August 2, 2021 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition
The ability to function, focus, and maintain mental health in school, work, and social events with life-stress depends on brain health. No matter the level of your gifts, abilities, and skills, your brain requires nutrients for you to function optimally. Nutrients affect your emotions, cognitive ability, stress tolerance, physical health, and aging. Your brain and nervous system are at the core of human function. You must feed your busy brain to survive and thrive.
A Demanding Brain
Your brain is the most energy demanding organ in your body. Starting at three weeks post conception and throughout your entire lifetime, your brain and nervous system are in a state of growth, development, remodeling of neuroplasticity, and metabolic activity. As an adult, your brain consumes 20% of the energy produced by your body, yet it represents only 2% of your body weight.
Most of the energy used by your brain is used to energize and power internal organs and to keep you alive. Daily 24/7 “housekeeping processes” demand up to 50% of the total amount of brain energy as nerves communicate and monitor unconscious activities. Much of this energy is for the communication that occurs at the synapses, or tiny gaps between brain cells. These synaptic connections send and receive signals via sodium and potassium ion channels where electrical charges are created. Trillions of electrical charges occur to make life-sustaining activity.
Digestion takes about 8-15% of your brain’s energy demands. Your brain uses about 320 calories per day on average. Over 100,000 chemical reactions happen in the human brain every second under intense concentration. More than 60 neurotransmitters are produced to manage conscious and unconscious activities. These activities create significant amounts of oxidative stress and demand adequate nutrients.
Brain fatigue is a common experience. You can see the exhaustion in a student who completes finals week, a driver who has driven for long stretches, a toddler going to daycare or preschool for the first few weeks. When you started a new job or learned a new skill or language, it also undoubtedly left you feeling exhausted and drained.
This is the brain trying to adapt to new cognitive experiences and/or being pushed to the limit on top of all its regular 24/7 duties. It gets fatigued. Your brain never stops working, but it does get fatigued and needs self-care. A nap, a good night’s sleep, or maybe a day off is all that is needed to “recharge” for mild brain fatigue.
In other circumstances, where nerves have been injured or overwhelmed by overwork and stress-exhaustion, illness, or simply age and wear-and-tear, brain fatigue interferes greatly with daily activities. It is more difficult to accomplish tasks. It takes longer to complete things as the brain is less efficient at managing neurological communications. Accomplishing something like reading a page in a book, going to the market, or even getting dressed and eating a meal may be exhausting. The metabolic efficiency of the brain and its functionality has changed. It is trying to work in the midst of a backlog of neurological wear-and-tear inflammation.
Consequences of brain fatigue may make you feel not only mentally and physically drained, but it can lead to other symptoms. It may be hard to process information, form thoughts, and find words. It may contribute to headaches, poor mood, loss of interest, sleep problems, and digestive changes or more. These concerns may last for a short time in some people, but for others it may be an ongoing battle.
Identify the Brain Drain
In order to help maintain good brain energy, you want to avoid things that drain the brain of energy. Every demand or watchful activity that your brain engages in requires energy mainly supplied by glucose. In fasting states, it may also use fatty acids for energy production.
It is vital to have healthy glucose metabolism for brain function. High blood sugar and low blood sugar levels are stressful to your brain and contribute to inflammation in nerves and brain cells. Stable blood sugar levels without the spikes and drops are essential to brain energetics.
Your brain also needs adequate oxygen. Sleep apnea, blocked arteries in your neck from heart disease, high blood pressure and low blood pressure problems and other issued may compromise circulation to your brain and contribute to brain fatigue and decline in neurological health.
Nutrients like iron, vitamin B12, folate, vitamins B1, B2, and B6, vitamin C, copper, zinc, vitamin A, and potassium are essential for red blood cell formation and/or oxygen metabolism necessary to feed the brain. Insufficient supply of any nutrient makes it harder on your brain and contributes to fatigue and metabolic stress.