The nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. It is responsible for the perception of both our internal and external environments, our behaviour within those environments, and the maintenance of the fight/flight response. In short, how we experience the world and how we think, feel, and react are largely under the control of the nervous system.
The following is a straight forward guide to a few things that we can all do, without much effort at all, to support the optimal functioning of the nervous system. By doing so, we are supporting our moods, sleeping patterns, the way we perceive sensations such as pain, and largely how we move through the world.
1. Get plenty of B Vitamins
B vitamins are one of the most common supplements out there, and for good reason. The B vitamins are involved throughout the body in numerous ways that support health. In terms of mental health and the nervous system, the B vitamins play critical roles in energy production, as well as the creation of neurotransmitters, the ‘brain chemicals’ that regulate mood, emotions, sleep/wake cycles, and pain perception (as a starting point!)
The B vitamins are found widely throughout the diet; especially in wholegrains, nuts, seeds, veggies, and meat. If you’re consuming a varied diet consisting largely of whole foods, there is likely little-to-no need to supplement. However during times of increased stress, illness, fatigue, or low mood, a good quality B vitamin supplement can be a wise addition to your diet.
2. Consume a quality protein source with every meal
Consuming protein as part of every meal and snack provides two key benefits:
Firstly, protein assists in keeping blood sugar levels stable, which is important to avoid that post meal energy/mood slump or the pre-meal ‘hanger’ that is often associated with too much time elapsed between meals and a drop in blood glucose levels.
Secondly, protein foods, upon digestion, are broken down into their constituent amino acids. Amino acids are widely used throughout the body but specifically, in the case of the nervous system, are required to build neurotransmitters.
3. Be mindful about caffeine consumption
Caffeine is one of those things: we love it for the way it helps get us up and out in the morning, or the way it keeps us tracking through the afternoon, but it pays to be mindful about your consumption.
Caffeine has a half-life of approximately 5-6 hours, which can be lengthened depending on an individual’s detoxification capacity. This means that your afternoon pick-me-up might be disrupting your sleep, causing fatigue the following day, creating a vicious cycle.
Caffeine, particularly coffee, can also worsen symptoms of anxiety (both physically and mentally). You don’t have to quit it, but it pays to be mindful of the way in which it impacts you.
4. Include plenty of essential fatty acids in the diet
The brain is nearly 60% fat. It stands to reason then, that intake of the essential fatty acids, especially the omega-3’s EPA and DHA, is crucial for healthy brain function including brain plasticity, integrity, and cognition. In addition to being a structural component of the brain, essential fatty acids are also involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and as such are directly linked to mood and behaviour.
The body cannot make essential fatty acids, therefore they must be obtained via the diet, or supplements. Foods to consume include salmon, sardines, mackerel, bream, walnuts, and chia seeds.
5. Watch your sugar intake
Sugar can be problematic for the same reasons as caffeine. We might reach for something sweet to boost our energy levels, however what goes up must come down, and we create a vicious cycle contributing to fatigue and unstable mood.
In addition, sugar may also impact sleep due to its stimulant effects, so avoidance is especially warranted for those who experience insomnia or sleeplessness.
The current recommendation for Australian adults is:
“...to accumulate 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity, or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity…each week.”
We know that sufficient exercise is essential for overall health and wellbeing. In regards to the nervous system, sufficient exercise has been shown to improve psychological wellbeing and reduce symptoms of depression.
7. Wake up with the sun
The circadian rhythm of the sleep/wake cycle helps to regulate feelings of alertness and tiredness, as well as concentration, decision making, learning, and mood. In order to regulate the circadian rhythm, it is important to connect with normal daylight and moonlight exposure.
A simple way to do this is to head outside, even if only for 5 minutes, upon waking every day. If it’s possible for you, this is also a great time to get out for your daily exercise. In addition, try and maintain similar sleep and wake times every day.
This article is designed to provide you with some simple hints and tips to implement into your daily routine. Any vitamin or mineral supplement that you choose to take should ideally be prescribed by a professional so you can be assured that you are receiving adequate dosage of key vitamins and nutrients from a trusted source. For more specific advice on any of the hints here, including dosage of supplements or what you need to be consuming for a beneficial effect for you personally, please get in touch.