Sangeeta Pradhan is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She works as the Diabetes Program Coordinator of a large physician practice group in the Metro-West Boston area. She is also a professional speaker with over 18 years of speaking on the (very broad and yes, confusing!!…), topic of nutrition at non -profit and corporate accounts. She had the distinct honor of being a speaker at the Mass Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ state level annual conference in 2015, 2016, and 2018. In Feb 2017, she was invited to, and presented a talk on the “Gut microbiome” at Simmon’s College, MA. In the fall of 2018, she presented a talk on “Nutrition and Cognitive function” at Framingham State University and in December 2018 discussed the same topic on her local community access Television.
She is a guest blogger for Food and Nutrition magazine’s Stone Soup Blog and she is also currently the Chair of the Central Mass Dietetic Association.
Knowledge in and of itself is of no value unless shared with others. By sharing her professional knowledge that is based upon scientific evidence and current research with the readers, she hopes to inspire people to accomplish their health and nutrition related goals.
Having said that, she believes that understanding nutrition will only take you so far. At the end of the day, you need to translate these sound nutritional concepts into real foods that you can actually enjoy. To this end, she have created a repertoire of delicious recipes using whole and wholesome ingredients. She is blessed to be raised in a traditional Indian household in an era when everything was prepared from scratch, (not to mention with a dash of love and a pinch of passion)! By osmosis, she must have imbibed this because cooking soon became her passion and an integral part of her life. As an RD, somewhere along the way, she learned to tweak traditional, calorie dense recipes to make them healthier, without sacrificing flavor! (She also learned to not reveal to her family that it was a “tweaked” recipe)!!
So in addition to my articles, she inviting everyone to check out her recipe index, to dig in and enjoy!
For more information on her professional profile please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sangeetapradhan/
Mathea Ford: [00:00:28] Hi there! It’s Mathea. Welcome back to the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast featuring nutrition experts who are leading the way using food starts today right now with our next guests. It’s great to have Sangeeta Pradhan on the show today. Sangeeta welcome to Nutrition Experts.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:00:44] Thank you so much my dear. I’m so excited to be on your show.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:48] Well, I’m excited to have you on the show and share your expertise about the brain and the human brain and how it works with my tribe today. So, tell my listeners a little more about you and what you do besides this brain research stuff too.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:01:04] So, I am a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Diabetes Educator. I am the Diabetes Program Coordinator for a physician practice group in Metro West Massachusetts. I happen to be the chair of the Central Mass Dietetic Association. I also do a lot of community outreach projects and present at professional conferences, speaking at conferences or in my community groups is something that I really enjoy doing because I think it gives me a wonderful, gives us a wonderful platform to really put out the word about nutrition without the hype. So that’s something I really enjoy doing. So, I do various community projects ranging from presentations to workshops, occasionally food demonstrations.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:02:00] I’m also a guest blogger for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Stone Soup Magazine and I also have my own personal blog when I’m not doing any of those you you’ll probably find me in my kitchen cooking up a storm and developing recipes which subsequently I post on my blog.
Mathea Ford: [00:02:27] Great! I love that you do so many different things and you’re kind of connected with your community because I think that’s where we kind of get a lot of our inspiration as dietitians is from our patients from the people we work with. So I know you’ve done research on the human brain and how it relates with nutrition, with cognitive function. And I think it’s transformative information that we’re going to talk about today. So, what makes that so exciting?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:02:55] Yeah Mathea. I’m really really excited to be presenting on how nutrition impacts cognitive function. So, our brain also is evolving at a mindblowing pace. No pun intended and is one of the most exciting frontiers in medicine today. We now know that our brain is not static and hard wired as previously part. But this dynamic organ where new neurons and new neural connections are created every day regardless of your age. Up until the 1990s it was mistakenly believed that our brain was static and that we did not grow new neurons at all. Well, turns out nothing could be farther from the truth and modifiable lifestyle factors i.e. diet and lifestyle can profoundly influence this whole process and indeed the course of Neurological Disorders and cognitive function itself. What is truly transformative about this research is that in a phenomenon called neuroplasticity we can actually change our brains for the better. So, that begs the question can be you simple bio hacks such as the food we eat or our ability to take a walk to upgrade our brain to the best version of itself. And the answer is yes. And that really is the crux of our discussion today and I hope to get that message across to your audience.
Mathea Ford: [00:04:36] Okay. So, can you talk about how our brains work? Talk about how our brains create new connections?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:04:43] Our brains are incredibly, amazingly complex. So, how the brain works as a whole is a very broad question but what I would like to do is narrow it down to how the neurons work and communicate with each other in the context of what we are discussing today which is neuroplasticity and neurogenesis and how does food fit into that picture. We’ve all heard of neurons which are basically brain cells. The brain is part of the central nervous system which consists of the brain and the spinal cord and the neurons communicate with each are though chemical and electrical signals.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:05:31] So, let me just explain that a little bit. When a neuron transmits a signal to its neighboring neuron it’s actually an electrical signal that gets transmitted and there is this little gap between the two neurons. And it’s called a synapse it’s very microscopic. It’s really really tiny. It’s about the it’s like one thousand the width of a hair. You can imagine how microscopic it is. So, this electric signal travels down what we would call the presynaptic neuron. That’s the neuron that’s emitting the message but that electric signal cannot just jump across the synaptic cleft. It has to be converted into a chemical impulse which we all know as a neurotransmitter. So, this neurotransmitter then drifts across the synaptic cleft lashes on to the postsynaptic neuron which is the neuron that’s receiving the signal. And in so doing it stimulates it. And this is how neurons communicate. And when these neurons connect with other neurons through their synapses they form complex neural networks that are responsible for all of the brain’s functions.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:06:59] Your next question I think was talk about how brains create new connections. Is that what’s your next question was?
Mathea Ford: [00:07:07] Yes. Can you talk about… You talked a little bit about well not about how brains create new connections but yeah tell us a little bit about how you said neuroplasticity a little bit and we’ll talk about that in a minute. But tell us about how our brains create new connections because you said we’re always changing always growing?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:07:27] Exactly! This process by which the brain creates new connections is called neurogenesis, neuro, neurons, genesis, the bulk of new neurons. In this context, I would like to introduce a tool called Neurotrophin. So, neutral neuron stroke Finns are basically proteins in the brain that allow fragile new neurons to grow and survive and proliferate. Now in case your listeners are wondering why would new neurons not survive. We have to bear in mind that we are living in a highly neurotoxic world and our bodies are under constant siege if you will by free radicals that are created from oxidative stress in our environment all from pollution, the foods we eat, the metabolic processes in the body. As a result of this, these fragile new neurons created from brain cells do not survive unless they have an adequate amount of it’s neurotrophins. So, you want to think about neurotrophins almost like a protective model taking care of the little ones and creating a nurturing environment for them. So, not only do these neurotrophins allow these little neurons to survive, more importantly these neurotrophins allow and enable these neurons to connect with each other through their synapses and to wire together. And it is this wiring of neural networks that allows the formation and consolidation of memory. This is how we learn. This is what promotes higher thinking. So we have these wonderful neural connections and we can grow new neurons every day. However, the rates of neurogenesis vary from individual to individual. And this is where we can use modifiable lifestyle factors, diet and exercise to influence this process which makes it very exciting and very empowering.
Mathea Ford: [00:09:54] So when people say that for example drinking beer kills brain cells it really can cause it’s going to create those free radicals that attack the brain the new neurons. Right?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:10:06] Exactly! So it could be of a food entity, tt could be something in the environment. Anything that causes oxidative stress and creates free radicals which for the benefit of the audience and just want to explain free radicals are simply lone oxygen atoms. We think of oxygen as being beneficial and of course it is. But when a free radical is created, you have this lone oxygen atom that is missing an electron. And that makes a highly unstable very reactive. And it begins to strip electrons from different compounds in your body. The loss of an electron creates oxidation, oxidative damage and of these free radicals can wreak havoc in the body. So to your point, yes, excess amounts of certain foods such as refined carbohydrates or high fat foods or beer and so forth can cause oxidative damage in the body. But we can counteract that by eating healthy foods. That’s the whole crux of the discussion.
Mathea Ford: [00:11:15] Are we going to talk about how do you create new more neutrophins? Or do you? Is that something that you can tell us a little bit more? Because I’m intrigued by this idea of neurotrophins being like moms protecting new brain cells. How did we get more of those in our brain?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:11:32] Absolutely! So, I think in this context again I want to introduce a molecule known as brain derived neural trophic factor. So it’s simply a no growth factor. It is a neurotrophin in but the reason why I’m bringing back into the discussion now is because brain-derived neurotrophic factor is the star of the show. A lot of experts refer to it as miracle grow for the brain. Isn’t that something? So, yeah pretty mind blowing. What the research shows is that a typical Western diet that is high in saturated fat and high in animal protein and high in refined carbs and added sugars literally drops levels of BDNF or brain-derived neurotrophic factor in the brain. So if you have fewer of these neurotrophins, highly protective neurotrophins, bearing in mind that they allowed the little neurons to survive and grow and connect and form synaptic connections there’s less of those connections now. But since it’s the wiring of neural networks that leads to the formation and consolidation of memory, new memories are not form and in fact this is exactly what happens to folks with Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. No new neurons are produced in a structure of the brain known as the hippocampus. The hippocampus is actually a part of the limbic system. You could call it the central command in the brain for memory and how you’re thinking. So then BDNF levels drop and no new neurons are produced, no new memories form. So, people with Alzheimer’s for instance might remember something that they did 20 years ago but their short term memory is lost because they don’t form new memories and they end up becoming sort of a shadow if you will of their former selves. So by eating foods with antioxidant potential what you can do is you can combat some of the oxidative stress that causes the body to lose some of those neurotrophins. You can combat that oxidative stress and boost back BDNF levels and in so doing you promote cognitive function again.
Mathea Ford: [00:14:13] You mentioned that people with Alzheimer’s, Dementia aren’t building new tissues in connection, is there? I think I’ve always thought or maybe I just had this thought but that there is an age where we kind of stop getting new brain cells where we stop making tissues and connections. Is that true?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:14:32] Actually the research which is really exciting shows that that is not true which is truly staggering. There is no age where we stop making new neurons. How exciting is that?
Mathea Ford: [00:14:48] That is! Because that means obviously you can continue to have good brain health throughout your life.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:14:53] Right! So, there was a study in I think it was a 2013 study in the Journal Cell that showed that even into our old age we can create seven hundred new neurons every day. Now bear in mind that we have like 86 to 100 billion neurons and they have they fall thousands ff synaptic connections. So seven hundred might seem like a drop in the bucket but the fact that we are actually creating new neurons in itself is very valuable. So, yes we can continue to build new neurons into our old age. But as I said the rates of neurogenesis can vary. And this is where I think we can use the power of neurogenesis through foods and lifestyle to positively influence that process.
Mathea Ford: [00:15:52] Som you mentioned before neuroplasticity. So let’s go back to that. What is neuroplasticity specifically and how is it discovered?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:16:00] In very broad terms, neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt and change and rewire itself and reorganize itself in response to our experiences. Our brain is incredibly moldable in every thought. Think about this. Every thought, every emotion, every experience we undergo changes the brain for the better or worse. So, it’s pretty amazing. You asked how was it discovered. So, the history of neuroplasticity. Believe it or not goes back to the 1890s when William James in his book talked about it. He said that the brain was plastic but at that time that the concept did not really take hold. It wasn’t until the 1950s that they did an experiment with the rats. So I do want to mention that this cognitive science and this whole research is relatively new. It’s emerging research. Lot of the research has been done in animal models. We do need more randomized clinical trials but what we have seen so far is pretty compelling. Anyway, to go back to the 1950s, they did this experiment in two sets of rats and one set of rats was placed in rich, social environment where there they will basically be given rat toys; they were allowed to interact with their little rat buddies; they were made to run on running wheels and then they had another set of rats where the poor little critters were isolated from each other and they didn’t have their little buddies to play with and so forth. And what they observed was that the rats in the end rich social and white men had higher rates of neurogenesis and they also they had more cybernetic connections those connections that we were talking about earlier. So that was sort of a great breakthrough research that they stumbled upon in the 1950s and then later more research was done in the 1970s but again it wasn’t until the late 1990s that we discovered that we can actually grow new neurons.
Mathea Ford: [00:18:36] We’ve talked about neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. Is there a link between neuroplasticity and like the habits that we form? So does one being able to change our brain, being able to move it and create new memories? Does that help with habits or is that any at all related?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:18:56] So, to many get an understanding of how that works, Mathea, I’m going to take us back to what I was talking about very early on in our podcast today. If you recall we were talking about how the neurons connect to each other through their synapses and the neurotransmitter travels the synaptic cleft and so on so forth and the signal is transmitted. So, what the research shows is that repeated signals and high frequency signals strengthen synaptic connections in a process called Long Term Potentiation or the audience can just think about it as Long Term Memory to keep this simple. Repeated signal strengthens synaptic connections and the opposite is true. So that weak signals when weak in a sign up a connection you want to think about your brain like a power grid with these complex neural circuits going we can just impacted how we saw it working right. So when you engage in a particular behavior that neural pathway in the grid lights up. Then you keep repeating that behavior.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:20:11] Those neurons become more and more excitable and it gets easier and easier for the brain to use that particular pathway. Neuroplasticity follows the use it or lose it rule. Frequently used synaptic connections and neural pathways get stronger and stronger and the pathways that are infrequently used or seldom used will weaken and disappear over time. And this is called synaptic pruning which I thought was very apt. Your body says your brain says “hey! You’re not using this memory I’m going to snip it off” just like you would prune excess branches if you will in those shrubs in your yard that you don’t want need but a memory that’s revisited over and over again the brain says “hey! I guess you needed somebody to hold onto it.” That synapse that synaptic connection has strengthened over time. Let me share another example. In high school if you hated calculus like I did but you loved history. I knew I remember rattling off historical events at the drop of a hat because I kept reviewing history notes but speaking for myself I nearly flunked Calculus. That’s because the synapses associated with Calculus weakened over time because I didn’t pay any attention. But I kept reviewing history notes almost became the teacher’s pet because those synapses got stronger and stronger. The use it or lose it rule. We can use neuroplasticity to actually develop like the habits and give up the ones that I’m not working for us. So, drug addiction for instance is the darker side of neuroplasticity but you can see how you can tap into the power of neuroplasticity to engage and develop habits that work in our favor. If that makes sense.
Mathea Ford: [00:22:18] So that were the idea has come from that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit. Even though we know it’s not necessarily 21 days specifically but you have to give your brain that repeated stimulus.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:22:31] Again the expression Practice makes perfect. It just puts that into a whole new perspective doesn’t it?
Mathea Ford: [00:22:39] Yeah! Your brain’s practicing and your body is practicing doing whatever. Let’s talk a little bit let’s get more into the nutrition side since we’re both dietitians. We talked about what causes the brain to have neuroplasticity but what foods have been studied that can affect our brains?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:22:55] So a whole array of foods have been studied but in a very broad sense. Let’s talk about the big picture first. What they have seen is that the Western diet that we just referred to a little earlier on in the podcast that is high in processed foods and high saturated fat foods and high in sugar and whatnot. What they have seen is that it actually literally shrinks the Hippocampus. It’s called Hippocampus Atrophy. The hippocampus which is a part of the brain which as I said is combined central for memory and learning literally shrinks with the Western diet and also BDNF levels not surprisingly drop with the Western diet. So basically lower intake of nutrient dense foods and higher intakes of unhealthy foods can cause that hippocampus to shrink and have also been associated with increased risk of depression and cognitive decline. So that’s sort of in a broader sense but in terms of specific nutrients that have been investigated. DHA and Omega 3 fatty acid it’s a 22 carbon I believe omega 3 fatty acid it’s found found in fish oils found in walnuts found in seeds like flaxseed chia seeds and so forth. So DHA is actually an integral component of neuronal cell membranes.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:24:31] You know the a good analogy I can give. Well I hope it’s a good analogy is if you’re thinking about constructing a building you would want high quality building materials. So also when you if you want to build a good brain you need good amounts of these Omega 3 Fatty Acids. So DHA has been investigated. Here’s the catch. While prospective studies have shown that for instance just eating one fatty fish meal a week can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by 60 percent. Randomized clinical trials with two grams of algal DHA have been somewhat disappointing. That said I would still and create your audience to include a fatty fish and Omega 3 Fatty Acids because ultimately you know at the end of the day it’s really the whole foods that count and whole dietary patterns that count. We don’t want to get too hung up on isolated nutrients. So, that’s the scoop on DHA. And then there’s corcumin which is the active extract of turmeric. And back also in we know it has antioxidant at the inflammatory properties. But again in clinical trials the results have been somewhat mixed. So, there was this 24 week Siebel Controlled Trial. They were I think 36 subjects enrolled in the trial. So it was a relatively smaller trial. And they were randomized to placebo or two grams a day of corcumin all four grams a day. And it failed to demonstrate any efficacy.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:26:20] But again I just want to caution the audience that we need bigger you know broader well designed studies to really sort of draw any conclusions from this. It has been shown to have a very potent antioxidant properties. So I would certainly encourage the audience to use just a pinch. All it takes is a pinch of turmeric in your food, in stews. So, still try dishes to get some of the benefits. So that’s corcumin. Then there’s Vitamin E. We all know that’s a very potent antioxidant and about two thousand international units of that in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease has shown some modest benefits. This. Do you want me to keep going on? Just note some of the other nutrients that were used?
Mathea Ford: [00:27:11] Maybe a couple more.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:27:13] Folate. As the name implies fully leafy green vegetables, oranges, orange juice, legumes. That was this landmark study in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging. And in that what that study demonstrated was that folate at all about the RDA it was associated with a significantly reduced risk of Alzheimers disease. And then let’s not forget all the other antioxidants. The flavonoids you know anything with bright wavering colors. We know that the mark of an antioxidant is that it leaves a stain behind and foods with those bright, rich colors have antioxidant properties. So, in a 2000 study what they saw was that a flavonoid or antioxidant rich diet can actually up regulate genes in your body that are associated with learning and cognitive function and down regulate the genes that are associated with inflammation and loading deficits which again should not be surprising given that oxidative stress reduces levels of neurotrophins. So anything with any oxygen properties that would mitigate that oxidative stress would then boost BDNF levels and promote neurogenesis. Last but not the least intermittent fasting which has become a hot topic these days. And calorie restriction have also shown some surprising benefits. They both actually boost BDNF levels. And the theory behind that is that while chronic stress releases cortisol which is a stress hormone in the brain killing those little neurons we were talking about that are part of neurogenesis and memory formation of the mild stress that is caused by calorie restriction actually has the opposite effect.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:29:26] It forces the brain to think and triggers neurogenesis and all kinds of neural protective mechanisms are triggered. And so so those findings were to me and that was pretty was a little surprising that intermittent fasting actually helps.
Mathea Ford: [00:29:45] I’ve done a little bit of reading and understanding about a little bit more about intermittent fasting and I know one of the main things that happens is that your body stops producing insulin so then your body is also basically doing some of those reparative things. Your body goes through some repair processes and starts using and using those kind of things that are out there just hanging out that it hasn’t had the time to repair because it’s so busy with insulin doing the storage and the energy use that it kind of let your body calm down which you mentioned you’re saying it’s a mild stress vs. your body having to digest food you know so that allowing it to go through that process.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:30:35] The research shows that while basically there is an up regulation of receptors in the brain for stress hormones with chronic stress. And you don’t see that with when you get cold calories or you go to intermittent fasting and let’s bear in mind that any excess of calorie consumption in and off itself will increase oxidative stress to the body and then a whole cascade of reaction ensues. That’s unfavorable but also the results showed that certain neutral protective mechanisms are triggered by stress broking so-called Heat Shock Proteins and Glucose Regulatory Proteins are produced that have neuro protective mechanisms and also the ketones that are produced when someone undergoes fasting or you know a low carb diet. And fats are burned in the absence of carbohydrates. The incomplete oxidation of fats produces ketones and ketones, this has been demonstrated that ketones also have neuro protective effects. It’s a whole sort of if if they can actually impact epigenetics in the body that would be go beyond the scope of our discussion today. But suffice to say that intermittent fasting and calorie restricted diets did show favorable effects on BDNF levels.
Mathea Ford: [00:32:06] You mentioned this a little bit but vitamins. So, you mentioned using an antioxidants and you mentioned some specific ones but and I know that food is definitely better to get your because we just don’t know all the properties that are helping our bodies but are there vitamins that people might want to think about or is it good to kind of just take some extra antioxidants in a vitamin to improve your brain power?
Mathea Ford: [00:32:37] In this though Baltimore Study of Aging Longitudinal Study of Aging that I was talking about. What they found and basically they followed non demented elderly volunteers for like 9.3 years is a pretty long study and what they found was that higher intake of folate, vitamin E, vitamin B6 were associated individually with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease but when the three vitamins were analyzed together only folate at or about the RDA was associated with a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. So, I hope that answers your question.
Mathea Ford: [00:33:23] Yeah! I think it’s good to always remember that food first. So, getting those dark leafy greens and good sources of folate. We’ve also seen I know this isn’t the topic today but when I was pregnant definitely they want people to young women in their childbearing ages to do the folate and to get plenty of that DHA because of the neuro benefits.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:33:47] Absolutely! So at the end of the day we just want to remember that it’s ultimately it’s Whole Foods that count and not individual nutrients. And the best way I can describe that is if you think about it pure it’s lovely to hear a violin playing. It sounds beautiful but you don’t get the full glorious effect until you hear the whole orchestra and that’s the same thing with food. You know those vitamins and nutrients and whatnot are wonderful but it’s not until you eat whole foods that you can hack into the real power of all those foods. So that’s one way of looking at it.
Mathea Ford: [00:34:28] Kind of another thing you mentioned at the beginning was talking about exercise and going for a walk or whatever. So, can we dig in a little bit to how does exercise affect BDNF?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:34:43] Yes absolutely! So exercise is actually one of the most powerful ways of changing your brain and rewiring its chemistry. Exercise has been shown to increase BDNF levels and in fact there was a study that was done in which they found that in that particular study exercise increased BDNF levels by as much as 32 percent. And you’re talking about moderate intensity to exercise engaging in exercise for about 30 to 40 minutes or so.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:35:25] And I also want to share this landmark study that was done in I believe 1999 at Duke University and the investigators actually had the nerve to test exercise against Zoloft and so they had these three cohorts of subjects. One cohort took Zoloft. The second cohort exercised four times a week for I believe a half hour and the third cohort to Zoloft as well as exercise and to their surprise after four weeks. Depression scores dropped to normal across all three groups. So then we had you know the brains of big pharma shall we say the skeptics who said “hey! You didn’t have a placebo!” So they they added a placebo and depression scores dropped to normal again across all three cohorts. So this was again groundbreaking research that really got the attention of the scientific community. And again underscoring the role that exercise plays in this whole picture. One Thing I forgot to mention Mathea is that a lot of the studies that were done on DHA, corcumin, vitamin E they also investigated the role of exercise concurrently or simultaneous me with these in rats and what they found was exercise synergistically increased levels of BDNF. So, the concurrent application of exercise or exercise along with a wonderful healthy diet clearly compounds the beneficial effects that we see from healthy foods.
Mathea Ford: [00:37:16] So, you’re talking about any type of exercise whether it’s weight training or it’s a aerobic exercise or is there one particular kind of mode that seems that they’ve studied?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:37:25] From what I can tell and there’s so many different studies on this but from what I can tell it seems to me that aerobic exercise appears to provide the greatest benefits from what I can tell from the research. And there’s a lot of studies that have been done on this from what I can tell.
Mathea Ford: [00:37:48] So, it really sounds like 40 minutes, 30 to 40 minutes three or four times a week provides this increase in BDNFthat helps with our memory and our brains.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:37:58] Absolutely! You want to get your heart pumping and you want to get more oxygen to the brain really that’s what it’s all about.
Mathea Ford: [00:38:05] You mentioned the Western diet being the biggest issue that causes brain problems. What diet changes are recommended to improve how BDNF works in our brain? So we’ve talked about what not to eat and a little bit I think we’ve touched on what to eat but what diet changes are recommended to help improve that and how long does it take before you start seeing changes?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:38:30] Basically a Mediterranean Style Diet that is high in fatty fish or if you’re a vegetarian then tapping into Omega 3 Fatty Acids sources through nuts, seeds and some leafy greens also by the way have some can provide some Omega 3 fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains. Whole grains actually do have antioxidants called ligaments so we don’t want read that’s something you just want to bear in mind legumes as well as you know basically just whole and unprocessed foods that are and dietary pattern that is low in added sugars and refined sugars would have beneficial effects in terms of raising BDNF.
Mathea Ford: [00:39:17] If somebody is starting to or wants to improve their memory whether they’re feel like they have any sort of deficit or not they feel like you know they can improve their memory, how long eating this way do they before they start seeing some changes?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:39:31] So, Mathea. I just want to share with your audience some studies that were done in rats. I do want to just in so the word of caution these were studies in animal models not human beings but the evidence was pretty compelling. And in separate trials these rats were basically fed a high fat diet and then the poor little critters were subjected to a traumatic brain injury. So both of which causes oxidative stress. What they found was the set of rats that was supplemented with antioxidant rich nutrients corcumin, vitamin E and DHA. They actually aced a Spatial Learning Test. And the rats that was not supplemented with antioxidant rich nutrients flunked the test. So that’s the Spatial Learning Test is called the Morris Water Maze and what it is is these little of critters are made to run around an open swim area and they are supposed to locate a submerged escape platform so the rats that was supplemented with antioxidant rich nutrients aced the test. The rats that was not supplemented flunked the test which underscores the fact that antioxidant rich foods can mitigate the oxidative stress created from a high fat diet and from the traumatic brain injury boost BDNF levels and restore cognitive function. One other factor that I would like to mention at this point Mathea is that your diet actually causes structural and functional changes in the brain which is pretty amazing and this is why the hippocampus actually shrinks on a Western diet. This is also what we see the depression and schizophrenia by the way but the hippocampus actually shrinks.
Mathea Ford: [00:41:38] That’s amazing to think that it’s protective because we never know at what point we might have more oxidative stress than others so being preventative is definitely a good thing. And those studies you mentioned about rats were like three weeks or a month or?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:41:57] As I said they were like separate trials with DHA, corcumin and vitamin E and some of them were full week, some of them were eight weeks.
Mathea Ford: [00:42:06] So we’ve talked about diet, we’ve talked about exercise. Are there other factors that affect BDNF in our brain?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:42:14] Essentially, anything that we can do that challenges the brain is going to boost BDNF levels. It’s so funny but just using your brain actually increases BDNF. Any kind of visual and cognitive stimuli is going to increase BDNF in the brain but it doesn’t have to be cognitive. That’s really what is so empowering about this. It could be loading a new skill, a new motor skills. So if you’ve never learn to ride a bike if you do so that’s going to boost BDNF levels. Learning a new language can boost BDNF levels. Learning to play a new instrument that’s going to boost BDNF levels. So anything that essentially challenges the brain can work in our favor. Meditation has been shown to increase BDNF levels. Getting a full night’s sleep increases BDNF levels. Also enrich social environment. So, having those meaningful relationships with the people around you, having meaningful social connections, social circles and so forth, friendships all of this has been shown to have a favorable effect on BDNF.
Mathea Ford: [00:43:35] I remember when I was growing up my grandmother she refused to use a calculator to balance our checkbook and she was convinced that helped her to have like keep her brain healthy. And what you’re saying is that she was right.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:43:51] She was because unbeknownst to her she was using the fundamental rule of neuroplasticity. If you don’t use it you’ll lose it.
Mathea Ford: [00:43:59] Absolutely! And I would I believe she actually said that. She didn’t say the neuroplasticity part but she said if I don’t keep using my brain I’m going to lose this ability.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:44:08] Then in her infinite wisdom she knew what she was doing.
Mathea Ford: [00:44:12] My grandmother had lots of lots of things like that. Yeah! You’ve made me actually just hopeful that you know our brains don’t deteriorate if we take an active part and we eat healthy and we exercise which is normal healthy recommendations anyway that we can have that brain power well into our body. Yes it’s the quality not quantity. So you can have a quality of life you’re improving the quality of life.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:44:41] And it’s simple things that are already at your fingertips. The foods that we are talking about is probably already in the kitchen cabinet.
Mathea Ford: [00:44:50] Yeah you just have to make that effort to eat them in on a regular basis and keep those not to say sugar and everything is the worst thing in the world but definitely keep that at a minimum. So, tell me a little bit about listeners who’ve listen to this whole podcast are thinking you know “gosh! This is great I should eat healthy or whatever” but how can they use it in their day to day life especially if they’re like a clinician and they’re working with people on a regular basis to help them not necessarily for their brainpower but just help eat healthier and stuff?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:45:23] Are you talking about just the lay consumers? I just want to make…
Mathea Ford: [00:45:28] I think lay consumers as one and then clinicians is another so can you talk a little bit about how they may be different they may use it in their life?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:45:36] Again, back to some of the basics that we that we discussed. Your behavior is actually the biggest driver of neuroplasticity. Think about things that you can do that would challenge your brain. You know nurture behaviors that lead to positive changes. We talk a lot about neuroplasticity and developing good habits and trying to give up those behaviors that don’t create positive changes and watch that neural pathway disappear. So, for instance think about things that you can do that would favorably impact your brain. And it could be you know little things. It could be perhaps maybe if you’re drinking. I don’t know. So it is something like that and gradually cutting back on that carving out a new neural pathway which you know initially might seem awkward but as you keep practicing it the oil factory disappears and before you know it you’ve changed that habit. Think of things that you can do in your day to day life that would help create favorable changes in your brain and boost the BDNF levels. Back to you to whole foods, unprocessed foods, use spices. Spices have in your cooking. Spices have potent antioxidant potential. And as I mentioned turmeric earlier. Just a pinch goes a long way and you can use it in the stews and soups and stir fry dishes and whatnot. I do want to mention that it’s very pungent. So all it takes is a pinch. You don’t want to do more than that and you can put it in practically every dish except I want you dessert because that dessert will no longer be dessert and it will turn into something savory. Little things that we can do you know shooting baskets with your with your kids, riding a bike with your kids, maybe riding down a new path and now you’re killing two birds with one stone. Get the exercise and you have challenged your brain by going down on new paths if you will. So anything that we can do that will help boost BDNF levels and it’s these simple things that we can do in our day to day life. That was ultimately help improve and enhance cognitive function.
Mathea Ford: [00:48:00] So that makes a lot of sense. And I would like to end the interview where I always end it and ask you to tell me your favorite food.
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:48:09] My favorite food is really decadent triple layer chocolate cake with homemade buttercream frosting.
Mathea Ford: [00:48:22] All right thank you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was a pleasure to have you on the show. I know my listeners have learned a lot about BDNF and brain health and how to just keep your brains active and have a good quality of life. So, if listeners want to connect with you what’s the best way to do that?
Sangeeta Pradhan: [00:48:41] Listeners who want to connect with me can find me on the WebDietitian WEB dietitian.WordPress.com and they can just click on the Contact tab on the menu bar. And that’s probably the best way of reaching me. If you Google WebDietitian it should pop up. And I have a Facebook page as well for WebDietitian.
Mathea Ford: [00:49:06] Okay. Well guys this has been another great episode of the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast that is all about learning more so you can do more with nutrition in your life.