30 Days of Health and Contentment: Day 29, Listen to Your First and Second Brain

Two news articles about research studies in the past week have tied diet, exercise, and brain health together, and it seems we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg.

Last fall, when walking with a friend, we were discussing how difficult it is to break the “white carb” habit – by that, I mean sugar and refined flour.  It seems like the more of it you eat, the more you crave; and you never really feel full.

She told me that she had read about how diet affects your brain in ways that scientists are just beginning to understand.  In fact, the gut is called the second brain, and the interaction between these two organs is 1) news and 2) largely still unknown.

We do know a few things, however.  Let’s look at what’s been in the news.

Exercise Affects Your Gut Microbiome

Why do you want different kinds of microbes in your gut? It is a bit complicated, but the short answer is that it will help you to control your appetite and, perhaps, fight off certain diseases.

“In particular, they [researchers]noted widespread increases in certain microbes that can help to produce substances called short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are believed to aid in reducing inflammation in the gut and the rest of the body. They also work to fight insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, and otherwise bolster our metabolisms.”

So, where does exercise fit in?

“…even a few weeks of exercise can alter the makeup and function of people’s microbiomes, says Jeffrey Woods, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois who conducted the study, along with his doctoral student Jacob Allen (now a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University) and others.

Source:New York Times

An important side note is that these changes in the microbiome disappear if you stop exercising regularly.

We are talking about incorporating exercise into a new, healthy lifestyle that you maintain forever; not a short-term exercise (and diet) plan that you abandon when you reach your goal.

If you think about it, this idea that your gut microbes contribute to your ability to maintain a healthy weight is a pretty good explanation for why weight-loss dieting won’t work; because, as soon as you stop, your body’s chemistry will go right back to its old ways.

Blood Sugar Affects Your Brain Health

Now, let’s look at what recent research tells us about the connection between blood sugar and the brain.

“A longitudinal study, published Thursday in the journal Diabetologia, followed 5,189 people over 10 years and found that people with high blood sugar had a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar—whether or not their blood-sugar level technically made them diabetic. In other words, the higher the blood sugar, the faster the cognitive decline.”

Source: The Atlantic

So, blood sugar levels are important to preserving your brain power.

How does the body keep blood sugars stable? It does so by releasing insulin into the bloodstream.

When blood glucose levels rise after a meal, the pancreas releases insulin into the blood. Insulin and glucose then travel in the blood to cells throughout the body.

  • Insulin helps muscle, fat, and liver cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream, lowering blood glucose levels.
  • Insulin stimulates the liver and muscle tissue to store excess glucose. The stored form of glucose is called glycogen.
  • Insulin also lowers blood glucose levels by reducing glucose production in the liver.

In a healthy person, these functions allow blood glucose and insulin levels to remain in the normal range.

Source: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Insulin resistance occurs when the body requires more and more insulin to do the job. Eventually, the pancreas will be unable to produce enough insulin. The result is persistently higher blood glucose levels – a condition that we call prediabetes or diabetes, depending upon the severity.

This takes us back to the research examining the link between high blood sugar levels and dementia.

So, how do we avoid high blood sugar and cognitive decline?

You guessed it! By maintaining a healthy body weight and exercising regularly.  Dietary guidelines like the Mediterranean Diet and MIND Diet support not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind.

See, it’s all tied together.

It’s Not Really 30 Days, It’s A Lifetime

We are almost at the end of our 30 day journey. I hope you’ve learned some new things, been inspired to take some action, and are feeling better every day.  I know that I’ve learned a lot, and hope to make this 30 days happen again and again in my life.

A healthy and happy lifestyle FOREVER is the goal!

This post is not intended to offer medical advice. Check with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise plan.

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