Category Archives: brain

The Gut and Depression

I am fascinated about all the research in the gut biome and our relationship with the microbes that live inside of us.  I am motivated to figure out how to guide clients in improving their mood through their nutrition.  I am not a professional nutritionist but I try very hard to stay up on the latest research.  Subsequently I ran across this article in Psychology Today, October 2017 issue, pg 31-32 on how the microbes in your gut affect your mood.

There were  2 studies mentioned that as I scanned the information grabbed my attention.  The first one was on the transplanting fecal matter from depressed patients into germ-free rats.  The rats then began to develop symptoms of anxiety and anhedonia (not taking interest in the usual things one finds interesting).  The other study involved giving patients prebiotics (material that enhances the grown of beneficial microbes in the gut.)  The researchers discovered one particular type of prebiotics ( galacto-oligosaccharides – GSOs) to decrease cortisol and increase a patient’s attention to positive events.

However what was most intriguing as I looked deeper into the article was the theory of how important fiber is to our gut biome.  Apparently  fibrous material from plants which are more difficult to digest help feed beneficial microbes.  This fermentation that occurs releases energy, gases, and metabolites called “short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).  These SCFAs are one of the ways our gut communicates with our brain, signaling molecules throughout the body to mobilize hormones and activate nerve pathways to everything from body weight to mood states.  Apparently the material present from these prebiotics in the fiber is extremely important for wellness and something our general Western diet lacks.  Per article our ancestors consumed around 100 grams of fiber while  we consume currently around 15 grams of fiber a day.   This is just another added point toward why nutrition is so important to limiting our stress and increasing well-being.


Brain Health


Research on Alzheimer’s was again in Scientific American this month.  This particular article was reviewing research based on a clinical trial by “FINGER” (the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) between 2009 and 2011.  The results of the clinical trials and the study show that it is never too early and in this case  never “too late”  to intervene with cognitive decline through changes in the way one lives.

The changes they were referring to were eating a Mediterranean like diet, getting exercise, and challenging the brain through learning new things and memory challenges.  These recommendations are by no means new to the public but just validates even more this life style.  To be clear the exercise that showed positive results in memory and organization was 2-3 times a week of 60 minute periods of exercise like muscle strength training, aerobic exercise and postural balance and the Mediterranean diet was fruits, vegetables, whole grains, rapeseed oil, a fish meal  at least twice a week.  The only supplement given was Vitamin D.

Of course the groups started slow and built up to this goal which is encouraging.  They started at 30 minutes.  The exercise sometimes is the most difficult to work in.  It’s important to note that the time they give is not straight cardio work, it combines strength building, cardio, and posture improvement such as in physical therapy, physiotherapy, and some types of yoga.

Motivation for change can be a slow process but building up reasons to change is one of the steps.  Looks like this study gives us more to add to that list of pros and cons.  Hopefully also  it will also help us to work through the ambivalence.


How Meditation Affects the Brain

zen rocks pic

I’m facilitating a new class, Monday Yoga /Wellness Class, that starts Monday June 20 at 7pm (space is limited so contact me if you are interested.)

This class is aimed at developing an individual wellness/meditation practice.  We will do yoga postures to let go of any tension and to open the body up for relaxation for the first part of the class.  The rest of the class is focused on progressive relaxation, breathing, and a variety of meditative techniques.   (Props, chairs, and mats are available).

I have many people who come to see me that want a meditation or a yoga practice at home.  I created this class to help with that.  We will be exploring not only how and why to prepare before meditation but also will practice different meditative techniques for students to “try out”.

We will also discuss how meditation affects the brain.

The research is suggesting that a regular meditation practice (15-30 minutes a day) can increase gray matter in the brain, build new connections, clean out plaque that causes dementia, reduce the size of the amygdala which causes the fight or flight response, and increase our resiliency to cortisol (stress hormone).

There are many reasons to work on a meditation practice, especially if you are trying to be healthy and/or reduce stress and its effects.  Of course this should be easy enough, right? Why is sitting 15-30 minutes every day so difficult to maintain (and for some even start)?  One is that sitting in general can be painful and uncomfortable. Two, establishing any new habit or change is difficult. Consistency, consistency, consistency.  The mantra for true success ……Oh if developing consistency itself was easy.

Even if you practice now and then, it is better than none at all.  I would encourage everyone to try for 5 minutes and go from there.  You may surprise yourself that you can actually develop your own practice if you keep coming back to it when you think of it, no matter how long the in-between.

One also does not have to just “sit”.  I’m also hoping this new class will educate students on what is meditation by research standards vs other definitions.

Here are some links that discuss the effects on the brain from meditation and the research behind it:

Psychology today

Washington Post