Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Brain and Nutrition

Nutrition is defined as the act of being nourished, or the process by which we take in and utilize food. It would be well with us if we would truly view food as nourishment for our bodies and brains. Instead, however, it seems we view nutrition more like an amusement park. We want it to thrill us or glow in the dark!

It is important for us to know, however, that between 50 and 90 percent of our neurotransmitters are manufactured in our digestive system. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that our brain uses to send messages throughout our brain. When we have difficulty, at times, sleeping or staying awake or focusing or thinking clearly, it could be because we aren’t manufacturing the appropriate quantities of certain neurotransmitters. Medications for depression, anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder and others try to replace those neurotransmitters to help our brains function more efficiently. Unfortunately, the medications have TERRIBLE and long-lasting side effects. Research has proven that nutrition is a KEY ELEMENT to correcting the situation through good health.

There are definitely individual diet plans for individual needs, but here are some basics to get off to a great start!

Artificial stuff is not good for you. Artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives are NOT GOOD FOR YOU. When you read the list of ingredients, if you can’t pronounce it, or it has a # on it, it probably shouldn’t go in your mouth. Artificial sweeteners are neurotoxins—aspartame, Nutrasweet, Splenda, and any of their cousins are frankly detrimental to your brain. Artificial sweeteners have been shown to INHIBIT weight loss. Your digestive system was not built for them and must work overtime to process these—all the while having to steal nutrients from other tissues in order to do the digestive work, since a lot of the artificially manufactured stuff is often nutritionally bankrupt. Oh yeah, artificially manufactured “enriched” vitamins aren’t too great either. Vitamins/minerals from their natural source are exponentially better at the job than their man-made counterparts. Again, artificial stuff is not good for you.

Convenience food is NOT really convenient. I’ve lived a long time on a typical American diet and I have experimented with the changes I’m recommending. I KNOW that you can scramble 10 eggs in the same amount of time it takes to toast ONE frozen waffle. I KNOW that I can make my own tacos, hamburgers and burritos in less time that it takes to start the car, drive to the “restaurant”, wait in line to get our food and then get home. I admit that I order significantly large quantities because of my family size—-but that means I’m cooking those same quantities and the cooking is still faster. Microwaving your food changes it at the molecular level and it makes the food taste differently. Can that be good? We’ve learned that steaming vegetables takes just about the same amount of time as microwaving. The steamed vegetables taste sooo much better (like they were intended to taste) and the kids eat double portions now. We’re wondering how we ever thought that frozen waffles, microwaving food, and fast food drive-thru lanes were convenient. They’re NOT—they take just as much time and MORE money. Convenience food is not convenient.

Drink water. Your brain is up to 70% water. Your kidneys need water to purify your blood and use that same water to excrete toxins through sweat and urination. When you drink anything else—juice, coffee, tea, milk, soda, or alcohol—you are adding extra work to the load of your kidneys. This is especially a problem if you’re eating/drinking a lot of artificial stuff and your kidneys have a LOT of toxins to filter. Your kidneys will have to filter out all the stuff in what you’ve been drinking to get to the component of water. Then they still have their original job to perform—filtering out toxins. Your entire body is estimated to be 60-70% water and EVERY system in your body depends on water. There is an easy formula to remember for how much water you should drink each day. Take your body weight in pounds. Divide that number in half. Drink that number of ounces as a minimum each day. Example: If a person weighed 100 pounds, they should drink a minimum of 50 ounces of water each day.

Don’t drink soda. It contains artificial EVERYTHING. The acid in soda is very powerful—save it to clean your golf clubs and dissolve the corrosion off your car battery. Many people drink soda with artificial sweeteners. I know lots of great people addicted to diet soda. If you are addicted to something, that could be one of your first clues that it’s NOT good for you.

Please eat complete proteins—especially at breakfast. The 21 amino acids that make a complete protein are the building blocks for brain tissue and muscles—-among other important things. Some people go days without eating a complete protein, yet they expect their bodies and especially their brains, to work tirelessly and efficiently. I have seen the best source of complete proteins to be from animal sources. It is very difficult to get enough complete proteins for growing children from vegan diets—especially if you do your research about soy. Because of this difficulty, it makes variety even more difficult. I believe variety is important for a wide nutrient base. This may not be a popular position, but it is the position I have seen be effective and produce the best health.

Limit sugar. Insulin responses are linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. High blood sugar levels are complicit in high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, obesity, etc. Sugar is absent of any nutritional value and thus must steal nutrients from other tissue to do the digestion work. Stevia is a good, natural sweetener that does not have a negative insulin affect. Honey actually contains nutrients so it supports its own digestion. There are a lot of other sweeteners out there–agave nectar, evaporated cane juice, cultured cane juice, etc.—but they are usually still nutritionally negative. Do your own research, but please limit sugar.

Make 60-80% of your diet vegetables. They are delicious, versatile, affordable, healthy, colorful and friendly. Okay, they’re not really friendly, but they’re sooooo good for us that I just had to throw that in there. If organic vegetables are not in your budget, please wash them VERY well. You can add fruits to this category, but they should not be a large part of your veggie portions. Fruits are wonderful, delicious and a GREAT way to replace processed foods. Don’t substitute fruits for vegetables, just ADD fruits.

It is my opinion AND experience that many children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder and/or Hyperactivity may see significant improvement beginning with diet. Would it take extra work on the part of the parents? YEP! Would the parents get dirty looks from friends, teachers and grandparents by restricting bad foods? YEP! Will people have to return to cooking meals and not eating out? YEP! Will your child scream, yell, and throw a ballistic fit to get their favorite junk foods? YEP! Will some children even refuse to eat for a short time if they don’t get the food they want? YEP! All these obstacles can be overcome with a backbone, a kind tone and patience. I’ve seen it work hundreds of times. And is the return worth the investment? DOUBLE YEP!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

They'll Have to Rewrite the Textbooks

What parents have long agonized over is coming to the forefront of medical research---and Mom, you were (are) right!  The connection between the gut and the brain is being revealed in research at breakneck speed.  A few of the most momentous (and my personal favorites) are:
   From Johns Hopkins University---research on the enteric nervous system (two thin layers of 100 million nerve cells) and its effect on the brain could revolutionize treatment for both neurological and gastrointestinal conditions.  While the association between IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and depression have long been known, it was assumed anxiety/depression contributed to bouts with IBS---and now it is understood that it is likely the other way around.  And this begs the question:  Does it have to be one way or the other?  Is it possible the IBS affects anxiety/depression AND the anxiety/depression affects IBS?  Is there a two-way street happening here?  Regardless of the answer, nutrition is highlighted for improvement in these and many other conditions previously considered strictly “mental.”  Click here to read more.

·    Researchers at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital have uncovered a connection between bacteria living in the digestive system and neurodegenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.  “For the first time, we’ve been able to identify that food has some sort of remote control over central nervous system inflammation,” said a lead researcher in the study.  Results were published in Nature Medicine  in May 2016. Once again, nutrition is shown to have a profound, perhaps causative and/or curative affect for debilitating conditions once thought incurable.  Click here to read more.

·   The University of Virginia’s School of Medicine reports they have discovered structures PREVIOUSLY UNDETECTED which link the gut and the brain.  I repeat---structures within the body which were not known to exist have been discovered.  This is as stunning as it is exciting.  “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role,” said a professor from the Neuroscience Department.  This shifts the entire approach to diseases from Alzheimer’s to autism to multiple sclerosis.  Click here to read more.

    These studies, and many more, can be summed up in the words of Kevin Lee, who chairs the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Virginia, “They’ll have to rewrite the textbooks.”  And thank goodness. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


As the mother of four Texas high school football players, the subject of concussions has always been one of frequent sideline conversations.  Will Smith's movie of the same title highlights the need for a SERIOUS conversation about the reality of brain injury in sport.  

I have a friend whose child was receiving repeated concussions in their chosen sport (NOT football and one that doesn't have any protective headgear).  My friend told me about their experience with the "traditional" concussion treatment at a Dallas hospital acclaimed for their "cutting edge" protocol.  Their daughter was seeing a physician sought after throughout the southwestern United States. This "cutting edge" protocol consisted of a computer test to measure response times and appropriate answers.  Based on the results, this physician would recommend time periods of rest from school, driving, sports, etc.  And that was all.  They offered no real treatment other than rest.  I was truly surprised.  Rest isn't treatment---rest is just the absence of potential for additional injury.

Their child was suffering from headaches, was photosensitive, could not focus to read and was lethargic.  I offered my expertise and recommended hyperbaric oxygen therapy.  I referred them to Texas Sports Hyperbarics, where their child received 10 sessions of hbot (hyperbaric oxygen therapy) within two weeks.  

After only the third session, I received a tearful phone call from the mom.  She had her child back---no headaches, energy restored, reading up a storm and catching up with missed schoolwork easily.  

This is not an isolated incident.  Concussions are one version of a traumatic brain injury.  Dr. Paul Harch has been working with veterans at his clinic in New Orleans and achieving miraculous results.  Various clinics around the country have many of the same stories to tell.  Hyperbarics has no side effects---in fact it will help heal the other bumps, bruises and inflammatory responses that are part of athletic competition.  

Professional athletes have been using hbot to speed healing for decades---Joe Namath even has a treatment center working on this very issue.  However, most amateur athletes do not have the resources afforded to the pros.  And it is time for hbot to move out of the realm of the rich and famous and within the grasp of everyday players.

What bothers me is all the ballyhoo about concussions with NO MENTION of possible treatments.  Why do we have a feature-length film about concussions starring Will Smith, but not any time given to help?

YES, we do need to take every precaution to protect our athletes.  YES, we need coaches/players/parents to be more educated about the possible symptoms of concussions.  But why are we stopping there?  Let's please educate physicians about treatment for concussion!  If you or someone you know sustains a concussion, please point them to the links in this blog.  They will be glad you did!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Movement Heals the Brain

I first learned of The Cleveland Clinic when I read The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge.  I have since followed TCC on social media and via Google Alerts.  They do some incredible work and provide an atmosphere of encouraging thinking outside the box and learning more about this wonderful creation--our bodies.  They have done incredibly amazing work in learning about the brain--my passion.

I read today of a study conducted at TCC about movement and healing after brain injury.  Nurses have long worked hard to get people up and at 'em soon after surgeries and injuries, but the prevailing wisdom said rest was the best protocol after brain injuries.  And then the questions began.  And guess what---movement after brain injury promotes faster healing!!! 

I am not the least bit surprised by this finding.  In fact, I'm a bit surprised it has taken this long for that discovery to be validated by research.  Every single neuroscientist I have studied and/or had the privilege to study with personally has echoed this sentiment, "You can't change a brain without movement."  

My friends, the evidence is mounting higher and higher.  BRAINS NEED MOVEMENT.  Infants who do not move almost inevitably have learning disabilities.  Elementary students who do not get adequate exercise struggle both socially and academically.  People who become "couch potatoes" aren't generally the brightest crayons in the box.  Depression and other mental challenges benefit from exercise as much as medication.  And now we know that even after injury, brains need to move.

Whatever you can or will do---move. Every day. For the rest of your life.  And take your family with you.  Your brain runs your entire system---and it needs movement.

Human development is largely measured by movement.  Learn about those stages and their importance by taking the online class here .  

You can read about the study done at The Cleveland Clinic here .

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Movie Review---Inside Out

I went to the movie this past weekend----it's something I don't do often because I think it is really expensive.  But the occasion presented itself and the two 19-year-olds I was with actually wanted to see the same movie I did.  "Inside Out" looked really cute and funny to them---they have a LOT of respect for Pixar---and anything about brains makes my antennae wiggle.

And it was A.D.O.R.A.B.L.E!  I highly recommend it.  It was funny, touching, and insightful.  It gave very simplified and entertaining explanations about what is going "in there" and how that translates to behavior.  Giving credible reasons for the sulky, volatile actions of an 11-year-old in a way that makes you laugh and yet still want to be more understanding is an impressive feat in my book.

Most of all, I hope it makes us all stop and think about a couple of things:

1.  There are legitimate reasons and developmental tasks for the alternating baffling/infuriating things our children do sometimes.  Learn about those developmental tasks so you can clearly see them coming.  You could even help them go more smoothly if you are an over achiever. (Wink Wink) Understanding our children makes the relationship stronger, and I am here to tell you, stronger relationships are MORE FUN.  Seriously, when you understand someone it is easier to have fun with them.  And I love fun.

2.  The attempt to understand the inner workings of the brain has reached all the way into animated movies!  The efforts have affected marketing, education (still hoping that one will go a lot deeper), automobile design, medicine, and just about every field on the planet.  While I believe this is a good thing, I also have seen this information completely misused and abused for the sake of making a buck.  

There are drinks full of sugar, artificial colors and other junk that are marketed as helping certain brain functions go better.  It's a pile of crap, plain and simple. But I've seen them on the shelves for several years so someone is buying them. Maybe if we had a basic understanding of neuroscience, we wouldn't fall victim to some of the lies.  And that would be awesome!

On the flipside, we could also adjust our actions---sometimes in the smallest of ways. (Like turn the math flashcards over to SHOW the answer.  You want them to know the answer, right?  So teach the answer!)  Those changes could make someone's life better, and THAT should be the point of all the new things we are learning.

So if you get the chance to see "Inside Out" do it, you'll enjoy it and you might learn something---I did!

P.S.  I was not in any way compensated by anyone associated with the movie "Inside Out"---in fact, I paid $23 for the tickets and we won't mention how much at the concession stand.  Still worth it.

Learn about the developmental milestones of your children in an easy-to-understand format by taking our online course--Brain Developmental 101 .

Friday, June 12, 2015

My Biggest Regret

My Biggest Regret

I only got 4 hours of sleep last night---more about why later---so I was REALLY tired this morning when my 19-year-old daughter came into my bedroom at 8:30 am and plopped into a chair and started talking to me.  She shared her experiences as a nanny to two different families.  She talked about the stress of driving a mini-van full of children around during rush hour traffic. And on and on.  She was an HOUR late to work because she was just chatting it up with me.  (Her work hours are flexible, so it wasn't the end of the world.)  She decided it was time to go and hopped up and dashed out the door---leaving her empty cereal bowl sitting on an antique chair that belonged to my husband's grandfather.

Fast forward to the time this morning when I was finally awake and coherent and cleaning up all the breakfast mess.  AFTER I loaded the dishwasher and went into my bedroom to get ready for the day, I saw the empty bowl on the chair.  And I nearly cried.

I remember a time in my career as a mother when I would have been angry about that misplaced cereal bowl.  I wouldn't have abused her, but my actions would have had an angry tone.  I would have chastised her.  I would have read her the riot act about how many things I have to pick up around the house and how outnumbered I am by messy children. (Remember there are EIGHT of them---NINE if you count the husband, but that is another topic.)  And I was certainly RIGHT about how messy my family is---they are REALLY messy.  But I was also wrong---so very wrong.

I am NOT in any way, shape, form or fashion trying to say you shouldn't have rules or expectations of your children.  I believe just the opposite.  I believe we should do our best to teach our children to live in the best way possible.  Give them every advantage in knowing how to care for themselves and others around them---including putting your cereal bowl in the dishwasher.  Apparently, I was not very successful in the endeavor. And I think I know why.

Sitting here in the waning days of "raising" my children---my youngest is 15 and there are only two of them home during the school year---I see what I believe to be my biggest regret of motherhood.  Anger.  I almost cried at the sight of that bowl because I am so sorry for all the anger.  I am sorry for how quickly I let those small things make me mad.  I took all the overwhelming mess as a personal assault and came right back at them.  And looking back, I am so sorry.

Patience---it is the word that used to cause shudders to run right up my spine.  But now, I wish I would have been so much more patient.  I wish I would have known that they will "get it" over time.  And if they don't, their future family will have to live with whatever messy habit they haven't yet overcome.  And that wouldn't be so bad either.

I was so glad my sweet, beautiful, kind daughter came in to talk to me this morning.  I loved watching her VERY expressive face regale the tales of dealing with children hiding markers in the Monopoly game and then lying about it.  I can't get enough of watching her eyes fly wide open as she described people pulling in front of her and slamming on their brakes--especially since she was able to stop in time.  That cereal bowl was the evidence of the time she took to share with me this morning.  She is only home now for a few weeks each year, and I really treasure the time I have with her.  I wish I would have seen all the shoes, dirty socks, sports equipment, books, and yes, even cereal bowls with a brown ring in the bottom as a sign that my precious children were here.  That we lived and loved together.  

I believe if I had been more patient---yet still persistent---about teaching them without anger, I would have been more successful.  Perhaps they would still be messy, but the time would have been more enjoyable for all of us.  It takes a LOT of energy to be upset. That energy could have been much better spent in countless ways.  And mis-spending that resource is my biggest regret in motherhood.

Most of my children are adults now.  They are some of the kindest, hardest working, smartest, talented, HILARIOUS people I know.  I did do a lot of things right.  We have so much fun together now.  So please, if you are a young mother (or father) learn from my mistake.  Count to ten. Take deep breaths.  See the hilarity of spilled drinks---they made a fortune for Charlie Chaplin.  Remember the glory of athletic performances when you pick up dirty socks.  Be happy that your child is a bibliovore when you gather scattered books.  And cherish that conversation when you see the cereal bowl on Grandpa's antique chair.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Exercise----How Many Reasons Do We Need?

It just keeps piling up.  The reasons to exercise are creates mountainous volumes of research.  But my favorite is the one I read about today (and I have read a LOT of studies about exercise and the brain).  Researchers at Princeton University (shout out to the quarterback there!  He's one of the best young men I've ever known), have shown exercise to help us be more resilient to stress!  H-E-L-L-O!  Who doesn't have stress?  Who doesn't have too much stress?

We're coming upon the holiday season and it is so easy to be too busy to take care of ourselves.  DON'T SKIP YOUR EXERCISE.  That yelling was directed at me.  It's been too long since I have been consistently exercising.  And, by the way, I can tell.  I am not sleeping as well.  I am too sleepy when I wake up in the morning.  I don't feel great.  And it is time to get back in gear.

I am glad I read this article about the study today.  I NEED the benefits of regular exercise in my life.  But most especially I need to have the reserve of being resilient in times of stress.  It's free---something as simple as going for a walk.  But a fast walk.  Every day.

My friends who are the most "together" all have "regular exerciser" on their common traits list.  

Be a friend to your brain, and it'll be a friend to you---especially during stressful events.  Go for a walk or a run or take an exercise class.  

You can read about the study here: