Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Gut-Brain Connection: How Healthy Food Affects Your Brain's Reactions

You can probably see how eating healthy food makes for a healthy body which includes making a healthy brain, but there may be more of a connection between what goes on in your gut and your brain. Recent studies have been showing that probiotics in the gut have an affect on brain activity when we are anxious, stressed, depressed or afraid. These studies indicate that there could be a reduction of these types of behaviors through the types of foods we eat that keep the probiotics in our intestinal system healthy. The other indication is that this communication between gut and brain goes the other way and that brain reactions can affect the population of microflora in the gut.

These studies indicate that one way of supporting brain health is to also support intestinal health. This makes sense if you think about there being two nervous systems in the body. There is the central nervous system that includes the brain and spinal cord and there is the enteric nervous system that is involved with the gastrointestinal tract. Both of these contain the same type of tissues and are connected by the vagus nerve. It is this nerve that facilitates the communication between gut and brain. Specific probiotics in the gut have actually been identified as being able to perform functions that affect regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain and that affect the corticosterone hormone which is responsible for reducing anxiety and depression type behaviors. Studies have also led to the discovery that serotonin such is found in the brain and controls mood, depression and aggression, is found in even greater amounts in the gut.

Studies have also found that an imbalance of gut flora can affect brain development and that low levels of these gut flora have a connection to symptoms associated with autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, and other conditions. While all these studies are relatively new and more research is needed, preliminary results are promising that increasing the friendly bacteria in the gut can be beneficial for brain health.

There are many foods that have been shown to not only increase general body health, but are particularly good for brain health. These include foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids such as berries, nuts, olive oil, vegetables and coldwater fish.

I know you've heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it is absolutely true. Here's some high powered breakfast ideas that can help kick start your brain at the beginning of the day.

--Yogurt that has live active cultures is a good source of probiotics and protein and if you add some walnuts and berries to it, you get some omega-3 and antioxidants as well. Add in some whole grain cereal and you've got a breakfast that is also high in fiber which makes for slower digestion thus improving concentration.

--Make an omelet using olive oil instead of butter to get some extra omega-3s. The eggs will give you some protein as would adding some cheese. Put spinach and tomatoes on top before you fold the omelet over so that they end up in the middle and you'll be adding some good antioxidants. Get your fiber by putting the whole thing on a piece of whole grain toast. 

--Make a breakfast shake for a breakfast-to-go by blending yogurt, berries, a little milk and some flax or chia seeds. For an even faster shake, you can get a powdered drink mix that contains pure organic whey and blue green algae and add to some fruit juice. This alternative gives you 22 grams of protein, sprouts and protein-digesting enzymes as well as the omega-3 and omega-6s and all the other amino acids and whole food nutrition from blue green algae. 

--Cereal is always a good quick breakfast standby if you don't have time to cook in the mornings. Mix a high fiber cereal with a whole grain cereal, add some walnuts, almonds or pecans, fruit and seeds, then get some probiotics added in by using keifer instead of milk. If you've got a little more time, oatmeal is also a good breakfast for brain health.

--When you've got a little more cooking time, whole grain waffles or pancakes topped with fruit and yogurt makes a healthy filling breakfast. For an extra boost, stir some nuts like walnuts into the batter.

Basically anytime you take some whole grains, add in berries and walnuts along with keifer, you are getting antioxidants, fiber, probiotics, omega-3, polyunsaturated fat, and protein all in one meal. Stir in some powdered blue green algae and you've really got a power breakfast or lunch going. Of course other nuts can be used and flax or chia seeds stirred in also, but the Journal of Alzheimer's Diesease has cited walnuts as contributing to better memory and increased brain functioning. They also attribute the antioxidants in walnuts as being helpful in reducing the chance of cognitive decline as we age.

We've talked about how probiotics in the gut are associated with brain health, but digestive enzymes are another gut aspect to consider when thinking about brain functioning. Digestion requires a lot of energy and the more energy it takes to digest food, the less there is available for other physical and mental activities. We've all experienced that afternoon slump especially after eating lunch. Taking high quality digestive enzymes can help support the digestive process. Enzymes are present in every cell, tissue and organ in the body and responsible for every chemical reaction associated with the metabolism of the body. Enzymes are critical to the proper functioning of everything from breathing to thinking to circulating the blood. .

Now you know how your brain and gut are connected and how adding healthy food and some of the natural solutions discussed can give you a boost for your brain. Giving your brain the support it needs to stay healthy no matter what age you are now will pay off in keeping you mentally sharp into your elder years.




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