This Is Your Brain On Paleo

I’ve previously discussed the variety of positive neuronal changes that occur when consuming a healthier, Paleo Diet. This is especially true when you are moving away from a Western diet, filled with inflammatory seed oils, empty calories, and lots of sugar.1, 2 When consuming these foods, your brain literally reprograms itself, to come to crave and long after its next “fix.”3, 4 This is where changing your diet can not only help to change your body, but also your mind.5, 6

Take for example, the Nrf2 transcription factor. Nrf2 is a master regulator of intracellular redox homeostasis.7 Some research has shown that a ketogenic diet may activate the Nrf2 pathway via redox signaling, leading to chronic cellular adaptation, induction of protective proteins, and improvement of the mitochondrial redox state.8 Other research has shown that dietary flavonoids (mainly vegetables and fruits) are neuroprotective via proteins related to Nrf2.9 Nrf2, or nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2, is critical for neuronal protection, through the induction of various cytoprotective genes.10

This Is Your Brain on Paleo | The Paleo Diet

McEwen, Bruce S. “Protective and Damaging Effects of Stress Mediators: Central Role of the Brain.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 8.4 (2006): 367–381. Print.

With this information in hand (or should I say, in your head) it starts to become clearer how making a simple change in your diet, can have many protective effects, especially when trying to avoid Alzheimer’s, or other debilitating neurological conditions.11 Many chronic diseases are underpinned by chronic inflammation, and yes, this extends to inflammation of the brain, as well.12, 13 As researchers have stated, the Keap1/Nrf2/ARE pathway plays a major role in health resilience and can be made more robust and responsive by certain dietary factors.14

With the damaging amount of free radicals produced by today’s high stress, low sleep and low nutrient lifestyles, it is time to take a serious look at just how much damage you are doing to your brain.15, 16 Do you think it is just a mere coincidence that the New England Journal of Medicine correlated higher average blood sugar (which occurs from consuming a high sugar diet) with an increased risk for dementia?17 I don’t. Our rates of crippling neurological disease have risen exponentially, as, simultaneously, has the rate of type 2 diabetes, which is obtained from, you guessed it, a high sugar diet.18

But it is not simply removing sugar that is the answer to all of our problems. It is also what foods and calories you are consuming, instead of the sugary breakfast cereals, pastries, and donuts. Vegetables have many beneficial compounds, which have been shown to help provide protection against neurological breakdown, and even enhance cell-to-cell signaling.19 This makes perfect sense given the many poor quality foods that can cause an increase in inflammatory chemical production.20 So, the basic hypothesis is simple: remove the foods causing the inflammation and higher rate of glycation (aging process), and replace them with foods that enhance neuronal signaling, and protect your brain from damage.21

This Is Your Brain on Paleo | The Paleo Diet

This Is Your Brain on Paleo | The Paleo Diet

“Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2015.

One element not yet discussed, is BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor.22 A 2002 neuroscience study sums up this factor, and more specifically, how a poor diet can negatively affect your brain. Researchers concluded that a high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning.23 Unfortunately, the term “high fat,” continues to prevail in the scientific community, when researchers really mean trans fat, poor quality fat, and/or high fat plus high sugar. Nonetheless, this study easily conveys the idea that a poor diet will immediately cause problems in your hippocampus, your ability to learn, and how the brain reorganizes neuronal pathways in the brain. In a word: Bad.

This Is Your Brain on Paleo | The Paleo Diet

“Result Filters.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2015.

BDNF importance stems from not only helping to support the survival of existing neurons, but encouraging the growth of new neurons and synapses.24 Yes, this means that it, quite literally, can help you get smarter.25 So, if you’re consuming a poor diet, you will likely not be able to improve your intelligence at the same rate as you would, when consuming a healthier, Paleo Diet. BDNF is just one of the many factors that play into the neurological role of consuming healthy fats, high quality sources of protein and lots of vegetables, all key tenets of a Paleo Diet.

Let’s talk about leptin resistance and what impact this condition has on your brain.26 When consuming a poor diet, you are very likely to develop insulin resistance.27 Accompanying that, is usually leptin resistance.28 Leptin is your body’s way of telling your brain that you are full, and you do not need to eat any more food.29 Those born with a leptin deficiency, almost immediately become obese, because their brain simply cannot realize they have consumed enough calories.30

But leptin resistance, rather than leptin deficiency, means you are now resistant to the body’s way of telling your brain to stop eating.31 This leads to a whole host of problems, the least of which, is over consumption and the resulting weight gain.32 Researchers have found that chronically elevated leptin decreases hypothalamic leptin receptor expression and protein levels and impairs leptin signaling.33 This is only the first step in the vicious cycle of weight gain via leptin resistance.34 Since hypothalamic leptin receptor expression has been decreased, your brain actually changes from consuming a poor diet.35, 36, 37

Many people are unaware of all the pathways and details that come from simply changing the food that is on their plate. But the many crucial scientific changes that occur, silently, but steadily, are what really lead to obesity and disease.38, 39 Becoming aware of them, and changing what you put in your mouth, is perhaps the single most important thing you can do, to get healthier and to save yourself from a lifetime of chronic disease and unhappiness.40, 41 A Paleo Diet is brain-friendly, and will be one of the biggest changes you make, to become smarter, happier, leaner, and disease-free!

Table of Contents


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