FOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN
Can you believe it? It's too good to be true. Some of your favorite foods can be doubly good for you! Nourish you and provide you with defense against what ails you. It's the phytoalexins in blueberries, almonds and red wine which supply the double benefit. Phytoalexins are part of the plant defense system. Of course plants don't like to be killed and eaten, they are not just sitting there growing for our benefit and living in peace. In fact, plants don't like us at all. But then we aren't their primary predators. Even without us, it's the Wild West out there is your organic vegetable garden. Murders happen every minute. But sometimes the enemy of your enemy can be your friend.
Some plants are outright poisonous to animals. But I'm not posting about those plants. They belong in a toxic handbook. Many other plants set up defenses to kill their predators but don't supply us with any nutritional benefit in the process. If they contain any protected phytoalexin, it belongs in a supplement. I'm posting about nutritious plants which tolerate being eaten by animals (or humans) for a reason. Thus bears eat berries and the bear scat moves the plant seed in a new home. These plants fight fungi and bacteria but tolerate the bears and the bees. They may nourish us with their fruit while their phytoalexins, originally meant to benefit the plant, synergistically help clean up our intestines and thereby sharpen our brains.
If a plant's natural defense system is toxic to our microbial predators, we will get double benefit - both nutrition and defense. What if you suffer from recurring yeast infections, the dreaded Candida. If an edible plant suffers from fungal infections too, this plant will fight back by making its own fungicide - a natural Candida killer. When the first fungal spore lands on a plant's leaf, a general alarm goes off. The plant coats every leaf and flower it possesses with this defensive compound. This coating, this phytoalexin, will kill mold on the plant and also kill Candida in us.
I'll give you two more examples, then move on. Let's take berberine, a very bitter phytoalexin. No one would want to eat it raw, which in itself is a great defense against predators. But if you take it as a supplement, it lowers your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol. How does it do this? It selectively kills the bacteria in our small intestines which upload sugar into our bodies. Does the plant care about that? Of course not! It's just protecting its own roots from similar bacteria in the soil.
What about the insects? To plants, insects are a mixed group. They need the bees to spread their pollen but have little use for the aphids. Are there phytoalexin insecticides? Of course! Nicotine and Caffeine top the list. Nicotine is toxic to us. But caffeine? Well, coffee is the subject of my next post.
Now lets look at grapes, blueberries, and almonds. Their most immediate threat is fungal although their phytoalexin array does have more widespread benefits.
First of all, it should be red wine. The grape's natural yeast predators and the resulting phytoalexin defense is in the grape skin. It's the fight between the two, between the yeast and the phytoalexin, that benefits us. In white wines the grapes naturally made less antioxidants. Often the skins are removed. Wait, they just removed the best part! Then the wine maker adds commercial yeasts and maybe even some refined sugar. Not good !
What's the primary phytoalexin in red wine? Resveratrol of course. Resveratrol is a compound secreted by the grape to protect itself against mold. It has many studies showing it's importance as an anti-aging and brain preserving compound. It is especially beneficial for carriers of the ApoE4 allele, the so called Alzheimer Gene. Which wine is the highest in resveratrol? Pinot Noir, the grape that grows in the cooler moister climates where mold would be more prevalent. Now, pinot grapes themselves have minimal resveratrol. You really have to stress the grape out, actually ferment it in it's own yeast (mold) to make it produce enough resveratrol to help us out. Even then, you'd have to drink way too much Pinot Noir to get even a modest dose of resveratrol. So consider taking a resveratrol supplement instead. I would take one made from grapes, as I would never dream of eating Japanese knotweed, the source used for most resveratrol supplements. The dose needed appears to be 250 mg of trans-resveratrol a day.
As for alcohol in general, some of us like to forget that consumed in excess, it certainly is bad for you. Really, if you don't remember that, then you are either in solid denial or your brain is already too far gone to matter. That said, there are ways to maximize the positive effects of the grape's antioxidant defense system and minimize the bad effects of the alcohol. Genetics helps. Some people just detox alcohol better than others. Consider the French and the Italians. They detox alcohol well. I'm Irish, so I need some help here.
Moderate red wine consumption has been linked to numerous positive effects on brain health. It's all the antioxidant effects, not only the resveratrol, but the polyphenols, flavanoids, terpenes. All are enhanced by fermentation. The brain, despite it's small size, consumes up to 20% of the body's oxygen, so it needs those antioxidants! A glass of high quality pinot noir can help you out a bit. In one study of older women, wine drinkers actually scored higher on cognitive tests than teatotalers! In another study brain function declined more quickly in nondrinkers than in moderate wine drinkers. Other prospective studies demonstrate lower risks of Dementia, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease in those who drink red wine regularly.
OK, just to be clear, the alcohol is bad, the antioxidants are good. The sugar in it is bad, and how it is processed counts. Quality counts. Please don't buy cheap wine in a BPA lined box. Alcohol is a mycotoxin. A mold toxin. It may well be more dangerous than toxic black mold in your house. Resveratrol is what the grape produces to combat those mycotoxins.
So how do you minimize the potential damage from the alcohol? Time and again I see people who supplement with milk thistle to protect their livers from alcohol. But although milk thistle is a wonderful supplement, it' is much better at protecting the liver from a viral attack than from excess alcohol. There are better options.
The metabolite of alcohol which is responsible for most of the damage to our bodies is called aldehyde. There are wide variations in peoples' ability to detoxify aldehyde, (via aldehyde dehydrogenase) and therefore wide variations in our bodies ability to receive benefit or harm from wine.
Aldehyde detoxification is dependent on vitamin B3, more specifically NADH/NAD+ ratio in the liver mitochondria, Also important is the concentration of aldehyde dehydrogenase whose proper function requires zinc. ApoE4 carriers (the Alzheimer's gene) are especially vulnerable to low B3 levels in this context. Optimized Niacin (or NR) appears to be the best form of B3 to take and yes, I sell it. Other beneficial supplements in this context include Curcumin which slows entry of alcohol into the liver, NAC which helps replete glutathione stores in the liver, and a balanced liver detox supplement. Alcohol depletes glutathione, the body's major antioxidant. How do you know if you are low in glutathione? Simple blood tests can show it.
Bottom line, if you choose to drink alcohol, drink a little, not too much, drink slowly and consider taking an optimized niacin, adequate zinc, some liposomal glutathione (or NAC) and a balanced liver detox product. If you tend to drink too quickly, curcumin may be of benefit. Emerging studies also show benefits of specific probiotics.
After all, red wine is a fermented food. Few would argue that fermented foods are good for you. Kefir, kombucha, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, tempeh and.....red wine! There are studies showing a beneficial shift in your gut microbiome with red wine consumption.
BLUEBERRIES AND ALMONDS
OK, on to blueberries and almonds. The phytoalexin they make is called pterostilbene. It is a metabolite of reesveratrol and again protects the almonds and blueberries from a fungus. Pterostilbene is up to 5 times more bioavailable than resveratrol, so some people prefer it. Think of blueberries. You buy them and there is always one or two in the bottom of the package with a soft spot and some whitish mold on them. That's what the blueberry is striving to protect itself against.
There certainly are many studies showing that wild blueberry extract prevents against cognitive decline. But why not eat the berries themselves and skip the extract? Once again, quality counts. Wild blueberries appear to be the best. They are not sprayed with pesticides and undergo a lot of stress and fungal attacks growing in the wild. The more stress, the more phytoalexins the berry produces. Next best are the pampered organically grown blueberries. Regular blueberries may do more harm than good. They are heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals like glyphosate (Roundup) specifically to prevent fungal infections. Not only will you ingest these toxins but the lack of mold on the blueberry will stop it from secreting pterostilbene. So I buy frozen wild blueberries and enjoy them all year. How about some blueberries in almond milk?
Almonds also contain a hefty amount of pterostilbene. For a wide variety of reasons they are considered a brain food. Almonds contain riboflavin and l-carnitine both essential for brain health. Almonds also make you feel full, decrease overeating and obesity. The oil in almonds is monounsaturated, like olive oil and is antiinflammatory. But please buy them raw or dry roasted. Most Costco nuts are heavily coated with salt and rancid oil. I don't even trust Sprouts coated bulk almonds. I buy the individual packets of almonds, dry roasted, and take them to work. I have 2 packets for lunch and am satisfied. Ask me and I'll give you a packet! By the way, it is very difficult to buy raw almonds in the United States. Almonds sold as "raw" here have been irradiated. Why? To eliminate the mold, of course!
So I raise my glass to you. Here's to my favorite moldly brain defenses. It all makes me wonder if mold might be involved in cognitive decline. Here's to resveratrol and pterostilbene. Here's to red wine, almonds and blueberries.
Next up COFFEE! I love coffee. And it's very good for your brain. And no, it isn't the caffeine. 'Til then, all my best.