You Can Fix Your Brain (2018) is a step-by-step guide to improving cognitive function and overall brain health. Through dietary choices, environmental adjustments, and other health practices, you can reduce brain fog, enhance your memory, and increase your mental clarity.
Introduction: Cut the fog and boost your brain
Does this happen to you? You’re staring at your computer screen, trying to finish a project for work, but it feels like your thoughts are moving through a thick fog. Focusing feels impossible.
Or how about this: You’re on the phone, about to jot down an important detail. You search for pen and paper – “Where’d they go again?” – but by the time you find them, you’ve forgotten what you were supposed to write down.
If you’ve ever experienced brain fog or memory lapses, you’re in good company. Millions of people, old and young, suffer from cognitive symptoms and impairments that affect their quality of life and productivity.
The good news? You can absolutely improve the situation.
In this summary, we’ll examine underlying causes of brain dysfunction, often related to inflammation, and how to find out if they’re affecting you. We’ll also learn some strategies for addressing these with lifestyle modifications and dietary changes.
You can improve your cognitive function and achieve a better memory, clarity, and energy. Let’s get started.
Immunity, inflammation, and the brain
What do dementia, depression, anxiety, and memory loss have in common? They’re all caused by runaway processes of inflammation and autoimmunity. Not only that, they can all be treated by finding and eliminating the underlying triggers. Let’s look at how this process works.
The function of the immune system is, of course, to protect your body from foreign substances – harmful intruders impinging on your body. A well-functioning immune system can distinguish between your body’s own cells and external threats, ensuring that only genuine dangers are targeted.
But what happens when this system malfunctions? Autoimmunity is a condition in which the immune system mistakes your healthy cells as invaders and launches an attack against them.
This leads to inflammation within the relevant cells and tissues and can even cause your immune system to destroy these cells if it believes they’re damaged.
So where does all this begin? Often it starts because of the presence of foreign substances, environmental toxins, or foods to which either you have an individual sensitivity or which are simply unhealthy, in general.
Unfortunately, the modern world exposes your body to many such slings and arrows. These insults can leave your immune system chronically triggered – constantly overactive. Brain symptoms like brain fog, memory issues, and even anxiety and depression, indicate that inflammation is happening in the brain, impeding its proper function.
So how do these substances get into your brain in the first place? Let’s zoom out to the rest of your body. First, your gut. Your intestinal system has evolved to do a difficult and sensitive job – allowing you to absorb all of the nutrients that your body needs to keep running while blocking out what’s harmful or not needed.
Your intestines have a semi-permeable mucous lining which acts as this filter. But in some people, the mucous lining becomes damaged and over-permeable, known as leaky-gut syndrome. A leaky gut lets through substances that it shouldn’t, like bacteria and toxins.
But your body has another protective mechanism in place to protect the brain – the blood-brain barrier. Just like the intestinal lining, your blood-brain barrier is a kind of filter, allowing only those substances which are supposed to get across to enter – straining what gets through, like an ultra-fine cheesecloth. Your brain is sensitive and important, so this filter is even finer and more selective than the one in your gut, operating at the molecular level and blocking whatever’s not needed.
But this filter, too, can become compromised – in what is referred to as a breach of the blood-brain barrier. Once that happens, the foreign substance is free to enter into your brain tissue. Your body then begins to initiate the immune response we discussed earlier. Brain tissue becomes inflamed and begins to lose function, resulting in slowly-worsening symptoms as the tissue becomes progressively damaged.
For many people, the idea of damage to the brain is an especially scary prospect. One reason is the sense that this damage is truly permanent. Scientists used to believe that we had a fixed number of brain cells and once they were gone, they were gone forever. While your brain cells certainly are precious and merit your careful protection, newer science has shown that it’s possible for brain cells to regenerate. This gives some hope that it’s possible to restore brain function that’s been compromised – to heal the brain.
But before we can, we need to address the underlying problems which resulted in damage. We have to eliminate leaky gut, restore the blood-brain barrier, and ultimately, eliminate the offending toxins that caused the problem in the first place.
So how do we know if these dangerous autoimmune processes are present? We’ll cover that in the next section.
Your biological dashboard
You’re driving home after a long day at work, looking forward to a relaxing evening. Coming along an uphill stretch, you notice the temperature warning light on your dashboard turn on. Concerned, you bring your car to the mechanic.
“It’s a good thing you came in,” they say. “You’ve got a leaking water pump, which made your engine overheat. If you’d kept driving, you could’ve ended up with major engine damage. But, don’t worry, I fixed the pump. You’re good to go.”
The warning lights on your car serve a vital role: they give you an early heads-up that something’s wrong, so you can address the issue before damage occurs.
When it comes to protecting your brain, the same principle applies. Biomarkers linked to specific health issues may appear years before actual disease sets in. These can act as early indicators of immune conditions which, left untreated, could damage brain tissue later on.
Ideally, you can test these biomarkers to find any irregularities even before any symptoms occur. But if they’re appearing – if you’re having problems with memory, concentration, or brain fog – it may be that an inflammatory process is already underway. You should prioritize getting tested – bringing your car to the mechanic, so to speak.
So what are some important biomarkers you can discuss testing with your doctor?
Of particular importance are antibodies that indicate a breach of the blood-brain barrier, as these are implicated in nearly every kind of brain disease. It’s a long list of possible markers, but here are some important ones.
As it happens, the same antibodies that are related to leaky gut are also related to a leaky blood-brain barrier. Examples of these are antibodies to zonulin – a compound released in the intestine – and actin – a type of muscle protein. Another group is antibodies to lipopolysaccharides (LPS). These are bacterial by-products, the proliferation of which has been linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases.
Another category is antibodies which were traditionally measured to determine evidence of brain injury, but are also indicative of brain inflammation. These include antibodies to neuron-specific-enolase (NSE), gliofibrillar acid protein (GFAP), and S100B.
The last group of antibodies we’ll mention are ones to the transglutaminase family of proteins. First among these are antibodies to transglutaminase 2 (TG2); this is one of the primary markers for celiac disease. People with wheat sensitivity tend to have elevated antibodies to TG2, TG3, and/or TG6, the latter being an important enzyme in the brain and nervous system.
Other than antibodies, there are some other tests which should be part of your health indicator dashboard. There are immune reactivity screens, which detect if your body is reacting to things like PCBs, phthalates, BPA, and dioxin. And finally, there are tests for exposure to mold and heavy metals.
So what do you do if these antibodies or other markers are elevated? Well, you can start making health interventions to address the causes and bring down inflammation. Give these some time – six months to a year – and then retest to see if your protocol has been successful in bringing these indicators down.
We’ll spend the rest of this summary looking at what those health interventions are.
A great pyramid
When it comes to understanding and addressing brain-related illness, there are four primary areas of focus, representing four faces of what O’Bryan calls the pyramid of brain health. These four areas are structure, emotional and spiritual, biochemistry, and electromagnetic.
The base of the pyramid is your structure. That is your physical muscular-skeletal system – the framework that holds your brain up and off the ground, as it were. Believe it or not, mechanical problems such as postural misalignments and muscular imbalances can result in brain problems down the road. An example of this is osteoarthritis, where physical misalignment and poor joint function create wear and tear on the joint, resulting in restricted blood flow, local inflammation, and ultimately immune response.
Here, O’Bryan recommends chiropractic as a preventative solution, to create alignment in the spinal system. Additionally, he recommends people take a close look at their posture while sleeping, working, and driving, as improvements in these everyday, time-intense activities can pay dividends.
You won’t be surprised to hear that exercise is crucial for brain health. Aerobic exercise that’s intense enough to make you sweat helps you excrete and eliminate toxins stored in your body fat. Try slowly ramping up to a target of 30 minutes per day, six days per week – leaving one day as a recovery day. And don’t forget the other many brain benefits of exercise: lowering inflammation, enhancing neuroplasticity, and stimulating cellular growth and repair. Exercise is simply a no-brainer – pun intended.
So that’s structure. The next side of the pyramid is mindset. This is your brain after all, and could anyone doubt that mind and brain are connected?
One area where your mindset is crucial is getting a handle on stress. In this day and age, many people have their sympathetic nervous system chronically activated. When this system is constantly switched on, your heart beats faster, breathing becomes shallow, and your digestion is impaired. This leaves you exhausted and susceptible to outside threats.
But adjusting your mindset goes beyond simply reducing stress. According to a 2012 study, mindfulness can actually reduce inflammatory markers even while stress is present. Other studies have found that meditation increases levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor – a compound involved in regenerating brain tissue. And quite separately from the above, meditation has also been shown to have benefits in terms of concentration, focus, and emotional resilience. Other ways of addressing the brain via your mindset include psychotherapy, breathing exercises, and prayer.
Biochemistry and electromagnetism
The next face of the pyramid is biochemistry. One strategy here is detoxification. We talked earlier about how exercise can help flush toxins out of your body. One way you can help this process is through intermittent fasting. Fasting has been used for thousands of years as a way of purifying the body. The ancient Greeks knew it. Plutarch, for example, is quoted as saying “Instead of using medicine, rather, fast a day.” Or Paracelsus: “Fasting is the greatest remedy – the physician within.”
Intermittent fasting, otherwise known as time-restricted feeding, is a practice in which people restrict their eating to a particular time window, say the 12-hours between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Regular intermittent fasting has been shown to, yes, burn fat – lipids are tissues where many toxins are stored – which allows the body to rid itself of organic pollutants. It also gives the body a chance to deal with damaged cells – which then get replaced by healthy new ones. To help with detoxification, make sure to drink enough water, as this helps your body circulate fluids and flush out the bad stuff.
And of course, you should do what you can to avoid exposure to toxins in the first place, by taking care about which products you use, such as personal care products and household cleaners.
Last but not least is what you eat. Your biomarkers and antibodies can help inform your choices here. But either way, try experimenting with eliminating “The Big Three” dietary culprits – wheat, dairy, and sugar. Of course, focus on increasing your consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits, too.
You can also experiment with adopting a ketogenic diet. You needn’t stay on it long-term, but a short stint of one to three months can sometimes bring about dramatic cognitive benefits. You then have the opportunity to slowly reintroduce other foods to your diet, while carefully monitoring your level of function and your health markers.
The last face of the pyramid of brain health is electromagnetism. O’Bryan points to research indicating that electromagnetic fields – or EMFs – are an important cause of oxidative stress in the body and that they impair the immune system, trigger inflammation, and disrupt tissue repair.
EMFs are all around you. They’re emitted by laptops, cell phones, Wi-Fi, and even the wiring in your home. They’re impossible to avoid completely, but you can take certain steps to minimize your exposure. Here are some tips: Put your phone in an appropriate protective case. To find one, look for a type of product called a “cell phone radiation cover.” And choose wired headphones over Bluetooth headphones, if possible.
As you know, proper sleep is essential for protecting and rejuvenating your brain. So two tips for your shut-eye. First, turn off or unplug your wireless router – you won’t be using it anyway. And crucially, try to keep your cell phone out of your room at night. Besides reducing your EMF exposure while you sleep, this is simply beneficial for your sleep in general. If you do sleep with your phone next to you, put it in airplane mode.
Fixing the brain isn’t a simple matter. The human body is complex and multiple interacting systems need to be accounted for. But as Dr. O’Bryan says, if you’re experiencing symptoms related to cognitive function, your brain may be under threat. You can’t just dip your toe in – you’ve got to jump in with both feet. It’s not about a single silver-bullet intervention, but rather about multiple small wins accumulating to make change.
You now know the basics of how autoimmunity and brain inflammation lead to dysfunction in the brain. Using the four faces of the brain health pyramid – structure, mindset, biochemistry, and electromagnetism – you can design a protocol of interventions for yourself to help you cut through the fog and live with greater clarity, optimism, and energy.
About the author
TOM O’BRYAN , DC, CCN, DA CBN, is the author of The Autoimmune Fix and an internationally recognized speaker and writer on chronic disease and metabolic disorders. Founder of the website theDr, he organized the popular Gluten Summit in November 2013 and a second one in May 2016. Dr. O’Bryan has more than 30 years of experience as a functional medicine practitioner and is an adjunct professor at the Institute for Functional Medicine. He lives in San Diego.
Science, Health, Nutrition, Personal Development, Self Help, Brain, Psychology, Diseases and Disorders, Memory Improvement, Diet, Fitness, Relationships, Personal Growth, Diseases and Physical Ailments, Nervous System Diseases, Immune Systems
For anyone worried about any type of brain ailment, ranging from the chronic conditions to simple brain fog and fatigue, this essential guide covers the full spectrum of prevention to treatment.
We’ve all experienced brain fog—misplaced keys, forgotten facts, a general feeling that you’re just feeling off today. And many of us will experience that “fog” manifesting as something more permanent—either in ourselves or our loved ones.
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It’s a step-by-step approach to better cognitive function—being selective about what’s on your fork, what’s in your environment, and how you take care of yourself can make a world of difference. With only one hour a week of practice, in 6 months, you can say goodbye to brain fog and welcome a better long-term memory and a sharper mind.
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“Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s pioneering book, You Can Fix Your Brain, delves into the research linking inflammation and brain function. The text will give you all the tools you need to get your brain healthier and keep it that way.” −Dr. Steven G. Eisenberg, Medical Oncology & Hematology, Co-founder, cCARE.com, Creative Director, DrSteven.com, Associate Producer, CancerMoonshot.com
“This book is a must-read for anyone interested in preserving brain health and preventing neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. O’Bryan applies functional medicine principles and offers a comprehensive guide to healing the brain by healing the gut, reducing toxic load, and putting out the fire of inflammation. It’s filled with practical tips, personal stories and tasty, easy to prepare recipes.” −Sandra Scheinbaum, Ph.D., IFMCP, CEO, Functional Medicine Coaching Academy
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“Dr. Tom has done it again! His brilliant new book, You Can Fix Your Brain is a must for anyone who’s experiencing brain fog, memory loss and mood problems or for anyone who wants to prevent future brain issues. He masterfully explains the connection between brain inflammation, environmental toxicity and cognitive decline but also help you navigate through brain tests, tools, and tips to optimize your brain health for life…it takes only one hour a week! We can all work with that!” —Dr. Susanne Bennett, #1 best selling author of “Mighty Mito” and “The 7-Day Allergy Makeover” and talk show host of Wellness for Life Radio on RadioMD and iHeart Radio
“Before you take any next step in your health journey, I recommend you read You Can Fix Your Brain and follow Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s lead as a guide to better brain health. Just as he has helped thousands with their autoimmune health, he can help you achieve optimal brain health using functional medicine tools. With this new book, The science is solid, the recommendations practical, and the reader will be successful. The format of the book flows in an easy to read manifesto of self-care that is full of insights and tips. For everyone that has ever felt the loss of productivity and happiness from brain fog or lack of sleep–this book has the solution. ” −Mark Menolascino MD, MS, ABIHM, ABAARM, IFMCP
“Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s new book, You Can Fix Your Brain, is highly informative. From exposure to toxins in the air, water, food, cleaning, and personal care products, mold, food sensitivities including wheat–which causes damage to your gut and thus potentially your brain in nearly every one of us–to poor diet, and unhealthy mindset, Dr. Tom really lays it out with a set of solutions to take back your brain health. He even points out the importance of poor posture and spinal misalignments on affecting central nervous system function, which as a Doctor of Chiropractic, I especially appreciate.” −Ben Weitz, DC, CCSP, CSCS Sports Chiropractor, Functional Medicine practitioner and host of the Rational Wellness podcast
“There is no one as passionate, caring and devoted to educating people about the perils of gluten and the myriad mounting environmental triggers of autoimmune conditions as Dr. Tom O’Bryan. Dr. Tom fulfills a critically important purpose at a crucial time in human history. Today 1 in 5 people may already have one or more autoimmune conditions. The great news is these are reversible and preventable disorders; provided you remove/avoid your triggers and embrace nourishing lifestyle practices. Dr. Tom is the ideal guide to help you identify your personal triggers and get on the healing and prevention path. He does a masterful job making complicated concepts easy to understand through vivid metaphors, hopeful stories, and his vast personal experience. Dr. Tom breaks down important strategies into baby steps, providing a no-excuses plan to reverse and prevent these largely preventable conditions. If you want to live a long and healthy life, I urge you to read this book and be proactive with your health, one base hit at a time.” −Palmer Kippola, founder HealingisFreedom.com, functional medicine certified health coach, and former MS sufferer
“Dr. Tom O’Bryan has a compassionate and enthusiastic style of sharing his amazing knowledge and experience. As a reader, you will be drawn into the stories, the highs, the lows, and the eternal truth that you can fix your brain. This book is loaded with powerful nuggets of information that are certain to move your needle of health in the right direction. Dr. O’Bryan has done a masterful job of making this important topic both interesting and practical. If your brain is too foggy to read, have someone read this book to you, it will change your life!” −Sachin Patel, Founder, Living Proof Institute
“Dr. Tom O’Bryan has done it again! Great science to help keep YOUR BRAIN great! Brain tissue is severely under attack in today’s toxic world. Dr. Tom takes you on a grounded and effective journey so that anyone can understand autoimmunity and its link to brain health, and gives you exact steps to keep your brain healthy. Every 30 seconds an American is diagnosed with some form of cognitive decline, such as Alzheimer’s disease. This dreaded disease, and even milder forms of cognitive issues like brain fog, are all preventable and fixable. Dr. Tom is one of the few (like myself) that combines the most up-to-date science into clear action-steps so that you can translate this research easily and effectively into daily life–for yourself or a love one.” −Dr. Devaki Lindsey Berkson, author of Hormone Deception, Safe Hormones, Smart Women, SEXY BRAIN and Healthy Digestion the Natural Way, and host of Dr. Berkson’s Best Health Radio
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Autoimmunity: How It Affects Brain Function
Autoimmunity refers to the mechanism in which your immune system attacks the organs and tissues in your body and brain. Whenever we are exposed to any environmental toxin that triggers an immune response (foods such as gluten, or toxic chemicals, or infections), that substance is now categorized as an antigen, something that our immune system is activated to protect against. This immune response can occur at any time, day or night, and it’s designed to work in the background of our lives so we don’t notice it happening. You don’t feel it, see it, taste it, smell it, or experience it in any way, yet your body is silently protecting you. If this initial immune response is not strong enough, then the immune system releases antibodies, a more powerful weapon for dealing with an antigen. If this mechanism continues long enough, damage to body or brain tissue will occur, and wherever the damage occurs, that organ can no longer function as it’s meant to. This usually begins with the mildest of irritations, like a runny nose, sore muscles, or brain fog. If the antigenic response continues, damaging the tissue, eventually you will develop a disease related to that tissue. It doesn’t matter what tissue we’re talking about: This mechanism occurs in every and any tissue in your body, including the brain. Now you’ve developed a disease.
There are more than 70 recognized autoimmune diseases and more than 300 autoimmune conditions. Common autoimmune diseases include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular ailments, strokes, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, and dementia. You may be wondering how it is possible that these diseases run such a gamut, and why so many affect the brain. The reason is that all of these diseases are linked to the same by-products of an autoimmune response: elevated antibodies and inflammation.
Immune System Basics
Your immune system acts like the armed forces in your body—it’s there to protect you. It’s composed of five different branches that work together. There is a metaphorical army, navy, air force, marines, and coast guard (which are referred to by doctors as autoimmune responses, or the antibodies IgA, IgG, IgE, IgM, and IgD), each of which has a distinct role. There are also four different immune systems in the body. Each of these systems operates separately, but all follow the same owner’s manual and communicate with each other. The largest one is found in the gastrointestinal tract (the gut), where 70 to 85 percent of your immunity resides. There is another immune system in the liver called the Kupffer cells. The third comprises the white blood cells found in the bloodstream.
Finally, the most potent immune system in the body is in the brain and made of glial cells. These cells act as sentries standing guard with high-powered rifles just inside the blood-brain barrier, which is the filtration system of what gets into the brain. Glial cells are the most powerful immune response in the body: These guys don’t walk around with just six-shooters; they have bazookas. Any foreign matter that gets into the brain activates the glial cells to fire chemical bullets.
From an evolutionary perspective, humans thrive as the dominant species on the planet because we can reason and other species cannot. The “thinking” area of the brain, the cerebral cortex, allows us to reason, and as a result, it’s most important to our survival. We know this because there are 60.84 billion glial cells protecting the cerebral cortex, making sure that if anything gets past the blood-brain barrier, there is an army there to address it. There are only 16.34 billion neurons that comprise the cerebral cortex, giving this large region a glial-to-neuron ratio of almost 4 to 1 (actually it’s 3.72 to 1—sorry, I am a geek!). These thinking cells need to be protected at all costs. It’s the reverse in the cerebellum, the more primitive muscle and motor command center in the brain, where there are more neurons than glial cells. This may be why so many autoimmune diseases that affect the brain affect your motor function, as is the case in Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis (MS), and others.
Each of the four immune systems has at least two arms: the ancient arm of the immune system, found in all living creatures, called the cellular, or innate, immune system, which acts as the protective handguns firing chemical bullets and creating inflammation to destroy a threat; and the humoral, or adaptive, immune system, which is the heavy artillery that’s called in when you need to produce even stronger inflammation as a backup support system.
When faced with an environmental exposure, whether it is bacteria, a virus, a parasite, offensive dietary proteins and peptides, or even chemicals or medications, the innate/cellular arms produce cytokines, the biochemical bullets I refer to as the first responders. These cytokines recognize and then destroy whatever they consider threatening. There are a number of different types of cytokines, and the immune system determines which one to launch depending on the threat.
If the cellular arms’ defensive strategy cannot get the job done, the immune system calls up the big guns. This is when the humoral/adaptive immune system kicks in and its soldiers launch targeted missiles called antibodies. Antibodies work like trained assassins; they go after a specific target. Anywhere the antibodies find an invader, they fire their missiles at that specific invader. If you’ve ever received blood test results with the words “elevated levels of antibodies,” or an “H” next to the antibody marker, this refers to the fact that the basic immune system is overwhelmed, and now the big guns are working overtime to contain a perceived threat. These antibodies circulate in the bloodstream looking for the environmental exposures they’ve been trained to attack.
And here’s the kicker: Even after the offending bug or food has been destroyed, along with the damaged cells, antibodies continue to inhabit your bloodstream for an additional 2 to 6 months. Even when you have no symptoms, elevated antibodies are a signal that the immune system is working with its last option to respond to a perceived threat before the development of disease.
Elevated antibodies can also occur when our innate immune system (the first responders) becomes depleted and ineffective. Our immune system can get worn out just by responding to the way we live our hectic lives and the food choices we make. Whether the continued unrelenting antigen is biochemical (food sensitivities, environmental toxins, etc.), structural (poor posture, intestinal permeability), emotional stress (stinking thinking), or electromagnetic, it can deplete our first responders (the innate immune response) so that they are no longer effective. How many years did you smoke, or drink soda, or eat sugary foods? The damage from those habits, or others, might now look like recurring colds (“I get the flu once or twice a year, and I’m out for a week”), or forgetfulness (“Where did I leave my keys?”), or a 3:00 p.m. energy crash. These subtle but annoying health problems are suggestive of a worn-out innate immune system.
Controlling Inflammation Is the Name of the Game
When the innate immune system is worn out, the big guns are called on more frequently, resulting in higher levels of antibodies (which will show up on a blood test) that attack and destroy antigens in a process that creates inflammation: Additional blood containing immune-enhancing white blood cells and antibodies is directed to the areas of the body or brain that require healing. In some instances, like when you get a small cut on your hand, you can see and feel the inflammatory barrier: You may notice tenderness, redness, and swelling. However, inflammation mostly occurs inside the body and the brain. If you didn’t go looking for inflammation with highly sensitive blood tests, you wouldn’t even know it’s there. And you won’t have any symptoms from excess inflammation until your immune system has killed off so many cells that the organ or tissue can’t function normally anymore. Symptoms are usually mild at first and progressively increase in intensity over time. Autoimmunity is a notoriously misdiagnosed condition because the symptoms are at first so benign. That’s why the average person who is eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease suffers for 3 to 7 years before they get the right diagnosis. For example, we know that Parkinson’s patients suffer for years with inflammation causing chronic constipation, but most don’t think to see a neurologist to check on their brain health.
Don’t get me wrong—inflammation is also the primary way your immune system keeps you healthy. This is critical to remember, because inflammation gets a bad rap. The truth is, inflammation is not bad for you. Excessive inflammation is bad for you. Once the antigen is destroyed and the damage to your body is repaired (like when the cut on your finger heals), the inflammation response subsides and the cellular (innate) branch’s immune response goes back to a resting state. However, if the inflammatory process recruited the big guns, the adaptive immune response with antibody production, the antibodies can continue for months even after the threat is contained. This might occur when the ammunition in your innate immune response wasn’t powerful enough to successfully contain the antigen and the big guns had to be called in, or when we continue to expose ourselves from unknown sources, such as lipsticks that contain gluten, or orthodontic retainers that may contain gluten, or when we keep eating the wrong foods.
When inflammation in the brain gets out of control, you might notice subtle symptoms, like when you can’t remember things the way you used to and chalk them up to “getting older.” You might feel confused or depressed, or you might be overly anxious. No matter what you hear from “experts,” it is not normal to have a poorly functioning brain in your forties and fifties. It is common, but it is not normal. It means that something’s not working right. And that something is likely the result of an autoimmune response in your brain. That’s what this book is about. If you understand this, then you have a very good chance of being sharp-witted well into your eighties and nineties.
Creating excess or chronic inflammation is like throwing gasoline on a fire: It adds to the problem instead of resolving it. This is when the inflammatory cascade begins. Inflammation beyond the normal range will cause cellular damage. Continued cellular damage will cause tissue damage. Continued tissue damage will cause organ inflammation. Continued organ inflammation will initiate elevated antibodies to that organ and trigger small, annoying dysfunction of that organ. Continued inflammation with elevated antibodies and small, annoying dysfunction becomes increased compensatory dysfunction causing noticeable signs and symptoms. Continued inflammation with elevated antibodies creating compensatory dysfunction causing noticeable signs and symptoms leads to organ or tissue damage. Continued inflammation with elevated antibodies and ongoing organ or tissue damage eventually creates stronger symptoms that get the person worried. Now you go to a doctor and describe the symptoms you’ve been feeling. At this point, you have fallen over the waterfall and are trying to stay afloat in the turbulent waters of the symptoms you’re experiencing. The doctor prescribes a medication that is hopefully the right life jacket for you to stay afloat. And now you’re at risk of all those crazy side effects that we hear about in the television commercials for the latest and greatest drug they’re promoting.
And why is the inflammation out of control? Why are the big guns activated, causing all of this mess? You have to go upstream to find out what fell in the river. Just staying afloat with a pretty good life jacket for your thyroid problem, or your diabetes, or your brain problems, or your arthritis, or, or, or . . . is why we have such poor results from our health-care system today.
Chronic inflammation is like having a light switch on all the time. Ever go into a bathroom that has an automatic switch that turns on the lights when you walk in? My favorite breakfast restaurant has one just like that. It is activated by motion and then stays on for a specified amount of time. That’s what your immune system is doing. Keep moving around in the bathroom and the light will stay on all the time you’re in there and for a few minutes afterward. Keep exposing yourself to the environmental toxins your body is sensitive to, whether they are new exposures or if the amount of chemicals stored inside your cells is large enough, and the inflammation will continue to be produced in high amounts to protect you. It’s not “out of control”; it’s trying to protect you.
The light switch of inflammation will also stay on when you get hit in the head every once in a while because you’re taking boxing or martial arts classes or playing sports such as soccer or football. (Shockingly, 99 percent of all NFL football players have severe, life-altering, and life-threatening inflammatory damage to the brain called CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Yes, 99 percent! College football players are not much safer; 91 percent experience CTE. And even 21 percent of high school players are affected.) The light switch could even stay on because you’re eating foods that you’re sensitive to (like wheat or dairy). My point is we have to go upstream to figure out what is activating the light switch of inflammation. We don’t necessarily want to try to shut off the inflammation with a better life jacket.
Excess inflammation affects the weak link in your health chain—the part of your body or brain that fails first or most often. This location is determined by your genetics (your family’s health history) and your antecedents (the environmental exposures you’ve accumulated in your body from how you have lived your life so far; e.g., eat tuna every week, and you’re likely to have a mercury problem). Your weak link can be joint pain, or it can be poor attention, or fatigue. If it’s your thyroid, you may notice that you are more chilled or have trouble losing weight. If it’s your liver, you may find that alcohol has a stronger effect on you than it did before. If it’s your brain, you may forget simple things, like where you’ve left your keys, or have trouble with your memory in general. If someone has a gluten sensitivity, it may manifest as chronic constipation. In the next person, it may manifest as liver disease or acne. In the next person, it might be attention-deficit disorder. What’s more, practically every degenerative disease is linked to excessive inflammation, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.
If the weak link is your brain, inflammation may compromise brain function, leading to headaches, memory loss, seizures, anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia. As a matter of fact, scientists tell us that inflammation in the brain trumps any other brain function. Inflammation is a survival mechanism protecting us from a perceived threat: It becomes the top priority. How your brain function is affected depends on where the inflammation occurs. For instance, forgetfulness occurs when inflammation in your brain affects the nerves that carry messages. Depression is an example of inflammation often occurring in the frontal lobes of the brain. Seizures result from inflammation in the back of the brain, in the occipital lobes.