Posted on

11 Powerful Ways Intermittent Fasting Strengthens Your Brain

Intermittent fasting benefits for the brain

Intermittent fasting benefits for the brainBreakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Well, when I ‘break my fast’ after not eating for 16-20 hours, it is! We’ve been told that small meals spread throughout the day are the key to good health, but new research is showing that this may not always be the case.

Intermittent fasting is more than just a trend; there is mounting evidence showing that it can help our bodies in ways that are almost unimaginable. Not only does it often prevent us from overeating, but it also sets off an avalanche of genetic and molecular changes that can help our brains perform optimally and decrease aging.

It may sound too good to be true, so let’s get into what scientists have found.

Intermittent fasting can…

  1. Reverse metabolic syndrome and all of its negative consequences.
  2. Increase brain strength and your ability to learn by boosting synaptic plasticity.
  3. Save your brain from the harm of oxidative damage from free radicals.
  4. Grow neurons and protect them by bumping up levels of neurotrophic factors.
  5. Decrease inflammation and avoid chronic diseases that come with it.
  6. Increase metabolism by growing brown fat (yes, there is a good kind of fat).
  7. Activate proteins that clean up your brain and again protect it from harm.
  8. Put you into ketosis and boost white fat metabolism.
  9. Help your mitochondria use energy more efficiently.
  10. Increase the body’s production of NAD, an essential molecule for metabolism and longevity.
  11. Boost stem cell production to provide more neuronal growth and recover from brain injuries.

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting doesn’t mean that you are starving yourself, but rather it means that you are going approximately 14-48 hours without eating. Most people who utilize this tactic in everyday life will simply restrict their eating to a 4-10 hour window every day. The goal isn’t to limit calories, but this will most often naturally occur the shorter your eating window is.

For me, I will abstain from eating until I get home from work. This means I only eat from 4:00 PM to about 8:30 PM. Aside from the plethora of health benefits, I also save a lot of time because I don’t have to make breakfast or lunch and then take a half hour break to eat lunch. Then, when I get home, I have a large meal and snack for about 4 hours.

How Intermittent Fasting Benefits The Brain

When doing research on this topic, I was expecting it to be difficult to find good studies. Instead, I was inundated with what science has found. Intermittent fasting has a massive amount of research showing that it is beneficial for the whole body, but for now, let’s focus on the brain.

  1. Intermittent Fasting Can Reverse Metabolic Syndrome By Increasing Insulin Sensitivity

Metabolic syndrome is possibly the source of many chronic diseases that plague modern society. In short, it is a conglomerate of the many consequences of leading an unhealthy lifestyle, including abdominal obesity, poor cholesterol, blood lipids in the unhealthy range, high blood pressure and high fasting glucose [1].

“The Metabolic Syndrome has been called a global epidemic by the World Health Organization and is considered a major public health problem, with 34% of Americans over the age of 20 estimated to be affected”

Intermittent Fasting Can Reverse Metabolic SyndromeIt is typically defined as a cluster of risk factors associated with Type II Diabetes and cardiovascular disease which we also know from a previous article is associated with dementia. Aside from the risk of age-related disease, general cognitive dysfunction occurs as well [1].

Essentially, people with Metabolic Syndrome have brains that start to function sub-optimally, their risk for stroke goes up, brain structure changes and energy depletion is seen. This is all thought to stem from a reduction in insulin sensitivity which is better known as insulin resistance [6].

Metabolic Syndrome has also been associated with a loss of cognitive power including lower information processing speed, shortened attention span and decreased ability to achieve goals.

 [Find an in-depth explanation of insulin resistance and how it harms the brain here.]

How We Get Metabolic Syndrome

In a nutshell, when we eat too many processed carbohydrates, our blood becomes flooded with glucose and the pancreas has to pump out copious amounts of insulin to clear it out and store it in cells. As time goes on and this abuse continues, our cells begin to lose the ability to grab onto insulin and take in the glucose, hence the name insulin resistance.

This has dire consequences for the entire body, but the brain specifically loses the ability to get enough energy and also becomes inflamed. There is also an increase in oxidative damage which leads to accelerated age-related decline.

“Metabolic Syndrome has been linked to deficits in memory, visuospatial abilities, executive functioning, processing speed, and overall intellectual functioning”

This is a lot of information so let’s summarize the key points about Metabolic Syndrome:

  • Metabolic Syndrome is a tremendous health crisis that is likely caused by living an unhealthy lifestyle.
  • The underlying cause of the ‘outside’ symptoms is likely insulin resistance.
  • Insulin resistance doesn’t allow the brain to get enough energy, causes inflammation and increases oxidative damage, among other ailments.
  • This condition is associated with cognitive dysfunction and cognitive decline in general.

Intermittent Fasting Comes To Save The Day

Now, in comes intermittent fasting to save the day. When we are in a fasted state, the body isn’t overflowing with glucose because we aren’t eating. This means that when we are fasting, glucose doesn’t have to be shuttled around so blood glucose levels AND insulin levels both go down [2].

This gives our cells a break from the constant bombardment from insulin which results in reduced insulin resistance when done for extended periods of time. Along with this comes a decrease in age-related brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s [3,4].

Put another way, the research is clear in saying that intermittent fasting may be a natural cure for Metabolic Syndrome, one of the most widespread health conditions of our time. The implications for day-to-day health and longevity are massive.

In one study ” Overweight subjects maintained for 6 months on a twice-weekly intermittent fasting diet in which they consumed only 500–600 calories on the fasting days, lost abdominal fat, displayed improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced blood pressure.” [4]

Furthermore, another study showed that overweight subjects who were put on intermittent fasting for one year had better working memory, improved mood, and higher cognitive processing speed when compared to their baseline test [6].

It seems that intermittent fasting was able to reverse some of the cognitive dysfunction caused by Metabolic Syndrome. The brain can get the energy it needs, lower inflammation, and reduce oxidative damage.

The benefits of intermittent fasting don’t end here. Let’s see what else it can do for the brain.

  1. Intermittent Fasting Helps You Learn Faster

Intermittent fasting increases synaptic plasticityIt has been shown in multiple studies that intermittent fasting increases synaptic plasticity  [4,5]. Synaptic plasticity is essentially the brain’s ability to change. It allows the brain to grow stronger, learn new skills, and keep memories.

An example of synaptic plasticity is when blind people develop a stronger sense of smell to compensate for their lack of eye site. Other more common examples would be the ability to learn a new language or anything that is kept in memory.

 

  1. Use Intermittent Fasting to Make Your Neurons More Resilient

Another part of the intermittent fasting story is that is has been shown to keep the brain safe from harmful attacks by free radicals. Free radicals like reactive oxygen species occur through natural processes in our bodies and luckily the body is able to clean up almost all of them.

The key word in the last sentence is ‘almost’. The ones that escape the body’s natural defenses go on to do harm to cells including brain cells which causes aging. Living an unhealthy lifestyle can increase the amount of free radicals, but by incorporating tactics like intermittent fasting into a healthy lifestyle, you can also reduce oxidative stress and decrease your rate of aging [2].

This all happens because intermittent fasting puts a small amount of stress on neurons and other cells of the brain. Not enough to do damage, but enough to strengthen the cells’ mechanism of protecting themselves [2].

One interesting example of this was among asthmatic study participants. After doing intermittent fasting for just 4 weeks, oxidative damage and inflammation went down as well as their symptoms of asthma [5].

  1. Neurotrophic Factors: A Molecular Juggernaut

Another major change to the brain when undergoing intermittent fasting is that brain-derived neurotrophic factors are released in response to the slight stress. Neurotrophic factors are a large class of molecules and the word itself simply means brain and nervous growth [2].

intermittent fasting boosts neuronsNeurotrophic factors are important because they can stimulate new neuronal growth. There aren’t many ways that this can be done and more neuronal growth means more brain power and slower aging. I don’t know about you, but these are both things that I’m looking for.

In addition to growing new neurons, neurotrophic factors also protect neurons from outside damage and have the ability to repair damaged neurons. One other duty of neurotrophic factors is to optimize energy intake and expenditure of the brain [5]. In other words, they give your brain the juice it needs to keep you smart, focused, and aging well.

“intermittent fasting modifies brain neurochemistry and neuronal network activity in ways that optimize brain function”

  1. Get a Huge Decrease in Inflammation

Many studies have shown that intermittent fasting reduces inflammation, especially in the brain [4,5]. This is important because many chronic diseases of the body and the brain may have inflammation at their roots. If the disease isn’t caused by inflammation, it will at least be made worse.

In one study done on overweight men and women, intermittent fasting led to improved mood, lower oxidative stress, and lower inflammation [4]. All of these changes are bound to have a profound impact on their quality of life.

  1. Want to Boost Metabolism?

We normally think of fat in a negative way, but brown fat is actually very healthy as opposed to white fat. It has been shown that intermittent fasting boosts brown fat which is another way the body regulates metabolism. Brown fat allows our bodies to utilize energy more efficiently which is good news for the brain.

Commonly brown fat is only formed through cold exposure. Instead of sitting in an ice bath for an hour, you can just fast instead! In my opinion, that is a much better option.

  1. Powerful Proteins Activated by Intermittent Fasting

In addition to activating neurotrophic factors, intermittent fasting has been shown to activate heat shock proteins and glucose-regulated proteins [2]. These are like your body’s street sweepers. They clean up misfolded proteins and make sure that other proteins are folding properly.

This is important because misfolded proteins cause harm to cells and are typical in the brain-plaques of diseases like Alzheimer’s. Misfolded proteins are also present in some forms of brain cancer, so getting rid of them is crucial. So, in the end, this is another way that intermittent fasting helps out our neurons.

Like attaining brown fat, the most common way to activate these proteins is through a temperature extreme, except the heat-shock proteins require (you guessed it) heat rather than cold. Now you have another method in your molecular activation toolbelt.

  1. Intermittent Fasting Results in Ketosis and Fat Metabolism

intermittent fasting helps fat lossWhen we are eating a diet that contains carbs, our bodies utilize glucose as it’s main fuel source. However, through dietary changes like eating a high-fat diet with low carbs or through intermittent fasting, the body no longer has any glucose to use and turns to fat for energy.

This change in metabolism is called ketosis. Many studies have shown that this switch results in fat loss [5], which leads to less insulin resistance and alleviates the problems of metabolic syndrome like we talked about earlier even more [2].

Intermittent fasting and ketosis are both used in patients with epilepsy to prevent seizures and also to protect neurons from damage [2]. It has also been shown in these cases that this metabolic switch can protect brain cells from outside harm.

  1. Use Energy More Efficiently

While we are on the topic of how our body uses energy, studies also show that intermittent fasting forces the brain to use energy more efficiently [2]. This makes complete sense because although we consciously know we will eat after a given amount of time, the underlying protocols held by our body still act as if we don’t have any more fuel and need to use the rest of our energy more efficiently.

This is specifically shown in our mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell. Most of our energy comes from these little machines in our cells called and intermittent fasting has been shown to help them function, survive, and grow [5,6]. In the brain, this is crucial for optimal function and longevity.

  1. Fasting Increases NAD

Intermittent fasting helps mitochondria use energyNAD, otherwise known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, is a molecule that is essential for energy utilization in mitochondria. This magical molecule is increased by intermittent fasting as well [7]. So, not only does intermittent fasting make mitochondria grow faster and survive longer, but it also increases molecules that help them function.

People take extreme measures to boost NAD, even to the point of paying hundreds of dollars to have it injected via IV. With intermittent fasting, you can boost your own supply naturally for free!

  1. Keep Those Stem-Cells Growing

Stem cell research might be the next revolutionary step in modern medicine. Throughout the body and brain, we have many different types of cells, and stem cells are a special type that can grow into any type.

Intermittent fasting increases stem-cells which are thought to be another reason why we see increased neuronal growth and faster recovery from brain injuries [4,6].

How to Start Intermittent Fasting

drinking coffee while intermittent fastingThe best part about all of this is that intermittent fasting is fairly simple and straightforward. You just restrict your eating (of hopefully healthy, nutritious foods) to 4-10 hours every day, or sporadically go up to 48 hours without eating. The experts say that you don’t even really need to decrease overall calories, just regulate the timing of the calories [5].

I still allow myself to drink calorie-free beverages like coffee and tea. Sometimes I’ll even add some cinnamon to my coffee or drink a spiced tea to give myself some flavor.

“IF can be achieved in with a minimal decrease in overall calorie intake if the refeeding period in which subjects overeat is considered. Thus, fasting cycles provide a much more feasible strategy to achieve the beneficial effects”

The hardest part and maybe the downfall of intermittent fasting is that it requires a large amount of discipline. An amount of discipline that needs to be cultivated by the ‘hangry’ mobs out there in order for it to be successful.

When you have food at your fingertips and feel your stomach begging for you to hit the snacks, you must overcome the urge and know that you are doing your brain (and the rest of your body) a huge favor.

Get Your Fasting Habits Into Rhythm

For most people, this urge comes from your body being in a rhythm of eating frequently throughout the day [8]. When your body is expecting food and you neglect it, the hunger pangs will start, and they might be ferocious. However, research has shown that your body will readjust over a period of about 3-6 weeks to your new eating schedule [5].

This isn’t to say that you won’t still get hungry after your body has adapted. Once I get close to my eating window, I sure do, but the hunger is far less than when I first started. As a long-term diet, however, intermittent fasting has been shown to be easier to maintain than simply reducing overall calories every day [8].

“there is great potential for lifestyles that incorporate intermittent fasting during adult life to promote optimal health and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, particularly for those who are overweight and sedentary”

Something You Should Try

In the end, intermittent fasting is a natural approach that can drastically change the lives of many people if implemented in a healthy way. Science shows that the effect it has on the brain and health in general is undeniable.

Start off just by not eating 2 hours before and after bed and work your way up. Ease your body into it. The longer your fast goes, the stronger the effects become. You get to decide how far you want to go. Just remember to refeed your body completely with nutritious foods afterward.

With all of this said, if you have any medical conditions that may be affected by this diet, contact your primary health practitioner before starting. While the diet may help children and the very old, there has not been nearly as much research done in these areas so proceed with caution.

So, give it a try, stay disciplined, stay healthy, and change your life.

What is your experience with intermittent fasting?

Let us know below!

 

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3442257/pdf/nihms401834.pdf

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622429/pdf/nihms-83496.pdf

[3] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/23da/14a61e0bfa9de0e54dbf9155c0fd45122c56.pdf

[4] https://www.freedomsphoenix.com/Media/Media-Files/1-s2.0-S1568163716302513-Longo-IF.pdf

[5] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413113005032

[6] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413112004020

[7] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/340/6136/1017.2.full.pdf

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2694409/pdf/nihms72749.pdf

Posted on

Meditation or Superpowers? A Simple Case For the Greatest Life Hack

I notice a significant amount of jargon when I read blog posts about meditation and mindfulness. Not that there aren’t great meditation blogs out there, there certainly are. However, a great deal of the information I come across appears to be fashionable and trendy. On one hand, this is great, spreading awareness about these topics can help undermine a shift in collective presence, however, projecting meditation and mindfulness as something they are not isn’t so great.

Here are some examples of what ”meditation will do for you”, according to the internet:

KNOWLEDGE OF PAST LIVES: Witnessing forms, personalities, and events that you have lived through in your past existences. Read more

POWERS OF HEALING: Bringing about miraculous, supernatural recoveries from serious chronic illnesses or ailments. Read more

TELEPATHY: The ability to “read” the minds of other people and know, even across a great distance, what they are thinking and feeling. Read more

VISIONS OF OTHER LANDS: Hearing conversations in different languages, hearing certain events from this and other worlds. Read more

SEEING THE FUTURE: The ability to move into a timeless dimension where one can perceive things which, in the world of linear time, have not yet taken place. Read more

SUSPENSION OF GRAVITY: Levitation, walking on water, even flying is sometimes mentioned under this category of powers. Read more

IMMUNITY TO PAIN: Single-pointedness of mind such that no pain, whether it is physical or mental, cannot reach you. The same is true about hunger and thirst. Read more

INVINCIBILITY: No external force, whether natural or artificial, can displace even a single hair of you.

WISH-FULFILLMENT: As an advanced meditator wishes anything, it will be provided by the so-called unified field and without recourse to ordinary, natural principles. Read more

superhero-534120_1920

This was an amusing list I discovered where real research has been taken out of context. Keep in mind journalists have a job, and that job involves attracting attention to their stories and reports. What better way to do this than to appeal to our emotions and ultimate fantasies? For example,  research has indicated that under the instruction of a certified meditation teacher, over the course of a few days, healthy volunteers reported 40 percent reductions in pain. This pain was purposefully induced and MRI scans of their brains were performed while the pain was induced. This is quite significant, but the conclusion that meditation creates an immunity to pain is absurd.

Nevertheless…

The real reason I’m writing this is to inform you that meditation CAN give you superpowers, depending on your definition of superpowers. I’m going to be modest when I say that meditation and mindfulness are the most powerful tools humans have discovered. They are tools that give us the ability to enrich life on a profound level. The East has known this for thousands of years, science is proving this now.

What if you could live two to three times longer by dedicating 20-30 minutes a day towards a certain practice? Would you do it? I have a difficult time believing most people would pass up on this opportunity. Well, what about living 2-3 times bigger than you otherwise would have? Seems impossible, but the means is quite simple: meditation elevates a person’s base level focus. By focus, we are referring to the ability to attend to what is relevant in any given situation. By base level, we are referring to how focused you automatically get in daily life when you’re not making an effort to be focused. If you are consistently 2-3 times more focused within your daily life then you’re living life 2-3 times bigger, 2-3 times richer.

Cultivation

If only more people realized these states of focus and presence in life are trainable. You don’t need anything special. All you do is systematically practice, and your baseline focus can and will be improve. We all have moments of sporadic flow, moments of intense focus, but they are often short-lived. When in fact, they don’t have to be.

building-2665812_1920Imagine trying to strengthen your muscles adequately without learning proper form or implementing the exercises into your habitual routine. You wouldn’t expect to strengthen your muscles without putting prolonged effort into the exercises. You can think about strengthening your focus muscles in a similar fashion. Enhancing your physical muscles will allow you to tap into added strength all day long, not just when exercising. The same is to be said about enhancing your concentration, the added focus is available to you throughout the entire day. Following this logic, meditation is the most important study a human being can undertake considering concentration and focus are the base of all human aspiration.

 

brain-2146817_1280As you continue to meditate your alertness will become sharper and your relaxation will get deeper. This a result of the increased Alpha waves your brain produces while you meditate. These alpha waves are characteristic of being alert and relaxed at the same time. By way of contrast, the average person who does not meditate can only maintain this state if their eyes are closed. Adept meditators have high levels of alpha brain waves even while their eyes remain open. There are several studies such as this one that show this increase in brain wave harmonization.

Altogether, practicing meditation and mindfulness will boost your base focus in life and allow you to attend to what’s relevant with greater precision. Having efficient concentration is the basis for learning any skill, from mathematics to carpentry. This is what leads me to believe that meditation is perhaps the most valuable tool in the human arsenal. Why wouldn’t you want to increase the richness of your life?

If you’d like to learn more about meditation please follow our blog, we will be consistently writing and sharing more.

Recommended short video:

Posted on

How the Gut Controls the Mind and Heals the Brain

gut health affects brain health

Believe it or not, many ancient people thought that most of our thinking and what we consider to be our ‘mind’ was centered in the heart. That’s where the sayings “follow your heart”, “heartbreak”, “follow your heart’s passion” and many others came from.

This was fairly rational for the time given that not much was known about human anatomy, but now we know definitively that our consciousness and control center is solely located in the brain, right? Well, not completely.

In our bodies, bacterial cells outnumber human cells and research is showing that they have a say in how the body operates and possibly how the brain functions as well. Bacteria are becoming known as ‘the forgotten organ’ for the role they play.

It has also been shown that when our body gets harmed, and more specifically our brains, the microbiome may be harmed and play an important role in the healing process.

The Role Bacteria Play In General Health

Given the importance, it’s startling how recent the discovery was of the true role bacteria play in our bodies. They are crucial for digestion, development and maintenance of the immune system, defense against infection, formation of blood vessels as well as acting as a wall of defense that sifts through what goes in and out of our body through the digestive tract [1].

Depending on the health of the microbiome (the community of bacteria whose home is the body), inflammation can either be boosted or suppressed. This is important because an unhealthy microbiome has been associated with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis in addition to others such as obesity, heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [1].

So, the point is that the microbiome is very important for general health, but back to the original topic, what about the brain?

The Gut-Brain Connection

I once thought that all of our neurons were kept in the brain, and I was wrong. It’s an interesting fact that there are many neurons in the gastrointestinal tract (the gut) and they form a large network called the enteric nervous system (ENS) [2].

The ENS is deeply connected to the Central Nervous System (CNS) and the brain through the Vagus Nerve. This connection is called the gut-brain axis. The microbiome plays a role by sending signals that influence the ENS which then directly influences the CNS [3].

While we are still in the early stages of the gut bacteria story, you can see how the little bacteria in our bodies may have more control over us than we think. Furthermore, researchers have found that modifications to the microbiome can affect the immune system responses in the CNS [4] and may be crucial to CNS function [5].

This back and forth communication is important for the proper function of our gut and possibly mental health, given that 90% of our serotonin is stored in our gastrointestinal tract [1].

The link between the microbiome and the brain doesn’t stop there. The gut can influence the brain through many other pathways as well including hormonal production, upkeep of the blood-brain barrier, and metabolism (gut bacteria break down a lot of what we eat) [6].

How the Gut Affects Brain Health

Because of the massive amount of input the brain and CNS receive from the microbiome, you can probably predict that there will be health implications.

Right off the bat, there have been a few studies that have linked the gut-brain axis to many CNS and brain malfunctions. Conditions such as autism, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, stress, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s among others have been associated with an unhealthy gut microbiome [7].

“The gut microbiota likely plays a role in a wide range of neurological conditions, including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, stress, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease”

It is well known that patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are also highly likely to develop depression as well. One study found that administering probiotics to patients with IBS not only alleviated gastrointestinal problems, but their depression was significantly improved as well [8].

In another study, patients lacking healthy diversity in their microbiome were more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression [9]. This is especially interesting given that most of our serotonin is held in the gut.

These recent studies are causing the entire medical field to reconsider how we determine causes for brain diseases and the significance placed on the health of the gut.

How Brain Health Affects the Gut

The gut-brain axis isn’t a one-way street. The health of the brain also can have effects on the microbiome as well. One big area of focus among researchers is how the microbiome changes after traumatic brain injuries (TBI). If you’ve ever had a brain injury, this is important.

Studies show that there are specific alterations to gut bacteria following traumatic brain injuries [1]. In mice, TBI made changes to microbiome composition just two hours after the event [1]. The changes were harmful because they decreased the diversity in the gut, most of which came from decreasing the ‘good’ bacteria and increasing ‘bad’ bacteria [3].

One study among stroke patients had similar findings as the mouse study. After having a stroke, the diversity of organisms in the gut drastically decreased and digestive problems and bad bacteria increased [10]. All of this was accompanied by an increase in inflammation.

“A decrease in relative abundance in traditionally beneficial bacteria was observed, specifically in the families Lachnospiraceae, Mogibacteriaceae, and Ruminococcaceae.”

We saw earlier that problems with gut bacteria may be a cause of anxiety and other mental health issues, but it has also been shown that stress can also harm the gut as well, another two-way street [11].

If you’ve ever had a TBI such as a concussion, stroke or other issues, it is very possible that your gut suffered as well without you even knowing about it.

Physiological Problems Caused By An Unhealthy Gut

So, we know that an unhealthy gut microbiome can cause serious problems for brain health along with brain injuries causing disruptions in gut health, but why does this happen?

Unfortunately, other than knowing that the gut and brain are connected through the ENS, CNS and Vagus Nerve, scientists aren’t sure about the exact mechanism through which they affect each other. However, we do know the consequences of this connection.

When the gut microbiome gets harmed, there is an influx of inflammation that wreaks havoc throughout the body and brain, creating a nasty loop that can possibly make the brain injury worse [1].

In addition to this, the defense that is normally provided by healthy bacteria breaks down, allowing mischievous ‘bad’ bacteria to spread to places in the body they normally aren’t allowed [12]. This is the cause of much of the inflammation due to an immune response to fight the misplaced bacteria. The breakdown can also make it harder to digest nutrients required for brain recovery.

When it comes down to it, inflammation is one of the root causes of many chronic diseases especially in the brain, so harming the gut microbiome can be devastating.

In addition to this, when the microbiome isn’t functioning properly, the serotonin in the gut may not be stored properly which might cause some of the mental health problems. There really is a plethora of different explanations for why the two can harm each other.

What You Can Do To Boost Gut Health

In general, gut health is very important if you want to live a long and healthy life. It is especially important if you’ve had or are recovering from a TBI. Luckily, you have quite a bit of control over the health of your microbiome. Those little bacteria that outnumber your own cells rely on you to give them what they need to be successful.

It has been shown that diet plays a large role in microbiome health [13], and likely the largest role. Going a bit deeper, studies show that the diversity of vegetables you eat is correlated with the diversity of bacteria in the gut, which is what we want [14].

It is also well known that processed foods are the arch-nemesis of a healthy microbiome. In general, focusing on eating whole foods is one of the best things you can do for your gut.

As we mentioned earlier, anxiety and stress are also detrimental to the health of the microbiome, so findings ways to de-stress and live more peacefully can help them out. Other healthy lifestyle practices such as taking walks out in nature and getting regular exercise are very beneficial as well.

Another way to replenish gut diversity to eat foods and take supplements that contain healthy bacteria. Probiotics (pills with healthy bacteria) and foods like kombucha, kimchi, kefir, and Greek yogurt are all some ways to eat your way to better gut health.

More specific supplements for gut health include glutamine, arginine, nucleotides, and omega-3 fatty acids [15]. In addition to these, vitamins and minerals such as nicotinamide, zinc, and magnesium have also been shown to yield healthy gut flora [16].

The Take-Away

So, we have seen here that the gut-brain axis deeply connects our microbiome to the brain. The health of one is dependent on the health of the other. While this can harm us if one is unhealthy, it can also help us if we are proactive about our health.

If you do suffer from a TBI, the microbiome takes a hit as well. However, researchers are speculating that we can use this to our advantage. By stabilizing and improving the health of the microbiome, we could possibly speed the brain’s recovery process.

In general, the key is to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle if we want optimal microbiome health and brain function. This is something that is possible for everyone and based off of the research, might be necessary for everyone.

There was a lot of information here! Here are some quick points to sum it all up:

  • The health of our microbiome (gut bacteria) is crucial for general health.
  • More and more research is showing that the microbiome plays a large role in brain health
    • Sends signals through the enteric nervous system to the central nervous system and the brain.
    • The gut microbiome can either increase or decrease inflammation. More inflammation can be harmful to the brain.
    • An unhealthy microbiome has been associated with various brain conditions.
  • New research also shows that brain health can affect microbiome health.
    • Brain injuries have been shown to decrease microbiome health
    • The harm to the microbiome could possibly cause increased inflammation, making the brain injury worse.
  • The good news is that we have a lot of control over microbiome health which could speed the brain’s recovery process.
    • Some easy steps to a healthier microbiome:
      • Eat a balanced diet with minimally processed foods and a variety of vegetables.
      • Take walks under the sun and in nature.
      • Exercise Regularly
      • Eat foods with good bacteria like yogurt, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, and probiotics.
      • Give your gut the minerals and vitamins it needs

 

What is your experience with the connection between gut and brain health?

How do you keep your gut healthy?

 

For articles that go more in-depth into the gut-brain axis, here are two good ones:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain- 

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/gut-brain-connection#section1

References
[1] Zhu, Caroline, et al. “A Review of Traumatic Brain Injury and the Gut Microbiome: Insights into Novel Mechanisms of Secondary Brain Injury and Promising Targets for Neuroprotection.” Brain Sciences, vol. 8, no. 6, 2018, p. 113., doi:10.3390/brainsci8060113.
[2] Leaphart, C.L.; Tepas, J.J., III. The gut is a motor of organ system dysfunction. Surgery 2007, 141, 563–569.
[3] Yoo, B.B.; Mazmanian, S.K. The Enteric Network: Interactions between the Immune and Nervous Systems of the Gut. Immunity 2017, 46, 910–926
[4] Grandhi, R.; Bonfield, C.M.; Newman, W.C.; Okonkwo, D.O. Surgical management of traumatic brain injury: A review of guidelines, pathophysiology, neurophysiology, outcomes, and controversies. J. Neurosurg. Sci. 2014, 58, 249–259
[5] Mu, C.; Yang, Y.; Zhu, W. Gut Microbiota: The Brain Peacekeeper. Front. Microbiol. 2016, 7, 345
[6] Wang, H.X.; Wang, Y.P. Gut Microbiota-brain Axis. Chin. Med. J. 2016, 129, 2373–2380
[7] Mayer, E.A.; Knight, R.; Mazmanian, S.K.; Cryan, J.F.; Tillisch, K. Gut microbes and the brain: Paradigm shift in neuroscience. J. Neurosci. 2014, 34, 15490–15496
[8] Pinto-Sanchez, M.I.; Hall, G.B.; Ghajar, K.; Nardelli, A.; Bolino, C.; Lau, J.T.; Martin, F.P.; Cominetti, O.; Welsh, C.; Rieder, A.; et al. Probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 Reduces Depression Scores and Alters Brain Activity: A Pilot Study in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology 2017, 153, 448–459
[9] Kleiman, S.C.; Watson, H.J.; Bulik-Sullivan, E.C.; Huh, E.Y.; Tarantino, L.M.; Bulik, C.M.; Carroll, I.M. The Intestinal Microbiota in Acute Anorexia Nervosa and During Renourishment: Relationship to Depression, Anxiety, and Eating Disorder Psychopathology. Psychosom. Med. 2015, 77, 969–981
[10] Earley, Z.M.; Akhtar, S.; Green, S.J.; Naqib, A.; Khan, O.; Cannon, A.R.; Hammer, A.M.; Morris, N.L.; Li, X.; Eberhardt, J.M.; et al. Burn Injury Alters the Intestinal Microbiome and Increases Gut Permeability and Bacterial Translocation. PLoS ONE 2015, 10, e0129996.
[11] Houlden, A.; Goldrick, M.; Brough, D.; Vizi, E.S.; Lenart, N.; Martinecz, B.; Roberts, I.S.; Denes, A. Brain injury induces specific changes in the caecal microbiota of mice via altered autonomic activity and mucoprotein production. Brain Behav. Immun. 2016, 57, 10–20
[12] Bansal, V.; Costantini, T.; Kroll, L.; Peterson, C.; Loomis, W.; Eliceiri, B.; Baird, A.; Wolf, P.; Coimbra, R. Traumatic brain injury and intestinal dysfunction: Uncovering the neuro-enteric axis. J. Neurotrauma 2009, 26, 1353–1359.
[13] Griffin, N.W.; Ahern, P.P.; Cheng, J.; Heath, A.C.; Ilkayeva, O.; Newgard, C.B.; Fontana, L.; Gordon, J.I. Prior Dietary Practices and Connections to a Human Gut Microbial Metacommunity Alter Responses to Diet Interventions. Cell Host Microbe 2017, 21, 84–96.
[14] McDonald, D.; Hyde, E.; Debelius, J.W.; Morton, J.T.; Gonzalez, A.; Ackermann, G.; Aksenov, A.A.; Behsaz, B.; Brennan, C.; Chen, Y.; et al. American Gut: An Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research. mSystems 2018, 3.
[15] David, L.A.; Maurice, C.F.; Carmody, R.N.; Gootenberg, D.B.; Button, J.E.; Wolfe, B.E.; Ling, A.V.; Devlin, A.S.; Varma, Y.; Fischbach, M.A.; et al. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature 2014, 505, 559–563.`
[16] Lucke-Wold, B.P.; Logsdon, A.F.; Nguyen, L.; Eltanahay, A.; Turner, R.C.; Bonasso, P.; Knotts, C.; Moeck, A.; Maroon, J.C.; Bailes, J.E.; et al. Supplements, nutrition, and alternative therapies for the treatment of traumatic brain injury. Nutr. Neurosci. 2018, 21, 79–91
Posted on

The Link Between Tylenol and ADHD

Tylenol associated with ADHD babies

As a parent, you try to do everything in your power to keep your child healthy. Keeping harmful chemicals away from them is essential to accomplish this goal.

You might buy organic food to avoid pesticides. Perhaps a scent-free laundry detergent would be an easy way to eliminate a few unneeded artificial fragrances from seeping into your child through their skin. There are many measures that can be taken to keep your child safe.

healthy babies over the counter medicationWhat about when they are still developing in the womb? Almost everything the mother eats and does to herself will end up affecting the baby in some way. This is a daunting idea, but luckily, most of what we eat and subject ourselves to is benign.

However, there are many things that are known to be dangerous and should be avoided. This list includes drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and many others. I thought it was mostly limited to substances that are already known to be bad for you, but this might not be the case.

Can Tylenol Really Cause ADHD?

The Evidence

In recent years, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, has been associated with increased levels of ADHD in children with mothers who took the drug [1].

A Norwegian study done in 2014 looked through data on 112973 children and found that long-term acetaminophen use among mothers was associated with ADHD in the children [7].

“Long-term maternal use of acetaminophen during pregnancy was substantially associated with ADHD even after adjusting for indications of use, familial risk of ADHD, and other potential confounders”

Furthermore, another study came out soon after to see if they could replicate those results. Indeed, the New Zealand researchers came to the same conclusion that acetaminophen use in mothers was correlated to ADHD [8].

keep children's brain healthyWhile these results are frightening, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. By that, what I mean is just because acetaminophen use was correlated with ADHD doesn’t mean that it was the sole cause.

However, another study showed that mothers who had acetaminophen in their system after birth also had children with significantly higher levels of ADHD [1].

This study was a bit more objective with their data since they were searching for actual blood biomarkers that showed acetaminophen use. They also found that as the amount of acetaminophen in the blood increased, so did the prevalence of ADHD. In mothers with medium and high amounts of acetaminophen in their system, ADHD was increased by 55% and 88% respectively.

How Acetaminophen Makes It to The Babies

This research is particularly disturbing because it has been found that in the US, 65% of mothers take acetaminophen throughout their pregnancy. The use in Europe is slightly less, but still high at 50% [2,3].

All of this begs the question, how does acetaminophen make it to the babies in the first place? Well, mostly like any other nutrients the baby absorbs. Once the drug is digested by the mother, it is rapidly transferred to the baby through the umbilical cord [6]. It has also been shown that mothers can pass the drug to their children even after birth through breast milk [1].

However, acetaminophen can end up staying in the baby’s body for much longer than adults because of an underdeveloped liver. In adults, acetaminophen hangs around for about 5.5 hours, but in baby’s, it can stick around for as long as 26 hours [6].

This is dangerous because even in adults, the changes Tylenol makes occur quite rapidly in the brain.

What Does Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Do?

Don’t get me wrong, acetaminophen is an amazing drug that helps many people overcome pain and decrease the severity of fevers. It does this by inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis [4]. Prostaglandins are molecular messengers in the body that transmit pain signals and induce fever.

how acetaminophen affects the brainProstaglandins also play other important roles in brain function such as strengthening synapses to help with brain communication, increasing learning, and facilitating brain development [1]. So, it works well in adults and in low doses in children, but babies that are unable to metabolize the drug run into problems.

Aside from what acetaminophen does in its ‘normal’ form, the inability to break it down inside the baby could also lead to other harmful byproducts [1].

Takeaways for ADHD and What To Do

With those potential causes listed, more research is needed to find the exact harm that acetaminophen does to developing brains. Researchers have found other ADHD risk factors such as maternal obesity, low birth weight, premature birth, and exposure to harmful chemicals.

Acetaminophen use will likely be added to that list along with many others as researchers continue their grueling search to help us all be safer. This research isn’t meant to be frightening, but rather empowering. When it comes to your child, you want to know as much as possible so that you can give them the healthiest and best shot at life possible.

So, if you are running a fever or are in pain, by all means, take Tylenol. However, be mindful of the potential damage it can do long-term and possibly mix in some other drugs so that nothing builds up in the baby over time. As always, consult your primary care physician before making any changes to your current regime.

What are your thoughts?

Do you have any experience with this?

Comment below!

References
[1] Ji, Y., Riley, A., & Lee, L. et al. (2018). Maternal Biomarkers of Acetaminophen Use and Offspring Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Brain Sciences, 8(127).
[2] Lupattelli, A.; Spigset, O.; Twigg, M.J.; Zagorodnikova, K.; Mardby, A.C.; Moretti, M.E.; Drozd, M.; Panchaud, A.; Hameen-Anttila, K.; Rieutord, A.; et al. Medication use in pregnancy: A cross-sectional, multinational web-based study. BMJ Open 2014, 4, e004365.
[3] Werler, M.M.; Mitchell, A.A.; Hernandez-Diaz, S.; Honein, M.A. Use of over-the-counter medications during pregnancy. Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 2005, 193, 771–777.
[4] Dean, S.L.; Knutson, J.F.; Krebs-Kraft, D.L.; McCarthy, M.M. Prostaglandin e2 is an endogenous modulator of cerebellar development and complex behavior during a sensitive postnatal period. Eur. J. Neurosci. 2012, 35, 1218–1229
[5] Randles, D.; Kam, J.W.; Heine, S.J.; Inzlicht, M.; Handy, T.C. Acetaminophen attenuates error evaluation in cortex. Soc. Cogn. Affect. Neurosci. 2016, 11, 899–906
[6] Levy, G.; Garrettson, L.K.; Soda, D.M. Letter: Evidence of placental transfer of acetaminophen. Pediatrics 1975, 55, 895.
[7] Ystrom, E.; Gustavson, K.; Brandlistuen, R.E.; Knudsen, G.P.; Magnus, P.; Susser, E.; Davey Smith, G.; Stoltenberg, C.; Suren, P.; Haberg, S.E.; et al. Prenatal exposure to acetaminophen and risk of adhd. Pediatrics 2017, 140
[8] Thompson, J.M.; Waldie, K.E.; Wall, C.R.; Murphy, R.; Mitchell, E.A. ABC Study Group. Associations between acetaminophen use during pregnancy and adhd symptoms measured at ages 7 and 11 years. PLoS ONE 2014, 9, e108210
Posted on

Two Super Supplements To Combat Reactive Oxygen Species In The Brain

turmeric and resveratrol for brain health

After a quick search for ‘brain power’ or ‘brain health’ on Google or social media, you’ll likely come across many posts with so-called ‘brain superfoods’. Common food such as avocados, various nuts, chia seeds, and maybe even sardines will litter your search results

curcumin and resveratrol aid the brain's longevityWhile these are all great and should be a part of a balanced diet, I am always personally more interested in digging deeper to find less known foods and supplements that still yield powerful benefits for brain health that are also backed by science.

I stumbled upon a recent study by Davery and Agrawal that fit this description perfectly. It explained how beneficial curcumin (from turmeric root—Curcuma longa) and resveratrol (from grapes, wine, and nuts) are for brain health, function and longevity. It turns out that they are quite the molecular superheroes when it comes to fighting one of the brain’s biggest villains, reactive oxygen species.

Reactive Oxygen Species

Now, before I go into what they found, it would be useful (and necessary) to learn about reactive oxygen species (ROS), where they come from, and why they are harmful. In short, reactive oxygen species are unstable molecules that contain an oxygen.

ROS harm cells once past defensesInside of our bodies, ROS are always being made through metabolism and breathing, but luckily our natural antioxidants mainly take care of them [1]. However, if we have too much inflammation in the body such as that caused by eating an unhealthy diet, we may have an excess of ROS which can allow them to enter our cells.

Once past the cell’s natural defenses, they wreak havoc on the inside. The ROS then cause “oxidative stress” which can damage our DNA, fats, proteins, and can contribute to brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple forms of cancer. While ROS do serve a few purposes inside the body, it is important that they are kept in check through diet and, as this study points out, supplements.

Protecting Our Brains From Reactive Oxygen Species

Curcumin and resveratrol are two old dogs when it comes to the supplement world. People and cultures have been consuming them for ages, although they mainly have just been a part of their diet. Recently, however, I have started to see them pop up more and more on the shelves of nutrition shops and health stores.

Despite this, most users don’t typically think of brain health when consuming the capsules. Though the anti-aging and anti-inflammation properties of the two are backed by science, new research shows that curcumin and resveratrol should also be considered brain supplements as well. Here’s why.

Curcumin and Resveratrol for the Brain

The researchers I mentioned above wanted to determine specifically how curcumin and resveratrol protected brain cells from ROS, the nasty enemy of health and the brain. What they did was fairly straightforward: expose brain cells to ROS and see if they could be rescued by the two supplements.

supplements for brain power and longevityMore specifically, the cells used by the researchers were called astrocytes, the most abundant cells in the central nervous system. They play an important role in how well the body and mind function while simultaneously holding some control of inflammation in the brain. While all cells are important, they chose arguably the MOST important to do their experiments on.

When placed under oxidative stress from excess ROS, astrocytes can die which is detrimental to brain health, but alternatively, removing oxidative stress can make them live longer and improve longevity. This is because astrocytes don’t have the same antioxidants that are seen in many other cells.

Now, on to their results! They found that both resveratrol and curcumin made the astrocytes live significantly longer than the control without them. Interestingly, curcumin was more effective short-term (4 hours after administration) and resveratrol was more effective after a longer time-period (24 hours after administration).

In addition to this, curcumin was able to reduce inflammation in the brain cells caused by oxidative damage, while resveratrol was not. Curcumin has also been shown to repair some of the damage done by inflammation and oxidative stress as well. These results are important because it shows that these two supplements can somewhat make up for the brain cell’s lack of defense against ROS by protecting them.

“Curcumin and Resveratrol both protected astrocytes from oxidative stress thus potentially using them for treating various neurodegenerative diseases.”

The Takeaway

Based on the results, the researchers concluded that it might be a good idea to supplement with both curcumin and resveratrol. While I agree with this, if you have a limited budget, go with just turmeric extract as it is cheaper, and research suggests it is more broadly applicable to other parts of the body.

As a side note, if you want these same benefits, you will likely need to invest in a supplement (like the ones listed below) instead of just incorporating turmeric into your diet as the root powder won’t have the specific compounds in a high enough concentration to be helpful. So, give one a try to keep your brain happy and healthy!

Turmeric (Curcumin) Supplements To Try:

Premium Extract: https://amzn.to/2Kmx0P6

Budget Extract: https://amzn.to/2KqGGYW

Liquid Extract: https://amzn.to/2KbZGOK

Resveratrol Supplements To Try:

Premium: https://amzn.to/2tHWn6L

Budget: https://amzn.to/2MrHTzK

References

[1] Devasagayam, TPA; Tilak JC; Boloor KK; Sane Ketaki S; Ghaskadbi Saroj S; Lele RD (October 2004). “Free Radicals and Antioxidants in Human Health: Current Status and Future Prospects”. Journal of Association of Physicians of India (JAPI) 52: 796.

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899318302476

 

supplements for brain power and longevity

Posted on

Why Alzheimer’s Disease Can Be Called “Type 3 Diabetes” and How to Prevent It

preventing alzheimer's disease

In today’s first world countries, most people live in abundance. This should be and is a great blessing to everyone who experiences the comfort it brings. This truly is one of the best times to be alive. We can drive to the grocery store and spend a fraction of our income to obtain all the food we need. Humans before us wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.

grocery store abundant unhealthy foodHowever, this also gets us into trouble. While modern society has developed in many positive ways, we are still the same humans as our ancestors who were built solely to survive off whatever resources were available to them.

We all have the instinct to splurge on food as if we did not know when the next time it would be seen. However, nutrients are always available, and if this habit continuously repeats itself with unhealthy foods, we have a real problem on our hands.

We see this problem manifest itself daily as a detriment to our health. Humanity brings more disease upon itself through lifestyle choice than ever before. The list of well-known diseases that can be self-inflicted include obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and many more, but how lifestyle plays into the health of our brains isn’t spoken of as often. What about diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), which is projected to afflict as many as 13.5 million people by 2050?

The Story of Alzheimer’s as Type 3 Diabetes

I was reading a review article by Song, Whitcomb, and Kim about how intertwined AD and diabetes are and what they spoke of was stunning. They discussed how new information about AD points towards it really being “Type 3 diabetes”. A diabetes of the brain.

For me personally, AD always seemed sort of mystical. It just happened to some people as they aged and there was no specific cause or anything we could do about it. I have known a few people with the condition and hoped that it never happened to me in old age.

With this new research, I don’t think I will experience it, and if you read this information carefully, you could possibly reduce your risk as well. Before we get to that, however, a bit of a story needs to be told about why exactly AD is being called Type 3 Diabetes.

Shared Risk Factors Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Diabetes

People with Type 2 Diabetes have a much higher chance of getting AD than the average person. There are even some common characteristics that are true to almost every case of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) and to AD. Let’s dive into some of the details.

Insulin Resistance

Due to a constant influx of sugar from poor dietary choices, the pancreas is forced to produce more and more insulin to get glucose out of the blood and into cells where it can either be burned immediately or converted to fat for energy storage.

Insulin resistance from too much sugar alzheimersHowever, our pancreas and cells weren’t meant to handle copious amounts of sugar. In a healthy person, there should only be about a teaspoon of sugar in our blood. What happens when we eat a bag of candy that contains 10, 15 or 20 teaspoons worth of sugar? The pancreas spits out insulin to clear it out, but if this happens consistently, our cells become insulin resistant.

Science hasn’t nailed down all of the reasons for why this happens, but our cells stop being able to use insulin efficiently and more is required to shuttle away the same amount of sugar. That is why people with T2D are in a dire condition; their bodies have broken and cannot process sugar properly.

In addition to this, the pancreas begins to malfunction. In a time when we need MORE insulin due to insulin resistance, the workload on the pancreas is already too high which leads to a slow shutdown. The result is high blood sugar which is why diabetics need medication.

At this point, you may be wondering how this relates to the brain. Well, it has been shown that the progression of AD depends on the brain’s ability to use glucose, its main source of energy. Unfortunately, the effects of insulin resistance don’t just stay below the neck. Our brains become insulin resistant as well which makes them unable to make as much energy.

Even without looking at AD, this inability of the brain to get energy causes a general cognitive decline in many people with T2D. Although we mainly talk about insulin’s sole purpose being blood sugar regulation, it becomes very different in the brain. Be prepared, this is where it gets very, very interesting.

Older adults alzheimers preventionInsulin and the Brain

In the brain, insulin has a protective effect and is even responsible for memory. On the protective side of things, insulin resistance has been shown to harm neuron cells inside the hippocampus (which is responsible for much of our long-term memory). This makes sense when we think about some of the symptoms of AD such as memory loss.

“Insulin is known to be neuroprotective and has powerful effects on memory”

In a few different studies, the hippocampus has been shown to regulate memories through the use of insulin. The hippocampus is lined with insulin receptors (things on the edge of cells that catch molecules of insulin) which become damaged through insulin resistance as well. On average, patients with AD have about 80% fewer insulin receptors than a healthy person.

To be a bit more straightforward, studies have shown that deficiencies in insulin receptors directly lead to memory dysfunction. Insulin resistance in the brain has been shown to stunt chemicals that function to help new neurons grow and proteins that increase memory and learning ability are unable to be activated. Even more, molecules that increase the number of misfolded proteins are made which could lead to the characteristic harmful plaques that are seen in the brains of AD patients.

“insulin resistance and impaired insulin signaling are significantly related to tau hyperphosphorylation and Aβ deposition (plaque buildup) in AD, and ultimately contribute to cognitive decline”

Since there is a lot of information packed in a tight space above, here is a quick summary:

Insulin resistance harms the brain because…

  • Insulin receptors (especially in the hippocampus) are damaged.
    • Insulin receptors are the main way the brain can use insulin.
  • Cells in the brain don’t get enough energy from glucose.
  • Proteins that promote neuron growth and survival are stunted.
  • Molecules that are involved in learning and memory cannot get activated.
  • Proteins misfold and form harmful plaques.

High Blood Sugar and the Brain

Damage to the brain in people with AD from symptoms shared with diabetes doesn’t stop with insulin resistance. Since the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, the high blood sugar dilemma also causes problems in the brain. Luckily for us, this part is a bit more straightforward.

unhealthy brain alzheimersToo much glucose flowing through the brain has been shown to harm the cells that make up the blood-brain barrier (BBB). You’ve most likely heard of the BBB, but in short, it is a fortress of cells that decides very selectively what is able to go in and out of the brain. When this defense mechanism is harmed, holes open up that allow unwanted molecules and proteins into the brain.

Some of these unwanted proteins are misfolded and form the plaques that we have heard about a few times already. Although we don’t completely understand how and why these plaques form, scientists are fairly certain that insulin resistance and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) play a big role.

“hyperglycemia-induced BBB disruption might play an important role in the onset and progression of AD”

Another side effect of having hyperglycemia is that harmful radicals are formed. These radicals can go on to do many negative things such as causing us to age and harm our DNA, but most importantly for the brain, they increase inflammation. This increase in inflammation has also been associated with the build-up of plaques and consequently lowers cognitive ability and diminishes memory even further.

“Type 3 diabetes (Alzheimer’s Disease) is related to the prevalence of [Type 2 Diabetes] and results from insulin resistance and hyperglycemia”

We Aren’t Helpless in This Fight For Our Brains

The description about AD given above may make the situation for many of us seem a bit dismal. After all, the CDC reports that over 100 million people are diabetic or prediabetic in America alone. However, I think that knowing what causes AD is more empowering than fearful. Instead of hoping you don’t just become another statistic, there are ways that we can live that can greatly reduce our risk.

melatonin for brain healthMelatonin and the Fight Against AD

When reading the common risk factors for diabetes, most of them (insulin sensitivity, hyperglycemia, etc.) make sense, but one stood out to me that didn’t: sleep trouble. Why would problems sleeping be a risk factor for diabetes?

It turns out that melatonin does much more than regulate sleep. When your circadian rhythm is out of tune from a lack of melatonin, having trouble sleeping is just a warning sign for much larger problems. No, you won’t just have less energy throughout the day from not sleeping as well, but melatonin also plays a crucial role in some of the risk factors for AD and T2D. There is some amazing new research detailing melatonin’s importance that was described by the same review paper.

How Does Melatonin Help Us?

Interestingly, 45% of patients with AD have trouble sleeping which points towards them having a problem with their melatonin. It turns out melatonin is quite the molecular superhero when it comes to the brain, acting as a protector that can break up plaque accumulation while simultaneously helping synapses to function properly.

Melatonin has also been shown in a multitude of studies to lower insulin resistance and regulate blood glucose levels, both of which are enormous problems that lead to AD and T2D. Furthermore, melatonin is even starting to be prescribed to patients with AD as a viable treatment option.

As if this wasn’t enough to validate melatonin, it also can help to reduce some of the inflammation caused by hyperglycemia in the brain. In mice, melatonin supplementation has been shown to reduce some of the memory loss caused by AD as well. This makes sense as it specifically improves synapse function in the hippocampus where much of our memory is held.

“Melatonin may be a key to improving memory function by suppressing the cell damage induced by Aβ toxicity and tau hyperphosphorylation”

How to Use Melatonin To Our Advantage

The paper only detailed how melatonin helps, so the following is my personal recommendation. We now know that maintaining healthy melatonin levels and a regular circadian rhythm is crucial to fending off some of the risk factors for T2D and AD. So, let’s do this!

We can make changes to our lifestyle to keep melatonin and circadian rhythm in check. Yes, genetic factors do play a role, but we really can’t do anything about that (yet) but you CAN make lifestyle changes to combat this. Here’s what you should do based off other research I have studied:

  • Go to sleep at the same time every night no matter what day of the week it is.
  • Put away electronics at least 45 minutes before bed.
  • Exercise in the morning.
  • Eat a healthy diet that allows your body to function properly
    • It has been shown that allowing hyperglycemia and insulin resistance to occur in your body can harm circadian rhythm and melatonin production.
  • Take supplements that boost melatonin and help circadian rhythm

For more depth on how to get the best sleep possible, read more here.

healthy lifestyle to prevent alzheimersLive the Lifestyle Your Body Deserves

While melatonin is an important factor to consider when thinking about how to give yourself the best chance of avoiding T2D and AD, the elephant in the room is that our lifestyle choices remain the largest risk factor for T2D and, from new research, possibly AD.

In the average person, hyperglycemia and insulin resistance are simply caused by eating an unhealthy diet and not exercising enough. Going back to the introduction of this article, our current environment of abundance and comfort provides us with the ability to live the best life possible, but it can be abused.

The most important thing that we can do is eat less sugar and processed foods while making sure to exercise regularly. It’s very straightforward, but hard to put into practice. For me, sacrificing some comfort and pleasure is worth lowering my risk of T2D and AD along with many other chronic diseases.

Takeaway

In the end, it comes down to what you want for your future and where your priorities lie. Alzheimer’s disease is being called “Type 3 Diabetes” because we are learning that it shares many risk factors with diabetes. If you take anything away from this, it should be a sense of empowerment because you can make decisions that will lower your chance of being afflicted with these diseases and make choices that will improve your quality of life. So, enjoy the benefits of modern society but get good sleep and most importantly, live a healthy life if you want to protect your brain.

What is your experience with these diseases?

What have you been successful with?

References:

https://tinyurl.com/ydb9loar

Posted on

Finding Your Optimal Temperature For Maximum Productivity

Finding the best temperature for maximum productivity

I have vivid memories of walking to my college classes on a warm day, hoping that that day would be different. Maybe the school had made some drastic changes and it wouldn’t be the same as last time. However, every time I let this optimism creep into my mind, my hopes were dashed when I sat down and realized that I would be sweating for the rest of class due to the high temperature of the classroom.

higher productivityDuring this time I would constantly be thinking about the sweat marks on my back, the droplets forming on my forehead, and repositioning myself so that heat could escape. In between these thoughts, I would try to pay attention to the professor, but my attempts were futile. As the room seemed to close in around me and get warmer, my attention and ability to work would further diminish. If it were an exam day, the extent of my stress from the situation was only compounded.

It made me wonder why a school that is so dedicated to academics would make such a simple error. If I felt this way, there must surely be others who are in the same boat. Researchers have actually studied how room temperature affects cognitive performance, and while university administration may have neglected it, we can still use it to make ourselves more productive with our own work.

How Temperature Effects Productivity in School Children

There have been many studies done on productivity in the workplace, and temperature yields one of the largest contributions. In my schooling days, I was experiencing what is called high thermal discomfort, which raises stress and lowers the ability to pay attention. Although I anecdotally knew this to be true, let’s look at what scientists have found.

optimal temperature for cognitive performanceOne study was done among pre-teens in Denmark to determine how classroom temperature affected their performance on standardized tests. They had several classrooms at different temperatures but kept all other variables (lighting, noise level, air flow etc.) constant. What they found is that at lower temperatures around 70o F, students performed the tasks significantly faster when compared to those at higher temperatures between 77-80o F [1].

Interestingly, despite all other variables being constant, the students in the warmer setting perceived distractions such as noise and bright lighting to be much more prominent than they were. This was hypothesized to be because they were more stressed from thermal discomfort than the cool temperature group.

Another finding was that in the cooler room, air quality was perceived to be higher than the warm room despite nothing being changed other than temperature. This only adds to the stress felt by the students.

Temperature and Adults in a Work Environment

While these findings definitely point us towards some conclusions as to how temperature effects productivity, let’s solidify it by examining what researchers have found about the effects on adults. In a few workplace environments, it was found that as one gets closer and closer to the ‘sweating’ threshold (the point where you break a sweat), performance on tasks decreases steadily [2]. Studies also show that people who are in a warm work environment are prone to taking more breaks and are less productive overall.

This can be attributed to a few different reasons. First, researchers found that when the office workers felt warmer (room temperatures around 79o F), they perceive themselves and their environment to be less healthy and less clean. This even manifested into symptoms such as higher rates of headache, fatigue, and low mental clarity.

When we get too warm, our minds experience lower arousal which is not what we want for high vigilance and productivity. One subconscious way to increase arousal (and subsequently vigilance and productivity) is to lower room temperature which triggers our bodies to increase metabolism. Cooler temperatures also make us feel slightly less relaxed in our work environment which, in this case, also helps productivity.

temperature to boost your brainSome Data On Temperature

Moving on to the data, one experiment placed adults in rooms at different temperatures and found that warm room temperature was responsible for 7% lower cognitive performance and 30% more errors on a standardized test. The important part is that the test didn’t use an outlandish difference in temperature. The low-temperature group was at 68o F while the highest temperatures were around 79o F.

Some workplace experiments found that in a call center, the cooler side of the building spent 5-7% less time on the phone while achieving the same results as the warm side. Nurses who were in warmer rooms (around 78o F) took 16% longer to do charting and paperwork. It’s clear that cool temperatures are ideal if your goal is to have better cognitive performance and higher productivity.

Although vigilance and productivity require higher arousal, other important tasks such as memory and creativity are performed better at lower arousal so it’s important not to go too cold. We also lose some finger dexterity at colder temperatures which slows the speed at which we can operate tasks such as typing as well.

What You Should Do

The key to your optimal cognitive performance for vigilance, productivity, creativity, and memory is to find your personal ‘sweet-spot’ temperature. This will vary for everybody since we all have different bodies and metabolic rates. However, I think that most people will fall between 68-72o F based on the data.

You want to be cool enough to heighten arousal and fight off productivity killing relaxation, but not so cold that you get hyper-aroused and lose control of your fingers. So, experiment for yourself and most importantly, stay cool!

 

References

[1] https://tinyurl.com/y74hjyzh

[2] https://tinyurl.com/ybauda8y

 

Posted on

Supercharge Your Brain With Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

tDCS

As the electrodes are placed on your head, you wonder what the sensation of electricity running through your brain will feel like. You’re in a bare room that resembles a doctor’s office, but instead of blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes, there are wires that run from your head to a box that will be transmitting electricity in just a few moments.

No, you aren’t in the electric chair about to be punished for your crimes, but instead, you are about to undergo Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to see if you can capture one of its many possible benefits. While this may seem like a fringe, woo-woo treatment only dabbled in by extreme brain biohackers, there have actually been over 3,000 studies done on tDCS [1].

What Is Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation?

tDCS set upBefore we go any further, it would be helpful to know what tDCS is. In short, the therapy involves attaching up to 20 electrodes to various parts of the head depending on which areas of the brain you are trying to target. These electrodes will then emit a weak (.28-.8 mA/cm2) current of electricity across your brain. Sessions typically last between 10-30 minutes and many studies have patients complete around 10 sessions within a two-week period.

As we know, neurons and synapses rely on electricity to pass information to one another, so introducing new electricity can alter this process [2]. This electrical stimulation travels through the brain, modifying connections along the way, the changes sustainable long after treatment. It’s interesting learning about how it works, but you’re probably wondering “why even bother with it?”

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Can Help You

tDCS For Mental Health

As far-out as tDCS may seem, there are many studies showing a variety of different benefits. First, research has found tDCS to work well for a variety of different psychiatric disorders. A review by Bennabi and Haffen displayed many interesting studies that investigated the effect tDCS had on conditions such as major depressive disorder (MDD).

Worldwide, around 7% of people experience MDD, but many patients fail to see positive results from common pharmaceutical treatment options. However, we know that certain parts of the brain (left prefrontal cortex, for example) in people with MDD aren’t as active as they should be, so in theory, stimulating them with tDCS could help their condition.

Studies On The Effect tDCS Has Regarding Mental Health

In one randomized controlled study, 40 participants with major depression were subjected to 1mA of electricity for 10 minutes over 10 sessions and some promising results followed. After being evaluated using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and the Beck Depression Inventory, depression was lowered significantly when compared to the control group. A few more studies were carried out by the same scientists and depression was lowered by an average of 40.4% in the tDCS group versus 10.4% for the control.

tDCS for depressionIt has also been found that a combination of tDCS and traditional pharmaceutical treatment worked better than tDCS by itself. However, it hasn’t really been investigated if tDCS and other natural depression treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meditation, or journaling would have a synergistic effect.

From my own research, I know that alternative therapies like the ones I mentioned have been proven to help with anxiety and depression, so I assume combining it with something like tDCS would only enhance its effects. In the US, tDCS remains an experimental treatment for depression but has been adopted in many parts of Europe as a legitimate treatment option.

“this technique has gained renewed interest as a practical tool for the modulation of cortical excitability and the treatment of psychiatric disorders”

tDCS For Boosting Brain Power

tDCS for cognitive enhancement is where you need to be careful as many companies are trying to make a quick buck by claiming that you can strap their device to your head, flick the switch and increase IQ by 50% or something of the sort. While some of these statements are just a money-making scheme, there has been real research showing that tDCS can, in fact, lead to cognitive improvements.

The cognitive enhancing effects have been promising enough for the US Department of Defense to take notice. They even performed their own single-blind study where participants were subjected to 2.0 mA of tDCS for 30 minutes. Electrodes were attached in areas that would stimulate the right frontal and parietal cortex which are involved in learning.

They then underwent a real-world virtual training exercise where participants identify threat-related objects that are concealed in a natural environment. The results? There was a significant improvement in the experimental group’s ability to identify the objects. fMRI also showed increased activity in the brain regions of interest [3].

“the application of anodal tDCS over these regions can greatly increase learning, resulting in one of the largest effects on learning yet reported. The methods developed here may be useful to decrease the time required to attain expertise in a variety of settings.”

Other studies done in ‘healthy’ people suggest that tDCS can improve working memory, attentional control, decision making, and creativity [1].

Is Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation For You?

All of the positive research surrounding tDCS means that you should definitely go buy a set for yourself, right? Well, it is a bit more nuanced than that. First, despite a majority of research showing that tDCS does work, it would be disingenuous not to mention that there are a handful of studies in every category showing tDCS has no effect at all.

Furthermore, a lot of research has concluded that the effectiveness of tDCS may heavily rely on individual factors such as personality, genetics, age, and skull thickness. In addition to this, there really are no standard operating procedures when it comes to variables like the number of electrodes, placement of electrodes, electrical current strength, and duration of each session. Much more research needs to be done to solidify these aspects of tDCS.

The Main Takeaway

Although we do need more definitive research, I believe that based on current evidence tDCS can work for many people and serves as a relatively cheap and safe way to improve depression symptoms and cognitive function especially if you are looking for a different therapy route.

Don’t hesitate to do your own research on the therapy and treatment options available to you. Whether you decide to try a DIY tDCS device or consult a therapy center is up to you, but either way, make sure to consult your primary care physician first. All in all, keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to try something new.

A video of tDCS self-administration (skip to 1:56):

A more in-depth explanation of tDCS itself:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4362220/

Some of the top tDCS DIY devices I found online:

https://apexdevice.net

https://www.fisherwallace.com

https://thebraindriver.com

Here is an example of a therapy center:

http://tmslab.org/tmscore-servicesoffered.php

Have you ever tried tDCS?

Let us know what you thought in the comments!

 

References:

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-diy-brain-booster-devices-work/

[2] http://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/8/5/81

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3387543//