Part Three: Fighting Inflammation With Nutrition – The Brain & Gut

March 29th, 2017
how nutrition can help fight inflammation: the brain and the gut

Following head injury, an anti-inflammatory diet (see Parts One & Two of this series) is recommended. Though drinking coffee has been shown to benefit brainpower and protect against dementia, in the immediate post-concussion period, caffeine should be avoided.  However, in the event of post-concussion syndrome – when symptoms persist beyond the expected recovery time – the benefits of coffee may prove helpful in modulating symptoms such as headache and issues with alertness. There isn’t one magic answer here, but rather it might be advisable for the post-concussion sufferer to experiment and assess the outcome.Also related to headaches, checking Vitamin D levels in the blood can prove helpful in determining whether supplementation might prove beneficial (more on that below).

Nicotine is another substance contraindicated after concussion (not that it would be recommended at any other time). Likewise, avoiding alcohol is an important aspect of a brain healthy diet, particularly so in the event of head injury. Getting adequate sleep, adding exercise to one’s routine, as well as such things as mindfulness and meditation, also contributes to optimized brain function.

Some of the foods recommended for protecting cognitive function and memory include: avocados, beets, blueberries, bone broth, broccoli, celery, coconut oil, dark chocolate, egg yolks, green leafy veggies, rosemary, salmon, turmeric and walnutsSome of the best leafy greens are Swiss chard, kale, spinach, watercress and Romaine. Other fish besides salmon that are rich in good oils, like sardines, also make the cut.

Supplements for Cognitive and Neuroprotective Function

Fish oil supplements can provide another source of the omega-3 fatty acids our bodies need and which benefit brain function. It is recommended that consumers interested in these supplements buy only those from a quality source that controls for PCBs and oxidation. For more on the vital omega-3s EPA and DHA, which benefit us in myriad ways, here is a brief and wonderful synopsis of their neuroprotective properties.

Another supplement established in animal studies to have neuroprotective effects is Creatine. Nutrition conscious neurologists may recommend this agent for those who’ve suffered concussions and have persistent symptoms or are affected by neurodegenerative diseases. More studies are needed to verify the benefits of creatine for humans.

A third supplement often taken for its cognitive and neuroprotective benefits is MCT oil, which is a derivative of coconut oil, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Evidently not all MCT oils are created equal.

Bone Health Plus More

I always felt that with a proper diet, we get the necessary nutrients from food and so taking vitamins is not necessary. However, even I take a few vitamins these days. Vitamin D, important for bone health and likely a whole lot more, is found in very few foods. Though sun exposure helps in its natural production, conditions are not always optimal and sunscreen curtails this benefit. It is easy to become Vitamin D deficient, based on what has been established as the normative range. And since Vitamin D also aids in the absorption of calcium, it seems best to turn to a supplement when your levels are low. And that is the conclusion drawn from many studies on Vitamin D and Calcium for prevention of bone loss (osteopenia and osteoporosis) and fractures. However, the research is confusing. Some analyses do not support a benefit in increasing bone density in people over 50 or in preventing fracture in this population. It should be noted that many studies also point to an increased risk of kidney stones and a correlation with heart disease amongst those taking these supplements.

For a synopsis of outcomes from studies on Vitamin D and its impact on everything from colds to cancer, DocCheckNews most recent newsletter has a wonderful piece entitled Vitamin D-Religion: Amen. Some findings include:

  • Daily Vitamin D supplementation in those with low serum concentration resulted in a 12% decline in acute respiratory infections.  Universal supplementation was not recommended.
  • Men with low serum levels of Vitamin D suffered twice as often from chronic headaches. An ongoing Vitamin D study in Finland, with results due in 2018, is intended to answer remaining questions about the vitamin’s relationship with headache pain.
  • Though moderate supplemental doses are considered safe, in excess, Vitamin D may lead to increased falls and fracture in the elderly.
  • Vitamin D supplements taken during pregnancy may increase the risk of the child suffering food allergies later in life.

Foods that most of us associate with containing Vitamin D are: fatty fish, organ meats (uggh), eggs, and particularly dairy products. In addition to the dairy foods that many avoid these days, there are a variety of non-dairy foods that contain calcium. Again, it should be stressed that a healthy individual with normative levels, who eats a diet that supplies these nutrients, does not require supplements. And as noted, in larger doses they may prove harmful.


Those with gut issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) would do well to read up on this diet. The acronym stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. These are short-chain carbohydrates that are incompletely absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and can be easily fermented by the bacteria in the gut.

Onions and garlic top the no-no list, but that list is a long one, highlighting foods that can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms. Experimenting to determine one’s particular sensitivities may be the way to go here as well.

Reflux Diet

Acid reflux, also known as GERD (GastroEsophogeal Reflux Disease) is a condition that involves exposure of the soft tissues of the esophagus to stomach acid. It can result in heartburn, but even in the absence of indigestion, it can result in such symptoms as a chronic dry cough, a sore throat, difficulty swallowing or bloating.

It is important to get an accurate diagnosis and crucial to follow a Reflux Diet that restricts acid intake. Foods to avoid include: tomatoes and tomato sauce, carbonated beverages, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate and citrus. Propping your upper torso and head up at night and not eating for three hours before bedtime are also recommended.

If you take medication to control reflux in order to eat as you please without consequence, that isn’t the way to go. Eating correctly and exercising regularly can make all the difference in avoiding the adverse effects of long-term use of medications that are meant for short term use only and are often over-prescribed.

Eye Health

Lutein is one of four carotenoids and is found in green leafy vegetables, red peppers, red spices like cayenne or paprika, and other colorful veggies like tomatoes. Carotenoids (the four are: alpha and beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene) are antioxidants (see Part One of this servies), and lutein has been found to have a preventive impact on macular degeneration and cataracts. A strong family history of macular degeneration, causing degrees of blindness with aging, and/or a diet lacking in an abundance of the foods mentioned above may be good reasons to consider a daily supplement high in lutein.

One additional note on tomatoes (which contain all four carotenoids), is that when they are eaten in combination with broccoli, there is found to be a relationship with prostate cancer prevention.


Just as a diet rich in the right foods that also limits the evil ones (like sugar) provides protection from chronic illness, so does exercise. Weight training and weight-bearing exercise improves bone density, preventing fracture. It increases muscular strength, therefore improving function, balance, and reducing incidence of falls with aging. It is important for optimizing brain health and lessening incidence or severity of depression. Exercise also diminishes reflux. And, high intensity interval aerobic exercise slows the effect of aging; this benefit is likely related to the fact that exercise even helps to control inflammation, though knowing your limits and listening to your body is key.