The human brain-over 4 million years in the making, and a marvel of evolution. Compared to body-size, we have the largest brain on the planet, by almost double. We also have the most complex brain, capable of over 100 million MIPS (Million Computer Instructions Per Second)1. That’s the equivalent of a 1,618,000 Mhz Pentium processor, or 10,000 super computers. Our brains are the third largest organs in our bodies (right after the skin and the liver…), and the hungriest. Although our brains only make up about 2% of our weight, they consume 25% of the nutrients and oxygen, and a whopping 70% of all the glucose. The brain controls thousands of operations per second, and it does it without any conscious input from us, so we never need to worry about forgetting to breathe, or make our heart beat. The brain is the body’s Command and Control Center. The average person has over 70,000 thoughts per day. And it continues to do so for over 100 years in some cases2.
As you might guess, anything this complex should be subject to many glitches and malfunctions. But, with the exceptions of disease and illness, the human brain is very reliable, most of the time. However, there are a few things that can throw a monkey-wrench into the works from time-to-time.
Here are 7 of the most common:
1. Artificial Sweeteners
Aspartame can wreck havoc with your moods. Marketed under cute little names like Sugar Twin, Equal, and NutraSweet, these little chemical bombs fragment into two amino acids; aspartic acid, and phenylalanine. The rest is methanol, also known as wood, or rubbing alcohol. The main problem is the phenylalanine, which makes up over 50% of the total, and is a neurotoxin that goes directly to the brain. Phenylalanine depletes serotonin levels3. Serotonin controls moods. So enough aspartame could, in theory, cause manic-like symptoms in large enough doses. People who already have mood disorders should probably avoid aspartame totally.
2. Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG
MSG is a flavor-enhancing food additive that serves no nutritional purpose whatsoever. What is does to is effect your brain chemistry and endocrine system. MSG is an excitotoxin, which interferes with the orderly firing of nerve synapses within the brain. It ‘excites’ the neurons into firing so much that neuron damage and neuron death can occur. This can cause effects all over the body. Some of the milder effects are headaches, nausea, and chest pains4. Long-term effects are not documented, but many physicians suspect that MSG could trigger neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s Chorea5.
3. Heavy Metals
Heavy metals can be toxic when they reach certain levels in the body. Symptoms can include chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, and mood swings. There are two types of heavy metal toxicity; acute, and chronic. Chronic Heavy Metal Toxicity often goes undiagnosed when neurological symptoms are present, because unlike acute toxicity, where the metal is circulating in the bloodstream, the metal has leached into the tissues, bones, and fat. A blood test will likely come back negative for Heavy Metal Toxicity. In either case, the standard treatment is Chelation Therapy, which removes the metal from the body. Heavy metals can get into the body through air pollutants, dust, paints containing heavy metals like lead, and industrial exposure6. People living in U.S. houses built prior to 1978 (when lead paint was banned in the US) should be especially watchful for Heavy Metal Toxicity symptoms, because the walls and ceilings may still have lead-based paint on them.
4. Digestive Infections
Digestive infections can cause problems in brain functions, because the digestive system contains 95% of the body’s serotonin stores. Bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections in the digestive tract can cause mood, and brain disorders7.
5. Household Products
These products can be very dangerous to your brain’s health. Things like spray paint, glues, solvents and especially organophosphate-based insect sprays (which are basically watered-down nerve gas) can be very dangerous when used improperly. They should only be used in well ventilated areas, with proper breathing protection, and always kept out of the reach of children8.
There are some that believe that grains can have detrimental effects on the brain, especially in people with wheat allergies (celiacs)9. There is little documentation on this issue, but the suspicions are not totally without merit. There have been documented cases where people have become inflamed, disoriented, and had other ill-effects after consuming some grains. It is not clear why, as of yet. Clearly, further study is needed.
Sugar is not part of a natural human diet, except when it is contained in fruits and vegetables. Refined sugar is especially damaging to the body. Refined sugars effect the brain in two ways; they suppress a key growth hormone, that can cause depression, and mood swings, and they cause all kinds of adverse chemical reactions, leading to chronic systemic inflammation. The long term effects can include suppression of the immune system, and chemical imbalances in the brain10.
While most of these things, in small amounts, may be unnoticeable, your over-all health, and especially, your brain will be much better if you limit your exposure to these 7 hazards as much as possible.
Foresight Update No. 6, August 1989.
Consumption of Fermented Milk Product With Probiotic Modulates Brain Activity: Kirsten Tillisch, Jennifer Labus,,Lisa Kilpatrick, Zhiguo Jiang, Jean Stains, Bahar Ebrat, Denis Guyonnet, Sophie Legrain–Raspaud, Beatrice Trotin, Bruce Naliboff, Emeran A. Mayer Gastroenterology Volume 144, Issue 7 , Pages 1394-1401.e4, June 2013