Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Well Being: January 2017

By Elias Markou   

Features Health and Wellness

When discussing optimum wellness for firefighters, we can’t help but include brain health. Mental wellness, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive brain conditions are becoming a major concern for larger segments of the population, including firefighters. As academia and our health-care systems struggle to find medical solutions for these often complicated and chronic brain diseases, research is steering firefighters to nutrients and natural health products to help improve brain function.

Protect, reverse, heal the mind
There are many brain conditions that should be considered, for example, the slowly aging brain that cannot heal as it degenerates due to Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the injured brain, resulting from physical trauma. Certain supplements can boost brain function for all firefighters and have the ability to protect, reverse and heal an aging mind.

As I looked over hundreds of pages of research, one theme about the brain appeared over and over again: the link between inflammation in the brain and brain-related diseases was apparent. Inflammation was found in cases of dementia, Alzheimer’s, concussions, depression and stroke damage. Therefore, it stands to reason that If the incidence of inflammation in the brain – whether it be chronic or acute – could be reduced, the incidence of brain degeneration would also decrease.

We know the brain is one of the most important organs in the body; it has a function in every bodily action, every thought and every emotion. The brain needs to be looked after very carefully. I recommend that firefighters consider using these five supplements for the brain as part of their daily regimen.

Omega-3 fish oils
When it comes to healing the brain, Omega-3 fish oils are the gold standard for firefighter brain health. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acids (EPA) play a pivotal role in reducing the inflammation in the brain and giving the brain fuel to heal and build. Fish oil provides the best and only source of highly bioavailable EPA and DHA to heal the brain. These constituents are the most researched natural products in the world and every day researchers find new ways EPA and DHA help the mind in acute and chronic conditions.


Coconut oil
Firefighters who eat coconut oil consume the wonderful medium-chain triglycerides or (MCT) oil that help the brain heal and fuel itself. The scientific evidence on coconut oil is small, but a growing group of academics find this oil too important to pass up the chance to study it. Coconut oil contains important properties that feed the brain cells, slow degeneration, and reduce the inflammation in the brain – all key factors in preserving the brain.

Curcumin and brain inflammation
Researchers continue to investigate curcumin and how it supports brain health. Curcumin is a concentrated antioxidant that reduces inflammation in the brain. Studies continue to explore curcumin dosages and frequencies that help improve Alzheimer’s, stroke and Parkinson’s patients. Curcumin is well studied – we know this bioactive ingredient has the capacity to cross the blood-brain barrier; this explains why curcumin is a great neurological protective agent and how it addresses a wide range of brain disorders and diseases.

Vitamin B-12
A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine calls a B-12 deficiency “sneaky” and “damaging to the nervous system.”  “A severe vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to deep depression, paranoia, and delusions, memory loss, incontinence, loss of taste and smell and more,” the article says. Vitamin B-12 is a necessary brain nutrient for healing the brain; vitamin B-12 deficiency is associated with significant neurological dysfunction. In an experimental animal model, methycobalamin (B-12) regenerated nerve cells. Taking this low-cost vitamin reaps tremendous nerve benefits.

The energy of Acetyl-L-carnitine
Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) is also believed to cross the blood-brain barrier, and in studies of people who have suffered stroke damage, ALC appeared to enhance brain-cell survival. ALC was also found to help promote nerve-growth factor binding capacity, a function of nerve-cell regeneration.

There are a number of brain conditions associated with neurological degeneration and inflammation. These conditions are becoming more common in Canada as well as among firefighters. These brain conditions are a result of a poor diet in conjunction with nutrient deficiencies. A 2009 study found consuming walnuts, blueberries, strawberries and grape juice concentrate as part of a regular nutritional diet would prevent brain aging and increase brain cognitive function. Make these changes that feed your brain and feel good about it.

Dr. Elias Markou is in private practice in Mississauga, Ont., and is the chief medical officer for the Halton Hills Fire Department. Markou was a firefighter for six years.

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