Tag Archives: fitness

Neuro-Genesis

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Your brain creates the world in which you live. Image by jdurham at morguefile.com.

Brand new baby brain cells (neurons) are crawling around inside your head as you read this!

This process, called neurogenesis, is very exciting because neurons create your world, and the birth of new neurons  is like a re-creation of the world taking place in your very own brain.  Let’s pause to consider this.

Most everyone is familiar with the account in Genesis of how the world was created.  In this account man was created on the sixth day.  But what is not mentioned is that once man was created, the whole world had to be re-created inside his head.   We cannot perceive objective reality directly.  In Kantian philosophy, this objective reality that is unknowable is referred to as the noumenal world.  Neurons are the living entities responsible for creating the subjective or phenomenal world which we can perceive.  The phenomenal world created by neurons is a simulation of the noumenon, and it includes everything that is perceivable through the senses, thoughts and emotions.

Thus each individual is the creator of a unique phenomenal world.  Although neurogenesis refers only to the birth of neurons in the brain, in reality we can extend the significance philosophically by thinking of it as neuro-Genesis, the re-creation of an individuals phenomenal world by the brain.

Unlike the noumenal world that is made up of objects, the phenomenal world is made up of memories.  It is very important to appreciate how our worlds are constructed by a constellation of living entities (neurons) each assembling memories like LEGO blocks to create a phenomenal world.

When neurons involved in this process die or malfunction our world shrinks.   This is why a patient with Alzheimer’s, though technically not blind, can forget how to see.  At first the patient may fail to recognize new acquaintances.  As the disease progresses, family members are not recognized, and finally even the concept of a face is forgotten as neurons continue to die or malfunction.

The Birth of Worlds

Research published this month by David Briley, et al., at the Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative diseases, Department of Neurology, University of Texas Medical Branch, has shown that the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus may be responsible for preventing symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) in individuals with brain degeneration  that is normally associated with full AD symptoms.  These rare individuals were referred to as  Non-Demented with Alzheimer’s disease Neuropathy (NDAN).  This research shows the importance of promoting the continuous birth of neurons throughout life for retaining mental health in increasingly toxic environments that we are creating.

The perspective I am promoting is that the birth of neurons in the brain is like the birth of new worlds, because these cells directly create our phenomenal world.  This can work in two ways.  The first is that death of cells which would cause our world to shrink can be counteracted.  The second is that our world can continue to expand as these new neurons find their place in our phenomenal world of memories.

In her Ted Talk (see link below), Sandrine Thuret mentions the strategies we can employ to promote the birth of new neurons in our brains.  She discusses research showing that aerobic exercise (running) is is a potent method for stimulating neuronal birth when compared to sedentary behavior.

Her list of do’s and don’ts for birthing brain cells include the following:

Do’s

  1. Learning
  2. Sex
  3. Running (Aerobic Exercise)
  4. Omega 3 fatty acids, blueberries, curcurmin, resveratrol (skin of red grapes, etc.
  5. Intermittent Fasting (increased spacing between last meal and first meal the next day)

Don’ts

  1. Stress
  2. Sleep Deprivation
  3. Alcohol
  4. Vitamin Deficiencies (A,B,E)
  5. High Sugar

Ultimately the best strategy for keeping your world growing is to protect both your old neurons as well as promoting the birth of new neurons.  Some neuroscientists think the birth of new neurons is hyped by the media of wishful thinkers.  According to these researchers the best advice is to take good care of the neurons you already have rather than hoping to gain new ones.  However, mounting evidence indicates we are in for more budding heads in the future, as the stream of baby neurons explore their place in the palace of our memories, our phenomenal world.  Enjoy!

Feed Me Fast

brain (1)Fasting and Brain Fitness

In some cases we can learn about the root cause of chronic disease by looking at how our environment and lifestyle has changed in the last few hundred years.  On an evolutionary time scale of billions of years, a few hundred years is a very short time, and is not long enough for the body design to catch up with environmental changes.

For example in our previous two posts we noted how the body evolved (or was designed ) for continuously challenging movements in the quest for finding food , finding mates, seeking safety from predators and fighting off competitors, and how our current sedentary lifestyle is at odds with our body.

Another anomaly driven by evolutionarily recent changes in food production is the over-abundance of food.  Our ancestors were more likely to face food scarcity, and a feast-or-famine type of existence.  When food was scarce, our ancestors bodies smoothly switched from using glucose as fuel to using stored fat for energy. This means that they were more likely to mobilize reserves of body fat resulting in a higher fat-free mass.

Now the over-abundance of food combined with sedentary lifestyles has created an epidemic of obesity in which the global population of overweight and obese people exceeds that of under-weight people.  Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and emerging evidence suggests that it is also a risk factor for age related cognitive decline and possibly Alzheimer’s.  According to researchers like Mark Mattson (Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging)  and Bert Herring (Physician and Medical Writer), the root cause of the problem is not the excess storage of fat but rather, that the body needs fasting just like the muscles need exercise.

The idea of using fasting to improve health has existed for thousands of years as evidenced by the following quotes:

  • “Humans live on one-quarter of what they eat; on the other three-quarters lives their doctor.” – Egyptian pyramid inscription, 3800 B.C.
  • “Fasting is the greatest remedy– the physician within.”  Philippus Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine
  • “A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors.”  Mark Twain, in My Debut As a Literary Person.
  • “The best of all medicines is resting and fasting.”  Benjamin Franklin

There is evidence that fasting has positive effects on the whole body such as decreased inflammation, oxidative stress and asthma, increased insulin sensitivity and decreased risk of diabetes, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and increase in human growth hormone.

There is also evidence that fasting helps to improve cognitive function by stimulating the production of neurotrophic factors and can help prevent chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

According to Mark Mattson, the key to understanding how this works is to appreciate that our bodies have another mode of operation where energy is derived from fat metabolism (ketosis) rather than from glucose metabolism (glycolysis).  When we eat three meals a day our bodies never switch over to this powerful mode of operation, because it takes 10 to 12 hours of fasting before the bodies glycogen stores are used up.

Fat is the Wealth of the Body

Every-day-life analogies for these two modes of operation would be like work vs vacation  or like being employed vs unemployed.  When you are in work mode you  save cash for vacations or unexpected loss of income.   As you can see from this example,  each mode of operation  entails a different set of priorities and tasks.

Likewise, fat is the stored wealth of the body and the bodies priorities shift depending on whether it is storing wealth (glycolysis) or using it (ketosis).  Think of a short fast as a vacation mode for your body, while a longer fast may be more challenging (i.e. unemployment).

Mark Mattson promotes the idea that fasting is a challenge to the brain.  This challenge promotes adaptive stress responses and changes in the brain similar to what is seen with vigorous exercise or cognitively challenging stimuli.  This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Using our analogy, an unemployed person is challenged to learn new skills in order to compete for a new job.  Similarly the fasting brain responds to the challenge of acquiring more body wealth (fat), by generating neurotrophic factors that promote the development of new connections and that drive the transformation of stem cells into new brain cells in some regions of the brain.

The neurotrophic factor BDNF that is released during fasting also promotes the increase in the number of mitochondria inside cells.  Because mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells this increases the ability of neurons to grow and develop new connections.

How to Feed Your Brain Fast

Knowledge is power when properly applied, so what is the right way to incorporate fasting into your life.  Just like engaging in new physical activity it makes sense to discuss changes in lifestyle with your health care team.  Care must be taken if you have high calorie expenditure due to athletic endeavors, or if you are taking medications.

Fasting can generally be started by increasing the amount of time between your last meal of the day and your first meal of the subsequent day.  One could limit meals to an 8 hour window or less each day.  This is the approach that I have been using, although my window is currently more like 10 hours.

Another option is to skip the last meal of the day or the first meal of the day once or twice each week.  Just as an athlete must begin with light weights and progress to more difficult challenges in order to avoid injuries, so it is with fasting.  Learn more about it and proceed with caution in order to make sure the body is receiving its needed supply of nutrients.  It could be your ticket to a healthier you.

 

 

Activity: The Mother of Life

Tai Chi Girl Chen Flying
Activity is the Mother of Life

Have you ever noticed that some people nap more during the day  as they age?  It often becomes harder for them to stay awake during routine activities.  There are many sleep related disturbances that can cause excessive daytime sleepiness at any age, such as:

  • Difficulty Initiating Sleep
  • Awake A Lot During Night
  • Difficulty Returning to Sleep
  • Snoring
  • Pauses in Breathing
  • Nocturia
  • Symptoms of Restless Leg

These sleep problems tend to increase with age but are not considered part of normal aging.  However, excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) can be the first symptom on a slow but steady path of decline and suffering in the elderly.  The symptom creates a feedback loop that tends to promote further decline because as a person increases napping during the day they incur the following setbacks:

  1. Naps that are longer than 10 – 20 minutes can create sleep inertia resulting in grogginess.
  2. Naps too late in the day or that are too long in duration can diminish sleep drive negatively affecting the depth and quality of night-time sleep.
  3. There is an increased health risk (i.e. mortality risk) from excessive daytime napping.
  4. When a person is napping they may get insufficient physical activity throughout the day.  This in turn degrades sleep quality at night.

Thus when it comes to excessive napping, sleep that is normally restorative,  may truly become the insidious “Brother of Death” described in Greek mythology.  Excessive daytime sleepiness may also be accompanied by depression, attention and memory disorders, and an increase in nighttime falls.

Activity: The Mother of Life

To break the insidious cycle the human body needs vigorous activity that is challenging.  Activity is the mother of life and is often the best antidote to sleepiness.  We take movement for granted but in reality it is a magnificent gift and we are designed to use it as medicine and as a life-giving tonic!

We forget that movement is magical!  Our abundance of technology can not replicate the grace, versatility and independence of human body movement.   And it is all orchestrated by a fabulous network of trillions of tiny beings that we call cells.  They are all yearning to get involved in your life, but they can’t unless you blast the trumpet of movement in multiple degrees of freedom.

The body yearns for that bygone era when it had to fight for survival or flee to the tops of the trees, when the entire body participated in the endeavor of life.  Nowadays many of us make a living by twiddling our fingers on a keyboard, or moving our yappers non-stop.  Some are lucky to ambulate throughout the day, but how many people do you see climbing trees for a living, or swinging from vines?

So next time you yearn for a nap ask yourself this, did you really get enough vigorous physical activity today?  If the answer is yes then forty winks may be in order.  But if not, challenge yourself to a duel instead!  Get out there, get active, and bring your bodies 200+ degrees of freedom to life!  You may even sleep better tonight.

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Challenge yourself to a duel!

Excitement to Die For!

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We are wired to seek excitement. So then how can it become toxic? Photo by William Cho. [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
There are some things in life that seem good enough to die for.  The excitement we feel in these moments is hard to resist.  In general our bodies are wired to create excitement when it comes to activities that trigger survival instincts.  This includes warfare, hunting, eating, sex and any permutation of these activities.  In our modern world these activities are often morphed into civilized forms such as sports, video games, surfing the web, music, cuisine, etc.  But if our bodies are designed to handle a certain amount of excitement, can too much excitement become toxic, killing you before your allotted time?

Welcome to the frontline of the battle for health where you come up against your nemesis,  herein named Excitotoxicity!

Like the song “Counting Stars” says,

“And I I I I feel something so right by doing the wrong thing
And I I I I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing

I could lie, couldn’t I, couldn’t I?
Every thing that kills me makes me feel alive.”

Sure some things may truly be worth dying for, but others are simply enemy snares that rope us in and pull us down slowly over time.  There are a whole slew of behaviors that fall in this category such as overeating, alcohol, tobacco and drug use, sexual addiction.  These are well known to every one, and should probably be considered excitotoxins, but the excitotoxin targeted in this post is “free glutamate”, a flavor enhancer added to our processed foods that has 129 different names on food labels and is possibly implicated in a whole host debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, and other forms of dementia.

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The original free glutamate flavor enhancer developed in 1909 – MSG). Photo by Dynomat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
 An excitotoxin is a substance that can damage or kill nerve cells by over stimulating them (i.e. exciting them to death) .  Over 70 types of excitotoxins have been identified (i.e. glutamate, aspartame, sodium caseinate, etc.)many of which are added to our food supply in the form of flavor enhancers.  They sneak into our foods, hidden behind names such as yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, vegetable protein, textured protein, natural flavor, carrageenan, and anything hydrolyzed.  ( See some lists here and here).  MSG is sold directly to consumers packaged as Accent, Sazon Goya, Vetsin, Marmite and Ajinomoto.

The official designation of the FDA for flavor enhancers such as MSG is GRAS ( Generally recognized as safe).  However the FDA recognizes that following symptoms are possible after large doses of MSG:

“short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness”

It does not appear that the FDA has performed long-term studies of the cumulative effects over many years of eating foods with added excitotoxins, nor have they studied the long-term effects on specific vulnerable populations such as children,  the elderly, and people who are genetically predisposed to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, ALS, etc.  A recent paper published May 2013 by Tadvi NA, et al., in the International Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences titled “Excitotoxin: Their role in health and disease” concluded the following:

There is considerable evidence based research pertaining to the neurodegenerative effect of excitotoxins to the human brain. Yet the autonomous food regulating bodies like FDA refuse to recognize the immediate and long-term danger to the public caused by the use of such excitotoxic food additives. Thus only means of protecting oneself from such type of neurological damage is to consume only unprocessed, fresh, whole, organic foodstuffs.

Did you know that some of the drugs used to help Alzheimer’s patients (such as memantine or Namenda) work by blocking the effects of glutamate?

What it all boils down to is this:

You have to become the expert on your own health because something that doesn’t affect the majority of the people could be killing you or making you age prematurely.  You need to become your own health detective.

Redline_Excitement
Overly exciting your brain cells with excitotoxins may cost you down the road! Photo by Michael Gil from Calgary, AB, Canada (Redline Excitement) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This process starts by carefully reading all the labels on the foods you buy and possibly rejecting foods that are amazingly , excitingly delicious.  Vitamin C may also help protect against the effects of exposure to excitotoxins.

MemZy: Your Life Memory

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OnTierraHealth Technology has posted a new free app named MemZy to the Google Play Store.  If you have an Android device, please test it out and provide your feedback through the following link:

OnTierraHealth Technology Contact Page

MemZy helps you improve your memory in a way that is personally relevant to you by using photographs that you have taken, presented in the form of date quizzes!

It’s simple to use. Launch the app and it randomly selects a photo / image from your device and displays it with a choice of 3, 6 or 9 dates (user selectable setting that defaults to 3). Select the date and time that you believe goes with the photo on display. If you select correctly you will see “MemZy!” flash on the bottom of the screen. Otherwise, you see “OOPs Try Again!”

The quiz will contain 10 questions (if you have at least 10 photos available on your device) chosen from up to 1000 of your most recent photos. At the end of the quiz you will receive a score based on the number of correct and incorrect choices.

It’s a very simple but useful game if you want to improve your recollection of dates. Take pictures every day so that you can use them with MemZy to develop your own historical memory.

*Feature Graphic Pet Scan derived from public domain photo taken by Jens Maus.

Oh I Can’t Sit Down!

Ernestine Shepherd, a 77-year-old female body builder,  was featured in the May 2014 issue of Prevention Magazine and her short 8 minute video is still available right here.   This short video speaks for itself, so we do not have to add much.   But I’ll warn you; you may want to stand up while watching this video.

This is the stuff legends are made of.  Her motto is “Age is nothing but a number, and you can get fit.”  She wakes up each morning at 2:30 AM and has her daily devotions.  Then she scrambles 10 egg whites, drinks 16 oz of water and eats a handful of walnuts.  As she prepares for her morning run she sings her version of her favorite song (from Porgy and Bess):

Oh I can’t sit down, gotta keep a rollin’ like the rollin’ of a song.

Oh I can’t sit down, gotta keep a rollin’ like the rollin’ of a song.

Today I am happy and free, nothing in the world is troubling me, Oh I’m on my way!

The three D’s that inspire her are, “determined, dedicated, disciplined, to be fit.”   But just as important is the sense of joy and compassion that attracts scores of students to her daily fitness classes.

In a society where we have succumbed to the worship of youth, and where the elderly are marginalized, it is refreshing to hear the gospel of health preached by those who know it best, those whose lives and quality of life have been extended by living what they preach.

Introduce your loved elderly parents and grandparents to Ernestine today!  It may just inspire them to take on that next big challenge.

Health Detective Apps

One reason detective stories are so exciting is that they challenge our greatest possession, our brain, to keep up with the savvy, sophisticated, and immersive mind of the detective. Detective stories are usually about macroscopic criminals but when it comes to health, most criminals are microscopic, and this makes them even trickier to apprehend. There are many professionals that wear the “health detective “ hat including traditional and natural doctors, nurses, therapists and other health care workers, as well as fitness professionals such as personal trainers and coaches. But no detective can complete their mission if too many pieces of the puzzle are missing. Currently the clues related to health are often extremely difficult to uncover, and a new breed of Tech Health Detective is looming on the horizon.

There are many amazing case histories in which doctors properly fill the role of health detectives and health advocates for their patients, painstakingly tracking symptoms and clues to piece together a hypothesis of the root cause in order to eradicate it and restore health.  In The Art of Diagnosis Maggie Mahar included an excerpt from Clifton Meador’s book “True Medical Detective Stories”, in which a woman was experiencing severe neurological symptoms due to a microscopic criminal in her home (see link if you like detective stories ).

Other times doctors are overwhelmed by the number of patients they have, and by the number of possible causes of illness and cannot chase down all the possible culprits behind individual’s symptoms.  In these cases, doctors tend to resort to their mantra of treating the symptoms in the hope that this will help the patient feel better while their body heals.    In cases like this, individual’s can now begin using mobile tracking apps to help with the search for clues leading to apprehension of the culprit.

One such tool that I have been trying over the last 20 days is mySymptoms from StarGazer Labs. This app appears to be one of a kind for the Android platform although there appears to be a similar app named Symple available for the iphone.  mySymptoms allows the user to track events such as meals, medications, exercise, environment and symptoms and then correlate symptoms to events. This is not a simple task given the number of possible culprits related to symptoms but one can add customized symptoms and events into the mix. I find this app to be well worth the $1.99 that I paid for it. However, it does require a lot of patience to enter all the data and the correlation engine may need to allow some tweaking. This app is a good preview of what the future will bring for Health Detective apps.

In the future, the data entry bottleneck will need to be dealt with more effectively for this technology to be widely adopted. This can be done through the use of voice data logging, visual identification of foods, integrated photos of skin for tracking acne, and integration with other fitness apps. Other nice additions to the this type of app would be 1) Separate long term symptoms from short term symptoms since it is not helpful to enter durations for chronic symptoms, 2) Make sure all events, including environmental exposure, have a numerical rating 3) Tally an overall health score for each day based on data entry and compare to the perceived score for the day, 4) Some symptoms such as the occurrence of a canker sore, can persist for a week or two, and one should not have to enter it every day, these sort of symptoms once entered should persist until the severity drops to zero indicating that the problem is resolved.

The mySymptoms app is a great start down the path towards improved Health Detective Technology, but there is still much work to be accomplished before the Health Detective Apps can stroll with the likes of Sherlock.