Smart nutrition—eating foods that nourish brain cells and boost cell repair and the production of neurotransmitters—can help reverse brain damage from drug and alcohol abuse.
That’s the conclusion of respected nutrition experts like Dr. David Perlmutter, a renowned neurologist and New York Times best-selling author of Grain Brain, The Brain Maker and The Better Brain. “The fate of your health, including that of the brain, is a choice—not a destiny dictated by your genes,” Perlmutter writes. “Food is medicine and we can actually change our gene expressions with the foods we eat.”
Brain cells experience damage from environmental contaminants, including drugs and alcohol, but these top eight foods can help brain cells heal in critical ways:
Broccoli, known to enhance cognitive thinking and memory and recall skills, is one of the healthiest foods for the brain. The vegetable is an excellent source of vitamin K and is high in lignans—both of which greatly benefit cognitive function.
Its high levels of antioxidants are another reason broccoli is good for your brain. Lab studies show that antioxidant nutrients can protect brain cells from inflammatory damage due to neurotoxic substances like methamphetamine, cocaine, opiates, marijuana, alcohol and environmental pollutants.
Broccoli is also high in glucosinolates, which can prevent the decline of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Drug and alcohol abuse can cause severe deficiencies in acetylcholine, and these deficiencies heighten anxiety levels. Low levels of acetylcholine are also common in those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Berries are extremely high in antioxidants and other phytochemicals known both to improve learning, thinking, and memory functions and to prevent cellular corrosion from free radicals. Compared to other fruits, berries are also relatively low in fruit sugars, making them one of the healthier fruits available. Eating berries on a regular basis allows the brain and body to detoxify naturally—and that can substantially reduce cellular damage.
Celery is a highly valuable source of luteolin. Medical research proves that luteolin can minimize brain inflammation, which is a primary cause of neurodegeneration. Luteolin has been shown to reduce memory loss in mice. Celery is also an excellent source of vitamin K and antioxidants. One way to get ample amounts of the nutrients found in celery is to drink fresh, raw celery juice.
4. Garbanzo Beans
Garbanzo beans are one of the best food sources of magnesium. Magnesium strengthens the activity of brain cell receptors, by improving the speed and accuracy of their intracellular communication, so that neurochemical messages can more smoothly relay information to and from other cells in the body. Magnesium also increases blood flow to the brain by relaxing blood vessels.
5. Red Meat
Grass-fed beef is an excellent source of vitamin B12, which is vital for healthy brain function. One study performed by the Chicago Health and Aging Project demonstrated that adults with a vitamin B12 deficiency had a smaller total brain volume due to brain shrinkage and were much more likely to score lower on cognitive tests. Another study performed by the University of Oxford in 2008 showed that those with higher B12 levels were six times less likely to experience brain shrinkage.
6. Turmeric Root
The plant turmeric is high in curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that is also one of the most studied natural compounds around. Numerous studies now suggest curcumin may yield as many as 150 potential medicinal benefits and may positively impact as many as 700 genes.
Curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier and can prevent neuron damage and a wide range of neurological disorders. It has also been shown to boost memory and improve the regeneration of new brain cells. Studies show that curcumin may be a natural preventative of depression, by increasing the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
At least one study has suggested curcumin is just as effective as an antidepressant. In this controlled trial study, 60 patients were divided into three groups. One group took Prozac, another took one gram of curcumin daily, and the third group took both Prozac and curcumin. After six weeks, those in the curcumin group reportedly experienced antidepressant effects similar to those reported by the Prozac group.
Turmeric is available at most health food stores in its whole root form. It can be shredded or minced and added to soups, stir fries and other dishes, or used as a spice in powder form. Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin are also available in a capsule or liquid extract form. It can also be simmered in boiling water to make a tea.
7. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are commonly known as one of the healthiest foods for the brain. Healthy fats are the building blocks for optimal brain cell function. Nuts and seeds are high in amino acids, fiber and various nutrients, but it is their high content of omega-3 fats, phytosterols, B-vitamins and antioxidants that makes them particularly nourishing and rejuvenating for the brain. Nuts and seeds are high in zinc, which is vital for enhancing memory and thinking skills. Researchers have called nuts and seeds “remarkable” in their ability to prevent and repair free-radical damage and slow aging of the brain.
A recent study performed at Harvard found that people who regularly ate a small handful of raw nuts daily were 20 percent less likely to die from health complications, compared to those who avoided nuts in their diet.
The healthy fats in nuts and seeds are considered delicate fatty acids. That means they become damaged at high temperatures. Eating them raw is therefore far better for you than eating them roasted or cooked.
Nuts and seeds are also excellent sources of healthy oil in your diet. These, too, are best for you in raw—and cold-pressed—form. Preferred oil sources are walnut, almond, grapeseed, sesame seed, sunflower seed, hemp seed and flax seed.
8. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a superfood with incredible health promise for the brain. The ketones found in coconut oil power brain function and prevent aging and shrinkage of the brain as well. Half of the fat content in coconut oil is lauric acid, a fat rarely found in nature. Lauric acid is commonly referred to as a “miracle” ingredient because of its unique health-promoting properties. Its antiviral and antibacterial properties are so powerful that the medical industry has more recently begun to use coconut oil to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer, HIV, herpes, influenza virus and measles.