Extreme mental focus such as preparing for an exam or just solving problems that require intense concentration can actually drain the brain. Since the brain has a limited capacity to store fuel, the results can be similar to using stored energy from caloric expenditure through physical movement. This is the reason why college students not only eat poorly but also overeat. Scientists experimented with thirty eight college students. After 35 minutes of sitting quietly in a peaceful setting to establish a baseline for what they would normally consume, all were given as much pizza as they wished. After a few weeks they were called back and were all given intense college exams that required extreme mental focus. Afterwards, half were given pizza to consume and half were put on a treadmill. The group on the treadmill consumed less than they would normally consume while the other group consumed much more. The increased flow of fuel-rich blood to the brain brought on by intense exercise increased both the amount of blood sugar and lactate circulating in the blood. This in turn reduced the desire to overeat by feeding an exhausted brain.
In Tanzania the people of the Hadza community have a diet that consists of the animals they kill, honey, berries and whatever grows wild. They eat what may be considered a true hunter-gatherer diet. In studying this group scientists have discovered that their gut bacteria undergoes different annual changes. Some of their microbes completely disappear only to return at another time of the year along with the change in diet. The study was conducted by the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Stool samples were compared with Italians from Bologna. The Hadza hosted much more abundant and rarer forms of gut microbial species. This led researchers to collect samples four times a year to see if the composition varied. There were extreme differences in the samples taken during the wet season as opposed to the dry season. This discovery is new for any human microbiome. The seasonal change in their diet lead to a predictable change in their gut bacteria. The composition is more similar to traditional older societies than to modernized industrial diets. Since industrialized nations eat the same foods year round, a clue to the rise in disease because of the loss of certain strains of bacteria may be the reason. This can be of significant value in possibly decreasing the causes of inflammation in the body, a source of chronic illnesses in our society. This would encourage us to explore more deeply the suggestion of a rotation of diet.
New studies show the relationship between healthy gut bacteria and how happy and anxious we feel. One study done by Canadian researchers gave cocktails of antibiotics to mice. The loss of the healthy bacteria brought on by the effects of the antibiotics made the animals more anxious. When gut bacteria was taken from healthy mice and transferred to these mice they appeared to become much calmer. More and more studies are being done on how gut bacteria can help with some brain disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and ADHD. Because bacteria is thought to influence the immune system, a strong connection is now being made to both anxiety and depression. Fiber rich foods, especially from dark green leafy vegetables, provide nourishment for good bacteria to grow. This along with avoiding taking any unnecessary antibiotics can strengthen our gut and create peace of mind.
Jackfruit is the largest tree fruit grown in the world. It can weigh up to 100 pounds. It is a South Asian staple which is starting to gain popularity by American chefs. It is especially favored by vegetarians since it has the consistency of meat and can easily absorb and take on many different flavors. This fruit is part of the family that includes breadfruit, figs and mulberries. Jackfruit can be dried, roasted and added to soups, jams and juices. Although it is not especially high in protein, it is however rich in magnesium, vitamin B6 and antioxidants. It is difficult to work with due to its large size, so it is more convenient to purchase a small amount of it prepackaged.
Formally thought of as an aid to the digestive tract, prunes/dried plums have now taken on a more important role in health. Dairy always comes to mind when we think about filling our calcium needs and building strong bones. However, this dried fruit is extremely rich in both boron and selenium, two very important minerals for bone density. The fiber in prunes/dried plums can be of benefit to cholesterol levels and can help diabetics by slowing the digestion of carbohydrates. A great way to enjoy them is by soaking them in orange juice overnight until they return to looking more like plums (My 100 year old Mom’s credo).
Many look to synthetic sugars as a way of decreasing the amount of calories they consume. However, short as well as long studies have proven that children as well as adults show significant weight gain by using synthetic sugars. It stems from the fact that only part of the brain is stimulated by synthetic sugars and the reward centers are left with a craving for the energy which would usually accompany using real sugar. The enhanced appetite brought on by sweetness is encouraged by synthetic sugars which only increase sugar cravings and dependence. So go ahead and use a teaspoon of honey or maple sugar and enjoy nature instead of something that has been chemically altered.
I have a gut feeling. Does that mean that we feel with our gut as well as with our mind? Why is the gut now being referred to as the second brain? There is now a strong connection between the health of our gut and how it can effect our emotions as well as our ability to make simple decisions. What do we mean by the gut? Technically known as the alimentary canal, everything from the esophagus to the anus is considered the gut or our digestive system. The gut makes it possible to transfer food to our digestive organs. Because it is considered one of the most complicated ecosystems on earth, its influence can be felt in our brain, heart, skin, mood, appetite and weight. It houses trillions of microbes which include many forms of bacteria, fungi and viruses (microflora) all of which aid in maintaining both physical and mental stability. It benefits our mood, weight and mental health because of its ability to counteract inflammation, control the growth of harmful bacteria as well as produce vitamins, absorb minerals and eliminate toxins. The system can be compared to that of a little chemical lab. For this reason symptoms of anxiety, depression, IBS, ulcers will manifest themselves in both areas (brain and gut). Dr. Michael Gershon of Columbia University in 1996 was the first to recognize and write about this brain-gut connection. He coined the term “second brain” now known as neurogastroenterology. We now know that there is a strong connection between emotional stress and physical distress. This connection may be the reason why 70% of adults who are treated for chronic gut disorders have also experienced some form of childhood trauma. There is a strong connection with divorce of parents or chronic illness and loss of a parent or loved one. This affects decision making throughout their lives since a good part of our emotional decisions are made from a feeling in our gut. Butterflies in the stomach are most likely a signal from the gut responding to a physiological stress. Studies have found that half of psychiatric complaints were also accompanied by problems in the gut and that high doses of probiotics and healthy eating were enough to remedy the problem. So many people suffering from anxiety and depression have also had disturbances in their GI function. Studies were done with mice in which their gut bacteria was switched and it changed completely how the animal acted. A reversal of outgoing to introverted and visa versa showing how strongly the bacterial content of our gut has on our behavior. The question still remains as to which brain makes the first move? Which has a stronger influence over the other? So how can we support the health of this important part of our body? Eating a diet free of unprocessed food, along with fermented foods which nurture the probiotics in our system is an excellent way to start.