Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nutrition and the Brain

I spent today in one of the most stimulating seminars I've been to in years: Food for Thought: How Nutrients Affect Mental Health and the Brain. I can't remember the last time I was so excited about information. Each time we approached a break, I found myself disappointed because it would bring a temporary stop to the presenter's sharing his overwhelming wealth of important knowledge.

The presentation was by Dr. Nick Hall, Ph.D. in psychoneuroimmunology (a field that didn't exist when he started his research) from the University of South Florida and was sponsored by the Institute for Brain Potential. Dr. Hall is a kindred spirit. He gets it; he really gets it. He is vice-president of Watertribe, a group of ultra-marathoners, adventure racers and otherwise insane people who push their bodies to the limit a few times a year and train for those limits the rest of the time--and a group of people who understand what nutrition contributes to that effort. He researches nutrition's effects on neurotransmitters and hormones and acquires his data in real life scenarios with real life people (in addition to tons of lab rats). He works with FBI agents in training, ultra-marathoners, professional athletes, corporations and tons of others to maximize academic, sports and high stress performance. I wanted to take him home and pick his brain. I wanted to absorb all that he had to offer. Part of me is afraid that as he competes in the 1000+ mile Everglade challenge coming up soon something might happen to him before I can hear him speak again. Amazing, simply amazing. Obviously, the day was filled with way too much information to share here, but I do want to give you the nuggets and some links that you might find interesting. The thoughts do not flow well, so please forgive the lack of a continual concept.

The 3 psychologic variables that most greatly influence our ability to weather adversity are
1. Our maintaining a sense of control--including of our emotions and the emotions of others
2. Being able to predict an outcome (which is directly related to fear which stimulates pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body known as cytokines. Interestingly, anger is considered the emotion that more greatly stimulates cortisol and the fight or flight response).
3. Optimism.

Glutamate is the amino acid/compound responsible for the hedonistic response to food via a receptor on the tongue, but the pleasure of food is also associated with experience and experience is directly related to an image we create in our brains. And associated experiment is to go to one's favorite restaurant and get one's absolute favorite dish to go. Take that dish in the to go containers to a fast food restaurant, choose a seat either near the restaurant or near a crowded corner, and eat it with the plastic utensils provided. It will not taste the same nor will it provide the same pleasurable sensations (related to the mesocorticolymbic system). A problem that lies with this is that when we do not receive the anticipated pleasure response, we are programmed to go back for more until we reach the sought after amount of pleasure. Therefore, the better the food and the entire experience, the less you require to reach your pleasure threshold (sound familiar). Interestingly, parmesan cheese and anchovies are high in glutamate...

Galanin is a peptide in the brain that stimulates a craving for fat. The more you eat, the more galanin you produce and then the more you eat. It's on what is called a "negative feedback loop." It and some other peptides that govern appetite and eating, all of which are stimulated by fat intake, are opiod agonists which means they give one a similar feeling as opiod pain relievers like morphine. or heroine. Galanin also increases dopamine (a pleasure providing neurotransmitter) production.

Contrarily to previous thoughts, short bursts of stress actually stimulate the immune system. It's the long, chronic stressors that suppress it.

Sleep deprivation decreases judgement but not performance.

Working memory/executive function=the ability to keep large amounts of data in mind long enough to function (as in navigating with directions that have been given to you). It is affected by actual stress on the body and on perceived stress on the body and is impaired by cold stress. Tyrosine is protective of working memory as is glucose. They learned via a study of soldiers on the front lines in the middle east that 150mg/kg taken 30 minutes before a memory task increased memory retention. Glucose shortly before increased memory acquisition. Part of this has to do with tyrosine's being a precursor to the stress hormones norepinephrine and epinephrine which is part of why we remember so many details of positive or negative trauma in our lives. This is also part of the basis of post traumatic stress syndrome. He and his staff use this concept at their facility at Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa in order to train Fortune 500 company executives new company information most effectively. They actually have an obstacle and ropes course where they take clients to do one slightly scary obstacle at a time. Between obstacles, they give a lecture. The norepi increase makes them retain the information more effectively. Since norepi's half-life is about 50 minutes, it's just the perfect amount of time for a good lecture. They then go through another obstacle to boost it again before the next bolus of information. Brilliant!

Serotonin below a certain level leads to insomnia. Stress induced displacement of aggression is a result of decreased serotonin.

Sleep deprivation on avearage leads to a 20% increase in caloric intake over 24 hours.

It takes two full weeks to reset a circadian rhythm.

Chocolate contains a chemical which binds to endorphin receptors. beta-endorphine decreases during the time preceding ovulation and at other times during a female's cycle.

The model of stress in their experiments is induced restraint....hmmmmm.

Being able to taste sweetness blunts all of the stress hormones. Needs only be the taste so it can be artificial sweetness and not glucose induced.

Remember how predictability is one of our ways to deal with stress? That contributes to our seeking of comfort foods. They are familiar/predictable.

Another cause of decreased serotonin (a cause of depression) is a decrease in the enzyme that converts tryptophan into serotonin. Interferon-alpha blocks this enzyme and is created in states of high inflammation.

Long elevations of the stress hormone cortisol leads to a decrease in the hypocampus's (the part of the brain that allows us to access other parts of the brain and also which controls many of our hormone responses to things) ability to take in glucose. Because it begins to have difficulty taking in its sole source of energy, it becomes less effective. This becoming less effective is thought to be part of what happens in Alzheimer's dementia. The current thought is that the memories are actually all still intact. The problem is now thought to lie in the hypocampus's inability to access those memories. Scientists also suspect now that the damage is done in people's 20's and 30's but only expresses itself as people reach their later years. Beta-amyoloid proteins and tau proteins (neurofibratory tangles) were once thought to be the cause of AD, but now the theory is that it is those only when they are associated with poor vascular health. Choline in the 2nd half of pregnancy and the toddler years seems to be protective against AD. Since the hippocampus specializes in spacial memory, exercising that encourages the maintainance and rebuilding of hippocampus neurons.

Omega-3's combat stress's decreasing the length of telomeres on DNA thus increasing expected life span.

Yellow #5 is one of the most common culprits in ADHD, so is manganese which is found in soy. What do huge numbers of non-breastfeeding mothers give there babies?....

The 3 books I bought while I was there:Mind-Body Interactions and Disease and Psychoneuroimmunological Aspects of Health and Disease, I know What to Do, So Why Don't I Do It?, and Training Your Brain to Adopt Healthful Habits: Mastering the Five Brain Challenges (no good links there)....and my reading list gets even longer. :)

Ok, WHEW! That's a few of the best bits. I hope you enjoy them! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Balancing Drive with Journey

My personality is one of constant unrest, a continual need to accomplish a task well and get on to the next thing.That concept of working long and hard, sacrificing for the end game, is an easy one for me, and I think there is value to being able to do that.

The yin to that yang is that ability to slow down and enjoy the journey, to see the value of being where you in this minute so as not to miss it in your quest for the next one.

These concepts seem to be diametrically opposed, but in truth are two sides of the same coin that should be reconciled in order to find peace. This reconciliation has become one of my fixations of late...

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Still pondering my purpose in the world, my passion to engage it. Random thoughts to that end:

Work has been interesting of late. One of the biggest sources of negativity got fired & life has become so much easier most of the time. Now just one more source to convert to optimism.

Teaching/family communication seems to be a strong suit--especially with regard to end of life issues....How odd that I feel I am my best talking with people about death...

"Spitballing" my identity in terms of who I am fundamentally--independent of anyone or anything around me:
...feel free to add to this list. Terms some might consider negative welcomed in the interest of growth & self-reflection.