ADHD, Brain Fog, Focus and Food. Eating for productive chemicals.
I’ve just read “This is your brain on food”, written by a nutrition psychiatrist.
Have you noticed that on some mornings it just flows through you?
“I wasn’t high, I wasn’t wired. Just clear. I knew what I needed to do and how to do it.”
~ Eddie Morra, Limitless (2011)
And on some mornings, it’s like the power went out in your brain and you are in the dark, hopelessly searching for the keys to open the door that unlocks your brain’s full potential. Or at least some spark of motivation to get through stock-piled emails that needed a cleanup?
“Alert and Calm” — in the words of well-known and often-quoted by biohackers and high-performance community Stanford Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman — this is the ideal state to get into flow, do deep work, consistently produce outstanding results.
How do we get there?
When we do our yearly check-up — that’s when we get the most intimate with our blood biochemistry. We get to see how these numbers, these blood chemicals change our life. Numbers like blood sugar, blood pressure affect everything from our energy levels, to our sex drive and hormones, to our sleep and mood every day — our whole life depends on them!
There are many more numbers that we can barely measure and understand. Numbers that change all the time, numbers that change us, our personalities and destinies, numbers that change how our life feels and goes every day.
Like the numbers, the measurements of different brain chemicals — dopamine, norepinephrine (adrenaline), acetylcholine, serotonin, GABA — chemicals that either give us ADHD and brain fog, or Jedi-like focus.
Food is a bunch of chemicals too. Pounds of chemicals that we eat every day. Chemicals that change how we look, feel and what we decide to do with our life.
When I decide what to put on my plate, I always ask myself, “How do I want to feel? Who do I want to be? What do I need to do? Now, this evening, tomorrow, a week from now?”
Food is one of the most powerful tools of self-development and self-change! And yet very few of us know how to use it with purpose, with a goal in mind.
Have you hear of nutritional psychiatry, the focus of a new book “This is your brain on food. An Indispensable Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More” by Dr. Uma Naidoo? In the book Dr. Naidoo communicates to us, that using food as a tool to change our mental and emotional state definitely works, helping us to alleviate depression, ADHD, trauma, dementia, brain fog, at the same time improving our focus and attention span, increasing our motivation, drive, optimism, cultivating calm and alert mental state. The details are still foggy — why and how it works, the exact optimal-state recipes and protocols. We need more studies, we need more data.
Anyone who dramatically changed their diet would confirm — food changed their life, their character, their destiny. Don’t believe any of it? Try a drastic change in your eating habits for a day — you won’t recognize yourself! Imagine this effect applied to many days, and months, and years?
ADHD, brain fog, focus — these are all chemically-conditioned mental states, affected by many things, among which food as a primary factor.
Our mental and emotional state is in our hands, to be more precise, in our mouth, and it’s our responsibility to learn how to take control of it.
Let’s get eating!
In the previous blog we talked about many building blocks of neurochemicals that the brain makes to focus, to be creative, to pay attention, to learn and remember, to get you motivated to take actions and to have enough grit to stick with it when things get hard. We talked about brainy proteins, essential “electrical” fats, creative choline, different carbs for fuel that lasts.
“We live in an age where our attention is constantly under attack. Notifications dinging on our phones, the endless chatter of social media, and the barrage of information at work and in our personal lives make it difficult to stay focused. Having email on your phone also means that your work world has access to you 24/7. All of this can make for a frustrating day, even for people with perfectly healthy brains.
The core features of ADHD include difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, but patients present in a variety of ways. For some, learning is a particular challenge, whereas for others, unstable mood, anxiety, and oppositional behavior are the primary symptoms.2 ADHD is an increasingly common condition — one in twenty-five people have the diagnosis.”
Today we’ll talk about nutrition to help you manage ADHD and ADHD-like symptoms, clear up some fog in the brain, adding some shining-through clarity, and bulletproof our neural protection to keep neurons firing for days and years of productive work and meaningful life.
Today we’ll talk about a few chemicals and foods to help you boost norepinephrine (adrenaline in the brain), the awake, alert and ready-for-action chemical, chemicals to support balanced, fog-free brain energy and workflow, chemicals to protect our fragile neurons from oxidative damage and inflammation, chemicals-to-avoid to improve absorption of essential nutrients for a productive, high-performing, focused brain.
Not too much. Without sugar.
Caffeine is a drug, a chemical that makes us more alert, awake and also more focused. It excites our neurons, stimulates the production of stress chemicals, adrenaline and cortisol. The combination of different mechanisms makes caffeine a focus amplifier, it tells our brain — “This is important, there might be danger somewhere, pay attention”, and it also counteracts the effect of a sleepy chemical in our brain, adenosine.
Sounds good so far?
It sure is. Unless you go overboard and instead of a shot of focus and alertness (and with it motivation, efficiency, vigilance) you get a double shot of anxiety, possibly a mild panic attack, with sprinkled ADHD to spice it up — unable to focus, get anything done and scared of some unknown predator. In science they call it a U-curve — too little is not good enough, too much and it’s bad for you.
Anxiety studies, and many observational studies on longevity seem to agree, that you we need to moderate our caffeine amount to get the benefits without downsides. Somewhere between 100–400mg per day lies the perfect amount. Expresso/Nespresso shot is about 50–80mg, Starbuck’s drinks can overshoot your daily caffeine allowance with one single venti.
“How much caffeine can you drink before it becomes problematic? Most studies show that less than 100 mg of caffeine has little or no effect on anxiety. For between 100 mg and 400 mg/day, the results are mixed; nine studies showed no effect on anxiety, whereas twelve studies have shown significant increases in anxiety. Above 400 mg/day, the majority of studies show a significant increase in anxiety.”
NOTE: If you care about your sleep quality, sleep experts like Dr. Matt Walker recommend to finish your caffeine at least 8–10 hours before your bed time, even better 12 hours. Don’t forget that you can switch to decaf drinks, and that many energy drinks and bars, many food products, dark chocolate have caffeine in them.
Why no sugar?
Caffeine, stress hormones mixed with rapid rise of blood sugar is a sure recipe for anxiety and a hard crash shortly after into “I can’t get a thing done and need another Frappuccino ASAP!”
Thicker Brain Fog.
Sugar, gluten, MSG and dairy.
If I decided to write about all the possible substances that can make our brain fog as thick as on an all-fights-cancelled day — I’d need to write a whole book about it, and it still wouldn’t be enough, because everyone’s gut and metabolism are slightly or a lot different.
Many people will fall asleep after any kind of dairy, when I, on the other hand, eat yogurt with walnuts before public speaking event to set my brain on fire and flow through it like a knife through melted butter.
That I can take for a drowsy afternoon or evening with a sprinkle of anxiety added to it, waking up feeling like something is off about me or my life.
But that’s not the case with me and sourdough.
From some data, it seems, that gluten might contribute to nutrient loss, certain amino acids needed for motivation and focus.
“the researchers found a significant decrease in patients’ psychiatric symptoms compared to their baseline condition, coinciding with significantly decreased celiac disease activity and prolactin levels and with a significant increase in L-tyrosine, L-tryptophan, and other amino acids known to be precursors of brain chemicals such as serotonin. The authors concluded that it was possible that behavioral problems, such as those that occur with ADHD, may in part be due to certain important precursor amino acids not being available until people stopped eating gluten.”
I usually wouldn’t eat gluten — I’m a fan of “make a good-enough decision once and stick with it” to prevent a waste of my mental energy on unimportant decisions and tasks.
MSGs, oxidized industrial oils, colorings and flavorings, preservatives, hormones in low-quality animal foods, pesticides in vegetables, heavy metals in fish… There’s no end to the list of substances in our foods, that potentially can be contributing to our brain productivity loss. Effects of some are more pronounced than others in some people.
Stick with whole foods of the best quality you can afford without novel ingredients that haven’t stood the test of time aka “your grandma didn’t cook with it”. Most takeout meals pay you back with a light brain damage. Get cooking!
Sugar sugar… Oh, my sweetness!
I definitely went through a tough break-up with this one.
There natural ones and fake ones, and added, and processed and not.
Sugar, more specifically blood glucose, we need it to function optimally. Our brain is especially sensitive to blood glucose levels to do its best work. And here we have a U-curve again. Too little — not good enough, too much — it’s bad for you. In fact, it’s brain damaging! Blood glucose spikes, continuous elevated blood sugar — it damages blood vessels, it damages nerve and brain cells, it makes us dumber and fatter, it contributes to anxiety, ADHD, brain fog, productivity loss, low libido, memory loss, dementia and all the known brain disorders.
The dose makes the poison! Your activity levels matter too, when it comes to how much sugar you can healthily handle.
And also let’s not forget about the delivery method. Does your sugar come from energy drinks? Frappuccino? Juices? Pancakes with maple syrup? Or sweet potatoes, blueberries and naturally fermented yogurt?
Eat your sugars in whole foods, not products. How much? Refer back to my previous post. And you are probably eating too much, if you eat anything like 95% of people.
Polyphenols, flavonoids and other antioxidants.
Brain is a very active fellow! All this electrical activity — neurons are firing, messaging each other, staying connected — getting the job done, keeping you running, thinking and accomplishing.
People with ADHD and ADHD-like symptoms seem to have a lot of unmanaged, excess electrical activity, that produces higher oxidative stress in the brain.
“Studies have shown that people with ADHD are at a greater risk of oxidative stress in brain tissue. This can lead to damaged brain cells and altered neurotransmitter levels (like dopamine) and electrical-signal transmission, which can make ADHD worse. Since ADHD sufferers appear to lack some of the natural ability to fight off oxidative stress, it is particularly important for them to get as many antioxidants as possible through food in order to alleviate their symptoms and prevent brain cell damage.”
Think of antioxidants as grounding for electrical wires — they protect neurons from and reduce potential damage produced by brain electricity.
Polyphenols, flavonoids are different names for different plant antioxidants. All you need to know for practical purposes is quite simple. When it comes to food sources of antioxidants, the more — the better!
What are the richest sources? “Berries, cherries, eggplant, onions, kale, coffee, and green tea.” And there’s a whole bunch of foods not mentioned in the book for whichever reason, like dark chocolate, olives, walnuts, capers, being among the top ones.
NOTE: Don’t forget to watch the amount of caffeine, sugar and fat in all these foods. Antioxidants don’t make all the possible U-curve’s side effects disappear! And they definitely don’t make calories disappear! We know that constant energy surplus is never a great idea.
Let’s sum it all up into a simple ADHD and Brain-Fog-Free recipe, shall we?
- Caffeine: take some, not too much, like a cup or two, preferably from natural sources like tea and coffee, early in the day. (At Starbuck’s ask for a single Espresso shot in your Americano VS regular double and triple)
- Experiment with removing dairy, gluten and non-grandma-approved ingredients — see what works the best for you.
- Top it up with a square or two of my favorite 100% dark chocolate (An acquired taste with the most benefits. My brained learned to love it!)
Try the recipe and share below your experience!
For more brain nutrition tips and science-based productivity nutrition and lifestyle strategies, please check out daily my Instagram feed @1000yearyoung — let’s build a smarter world together, one meal at a time!