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Food for Thought: Nutrition and the Brain

© Lauri M. Aesoph ND

We have artificially separated our brains from our bodies. We talk about psychosomatic illness, and the body-mind connection as if our mental and physical selves are two separate entities. In reality the brain is just one part of our body. Poisons harm it and it needs the right balance of nutrients to function right. While foods and toxins affect our whole body, there are certain substances that have a definite impact on cognition. Here is what some of the research says about nutrition and thinking.

Lead and Intelligence
Some historians say that lead poisoning caused the decline of the Roman Empire. Researchers worry that we will suffer the same fate if we don't control lead contamination within our society. Lead exposure is commonplace. When leaded paint (banned in 1978) crumbles and turns to dust, we may inhale it or inadvertently consume it if that dust touches our hands. Water is tainted by lead found in old plumbing. Although prohibited in most regions, lead from gasoline used in the past has settled into soil along roadways. Imported pottery, lead crystal glassware, and the ink on the outside of plastic bread bags are also sources of lead.

It is established that lead is a neurotoxin, a substance poisonous to the nervous system. Children are most harmed by lead poisoning. Their small bodies and developing nervous systems are very susceptible to lead's adverse effects. Symptoms range from fatigue and reduced appetite to nervous system disorders such as lead encephalopathy. More frightening is that exposure to low levels of lead appear to be eroding our children's intelligence.

Two Pennsylvania investigators gathered together a dozen studies on lead poisoning and assessed how this heavy metal affects a child's IQ. They concluded that even low doses of lead over a period of time probably impairs a child's mental capacity (1).

All cases of lead poisoning are preventable (2). Yet based on maximum safety levels of 15 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, as many as four million American children are afflicted (3). Sixty-eight percent of African American children living in the inner cities have been poisoned by lead. These figures would be even higher if the newer, more stringent standards of 10 micrograms per deciliter were used (4).

Aluminum and Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease is a devastating condition that slowly robs a person of his mental functions. There are no clear answers why this form of dementia occurs, but growing evidence suggests that aluminum may be partially responsible.

Not only is aluminum the most abundant metal in the world, but like lead it is prevalent among the many foods and products we use. It is found in baking powder, antiperspirants, antacids, black tea, drinking water, cookware, aluminum foil, and aluminum cans. It can also be inhaled. Industrial waste contributes to aluminum exposure and acute aluminum poisoning.

The body is skilled at disposing of excess aluminum. Whereas lead targets the very young, low doses of aluminum take longer to alter cognition. As an editorial in the British medical journal, The Lancet, says aluminum "may cause slow death of ageing brains" (5).

The link between Alzheimer's disease and aluminum is complex and still considered controversial. Some researchers have discounted aluminum's contribution to Alzheimer's disease. Donald Sherrard, MD, a Seattle physician, feels that we need more evidence before we "throw out the aluminum cookware" (6).

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