The brain is a chemical factory
The brain is a chemical factory. It makes special messengers called neurotransmitters, which regulate our mood, emotions, and mental well-being. Neurotransmitters relay messages from one neuron to another, and from one part of the brain to another part.
Neurotransmitters are either excitatory, causing a neuron to send a signal, or inhibitory, preventing a signal from being sent. The excitatory system speeds things up, and gets things moving, while the inhibitory system helps slow things down or stops signals from continuing.
If levels of excitatory neurotransmitters in our brain gets too high, you can feel out of control, overexcited, racy, or anxious. If inhibitory neurotransmitter levels get too high, important signals may be stopped, which can lead to symptoms of depression, fatigue, or compulsive behaviours.
Imbalances in our brains can cause an endless list of health challenges, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, insomnia, memory problems, irritable bowel syndrome, hormone dysfunction, migraine, and even early death.
What affects the balance of brain chemicals
Well, many things.
Prolonged periods of stress can seriously deplete the levels of these chemicals. We are all different though; some people can absorb vast amounts of pressure yet remain unaffected while other people will suffer imbalances after only mild pressure.
Poor diet is another factor. Neurotransmitters are made in the brain from proteins and certain vitamins and minerals. If nutrition is poor, and there isn’t enough of these materials around, an imbalance can develop.
Genetic factors can play a part too. People with a family history of mental illness are more at risk from suffering similar conditions.
Toxic substances like heavy metals, pesticides and some prescription medication can cause permanent damage to brain cells.
Hormone changes are a known cause of low levels of certain brain chemicals.
A myth about antidepressants
Once symptoms emerge, correcting imbalances in the brain is not as simple as taking a few pills.
Neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, are needed by brain cells to help them communicate properly with adjacent cells. Most antidepressants are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which stop serotonin being reabsorbed into cells. This is a good thing because if serotonin is not reabsorbed it becomes available to do more work.
Now for the bad news. Antidepressants such as SSRIs do not “make’ serotonin. If there is a shortage of this chemical in the brain, no amount of antidepressants will do any good. Antidepressants will only work if the raw ingredients are present.
What are the raw materials?
An amino acid that has been proven to increase the level of serotonin in the brain is 5-hydroxytryptophan. L-theanine is another important material because it regulates the secretion of serotonin and dopamine, while l-tyrosine is a building block of neurotransmitters. Calcium citrate, folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin C are used to convert 5-hydrotryptophan to serotonin.
Although it is possible to get all of the above chemicals from over-the-counter supplements, there isn’t really any need because all of these are in abundance in certain foods. Two foods in particular are classed as brain super foods; avocado and extra virgin olive oil.
Avocado is one of the healthiest brain super foods on the go. The fruit is packed with monosaturated fats (the good type of fat), vitamins K, C and B, and folate. Research has concluded that this food can keep chemicals in the brain in perfect balance, helping prevent strokes and improving cognitive function.
Real extra virgin olive oil is truly a brain food. Thanks to the powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols, which are found in the oil, including this in your diet can greatly improve learning and memory. It has even been proven to reduce age-related brain disease.
The benefits of keeping the brain healthy are obvious. By increasing the amount of these foods in your diet, brain cells can work properly and, more importantly, can work in perfect balance.
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