Superfoods That Destroy Inflammation in Your Brain
By: Dave Asprey
January 30, 2013
What if all chronic disease – cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and age-related cognitive decline – were rooted in one thing? A concept like this just might flip everything we know about medicine on its head.
And it’s true.
Systemic inflammation is the common link between all of these conditions and more. And the craziest part? Inflammation totally preventable.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is your body’s innate response to injury, stress, or illness.
Poor gut function or eating a processed, high-toxin, high-sugar diet can induce an inflammatory response. Certain medications and environmental toxins aren’t doing you any favors either. When the stress response from crappy food and a toxic environment becomes the norm for your body, inflammation becomes a low-level feature in your physiology and problems arise.
When I was fat, tired, and suffering from cognitive decline, low-level systemic inflammation was at the root of all of it. When I changed my diet and started managing my stress, the weight started to fall off and my performance shot through the roof.
A lot of that had to do with adding nutrient-dense foods to my diet.
Clever but ill-informed marketers will name almost any unusual food a “superfood.” A popular book puts soy, oats, and beans on the super foods list. Give me a break. Goji berries? Did you know they are actually in the nightshade family like tomatoes and can cause inflammation in a large percentage of people?
The truth of the matter is that real superfoods have science behind them and when you eat them, you can feel a difference quickly.
In particular, there are a few foods that take your focus and energy to new levels, all while increasing cognitive function and lowering inflammation. Some of my favorites include butter, coffee, vanilla, and chocolate. I know, it sounds too good to be true, but this is real.
Before you think about any food’s anti-inflammatory properties, keep in mind we are talking about high-quality food. In The Bulletproof Diet, you’ll learn that the quality of your food is so much more important than how many calories you consume.
The higher the quality, the more nutrition that food provides and your body will respond in kind, revving up its fat burning capabilities and naturally regulating your caloric intake.
Lower quality foods often have toxins or inflammatory agents in them, which initiates an inflammatory response in your body.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite superfoods – all Bulletproof Diet-approved and damn delicious.
Bulletproof Coffee is a perfect way to ignite your focus in the morning. Due to its antioxidant and caffeine content, and the fact that it contains two unique and potent neurological agents, you can keep a steady focus. Caffeine is more than an energy booster – caffeine may help ease cognitive decline and block inflammation in the brain.(19)
Another study came to similar conclusions. According to Professor Gregory Freund from the University of Illinois “We have discovered a novel signal that activates… brain-based inflammation…and caffeine appears to block its activity.”(9)
Along with fighting cognitive diseases, caffeine and coffee increase insulin sensitivity in healthy humans.(7, 11-13) Insulin sensitivity is correlated with how well your body responds to certain kinds of inflammation.
Coffee is the world’s number one source of antioxidants, and for this reason it is a staple in the Bulletproof Diet. The problem is that 91.7% of coffee beans (from South America in the study) contain mold toxins and 50% of coffees brewed contain toxins, which induces an inflammatory response.(20-21) If you want to upgrade your cognitive performance, Upgraded Coffee, tested for mold toxins, is the only way to go.
Drinking the right coffee has short and long-term effects on your brain. The short-term effect of coffee on mood may be due to altered serotonin and dopamine activity, whereas the mechanisms behind its potential long-term effects on mood may relate to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.(22-25)
Butter is an unexpected source of cognitive enhancement, and contains one ingredient that studies show is beneficial for cognitive function and gut health called butyrate. Butyrate is a short chain saturated fat and anti-inflammatory. According to three studies, the most common class of genetic neurodegenerative diseases are delayed in mice with the treatment of butyrate.(1-3)
Butyrate protects against intestinal permeability in rat models of ulcerative colitis.(4) This shows that short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate, play an important role in the maintenance of gut barrier integrity. Butyrate also sharply reduces the harmful effects of type 1 diabetes in rats.(5)
Butyrate may also prevent and treat diet-induced insulin resistance in mice. Butyrate is related to promotion of energy expenditure and induction of mitochondria function.(6)
The highest concentration of butyrate may be found in high quality grass-fed butter. I highlight the benefits of grass-fed butter in comparison to grain-fed butter in this infographic. Kerrygold is my butter of choice, but any brand may suffice as long as it is grass-fed (organic isn’t enough and is typically a sham if the cows eat organic soy and corn).
Vanilla and chocolate
Vanilla is a great food to add into your diet if you are looking for a cognitive boost. Vanilloids found in vanilla can help maintain healthy levels of inflamation, and are a great add-in for coffee or dessert.(14-16)
Chocolate, along with coffee, is very high in antioxidants and contains toxins if not processed and stored delicately. This is another food that it is vital to get in high quality and at a cacao content of at least 70% in order to reap the benefits. Chocolate favorably alters eicosanoid synthesis, which inhibits vascular and inflammatory processes.(17)
Coffee, Butter, Vanilla, and Chocolate are ideal foods for people looking to get an edge in the workplace. These foods fight unneeded inflammation and turn your brain into an upgraded machine. They are also the core ingredients of almost all truly excellent desserts. 🙂
Now this is the part of the post where I am supposed to convince you to get the obsessively produced stuff at UpgradedSelf.com, but that is not what I want you to do. Instead, challenge yourself to completely avoid high-sugar, bad-fat, high-processed foods for a week as you pay extra attention to your cognitive function. Then, if you want an added boost, add Upgraded products back in, and feel the difference. Want to quantify it? Design your own experiment and share it in the comments below.
If you are like most people, you will be sharper in the workplace and more efficient at what you do. Not only that, you will have more STEADY energy and will not feel as hungry as you would eating low quality food. By avoiding inflammatory foods now, you will begin to make your mind and body bulletproof.
If you have any questions about inflammatory foods, or a story to share about inflammation please add it in the comments below or post them in our Bulletproof Forum. There are many smart Bulletproof Practitioners there that may answer any of your questions.
1. Ferrante RJ, Kubilus JK, Lee J, Ryu H, Beesen A, Zucker B, Smith K, Kowall NW, Ratan RR, Luthi-Carter R, Hersch SM. Histone deacetylase inhibition by sodium butyrate chemotherapy ameliorates the neurodegenerative phenotype in Huntington’s disease mice.J Neurosci. 2003 Oct 15;23(28):9418-27. PubMed PMID: 14561870.
2. Ying M, Xu R, Wu X, Zhu H, Zhuang Y, Han M, Xu T. Sodium butyrate ameliorates histone hypoacetylation and neurodegenerative phenotypes in a mouse model for DRPLA. J Biol Chem. 2006 May 5;281(18):12580-6. Epub 2005 Dec 28. PubMed PMID: 16407196.
3. Minamiyama M, Katsuno M, Adachi H, Waza M, Sang C, Kobayashi Y, Tanaka F, Doyu M, Inukai A, Sobue G. Sodium butyrate ameliorates phenotypic expression in a transgenic mouse model of spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy. Hum Mol Genet. 2004 Jun 1;13(11):1183-92. Epub 2004 Apr 21. PubMed PMID: 15102712.
4. Kumar C, Rachappaji K, Nandini C, Sambaiah K, Salimath P. Modulatory effect of butyric acid-a product of dietary fiber fermentation in experimentally induced diabetic rats. J Nutr Biochem. 2002 Sep;13(9):522. PubMed PMID: 12231422.
5. Zhanguo Gao, Jun Yin, Jin Zhang, Robert E. Ward, Roy J. Martin, Michael Lefevre, William T. Cefalu and Jianping Ye. Butyrate Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Increases Energy Expenditure in Mice. Diabetes 2009 July
Antioxidant and Gene Regulation Laboratory, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University System, Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
6. Kanauchi O, Iwanaga T, Mitsuyama K, Saiki T, Tsuruta O, Noguchi K, Toyonaga A. Butyrate from bacterial fermentation of germinated barley foodstuff preserves intestinal barrier function in experimental colitis in the rat model. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1999 Sep;14(9):880-8. PubMed PMID: 10535469.
7. Rebello, Salome, Cynthia Chen, Nasheen Nadoo, Wang Xu, and Kee Sang Chia. “Coffee and Tea Consumption in Relation to Inflammation and Basal Glucose Metabolism in a Multi-ethnic Asian Population: A Cross-sectional Study.”NutritionJ. N.p., n.d. Web. Oct. 2012. <http://www.nutritionj.com/content/pdf/1475-2891-10-61.pdf>.
8. Soderberg LS, Boger S, Fifer EK, Gilbert KM. Macrophage production of inflammatory mediators is potently inhibited by a butyric acid derivative demonstrated to inactivate antigen-stimulated T cells. Int Immunopharmacol. 2004 Sep;4(9):1231-9. PubMed PMID: 15251119.
9. Chiu GS, Chatterjee D, Darmody PT, Walsh JP, Meling DD, Johnson RW, Freund GG. Hypoxia/Reoxygenation Impairs Memory Formation via Adenosine-Dependent Activation of Caspase 1. J Neurosci. 2012 Oct 3;32(40):13945-55. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0704-12.2012. PubMed PMID: 23035103; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3476834.
10. Systemic Inflammation Induces Acute Behavioral and Cognitive Changes and Accelerates Neurodegenerative Disease Colm Cunningham, Suzanne Campion, Katie Lunnon, Carol L. Murray, Jack F.C. Woods, Robert M.J. Deacon, J. Nicholas P. Rawlins, V. Hugh Perry Biological psychiatry 15 February 2009 (volume 65 issue 4 Pages 304-312 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.07.024)
11. Loopstra-Masters RC, Liese AD, Haffner SM, Wagenknecht LE, Hanley AJ. Associations between the intake of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee and measures of insulin sensitivity and beta cell function. Diabetologia. 2011 Feb;54(2):320-8. Epub 2010 Nov 3. PubMed PMID: 21046357.
12. Keijzers GB, De Galan BE, Tack CJ, Smits P. Caffeine can decrease insulin sensitivity in humans. Diabetes Care. 2002 Feb;25(2):364-9. PubMed PMID: 11815511.
13. Rebello SA, Chen CH, Naidoo N, Xu W, Lee J, Chia KS, Tai ES, van Dam RM. Coffee and tea consumption in relation to inflammation and basal glucose metabolism in a multi-ethnic Asian population: a cross-sectional study. Nutr J. 2011 Jun 2;10:61. PubMed PMID: 21631956; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3130641.
14. Vanilloids. 1. Analogs of capsaicin with antinociceptive and antiinflammatory activity. John M. Janusz, Brian L. Buckwalter, Patricia A. Young, Thomas R. LaHann, Ralph W. Farmer, Gerald B. Kasting, Maurice E. Loomans, Gary A. Kerckaert, Cherie S. Maddin. Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 1993 36 (18), 2595-2604
15. Pal M, Angaru S, Kodimuthali A, Dhingra N. Vanilloid receptor antagonists: emerging class of novel anti-inflammatory agents for pain management. Curr Pharm Des. 2009;15(9):1008-26. Review. PubMed PMID: 19275664.
16. Schramm DD, Wang JF, Holt RR, Ensunsa JL, Gonsalves JL, Lazarus SA, Schmitz HH, German JB, Keen CL. Chocolate procyanidins decrease the leukotriene-prostacyclin ratio in humans and human aortic endothelial cells. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Jan;73(1):36-40. PubMed PMID: 11124747.
17. Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress, food, and inflammation: psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge. Psychosom Med. 2010 May;72(4):365-9. Epub 2010 Apr 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 20410248; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2868080.
18. Fritsche K. Fatty acids as modulators of the immune response. Annu Rev Nutr. 2006;26:45-73. Review. PubMed PMID: 16848700.
19. Koppelstaetter, F. Influence of Caffeine Excess on Activation Patterns in Verbal Working Memory http://rsna2005.rsna.org/rsna2005/V2005/conference/event_display.cfm?em_id=4418422
20. Martins ML, Martins HM, Gimeno A. Incidence of microflora and of ochratoxin A in green coffee beans (Coffea arabica). Food Addit Contam. 2003 Dec;20(12):1127-31. PubMed PMID: 14726276
21. Studer-Rohr I, Dietrich DR, Schlatter J, Schlatter C. The occurrence of ochratoxin A in coffee. Food Chem Toxicol. 1995 May;33(5):341-55. PubMed PMID: 7759018.
22. Lucas M, Mirzaei F, Pan A, et al. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171:1571-1578. Abstract
23. Pasco JA, Nicholson GC, Williams LJ, et al. Association of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein with de novo major depression. Br J Psychiatry. 2010;197:372-377. Abstract
24. Ng F, Berk M, Dean O, Bush AI. Oxidative stress in psychiatric disorders: evidence base and therapeutic implications. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2008;11:851-876. Abstract
25. O’Connor A. Coffee drinking linked to less depression in women. New York Times. February 13, 2012. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/26/coffee-drinking-linked-to-less-depression-in-women/ Accessed January 11, 2012.