help alleviate anxiety and depression.

The clinical impact of these findings are huge. This knowledge of how food can stimulate brain growth (phenols and omega 3’s) can then be translated into everyday practice that results in combating brain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Age Related Dementia, and for psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety disorders. So eat your berries, herbs, veggies and cold water fish and drink 2-3 cups of organic green tea!

Yours in health,

Dr. Quinn Rivet, ND

How does stress prohibit weight loss? The facts of life…

A work deadline approaching, wedding planning, family relationship struggles and extensive physical activity all mean the same thing to the body – stress. Cortisol, the hormone linked to stress, has not changed much since our primate ancestors requiring a cortisol surge enabling the ability to out run a saber-toothed tiger. What is cortisol and where does it come from?

As part of our hormone system, cortisol is produced in two glands called the adrenal glands, which sit on top of each kidney. Beginning to form in early development of pregnancy, adrenals are composed of two layers, an inner (medulla) and outer (cortex) layer. Humans and all mammals cannot survive without functioning cortisol. Hormones that are produced in the outer layer include aldosterone (salt-regulation), cortisol, and sex hormones. The inner layer produces epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones known to be responsible for the “fight or flight”response.

When we feel stressed, blood levels of cortisol surge. Immediate reactions to this include an increase in heartbeat, heightened memory (as in – uh oh, I remember that tiger!) and a burst of energy. This relates to the survival nature of a cortisol spike -the ability to escape from the attacking predator. However chronic stress encountered in today’s busy lives and chronic high cortisol leads to insomnia, impaired memory or cognition (what we term “foggy brain”), high blood pressure, frequent colds and flus and inflammation and an increase in abdominal fat or inability to lose it! This list is not complete since hormone systems are extremely interconnected and high cortisol can have strong effects on thyroid hormone function, sex hormone production (including fertility) and blood sugar regulation.

If stress continues over prolonged periods, a deficiency or lowered level of all adrenal hormones is observed. This is typically called adrenal fatigue and is characterized by lack of energy and fatigue, weight gain, sugar and salt cravings, cold limbs and low blood pressure (which causes you to feel dizzy when going from sitting to standing). Food sensitivities and poor immune responses are also characteristic of a lowered adrenal function.

How do you improve adrenal strength? There are tests available that will indicate which phase of adrenal dysfunction is present. In a typical person with normal functioning adrenals, a high cortisol spike in the morning occurs to allow for waking up and going about the day. As the day goes on, levels continue to slowly decrease until the late evening when cortisol is at the lowest to allow for sleep. A commonly used reliable test looks at a salivary level of cortisol production at key times during the day. Saliva is collected into vials at 4 different times during and a graphical cortisol output curve is reported. A symptom and lab-based treatment plan is developed by a naturopathic physician to encourage cortisol production at times of day when needed and to quench cortisol when it should be lower to allow for sleep. Herbs such as withania, licorice and rhodiola can be combined with adrenal-supportive nutrients such as Vitamin C, B5, and selenium to give a well-rounded protocol. Supplements are prescribed at time-specific intervals to help shift the cortisol curve back into normal range.

Addressing the way one internalizes and responds to stress is the most important part of the treatment plan. Yoga, meditation, walks, exercise, journaling and listening to music are some methods that can bring our body away from stress (sympathetic) mode back down to rest and digest mode (parasympathetic). Cortisol secretion and the various patterns observed differs between people so there is not a cookie-cutter method to reduce or improve cortisol levels. While treatments and life-style changes vary, learning how to manage stress is central to improving adrenal function.
Diet can also contribute to symptoms and should be considered in a complete treatment plan.

For more information and a detailed analysis of your adrenal health, please contact Vitalia Health Care.

Yours In Health,

Dr. Jennifer Luis ND

Mirin-Poached Salmon with Spring Salad

Recipe Source: EatingWell


1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons mirin
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh ginger matchsticks
1-1 1/4 pounds salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi or cod, skinned if desired, cut into 4 portions
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup radish matchsticks
1 cup thinly sliced snap peas
1 cup pea sprouts


  1. Combine water, mirin, soy sauce, vinegar and ginger in a large skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 4 minutes. Add fish; sprinkle with salt. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook, turning once, just until opaque in the center, 4 to 8 minutes (depending on thickness).
  2. Meanwhile, combine radishes, snap peas and pea sprouts in a medium bowl. When the fish is done, pour the braising liquid into the bowl and toss to coat. Serve the salad on the fish



The Team at Vitalia Health Care

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