Neurological Networks: Powered by Nutrition and Lifestyle
Annalies Corse BMedSc, BHSc
Written for and originally published by the MINDD Foundation: www.midd.org
Broadly speaking, neurological conditions are disorders of both the central (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral (all body nerves) nervous systems. This collection of conditions is so vast, many sub-categories of disorders exist. Mental health conditions, dementia’s, epilepsy, acquired brain and spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, autism and learning difficulties are all forms of neurological illness, but each is very different. The aetiologies (causes) of these diseases represent some of the most complicated clinical situations for modern medicine to manage.
Despite the intricacies of these pathologies, some are renowned for presenting in infancy and childhood. Others present in young adulthood. Some conditions are endured by individuals their whole lives, only to receive some clinical insight and solutions from integrative health and medicine later in life. This article will discuss neurological conditions that predominantly present in childhood. Each has great propensity for healing and reversal through the biomedical approach of nutritional, lifestyle and integrative medicine. Neurological health is a central pillar supporting the work of the MINDD Foundation.
Scientific literature is accumulating more and more research that children with the conditions listed below are deficient in micronutrients essential to cognitive, mental and behavioural health. Without treatment interventions, these conditions do persist in to adulthood.
Conditions associated with compromised neurological development:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADHD)
- Learning and language delays/impairment: including dyslexia and dyspraxia
- Visual processing delay
- Auditory processing delay
- Other sensory processing disorders
- Gross and fine motor skill delay
- Socialisation and emotional problems
- Behavioural concerns: including aggression, bed wetting, short tempers and poor concentration
Any of the above conditions or situations represents signs that a) thorough routine medical investigation is required b) illness is present and change is required c) nutritional and possibly allied behavioural therapies are essential.
Neurological conditions linked to mental and emotional health:
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Objective Defiance Disorder (ODD)
- Pyrrol Disorder
- Anxiety and Depression
- Bipolar Disorder
Compromised Neurotransmitter Biochemistry:
In a previous article published by The MINDD Foundation, the entire range of human neurotransmitters implicated in neurological conditions were discussed. A link to this article can be found here. Key neurotransmitters discussed include Acetyl Choline, Adrenalin, Dopamine, Gamma Amino Butyric Acid, Glutamine, Histamine, Noradrenalin and Serotonin.
Key nutrients for neurological health:
- Vitamins: A, C, D, E. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12.
- Minerals: Zinc, Magnesium, Manganese, Calcium, Iron, Chromium and Selenium
- Amino acids: Tyrosine, Taurine, Glycine, Methionine, Glutathione, and Glutamine
- Essential fatty Acids: Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA’s): required for the structure of phosphatidylcholine, sphingosine and other lipids essential for building healthy neural tissues. Poly-unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA’s): Alpha linolenic acid, Eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexanoic acid (DHA) are all forms of omega 3 fatty acids. These are abundant in brain tissue and breast milk
Problematic environmental substances and contaminants:
- Lead (Pb): this heavy metal can substitute for calcium ions. Lead is particularly toxic to the developing brain.
- Mercury (Hg): methylmercury bioaccululates in the food chain. Degree of exposure dictates the severity if neurologic issues, ranging from infant mortality to very subtle developmental delays.
- Arsenic (As): Inorganic arsenic (sodium arsenite). Contamination of ground water with As is a significant environmental health issue for some countries.
- Pesticides: for example, organophosphates such as DDT.
- Solvents: used in everything from cosmetics, pharmaceuticals to household cleaners, paints and varnishes.
Breast milk as a contamination source
It goes without saying that if you can breastfeed, breast milk is best for babies. However, a mother is exposed to countless toxic substances in the environment, the home, the workplace, her beauty and hygiene products and her diet. Many environmental contaminants known to trigger neurologic problems are lipid soluble and are stored in adipose tissue, thus breast tissue and breast milk are potential sources of contaminant exposure for infants. Mothers must plan for reducing her toxin exposure while both pregnant and breast-feeding. Ideally, this would start in the very early pre-conception months.
What you can do immediately:
The take-away advice that you can implement today, without immediately seeking advice from an integrative health professional is as follows:
- Just Eat Real Food! Keep things simple; avoid anything that is a false, manufactured food-like substance
- Beware of preservatives: get to know food labels, or simply avoid any food with a very long shelf life.
- Avoid processed foods: they are deplete of micronutrients, difficult to digest and offer no real nutritional value for building health.
- Smart cooking methods: including fermenting, and choice of cooking oils, fats and liquids. Learn how to make healthy staples and take classes.
- Ready made foods: avoid these, as they often contain preservatives or additives that may not require a food label.
- Eliminate packaged foods: these often fall in to the processed, preservative laden category. You will become very savvy regarding packaged foods as you learn more. Healthy kitchen and pantry classes can really help you here.
In theory, these changes can be made immediately at your next meal, or at your next food-shopping trip. In reality, some individuals and families need to make changes in a step-by-step fashion in order for changes to be lasting. The important point here is to make life-long, permanent changes. Discuss these changes with your family, and select which change will be the easiest to implement first. Set a realistic time frame for change (it may be a few weeks to a couple of months). Researching new places to shop and source food will be necessary. If you do need to progress to an Integrative health practitioner, much of the challenging diet change work will already be done. Most people notice enormous, positive changes in their children’s and family’s health by simply eating according to these principles. Often, the improvement in general health assists in revealing the precise clinical issue requiring attention, as opposed to being concealed by many lower grade or sub-clinical health issues.
Cellular and digestive health improves and can be recovered via targeted nutritional therapies and integrative medicine. The improvements in health are a physiological and biochemical cascade; the enhanced nutrient utilisation supports neurotransmission in the brain. These positive changes go on to further support allied and behavioural therapies. The human brain is incredibly plastic; very much so when we are young. A healthy diet, home and environment support’s the cells and structures needed for neural plasticity to reveal its full potential.
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- DeFuria, J. and Shea, T. (2007). Arsenic inhibits neurofilament transport and induces perikaryal accumulation of phosphorylated neurofilaments: roles of JNK and GSK-3beta. Journal of Brain Research. Nov 21; 1181: 74-82.
- Gomez-Pinilla, F., & Gomez, A. G. (2011). The Influence of Dietary Factors in Central Nervous System Plasticity and Injury Recovery. PM & R : The Journal of Injury, Function, and Rehabilitation, 3(6 0 1), S111–S116.
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- Nyaradi, A., Li, J., Hickling, S., Foster, J., & Oddy, W. H. (2013). The role of nutrition in children’s neurocognitive development, from pregnancy through childhood. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 97.