Brain In Flames

Okay, not literally. But I came across some information the other day that made me start doing some research. One thing lead to another, and I uncovered some pretty cool stuff that I wanted to share.

It all started at the 10k on Sunday when the boy was waiting for his food from Patty Wagon. They had a sign in the window mentioning the benefits of Omega-3s on the brain in relation to depression and mood. I’d heard this before, of course, but there’s “not enough conclusive evidence.”

My favorite finding.

So I looked up some of the studies and this is what they had to say:

  • Brain tissue is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are of vital importance within cell membranes and in connections between nerves.8
  • Low dietary intake of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is linked to depressed mood, hostility, and impulsive behavior.7,9,10
  • High intake of EPA and DHA is associated with increased gray matter volume in brain regions controlling depression and mood.11
  • Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are linked to poor performance on cognitive and memory tests, and more rapid cognitive decline with aging.13,14 High intake of omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy is associated with better neurodevelopmental outcomes later in childhood.19,20
  • In controlled clinical studies, depressed patients randomly assigned to receive omega-3 fatty acids have demonstrated greater improvement compared with those assigned to placebo.

Interesting. So in theory, Omega-3s could transform me from this:

To this:

So what foods have high amounts of Omega-3s?

  • pastured meats
  • nuts and nut oils, particularly walnuts and flax
  • wild seafood
  • a variety of spices, including basil, clove and tumeric
Just to name a few.

And that’s when I noticed that I had just looked at a list of very similar foods… when looking to combat inflammation.

That’s when the light bulb began to spark. Like Dallas and Melissa point out in It Starts With Food, many people do not process the standard American diet healthfully in their intestines and colons, causing the immune system to weaken and WHAM, inflammation. A doctor of mine once accused unknown intolerances and allergies to be the cause of my personal inflammation. I’d never really applied it to areas of mental health; but it totally makes sense.

Inflammation in the body can occur for a number of reasons, and syndromes like IBS and Crohns have no “known” causes. Doctors often attribute it to stress, environment and unknown intolerances and allergies, but in reality, they have no clue. Just one day you go to sleep like this:

and wake up much less smiley:

Well, I know my body doesn’t like it when I eat gluten. Especially if I stress out and eat gluten (re: binge/purge). Sometimes my body doesn’t like it so much that it won’t let me emotionally act like a human being…


When the immune system is under attack… the immune system generates an inflammatory response. Inflammation is a normal physiological process that is now understood to play a major role in many chronic medical illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and obesity. In each of these cases inflammation causes the release of cytokines. Cytokines, which come in many different classes, including anti- and pro-inflammatory, behave as messengers and signal cells of the immune system… [and] may affect mood.
The effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines can cause a diverse array of physical and psychological symptoms. When this happens it is referred to as sickness behavior.
Recently, scientists have been able to demonstrate how the symptoms of sickness behavior mirror those of depression. Researchers and health professionals are now beginning to understand the connection between inflammation and depression.

When researchers looked at the cytokines levels of depressed patients, they found they had significantly higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines compared to non-depressed counterparts. Additionally, after 8 weeks of Zoloft, depressed patients saw an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines.

Now, I’m not saying we should all run out and start taking Zoloft when we’re feeling sad or puffy. But it is good to remember that our food choices affect not only how we look and train, but how our brain functions as well.

Unfortunately, the Omega 3 studies made sure to specify that upping these good fats is not enough to combat a major mood disorder like bipolar; but it can’t hurt, right?

I, for one, am going to start anti-inflaming my diet. The biggest culprit? Refined carbohydrates.

But you knew that…

So bye bye added sugar, and too many gluten free bread products, and Puffins… and Trader Joe’s chocolate bars… it was fun.

I’ll stick to recommendations from Mark’s Daily Apple and She Knows.

That way, everyday can be like the day I went to Portland!

If you haven’t entered the Paleo People Granola Giveaway yet, what are you waiting for?!


4 thoughts on “Brain In Flames

  1. It’s it stinky when you realize how horrible the “good” foods are for you?? I never thought I had any sort of food intolerances but after my Whole30 I can totally tell what makes my belly unhappy.. yet I still do it anyways 😛
    I’ve been taking Krill oil.. not sure if it’s making a difference but can’t hurt, right?!

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