Monday, April 7, 2014

The Mind Body Brain Axis

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Especially important for parents

There is this misconception that you are not your body. That you are only your brain and your body is the housing unit for your brain which is not only responsible for your thoughts but also your personality, and it ultimately controls your body. So as long as your body can get your brain to work, you can treat it however you want...

This is a convenient way to view things, but there's no way to separate your brain from your body. The brain is only important because it's essentially a housing unit for neurons. And we believe our minds exist within our neurons, but neurons don't just exist in your brain. They run along your body, especially throughout your digestive system.

We are a perfect design. On a biological level, we always have to ask how everything relates to evolution and survivability. The body has no idea where the brain ends and the body begins, in fact what you think is the brain (the housing unit of thoughts) isn't accurate to begin with.

I blame monster movies where they had brain transplants and brains in jars.

And in the movie Back To The Future II, they had hoverboards and flying cars by 2015...

Brain Gut Axis

More and more research is showing the connection between our mood and thoughts with our gut microbiome (the germs in your gut). We talk about the mind body connection, but who's to say our minds exist in our brain? More research is showing that our mind exists within our whole body.

It's a two way street. Our brain feels, and our gut can tell it what to feel. Fatty foods believe it or not make us feel good. When ingested, fatty acids are detected by cell receptors in the lining of the gut, which send nerve signals to the brain. The cells in our stomach are basically telling our brains to like fat, and to feel rewarded by it and to want more of it. Without it, we wouldn't have had the necessary energy to survive throughout history. Our brain needed lots of fuel and it depended on fats.

You know the butterflies in your stomach? That's blood being diverted away from your stomach to your muscles. We call it fight or flight. However, stress also leads the gut to produce ghrelin, a hormone that reduces anxiety and depression. Ghrelin stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain both directly, by stimulating neurons involved in pleasure and reward pathways, and indirectly by signals transmitted through the vagus nerve.

You know how you eat when you're stressed? Or certain comfort foods calm you down? This is why. Our ancestors needed the stress reducing effects of ghrelin to search for food in new areas. When ghrelin drops, we know we're done eating. Even the thought of fatty foods lowers ghrelin, it's that ingrained in us.

Historically comfort foods were fatty and our weight was manageable. Later on they were replaced with fake man made fats and sugar and we've suffered ever since.

The vagus nerve also known as the pneumogastric nerve runs from basically our brain to our stomach. Stimulation of this nerve has been useful in the treatment of chronic treatment-resistant depression. It affects our mood.

The question is, if we don't take care of our body and digestive system, how does it affect us psychologically and cognitively? Further research only reinforces the notion that we may be hurting our minds from the stomach out.

The Enteric Nervous System (ENS)

The enteric nervous system (ENS) is one of the main divisions of the autonomic nervous system and consists of a mesh-like system of neurons that governs the function of the gastrointestinal system. It comprises an estimated 500 million neurons and is so complex it has been dubbed the second brain.

Scientists have discovered that neural stem cells exist in the gut, the thing that creates and replaces lost neurons. This could be a possible treatment to replace lost neurons in the brain due to neurodegenerative diseases. Our gut makes our brain.

Chronic stress, especially in childhood can disrupt the development of the ENS, which can later on turn into Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Our guts can send signals to stress our brains out, and our brains can send signals to stress our guts out. Both having disastrous effects on our health.

One of the symptoms of anxiety is chronic upset stomach. Digestive issues and psychological issues have always been linked. It's evolutionary in nature and research is showing, you can't resolve one without resolving the other.

From the womb

It really starts with you and your mom. New findings show autism really develops in the womb. It is one belief that it may have to do with the mother's gut microbiota. It has also emerged that human breast milk supports the development of neurons in the gut for infants. Being the first introduction to healthy germs for the baby; breast milk and vaginal birth has already been linked with better immune systems. This also influences the intelligence of the child as well.

Things like the pregnant mother's exposure to pollutants, carcinogens, BPA (found in certain plastics) influences the child's health and intelligence.

Birth order matters as well, only because the oldest child was initially raised as an only child and got more attention. Which is why they tend to do better and score higher on IQ tests. Something to consider when spending time with your other children.

Children who ate more processed (junk foods) also scored lower on IQ tests, and for each unit increase in real food meant an IQ increase of 1.2.

Crawling is not only good for the develop of athleticism, but also good for the brain. Don't be too quick to get the baby walking; crawling is prime development time and a time for the body to tune in with the brain.

Even spanking lowered the child's IQ. Partially this is because of stress and fear of learning, but from the the perspective of evolutionary history, if someone was misbehaving in a way that would endanger their welfare, having a lower IQ would make it less likely they would want to go explore, be curious, and hurt themselves or their tribe. And they would be more likely to be obedient. Much like the idea of pregnancy brain (baby brain) being something that "dumbs" a mother down. But from an evolutionary perspective, it allows the mother to focus on the baby more, not get distracted, and be able to just sit there and take care of the baby. From a survivability perspective, there is a benefit to both behaviors of intelligence modifications. You want them smart but not too smart.

How the mother eats, what happens to her body, what the child eats, what happens to the child's body all affects their mind, intelligence, and health. It's all connected and your body (including the brain) can't tell the difference. To us, our body and brain are one unit and it's never looked at an anatomy book.

Western medicine is very organ specific in causes. Eastern medicine (sometimes clumped together with "alternative medicine") looks at the digestion and works it's way out.  Modern medicine is finding that there's a lesson to be learned there.

You are what you eat, inversely eat what you are. You are protein, fat, and water. The germs in your gut, think of them as vegetables that have fermented in your gut so we need vegetables also. If you include your bones, we also need bone broth, a staple of nearly every ancient culture. Where does that leave processed foods? There really isn't much place for it except for pleasure and convenience. Then it becomes a value thing, do you prioritize pleasure and convenience higher than survivability, intelligence, and health?

And if your body influences your mind, then shouldn't we be moving more and exercising as well? Might be a good idea...

Sam Yang from an early age has been obsessed with connecting the dots between martial arts and efficiency, health, mindset, business, science, and habits to improve optimal well-being. For more info, join his newsletterYou can also connect to All Out Effort on Facebook and Twitter.

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