Ever worry about your brain's health like you do your heart, lungs, kidneys and so on? Until recently I hadn't given this a second thought, although I've always believed that mental health is as important as physical health.
It had never occurred to me that I could affect my brain through food or drink until I suffered really serious brain fog, a term that has been used rather loosely to define that muddled feeling, which causes us to act out of character, sometimes rather zanily, forgetting little things (the keys) and sometimes big things (where the car is parked). Not that all brain fog isn't serious but some aspects get more attention than others, if you ask me.
Recently, after a stint of feeling foggy - writing the wrong date on a business cheque, leaving off the date on another and then driving for about three miles with the handbrake on, even though the car had been urging me to park it --immediately, I thought I was losing it, but after discussing the matter with a few friends and acquaintances and even my doctor, I chalked it up to information overload, ie, stress. I would just have to do better until the next time and so I did.
But it was not until, on a regular basis, I woke up feeling as though cobwebs were hanging over my eyes, and sometimes I would go to sleep with the threat of a heat rush in the back of my head, that I became seriously worried.
I couldn't help wondering if my brain was in decline? Did I have a mental disorder or what? Perhaps, I had Parkinson's; an illness that has affected my family greatly, which sometimes has an element of dementia. Reassuringly, then I remembered that there is no conclusive evidence that Parkinson's can be inherited, except in rare cases. So, even if I happened to be one of those cases, what in the world did brain fog have to do with it? Nothing, as far as I could tell from my research!
Still I visited my doctor and got the matter thoroughly investigated, surprisingly finding that I appeared to be as healthy as Wonder Woman (his description, not mine) but I accepted it and went away bitter sweetly, if you will. Even though I was happy not to be diagnosed with a serious illness, I didn't feel much like spinning around, let alone flying.
So at the risk of sounding like a hypochondriac, I kept right on talking about this fog to anyone who would listen. Then one day, rather fortuitously, my trainer emailed her clients about food intolerances.
Having nothing to lose, or so I thought, I agreed to a food intolerance test, and shockingly, found that I had loads to lose-- some of my favourite foods, including croissants, other bread and pastries, some chocolate, cheese. Yikes!
Remembering the time, once or twice when I had given up croissants for Lent and worse still, cooked for gluten free, dairy free persons, I considered ignoring the results of the test. "Nightmare!" I thought. I imagined never eating out again, one of my favourite pastimes.
So I did what any rational person would do: I had a last supper of sorts at one of our favourite local restaurants. There, I had all the gluten (Yorkshire Pudding, roast potatoes coated in flour, etc.) I wanted and dairy (ice cream, milky coffee) and yeast (wine, sugary dessert), too.
Shockingly, the next morning I was bed ridden! Admittedly, I had received sad news of loss the day before but my equilibrium was as if I had a serious ear infection. Not only was I cobwebby, but also I had a dull headache and just felt ill. I couldn't even bear to hear the phone ring.
After sleeping it off, I reached for a highly recommended book, Grain Brain, which I had kept at arms length far too long. Month's earlier, a friend whose late father had had Alzheimer's, suggested I read the book but I couldn't bear it. As far as I was concerned it was just another dogged opinion - nothing more, nothing less. What made this one man so much smarter than everybody else? And if he was, why wasn't the majority listening. I put the book aside and forgot about it until recovering from that last over indulgence.
This time, though I found Dr David Perlmutter's New York Times No.1 Bestseller complex, it was compellingly believable. In short, the neurologist looks at the effect of gluten, which is found in wheat, spelt, barley, rye etc., on our brain - toxic. Some people are more gluten sensitive than others. Also, he looks at the myths around a high carb and low-fat (good fat) diet and sugar, too. According to Perlmutter, the brain is mainly fat and starves when not given its natural food. He traces his research all the way back to pre-historic man, if you will.
Gripping stuff, which is not to say that food is at the root cause of every illness, but the point is that the catch phrase 'you are what you eat,' is much more than a catch phrase, it is an actuality in many ways, not only for the heart, the kidneys and other organs that fall ill if exposed to the wrong food, but also the brain.
Dr Issac Eliaz, writing for Rodale News online, offers five tips to clearing brain fog and food is right up there. First off, he suggests improving diet and therefore digestion. For most people this will include becoming aware of intolerances or sensitivities, perhaps to foods that have been sold as super healthy. Other tips include detoxing, distressing, exercising and supporting brain cell power.
Even so, accepting responsibility for nurturing the brain is a bit scary, particularly when there is so much conflicting information amongst food authorities about what is healthy and what is not.
But when it comes to grain research, the proof is in the pudding - yes, the Yorkshire pudding, at least for me - the only grain of truth I need.