Our brain is the interface to our reality, the machine to the way we perceive the world, and a direct communication pathway between ourselves and the external world. The more we take care of our brain, the more our motor coordination, perception, planning, and problem-solving are enhanced, and the more we can experience reality in more flow.
Corey Deacon, co-founder of Neurvana Health, Doctorate of Natural Medicine, neuroscientist, and a passionate health consultant is interviewed by the co-founder of Momentom Collective Gabrielle Bonneville to give us 8 tips that we can do to optimize the overall functioning of the brain. While providing these answers, he also breaks them down to provide clarity on how to put these tips into action.
1. GET THE RIGHT LIGHT EXPOSURE
Gab: So, why is light good for us?
Corey: When we talk about brain health, we first have to talk about light exposure. Light has a huge effect on circadian rhythm – which is our ability to stay awake or to go to sleep.
When you look at people that work night shifts, along with living a lower quality of life, they tend to have more widespread health problems and the overall longevity of their life is significantly decreased – Why do you think that is?
The circadian rhythm regulates everything. It regulates hormones, it regulates the immune system, it regulates the GI tract, it regulates musculature, it regulates when we repair when we regenerate when we are inflamed.
All these things that are driven by the circadian rhythm, if it’s out of whack, can cause all sorts of problems from cardiovascular issues to autoimmune disease to cancer. So light exposure becomes very important.
Gab: “So what can people do to get more light?”
Corey: I always tell people to get outside. It’s simple If you’re working indoors, set an alarm for every hour, and go out for five minutes and just go get some sunlight.
We do not get the same full spectrum wavelength of light when we’re indoors, because windows will actually filter out UV light, as well as some of the violet spectrum of light, which is important for a lot of different aspects of the body. Windows also filter out infrared and a certain amount of the red light spectrum, which is what makes space energy efficient by making sure those windows are not losing heat.
So knocking those wavelengths of light out has significant effects on the body, and in a, in a pathological way. If you can get outside around sunrise and sunset is excellent. Your brain function also improves if you remove glasses and contacts. So you want bear eyeballs. You don’t need to look directly at the sun, but just kind of be out basking in the light as it comes up.
2. BLOCK OUT BLUE LIGHT AT NIGHT
Gab: What about at night?”
Corey : Yea, the other really important thing with light is when it is dark out at night, you need to be blocking blue light.
Gab :“What’s blue light? “
Blue light is a wavelength of light (400-500 nm) and part of the visual light spectrum of light (a type of electromagnetic radiation) that appears blue to the visual system. It carries a higher energy state and is a cooler form of light. It can be seen in a rainbow when light is reflected off of water. The presence of blue light is everywhere light is. Blue light, just like all other wavelengths of light, plays a significant role in how our body functions. Blue light specifically plays a role in increasing our energy levels in the morning and throughout the day. It is essential for regulating the “wake” cycle of our circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycle) and therefore plays a role in regulating our sleep, hormones, immune system and more. Because of the high energy of blue light, it is very important not to get too much exposure compared to other wavelengths of light (eg. green, yellow, orange, red, infrared), especially at night. The biggest problem occurs when we have blue-light exposure in higher ratios than red OR if we have blue-light exposure after the sun goes down (when the natural daylight exposure of blue light disappears).
All of the lighting we use this day and age is basically 100% LED or fluorescent. This is due to its energy efficiency properties which a lot of the Paris Agreement and other various carbon emission projects have pushed to put into place.
All LED screens, LED lights in our houses, fluorescent lights – they are not only very bright, but they also have a dominant wavelength in blue light. If you have blue dominant light, you spike dopamine. When you do that continually over and over and over again, you’ll actually lose dopamine sensitivity in your brain. The other thing that happens as you lose leptin sensitivity ( a high-level circadian hormone that gets released in the brain) which can cause weight gain, energy problems, sleep problems, and hormone regulation problems. Melatonin doesn’t get released when there’s too much leptin present. This also causes spikes in dopamine, which is why phone/tablet technologies can be so addictive. We also see spikes in adrenalin (epinephrine) and noradrenalin (norepinephrine). These stimulating neurotransmitters keep us awake and stimulate us when released. This is another reason it is important not to have blue-light exposure at night.
Figure 1. Levels of different colors/wavelengths of light present in different types of lighting.
Our eyes are meant to detect blue light in the morning. It’s not supposed to happen at night. If we start seeing blue light at night, we won’t release melatonin and we’re not going to get a deep restful sleep.
Gab: So what can we do to protect ourselves from blue light?
Corey: There are apps that you can get for your devices to adjust your level of blue light at night.
For your screen, you can get one that is called flux. If you have Android, there’s one called Twilight. And if you have Apple, Iris is the best.
If you watch TVs, you can plug in a laptop and read it through TV, and then that TV will have the filter that you run on your laptop
Otherwise, get a good quality blue light blocking glass (which needs to be tinted). Get a blue blocker’s sunglasses as soon as the sun is down, regardless of what you doing, especially in the city, you’re getting a lot of light from the street lights and everything else.
So that’s kind of my number one is paying attention to that, getting proper exposure to light, and blocking blue light at night.
3. EXPOSE YOURSELF TO HIGH AND LOW TEMPERATURE
Gab: So what else can people do to boost their brains?
Being exposed to infrared light allows you to power up your mitochondria and get a high level of detoxification.
4. CONSUME PHOSPHOLIPIDS
Corey: In the nutrition realm of things – we can talk about phospholipids. A phospholipid is basically a fancy term for a phosphate, or phosphorus, which is an element or mineral, combined with a fat phospholipid which are the main constituents that make up our cell membranes and are super important for brain and nervous system health.
Gab: How do phospholipids work?
Corey: We’ve actually learned now, we used to think the most important part of the cell was DNA. We were wrong. The mitochondrial structures are actually the most important, the cell membrane is the next most important. Without a cell membrane, we can’t protect the inner parts of the cell.
So the cell membranes act as a wall that encloses a cell, like a basketball holding all the air in.
We also have a nuclear membrane that wraps around the nucleus to protect the DNA. And then we have a membrane around the mitochondria to protect the inside of the mitochondria. All of those membranes are made of phospholipids.
So if we don’t get enough phospholipids, or we don’t get enough fats, to be able to make those phospholipids, we get into trouble because they’re constantly turning over. If they get damaged, they need to be removed, they need to be replaced. If they don’t get replaced properly, the integrity of the cell is compromised and the cell can die very easily.
If the makeup of the fats around isn’t flexible enough, the cell becomes rigid, and any mechanical force can cause it to break – the cell dies.
Now, the other really important thing with the cell membrane is it is the sole reason why cells are able to communicate with each other. When cells can’t communicate properly, receptors that bind hormones and neurotransmitters and everything else are not able to communicate. The effects of this will be cells that cannot communicate properly. This can lead to prediabetes, fatigue, hormone regulation problems, weight gain, brain fog, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, cancers, inflammatory conditions, immune system impairments, migraines/headaches, autoimmunity, and many other common symptoms/conditions people experience. Effects?
Gab What can you do to make sure you are taking enough of these?
Corey: Get a phospholipid replacement, you can get some flour-based ones. There are a few supplements on the market that have a good purified high dose of phospholipids. I. Unless you had a sunflower allergy or soy allergy, depending on where you were getting your lecithin from, you’re really not going to have any problems with it. Pretty much everybody tolerates it very well. So it’s a good kind of general recommendation for brain health.
5. GET YOUR OMEGA THREES
Corey: The next kind of nutritional marker is omegas which maintain nervous system function and cell membrane integrity and flexibility.
Omega is the fats that come from the diet. What they indicate are the unsaturated fats that have a single group, either at the three, the six, or the nine position – depending on what omega you’re taking. You want a good omega 369 balance
They act as inflammatory and immune signaling molecules. Omega threes tend to shut off the inflammatory response. Omega sixes tend to turn it on. So you need a really healthy balance of that.
Some people make the mistake of overusing fish oil. And that’s not good to do. You’ll create what’s called omega-three dominance. And then you can’t mount a strong inflammatory response to fight off things like viruses and bacteria and stuff like that
Gab: How can vegetarians make sure to get enough Omega 3?
Corey: If you’re vegan or vegetarian, it becomes a little bit harder to get omega threes. Basically, plants can’t make the omega 3s that we need to be called VHA and EPA, which fish do that are in the wild. When you eat fish, you get EPA and your body doesn’t really need to do anything, it can just integrate it.
Vegans and vegetarians need to have a lot of plant fats that are going to be high in omega threes, or high in what’s called alpha-linoleic acid. You can literally take alpha-linoleic acid, or linoleic acid which you can take supplements of, or hemp, hemp oils, flax oils, black currant oils, Grapeseed, oil, etc. They can be then be transmuted and transformed into EPA and DEA
6. GET MORE VITAMIN D
Gab: How is Vitamin D good for the brain?
Corey: Vitamin D technically isn’t a vitamin. It’s actually more of a hormone. It works like a steroid hormone that goes into the nucleus of the cell and turns on over 3000 different genes that are associated with almost every function of the body.
Vitamin D is good for the brain in the sense that it helps turn on pathways that are associated with neurotransmitter function. Serotonin – for mood-regulating anxiety, feeling connected, feeling happy feeling content, Dopamine – for executive function, attention focus, motivation, Planning Organization, and finding pleasure in everyday life. It helps increase acetylcholine, which is memory formation and increases repair in the brain. It reduces inflammation in the brain, which is the cause of most mental health problems. Why? Because most neurodegenerative problems are inflammatory.
It also helps prevent cardiovascular complications, which, if we get small blood vessel problems in the brain which means we can’t get enough oxygen or enough glucose. If that happens, the area will slowly start to shrink. And this is what ends up causing age-related cognitive decline and everything else. So you definitely want to be getting vitamin D that will slow all of those processes that we typically see with brain aging.
Gab: Can you talk to us about sunscreen?
Corey. Yes, sure. Vitamin D is best obtained from sunlight. If you have darker skin, you need more exposure than people with lighter skin. So especially in higher latitudes, like Canada and Europe and northern parts of the states, if you have dark skin, you need to be out in the sun with that skin exposed more.
We have to be conservative with how much sunscreen we’re using. BY blocking UVB light, which UVB light is what allows us to tan, we will not get the same amount of vitamin D produced.
If you get up first in the morning light, and you get out as long as you can in earlier in the day, you won’t have as much of a problem with burning.
There is a great app called “D. minder” that helps you figure out based on your skin tone and your latitude when you should be getting out, and how long you should be out for.
You can even set alarms so that you remind yourself to ensure that you don’t block the beneficial effects of the sun with sunscreen, but you also don’t run the risk of burning.
Gab: Is it dangerous to get cancer if we expose ourselves too much to the sun?
Corey: To be honest, it is a very low risk of developing skin cancer. It’s like a 3% risk and people that don’t wear sunscreen. But in people that do wear sunscreen, have a 34% increased risk of all more mortality and morbidity, which means that they have higher problems of every other illness to a 34% extent whereas people that don’t wear sunscreen, have a 3% increase of skin cancer and a lower incidence of everything else. So for me when I’m looking at the benefit risk ratio, I don’t wear sunscreen, because I would rather risk a 3% chance of skin cancer than a 34% chance of everything else.
7. DO EXERCISE.
Gab: We love movement. How does movement or exercise affect the brain?
Corey: Exercise is important for so many reasons.
With exercise, we increase growth factors in the brain. It allows us to build new connections, easier. The thing is, we lose neurons as we age. So it is really important that we have molecules there to make new connections for us. The more connections we can make, the less we will feel the advanced effects of aging
Most of the benefits of exercise start with 10 to 15 minutes a day. So when people say they don’t have time for exercise, we need to lose that excuse because everybody has 10 to 15 minutes a day to exercise for their health.
You don’t need to be doing anything crazy, like lifting heavy weights, but you do want to get your heart rate up or you do want to get something that’s going to have some lightweight muscle resistance. I generally recommend mixing a mixture of the two. Running. Cardio with yoga for example.
Exercise creates what’s called epigenetic changes in the body and in the brain. Which means that it starts adjusting the genes that are turned on and off, it literally changes our cellular behaviour.
8. GET GOOD SLEEP
Gab: What about sleep?
Corey: Sleep is so important. if you address the other things above, and you have a good sleep hygiene ritual, you are on your way to optimal health.
Most people know that if they have a couple of nights where they don’t sleep, well, we’re just not in it. And our immune system can be completely compromised as well over time and we can’t get proper body functions.
Sleep helps reduce inflammation, activates what’s called the glymphatic system in the brain which is literally the garbage disposal system that flushes the cerebral spinal fluid out of the brain so we can clear toxic toxins and inflammatory things out of the brain such as free radicals and stuff that build up as our brain produces energy and turn cells over.
Gab: How can we ensure good sleep?
Corey: Don’t stay up too late. Don’t eat too late in the day. Get light exposure. Get cold exposure. Get infrared exposure. Get vitamin D. Try not to eat a lot of sugars. Don’t have coffee. Try to be sleeping for at least seven to nine hours a day. Younger people need less sleep. Older people tend to need more sleep.
Melatonin is known to be like the best anti cancer, its a natural anticancer molecule, it’s made by the body. We power up mitochondria, through sleep, we recycle and rebuild our hormones that we need for the next day.
I highly recommend people get a quantitative EG, which is an electrical analysis of the brain quantified. We call it a brain map. It really helps you pin down why why you’re not sleeping, why you are feeling why you are feeling, It is really important to get that objective measurement, so you know what it is that is actually contributing to your sleep.
So, in some cases, people inflame, and when we inflame too much, and we get a circadian rhythm problem, we get stuck in a cycle where we don’t sleep, we keep inflaming because we don’t sleep. And then we keep not sleeping, because we keep inflaming and we just get in this vicious circle. And so in that case, you need to retain somebody, a physician, or I highly recommend functional medicine practitioners that are versed in looking at quantitative eg, they’ll be pretty much 100% able to improve your sleep function.
For an in-depth interview with Corey, Check John Early’ podcast with him
Gabrielle is co-founder of Momentom Collective and operator of the Green residency, leader of the Permanent Community Project, and innovator of the Optimal Performance Room in residency. To get in touch with her or live with her, get in touch at costarica@momentomcollective or @gaby_boop on Instagram
Corey is the founder of Neurvana Clinic. For more information on him or book an appointment