Diet & Nutrition

Diet & Nutrition

Following on from the last weeks and my posts Holistic Health and Exercise: Body vs. The Mind, I am continuing with my theme of trying to create a positive balance in all aspects of our bodies. I have spoken on exercise and the idea of Holism or Holistic health; how exercise contributes to Holism and the positive effects this approach of treating the whole person (not just symptoms and manifestations) can have for those of us with Acquired Brain Injury/Traumatic Brain Injury. I will continue in a similar vain today and talk about the part played by diet and nutrition. Specifically I will try to emphasise the ways certain vitamins, minerals and other nutritional benefits from certain foods can affect our state of mind and the way we feel generally. I am hoping I will be able to provide you all with come dietary information that can improve our circulation, our production of levels, our immune system generally as well as the ability to produce certain hormones, in particular, the feel good hormones.

Vitamins & Minerals – What Can They Do For You?

There are common misconceptions made about what we eat and how our diets can affect so many aspects of our wellbeing. I believe personally that there is not enough education regarding the potential nutritional value of certain foods during years of compulsory education. I release that due to the continual advances mad in science these days that to constantly adapt curriculum to incorporate everything would be nigh on impossible. That being said, I do believe that with a better understanding from a young age (the start of GCSE’s, say) of what vitamins and minerals actually do to the human body (not just lightly glossed over) that the current crisis regarding childhood obesity would not be as bad as it is where approx. 19% of UK children in the age group of ten to eleven years old are classed as obese according to recent UK public health surveys (http://www.noo.org.uk/NOO_about_obesity/child_obesity).
Of course diet and nutrition contribute to our physical wellbeing (Body Mass Index, Blood Pressure etc.) but few people are aware of the positive effect a varied healthy and nutritious diet can have on other aspects of the human body and mind. Our digestive system, muscle repairs, energy production, our immune and circulatory systems, sleep pattern and state of mind can all be positively affected by such a varied nutritious diet.
So many people will read that last paragraph and believe that I am full of hot air. However, I will be doing my best to provide you with some information on the type of foods that can provide these types of nutritional benefits. By the end of the post, you will be able to see a few particular foods that keep cropping up and can aid our physical, cognitive and mental health.
I cannot possibly hope to get through all vitamins and minerals required for a model diet post-ABI or TBI. However the one I have chosen is the one that contributes to most dietary needs for someone after brain injury to keep them healthy in body and mind.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is a key part of any persons diet and provides so many benefits. The problem is that people trying to improve their diet can often get confused or mixed up due to the fact that Vitamin B has six sub categories, each with varying properties and each one providing the body with different benefits. So I will go through the different types of B vitamin and what each provides for the human body to provide some clarity and hopefully enable those that want to change their diets for the better to get the benefits they are after. Each paragraph on the different B vitamins will have a emboldened section which I believe provides particularly important information for ABI and TBI patients.

B1 – Foods that contain B1: Rice, Oats, Nuts and Butternut Squash.

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Otherwise known as Thiamine, is important for helping digestion in the human body, maintaining cellular and organ function and keeping energy levels at an even and suitable height. It also helps to create strong mucous membranes as well as helping to maintain the body’s nervous system. A deficiency of vitamin B1 can cause extreme fatigue as well as degeneration of the nervous and gastrointestinal system as well as degeneration of muscular systems.

B2 – Foods that contain B2: Quinoa, Oats, Spinach and Mangetout.

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B2 (Riboflavine) is important for maintaining muscle tissues as it plays a key role in repairing muscle tissue and mucous membranes. As well as playing an important part in converting food into energy. This would be an important vitamin to ingest for those who are regular exercisers, as foods high in B2 will help with repairing minor post-exercise damage done to any muscles.

B3 – Foods containing B3: Chicken, Turkey, Fresh Tuna and Crimini Mushrooms.

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Vitamin B3, to give it its technical name Niacin, is key to the production and storage of fats that can be used as a source of energy in the human body. As an added bonus B3 is also vital in detoxifying the body by eliminating free radicals and maximizing our energy potential (What are Free Radicals? To what extent are they dangerous as the body naturally produces them? Follow the link for an overview of Free Radical production and their purpose – https://draxe.com/fighting-free-radical-damage/). Once again, this B vitamin plays a part in maintaining nerves, the brain and digestive systems, protects the skin as well as maintaining healthy mucous membranes.

B5 – Foods containing B5: Cauliflower, Egg Yolks, Turkey and Avocado.

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Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic Acid is key to strengthening the body’s immune system. It acts as a stimulant for the production of antibodies helping us to fight off illness and infection. B5 also enables us to deal with stress better aiding the adrenal glands in producing the hormones to better produce red blood cells and the hormones related to both sex and stress. An increased presence of B5 included in the diets of people suffering with anxiety or nerves could provide some improvement for you, especially when combined with exercise.

B6 – Foods containing B6: Eggs, Soya Beans, Mackerel and Turkey.

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This is an important one for all of us with ABI or TBI. Not only does vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine, help to make and produce key amino acids for the immune system but also helps produce Phagocytic cells. Phagocytic cells ingest and destroy foreign bacteria and particles that find their way into our blood stream. Most importantly for ABI/TBI/Brain Injury readers out there, B6 helps the body produce several different neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry signals from one brain cell to another. Finally it helps with the production of Serotonin, the hormone that contributes to mood as well as the hormone Norepinephrine that helps to regulate our body clock and sleep pattern.

B12 – Foods that contain B12: Beef Liver, Fresh Tuna, and Raw Milk.

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B12 is fundamental for the human body due to its requirement for the process of making DNA. It also helps to transport oxygen in the blood, playing a part in detoxifying the body, lowering blood pressure and levels of cholesterol. Most importantly for us struggling with brain injuries out there it also helps to maintain brain function while at the same time helping to reduce brain and neurological degeneration.

Folic Acid – Foods that contain Folic Acid: Lentils, Avocado, Broccoli and Citrus Fruit/Citrus Fruit Juices.

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Folic Acid is a B-vitamin that makes a significant contribution to our reproductive. Just as importantly it helps with maintain healthy blood cells as well as playing a part in the process of mitosis (cell division). The work that Folic acid does producing maintaining blood cells helps to reduce the risk of illnesses such as cancer

Minerals
Magnesium – Foods that contain Magnesium: Rice, Quinoa, Spinach and Mackerel.

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High levels of magnesium in our bodies mean that we can absorb more calcium. Maintaining a consistently high level of magnesium in the blood means our bodies have an easier time producing energy and helping with nerve transmission. This particular mineral also aids maintain muscle function and our metabolism.

Zinc – Foods that contain Zinc: Rice, Dark Chocolate (with high Cocoa solid percentage), Cashew Nuts and Seafood (generally).

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Zinc is predominantly an anti-oxidant, anti-viral mineral. Its main benefit really is that it boosts the body’s overall immunity as well as helping with the development and maturation of Lymphocytes commonly known as T-Cells (T-Cells are a type of cell that helps fight illness and infection. There are various types of T-Cells all with different roles and purposes in the immune system. Low levels of T-Cells weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness, infection or disease). It is these Lymphocytes, T- Cells, that the HIV virus attacks when it is transmitted, lowering our immune system making us more prone to illness and unable to recover.

Others

EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acid’s including Omega 3 and Omega 6) – Foods containing EFA’s: Walnuts, Broccoli, Eggs and Olive Oil.

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The important role of EFA’s is that they are an anti-inflammatory as well as playing a vital part in maintaining healthy blood, skin and nerves. EFA’s are also believed to improve the responsiveness of the immune system. EFA’s can also be commonly found in oily fish such as fresh mackerel, tuna, salmon etc.

Serotonin Stimulators

Foods that can increase the production of serotonin: Eggs, Salmon, Nuts & Seeds, and Pineapple.

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As I stated earlier in the post, Serotonin is a hormone produced to help regulate our moods. As I mentioned in my post regarding exercise, the release of serotonin is the hormone behind the so-called “Runners High”, the feeling of happiness and ecstasy one get post-exercise. While exercise is certainly something that I would recommend for those looking for the uplifting feeling of higher levels of serotonin there are other methods such as the type of foods we eat that can induce higher levels of serotonin production.

Drinks

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I am certainly not an expert when it comes to dietary needs and exercise but if you want to find out some alternative drinks to try, have a look at my friend Chelsea’s blog on various teas and their benefits: specifically her post on teas more suitable for patients whttp://www.tastethetea.co.uk.

Common Appearances In Healthy Diet

It would seem as though there were a fair few foods that made repeat appearances through the various categories I have listed. It would stand to reason then that the foods that crop up in different categories I have mentioned should be incorporated as a key part of our diet. From the evidence and research I have provided it would seem fairly clear that a diet high in oily fish, poultry, rice, grains, nuts & seeds, as well as green leafy vegetables are the foundation of making us healthy and making us feel good physically, cognitively and mentally. While I did not do a section on this particular dietary supplement I would encourage the consumption of anything with Flavanoids, which helps with the maintenance and repair of blood vessels, muscle tissue and aids circulation. Flavanoids are commonly found in Seeds & Nuts, Berries, Tree Fruit (Plums, Cherries etc.) and Kidney beans.

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All I can suugest is that we try to continue to eat a varied and healthy diet. The issue nowadays is that so much food is processed, preserved or artificial that any goodness is cooked out of it. Many people believe that supplements and vitamins tablets can provide everything we need. However the more we try to cook ourselves, the more we are willing to experiment with our diet, the bigger the benefits we will receive. Even if you don’t consider yourself a dab hand in the kitchen just give it a go. Buy a cookery book. Here’s a link to get you started to Jamie Oliver’s Super Food cookbook.

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Socialisation & Engagement (Part 2)

The last post relating to Socialisation and Engagement was focusing upon the limitations, both cognitive and physical, that an Acquired Brain Injury places on us as patients. This post will focus on how maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be a positive thing in many ways but also being aware of some of the ways that, despite the fact that it is essential, the routine that is often required in maintaining that lifestyle, can hinder the activities a patient may want to do in terms of how they socialise with other people.

Maintaining A Healthy Lifestyle

One of the key parts of a recovery is to try and maintain a healthy lifestyle. When I say this, I am not suggesting a patient becomes a gym addict and starts eating only super foods (When I say maintain a healthy lifestyle, much of what I am talking about is, generally, basic common sense). In this section, I am going to cover the three most important aspects of maintaining a healthy lifestyle post-ABI: exercise, diet and sleep.

Exercise

Finding the right type of exercise to do post-ABI can be very tricky. It is something I still have problems with today. I have always had a passion for contact sport (football, rugby) and I have never really got on that well with the gym. I found that the people who attended gyms used to intimidate me ever so slightly. Their impressive fitness and muscular physiques certainly bring about insecurities when you start to compare your own (in my case) less than impressive physique. It can also be embarrassing as you try to learn to use the equipment. In the months after a brain injury, the memory is in a terrible state in terms of committing short-term memory into long-term memory (as I have mentioned in previous posts). It can be very embarrassing when you have to keep going back to the personal trainers and other people who work at the gym, to ask how to use the treadmill for what seems like the hundredth time.

Both of these obstacles may seem like problems you should just “get over” and that you should just get on with things. However, exercise in itself, needs to be something that you enjoy and something that is fun, otherwise how do you expect to motivate yourself to do it. The other aspect (feelings of inferiority or stupidity while in a fitness environment such as leisure centre or gym) can be common for people without ABI’s, but for people with brain injuries it is a very likely outcome. To overcome this, one way is to perhaps have someone who is more aware or familiar with your situation accompany you to the gym, to make sure you can manage until your confidence and memory is at a suitable level to be able to go on your own. In the last post, I mentioned the idea that most people arrange activities specifically for the fully abled, majority. Unfortunately, the same is true for venues as well. While most venues will have disabled access and some disabled facilities, places such as gyms are, again, meant for the fully abled majority. This again isn’t necessarily the fault of the venue; it is more the combination of the way society views head injuries (particularly the lack of education surrounding them) as well as the fact the majority of people are fully abled and can retain information effectively and are physically able to use the gym equipment.

However, a fun way (though I must admit living in the countryside and on the coast made this more enjoyable) to get the heart pumping was to go for a nice long walk. Not only does it get the heart rate going, and the oxygen moving round the body, but walking for longer than thirty minutes at a brisk pace starts to then consume fats that are stored around your body. So it may help you to drop a few pounds if you wanted to. As well as helping you shed any unwanted poundage, regular exercise will help with releasing endorphins, known for lifting the mood; making those erratic moods, bouts of depression or lethargy less frequent.

Rest & Sleep

Rest and sleep play a massive part towards how patients can manage our day-to-day lives. This section is relatively short compared to the other two, but Getting into a sleeping pattern of going to bed at similar times each evening, getting up at similar times each morning, sleeping right the way through with unbroken sleep, and even having a period set aside for napping during the day have been hugely beneficial.

For me, a lack of a regular sleep pattern can cause huge disruption in so many ways. I end up sleeping stupidly late (to the extent where I often end up missing lunch!). This then means that the times of my meals are thrown out of sync and that I end up eating at irregular times at the detriment to my health. I used to eat late at night, when you do this and then go to sleep after, it means that you do not work off the calories you have consumed and those calories end up getting stored as fat and you end up putting on weight (Not to mention, that disrupted sleep patterns often have a tendency to exacerbate my epilepsy and cause seizures).

After much messing around with my sleep pattern over a period of six years, I have only recently started to establish a sleeping pattern which allows me to get everything done that I want to in a day and does not seem like a chore.

Diet

Diet will be another important aspect of your daily life after being released from hospital after an ABI. When I came out of hospital, after my spell in the induced coma, I was 64 lb.’s lighter than when I went it. I’m sure many of you experienced similar things while in hospital. Losing that amount of weight in such a short period of time is not healthy, even in the slightest. When the human body is deprived of food for that long it goes in to starvation mode, meaning it lives off of the sugars and fats that are stored in our bodies for as long as possible while storing everything it possibly can from what it consumes (that includes, if the length of starvation exceeds a certain point, your body breaking down the protein in your own muscles to lives off).

It then takes a long time to come out of this process. Having lost much of our body sugars and fats, post ABI, when we are able to eat solid food again, I found that I was ravenous, nearly all the time. This is due to the fact that much of my excess fats that my body used to chew on when I got hungry weren’t there anymore. So after I came out of hospital, I over ate. Massively. I went from being approx. 11 stone when I left hospital to somewhere between 17/18 stone in the space of approximately six months.

The thing was, that the weight gain did not seem to be a gradual thing (as I remember it). I suddenly found myself in a position where I was hugely overweight. I hated the way I look and the way that it made me feel. If I could stress anything to anyone out there reading this, it would be; please monitor a patients diet and the amount they are eating as well as when they are eating. Sometimes it may not be that they are hungry, it could just be that they are lonely or bored. I know that was certainly the case for me at certain points: I ate because I couldn’t do anything else or I had nobody to do anything with. That weight gain had a devastating effect on my (here’s that word again) confidence. Due to how I looked and the negative thoughts this created, my self-esteem and confidence could not have been lower. Confidence and self-esteem have big parts to play in how we socialize, particularly on our desire to socialize and engage with people. This kind of thing can add to that depression I mentioned earlier. It is key to ensure that our loved ones not only reassure us but that we are assured of ourselves at the same time.

These things may seem relatively simple when you consider them in every day terms. However, what I will say is that trying to adhere to a routine for things that seem so mundane such as the time you go to bed or the time you eat your meals, because what would it matter if I were to do those things an hour later? The trouble is, and speaking from a young persons perspective here, we want to be able to do things without structure, without being told what to do, we want to break the rules. After all, isn’t that what being a young person is about? This is where the truth smacks us brain injury patients right between the eyes, we realize that we are not the same as other young people. Our lives won’t be the same ever again and maintaining these fundamental aspects to improve our health means that we will inevitably miss out on the social freedoms we feel we deserve, just as everyone else deserves those freedoms. I will clarify what I mean by social freedoms in the next post. Until then, follow me on Twitter for more news (@ABIblogger). Thanks and hope to hear from you soon.