Episode 11

In this week’s episode, Jesse goes deep into diet with Dr. Neal Barnard, Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.  He is author of a new book called Power Foods for the Brain, which discusses both foods that pose threats to the brain and foods that protect it.

Dr. Barnard is a world-renowned nutrition expert and outspoken vegan, and the author of 15 books and host of three PBS television specials.  He specializes in the effect people’s diets have on their bodies and brains, and their propensity for Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.  His research revolutionized the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes, and his new work aims to use his research findings to prevent risks to brain health.

Don’t Forget To Eat Your Plant-Based Food Groups

The number of Alzheimer’s and dementia-related illness sufferers are set to triple over the next few decades, with over 5 million such patients currently in the US.  According to Dr. Barnard, this trend is linked to two main factors: One is simply that Baby Boomers are now reaching the age where Alzheimer’s is a threat to them – but more insidious is the major avoidable cause: the increased consumption of meats and cheeses in people’s diets.

In Dr. Barnard’s discussion with Jesse, he talks about how humans are great apes, and evolved eating plant-based foods –and that our bodies are ill-equipped to be carnivores.  We don’t have good long-distance vision or smell senses for hunting prey (like a hawk or a dog does), but we have the ability to see vivid colors, well beyond many animals, to detect fruits, berries and nuts.

Because of our increased consumption of meat and animal based foods, Dr. Barnard explains how we tend to overdose on metals (that’s right, metals) in our diets, and experience dangerous build-ups of iron, copper and other metallic minerals in the brain.  These minerals oxidize in the brain much like a copper penny turns green or an iron bar rusts.  To compound the issue, everyday living can add to this build-up with the iron cookware in your kitchen, the copper pipes in your home, and the daily vitamins that often have more of these metallic minerals than your body needs.

Are You Pumping Iron or Storing Iron?

Though metals can build up in your brain, there are also some vitamins that will help you flush out the oxidizing build-up known as Homocysteine.  Dr. Barnard recommends Foliate, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12, which you can get from eating foliage like spinach, beans and bananas.  He also says that getting vitamins from your food diet is far more effective than consuming them in pill form, since there are variations of the vitamin compounds in nature, whereas many supplements are simply of one type.

To radically reduce your intake of toxins and improve your intake of healthy, brain-protecting power foods, Dr. Barnard enthusiastically recommends going vegan.  While diet changes can be daunting, and many people experience initial difficulty, he says that after a just few weeks many people feel so much more light and energetic, and experience faster post-workout recovery times and improved mood, that even a radical diet change can stick.  Many of these perceptible improvements are due to what he says is reduced viscosity in a vegan person’s blood, resulting in improved oxygen circulation to the muscles and brain.

This Week in Neuroscience: Don’t Study Before a Test, Exercise!

A recent analysis of 19 studies show that 10 – 40 minute bursts of exercise help children focus when working on cognitive tasks shortly after.  This is believed to be caused by an increase in blood flow to the brain.  Harvard psychologist John Ratey (author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain) says this supports previous evidence showing exercise before a test or speech can improve mental performance.

Read the full article here.

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Written by Jesse Lawler
Jesse Lawler is a technologist, health nut, entrepreneur, and "one whose power switch defaults to On."  He created Smart Drug Smarts to learn how to make his brain do even more, and is greatly pleased to now see his little baby Frankenstein toddling around and helping others.  Jesse tweets about personal optimization, tech, and other stuff he finds interesting at @Lawlerpalooza.
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