IS YOUR BRAIN ON FIRE?
If you find yourself dealing with fatigue, constant memory issues, moodiness, low or high blood sugar, and just feeling “off” mentally, you may be dealing with “neuroinflammation”. Basically, your brain is on fire. Did you know that many causes of inflammation and neurodegeneration can actually be linked to metabolic dysfunctions? That is because metabolic disturbances can affect all regions of your brain rather equally. In fact, the main culprit is compromised energy production. As you may have learned in high school, ATP is the primary fuel source for your body, and this includes the brain. Your neurons need ATP to fire an impulse and if you have disrupted ATP production, you will have disrupted brain function. And when it comes to brain health, there are 3 main factors that affect global brain function that can compromise your ability to produce this wonderful ATP. Read below to read a summary of each of them.
Anemia-Put it simply, anemia is a decrease in your red blood cell’s ability to carry oxygen. There are 3 main types of anemia. The most common seen in children and women of child bearing age is iron deficiency anemia (IDA). This one is always related to dietary iron metabolism and can be easily detected on lab markers. Watch out for low MCV/MCH/MCHC, RBC, hemoglobin and ferritin. This can be easily corrected with supplementation and cofactors to improve iron metabolism such as vitamin C. If the issue is stemming from low stomach acid, optimizing digestion is a great strategy. Another type of anemia is megaloblastic anemia. This is also dietary, but it is caused by low vitamin B12 and sometimes B6 and folate as well. This is often seen in poorly executed vegans and people with gut malabsorption. Lab makers to look out for are elevated MCV and low B12 status. People with this condition are often fatigued. If you suspect this type of anemia, ask your PCP to run B12 unsaturated binding capacity, serum MMA and homocysteine for a deeper investigation. Also, a micronutrient test would be a bonus! If you identify B12 deficiency, you will need to optimize B12 status with proper supplementation and optimizing digestion. A third type of anemia, though less common, is anemia of chronic disease (ACD). This one is non-nutritional and driven by a pathological or inflammatory origin triggering oxidative stress and free radicals. Lab markers are very similar to IDA, but you will see elevated ferritin. In this situation, you need to identify and fix the source of inflammation, which may mean running additional tests to identify these hidden sources of inflammation. Also, supporting inflammation by taking natural anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants such as glutathione, alpha lipoic acid, superoxide dismutase. Iron supplementation is not recommended if you have ACD!
Dysglycemia-Your brain requires about 125g of glucose per day. Your neurons cannot store glucose so if your glucose metabolism is compromised, this can be a big problem! Both low and high blood sugar are problematic, as they both can lead to low brain glucose levels and ATP production, which means less FUEL for the brain. This can lead to neuroinflammation and brain degeneration. Basically, a bad brain. If you notice you are shaky between meals, irritable, light headed, tired, nauseous, moody, and have brain fog, then you may have reactive hypoglycemia. This can be identified in a lab as a fasting blood sugar under 85 and LDH < 140. If you notice you are fatigued and moody after meals, as well as trouble losing weight and are generally overweight and feel your body doesn’t burn carbs well, then you may be insulin resistant. This can be identified in lab markers as fasting glucose 99-125 and LDH may be <140. HbA1c and fasting insulin may also be elevated, and in many cases can indicate full blown diabetes. Additional tests to run include a 4pt salivary test evaluate if cortisol levels indicate further dysfunction in circadian rhythm. It can also provide a clue if adrenals that may be worsening the dysglycemia. When either type of dysglycemia is identified, work on optimizing glucose metabolism with nutrition, exercise and supplementation.
Inflammation and oxidative stress-Your brain is affected by inflammation in both the brain and body compartments. The body can produce chemicals known as cytokines that can be inflammatory and can cross the blood brain barrier to ignite the cells in your brain called microglial cells. In fact, cytokines can be generated anywhere your body’s internal barrier (skin, gut, bladder, brain) is leaky. When toxins and antigens from pathogens and food get in, you can get a low-grade systemic inflammation. Activation of the microglial cells can lead to a “leaky” brain, which then increases those inflammatory cytokines and other inflammatory mediators, which can damage your brain cells and lead to neuronal inflammation. You can get an increase in free radicals and over time, your body will be unable to handle them which can lead to further damaged DNA, mitochondrial damage and compromised ATP production. Remember, your brain needs FUEL to function. Mitochondrial are the powerhouse of the cell, and when they are damaged, you produce less energy. This means less energy for your brain. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle indeed!
What can you do? First identify the source of the neuroinflammation, particularly if it is one of the 3 deal breakers. Work with a clinical nutritionist and integrative practitioner to run the appropriate labs to identify the imbalances and sources of the deal breakers. These include things like routine blood work, food sensitivity tests, organic acid testing, micronutrient testing, and a comprehensive stool analysis. If it is dietary, fix the dietary imbalances through proper nutrition, exercise and supplementation. Address blood sugar imbalances. Reduce chronic stress and support your adrenals. Support the healing with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods in your diet. Focus on bioflavonoids, polyphenols, turmeric, ginger, green tea, blueberries, resveratrol, and rutin. Enhance detoxification by eating plenty of fiber, water, avoid drinking alcohol and choose organic foods. Avoid chemicals in your household and personal care products. Increase blood flow with things like feverfew, capsaicin, gingko biloba and vinpocetine. And finally make sure you are working with an expert in the field that can guide you in the right direction!