Tag Archives: paleo

Aspartame, blood sugar levels, and oxidative stress in the brain! a Paleo, microbiome-based perspective

400 x 400 tsf gb

In the course of researching patient cases and working on my next book, I read a lot of research studies. Sometimes, I come across information that wasn’t really what I was looking for, but is fascinating!

I have several patients who have chronic Lyme disease (yes, there is such a thing, but that’s a different subject…) and neurologic problems from depression/anxiety to failing memory, movement disorders, and even seizures are often commonplace in this type of patient. I was looking up more information about how oxidative stress, one of the underlying processes that drives neurologic problem progression, affects the brain. Along the way, I came across this study about N-acetyl cysteine and Aspartame.

N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, is a precursor to glutathione (a powerful antioxidant) and as such it is a great tool to help reduce oxidative stress. Aspartame, more commonly known as NutraSweet, is a very common artificial sweetener.

This research study (see link below) was published in the journal Neurochemical Research in 2014, looked at NAC being used to protect the brain from the effects of Aspartame. Now mind you, if you ask 50 random people if they think NutraSweet is safe, most will claim it is and offer you a tinfoil hat if you mention anything about Monsanto and conspiracy to push the product to market. However, that is actually now an accepted fact, as Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle in 1985-the very company that held the patent to aspartame. In 1980 the FDA had banned aspartame, because the Board of Inquiry found that it might cause brain tumors. The Searle chairman at the time vowed he would get it approved. The chairman would later become famous as the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. A new FDA commissioner was appointed, who added people to the FDA board, and personally voted to break a tie and make aspartame legal. He later became employed by a public relations firm contracted by Monsanto and GD Searle. This product is now used in over 6,000 products, including over 500 different drugs.

The study in the Journal of Neurochemical Research matter-of-factly states that “Long-term intake of aspartame at the acceptable daily dose causes oxidative stress in rodent brain mainly due to the dysregulation of glutathione homeostasis”. It goes on to explain that aspartame reduced several antioxidant levels that are critical to brain health. They did find that NAC was able to exert a protective effect on the brain when it had been exposed to aspartame’s toxic effects.

One more tidbit is revealed in the study: “However, N-acetylcysteine was unable to reduce serum glucose levels, which were increased as a result of aspartame administration.” Another study evaluated the microbiome’s metabolism of aspartame and found that the end product is a short chain fatty acid, propionate, which raises blood sugar and reduces insulin sensitivity. In case that didn’t make sense to you, it makes blood sugar go up and insulin not work as well-building blocks of Type 2 diabetes. Isn’t the whole reason that people choose an artificial sweetener the idea that it won’t raise blood glucose like real carbohydrates would? Looks like it doesn’t really work that way! Now ask yourself why this isn’t more common knowledge…

In case you were wondering, that isn’t the only study that shows toxic effects of NutraSweet. Others have shown elevated cytokine levels (inflammation), as well as harmful/imbalancing effects on the gut microbiome.

Sometimes it is best to go back to what the body evolved and optimized to consume as food. The key word there is food, not chemistry! While many people are attempting to be on low-carb and Paleo diets to promote weight loss and health, the use of artificial sweeteners is definitely not a good addition to these diets. Some diets, such as South Beach, are actually recommending the full-fledged replacement of all simple carbs with artificial sweeteners. Many diabetics, the very people who need more insulin sensitivity and better glucose control, rely on very large doses of artificial sweeteners that are far above what is used in studies. For those pursuing a more traditional approach, the facts are even more clear. Consider that Paleo is supposed to mean Paleolithic; cave-dweller or hunter-gatherer. For 99+ percent of human existence, we’ve eaten meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts-essentially whatever could be picked, dug up, gathered, or killed in the region and season being occupied. I’m pretty certain that didn’t include Monsanto’s chemical cocktails.

References:

Impact of aspartame and saccharin on the rat liver: Biochemical, molecular, and histological approach.

Alkafafy Mel-S, Ibrahim ZS, Ahmed MM, El-Shazly SA.

Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2015 Jun;28(2):247-55. doi: 10.1177/0394632015586134. Epub 2015 May 26.

PMID:26015492

Longer period of oral administration of aspartame on cytokine response in Wistar albino rats.

Choudhary AK, Sheela Devi R.

Endocrinol Nutr. 2015 Mar;62(3):114-22. doi: 10.1016/j.endonu.2014.11.004. Epub 2015 Feb 11.

PMID:25681123

Low-dose aspartame consumption differentially affects gut microbiota-host metabolic interactions in the diet-induced obese rat.

Palmnäs MS, Cowan TE, Bomhof MR, Su J, Reimer RA, Vogel HJ, Hittel DS, Shearer J.

PLoS One. 2014 Oct 14;9(10):e109841. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109841. eCollection 2014.

PMID:25313461

Free PMC Article

Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota.

Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, Zilberman-Schapira G, Thaiss CA, Maza O, Israeli D, Zmora N, Gilad S, Weinberger A, Kuperman Y, Harmelin A, Kolodkin-Gal I, Shapiro H, Halpern Z, Segal E, Elinav E.

Nature. 2014 Oct 9;514(7521):181-6. doi: 10.1038/nature13793. Epub 2014 Sep 17.

PMID:25231862

The carcinogenic effects of aspartame: The urgent need for regulatory re-evaluation.

Soffritti M, Padovani M, Tibaldi E, Falcioni L, Manservisi F, Belpoggi F.

Am J Ind Med. 2014 Apr;57(4):383-97. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22296. Epub 2014 Jan 16. Review.

PMID:24436139

Effect of aspartame on oxidative stress and monoamine neurotransmitter levels in lipopolysaccharide-treated mice.

Abdel-Salam OM, Salem NA, Hussein JS.

Neurotox Res. 2012 Apr;21(3):245-55. doi: 10.1007/s12640-011-9264-9. Epub 2011 Aug 6.

PMID:21822758

Aspartame administered in feed, beginning prenatally through life span, induces cancers of the liver and lung in male Swiss mice.

Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Manservigi M, Tibaldi E, Lauriola M, Falcioni L, Bua L.

Am J Ind Med. 2010 Dec;53(12):1197-206. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20896.

PMID:20886530

Aspartame and incidence of brain malignancies.

Davis DL, Ganter L, Weinkle J.

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008 May;17(5):1295-6. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-07-2869. No abstract available.

PMID:18483354

Free Article

Life-span exposure to low doses of aspartame beginning during prenatal life increases cancer effects in rats.

Soffritti M, Belpoggi F, Tibaldi E, Esposti DD, Lauriola M.

Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Sep;115(9):1293-7.

PMID:17805418

Free PMC Article

SIBO, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth

small intestine

What happens if your microbiome becomes too excessive and colonizes parts of the body where it really shouldn’t set up camp? SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, is an example of just that! Since this comes up very frequently in discussions with patients, it’s time to share some information about it. This problem is much more common than most would realize, and like many such things can be looked at as a “spectrum” from mild to severe/debilitating. If you feel worse after eating, and feel like taking probiotics makes things worse instead of better, these are some of the symptoms of low stomach acidity.

In the normally functioning digestive tract, the stomach is (relatively) sterile, having a very low pH due to the production of HCl, hydrochloric acid along with enzymes. This means that the stomach is a filter of sorts, killing most bacteria and viruses that might be present on food or beverage you consume. This understanding is validated by the observation that an animal’s stomach acidity is directly related to its place in the food chain. Animals that are pure carrion eaters or predators have the most acidic stomach secretions, while those that eat plants have the least. This serves two purposes: the first is to disinfect food that may even be actively decomposing, while the second is to break the peptide bonds that hold amino acids together to build proteins in meat. Since the stomach is so acidic in meat-eaters, they can eat roadkill and not become ill. A healthy human’s stomach acid inhibits bacterial growth in the stomach and the first part of the small intestine, before it is neutralized by bile secretions. This limits the amount of bacteria that can exist in those areas. This is part of our evolutionary heritage that allowed early Humans to survive on anything from seafood to insects, hunted or trapped meat animals, or stealing the prey of other predators.

Modern lifestyles conspire to reduce this needed acidity. Lack of sleep, too much stimulation, poor breathing dynamics all cause an autonomic imbalance that promotes everything from high blood pressure to poor digestion from low stomach acid. If stomach acid stays abnormally low for too long though, some organisms such as Helicobacter pylori can colonize and take over. This organism will then inhibit stomach acid production, wrecking your health in the process. So, without high stomach acid levels the predator (or human) would get infections and become ill; he also wouldn’t be able to digest the meat he consumes. Humans do not produce quite the stomach acid levels of a cat or dog, but are much closer to that level than a goat or cow.

The first question that brings up is the old debate about whether we are evolved to be vegetarians or meat-eaters. The facts here point squarely toward our physiology being optimized for some of each; definitely a meat-eater but capable of digesting plants too.

It is important to note that in this way, our individual “optimum diet” may be tied to our gastric acid status. If you have low stomach acidity, you’re not likely to digest meat very well, and may find yourself gravitating toward a vegetarian diet. If this choice is made due to low stomach acidity, it’s really running from the problem and still leaving the door open to a dysfunctional disease state. On the other hand, if you’d really like to do well on a Paleo type diet, you should also make sure your autonomics are balanced enough that you can produce adequate stomach acid to break down meat.

The second question is about what would happen if our stomach were not acidic? The obvious answer is bacterial colonization of the stomach and small intestine, with overgrowth compared to the normal condition. This results in a variety of symptoms, from heartburn (think summer roadkill in your stomach…ick) to bloating, allergic sensitization, indigestion, etc. It most definitely results in disruption of the entire microbiome downstream from the stomach also, with many consequences!

Now it gets interesting: What do most people do when presented with those symptoms? Take antacids! I have seen many patients who have been prescribed PPI (protein pump inhibitor; acid-blocking) medications, despite having never undergone any tests to confirm their symptoms indicated excess stomach acid. Stomach acidity declines with age, which is probably because of autonomic imbalance. Our fight-or-flight system (sympathetic system) becomes the dominant system when we’re under stress, fatigued, or if our brain is slowing down. Sound familiar? The parasympathetic system is stimulated by relaxation, deep breathing, less stress, slow relaxed eating, better sleep. Are you getting these things in your life?

To really build a balanced and high-functioning microbiome, it is necessary to start with balanced stomach function, then work downstream from there. Better liver function, small intestine function, large intestine function. One of the reasons many people cannot balance their large intestinal microbiome is that they haven’t managed their stress, breathing, sleep, and eating habits and therefore still have low stomach acid and SIBO to one degree or another.

Lifestyle habits that can help re-balance your autonomic function include deep breathing, yoga, meditation, taking time for yourself to do those things you love, scheduling and planning sleep more effectively, and taking the time to relax and breathe when you eat. There are also very specific functional neurology rehab activities that can aid in this goal. It is also possible to take a supplement that includes HCl and enzymes, to help kill off excess bacteria/H. pylori and begin to heal from SIBO.

So, be nice to your stomach, and your symbionts will thank you!

References:

http://progressivelabs.com/product.php?productid=14&cat=0&page=1

The Symbiont Factor: http://www.amazon.com/Symbiont-Factor-Bacteria-Microbiome-Redefines-ebook/dp/B00LV6H1UY/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1455197979&sr=8-1

http://drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/Hypochlorhydria_-_lack_of_stomach_acid_-_can_cause_lots_of_problems

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24310148

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1494326

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20572300

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18685464

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4682110

 

 

 

 

Super Synbiotic Breakfast, Improved!

A while back I wrote about a synbiotic (prebiotic fiber + probiotic bacteria) fermented breakfast, and I’ve improved significantly on it since then so here is an update!

The concept of a synbiotic ferment is to give the beneficial bacteria a headstart before they get introduced into the body by eating them-and then include enough fuel for the journey and any upcoming microbial challenges. With this in mind, a new study was published that verified that prebiotic fibers can selectively benefit specific bacteria down to the species level. That is very useful to know! (Chung) As a note, the best way to read this blog post and many of my others is to right-click on each of the references below and open them in new tabs, take a look at each one, then read the rest of the blog post. Then, you can skip back to the research article when you see something connecting it. The research articles about these ingredients show benefits such as increased testosterone in men, reduced body fat, increased insulin sensitivity/reduced weight gain, prevention of cancer, reduced LDL cholesterol…in other words, fairly profound benefits of letting our microbial friends have their way with the breakfast food before we consume it!

This isn’t a chemical formula, so the proportions can vary a bit and not ruin things. I tend to be someone who cooks by feel and adds a bit of this and a bit of that, so take that into account LOL. I’ll approximate what I usually use and you can adjust accordingly if need be. Note that the picture of adding the grated apple isn’t included, as the day I took these pics I didn’t have an apple! I’ll add it later though. For now, follow the text more than the pictures please 😉

Ingredients:

  • One cup gluten free oats, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup Kefir (I make my own with coconut milk; use what you have!)
  • 3 tbsp ground Flaxseed
  • 3 tbsp Inulin powder
  • One organic apple, peeled and grated
  • Enough extra coconut milk to make it totally wet with enough fluid to cover but not make soup (or your fave milk/substitute, but not vanilla or chocolate flavored stuff as the bacteria don’t seem to like that)

Mix all the ingredients in a glass bowl, and place on top of your fridge or other convenient place that isn’t too cold or too warm. Put a saucer under and over the bowl, as it can get frothy and try to escape! Now leave it alone for at least 24 hours, 36 or even 48 if you’re bold. When it’s a bit foamy feeling if stirred, and smells fermented, it’s ready to eat. I take 1/4 to 1/3 of the batch in another bowl, then add a handful of walnuts and some more coconut milk, and sometimes some maple syrup or molasses-just a spoonful-and even a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you heat it, you kill the bacteria so it’s probably much healthier cold. Enjoy!

References:

The Microbiome as an Ecosystem. What’s in common between wolves and our microbiome?

tick_deer

The microbiome is often described as an ecosystem, but what does that mean really? To understand this, we really have to use a bigger analogy, one that applies to an ecosystem that we can see. A video about the wolves of Yellowstone National Park has been making the rounds on Facebook (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q), and it does a great job of illustrating how things really work. Most of us are led to believe that biological systems are inherently stable, but that is simply not true-they are truly quite dynamic and always in a state of flux. In the Yellowstone example, the reintroduction of a few wolves after a 70 year absence caused a cascade effect greatly out of perceived proportion to the introduction of a few animals. The wolves chased the elk out of the valleys and river basins, where they had been overgrazing. This resulted in increased grass, shrub and tree growth, which reduced river erosion and altered the whole terrain. The effect was compounded by bears descending to the valleys to eat from the newly grown berries, chasing more elk away. Beavers returned, since they eat the bark of the young trees. Their activities changed the topography even further! Many other species end up returning, bringing stability to the ecosystem. That is a recurrent theme: ecosystem diversity increases function and systemic stability.

When we consider our internal ecosystem, a similar effect happens. When the microbiome is healthy and diverse, its effects can be seen in skin, immune, brain, hormone function along with practically everything else directly or indirectly. The person is healthier, happier and better functioning physically, mentally and emotionally. Isn’t that the goal when we want to become “healthy?”

In contrast is the unhealthy microbiome, often resulting from poor diet or antibiotics in food or as medicine, and function is lost throughout the body. As I’m working on a short book on Lyme disease, I am constantly reminded of this. The tremendous loss of diversity in gut bacteria (one patient’s uBiome results showed her to be in the “0 percentile” compared to other women for gut bacterial diversity) results in immune dysfunction. Examples include a loss of Interleukin-10 production, important because it protects brain cells from bacterial infection as occurs in neuroborreliosis. IL-10 also inhibits inflammatory IL-17 production triggered by the Lyme spirochete, thereby restoring the integrity of the blood-brain barrier and joint capsule membranes, making it harder for the spirochete to evade phagocytic immune cells sent to kill it. Another classic example is microbiome production of alpha-galactosylceramide, which activates invariant Natural Killer T-cells. These iNKT cells are necessary for several of the body’s immune reactions to Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme bug. So, through antibiotic treatment to kill Borrelia, the body’s microbiome is decimated-taking with it much of the immune response needed to prevent reinfection or relapse. Why is this important, and what can we do about it? well…stay tuned to find out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paleo Diet: Romance vs Reality?

Brown cricket isolated on white

One of the current most popular diets is the Paleo diet. I’ve written in my book, The Symbiont Factor, about how there is fossil evidence supporting the Paleo diet as the way ancient humans ate, and have some additional thoughts on this controversial subject. Like many diets, the Paleo diet has evolved as many individuals and organizations promote their own vision of what a Paleo diet would have been or should be. This is normal, but for someone trying to learn how and why to eat a certain way, it can be bewildering! On one extreme is a Paleo vision that seems really more like an Atkins diet with some vegetables, on the other more like a Vegetarian diet with a little seafood added in. So, with that in mind, why would someone choose a Paleo diet? The basic concept is that our species has spent the majority of its evolutionary trajectory consuming a diet that did not include simple carbohydrates, large percentages of grains or any processed foods. This part of Paleo seems to be univerally agreed on as the building blocks of the diet movement-but what about proteins? I’ve read a great deal about our ancestral origins, and I’m going to run it up the flagpole to see who salutes! I grew up spending much of my childhood in the woods hunting or picking food, fishing or catching things to eat along streams and ponds, and catching blue crabs in the Hudson River (and yes they were yummy). I’ve always followed the licensing and bag limit rules, but since being a child I’ve also somewhat kept tally of those times that I could have taken game if I were starving, yet didn’t because it was out of season in some way. Now I know that many people who follow a Paleo diet likely have an image of ancient hominids that is a bit more romantic or idealized than what I’m about to describe, but hang in there and consider it! First, if we had to survive by hunting and fishing, most of us would starve-some quite quickly. Even if there were no rules, as in ancient paleo societies, hunting and fishing as we think of it today would not work well at all. There is too much energy expenditure involved in an individual capturing an animal for meat. Ancient humans worked around this in a few ways: group cooperative hunts, trapping, and alternative sources of protein. Native Americans, for example, let their children hunt small game while the men either raided other camps and tribes or hunted larger prey in groups. This strategy raised the odds that somebody would catch something! There is evidence that ancient Man had similar divisions of labor, with men hunting game while women and children foraged for other sources of nutrition such as tubers, plants, and…insects. Plains Indians of course had different strategies for hunting Bison, including stalking under cover, chasing on horseback (technically not until they had horses after the Spanish brought horses to the Americas) and driving herds toward pit traps, ambushes or ledges. Fishing is a similar example, with fish being far easier to net or trap than to catch! Fossil remains suggest that any civilizations living near the ocean probably subsisted more on shellfish than anything else for protein. This is evidenced by huge fossilized piles of shells that have been discovered. Having moved to Downeast Maine recently, I can attest to the difference in energy expenditure involved. Any game animals I’ve seen are distant and fleeing, yet I can walk down to the shore and pick a bucket of mussels off the rocks in a few minutes, getting enough to feed several people. Ancient man almost certainly spent much time near or in the water foraging for food. Our bodies come equipped with a functional dive reflex that makes short underwater excursions easier than many would believe! With this in mind, where does it leave ancient people that lived further inland? If you were in the wilderness and had to survive, what would be the easiest and safest source of high-quality protein, fats and nutrients? No, it isn’t that deer that you may or may not ever get…it is insects. They are plentiful and nutritious, and rarely fight back much. I know this sounds “gross” and might not fit what most Paleo afficionados would like to think, but consider it for a moment. Other primates eat insects, survival experts have touted them as a food source, and it doesn’t take nearly as much energy to get enough to sustain life. Some modern businesses have emerged to supply a modern version that is more accessible and perhaps more presentable, in forms such as protein powders or flavored varieties. One of the criticisms of Paleo diets is the need for meat, and the environmental cost/footprint to produce meat. Readers of The Symbiont Factor will also know that commercial meat has a huge number of chemicals included, antibiotics and pesticides, hormones and other goodies, which wreak havoc on our microbiome and our health. Organically raised meat is the way to go, and yet from a global perspective, would it even be possible for many more people to raise and eat organically grown meat? Probably not, as the yield per-acre is lower (don’t get me wrong, that’s a good thing compared to feedlot beef, but not necessarily possible on a global scale). While some of us are still hunters and occassionally can stock the freezer with the original organic, free-range meat, there is still a large part of the population that doesn’t hunt for ethical, geographical or practical reasons. In many families it may have been several generations since anybody hunted! Insects can produce more protein and nutrition with less global impact. I’m not ready to give up completely on meat, but when considering a true Paleo diet, an ento-diet (entomology is the study of insects) is worth study. We’ve been a bit spoiled by sanitized, clean, packaged, pretty foods that don’t resemble their original source in any way-and yet, several times each year there are outbreaks and recalls of such foods due to infectious organisms found in them. Is “sanitary” really an illusion after all? Is it even better for us? Again, in The Symbiont Factor, I reviewed something known as the “Hygiene Theory,” which is the observation that the human being requires a certain degree of bacterial and allergen exposure in order to develop a balanced immune system. When all food is sterile and has no contribution to our inner microbiome, and our children grow up in a sterile, Mr. Clean type of household, the risk of autoimmune diseases is far greater. These can be simple allergies or as severe as ALS, MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and other modern plagues that are largely the result of our attempts to isolate ourselves from the microbial world. Maybe it is time to consider what we would call “alternative” sources of protein, though they were probably a central source of nutrition for much of mankind’s life. I know, it feels like more of a Paleo thing to eat a Bison steak than chili-lime crickets, but…don’t let it bug you!

https://www.entomarket.com/edibleinsects/465?campaign=TSFB Paleo article

https://www.nasw.org/users/mslong/2010/2010_12/Insects.htm

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/34172/title/Why-Insects-Should-Be-in-Your-Diet/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24613098

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25315798

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24698197

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24630913

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24560030

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12680308

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11171955

Australopithecus sediba, our vegetarian past? What does it take to grow a brain?

Very detailed and scientifically correct human skullcutaway, with all brain details, mid-sagittal side view, on white background. Anatomy image.

I’m watching a PBS special about some new fossils of our ancestors, specifically Australopithecus sediba, discovered in a cave in South Africa. I noted that the reconstruction of the ribcage appeared to be wide and consistent with an individual having a large abdomen, similar to a gorilla, providing room for a long enough digestive tract to digest a mostly vegetable diet. Just as horses and cattle need a relatively large abdomen to provide a “fermentation vessel”, so too the gorilla (and A. sediba) have a skeletal structure to accommodate this structure. Later in the show, it was revealed that dental calculi (plaque) provided evidence of a vegetarian high-fiber diet. This validates my observation of the ribcage dimension and clinches, in my mind, that this ancestor was a veggie eater. The braincase suggests that this ancestor had not yet evolved the larger brain, particularly frontal lobes, characteristic of modern humans.

Scientists have identified two requirements for the evolution of large brains (termed “encephalizaton”). The first requirement is sociality, as much of the brain enlargement is frontal lobe and this part of the brain is where much of our social dynamic originates from. Executive functions, self control, altruism are frontal lobe functions for the most part. Species with large frontal lobes have advanced social societies (dolphins, whales, elephants are prime examples). The second requirement is DHA, an essential fatty acid found mostly in seafood but also in fats of prey animals.

It is thought by many research authors (see Ben-Dor and Jandhayala below in references) that mankind’s encephalization involved a shortening of the digestive tract to support eating more energy-dense foods like meats and fats. The consumption of plant material for a diet requires that most of the waking time be spent foraging and eating, and the digestive process depends on a large gut. The development of tools and weapons was a necessary step to becoming an omnivore, as was the development of social structure necessary to successfully hunt larger prey animals.

It is for these reasons that a diverse and unique gut bacteria were a critical component of our development. The gut bacteria help produce BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), required for the development of new brain cells and is essential for plasticity and learning. High levels of DHA in the diet also help with BDNF production. The human brain requires essential fats in the diet to support both its energy requirements and its health. There is evidence that during the phases where early man was developing the large brain characteristic of our species, diet shifted from plant based to include meat and fat. Those near the ocean likely obtained all the DHA fats needed from seafood, while those dwelling inland may have obtained it from…brains and marrow fat. Fossil remains show that prey animals consumed by early man have been found with cranial vault damage suggesting that the brain was removed for consumption. Obviously, those living near the ocean had a much easier time of things, as clams do not run fast nor pose much of a threat! Ancient settlements near water are often characterized by large piles of seashells.

What this boils down to is that we developed our big and (usually) useful brains due to a dietary shift away from vegetarian to eating meat and animal fats. Accompanying this shift, and codependent on it, was a behavioral shift toward toolmaking, weapon use, and increased social interaction. It should also be noted that as I explained in The Symbiont Factor, a higher functioning brain is codependent on a diverse microbiome. More brain activity helps the gut become healthy and encourages a healthy microbiome, and vice versa. The modern Western diet has high levels of omega-6 fats, which displace DHA and increase inflammation, leading to more disease and less brain development! That type of diet is also typically very unheathy for the microbiome, further hindering brain function. A vegetarian or vegan diet can still be brain-healthy, but apparently not without additional supplementation of DHA as even the presence of healthy fats in vegetable sources does not provide enough DHA due to a low conversion rate. That subject is discussed at length in some of the references provided, and may be fodder for many who have strong opinions one way or the other.

References:

The Symbiont Factor: http://tinyurl.com/ppyh9yr

Energetic and nutritional constraints on infant brain development: implications for brain expansion during human evolution:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24928072

Docosahexaenoic acid, the aquatic diet, and hominin encephalization: difficulties in establishing evolutionary links. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17160979

Encephalization is not a universal macroevolutionary phenomenon in mammals but is associated with sociality. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21098277

Evidence for the unique function of docosahexaenoic acid during the evolution of
the modern hominid brain. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10419087

Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca.400 kyr) Levant http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3235142/

New Insights into the Evolution of the Human Diet from Faecal Biomarker Analysis in Wild Chimpanzee and Gorilla Faeces http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465628/

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): An Ancient Nutrient for the Modern Human Brain http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257695/

Role of the normal gut microbiota: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4528021/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australopithecus_sediba

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/ancient/new-ancient-hominid-skeleton-found-in-south-africa/

 

Practical use of fermented and anti-inflammatory foods during stressful times!

For the last month or so, I’ve been hauling boxes and driving a crazy number of miles. I still have another epic trip to make, getting my horse to bring him to Maine. The last trip involved pulling a very heavily loaded 30 foot trailer, and was super stressful and fatiguing. What have I been doing to maintain my brain health and energy level? Many things, actually!

Fermented oatmeal is really versatile stuff. I wrote about it in a previous post, and have been using it extensively. Adding some ground flax seed before fermentation, and walnuts/raisins/coconut milk and maple syrup afterward yields a simple and tasty treat. It’s easy to keep in a cooler while on the road and eat a bit from time to time.

I’ve also been keeping a jar of kimchee in the cooler, and often take a few bites of it during roadside stops (yes, I’ve been traveling alone mostly. On the last run, my two cats didn’t seem to mind the smell-perhaps knowing they had worse in store for me!)

Kefir and yogurt of course help to maintain a low anxiety level and good digestive function during stressful drives. As I follow a Paleo diet pretty closely, I opt for coconut kefir (make my own) and coconut yogurt usually. I’ve also made a point of deep breathing from time to time to keep my autonomic function balanced and prevent constipation or reduced circulation.

Smoked salmon is one of my favorite road foods. I love it on a gluten-free bagel, but will eat it straight out of the wrapper as well (more paleo, right? certainly feels primal eating fish with my fingers as I go down the road…) Get the kind that doesn’t have artificial color and additives if at all possible. I’ve also often eaten sardines at rest areas, as the high omega-3 content of both items should help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation secondary to pushing the brain and body this hard.

Of course, taking a good probiotic/prebiotic with a combination of Lactobacilli and Bifido organisms is a good choice, as both reduce inflammation and anxiety. Snacking on fruit, both fresh and dried, provides some good “road nibbles” while nourishing those beneficial organisms.

Doesn’t this sound like it would help maintain concentration and health while on the road? Compare that with the average person’s choice of fast food and soda while traveling and I think there is quite a contrast!