I read something fascinating this week in one of Dr Mercola’s blogs that beautifully pulls together concepts of several of my blogs.
“Your brain and gut developed from the same type of tissue when you were a fetus!”
This little factoid demonstrates yet another way of how your gut and brain are truly, and intimately, connected.
Additionally, the nervous systems of your brain and gut are connected and communicate with each other by a very long and big nerve called the vagus nerve. This is how, and why, emotions are often expressed via your gut (gut feelings or gut instincts).
Did you ever have “butterflies in your stomach” when feeling anxious about that first date? Or nauseated because you were super nervous about playing in the championship game?
This is also why it’s important to have a calm, undistracted mind when you eat; it facilitates absorption of nutrients and digestion of food.
Another way your gut communicates with your brain is with hormones, which I explain very simply in Smoothies and Juicing for Breakfast: Why You Shouldn’t.
Food As Medicine
If you’ve been following my blogs, then by now you should have a pretty good understanding of misfolded proteins, cellular inflammation and How Unhealthy Food Causes Disease.
So let’s take a look at HEALTHY foods that prevent…and even treat…disease plus how they do it.
Keep in mind that when the cells in your body are stressed because of unhealthy lifestyle habits, they release molecules called ‘radicals’ that cause oxidative stress and damage to your cells.
So foods that are high in antioxidants are one of the most effective means to not only prevent oxidative damage and cellular inflammation that lead to disease, but also to resolve the existing damage.
Some common anti-oxidants found in food include vitamin E, vitamin C and carotenoids (the latter produce the yellow, orange and red pigments found mostly in fruits and vegetables). Carotenoids include antioxidants like beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene.
The most abundant dietary antioxidants, however, are polyphenols.
The most common group of polyphenols is called flavonoids and found in colorful fruits, vegetables, cereals, tea, wine and fruit juices. Grapes, tea, cocoa and blueberries are major sources.
Besides having antioxidant properties, flavonoids have been shown to enhance nerve function as well as stimulate blood flow and growth of new nerves in the brain.
Eating foods rich in flavonoids has been associated with:
- reversing age-related decline in memory and muscle movement
- enhancing growth and regeneration of nerves in the brain
- improving learning and memory
- protecting nerves from oxidative damage
Curcuminoids (found in turmeric) and flavonoids act on brain function at the cellular and molecular level. Resveratrol (found in skin of red grapes, nuts and several other plants) is neuroprotective for the brain and has been shown to mimic the beneficial effects of caloric restriction.
Omega-3 Fish Oils
Another important dietary component for preventing and resolving disease are the polyunsaturated fats in fish oil, especially the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA).
These are the powerful anti-inflammatory agents and also have minor anti-oxidant properties.
Recent discoveries have shown that EPA- and DHA-derived compounds (ie, resolvins and neuroprotectins) are involved in the resolution processes related to inflammation.
The brain, in particular, is susceptible to damage caused by oxidative stress due to its relative lack of antioxidant defense mechanisms. And dietary interventions have emerged as effective environmental inducers of brain plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change in response to its environment.
Data continue to support the concept that diet holds the ability to modulate brain health and function thereby influencing the incidence of neurodegenerative disorders.
This is logical considering neurons have a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in their cell membranes that play crucial roles in the maintenance of normal neurological function. PUFAs also regulate gene expression.
Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have demonstrated a preventative effect against dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Whereas, low serum levels of DHA combined with high dietary intake of foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids (found in refined seed and vegetable oils) have been associated with increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Neurological conditions generally require high doses of EPA because EPA is rapidly oxidized, which reduces its efficacy.
In a recent study, maintenance doses of 2.4 g/day were not shown to provide significant beneficial effects in children with major depression, however therapeutic doses of 15 g/day significantly improved inflammatory biomarker levels (AA/EPA ratio) as well as depression scores. These data support the approach that Dr Julian Bailes and Dr Barry Sears have been using over the last 15 to 20 years.
Oxidative stress has also been shown to be a critical factor in the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
Diets high in saturated fats and cholesterol (found in cheeses and grain-fed red meats) combined with a low intake of unsaturated fatty acids (ie, EPA, DHA) have been associated with a high risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Although data are limited for Parkinson’s disease, DHA is likely to be beneficial for this neurodegenerative disorder by counter-acting the activity and suppressing the production of omega-6-derived inflammatory molecules.
Researchers continue to find positive correlations between gut health and improved mental health. Most recently, fermented foods and drinks that contain probiotics have been shown to help curb social anxiety disorder in young adults.
Alzheimer’s – The Next Epidemic
Type 2 diabetes, which was referred to as “adult-onset diabetes” as recently as the late 1990s, is now a childhood epidemic…and the number of overweight and obese adults has been steadily increasing as well.
Obesity in mid-life has been positively correlated with brain and nerve abnormalities, primarily in the frontal lobe (dementia). So it’s not surprising to learn that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease was found to be increasing markedly and in 2012 was predicted to double every 20 years.
At the current rates of diet-induced obesity and metabolic disease, by 2050, one in 85 people will have Alzheimer’s disease.
Medical studies increasingly reveal that the underlying pathology of diet-induced chronic disease likely begins decades before symptoms ever show up:
- Metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) occurs 10 to 20 years before the onset of diabetes.
- Parkinson’s pathology develops up to 30 years before symptoms.
- Alzheimer’s pathology develops up to 40 years before symptoms.
This underscores the importance of why you should Feed Your Gut Microbiome with nutrient-rich whole foods from nature while also significantly reducing, if not flat out eliminating, refined and processed food products.
And also why you shouldn’t think of conditions like dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as diseases of old age.
They are diet-induced dysfunctional metabolic conditions that can start developing in your twenties…or not, depending on the food you choose to eat.
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