Eating for Judy’s (and your) brain – Part 1

Judy struggles with chronic fatigue.  She explains why she eats what she does as self medicating with food.  I’ve been listening to podcasts* to help her figure out what food is better than the carbohydrates she craves for energy.  (Hey! That’s what friends are for).

This is Part 1 on food and the brain.  Part 2 (coming) focuses on how to change what foods you crave to better “feed” what your brain needs.

Meowie brain:lifting circle

Dear Judy,  Eat your FAT! 

Neurons thrive on glucose and sometimes on ketones. The most important ingredient to help neurons thrive is FAT.  Yep, the most important food to give your brain is fat.

This is because your brain’s cell membranes, which regulate electrical activity, are made of fat. (a bit different from body fat).

But not just any fat . . . Omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acids are a key family of polyunsaturated fats.Omega 3 is found in fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, sardines, arctic char and trout. Omega 6 is found in nuts and seeds, corn, meat poultry, fish and eggs.  It is better to get Omega 6 from sources other than the saturated fats found in meat and dairy, and to get both kinds.


You can take supplements but it is better to get them from foods which also have other nutrients our brains and bodies need.

6 nutrients that enhance brain function and the foods to eat


The top 3:

#1 EPA  mostly found in fish:  mackerel, salmon, anchovies, caviar, sardines, walnuts, and chia seeds. 

#2 Phosphosidolcerine: a lipid like compound  found in fish, meats and cabbage.

#3 Choline:  helps produce acetylcholine to enhance the activity of neurons which helps focus and alertness.  A primary source is egg yoke.  Many plant foods also contain choline such as potatoes, nuts, seeds, grains and fruit.

and a few more…..

#4 Creatine: found in meat and is a fuel source for the brain, can enhance mood regulation, and particularly helps with depression.

#5  Anthocyanins: found in dark blue & black berries and helps lower inflammation—a cup or two every day can help reduce DNA damage and cognitive decline.


#6 Glutamine is an amino acid found in cottage cheese, beef, chicken, fish, beans, cabbage, spinach, parsley, which can offset sugar craving as well as reduce inflammation.

Other things that affect your brain health indirectly:

1. Sleep is basis of all health mental and physical


2.  Cardiovascular health and exercise 150-180 min per week of cardio, (Judy, that’s just 20 minutes a day).  Add in 5 minutes of  weights, crucial for heart-health which affects the brain.  ( I can hear you saying “it hurts to weight lift because of fibromyalgia”) . . . just find other things to lift – move furniture when cleaning, pick up garden tools when gardening . . . )

Part 2 focuses on how to change what foods you crave to better “feed” what your brain needs.

* Daniel Huberman’s podcast. 

Listen to the full podcast, click here: Nutrients for Brain Health and Performance

For better & faster learning get things wrong.

Want to get your brain to learn more easily?

When we are young our brains are primed for quick and easy learning.  After about age 25 this declines, and learning takes more effort. However, at all ages there are things you can do to learn more easily.

Everyone thought that once you were an adult, your brain pretty much stayed the same. Research has now shown that the brain remains “plastic” and able to change throughout life. (It is just less plastic than it was when you were a kid!)


Certain behaviors turn on the neurochemical cocktail of epinephrine, acetylcholine and dopamine which alert your nervous system, increase neuroplasticity and make it easier for your brain to learn.

FIRST, you need to get things wrong!   

Try something new or something that has frustrated you.  We often give up, when we get things wrong and give up.  Based on the neurochemistry for learning when we stick with it, those very errors help us learn. Turns out that if you like  making mistakes, you are optimizing learning and neuroplasticity.

Making mistakes triggers 3 neurochemicals  for your brain to pay attention and figure out what change is needed to get things right.  

3 neurochemicals for optimal learning:

Epinephrine for alertness

Failure signals  what you are doing did not work and gets the brain to produce epinephrine.

Acetylcholine for focus 

Acetylcholine is produced to give you focus to help solve and remedy the mistake

Dopamine for motivation and reward

As you keep trying to solve the errors and make progress “feel good” dopamine is released  to reward you.  

Try any  NEW skill – motor, mental, emotional.  Remember the object is to make mistakes, stumble and fail, not succeed .  Focus on this anywhere from 7 to 30 minutes,  and you will have an hour or so to learn something you want to learn while your brain is in this “plastic” state”.

SECOND, switch to learning something else where you want to succeed faster.

After making errors on the first task  your brain will stay plastic for a while so you will have an easier time learning another skill like speaking a second language, baking bread , playing an instrument, or memorizing a speech.  If you are over 25 years old you will need to do shorter bouts – about 90 minutes – of learning (one reason young people can learn relatively faster is that they have a LOT of new things to learn).

Learn to attach dopamine to process of making errors

Try to subjectively associate the experience  of making errors with something good. Make failing repetitively a positive by telling yourself making errors revs up your brain’s plasticity.  Make frustration the source of what is ultimately good  for fast learning.


To summarize the steps to better, faster learning:

  1. Try a new learning experience where you will make a lot of errors for 7 to 30 minutes. Do not deliberately make mistakes as you need to learn by having to adjust and make corrections . (Motor learning is a good place to start because motor skills, like hitting a tennis ball or trying new dance steps, are observable and quantifiable.)
  2. During the next hour you will have increased brain plasticity to learn something you want to learn quickly and easily. I t does not have to be a motor skill, it can be learning anything, even making emotional connections.
  3. Keep your second learning bouts short, no longer than 90 minutes, whether once a day or 3 times a day.
  4. Know your own cycle and use the time of day when your focus and energy are naturally at their best. (To learn about your cycle, Click here for Mood Chart and Mood Tracker to download with instructions). Being calm and alert is optimal.
  5. Remind yourself why making errors is important!

    Try it out and tell us how it works for you.

Andrew Huberman  from Stanford explains the brain’s optimal state for learning: Below is link tor Huberman’s podcast #7 on You Tube

Do you have “sleep creep” too? Tips to set your wake-sleep cycle

I have “sleep creep”. My body wants to stay up longer than my intended bedtime. My brain wants to sleep in longer than my intended wake-up time. When I give into my brain & body, go to bed and get up when I feel like it, pretty soon I am staying up late and getting up late.

I particularly don’t like my sleep creep because I love to be outside in the morning – especially in the California sunshine.  (I grew up in Arizona where sunshine can be brutal.)  I wondered why I can make myself stay awake but can’t MAKE myself fall asleep?  I listened to a few podcasts on sleep that gave me more answers and tips to regulate my wake-sleep cycle and avoid “sleep creep”.   Peggy

What makes us get sleepy? There are 2 main forces:

Sleep force 1 – Adenosine

The chemical adenosine is a molecule which creates a “desire” to sleep. Levels of it are very low when sleeping and build during the day – the longer we are awake the higher the adenosine levels and the sleepier we become.

Why Caffeine creates alertness

Caffeine acts like an adenosine antagonist—it binds to the adenosine receptor, so you get less adenosine  and our “sleepy” signal is temporarily blocked.  When caffeine wears off adenosine quickly binds to its receptors and we become sleepy.

Sleep force 2 – Circadian Rhythm

When morning comes we get an increase in energy, no matter how long we’ve slept or adenosine levels. This is because of the second force that governs wakefulness is our circadian clock.  Our brain is “programmed” to wake up when the sun rises and adenosine is low. At this time a  pulse of cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) are released which increases heart rate and muscle tension to make us feel awake.

To help set this cycle our brain neurons need light.  Neurons respond best to sunrise light when the solar angle is low and the contrast between blue and yellow is highest.

Special retinal ganglion cells in the eye (not the cells we see with) register this type of light and communicates to our brain’s “clock” (the  superchiasmatic nucleus) which connects to every body cell.

This clock sets our circadian rhythm, which times the release of cortisol and epinephrine in the morning, and sets a cellular timer for melatonin to be released  later to help us fall asleep. If the circadian rhythm is not set early enough there can be negative effects for the cardiovascular system, metabolic system, mood, and learning . 

Resetting Sleep Creep with Morning Light

  •  Get outside early, within an hour or two of sunrise to optimally time the cortisol pulse. Once the sun is overhead the opportunity to time your morning cortisol is gone.
  • Don’t wear sunglasses to block the rays
  • Even on a cloudy day, outside you will get 10,000 to 50,000 lux outside (inside it is only about 500), so this is why being outside is important.
  • You need 2 to 10 minutes outside to set your internal clock, but as little as one minute may work if the light is bright.

Resetting Sleep Creep with Evening light 

The sunset effect: 

Early sun sets our clock and keeps it set but sunset also plays a part. When you view the sunset, melatonin signals your clock that it is the end of the day.  Being outside within an hour or so of sunset prevents some of the negative effects of light later in the day  so go outside for 2-10 minutes just before sunset.

The peak output of wakefulness and suppression of sleep happens late in day – about an hour before your bedtime you are most awake (some experience this as anxiety). The desire to be active in the evening lasts about 45 minutes.  (If you are around children who are very active just before bedtime, don’t worry . . . for at least 45 minutes).

How to Use light to deliberately shift sleep cycle:

Our upper visual field  contain the cells are that detect sunlight. At night it’s best to avoid exposing light to those cells.

  • Place lights low.  For example, use table lamps rather than overhead lighting.
  • Keep the lights dim.
  • The longer awake, the more light sensitive we are. Artificial or screen light can disrupt sleep-wake cycles so get as little light as possible after 8 pm.
  • Light between 11 pm and 4 am will suppresses the release of dopamine which impacts mood and focus.

Sleep Lab

Does how long you sleep matter?

A recent finding that is both exciting and interesting comes from the Harvard Medical School lab of  Dr. Robert Stickgold. His research shows that consistency of sleep duration is as important- possibly more important – as total sleep time for many forms of learning. (For example, it is better to get 5 hours every night, then sleeping 5 hours one night, 7 hours, 10 hours, 6 hours the next nights.)


Here’s one of the podcasts I listened to: