If you want to prevent or reverse food-induced brain dysfunction or CARB syndrome or if you are healthy and just want to perform at a higher level, you need to focus on enhancing your brain function. CARB syndrome is a new disease model based on the concept that certain dietary elements can adversely affect your brain function over time, triggering a chronic brain disorder that has many negative downstream effects on your health and ability to function. This article is dedicated to giving you a list of safe and simple things you can do to be sure that your brain is running on all eight cylinders. Because CARB syndrome is triggered by long-term exposure to certain dietary elements, the list starts with food.
1. Keep your fructose intake below 25 grams daily.
The starting point to limiting fructose intake is eliminating sugar (sucrose) and HFCS from your diet. These dietary elements are the primary trigger of CARB syndrome. Excessive fructose has also been shown to be the primary driver of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and central obesity. Both sugar and HFCS are about 50% fructose. Read every label and if it contains sugar or HFCS, don’t consume it. This of course includes most processed foods and beverages with added calories.
We now know that sugar and HFCS are chronic toxins akin to cigarette smoking. John Wayne smoked for decades and he always seemed to ride off into the sunset on his horse with a beautiful woman at his side. That is until the wheels fell off. Sugar and HFCS are similar chronic toxins. Their adverse effects are rather subtle and they sneak up on you over years or decades. Don’t wait until your health takes a nose-dive before eliminating these dangerous substances from your diet. You can save yourself a lot of grief if you start doing so today.
This also means limiting your fruit intake and cutting out fruit juice. Modern fruits contain a lot more fructose than the traditional fruits of our ancestors. You also should limit your intake of other foods with fructose such as honey, molasses, maple syrup and agave syrup. To learn more about the fructose content of various foods and how excessive fructose can adversely affect your health, I recommend reading Richard Johnson’s excellent book “The Sugar Fix”.
If you don’t consume any sugar or HFCS, then a reasonable amount of fruit can be good for your health. Unlike sugar and HFCS, fruit comes packaged with fiber, flavonoids, vitamins and other healthy components.
2. Greatly reduce your intake of high glycemic carbohydrates, especially grains.
All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. When you have insulin resistance from consuming too much fructose, you end up with magnified glucose spikes when you consume carbohydrates, especially those that are rapidly absorbed. These glucose spikes can damage various organs in your body, especially your brain. Over time this can lead to the disease CARB syndrome. I recommend that you replace the grains you are eating with vegetables and healthy fats.
Recent research suggests that the healthiest diet for just about everyone is a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet. That of course assumes you are eating healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, fats from grass fed animals and omega 3 fats. This diet closely resembles a Paleo style diet promoted by Lorain Cordain in “The Paleo Answer” and Robb Wolf in “The Paleo Solution”. I highly recommend both books. The latest research also suggests that you should limit your protein intake to 1 gram of protein for each kilogram of body weight. Excessive protein is converted to glucose in your body and activates something called the mTor pathway that promotes cancer growth and premature aging.
3. Keep your uric acid level in check.
The next time you go to your physician, have your uric acid level checked. Levels above 5 can be problematic because uric acid raises blood pressure, damages blood vessel walls and triggers more fat storage. The number one driver of uric acid in modern cultures is fructose from sugar and HFCS. Organ meats are high in purines that can also raise uric acid levels. Excessive amounts of meat, poultry and fish can also raise uric acid levels. Beer should also be avoided because it raises uric acid levels much more than other forms of alcohol.
I also recommend that you take a minimum of 500 mg of vitamin C daily because it helps to lower uric acid levels. I recently started taking liposomal vitamin C. This form of vitamin C is absorbed much more completely than other forms of the vitamin. Tart cherry juice is also helpful at lowering uric acid levels. To learn more about the role of uric acid in various medical conditions, I recommend that you read Richard Johnson’s new book “The Fat Switch”.
If your uric acid levels remain high after cleaning up your diet, you might consider talking to your physician about taking a drug called allopurinol even if you have never had gout. Gout is an inflammatory form of arthritis caused by high uric acid levels. Allopurinal lowers uric acid levels, reducing your risk of gout and also likely reducing your risk of hypertension and vascular disease.
4. Optimize your vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D or the “sunshine vitamin” plays a key role in brain function. Many people today have low levels of vitamin D and this can lead to many health problems. Low vitamin D levels are also associated with obesity and type II diabetes, two conditions that can also adversely affect your brain function. Have your physician check your 25 hydroxy vitamin D level. Ideal levels are between 50 and 70.
The optimal way to get adequate vitamin D is to expose your skin to the sun for 15 minutes daily. There is also an iPhone app called D-minder that helps you coordinate your sun exposure for maximum vitamin D production.
When the angle of the sun is below 50 degrees, your skin won’t produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. Under these circumstances you can use a safe indoor tanning beg or take a vitamin D supplement. Most people do well taking vitamin D3 1,000-2,000 IU daily. You should measure your vitamin D level before and after treatment to make sure that it is in the ideal range.
For more details about the vital role of vitamin D and health, I recommend reading Dr. Mercola’s excellent article on the topic at:
5. Normalize your omega 6 to omega 3 ratio.
Omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids because your body cannot make them and they are both critical for optimal health. Traditional human diets contained equal amount of these essential fats, but our modern diet contains a lot more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids primarily because of all the added vegetable oils in processed and fried foods. This is problematic because omega 6 fats tend to be pro-inflammatory and omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory. Your brain also needs large amounts of omega 3 fats to grow and develop. You can increase your intake of omega 3 fats by eating grass fed meat and wild fish. Because most fish contains mercury, it’s a good idea to take a high quality fish oil supplement. Krill oil is an even better choice. You can measure your omega 6 to omega 3 ratio by purchasing a kit from:
When it come to optimal brain function, the ideal omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is approximately 4 to 1. For preventing or treating cardiovascular disease, the ratio should be 2 to 1 or even 1 to 1, but don’t guess, get the test!
It’s also important that you reduce your intake of omega 6 fats found mostly in the vegetable oils used in processed foods. I recommend using coconut oil for frying rather than common vegetable oils.
6. Maintain a healthy homocysteine level.
Homocysteine is an amino acid that all of us have in our body. Elevated levels of homocysteine have been associated with cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and brain disorders. An ideal level of homocysteine is less than 7 and if your level is above 10, I recommend lowering it by taking certain vitamins and supplements. Vitamin B 6, vitamin B 12 and folic acid do lower homocysteine to some degree. It’s also important to remember that you need folic acid in your brain to make monoamine neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Folic acid is converted to L-methylfolate in your body through a four-step process and L-methyfolate is the only form to cross the blood brain barrier. For various reasons, some people do not make enough L-methylfolate and these people tend to have a high homocysteine level.
It’s also important to realize that the folic acid added to many processed foods and found in most vitamins is not the same as folate, the natural form of the vitamin found in foods like leafy green vegetables. Folic acid is converted to the active form of the vitamin in your liver, and because there are low amounts of the enzyme to make this conversion, much of the folic acid you consume stays in your blood as folic acid rather than the active form of the vitamin . High levels of folic acid have been associated with certain cancers and may also actually increase the risk of heart disease. Thus you should always take the active form of this vitamin called L-methylfolate. It is available as a branded product called Metfolin. I like Life Extension’s Optimized Folate found at LEF.org.
If your homocysteine level is above 10, I recommend that you take a minimum of 1,000 mcg of L-methyfolate daily as a supplement. If your level is above 13, you should take at least 2,000 mcg. You should also take a minimum of 250 mg of vitamin B6 and 500 mcg of vitamin B12 daily. I prefer the sublingual form of vitamin B12. If this doesn’t knock down your homocysteine level to below 8-10, I recommend adding trimethylglycine (TMG) 1,000 mg daily. The dose can be titrated up until your homocysteine drops to an acceptable level.
Exercise is good for your brain because it increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates your neurons to make more connections with other neurons, leading to neuroplasticity and it also stimulates the growth of new neurons. Just like when you exercise your muscles, your brain also grows when you exercise. In my opinion the optimal exercise program is a combination of strength training and high-intensity interval training. I personally like Dr. Mercola’s approach to exercise outlined at:
He recommends a form of slow weight lifting and high intensity interval training. I have been using this approach and I really like the results.
You can also directly exercise your brain by learning new skills and taking up new activities. Learn a new language, play a different sport, take up a new hobby or form new friendships. Your brain will thank you for it.
8. Get a minimum of eight hours of sleep every night.
Your brain needs adequate sleep to function properly. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than eight hours a night are more prone to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity and type II diabetes. All of these disorders take a toll on your brain.
People with CARB syndrome tend to have low levels of serotonin in their brains and because the sleep hormone melatonin comes from serotonin, they also have low levels of melatonin. Thus one of the symptoms of CARB syndrome is poor sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping or have CARB syndrome, I recommend taking a combination of supplements before going to bed, including 5-htp 100 mg, L-theonine 100 mg and melatonin 3 mg. For some people L-tryptophan seems to work better than 5-HTP but the only way to tell is to try both supplements. It also helps to sleep in a quiet, dark room and to avoid caffeine later in the day.
9. Maximize your neurotransmitters.
Your brain and nervous system need adequate amounts of the monoamine neurotransmitters dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and serotonin to function properly. For various reasons people with CARB syndrome tend to have low levels of these important chemical messengers resulting in the 22 typical brain dysfunction symptoms associated with the disease.
As it turns out, these neurotransmitters are made from certain simple amino acids from the diet, including L-tyrosine and L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP in your body. You really can’t raise neurotransmitter levels by eating any particular type of food because amino acids are competitively absorbed. Taking a combination of L-tyrosine and 5-HTP in a ratio of 10 to 1 will actually raise levels of these important neurotransmitters.
Soon we will be selling a combination supplement called CARB-22 on our web site that is specifically geared to raising neurotransmitter levels. This supplement also contains important co-factors for producing neurotransmitters. Although you can take this type of supplement with most psychotropic medications, it might be a good idea to reduce the dose of medication you are taking when you start the supplement because it will give the medication a real boost. When taking this type of supplement you should always discuss how to adjust your medications with your physician.
10. Improve your glucose tolerance.
Having rock steady glucose levels is one of the best things you can do for your health. As I have already discussed, avoiding excessive fructose from sugar and HFCS is essential if you want the cells in your body to be sensitive to insulin. You should also avoid rapidly absorbed carbohydrates like white flour and pasta. There are also supplements that can help improve your insulin resistance, helping to protect your brain from dangerous magnified glucose and insulin spikes. My three favorite supplements for this purpose are Cinsulin, chromium picolinate and Emulin.
Cinsulin is a highly refined form of cinnamon and cinnamon has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. I recommend taking 1,000 mg of Cinsulin daily with a meal.
Chromium picolinate improves insulin resistance and it also seems to improve mood and reduce carbohydrate cravings, the hallmark symptom of CARB syndrome. I recommend taking 1,000 mcg daily with a meal. If you are taking CARB-22, it already has chromium picolinate in it, so you don’t need to take any additional chromium picolinate. Costco sells a form of Cinsulin made by Trunature with added chromium picolinate.
Emulin is a blend of flavonoids from fruit that have been shown to improve insulin resistance. It is available in a product called GC7x sold by a company called ATM Metabolics. It can be purchased on the Internet or found in many health food stores. I recommend taking three capsules daily with food. It is somewhat more expensive than the other supplements, but in my opinion it is a good product.
If you have type II diabetes, by far the best medication for most people is metformin. Metformin increases insulin sensitivity and reduces the amount of glucose that your liver makes through the process of gluconeogenesis. Some studies have suggested that metformin may have some anti-aging properties but this has yet to be firmly proven. I always recommend using lifestyle changes to control your blood sugar before resorting to taking medications.
11. Feed your brain.
In addition to the ones I have already mentioned, there are certain supplements that your brain needs to function properly. These include choline, phosphitidylserine, pregnenolone, vinpocetine, ashwagandha and uridine. Although you could take these supplements separately, I prefer to take them in a combined product. For years I have taken Cognitex from Life Extension Foundation. Although it is somewhat expensive, I think it’s worth the money to properly feed your brain. The dose is one to three capsules daily. Because recent research suggests that uridine is very important for brain function. I also take triacetyluridine 100 mg daily from Cardiovascular Research, Ltd.
Although these supplements have not been absolutely proven to be helpful, there are studies suggesting that they might be beneficial. Because there doesn’t appear to be any risk from taking them, each person has to decide if they want to spend the money for these supplements. Drug companies don’t usually put money into studying supplements because they can’t be patented, so we often need to make these decisions based on less than adequate data. When making such decisions, the key is to stick with supplements that have been shown to be relatively risk-free.
12. Mega-charge your brain with magnesium.
Magnesium plays a critical role in many brain functions and low levels of magnesium are common in many brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Recent studies have shown that a special form of magnesium called magnesium L-threonate is better absorbed than most forms of magnesium and it tends to concentrate in the brain. Studies in rats have shown that this form of magnesium greatly enhances many areas of brain function:
Human trials using magnesium L-threonate are in progress, but because it appears to be free of side effects, I think it’s reasonable to take it as a supplement while waiting for the results of these studies. Magnesium L-threonate is available in two commercial products: Magtein made by AIDP and Neuro-Mag by Life Extension Foundation. They are essentially the same product. The dose is three capsules daily. I have taken Neuro-Mag for the past six months and I really like the product.
13. Antioxidize your brain with astaxanthin.
Oxygen is required to produce energy in your cells in a process where nutrients are oxidized to produce energy. This process produces free radicals, molecules that are capable of reacting with the tissues in your body leading to tissue damage. Nature provides us with many antioxidants that counter these free radicals to protect your tissues from oxidative damage. There are both water soluble and fat soluble antioxidants and most of them come from the food you eat.
One of nature’s most potent antioxidants is a fat-soluble substance called astaxanthin. This remarkable carotenoid is what gives wild salmon a pink color. Krill oil is also contains astaxanthin so it is my preferred way of getting omega 3 fatty acids.
Unlike some fat soluble antioxidants, astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier and it has been shown to protect the brain from oxidative stress. Even if you take krill oil, I recommend taking 4-8 mg of astaxanthin as a way to be sure that your brain is fully protected from oxidative stress. Of all the products on the market, I recommend Dr. Mercola’s Astaxanthin with ALA available at:
In my opinion there is no better antioxidant for protecting your brain than astaxanthin.
14. Maintain a healthy gut flora.
I’ve saved one of the most potent ways to enhance your brain function for last. Most of the cells in your body don’t actually belong to you. Your body has at least 10 times as many bacteria as there are your own cells in your body and most of these bacteria live in your intestinal tract.
Resent research has shown that the gut flora plays a critical role in human health. These bacteria help to digest food and play an important role in your immune system. Because the gut brain called the enteric nervous system is in constant contact with the brain in your head, anything that goes on in your gut can have a profound influence on your brain function. A poor diet, toxins, antibiotics and other factors can alter your gut flora in a way that is harmful to your health. The best way to maintain a healthy gut flora is to eat a healthy diet of meat, fish, seafood, vegetables, berries, nuts, healthy fats and some fruit.
Once your gut flora is disrupted, the best way to re-establish a healthy colony of bacteria is to eat fermented foods or take a pro-biotic. For more information on this important topic, I recommend reading Dr. Mercola’s excellent article at:
It’s never too late to improve your brain function.
Feel free to use some or all of these fourteen brain-boosting tips. I have used all of them at one time or another and I believe that my ability to concentrate, think and focus is better now than it was 30 years ago. You don’t need to have CARB syndrome to benefit from these recommendations. They are also very effective at preventing the disease and enhancing brain function in those with normal brain function. It’s important to remember that establishing a healthy lifestyle by eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis is by far the most effective way to enhance your brain function. These supplements will be of minimum benefit if you continue to eat a poor diet and don’t exercise regularly. Start with the basics and then consider adding some of these supplements to top things off.
Be healthy and take care of your brain. Believe me, there’s nothing worse than aging with declining brain function.