second favorite isn't as good as favorite, Woody's ranking of the
brain seems higher than the authors of many recent nutrition books,
where the brain doesn't even make the top ten. The still young 21st
century is hosting an explosion of books proclaiming the benefits
of plant-based diets. Some have covered general nutrition (like
Fuhrman's Eat to Live), or specific degenerative diseases
and specific populations (PCRM's four volume Healthy Eating for
Life series addressed diabetes, cancer, women's and children's
health). But in this frenzy of publications, the brain (which controls
so much of the body) has been relegated to a few footnotes. All
this changes with the release of J. Robert Hatherill's "The
BrainGate", a manual for a healthy brain and, consequently,
a healthy body.
So what exactly
is the BrainGate? No, it's not another government scandal (like
Watergrate or Filegate) this time concerning the president's brain.
It's actually a complex blood-brain barrier that controls what enters
our brain and what exits it. But far from being just a barrier,
it also facilitates the uptake of important nutrients and hormones
into our brain and actively pumps out toxic substances. Millions
of years of evolution have honed the BrainGate into our brain's
perfect protector - blocking it from dangerous invaders that can
wreak havoc if the barrier wasn't there. So what's the problem?
is modern society, which has invented some pretty nefarious substances
that sneak in, despite the BrainGate's best attempts to keep them
out. In the past millions of years, the brain hasn't needed to deal
with pesticides, herbicides, concentrated heavy metals, processed
foods, and many other neurotoxins that are the unfortunate signposts
Hatherill, optimum brain nutrition requires that we do two things:
we lessen our intake of these pollutants and we receive proper nutrition.
For instance, eating more plants (is this any surprise) provides
us with an offense as well as a defense. As an offense, the antioxidants
and phytochemicals found in abundance in the plant kingdom help
to purge neurotoxins from our bodies. As a defense, the more plants
we eat, the less animal products we consume - since the vast majority
of neurotoxins are found in animal products, we are protecting ourselves
by not eating these poisons in the first place. Hatherill notes
that "for most people, diet is the most critical intake route
for environmental chemicals". So the simple act of eating more
plants, and ensuring that they're organic, is the one change that
gives us the greatest benefit in regard to brain protection (never
mind that eating plants is better for the entire rest of our bodies
(i.e., unnatural foods) are something else to watch out for.
Processing food always changes its structure and the BrainGate,
which evolved to deal with real food, is tricked into letting in
what should stay out. Trans-fats are a perfect example. When they
get in our brains, they disrupt cellular communication, which promotes
a decline in our cognitive functions! Nature is nearly devoid of
trans-fats, but sadly our supermarket aisles are packed with them!
As a rule of thumb, Hatherill suggests looking at labels and if
a food product has more than five ingredients don't eat it!
But it's not
just what we eat that causes problems. Stress is another contributing
factor to brain disease, and earns an entire chapter. I was surprised
to learn, for instance, that while prescription and over-the-counter
drugs are designed and tested to ensure that they don't enter the
brain under normal conditions, when we are under stress some of
these substances actually do cross into the brain. Dealing with
stress, then, is also essential to brain health, and Hatherill suggests
several ways of dealing with it.
last section of the book contains Hatherill's 6-step brain-purifying
program, which alone is worth the price of the book. If you want
to protect your brain but are mostly interested in the "how"
as opposed to the "why" then this is your section. Its
thirty-five pages are filled with clear and concise recommendations
on what to do to keep our brains as healthy as possible. The subsequent
appendix lists where to find everything from organic foods to safe
household products to pesticide alternatives to air filters.
book, Hatherill demonstrates an amazing ability to explain the most
complicated concepts in layman's terms. For instance, the BrainGate's
disposal system is compared to a municipality's disposal system
with its garbage trucks; anything toxic to the power generators
of the BrainGate's cells (like pesticides and heavy metals) will
cause the "garbage trucks" to "run out of gas."
As another example, the input shuttles into the brain are compared
to the turnstiles of a ballpark, where problems occur if too many
people rush them. One tiny disadvantage of the book is its total
absence of footnotes. There is a bibliography in the back that maps
to individual chapters, but its not always easy determining how
to further explore certain claims or topics.
So if, like
Woody, your brain is one of your favorite organs, pick up a copy
of this book and start treating your brain with the respect it deserves.
And even if your brain isn't one of your favorite organs, consider
reading this book anyway - who knows, maybe all those processed
foods and animal products you've been eating are clouding your thinking!
is a member of EarthSave® New York City and a frequent contributor
to VegSource.com. He works full-time as a systems engineer in the
telecommunications industry. A voracious reader, Dan (and his brain)
are currently being crowded out of his house by the thousands of
books he owns.