4 Nutritional Ways to Balance your Brain Chemistry

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I was introduced to the topic of 'Brain Chemistry' by keynote speaker Matt Church at a Sydney Fitness Conference in 2004. It was certainly not your normal topic to kick off a a 3-day FILEX conference but to this day it continues to keep my mind attune to 'Better living through brain chemistry.'

You do not have to be a 'chemistry lover' or 'chemistry expert' to embrace the concept that; Balancing your brain chemistry will Maximise Energy, Stamina, Mental Sharpness and Emotional Well-Being.

I would like to share with you to 4 simple ways you can better fuel your brain and discover your 'Chemistry for Success.'


are you suffering from dehydration-related fatigue?

Those who complain of fatigue may say that they lack energy or motivation, they get tired easily or their muscles tire easily in a workout or doing daily tasks. Mentally speaking they may complain that they can't concentrate or struggle to focus. Other words they might use include: tired, worn out, exhausted or run down.

We can all relate to one of these symptoms or words from time to time. Fatigue is a very common complaint and the list of potential causes is extensive. However, it is important to acknowledge that fatigue can commonly be a symptom of dehydration.

In a study by Szinnai et al. (2005), moderate dehydration negatively affected short- term memory and working memory (temporarily storing information for use in various cognitive tasks), as well as subjectively increasing tiredness, reducing alertness and perceived effort and concentration necessary to complete tasks while dehydrated.


Always carry a water bottle with you. Whether stuck in a car in traffic, or stuck in a meeting at work, you can avoid dehydration by assuring you have fluids available.
Be sure to consume fluids when you exercise. Often we are in a rush to complete our workout or our run or walk. So make sure you adequately hydrate before, during, and after exercise to avoid dehydration.
As soon as you wake up, grab a glass of water to start your day on the right note.
Look for dark colored urine. If your urine is dark yellow, you are likely dehydrated. The goal is straw colored or clear.
Consume more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are mostly water and fiber. Therefore, increasing your fruit and vegetable intake can increase your fluid intake. Other food and beverage options you may consider include: soups, fruit juices, yogurt, low fat milk, iced or hot tea, coffee-in moderation. Sports drinks can be more effective for long, strenous exercise bouts of beyond an hour due to their electrolyte (mineral) content.


Glucose is the primary fuel for brain function. If we have long periods between meals/ snacks it is likely our blood sugar will decrease which can lead to a reduced supply of glucose to the brain (neuroglycopenia). As per a diabetic suffering from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) the symptoms can be profound. You may have experienced some of the following symptoms yourself if you skipped breakfast and then completed a tough workout:

Fatigue & weakness
Confusion & dizziness
Reduced exercise performance


Eat regular meals and snacks, including a balanced breakfast before you start your workday. Not only will this help to keep energy levels constant, but it will also help prevent cravings and overeating later in the day. Smaller, more frequent meals can also allow for easier digestion.
Avoid simple sugars, and instead opt for high-fiber, nutrient-dense carbohydrates that will supply glucose to the working muscles and the brain, but do so in a more sustaining fashion versus a sharp rise and sharp drop. Examples include: whole grains, grain alternatives like quinoa, high-fiber fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes.
Exercise regularly with a combination of strength & cardio exercises included in your workouts.


Research has shown us that there are receptors for vitamin D throughout the brain. Ganji, et al. (2010) noted in their large population-based study, that the likelihood of having depression in persons with vitamin D deficiency is significantly higher compared to those with vitamin D sufficiency.

Researchers at the National Institute for Mental Health have found links between low serotonin and seasonal affective disorder syndrome (SADS). SADS often occurs in countries with fewer daylight hours- by not getting enough sunlight, people become depressed. Using light boxes, specially designed solariums, the people who suffered form SADS were able to improve their mood considerably. The link is still not clear but probably has to do with the relationship between exposure to sunlight and the pineal gland. Located in the middle of your brain this tiny pea-sized gland manufactures the sleep drug melatonin and is sensitive to daylight. Because serotonin and melatonin work hand in hand, they ensure you sleep when you should (melatonin) and that you wake and move when you need to (serotonin).
There are limited sources of vitamin D in our diet. We do make vitamin D in our skin with the presence of sunlight; however, in certain areas of the world like the United Kingdom, adequate sunlight is nonexistent, especially during the winter months. Due to low UV exposure many people are subject to vitamin D inadequacy or even deficiency. There are some whole food and fortified food sources of vitamin D, including oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, fish oils like cod liver oil, egg yolks, and fortified foods like milk, cereals, orange juice and yoghurt (Holick, 2006). If your Vitamin D intake is proven to be insufficient your Doctor may request that you take Vitamin D supplements.


Omega-3 fatty acids are stored guess where? In your brain, among other places, but each synapse in your brain has a lining composed partially of DHA, one of the primary omega-3 fatty acids our body requires. Our bodies cannot make these fatty acids, thus their term, 'essential fatty acids.' The following bullets show the extreme importance of essential fatty acids on the brain:

If you look at any baby formula container, you will find fortification with Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), due to the importance of omega-3 fatty acids on neurological and visual development.
A review of essential fatty acids released by the Linus Pauling Institute (Oregon State University), indicates that low DHA may be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia. This review also reported rodent studies indicating a connection between omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and learning/memory.
Also reported by the Linus Pauling Institute, is a noticeable inverse association across countries between rates of depression and seafood consumption; seafood being a primary source of omega-3 fatty acids in our food system.


Church, Matt, 2004. 'Adrenaline Junkies & Serotonin Seekers.'
'Your brain is very complex, and therefore there are many ways in which nutrition can affect your brain chemistry, mood and energy levels. Think about the above four nutritional recommendations in your own diet and see if you can better fuel your brain for a healthier, happy you!'
Brett Smith, Wellness Coach (Mind Body & Soul Fitness Studio).

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