Let’s get brainy! I thrive with a highly active brain (and I bet you might, too) but it can be exhausting as well. That’s why I’ve been turning my focus to nourishing my brain.
I want to invite you to nourish your noggin too.
Part of my brain nurturing includes dialing it back a bit—checking in with my stress levels, sleep patterns, and especially my blood sugar balance.
When we talk brain health, we need to talk neurotransmitters (those are chemicals in your brain). We have three key neurotransmitters that produce happy feelings, foster relaxation, and increase our resilience to stress.
These brilliant brain chemicals are serotonin, beta-endorphins and dopamine.
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and it’s your “feel good” chemical. It helps quiet your brain and creates a peaceful, relaxed feeling.
Beta-endorphins are known as the brain’s painkiller. Increased levels of beta-endorphins are associated with higher self-esteem and improved ability to cope with stress. Lower levels lead to feeling inadequate or stuck.
Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that produces feelings of pleasure, alertness, concentration, euphoria, and motivation. It’s synthesized in the brain from the amino acid tyrosine.
Here’s the Catch
Our desire to increase these brain chemicals (and feel good) often leads to searching for sugar. Raiding the cookie jar, grabbing that mid-morning mocha, and sneaking the last piece of cake may be your brain’s way of asking for more happy chemicals.
Ready to get even brainier? Here’s what’s happening in your brain when that sugar craving strikes:
Serotonin production requires the amino acid precursor called tryptophan. Increased levels of insulin in the blood lead to greater amounts of tryptophan crossing the blood brain barrier. More tryptophan means more serotonin, which feels good (your brain likes it).
What’s wrong with that you ask?
It triggers cravings for the white stuff (sugar, that is) to continue the cascade.
Constantly stimulating the body to produce high insulin levels leads to complications like adrenal fatigue, inflammation, insulin resistance, and candida.
Beta-endorphins are temporarily increased when you eat sugar, leading to improved self-esteem and feelings of resilience. Once the reliance on sugar for this boost starts, it can be hard to stop.
Dopamine release is triggered by opiate production. Guess what triggers opiates in your brain? You guessed it … sugar. The release of dopamine creates good feelings such as pleasure, alertness, and euphoria. It feels like a reward and we seek more sugar to continue feeling good.
Don’t despair. You’re not destined for a life of sugar addiction, I promise.
There are plenty of ways to increase this terrific trio without turning to cupcakes and candy.
You can balance your blood sugar, find peace, feel confident, and keep your brain happy without the white stuff.
If you’re ready to say goodbye to sugar and find balance for your brain and body more naturally? Here are a few ways.
To Increase Beta-Endorphins
• Replace refined white sugar with low-glycemic sweeteners. Research shows that simply a sweet taste on your tongue increases beta-endorphins. Satisfy your sweet tooth with coconut sugar or stevia instead.
• Include ample low-glycemic foods like blueberries. Beta-endorphin boost bonus: Find pleasure by savoring each bite!
To Increase Dopamine
• Eat tyrosine-rich foods to stimulate dopamine production. Enjoy almonds, avocados, bananas, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
• Vitamins A and D work together to support the production of dopamine. High-quality fermented cod liver oil delivers the perfect blend.
• A little sweet treat (free of refined sugar) goes a long way. Just a taste of sweetness on your tongue stimulates the release of opiates in the brain, which increase dopamine.
To Increase Serotonin
• Maintain balanced blood sugar levels to ensure enough tryptophan is able to cross the blood brain barrier.
• Include tryptophan-rich foods in your diet, like turkey, shrimp, tamari, mushrooms, fish, mustard greens, spinach, chicken, lamb, liver, and pumpkins seeds.
• Magnesium and vitamin B6 helps convert tryptophan into serotonin. Get them both in fish, seeds, spinach, and bananas.
• Research shows that repetitive movements like chewing gum (xylitol-sweetened) increases serotonin.
With a career born from a personal family health crisis, award-winning functional nutritionist and educator Andrea Nakayama takes the idea of food as personalized medicine beyond a clinical practice. Her online programs at ReplenishPDX.com and HolisticNutritionLab.com guide her clients in taking ownership of their health. Info@ReplenishPDX.com