Nutrition, Neurons, and the Brain

Your Brain on Food, How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts And Feelings
by Gary L. Wenk
Oxford University Press, 2010, 2015, $24,95, ISBN 978 0 19 939327 5
Reviewed by Susanne van Doorn

 

nutrition
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how Nutrition can be addictive

Gary Wenk PhD, Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics at the Ohio State University and Medical Center, has written a book that we all need to read. Because we are all addicted.

Some are addicted to love, but all of us are addicted to food. It is such a shame that there are not classes in schools, teaching our children about how the brain reacts to food.

Now this addiction is a necessity, because if we don’t eat, we are going to die. But Gary Wenk shows you how this addiction works. And he tells how drugs work.
“This book explores not only several drugs but also a range of foods with these effects”. There is not such a big difference between drugs and food…

Nutrition that is good for us

I know what you are thinking right now. “What food do I need to eat? Just tell me and I will go out and buy it. I will even eat it. Each day. Promise.”

But you know well enough as I do, that there is no miracle food. Gary refutes our believes about Ginkgo biloba as anti-aging miracle, reduces our believe in omega 3, unless you are depressed. He says what our mothers have always thought us: eat a lot of different foods, in a variety of colours. There is no need to take supplements, except for calcium if you are a woman of a certain age.

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Fruit gets a thumbs up, because of the antioxidants. Oxygen is our biggest enemy, but we are not able to life without it. So eating lots of fruits is very good for the brain.

Nutrition and Fat

We all know that food in restaurants usefully tastes so much better than food at home. That is because of the magical ingredient of fat. Nutrition that contains fat is immediately rewarding. Do you know we have a fat gene?
“A recent study demonstrated that humans, and other animals, exhibit a protein on their tongue that can sense the presence of fat” (p. 43).

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And did you know there is a parasite that eats your fat away? The T. Gondii… Before you start ordering this parasite, you have to know that ingesting any parasite is not without danger.

Conclusion: to buy or not to buy?

Pros:

  • You owe it to yourself to educate yourself about food. This is a very informative book.
  • The book covers the most important neurotransmitters: dopamine, histamine, acetylcholine and serotonin for example.
  • You will find out that drinking coffee isn’t as bad as you always thought.
  • You will find out that the only way to lose weight is to start eating less.
  • You will find out that eating less is the best thing you can do for your brain.
  • You are going to know so much more about Alzheimer and Parkinson, that it is a must buy for anyone who has a person with that disease in their midst.

Cons:

  • The publisher wanted to make this a popular science book so there are no models of neural pathways in it. This is what I mean:
    tryptophan -> 5-hydroxytryptophan -> serotonin. It is all explained in texts, of course. Gary knows his stuff, no question about it. But I missed these simple models and I experienced a craving for such a model with a list of food that would benefit a person who would want to increase these substances.
  • Gary is a Professor. He has a scientific way of writing. The book is readable, but not really easy. You have to pay attention, scrabble your own models down and make your own conclusions. As a matter of fact, this could just as well be a pro, but if you are looking for an easy book, this isn’t it. You have to put your brain to work reading it.
  • Being a dream expert I was disappointed to read a chapter about “Sleeping versus Waking” that is mostly about staying or being awake.

Mindfunda verdict:
 8/10

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Tryptophan, the royal road to sleep

tryptophan
@caronistgroup.com

Sleep is vital to our health. Recent research says we need at least seven hours of it. If dreams are the royal road to the unconscious as Freud once said, then tryptophan is our royal road to sleep. This Mindfunda will tell you more about this essential amino acid. I wrote before about sleep: how long can you stay awake and 15 other secrets about sleep and about how neurons get trained during sleep. Sleep is important. Let us explore tryptophan, the royal road to sleep

Tryptophan,the royal road to sleep #1

The first step in understanding tryptophan is understanding amino acids.  There are two kinds: essential and non-essential amino acid. The essential amino acids who find in our food, we have to eat them. Our food consists of three groups: fat, carbohydrates and protein. To understand the tryptophan pathway we focus on protein. Your body uses tryptophan to make proteins. Protein is build out of amino acid.

Non essential amino acids are quite important for your body, even though their name would imply that they where just fun to have around but non-essential. But your body can build them no matter what you eat. Things are different for essential amino acids. In total there are 20 amino acids. 13 of them are non-essential but 9 of them you have to digest in your daily meals. Our little friend tryptophan is one of them.

Why do I focus on tryptophan? Because tryptophan is the building block of melatonin. The stuff that makes you drowsy and guides you into sleep. So how does that happen?

First you need to eat food rich in tryptophan. Cashew nuts, bananas, spinach, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, mozzarella, tuna fish, eggs. You can create some delicious meals with tryptophan rich food. But I know what you are going to say now. Tryptophan is not melatonin. I need melatonin to fall asleep when it gets dark.

Tryptophan,the royal road to sleep #2

The second step to creating melatonin from tryptophan involves vitamin B3. A bit of tryptophan “leaks away” into the production of Niacin (vitamin B3). that is why it is sometimes a good idea when you have sleeping problems to take some 5 htp. That way there is no leakage of tryptophan into vitamin B3.
And that is why I always advice people to use a good vitamin B supplication whenever they are having problems sleeping.
Using this a substance called 5 hydroxy tryptophan is created. If you have trouble sleeping you might want to consider taking 5 htp as a supplement.

tryptophan
5 htp

It can also help you reduce food cravings and aggression.

To create serotonin from 5 htp your body needs zinc, magnesium and Vitamin C. vitamin C with rose hips is easier for your body to use so always make sure that when you want to use a vitamin C supplant you search for one with that ingredient.

tryptophan
Vitamin C with rose hips
tryptophan
Magnesium


Only when these substances are available in your body serotonin can be build. So mak sure, bu healthy eating or using supplements that your body can compose serotonin.

Tryptophan,the royal road to sleep #3

The last step is creating melatonin from serotonin. That is easy. You need two things. Movement and darkness. So when you eat the right foods, use supplements when you need them and you still can not fall asleep: start moving when it gets dark. Go for a walk in the dark.

tryptophan

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Three steps to a good night sleep

3 Steps from good food to a good night sleep (which are actually four steps)

Our brain has this magical natural recipe for a good night sleep, you just have to add the right ingredients! In our food there are some important proteins. One of them is called Tryptophan, and I am going to tell you about it today. Tryptophan is like the Hypnos under the proteins, it acts like the god of sleep. How do we get this sleep god to work?

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Here are 3 simple steps to get a good night sleep:

Step #1: from good food to Tryptophan:

The first thing you got to do for a good night sleep is start eating good healthy food, the food that actually flew, walked or swam when it was alive, and vegetables that kissed the ground of mother earth. That is how you get Tryptophan. From good food. Especially rich in Tryptophan are seeds, tuna fish, eggs and bananas.

Step #2: from Tryptophan to Serotonin

Tryptophan is only the first building block of Melatonin, the hormone that gets us to sleep and dream (The Morpheus under the proteins). You need to have enough vitamin B, vitamin C, Zinc, Magnesium and a good gut to build 5 http from Tryptophan. Why a good gut you ask? Well we are on our way to build Serotonin. Yes, the feel-good hormone Serotonin is constructed out of Tryptophan in your gut. So one of the things you need to do is restore your gut when you want have a good Serotonin level.

But even more important: recent research by Nils Paumann, Diego Walther, and colleagues show that serotonin plays a key role in controlling insulin secretion and that its absence leads to diabetes. So Tryptophan which the body turns into Serotonin regulates your blood sugar level and your cravings as well.

Step #3: from Serotonin to Melatonin

In the last step, under the influence of diminishing daylight and your night time rituals your serotonin level gets transformed into melatonin. So make sure you don’t get extra light at night by watching tv too late, or working on your iPad or iPod, create a ritual before you go into a good night sleep, go easy on the melatonin you can buy at your local drugstore cause it sets back your biological clock and that may not be the problem. In fact, most doctors would advice you to stop taking artificial melatonin.

Bonus-step (that makes #4): 

But let your final step please be to take up healthy food habits. So let’s first quit sugar! Sugar gives you a high. You feel happy when you eat a lot of sugar. Every time you are on a sugar high the receptor cells for insulin in your body get less sensitive to insulin.

Say what??? Well it is your body’s way to protect your brain. Your brain is your number one organ and too much insulin gives you low blood sugar levels. And if you have a low blood sugar level your brain does not have gas anymore, so the engine drops down. And your brain does not want that to happen!

One of the best ways to get a good night sleep started is with “The 21 Day Sugar Detox” program by best-selling author Dian Sanflippo.

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