The Little-Known Doorway That Lets Nutrients In and Keeps Toxic Agents Out
By J. Robert Hatherill, Ph.D.
Book Review by Dan Balogh
There's a great line in Woody Allen's classic comedy Sleeper. Allen, who has been cryogenically frozen for years, is illegally unfrozen by an underground movement trying to overthrow the government. Woody is informed to keep a low profile so the authorities won't catch him and deprogram his brain. "My brain?" shudders the frantic Woody, "that's my second favorite organ!"
While 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?
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 of "progress".
According to 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 as well).
Processed foods (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.
The 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.
Throughout the 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!
Dan Balogh 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.