The Mind Body Connection

The Mind Body Connection By Nicole Winhoffer Let’s talk about mind-body connection. If you are reading this post, then you know very well that there is a connection between your mind and gut. Did you know you have more brain neurons in your stomach than your brain? In the same way that the body affects the mind, the mind affects the body. Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine's understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think. Scientists call this little brain the enteric nervous system (ENS). Our thoughts affect our physical health. Our neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that send signals from our nerves to our cells, create communication between our brain and every cell in our body. They control essentially all of our body’s functions, from feeling happy to regulation of hormones to how we deal with our stress. Our thoughts create things - they are also likely creating every issue we have in our health journeys. Starting my career on Broadway, I trained my body not just physically; but mentally. I knew that whatever my mind could conceive, I could achieve. I built my own mind-body connection through exercises and repetition that kept my brain and body healthy and strong. After developing my programming, I saw a need to everybody to have access to this information. We are told to get 30 minutes of exercise in and to eat well if we want to be healthy. But what if our thoughts and emotions are getting in the way of making those very simple decisions toward health? I’ve dedicated my career to answering one simple question, “What if we are ignoring the key pieces of ourselves that actually create total health and fitness?” Research shows that psychological stress directly affects our neurotransmitters, including dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These neurochemical changes put our body in a defense mode to deal with the stressors, which raise our blood pressure, so we can respond faster. This is all-natural response to protect us, but the chronic elevations of these neurotransmitters will weaken the immune system, and we are more likely to get a chronic disease. And the opposite is true too. People who aren’t easily stressed actually resist illnesses, cope with adversity, and recover more quickly because they are able to maintain and manage their stress levels well.…

The Exercise-Gut Connection

The Exercise-Gut Connection By Juliette Frank It is well known that regular exercise is a key part of a healthy lifestyle due to its many health benefits such as assisting in weight control, reducing inflammation and risk of heart disease, and increasing antioxidant defenses. As more evidence on the importance of the gut microbiome on overall well-being continues to be published, there seems to be little research on how exactly exercise influences the microbes in the gut. Sara Campbell, an exercise scientist at Rutgers University, designed an experiment in 2016 that compared the fecal samples of male mice fed a normal or high-fat diet for 12 weeks with a portion of the mice from each group able to exercise while the rest remained sedentary. The findings revealed that the physically active mice generated a unique set of bacteria independent from their diet while the non-active mice did not. Also, the sedentary mice on a high-fat diet showed increased inflammation in the gut which was not seen in the active mice. Results from a more recent human study in 2018 by Jeffrey Woods, a researcher at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, show that exercise alters the microbes in the gut regardless of one’s diet or body composition. One of the major findings revealed that working out increases levels of butyrate - a short chain fatty acid that has many health benefits in humans including the production of satiety hormones that curb appetite and the protection of existing neurons and promotion of the growth of new ones. In a review of human and animal studies on exercise and the gut microbiome published in Exercise and Sport Science Reviews in April 2019, Woods and his colleagues suggest that exercise may alter the gene expression of immune cells in the tissue of the gut. This alteration would lead to the production of more anti-inflammatory cell-signaling proteins and antioxidant enzymes while producing fewer pro-inflammatory ones. They also proposed that exercise may modify the composition of mucus in the gut, which would play a role in determining the bacterial species living there such as Akkermansia muciniphila, an anti-inflammatory bacterium that has been shown to significantly increase in response to exercise. Exercise also causes a person’s core body temperature to rise and a reduction of blood flow to the intestines which could potentially lead to a more direct contact between gut microbes and immune cells in the…

Do We Need the US Government’s Advice on a Healthy Diet?

Do We Need the US Government’s Advice on a Healthy Diet? By Emeran Mayer, MD The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide nutrition recommendations, are the basis for food stamp policies and school lunch menus and indirectly affect how food manufacturers formulate their products. These guidelines are updated every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the latest update has recently been published.1 Rejecting the advice of its scientific advisers and major organizations, the federal government has just released new dietary recommendations2 that sound a familiar nutritional refrain, advising Americans to “make every bite count” but dismissing experts’ specific recommendations to set new low targets for consumption of sugar (except in infants), products containing artificial sweeteners, refined and ultra-processed carbohydrates.3 According to critics, the latest guidelines do not address the current pandemic and its disproportionate impact on populations with diet related, metabolic disorders, nor the new scientific consensus about the need to adopt dietary patterns that reduce food insecurity and chronic diseases. Furthermore, climate change does not figure in the advice, which does not address sustainability or greenhouse gas emissions, both intimately tied to modern food production, in particular related to red meat and animal products. The process of developing the US Dietary Guidelines begins with the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), a group of nominated individuals, which reviews current nutrition research and drafts a scientific, evidence-based report that the USDA and HHS use to develop the final guidelines. The composition of this committee drew controversy earlier this year, because – not surprising - many of the committee members were closely tied to the meat, dairy, and egg industries. These industries are key players in the powerful industrial agricultural complex, which plays a major role in the current public health crisis. The good news is that despite this potential conflict of interest, the new guidelines are consistent with previously issued federal recommendations. Americans are encouraged to eat more healthy foods, like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seafood, low-fat or nonfat dairy, and lean meat and poultry, and should avoid saturated fat, cholesterol, red and processed meat. Even though the committee failed to warn against dairy products - the leading source of saturated fat in the American diet, these recommendations at first glance fall within the general recommendation of a traditional Mediterranean diet. The guidelines urge the nation to…

A Mindful Approach to Better Health

A Mindful Approach to Better Health By Jill Horn Mindfulness describes a non-judgmental approach to life and a focus of attention on the present moment associated with an approach to the present experience with an attitude of openness.1 Further fundamental components of mindfulness include a shift in our attention on the breath and on bodily sensations. As discussed in Suzanne Smith's post, The Remarkable Health Benefits of Abdominal Breathing, deep, slow, and mindful breathing has been shown to reduce sympathetic nervous system reactivity, improve mood, and decrease pain-related distress.2 Mindfulness training is increasingly being incorporated into psychotherapeutic treatments due to its positive effect on emotion regulation. Several studies have found increased activation of cortical brain regions which have a regulatory effect on emotions, as well as decreased activation of regions associated with the processing of emotional arousal.1 Moreover, a regular meditation practice has been associated with a greater volume of grey matter in the hippocampus and extended amygdala complex. Both brain regions play an important role in emotion regulation and the regulation of the stress response. Scientific evidence suggests that the benefits of mindfulness training include improvements in mood, a decrease in psychological distress, and increased quality of life.3 The effects of psychological stress on both body and mind involve changes in brain gut microbiome interactions, and imbalances in emotion regulation play a crucial part in many psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety.1 Adverse childhood experiences as well as adult psychological stress have been shown to disturb the composition of the gut microbiota, in particular resulting in a reduction of the relative abundance of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.4 Both of these microbial taxa have the ability to produce the neurotransmitter GABA , which has an inhibitory effect on emotional arousal circuits.4 In addition, in rodent models, increased levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the gut have been shown to be associated with lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms. However, it is unknown if blood levels of microbially generated GABA can reach the brain in sufficiently high concentrations to have this inhibitory effect on emotion regulating brain regions.5 In addition to its effect on the gut microbiome, studies in both rodents and humans have shown a stress induced increase in the permeability of the gastrointestinal epithelial barrier which has been associated with increased immune system activation in the gut.4 Even though there is still insufficient evidence from well designed human…

It’s Not All About WHAT You Eat, It’s About WHEN You Eat

It’s Not All About WHAT You Eat, It’s About WHEN You Eat By Juliette Frank The recent publication of a number of studies on the benefits of time-restricted eating (TRE) on losing weight and improving overall metabolic health has led to an increased interest in the topic. As TRE and intermittent fasting (IF) gets pushed into mainstream discussion, a common question people have is if it is the right diet for them. Even though the terms TRE and IF have been used interchangeably, there is a significant difference between the two: In TRE, the time of unrestricted food intake is limited to 8-10 hours a day, while no food is allowed for the remaining 16-14 hours. Overall, no calorie restriction is required in TRE. In contrast, IF refers to a eating pattern where several days of unrestricted food intake is followed by 1-3 days of fasting, resulting in a significant calorie restriction over time.1 For the average person looking to lose weight there is a growing body of research supporting the efficacy of both eating patterns as an intervention to manage weight and chronic diseases for a period up to one year.2 With nutrition and proper fueling being at the forefront of athletic performance, it is not surprising that there has been increased interest on the impacts of these dietary strategies on the body composition and athletic performance of athletes. Most research on the impacts of IF and TRE on athletic performance has been done in athletes observing the month long Ramadan fasting tradition. This is the most important month in Islam where observers abstain from all food and liquids during the hours from sunrise to sunset. Depending on where one is located geographically this means fasting for around 11-16 hours and eating only during the nighttime. The prominence of Ramadan-style TRE sparked interest when two major sporting events: the London 2012 Olympic Games and also the FIFA 2014 Soccer World Cup were staged during the month of Ramadan. The high profile of these events increased interest in the effects of this fasting method on top athletic performance. It is important to note that there are various factors to keep in mind when looking at the athletic performance of athletes observing Ramadan that may not be present when following a more standard TRE pattern, including sleep deprivation, altered circadian rhythm, heightened stress levels, low blood sugar, and dehydration. According to…