It’s not as simple as ‘we are what we eat’, explains CARRIE STEELE. Everything we do impacts on this amazing neuroplastic device we all have called the brain.
In the docuseries Broken Brain, Dr Mark Hyman brought together an impressive group of experts to teach us about “when psychological is really physical”. When it comes to examples of broken brains, the statistics are grim. For instance, depression is now the biggest disability in America. One in ten people take an antidepressant pill. Other examples related to broken brains include anxiety, bipolar disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, personality disorders, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, learning difficulties and dyslexia. Broken Brain focuses on why drugs are not the answer, and that we need to deal with the root cause. If there’s a change, there’s a change in the brain.
The inspiring news from the latest research shows that we can change and restore the brain – it can grow and make new connections right through life, and this is known as neuroplasticity. The brain is not a static thing that we inherit; it is malleable, like plastic, through diet and lifestyle. Neuroplasticity may decline with age, but we can still use it. We can transform our brain at any age. The brain can learn and grow until the day we die. The brain infinitely surpasses any machine, as machines do not grow new parts or heal themselves, where the brain does, and can. If that’s not good news, then I don’t know what is.
We need to learn from the research and believe that everything is connected. The body and mind are one single dynamic system. That is why what we do to our body, we do to our brain. Experts in the field of Functional Medicine explain how it looks at the causes and the connections, while Conventional Medicine (modern medicine) in most cases does nothing to stop decline from disease. At best, partial relief may be possible through the use of drugs to cover the root cause. It seems that very few doctors understand how the body works as one ecosystem, and there is little thought given to what is going on cause-wise.
The experts featured in Broken Brain explain how brain disorders are not separate disorders, as the problem is often coming from another part of the body. The cause is often not treated, which is simply down to the fact that it is not where the symptom presents. Physiology does not factor in conventional/modern medicine. It is drug-focused to cover symptoms. Since the brain is the most dynamic network that we know about, it is little wonder that disorders of the brain are treated by the “name it, blame it, tame it, prescription pad medicine”, like most other diseases these days.
The approach of functional medicine differs greatly in that it asks “why”? It is less about diagnosis and more about the individual and everything about their lifestyle and general health. It works on the premise that everyone is unique and therefore the approach needs to be individualised. Food is one of the most important interventions. As I talked about it in my piece about the gut-brain connection, food is ‘information’ to our bodies. One expert spoke of the approach of functional medicine as thinking of people in terms of four circles. Biology: Diet, lifestyle, exercise, etc. Psychology: How do you think? Social: Who do you hang out with? People are contagious, we become like the people we spend time with.
Spiritual: Why are you on the planet? What’s your deepest sense of meaning and purpose? Experts all agreed that when they use those four circles, people get better.
The docuseries also touched on Epigenetics, and how environmental and lifestyle factors can alter the way our genes are expressed. This speaks to our ability to take control of our health, and that applies to the brain as well. We can do things like change our diet, change the way we think about things, our mindset, we can make changes in our lifestyle, we can exercise more, and we can connect more with our loved ones. All those things have been proven to slow, stop and even reverse any type of neurodegeneration.
What’s good for the heart is also good for the brain; a whole food plant-based diet, regular exercise, stress management. But the brain is unique in that not only does it respond and require nutrition to thrive, it also needs exercise and activation. The last 20 years of research has revealed that our troubles with mood, behaviour, attention and memory don’t come from bad luck or bad genes or bad parenting, but from imbalances in a few key underlying systems in the body. We influence our genes with every bite of food we take and every thought we think. The quality of our thoughts and our degree of positivity affects our brain function and health.
That brings to mind another science that I believe is worthy of a place in our lives, and that’s the ‘Neuroscience of Gratitude’. I’ve read some excellent articles on the subject over the years and studies have shown that choosing to be grateful makes us happier. What are you thankful for today? CARRIE STEELE