Poor nutrition has been linked to everything from obesity and diabetes to tooth decay and heart disease – but can our dietary choices also affect brain health and make us dumber?
Studies show that two of the main ingredients of processed foods – sugar and common table salt – negatively impact cognitive function.
“There’s definitely a correlation to extra sugar in food contributing to making people dumber,” says internationally acclaimed lifestyle coach Jaya Jaya Myra. “And nowadays, sugar is being added to just about everything.”
Myra, author of Vibrational Healing: Attain Balance & Wholeness. Understand Your Energetic Type, points to a UCLA study that showed how diets high in fructose syrup (an ingredient commonly added to soft drinks, condiments, and other processed foods) can interfere with the normal function of the brain’s synapses, sabotaging learning and understanding. The study also showed how fructose can disrupt the sugar-regulating protein insulin in the hippocampus, which plays a role in memory formation.
“I was shocked to see how strong an effect these diets could have on the brain — the foods people eat can really affect mood and cognition,” says led lead researcher and neuroscientist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla.
In related research, scientists at Ohio State University studied 11,700 middle-school-aged children and found even minor increases in fast food consumption were associated with poorer academic test results. Kids who ate fast food on a daily basis saw test scores that were up to about “20 percent lower” than those who didn’t eat any fast food.
“Sugar is a major problem,” says evolutionary biologist Dr. Sharad P. Paul, author of The Genetics of Health. “There is an inverse correlation between abdominal fat and brain volume. We experience cognitive diminishment and loss of memory, the fatter we become.”
According to Myra, “Sugar also contributes to headaches, body pain, and other problems that affect cognitive ability.”
“A high salt intake, particularly table salt, can cause cellular activation to be hypertonic,” says nationally recognized sports nutritionist, strength, and conditioning coach Brandon Mentore. “Over time your body’s ability to relax and have proper fluid balance and nerve transmission will be down regulated as a protective measure in the body.”
A Toronto study published in Neurobiology of Aging showed how older people with the highest daily sodium intake (common table salt) performed poorer over time on cognitive tests than those with low sodium intake and an active lifestyle.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines recommends that Americans consume no more than 1,500 milligrams — or about two-thirds of a teaspoon — of salt each day. However, Americans actually consume more than 3,000 milligrams a day, which adds up to about 517 teaspoons of table salt a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the sodium Americans eat comes from packaged, processed, store-bought, and restaurant foods. Only a small amount comes from salt added during cooking or at the table.
The Tumbling IQ Fake Food Connection
World IQ’s, especially in the U.S., have been declining since around 1950. Interestingly, this is about the same time food manufacturers began replacing real food with fake food to lower operating costs for mass production.
“What Americans now consider food has changed dramatically,” says integrative and functional medicine specialist Dr. Craig A. Maxwell.
Now, food-like products are being put on tables across the nation more often than nourishing whole food. The standard American diet consists of refined flours, synthetic sugars, food additives, and preservatives that do little-to-nothing to nourish the body while contributing to the development of chronic physical and mental disease.
Maxwell compares the switch from real food to fake food to the 1950s cult science fiction film Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. “Familiar, everyday products were changed from natural to synthetic and Americans never realized the difference.”
Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas, leading expert in the application of metabolomic medicine agrees. “Within just 50 years, the change that our diet has undergone is immense,” says Tsoukalas, author of How To Live 150 Years In Health. He uses a head of lettuce as an example:
In the past, growers cultivated a hundred heads of lettuce on a plot of land. Today, that same plot is used to produce a thousand heads of lettuce, which means the nutrients of the land have to be split between a thousand rather than a hundred heads of lettuce. And in order to have acceptable production, fertilizers are used to restore the necessary components of the soil.
“In no case can fertilizers provide the 92 elements available in nature,” adds Tsoukalas. “In order to receive the nutrients a lettuce provided us only 50 years ago, we have to consume 10 heads today.”
The same applies to the rest of the foods we consume, whether plant or animal, adds Tsoukalas. Because of this, our cells do not receive and do not dispose of the elements they need to function. Gradually, deficiencies develop at cellular and molecular levels.
These deficiencies impact every part of our body, especially our brain health, according to nutritionist and holistic specialist Mike Neller.
“A poor diet can easily translate into a lack of precision in thought and action,” says Neller.
About 30 percent of your daily dietary intake goes toward feeding your brain. The vitamin B complex is necessary for the health of your central nervous system which is critical to brain health and function. Essential Fatty Acids promote cellular function and trace minerals provide that ‘conductive spark’ which makes us intellectually sharp.
Brain Health: Magnesium Matters
In a 2010 study that appeared in Neuron, neuroscientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tsinghua University in Beijing found that increasing magnesium improves learning abilities, working memory, and short-and-long-term memory. The magnesium also helped improve performance on a battery of learning tests.
“The problem is that magnesium as well as other nutrients have been depleted from our soils and our foods due to modern farming and food processing methods,” says Dr. Carolyn Dean, nutrition specialist and author of 365 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power: Tips, Exercise, Advice.
According to Dean, over 75 percent of Americans do not get their RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) of this mineral, which is crucial to more than 700 enzyme interactions in the body.
“Both the brain and the heart are made-up of excitable tissues that give off electrical energy and both must have magnesium to properly function,” says Dean.
The brain is in a state of constant electrical activity. Brain cells are controlled by switches: some switches are turned on and some are turned off by neurotransmitters. The action of these neurotransmitters could not take place without calcium, magnesium and zinc, which play various roles in the response of the nerve cells to electrical stimulation.
As we get older, says Dean, we become more deficient in magnesium and therefore require more in our diet and in supplement form.”
More Cranial Crushing Food Additives
Besides sugar and salt, there are other common food additives that can also have an adverse effect on cognitive function. According to Maxwell, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is an excitotoxin that excites brain cells to a premature death. It has the same effect on your brain as that of a jockey whipping a horse to go and go and go until it drops. This additive is often found in a wide variety of highly-processed foods and hides under 20-plus different names so it can be difficult to avoid. The savory flavor of MSG makes it highly addictive and an ideal additive to keep customers coming back for more.
Then there’s aspartame, a synthetic sweetener found in diet coke, linked to the development of permanent neurological dysfunction with symptoms ranging from mild behavioral problems to seizure disorders. Aspartame also seems to have a profound effect on learning, memory, and cognition in children and adults alike.
“The unfortunate aspect of aspartame is that it can take years or even decades for the cumulative effects to be noticed and by the time they are, it’s simply too late to reverse the damage,” says Maxwell.
After aspartame, along came Splenda (sucralose). Its makers claimed it was an improved sweetener because it tastes like sugar.
“But there’s something they didn’t tell you,” says Maxwell. “Splenda is chlorinated sugar and is neurotoxic to humans.”
Additionally, a study published in 2008 found that sucralose reduces the amount of good bacteria in your intestines by 50 percent.
“Believe me, if you continuously destroy up to 50 percent of your gut flora by regularly consuming sucralose, then poor health is virtually guaranteed,” says Dr. Joseph Mercola, osteopathic physician, board-certified in family medicine.
Dummy Down With Pernicious Pesticides
A recent report commissioned by the European Parliament cited scientific evidence that pesticides sprayed on food can affect brain health and cause brain damage. The report included a California study that found children whose mothers had traces of organophosphate metabolites – the basis for many pesticides – during pregnancy were more likely to have “adverse mental development at 2 years of age, attention problems at three-and-a-half and five years, and poorer intellectual development at seven years.”
Another study in the report calculated that an estimated 13 million IQ points a year are lost as a result of pesticides.
“Pesticides are everywhere and we’re using more of them than ever before,” says Maxwell. “Not only are pesticides sprayed directly on our food, pesticides are now being grown into our food by way of genetically modified food.”
According to Maxwell, several pesticides such as organophosphates, carbamates, and organochlorine kill pests by directly targeting nervous tissue and destroying it. This doesn’t just affect the insects. Mammals, including human beings, are unable to metabolize them, which means they linger on in the body and brain “causing permanent neurological dysfunction.”
The Dumbing Down Domino Effect
The dumbing down of the world due to inappropriate nutrition impacts everyone. Even if you are eating food the way Mother Nature intended, your neighbors who don’t eat well are making decisions that are shaping your world. Foggy brains still vote.
“A confused mind tends to look to others for leadership,” says Maxwell.
It has been proven that individuals who lack education or have a lowered IQ often follow along with the ideals and beliefs of the majority. When critical thinking is affected, Americans who have been dumbed down will look (for answers) from their televisions and politicians who might not have their (or your) best interests at heart.
Improve Brain Health: 5 Ways To Smarten Up
There’s obviously no easy fix for this brain health issue. However, these five brain-saving recommendations can help:
- Avoid Processed – The term processed food refers to food that has been purposely changed in some way before consumption. Processed foods offer no to little nutritional value. Instead, they provide harmful chemicals, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial ingredients which weaken the immune system and promote diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Common processed foods include breakfast cereals, canned food, bread, microwave foods, soft drinks, cheese, and dairy.
- Go Organic – Organic foods are grown and processed without the use of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers, and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Additionally, A British study found that organically grown foods contain “significantly” higher antioxidants than the conventionally grown variety. And, according to the Huntington Post, organic food is fresher, more filling, and free of additives that could keep nutrients from being absorbed by your body. Many people believe organic food tastes better because it’s real.
- Strengthen Your Gut – According to Mercola, optimizing your gut flora is one of the most powerful nutritional interventions you can implement to stay healthy. Eating fermented foods like kimchi, for example, can help detox pesticides from consuming non-organic foods. A study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, reports the organophosphate insecticide Chlorpyrifos degraded rapidly during kimchi fermentation, and was over 83 percent degraded by Day Three. By Day Nine, it was degraded completely. Probiotics can also help keep the gut and vagus nerve signals in a healthier state, according to a report in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).
- Supplements – Another way to help combat nutritionally deficient food is with supplements. But be careful, some supplements are better than others. In addition to probiotics and magnesium, other top essential supplements on your shopping list should include omega-3, vitamin D-3, and antioxidants that fight free radicals. And consider the Natural Doctor Complete Health Kit. Based on metabolomic feedback, these seven supplements support cognitive function, protect cells from oxidative stress, and removes toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides from the liver.
- Change The World – Dumb people don’t think they’re dumb. They will more than likely continue eating for taste rather than nutrition especially given the proven addictive qualities of food additives. This is where politics can make a difference. Support candidates who insist on the labeling of GMOs, demand that food manufacturers are more responsible, and scream out against the toxicity in our environment including the spraying of harmful pesticides on food crops.
Thomas Ropp Longtime journalist Thomas Ropp is an environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest ten years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.
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