March 14, 2021 — 11:04 AM
More than 6 million Americans, age 65 and older, are living with Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, that number is expected to rise to more than 12 million Americans by 2050.
So, while misplacing keys or forgetting someone’s name are harmless human mistakes, those memory lapses over time can grow concerning. Thankfully, our brain and memory function isn’t entirely out of our control.
The brain is constantly undergoing neuroplasticity, meaning it’s growing and changing throughout our lifetime. One way to support that process and enhance memory function is by eating functional foods, neuroscientist and neurodegenerative disease researcher Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D., tells mbg.
Here are her go-to nutrients and food sources for a sharper brain:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of polyunsaturated fat (aka the “good” kind of fat) that helps shape cognitive capacity. They’re rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which help support cognitive function, maintain the fluidity of cell membranes, and increase synaptic plasticity, Willeumier tells mbg.
In case you’re curious, “The more fluid a cell membrane is, the more efficiently it performs, contributing to a healthy mood and memory. It’s also crucial to cell survival, growth, and renewal,” she explains.
They also support memory function by maintaining brain volume in the hippocampus (the region of the brain involved in learning and memory) as we age, she explains.
Eating sustainable fatty fish—like wild cod, salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout—is a protein-packed way to get more omega-3s. For those on a plant-based or vegan diet, Willeumier recommends marine algae and seaweed, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds.
Polyphenols are a plant-based dietary antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits, and they’re abundant in berries. “Blueberries are great for the protection of chronic disease and brain health,” Willeumier tells mbg.
A 20-year study from Harvard Medical School found that the adults who ate blueberries and strawberries had the slowest rate of cognitive decline. “They could delay cognitive decline by as much as two and a half years,” Willeumier says.
Because of the blood-brain barrier, foods that protect the brain will also protect the heart, making blueberries a one-stop-shop for vascular health.
The American Heart Association published a study on more than 93,000 women between 25 and 42 years old. In an 18 year follow-up, they found that those who ate blueberries and strawberries three times per week had a greater reduction in heart attacks.
There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, but instead of fearing unexpected outcomes, take control where you can. Simply adding delicious and nutrient-dense foods to your diet, like blueberries and walnuts, is one way to take initiative with your brain health.
2-3 cups butternut squash (or pumpkin), peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 head escarole, or Romaine Lettuce, roughly chopped
2-3 slices cooked bacon, chopped
½ cup dried apricots, thinly sliced
¼ cup roasted and salted pepitas
1 shallot minced
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons honey
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
· Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss the squash with the olive oil and sprinkle it with kosher salt. Roast the squash for 15-18 minutes until golden browned on the edges and fork tender. Set aside to cool.
· In a small bowl whisk together the vinaigrette and season to taste with kosher salt.
· In a large bowl combine the escarole, bacon, apricots and pepitas with the butternut squash. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and gently toss to coat. Season to taste with kosher salt and serve immediately.
A diet that is predominant healthy and plant-based encourages a mix of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, which is linked with lower risk of common illnesses like heart disease, obesity and type-2 diabetes, new research has said. The study, published in Nature Medicine, was carried out by researchers at King’s College London, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, the University of Trento, Italy, and health start-up company ZOE. Using genomic samples, blood chemistry profiles and detailed data about the dietary habits, gut microbiomes and metabolic markers in the blood, researchers carried out the Personalized Responses to Dietary Composition Trial 1 (PREDICT 1).
The analysis pointed researchers to 15 microbes in the gut that are linked to common conditions like obesity and type-2 diabetes. The influence of these microbes and others correlated, either positively or negatively, with a person’s risk of serious conditions like diabetes, heart disease or obesity. Having a microbiome rich in Prevotella copri and Blastocystis species, for example, was associated with maintaining favourable blood sugar levels after eating a meal. Similarly, other species of bacteria were linked to lower blood fat levels and inflammation markers after a meal.
A leaky gut makes your intestines more permeable to absorption of nutrients and water, but also to their loss. Image: Harvard-Health
As the study describes it, a “healthy” diet has a mix of foods associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases. Subjects in the trial who ate a plant-rich diet were more likely to have high levels of “good” gut microbes that are, in turn, associated with low risk of common chronic illnesses. Also found in the study were biomarkers of obesity, cardiovascular disease and impaired glucose tolerance – all of which are risk factors for Covid-19.
“Finding novel microbes that are linked to specific foods, as well as metabolic health, is exciting,” said Dr Sarah Berry, a nutrition scientist at King’s College London. “Given the highly-personalised composition of each individuals’ microbiome, our research suggests that we may be able to modify our gut microbiome to optimize our health by choosing the best foods for our unique biology.”
Epidemiologist and Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London, who started the PREDICT study and is the scientific founder of ZO, said, “When you eat, you’re not just nourishing your body, you’re feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut.”
The health of the gut microbiome showed a greater link to these disease markers than other factors like genetics, which is thought to also play a role in gut health. Some of the microbes identified in the study are so novel, they are yet to be given a name.
“This is now a big area of focus for us, as we believe they may open new insights in the future into how we could use the gut microbiome as a modifiable target to improve human metabolism and health,” said Nicola Segata, leader of the microbiome analysis in the study and principal investigator of the Computational Metagenomics Lab at the University of Trento in Italy.
The findings could help nutritionists and enthusiasts personalize eating plans specifically to help improve one’s health. It also adds to the mounting evidence that gut health affects overall wellbeing in ways we don’t yet understand.
Cholesterol is one of the most feared molecules in the world today.
Yet new research shows it’s one of the most beneficial molecules for your health.
How does everyone have it so backwards?
First off, this is not medical advice. If your LDL is above the reference range, you should work with a doctor. Before making any dietary changes, always consult with a healthcare practitioner.
How Did We Get Here?
Why did cholesterol get put into the penalty box? Three main studies damned cholesterol:
1913 Russian study on rabbits showed that cholesterol caused lesions.
Ancel Keys and his CORRUPT seven countries study showing a correlation b/w saturated fat & heart disease
A study in Framingham, MA 60 years ago claimed cholesterol led to heart disease .
All three ultimately led to the diet-heart hypothesis and Food Pyramid.
Cholesterol was the critical second link of the diet-heart hypothesis. The hypothesis was that saturated fat increased cholesterol. And based on the studies above, that cholesterol then caused heart disease.
After cholesterol was found to be present in artery walls in patients with heart disease, cholesterol was blamed as the cause of the disease.
But we convicted the wrong enemy.
The Truth About Cholesterol
All three studies used to convict cholesterol would turn out to be flawed and corrupt.
The 1913 study on cholesterol by the russian scientist was on rabbits. Rabbits are herbivores. Of course they react negatively to cholesterol.
Ancel Keys cherry picked seven countries out of 22. After including all the countries there was no correlation.
There was not a shred of truth in any of the three studies.
A 30 year follow up to framingham actually showed a negative correlation between cholesterol and disease.
“There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years and mortality over the following 18 years (11% overall and 14% CVD death rate increase per 1 mg/dL per year drop in cholesterol levels).”
So of course the USDA and health authorities backtracked on their cholesterol recommendations and saturated fat vilification right…? Of course not. They doubled down and still recommend people limit saturated fat.
Studies Confirm LDL and Total Cholesterol Are Not Risk Factors
Now that cholesterol has been rigorously tested, more studies continue to emerge that cholesterol is not predictive of heart disease.
In 1987, a thirty year follow up to the Framingham study was conducted — the study that crucified total cholesterol in the first place.
Those aged between 48 and 57 with cholesterol in the mid range (183-222 mg/dL) had a greater risk of heart attack than those with higher cholesterol.
They also found that “for each 1 mg/dL per year drop in serum cholesterol values, there is an 11% increase in both the overall death rate and the CVD death rate.”
In fact, there are zero studies that show that high LDL is a risk factor, independent of triglyceride levels and HDL levels.
What matters is the functioning of your lipid and energy transport system.
And a big reason why there is often a correlation between LDL, HDL and heart disease is because they are potentially indicative of a broken system.
And you know what? New scientific research confirms this.
There’s not a single randomized control trial that shows people with high LDL die younger. David Diamond has done some great work here.
In fact, some studies show that higher LDL-C is associated with equal or greater lifespan .
When it comes to total cholesterol, a study in Hawaii found the same. Having low cholesterol for a long time actually increases risk of death:
Instead of continuing to dig their heels in, I do appreciate the honesty of the study above: “we have been unable to explain our results”.
This study from UCLA showed that 75% heart disease patients had LDL below 130 mg/dl — the level at which doctors prescribe statins.
The above data shows that saturated fat can raise cholesterol. But no evidence has shown that, independent of other factors, high cholesterol is a cause for concern.
New evidence continues to pile up that cholesterol alone is not the culprit when it comes to heart disease. And that lowering it is not necessarily beneficial (in fact in some cases it can cause more damage).
In 2019, the BMJ reviewed 22 interventional trials and found that “‘The preponderance of evidence indicates that low-fat diets that reduce serum cholesterol do not reduce cardiovascular events or mortality”
In the recently unearthed Minnesota Coronary experiment researchers lowered cholesterol like they intended by 14%.
But this led to a “22% higher risk of death for each 30 mg/dL reduction in serum cholesterol”
This study was BURIED for 40 years.
Lastly, remember the seven countries study that blamed saturated fat and cholesterol for heart disease? Well Zoe Harcombe added in 290 more countries and the correlation flipped. Cholesterol actually becomes negatively correlated with heart disease.
What BioMarkers Are Predictive of Heart Disease?
Yes, cholesterol is present in the artery walls of heart disease patients.
But it’s because it was there to rescue their artery walls.
It’s like condemning firefighters for starting fires just because they’re present at all fires. The logic is completely backwards.
What matters is how the fire started in the first place.
LDL, the “bad cholesterol”, is not predictive alone. Of course not. Because it is not inherently harmful. It’s only indicative of an atherogenic environment when it’s coupled with inflammation and oxidation.
What is the signature of inflammation and oxidation?
It usually rears its head as high TG / HDL ratios and high fasting insulin.
In a recent study of 103,446 men and women, LDL levels showed very minimal effect on heart disease.
But an increase in triglycerides/HDL ratio doubled the risk of heart disease.
High triglyceride/HDL ratios are indicative of high remnant cholesterol, which is a better indicator for heart disease than LDL alone .
Dave Feldman showed below that remnant cholesterol correlated highly with all cause mortality.
And guess what is significantly associated with remnant cholesterol? Insulin resistance .
When it comes to biomarkers, I like to see:
Total / HDL < 4
TG / HDL < 1
HDL > 40
TG < 100
Fasting insulin < 10
Fasting glucose < 5 mmol/L
LDL, the “bad cholesterol”, is nowhere to be found…Why?
Big pharma can’t make money off the REAL predictive biomarkers
Make sure to also keep an eye on fasting insulin levels.
From the great Ivor Cummins: When insulin is low, high LDL particle count and high triglycerides don’t indicate that you’re at higher risk.
But when insulin is high, the risk of high triglycerides and high LDL is magnified.
When fasting insulin is >15 uU/mL, your risk of heart disease with the same triglyceride levels go up 6.7x. And with the same LDL-P levels, it increases 11x.
High LDL with high insulin is much more concerning than high LDL with low insulin.
Too Little Cholesterol is Worse Than Too Much
Cholesterol is an organic molecule found in cell membranes and most tissues. It’s in the food we eat and is naturally occurring within our bodies.
Of the cholesterol present, around 75% is created in our bodies, and 25% is ingested.
Cholesterol is one of the most vital compounds in our bodies. So vital that our bodies make around 3000 mg of it every single day. We can’t leave it to chance to get it externally – it’s that important.
Without cholesterol, we would literally be dead.
Cells would disintegrate. We’d have no hormones, no brain function, and no muscles. Every cell membrane is constructed out of cholesterol.
All of the following critical body components are made from cholesterol:
Cortisol (anti-inflammatory stress hormone)
Aldosterone (regulates salt balance)
Bile (required for fat and vitamin absorption)
Brain synapses (neurotransmitter exchange)
Myelin sheath (insulates nerve cells)
Not having any cholesterol is MUCH worse than having too much of it.
Cholesterol is one of the most important molecules in your body. It is not a direct etiological agent in heart disease — it is merely correlative because it can indicate fundamental damage.
We’ve talked about a lot here, and I really hope that you get a lot out of this article. It wasn’t easy for me to learn all this information – it took me years to learn about these things and improve my own health.
Visceral fat is a type of body fat that’s stored within the abdominal cavity. It’s located near several vital organs, including the liver, stomach, and intestines. It can also build up in the arteries.
Individuals with COVID-19 who are admitted to the ICU or treated with invasive mechanical ventilation have more visceral fat than those who are admitted to the hospital, but are not in critical condition, according to study data.
“Our most important finding is that visceral fat area was higher in patients admitted to the ICU and requiring invasive mechanical ventilation, which draws attention to the importance of abdominal adiposity in COVID-19,” Andrea Szentesi, PhD, operative director of the interdisciplinary research support group at the Institute for Translational Medicine at University of Pécs Medical School in Hungary, and colleagues wrote in a study published in Obesity. “A recent meta-analysis by Huang et al has come to the same conclusion; they have found higher visceral adipose tissue values in patients with critical condition, as well. However, their search interval was shorter, and we included two additional studies in the meta-analyses.”
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis and systemic review of six studies involving 560 individuals with COVID-19 who were admitted to the ICU or treated with invasive mechanical ventilation. All the studies included data on the distribution of body fat mass. Researchers evaluated the association between COVID-19 ICU admission or mechanical ventilation and quantified fat mass.
In quantitative analysis, individuals with COVID-19 admitted to the ICU had a higher visceral fat area value than those who were hospitalized but not admitted to the ICU (standardized mean difference, 0.46; 95% CI, 0.2-0.71; P < .001). Individuals treated with mechanical ventilation also had more visceral fat than patients not treated with ventilation (standardized mean difference, 0.38; 95% CI, 0.05-0.71; P = .022).
In analyses adjusted for age and sex, two studies found increased visceral fat was associated with a higher risk for ICU admission. According to one study, visceral fat of more than 100 mm2 was not a significant risk factor for ICU admission, and a fourth study found that individuals admitted to the ICU had a higher visceral fat thickness compared with those in the general ward.
Two studies examined subcutaneous adipose tissue mass and its association with COVID-19 severity. Both studies did not find an association between subcutaneous fat mass and a higher risk for ICU admission, but one of the studies found an association between a high visceral fat to subcutaneous fat ratio and an increased risk for ICU admission.
In one study evaluating total fat area in COVID-19 patients, every 10 cm2 of total fat area increased the odds for ICU admission and invasive mechanical ventilation. Another study stated total fat area was a risk factor for ICU admission.
“In summary, we found that visceral fat area values were significantly higher in patients with critical condition,” the researchers wrote. “In light of the high prevalence of obesity, this area of research should be further investigated. Besides the distribution of body fat, adipose tissue-related substances as potential pharmacological targets might be worth studying as well.”
- Researchers say a new “green” Mediterranean diet is healthier for you than even the traditional Mediterranean diet.
- The green version replaces the minimal amount of red meat allowed in the traditional Mediterranean diet with plant-based protein.
- Experts say plant proteins have additional health benefits that include anti-inflammatory characteristics.
The “green” Mediterranean diet may be even healthier for you than the traditional Mediterranean diet.
That’s according to a new study published online in the journal Heart.
Researchers said they found that people who consumed higher amounts of plant-based proteins and less red meat and poultry experienced increased cardiovascular and metabolic benefits.
The researchers randomly assigned 294 sedentary people with moderate obesity (defined as a BMI of 31) into three dietary groups.
A significant majority of participants were male. Their average age was 51.
The first group received guidance on boosting physical activity and basic guidelines for achieving a healthy diet.
The second group received the same physical activity guidance plus advice on following a calorie-restricted, traditional Mediterranean diet.
Their menu was low in simple carbohydrates, rich in vegetables, and with poultry and fish replacing red meat.
The third group received all of the above, plus 3 to 4 cups of green tea as well as 28 grams of walnuts per day.
Their daily menu also included 100 grams of frozen Wolffia globosa (cultivated Mankai strain) cubes, a high protein form of the aquatic plant duckweed.
The cubes were taken as a green plant-based protein shake as a partial substitute for animal protein.
The study authors said in a press release that their findings suggest further limiting meat intake while increasing plant-based, protein-rich foods may benefit the cardiometabolic state even more.
And it may reduce cardiovascular risk beyond the known beneficial effects of the traditional Mediterranean diet.
After 6 months, the “green Med” diet surpassed the other two dietary plans in associated health benefits.
Participants on either type of Mediterranean diet lost more weight. The green Med group lost a total of 6.2 kilograms, the traditional Mediterranean diet group lost 5.4 kilograms, and the healthy diet group lost 1.5 kilograms.
Waist circumference shrank by an average of 8.6 centimeters among those on the green Med diet compared with 6.8 centimeters for those on the Mediterranean diet and 4.3 centimeters for those on the healthy diet.
The green Med group also saw the greatest reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol with a nearly 4 percent decrease.
The equivalent figures were nearly 1 percent for those in the Mediterranean diet group and even less than that for those in the healthy diet group.
Participants following Mediterranean-based diets also reaped additional health benefits that included decreases in diastolic blood pressure, insulin resistance, and an important marker of inflammation, C-reactive protein, which has an essential role in artery hardening.
The ratio of HDL (good) cholesterol to LDL (bad) cholesterol also increased.
My GIR mask is now the only one I wear! They run a tad small and I ordered a medium, which fits me perfectly. BUT they run small!
All of you who follow my blog know that I very rarely endorse products. However I have to share this! We are 11 months in to the pandemic and I now have a fabulous collection of masks. But wearing glasses with them is tricky and so is he fact that every single mask has to be modified because my face and especially my nose is SO tiny. I wear children’s glasses and my nose width at the tip of my nose is only 1/2 an inch wide. I have long been a fan of GIR kitchen utensils. As a Chef and an environmentalist I do not use plastic and love the well designed silicone utensils.
And then when the epidemic started they added a mask to their repertoire. HOLY COW, it is perfect! The silicone seals the mask around my face, the ear straps are perfect and the cleaning is a cinch. Just wash with soap and hot water and you are set to go. All of my cloth masks are wearing out at this point, this solves that problem. My glasses do not fog up because no moist are is escaping EXCEPT through the vent in the front of the mask. That means I am breathing in and out completely filtered air!
The filters are great but are pricy, so I use my own charcoal masks with 2 non-woven paper filters.
The Underrated Anti-Inflammatory Nutrient That Will Help You Live Longer, According to a Functional Medicine DoctorPosted: December 10, 2020
As one of the top functional medicine doctors in the country, Frank Lipman, MD, is asked a wide range of health-related questions every single day. Sometimes they’re tied to something specific trending in the wellness space: Is collagen overrated? (Nope.) Is oat milk? (Possibly.) Other times, it’s about how to get a better night’s sleep. But all the queries seem to be rooted in an even bigger question: how to live a long, healthy life.
Longevity seems to be at the heart of every question he’s asked, so Dr. Lipman decided to write a whole book dedicated to the topic: The New Rules of Aging Well: A Simple Program For Immunity Resilience, Strength, and Vitality ($20), out October 27, 2020. Tucked in the pages are some “rules” you’re likely familiar with, like cutting back on sugar and having a strong sense of purpose. But there are also some surprising things that have been scientifically linked to longevity that aren’t as widely talked about. One of those truth bombs is centered around an anti-inflammatory compound called quercetin.
Never heard of it? Quercetin is a polyphenol derived in plants that is connected to lowering inflammation, supporting the immune system, and, yes, longevity. “Besides curcumin, quercetin is one of the most important supplements for both immunity and longevity,” Dr. Lipman says. Looks like turmeric has some competition.
What is quercetin?
Before we dig deep into all the benefits quercetin boasts, it’s helpful to know what the heck it actually is. Dr. Lipman explains that quercetin is a type of polyphenol, which are micronutrients with antioxidant properties found in plants. Some foods that have this particular type of polyphenol are apples, onion, raspberries, red grapes, and cherries.
Quercetin has lots of benefits, but Dr. Lipman is most excited about its connection with longevity. “One is that it affects longevity gene pathways in a positive way, specifically activating AMPK [a protein enzyme],” he says. AMPK helps regulate cellular metabolism; when cellular energy is low, AMPK is called in for backup to keep the body running as it should. It also controls cellular autophagy, aka the clearing out of damaged cells. And recent research suggests that the enzyme can potentially delay the aging process as well. One paper published in the journal Discoveries states that AMPK activation increased the life of fruit flies by as much as 30 percent.
“Quercetin is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and immunity-boosting,” Dr. Lipman adds—properties that are important for longevity. To his point, chronic inflammation is associated with many age-related health problems, including cognitive decline and cancer, so managing inflammation is often seen as crucial for living a longer, healthier life. Meanwhile, the immune system weakens with age, making it harder for the body to fight off illness, so keeping it in tip-top shape is critical. Quercetin also supports gut health; since a huge portion of the immune system lies in the gut, “keeping your gut healthy is very important to immunity,” says Dr. Lipman.
Don’t worry curcumin, we still love you. Watch the video below to see why it’s so powerful:
Despite quercetin being in such a wide range of plant-based foods, Dr. Lipman says most people don’t consume enough of it to truly benefit. Part of this is because most Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, but even foods that naturally contain quercetin don’t have very high doses of the polyphenol. This is why Dr. Lipman often recommends a quercetin supplement. (He actually has his own, Superpowder, $54, which he created for The Well as its chief medical officer.)
Other tips Dr. Lipman wants everyone to know about longevity
While certainly more studies need to be done on quercetin (particularly on humans, not fruit flies or rats), the evidence that suggests its connection to longevity is compelling. But Dr. Lipman reiterates that it, like anything else, certainly isn’t a silver bullet for being a healthy octogenarian.
“One of the most important things for longevity is getting enough sleep,” he says. “We have a lymphatic system in the brain, which is the brain’s self-cleaning mechanism, and it only works when you’re asleep.” Not getting enough sleep makes it harder for the lymphatic system to do its clean-up job, which over time can lead to cognitive decline, Dr. Lipman says.
He also emphasizes the importance of having a sense of purpose, regular exercise, and eating healthy overall. Doubling down on apples and onions or popping a daily quercetin supplement is no replacement for a healthy diet. “When you look at Blue Zones, where people regularly live into old age in good health, they eat foods that are close to nature and not overly processed, they have a good support system, and aging is actually revered,” Dr. Lipman says. “These things matter.”
When it comes to longevity, it’s not only about what you put into your body, but is also about what’s in your heart. While the benefits may be outward-facing, when you get down to it, longevity truly is an inside job.
Whether it’s a belly full of turkey from the recent Thanksgiving holiday or just a really big meal, we have all experienced the sedative effects that come along with the feasting. While there are a host of potential factors that span the relationship between food and sleep, the microbiota of the gut is an area that is getting more of the recognition that it rightfully deserves. As such, a team of investigators from the University of Tsukuba has recently published their detailed findings in mice that revealed the extent to which bacteria can change the environment and contents of the intestines, which ultimately impacts behaviors like sleep.
Results from the new study were published recently in Scientific Reports through an article titled, “Gut microbiota depletion by chronic antibiotic treatment alters the sleep/wake architecture and sleep EEG power spectra in mice.”
The research team set up very simple yet straightforward experiments that gave a group of mice a powerful cocktail of antibiotics for four weeks, which depleted them of intestinal microorganisms. They then compared intestinal contents between these mice and control mice who had the same diet. The scientists found significant differences between metabolites in the microbiota-depleted mice and the control mice.
“We found more than 200 metabolite differences between mouse groups,” noted senior study investigator Masashi Yanagisawa, MD, PhD, professor at the University of Tsukuba and UT Southwestern Medical Center. “About 60 normal metabolites were missing in the microbiota-depleted mice, and the others differed in the amount, some more and some less than in the control mice.”
Next, Yanagisawa and his colleagues set out to determine what these metabolites normally do. Using metabolome set enrichment analysis, they found that the biological pathways most affected by the antibiotic treatment were those involved in making neurotransmitters, the molecules that cells in the brain use to communicate with each other. For example, the tryptophan-serotonin pathway was almost totally shut down; the microbiota-depleted mice had more tryptophan than controls but almost zero serotonin. This shows that without important gut microbes, the mice could not make any serotonin from the tryptophan they were eating. The team also found that the mice were deficient in vitamin B6 metabolites, which accelerate the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.
“We examined the effects of the gut microbiota on sleep/wake regulation. C57BL/6 male mice were treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics for four weeks to deplete their gut microbiota,” the authors wrote. “Metabolome profiling of cecal contents in antibiotic-induced microbiota-depleted (AIMD) and control mice showed significant variations in the metabolism of amino acids and vitamins related to neurotransmission, including depletion of serotonin and vitamin B6, in the AIMD mice. Sleep analysis based on electroencephalogram and electromyogram recordings revealed that AIMD mice spent significantly less time in non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREMS) during the light phase while spending more time in NREMS and rapid eye movement sleep (REMS) during the dark phase.”
Yanagisawa and his team also analyzed how the mice slept by looking at brain activity in EEGs. They found that compared with the control mice, the microbiota-depleted mice had more REM and non-REM sleep at night—when mice are supposed to be active—and less non-REM sleep during the day—when mice should be mostly sleeping. The number of REM sleep episodes was higher both during the day and at night, whereas the number of non-REM episodes was higher during the day. In other words, the microbiota-depleted mice switched between sleep/wake stages more frequently than the controls.
“We found that microbe depletion eliminated serotonin in the gut, and we know that serotonin levels in the brain can affect sleep/wake cycles,” Yanagisawa concluded. “Thus, changing which microbes are in the gut by altering diet has the potential to help those who have trouble sleeping.”
Whether you’re spending the holidays with family, a few close friends, or on your own this year, desserts are certainly a festive highlight. Sure, it’s important to limit sugar and other inflammatory foods to keep your immune system strong, but new research makes a brain-healthy case for eating cocoa.
The small study, published in Scientific Reports, found the antioxidant flavanols in cocoa can support brain vascular function and cognitive performance in young, healthy adults.
How researchers tested brain vascular function.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at 18 nonsmoking adults with no history of brain, heart, vascular, or respiratory diseases. Each of the participants identified as male and was between 18 and 45 years old.
This triple-masked study randomly divided participants into two groups: One group consumed flavanol-rich cocoa, and the other consumed processed cocoa with very low levels of flavanols—neither group knew which type of cocoa they were consuming.
Two hours after consuming the cacao, participants were asked to breathe air containing 5% carbon dioxide. “This is a standard method for challenging brain vasculature to determine how well it responds,” co-author Gabriele Gratton, Ph.D., said in a news release. The body’s normal response is to increase blood flow to the brain, bringing in more oxygen and allowing the brain to eliminate more carbon dioxide, he explained.
The link between cocoa and brain health.
Those who ate the flavanol-concentrated cacao were better able to defend against the excess carbon dioxide. In other words, the oxygenation process (increasing oxygen, decreasing CO2) was much faster for that group.
More specifically, “the levels of maximal oxygenation were more than three times higher in the high-flavanol cocoa versus the low-flavanol cocoa, and the oxygenation response was about one minute faster,” lead researcher Catarina Rendeiro, Ph.D., said.
When taking cognitive tests, the flavanol-rich group outperformed their baseline performance and the reduced flavanol group by 11%.
So, what are flavanols exactly? “Flavanols are small molecules found in many fruits and vegetables, and cocoa, too,” Rendeiro stated. “They give fruits and vegetables their bright colors, and they are known to benefit vascular function.”
Based on these findings, cocoa may support brain health and cognitive functioning in most people. Those who didn’t see improvements (4/18) already had high oxygenation responses prior to the study. “This may indicate that those who are already quite fit have little room for improvement,” Rendeiro said.
Quality cocoa high in flavanols may have brain-supporting benefits—so if you needed an excuse to make a rich dark chocolate dessert, now you have one. Start with this R.D.-approved chocolate smoothie, a nutritional psychiatrist’s chocolate mousse, or one of these 36 brownie recipes.
The information in this article is based on the findings of one study and is not intended to replace medical advice. While the results seem promising, more research is needed to validate the findings of this study.