Healthy Holistic Living

Toxic Brain, How Chemicals Affect your Brain


Do you have a toxic brain? Is your brain getting the proper nutrients it needs to function? Since we are what we eat, it is important to understand the negative effects that processed foods and additives have on our brains. Just changing our food habits and eliminating processed foods and foods with additives from our diets will give our brains and our bodies the opportunity to function properly. With the simple step of maintaining consistent good nutrition you will help keep your brain healthy.

We rarely think about caring for our brains. It is there, it is an integral part of who we are, but it is not often that we think about it, much less know how to take care of it. Our brains are involved in everything we do. When your brain is healthy and is working right, you are right too. But when your brain is in distressed or troubled you will have distress and trouble in your life as well.

We need to protect our brains. How do we do that? By eating right, exercising our brains, controlling the stress that can kill our brain cells and in general feeding our brains the right way through our thoughts and perceptions. You can abuse your brain, through smoking, eating foods charged with additives and chemicals, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, drug abuse and stress or brain injuries through accidents or violent sports. Creative thought depends upon a well nourished brain. The brain controls the body as well as the mind. It is hard to believe, but it is estimated that there are over 100 billion neurons available to facilitate thought. Imagine then what a damaged brain must go through just to think properly.

Not all brains are created equal and scans show that they do not function or even look alike. If our brains are healthy, all its components are functioning to optimum capacity regardless of our age. Unhealthy or overactive brains have been associated with bipolar disorders and other conditions. Alcohol or drug abuse can damage our brains yet tests have shown that sometimes drug abusers have low active brains and use the stimulants to self medicate. Not a healthy solution.

The good news is that you can reverse damage and realize your brain’s potential and ultimately improve your life. And remember, it doesn’t matter how brainy you are or how much education you’ve had – you can still improve and expand your mind. How do we do this? There are a number of simple things we can do to improve and keep our brains healthy.

The brain is the greediest organ in your body, with some very specific dietary requirements. So it is hardly surprising that what you eat can affect how you think. “Junk food is implicated in a slew of serious mental disorders.” Researchers at Boston University found that when healthy young adults were given the drug scopolamine, which blocks acetylcholine receptors in the brain, it significantly reduced their ability to remember word pairs. Low levels of acetylcholine are also associated with Alzheimer’s disease and some studies suggest that boosting dietary intake may slow age-related memory loss.


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Junk food has been implicated in quite a few serious mental disorders, from dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to autism. Researchers at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego, California, reported that rats and mice raised on the rodent equivalent of junk food struggled to find their way around a maze, and took longer to remember solutions to problems they had already solved. The effect of food on our brains is so powerful that research on the connection between a person’s mood and the food he or she eats has demonstrated that eating a certain food can influence a person’s mood—at least temporarily.

A really good illustration about the effects of Junk Food on the brain is a movie called Super Size ME directed by Morgan Spurlock. You will never see fast food the same again!

Research by Judith Wurtman, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has focused on how certain foods alter one’s mood by influencing the level of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Even though it is known that many other factors influence the level of these chemicals, such as hormones, heredity, drugs, and alcohol, three neurotransmitters—dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin—have been studied in relation to food, and this research has shown that neurotransmitters are produced in the brain from components of certain foods.

Billions of brain cells interact with one another moment by moment through a network of interconnecting cells. These cells do not actually touch one another; there is a tiny space between them. Information is passed across this space by way of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. The mood-elevating brain chemicals serotonin and beta-endorphin are both neurotransmitters. And the foods we eat can disrupt these neurotransmitters.

Wurtman has reported that people are more alert when their brains are producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, while serotonin production in the brain has been associated with a more calming, anxiety-reducing effect (and even drowsiness in some people). A stable brain serotonin level is associated with a positive mood state.

It appears that women have a greater sensitivity than men to changes in this brain chemical. Our modern way of food processing has completely changed the types of fatty acids we consume. Because our brains are composed largely of fatty acids, we are missing the components needed for normal brain development and repair.

To learn more about what fatty acids are needed for your brain to function properly read my article Is my Brain Fat Enough? 
In addition, we are eating lots of man-made chemicals. Did you know that food colors, for example, are mostly made from petroleum? And it is well known that consuming lots of sugars and carbohydrates lead to increased insulin levels. How many hidden chemicals and additives are in our foods? And what is the impact of those elements in our brains as well as our bodies? Food additives have been used for hundreds of years. Salt was used by our ancestors to preserve meats and fish; herbs and spices were added to improve the flavor of foods; fruit was preserved with sugar; vegetables such as cucumbers were pickled or canned with vinegar. But they mainly used natural preservatives.

Chemical additives and preservatives are now part of our food and we consume them at an alarming rate. Even though Federal regulations require scientific evidence that each substance is safe at its intended level of use before it may be used in food, studies show that many of these substances are not meant to be consumed by the human body and much less by our brains. Federal safety methods and reviews are not infallible. Even though their methods continue to improve, there are many reported cases of fetus mal development, learning disabilities and even brain damage due to these chemicals in our foods.

In many cases it is years before the connection to these products is finally made. In order to reverse the damage made to our brains and bodies, we need to become informed and question all these chemicals and products that sometimes are hidden in our foods. Do any of us know what Acesulfame K is, how it is absorbed by our bodies and the effect that it has on our brains? It is becoming increasingly difficult to find out what is added to our foods. I spend a great deal of time reading all the ingredients on the products I buy and then researching the information on the Internet. Whenever possible I stick to organic foods and make sure that they are indeed “organic” and not just a label that have been stuck to the product. Yes, these organic products are a lot more expensive, but isn’t your brain worth it?

The list of additives and preservatives in our food supply is staggering. Learn to shop wisely by making a list of foods without preservatives that you will consume on a regular basis and stick to it. Try to buy organic foods whenever possible and stay away from sodas and drinks, from artificial sweeteners and from all packaged food that have a long list of preservatives. It is not worth it to you to poison your brain.


Whenever I shop for food, I look at the ingredients listing to see what went into it and what I am going to put in my body. Among other things, I look to see if partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (which indicates the presence of trans fatty acids) are in the food (as well as other “unnatural” substances). If I don’t recognize the ingredient I simply will not buy the product until I can do some research on it.

Did you know that there are over 14,000 man-made chemicals added to our food supply in our country alone? These additives are not meant to be part of our natural nutrition. The sad thing is that our children are the ones that suffer the most because they are exposed to these substances from an early age. Our bodies were not meant to be exposed to the amount of chemicals and food additives that are being added to our diets. And one of the truly scary things is that scientist have no idea the synergistic effect of all these chemicals. Studies are just starting to focus on our chemical “Body Burden.” That is, the total accumulated chemicals in our body.

We all need to become familiar with the types of chemicals and food additives that we are putting into our bodies. You can go on the Internet and find all kinds of lists on additives and preservatives. Most of them unhealthy to you and your brain. But, for added effected I have taken the liberty to copy a partial list to give you an idea of what we are dealing with:

Acesulfame K

Known commercially as Sunette or Sweet Onee, this substance is a sugar substitute sold in packet or tablet form and is added to chewing gum, dry mixes for beverages, instant coffee and tea, gelatin desserts, puddings and non-dairy creamers. Tests show that the additive causes cancer in animals, which means it may increase cancer in humans.

Artificial colorings

Most of the artificial colorings used in food are synthetic dyes. They have been suspected of having carcinogenic for decades and a lot of them have been banned. Try to buy foods without artificial dyes.


Sold commercially as Equal and NutraSweet, aspartame is phenylketonuria (PKU). Can you even pronounce it? And did you know that one out of 20,000 babies is born without the ability to metabolize phenylalanine? And that toxic levels of this substance in the blood can result in mental retardation.


These chemicals are added to food that contain oil to prevent oxidation and retard rancidity. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, consider BHA to be possibly carcinogenic to humans. To avoid them read the label.


Caffeine, found naturally in tea, coffee, and cocoa, is also added to many soft drinks. It is one of the few drugs — a stimulant — added to foods. Caffeine promotes stomach-acid secretion and raises blood pressure.. Too much caffeine results in symptoms ranging from nervousness to insomnia. And it affects children who on the average drink between 2 to 7 cans of soda a day.

Monosodium Glutamate-(MSG)

MSG is added in certain seasonings to enhance protein-containing foods. Too much MSG can lead to headaches, tightness in the chest, and a burning sensation in the forearms an the back of the neck.

Nitrite and Nitrate


Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are chemicals used to preserve meat. When it combines with other compounds it forms nitrosamines, which are extremely powerful cancer-causing chemicals. This chemical reaction occurs faster at the high temperatures of frying. You can buy Nitrite free processed meat, they are usually frozen to reduce the need for nitrites.


Olestra is a fake fat recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the objection of many scientists yet it is both dangerous and unnecessary . The Harvard School of Public Health states that “the long-term consumption of olestra snack foods might result in several thousand unnecessary deaths each year from lung and prostate cancers and heart disease, and hundreds of additional cases of blindness in the elderly due to macular degeneration. Despite being approved as safe by the FDA, all snacks containing olestra must carry a warning label (similar to one found on cigarettes)

Potassium Bromate

Used to increase the volume of bread and to produce bread with a fine crumb structure, it breaks down to form innocuous bromide. However, bromate itself causes cancer in animals. Bromate has been banned virtually worldwide except in Japan and the United States.


Sulfites are chemicals used to keep cut fruits and vegetables looking fresh. They also prevent discoloration in several fruits, they control “black spot” in freshly caught shrimp; and prevent discoloration, bacterial growth, and fermentation in wine. CSPI and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified at least a dozen fatalities linked to sulfites. All of the deaths occurred among asthmatics. In 1985 Congress finally forced FDA to ban sulfites from most fruits and vegetables. The ban does not cover fresh-cut potatoes, dried fruits, and wine.

Like I said, this is just a partial list. Remember that there are over 14,000 man-made chemicals added to our food supply! And it is important that you find out how they are affecting your brain.

This is a wonderful book that I highly recommend. Dr. Amen has analyzed thousands of brain scans. Consequently, he’s been able to correlate specific brain dysfunction with specific actions people take. He has been able to go beyond observing outward behavior to observing inward behavior–how the brain responds to what is done to it. Making a Good Brain Great: The Amen Clinic Program for Achieving and Sustaining Optimal Mental Performance by Daniel G. Md Amen. 


How caffeine affects the body, additives, NutraSweet, additives and preservatives, neurological effects of aspartame, toxic effects of glutamate and related compounds in the retina and the brain, – Slowly Poisoning America,

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Michelle Toole

Michelle Toole is the founder and head editor of Healthy Holistic Living. Learn all about her life's inspiration and journey to health and wellness.
Michelle Toole
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