BY DR. WILL COLE
Your brain is one of the most brilliant parts of your body. Everything from our hormones to our digestion is controlled and impacted by how well our brain functions. But sadly, our modern diets, stress levels, and environmental exposures have all wreaked havoc on our brain health with some devastating consequences.
Brain health problems are on the rise with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, it is estimated that 20 percent of adults in America are diagnosed with a mental disorder. This number doesn't even include the thousands struggling with autoimmune-related brain problems such as autism, brain fog, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, anxiety, depression, and multiple sclerosis.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I see the life-changing impact these health problems have on people's wellbeing. It is my job to uncover the root cause of why people are going through their health problems in order to come up with an action plan to rehab their health.
And after years of firsthand experience, I have seen all of these problems have one thing in common: inflammation.
The Gut-Brain Connection
In the wellness world, leaky gut syndrome is a common condition that occurs when your delicate gut lining is damaged, allowing undigested food particles and other bacteria to enter your bloodstream causing a cascade of chronic inflammation throughout your body.
Similarly enough, this same problem can happen with your brain. Research shows us that our gut and brain are inextricably linked through what is known as the ''gut-brain axis.'' This connection means that what affects one will often affect the other. Therefore, leaky gut can quickly become leaky brain - the destruction of your protective blood-brain barrier.
Occludin and zonulin are two proteins that govern both your gut lining and blood-brain barrier permeability. So chances are that if you struggle with leaky gut syndrome your brain health could also be compromised as well.
When inflammation is high, the molecule microRNA-155 creates gaps in your blood-brain barrier which lets toxins and other material through that ultimately don't belong there. This further perpetuates inflammation since your brain sees this invading material as foreign and works to fight it off by creating an autoimmune-inflammation reaction against your brain.
A whole area of medical research known as the ''cytokine model of cognitive function'' is devoted to studying the impact inflammation can have on the brain and the subsequent brain disorders it causes. By looking at these brain problems through this lens, we can better understand why these health conditions are on the rise and why they don't always improve since most antidepressants and other medications don't actually address the underlying brain inflammation
1. Know where you stand
If you suspect that inflammation is the driving force behind your brain problems, running labs can give you a more definitive answer on where you stand so you can better know how to start working toward healing.
Occludin and Zonulin - Elevated levels of these two antibodies can indicate both blood-brain barrier and gut permeability.
Homocysteine - This amino acid has been linked to destruction of the blood-brain barrier in high amounts.
Microbiome labs - Bacterial imbalances have been linked to anxiety and depression so understanding the makeup of your microbiome will shed light on what bacterial strains you are lacking in.
2. Clean up your diet
Inflammation is triggered by a lot of factors with diet being one of the main drivers. Everything you eat either feeds disease or fuels health. By discovering the foods your body loves and hates through an elimination diet you will be able to start driving-down inflammation with every meal. For a detailed guide to eliminating foods and how to reintroduce them, check out my book The Inflammation Spectrum.
3. Go keto
Once you know what foods make you feel the best, a ketogenic diet is another tool you can use to further calm inflammation. The great thing about a ketogenic diet is that you can do it regardless of whatever diet you are following - including plant-based diets - all you have to do is adjust your macronutrients.
Being in a state of ketosis has been shown to be more powerful than some of the strongest medications for autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. Due to ketone's natural anti-inflammatory qualities, coupled with their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, reaching ketosis with a ketogenic diet can be a great way to further soothe inflammation.
4. Try intermittent fasting
Going for extended periods of time without eating can be another powerful tool for lowering inflammation. Fasting works to enhance anti-inflammatory mechanisms in the body including autophagy, your cell's self-cleaning process that helps keep inflammation under control. There are many ways to fast depending on if you are a beginner or a long-time pro looking to up your fasting game. You can check out my complete guide to fasting here.
Dr. Will Cole, leading functional-medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam at www.drwillcole.com and locally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing health programs for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top fifty functional-medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is a health expert for mindbodygreen and goop. Dr. Cole is the author of the upcoming book, The Inflammation Spectrum in which he explores how inflammation exists on a spectrum within the body, the various systems it can affect, and how you can discover your individual food triggers to overcome chronic inflammation. He is also the author of Ketotarian in which he melds the powerful benefits of a ketogenic diet with a plant-based one.