We have seen from numerous other articles published on this site that there exists an abundance of evidence that severe, protracted and repetitive childhood trauma can adversely affect the development of the brain both in terms of its architecture and functionality. Specific brain areas that research suggests may be damaged in this way include:
- the amygdala (the amygdala is involved with the body’s fear and stress reactions and its ‘fight or flight’ responses. It also plays an important role in memory, interprets the meaning of emotions, and drives how we react to our emotions based upon memories associated with that emotion (emotional memory). It is comprised of two collections of cells (one in the brain’s right hemisphere and one in the brain’s left hemisphere) located at the base of the brain. It is part of the brain’s limbic system.
- the hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and mood. Research shows it is affected by a variety of mental disorders.
- the prefrontal cortex (involved in planning, decision making, attention, how personality is expressed, controlling social behaviour and inhibiting impulses).
To view the full list of brain areas that may be damaged by prolonged toxic stress during childhood see my previously published article: Brain Regions That May Be Adversely Affected By Childhood Trauma.
THE GOOD NEWS:
However, the good news is that we also know that the brain is able to recover from such damage due to its ability to change and repair itself (e,g. in response to mindfulness and meditation) – a quality known as neuroplasticity. (For more detail about this phenomenon, see my previously published article: Three Ways To Repair Brain Damage Caused By Protracted Childhood Trauma.)
HOW CAN DIET HELP THE BRAIN TO REPAIR ITSELF?
One way in which the brain can repair itself is through a process known as NEUROGENESIS. Neurogenesis is the process by which the brain produces new neurons (brain cells). It was originally thought that neurogenesis only took place during very early life though it is now known it can take place during adulthood, too, in certain brain regions (e.g. the hippocampus).
Research (Strang and Thuret, 2009) suggests that one way to increase neurogenesis in the hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and mood) is by REDUCING CALORIE INTAKE.
Alternatively, if there is no reduction in daily intake in calories, the research also indicates that neurogenesis may also be accelerated by INCREASING THE TIME INTERVAL BETWEEN MEALS (e.g. instead of eating breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at 12 p.m. and dinner at 5 p.m. changing these times to 7 a.m, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. respectively).
Oddly, too, evidence indicates that EATING FOOD THAT REQUIRES CHEWING (a ‘hard’ diet) is better at promoting neurogenesis than a ‘soft’ diet (i.e. a diet of foods that do NOT require chewing) although exactly why this should be is not yet fully understood.
Finally, there is also evidence that MEAL CONTENT affects the process of neurogenesis. FLAVONOIDS, a large group of plant chemicals responsible for the vivid colours of fruits and vegetables, are thought to be particularly effective in increasing the rate of neurogenesis (blueberries are a particularly good source of flavonoids). Other excellent sources of flavonoids include onions, kale, tea, red wine, dark chocolate, parsley, and red cabbage.
It should be pointed out, however, that much of the research on the effects of diet on neurogenesis has been conducted upon rodents so it is necessary to exercise caution when extrapolating from such research to cast light upon the intricacies of neurogenesis in relation to us.
You may also be interested in reading my previously published articles:
- How The Traumatized Brain Differs From The Normal Brain And Seven Ways To Repair It.
- Childhood Trauma: Aiding Recovery Through Diet And Exercise.
- Childhood Trauma, The Hippocampus, Depression, And Neurogenesis.
Stangl D, Thuret S. Impact of diet on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Genes Nutr. 2009 Dec;4(4):271-82. doi: 10.1007/s12263-009-0134-5. Epub 2009 Aug 15. PMID: 19685256; PMCID: PMC2775886.
How Childhood Trauma Can Physically Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed): Click here.
David Hosier MSc holds two degrees (BSc Hons and MSc) and a post-graduate diploma in education (all three qualifications are in psychology). He also holds UK QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). He has worked as a teacher, lecturer and researcher. His own experiences of severe childhood trauma and its emotional fallout motivated him to set up this website, childhoodtraumarecovery.com, for which he exclusively writes articles. He has written several books on topics related to childhood trauma.
He has published several books including The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Borderline Personality Disorder, The Link Between Childhood Trauma ANd Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and How Childhood Trauma Can Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed).
He was educated at the University of London, Goldsmith’s College where he developed his interest in childhood experiences leading to psychopathology and wrote his thesis on the effects of childhood depression on academic performance.
This site has been created for educational purposes only.