Brain health, mood and mental function are all intimately connected and strongly influenced by our diet, lifestyle choices, and life experiences. So much of our life trajectory depends on a healthy, functioning brain (career success, loving relationships, academic achievement, parenting, etc.), so loving your brain should be at the TOP of the list of things to love & care for in your life.
Brain Health Survey
How many of the following exposures or conditions have you experienced that alter brain function, injure brain tissue, or disrupt normal mood and mental function?
Environmental toxin exposure (e.g., heavy metals, mold, PCBs, solvents, vehicle exhaust, smoke)
Physical injuries or accidents where the brain experienced even a seemingly minor jolt or blunt force
Emotionally traumatic or stressful life events, chronic life stress, and PTSD
Eating refined foods daily that drive chronic inflammation (e.g., sugar, refined grains, dairy, seed oils)
Nutrient deficiencies from lack of eating plant-based whole foods daily or consuming a standard American diet
Autoimmune and neurodegenerative conditions (e.g., Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, Dementia)
Gut microbiome dysbiosis & leaky gut syndrome (influencing the gut-brain pathway & connection)
Obesity, weight gain, and metabolic disorders (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes)
Acute or chronic infections (e.g., EBV, gut dysbiosis, parasites, Lyme)
Alcohol and/or drug use
If you answered yes to one or more, read on…
Chemical Messengers of the Nervous System
Each chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) in the nervous system plays a unique role in the brain and influences our behavior in specific ways. By reviewing the symptoms that show up when one or more is out of balance, you may discover a clue as to where your brain needs support to heal and function optimally.
1. Acetylcholine: activates motor neurons & muscle movement, alertness, attention, learning, and regulates unconscious processes of the body (autonomic nervous system)
Symptoms of (Im)balances: cognitive decline, memory loss, muscle weakness and pain, fatigue, mood disorders
2. Serotonin: the ‘feel good’ hormone, contributes to wellbeing and happiness
Symptoms of (Im)balances: hopelessness, lack of joy, lack of interest, “classic” depression
3. Dopamine: in charge of motivation, attention, memory, coordination, and movement
Symptoms of (Im)balances: loss of will/motivation, low libido, depression, quick to anger, constipation, muscle stiffness/weakness/tremors, loss of balance
4. GABA: promotes relaxation, calm, sleep, pain relief, and stress resilience
Symptoms of (Im)balances: anxiety, easily stressed, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, headaches
Do any of these (im)balances resonate with you? Does one type stand out more than the rest when you think about areas you struggle with?
The Gut-Brain Connection & Why it Matters
Mood and mental function are directly influenced by the health of our gut . . . you cannot fix one without fixing the other.
The gut contains MORE neurons than the brain and they are directly connected via the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is bidirectional, so your brain can influence gut function and vice versa.
Stress & the relaxation response is communicated through the vagus nerve, which is why you might feel “butterflies” with anxiety or digesting a meal improves when you are relaxed.
The cells lining your intestines and the bacteria in your gut produce neurotransmitters (chemical messengers of the nervous system) & other beneficial brain compounds just like the brain does influencing the brain and gut function. If your gut health is compromised, your mental health will be impacted, too!
How to Love Your Brain (and Gut)
Support a healthy microbiome and gut-brain connection by adopting a phytonutrient-rich, high fiber, whole foods diet - nature has your back! :) Probiotics and prebiotic foods are essential, too!
Replenish nutrient deficiencies with a nutrient-rich diet that supplies the protein building blocks and vitamin & mineral co-factors needed for brain function: e.g., iron, B vitamins, folate, vitamin C, and copper
Consume choline-rich foods (e.g., eggs, beans, soy, brassicas, spinach, dairy, animal protein) for adequate building blocks to your brain’s chemical messengers
Support healthy cellular membranes with a diet rich in phospholipids (e.g., lecithin, eggs, soy, supplements) and Omega 3s (wild fatty fish, flax seeds, algae, supplements)
Reduce your life stress with nature-based stress reduction and activate the relaxation response as often as possible! (Seek professional support with PTSD and unresolved emotional trauma).
Support healthy mitochondria function and energy production with daily movement and targeted energy support supplements.
Reduce your environmental toxin exposures in food, water, air, and home & work environments, including alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes.
Maintain a healthy weight.
HBOT: hyperbaric oxygen treatments speed brain healing from all types of insults & injuries.
Monitor your self-talk and practice self-love mood & positivity boosters ~ review the post reWild Your Mood.
Benefits of working with a functional nutritionist or functional medicine practitioner
Comprehensive lifestyle evaluation and health history to identify contributing factors: receive a personalized nutrition & lifestyle plan and support; identify & address nutrient deficiencies, gut health & integrity, and chronic infections.
Supplements: for mood & mental function enhancement while diet & lifestyle changes are being made, e.g., to relieve anxiety, to lift depression, or increase focus: amino acid building blocks to serotonin (tryptophan, 5-HTP) and dopamine (tyrosine); GABA (GABA and L-theanine); and choline/phospholipids (liposomal phosphotidylcholine)
Primary Functional Labs: Organic Acids Test to determine cellular health status and neurotransmitter function
The Wild at Heart Method is uniquely designed to help you transition into a lifestyle that awakens your inner wild and supports your wellbeing. A lifestyle reset can be simple, sustainable, and fun when you (re)align yourself with nature.
Subscribe for Mind.Body.Home reWilding inspiration and download the reWilding Retreat Guide: a nature-infused, self-guided retreat to explore on your own or with family and friends designed to help you de-stress, disconnect from technology, soulfully connect with loved ones & nature, nourish your mind.body with healthy whole food, and provide the mental space for mindfulness.
I look forward to supporting you with the right program, service, or referral on your healing journey. Let's walk together for awhile...
We'll stop and smell the wildflowers. Smile a lot. And wander down the road less-traveled.
Be Well and I'll See You in the Wild,
Angela Juhl, MS, CHWC, CYT
Master of Science in Human Nutrition & Functional Medicine
Wellcoaches™ Certified Health and Wellness Coach
Wild Woman Project Circle Leader
Certified Yoga Teacher
Wild at Heart was founded on the mission: to take a stand against unsustainable cultural norms by empowering YOU to realign your lifestyle & mindset with the wisdom of nature for mind.body.heart & soul healing and rekindling a soulful relationship to the natural world...for yourself, your loved ones, our communities, and our beautiful planet.