There are a lot of subjects here. They are important. And they connect a lot of what we’ve been talking about here, in separate strings, for a long time.
Many of the newest learnings in health are related to the significance of the microbiome.
From personal experience, I regularly feel what I can only describe as the health of my brain. Chemicals, transmitter-stuff, certain states. Which drives me into these subjects searching for ifs, and if-so-what, is going on. Because there is always a reason for why we feel the way we do. (These topics are also of significant personal importance to me in how they relate to anxiety, which is something I’ve had to handle my entire life. More on that in point 5, below.)
Otherwise, this is all just more of the same: learn, live better, prosper. Shall we?
1. We are our microbiomes. I’ve said it; you know it, but a few refreshers JIC:
2. Our microbiomes are best supported by probiotics, live food and excellent digestion via which to absorb the goodness.
3. Our microbiomes are responsible for not only our physical wellbeing, but also our psychological health. Here we go.
You have neurons both in your brain and your gut – including neurons that produce neurotransmitters like serotonin. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain.
“Mounting research indicates that problems in your gut can directly impact your mental health, leading to issues like anxiety and depression.
“The gut-brain connection is well-recognized as a basic tenet of physiology and medicine, so this isn't all that surprising, even though it's often overlooked.
“There's also a wealth of evidence showing intestinal involvement in a variety of neurological diseases."
And, note this point “The fact that this study showed any improvement at all is remarkable, considering they used commercial yogurt preparations that are notoriously unhealthy.”
Now, consider what you can do with legit probiotics. (Legit = 1 billion CFU/serving for example. It’s pretty difficult to measure the amount of probiotics in packaged foods but a really rough estimate would put a high-quality Greek yogurt at about 1M per gram, from what I understand.)
4. Therefore, our brains (physically and psychologically) depend on the health of our bellies.
“The trillions of bacteria living in a person’s gut can communicate directly with the brain via the Vagus Nerve that connects them. Bacteria can also communicate with the brain via the enteric nervous system, the nervous system of the digestive track. Believe it or not, there are actually more neurons wrapped around the gut than there are in the spinal cord.
“We are starting to find out that gut bugs can communicate with the brain, scientists say, by modulating the immune system or by actually producing neurotransmitters.
Mark Lyte, a researcher at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center who studies the effect that microbes can have on the endocrine systems (the body system of the endocrine glands and the hormones they produce)says, “I’m actually seeing new neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria. These bacteria are, in effect, mind-altering microorganisms.”
"Through this communication from the gut to the brain, the gut bugs can affect behavior and mood. Maybe those folks who coined the expression “gut feeling” were actually on to something! Recent research supports the theory that disturbances in the gut microbiome, or the combination of microbes living in a particular person’s gut, can play a role in some psychopathology such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and even autism.
- Source: How Can Gut Bugs Communicate with the Brain? (And there are a lot of additional resources listed at the end of this article, as well as more information about anxiety types, and probiotic v medical treatments.)
5. Personal experience has proven this to be the case.
I have a particular interest in this because I’ve dealt with anxiety my entire life. At age four, when my parents divorced, I started getting stomachaches. Or, that’s how I felt. Meaning I was anxious, uneasy, felt afraid (had separation anxiety, simply) that “felt” like a stomach ache – and which would often make me actually sick (throw up) but at times like: being dropped off at school or left with a babysitter; sleepovers at friends’ houses; camps – god I hated camps.
Thankfully, medication wasn’t an option because I simply “had a stomach ache” – like, maybe I took some Pepto-Bismol here and there. I learned two ways to cure the situation: 1. Find a corner and go to sleep, which I did in every acceptable instance, or 2. Forget about it, which was outside of my control. That being part of the point. Meaning, if I was distracted by something pleasant – a story that made me laugh or a friend engrossing me in idk a game of cat’s cradle – the “stomach ache” would go away. Meaning, it wasn’t (only) physical. It was psychological. With such severity that it could become physical and make me physically ill, but obviously the two are one.
This is a much longer story, that involves 20 more years of learnings about anxiety, +/- a visit to the emergency room, eventual medication, no-medication, therapy, lots of books and ultimately, understanding.
6. Specific eating styles, and some lack-of-eating styles, are best for your brain.
We know why we don’t eat meat (and if not, watch Forks Over Knives).
And, why we don’t eat processed foods.
We understand raw and alive. No-sugar should be a given.
Which leaves us with that odd grain-free angle.
In researching my current eating style, and brain health, I stumbled onto the research subjects that connect ALL of this: “The Neuropharmacology of the Ketogenic Diet”
- What it is:“A keto diet is well known for being a low carb diet, where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. It's referred to as many different names – ketogenic diet, low carb diet, low carb high fat (LCHF), etc."– Google (love that new algorithm)
“A diet that is high in fat (60-70% of calories), is almost by definition low in carbs, and this means that when eating a high fat diet, it’s likely that one is at least partially and some of the time in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is when the body switches over from burning glucose (the kind of sugar our body uses as fuel) to burning an alternate fuel called ketones, which are made from the breakdown of fatty acids in the liver when glycogen (how the body stores glucose) levels are depleted.
“Basically, the body starts burning fat for energy when we don’t consume very much sugar or foods that readily break down into sugar — carbohydrates. While glucose is metabolically preferred by the body (meaning that if glucose is present, the liver produces only small, baseline amounts of ketones), it is interesting to note that ketones are a principal source of energy during early postnatal development, when our brains are growing and developing at the most rapid pace of our lives.
“Ketosis is an entirely normal and healthy state for the body to be in – in fact, most people will be in some amount of ketosis every single morning after ‘fasting’ while they sleep (you can often smell the acetone – a ketone – in your pee when you wake up), which is a sign of metabolic health."
7. I am not on a ketogenic diet, but my diet is ketogenic.
Eating this way makes me feel amazing. Absolutely excellent. Strong, clear-headed, calm, (very) high-energy. “Humming” is how I often describe it. (It’s also supportive of my aggressive exercise routines, and compatible with intermittent fasting / bulletproof coffee (which in turn support each other) and all of the aforementioned “eat” or “don’t-eat”s.
So, it’s good. And, it turns out it’s good for your brain too.
8. The ketogenic diet is exceptionally neurologically beneficial.
One area in which the ketogenic diet is completely uncontroversial is as a relatively effective non-pharmaceutical treatment for a set of common neurological disorders.
Another way the ketogenic diet improves brain function is through several kinds of antioxidant benefits. Oxidative stress can cause harm all throughout the body, and the brain is no different – oxidative damage has been implicated in a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases as well as simple brain aging.
“The last mechanism through which a ketogenic diet may confer cognitive benefit is through the increase ofγ-aminobutyric acid(GABA) levels in the brain. GABA is the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter.
It has been known since the time of Hippocrates that fasting is an effective treatment for seizures, and the ketogenic diet was designed to mimic the fasting state.
“The diet is associated with a wide range of neurochemical changes, some of which may contribute to its therapeutic actions and others that are epiphenomenal.
“During consumption of the ketogenic diet, marked alterations in brain energy metabolism occur, with ketone bodies partly replacing glucose as fuel.
“There is evidence that it causes effects on intermediary metabolism that influence the dynamics of the major inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitter systems in brain.
“Running brain on ketones considerably impacts amino acid metabolism, or more specifically neurotransmitters. Ketogenic diets [are] neuroprotective and improve cognitive function, improve behavior in epileptic children, and [are] even efficacious in bipolar disorder. Many of these effects could be attributable to alterations in glutamate and gaba signaling. Excitotoxicity. Brain fog.”
- (That from a great article that fairly well minimizes the technical, and includes diagrams!) Ketosis: anti-brain fog. Neurotransmitters, dietary protein, and the gut microbiome.)
That’s probably enough for today, huh?
- The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet, and ketone bodies
- Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet
- The Neuropharmacology of the Ketogenic Diet
- Your brain on ketones – Psychology Today
All photos by Jana Styblova.
Next up, we’ll get into GABA, which I’m trial-running now. And, how about prebiotics.