Protein’s Effect on the Brain
The brain is composed of mostly water and fatty acids. It relies on a steady stream of glucose for energy, burning through a lot of this simple sugar each day. It can lean on short fat compounds when glucose supply dwindles for any reason. There’s relatively little protein within the brain, but none of this means that proteins aren’t important to the brain.
Protein is a vital part of brain growth during early development. Neurons may be mostly fat and fueled by glucose, but they use proteins to communicate with one another and control what happens throughout the body. The enzymes, neurotransmitters, and hormones that carry signals and help accomplish the tasks the brain dictates are made from protein.
What you eat does affect the brain, alters mood, and changes emotions. Protein deficiencies slow development in children and lower cognitive function. Protein deficiencies have also been linked to depression, anxiety, ADHD, epilepsy, and a certain type of autism.
A dense meal of carbohydrates can leave you feeling sluggish and tired as it increases the levels of tryptophan in the brain. The amino acid tryptophan encourages the production of serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter associated with appetite, blood pressure, learning, and sleep patterns.
On the other hand, a protein rich meal can leave you feeling alert and energetic as levels of the amino acid tyrosine rise. Tyrosine promotes the creation of norepinephrine and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that boost activity, alertness, and energy.
This doesn’t mean to cut out carbs and eat nothing but protein to stay alert during your workday. Your body still needs a mix of carbohydrates, protein, good fats, and plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to stay healthy and functioning at optimum. Most Americans eat way more protein than they need anyway. Most Americans eat too many carbs too. Balance is what the body needs, and healthy sources of protein and carbohydrates.
Too many animal proteins can damage the kidneys and deliver much more fat and cholesterol than you want or need. Carbohydrates are required by the body, but should come from fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as often as possible, not from candy, soft drinks, and processed foods.
Variety is important. Your body needs a combination of essential amino acids to create muscle, connective tissue, hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. Legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and vegetables all contain protein with different amino acid profiles. Mix and match them to get each one you need in the right amount. The brain and body will take care of themselves if you give them the right materials to build from.
Stress can also deplete neurotransmitters even when you are getting enough of the right amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to create them. Work on reducing stress and getting enough sleep. If you can’t get rid of the things that cause you stress, find activities that help you release it. Pick up yoga, tai chi, meditation, kickboxing, running, biking, or even breathing exercises to keep yourself happy, alert, and energetic when you need to be while tired and sleepy at the appropriate times too.
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