How To Protect Your Brain Health: A Functional Medicine Perspective | Dr. Will Cole

by health and nutrition advice journalist

In many ways, our brain is at the center of our health. Think about it: Everything from our productivity and digestion to our hormones and mood are impacted by how well our brain is functioning. 

Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles put our brain health at risk, which has led to a serious rise in brain-related illnesses such as autism, brain fog, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, anxiety, depression, and multiple sclerosis.  

As a , it’s my job to understand the root cause of these brain issues, help you prevent them, and come up with a plan to rehab your health if you’re one of the  (1) of American adults with a diagnosed mental health issue. 

How to protect your brain health for life 

The best place to start safeguarding your brain health is the gut. 

Wait…come again? 

That wasn’t a typo. If you want to optimize brain health, the first place to turn your attention to is your gut health.  This is because our modern diets, stress levels, and environmental exposures have all wreaked havoc on gut health; and our gut health is intricately connected to our brain health. 

Connected how, you ask? 

In the wellness world, we talk a lot about something called leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut is a common condition that occurs when your delicate gut lining is damaged, allowing undigested food particles and other bacteria to enter your bloodstream causing a cascade of chronic inflammation throughout your body — especially the brain. In fact, research tells us that our gut and brain are inextricably linked through what is known as the ”gut-brain axis.” This connection means that what affects one will often affect the other. Therefore, leaky gut can quickly become , which is used to describe the breakdown of your protective blood-brain barrier. 

What you need to know about leaky brain 

The breakdown of the blood-brain barrier can cause a lot of chronic inflammation. And when inflammation levels rise, a molecule called  (3) creates gaps in your blood-brain barrier, which lets toxins and other materials that don’t belong in the brain through. The result of this is more inflammation since your brain considers these foreign material invaders and works to fight them off by triggering an autoimmune-inflammation reaction. 

By looking at these brain problems through this lens, we can better understand why brain health conditions are on the rise and why we struggle to find effective treatments for them. In fact, a whole area of medical  (4) known as the ”cytokine model of cognitive function” is devoted to studying the impact inflammation can have on the brain and the subsequent brain disorders it causes.  

So, what should you do if you’re worried about your gut-brain connection and chronic inflammation? The first step is to know where your inflammation levels stand. This can be done through a few different lab tests. 

3 ways to improve your gut & brain health 

Once you get an accurate picture of your gut and brain health, you can take proactive steps to decrease inflammation and safeguard your long-term brain health by supporting your gut. 

Here’s where to start: 

1. Clean up your diet

A poor diet is one of the main drivers of chronic inflammation. When you’re choosing your meals, remember that everything you eat either feeds disease or fuels health. If you’re struggling with inflammation, I always recommend trying an elimination diet to identify any food sensitivities or allergies you might have. For a detailed guide to eliminating foods and how to reintroduce them, check out my book .

2. Stop snacking 

With drive throughs, vending machines, and endless aisles of convenient and delicious snacks, food is always readily available. But that doesn’t mean we should always be eating. In fact, going periods of time without food — such as with a 12 or 16 hour fast between dinner and our first meal the next day — can enhance anti-inflammatory mechanisms in the body including autophagy, your cell’s self-cleaning process that helps keep inflammation under control. If you’re interested in giving fasting a go, check out my complete guide to fasting 

3. Watch your carbs 

When it comes to inflammation, carbohydrates — especially refined and processed breads, crackers, pastas, and baked goods — are one of the major culprits. If you want to fend off inflammation, following a ketogenic diet is a great place to start. Being in ketosis — which happens when your body starts using ketones for fuel instead of glucose, which it gets mostly from carbohydrates — has been  (5) to be extremely helpful for brain health issues like autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. Ketones are naturally anti-inflammatory; and coupled with their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, reaching ketosis with a ketogenic diet can be a great way to further . (6) 

Plus, despite what you might think, you can maintain a keto diet regardless of what diet you’re following —   — as long as you adjust your macronutrients. 

It might seem strange that the secrets to optimal brain health lies in your GI tract. But once you start implementing these gut-healing tips, you’ll be amazed by how your brain responds.

If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer webcam as well as in-person consultations for people across the country and around the world.



The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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