In this edition of the digest:
- Harvard study: 27min of meditation/day triggers changes in gray matter in the brain.
- High "choline-containing foods" may help you lose weight.
- Fish can reverse brain damage caused by fruit sugar.
Harvard study: 27min of meditation/day triggers changes in gray matter in the brain
I've been practicing mindfulness meditation for almost 2 years. I started doing so after reading extensive research about its benefits as well as experiencing those benefits myself (e.g. a 10bpm drop in resting heart rate before and after a single 10min session).
A new study by Harvard scientists provide further (and physiological) evidence of the benefits of meditation: subjects in the study were put on a 27min/day meditation program for 8 weeks, and the scientists used MRI imaging to look for changes in the actual brain structure as a result of this practice.
Compared to the control group, the subjects who practiced the meditation "a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection". In addition, "decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress".
(the hippocampus is a more "modern" part of the brain, while the amygdala is your "reptilian brain", the part we inherited from ancient reptiles, and which is responsible for triggering the "fight or flight" response, which increases cortisol - stress hormone - as well as insulin, blood pressure, and inflammation).
This is HUGE! This is clear evidence that meditation changes the structure of your brain: increasing growth in parts of the brain which help you feel in control, and reducing growth in parts which are responsible for creating anxiety and stress!
I personally use a guided meditation app which is very easy to use and flexible: Headspace.
High "choline-containing foods" may help you lose weight
I won't dwell too much on this one: a new study from Canada (the full study is available here) looked at the association between choline intake and body composition in a large-sized population (3214 subjects).
Normally I would be sceptical of "association studies", since they don't always infer "cause-effect". However this one is well-designed and controlled for other factors, so I'm comfortable supporting its conclusions.
The results were clear: a higher intake of choline in food is associated with lower body-fat, increase in lean mass (muscle) and overall better body composition.
Choline is recognized as an essential nutrient and plays an important role in neurotransmitter synthesis, cell-membrane signaling, lipid transport in lipoproteins
Foods of high choline content include: eggs, beef, pork, liver, seafood and milk. ALWAYS chose high quality ingredients: organic, pasteur-raised, grass-fed only.
Fish can reverse brain damage caused by fruit sugar
Fructose is a sugar abundant in fruits as well as most processed goods (in the form of high fructose corn syrup).
Too much fructose has been linked to a wide variety of disorders and diseases, including obesity, liver disorders, diabetes, gout, and a variety of auto-immune diseases including Chrone's, fibromyalgia, MS, and others.
Now a new study from UCLA has illustrated how fructose alters hundreds of genes linked to brain function, potentially increasing the risk across a wide variety of brain and neurological disorders (full study available here for fellow geeks).
However the same study also demonstrated how DHA (a fatty acid) actually REVERSED all the damage done by fructose! That is quite remarkable!
But enough geekiness and let's talk practical applications (i.e. food & supplements).
While all fruits contain fructose in a variety of concentrations (e.g. berries are low in fructose while dates & grapes are high), fruits also contain fiber which slows down fructose absorption, and they also contain other beneficial compounds (e.g. flavanoids, antioxidants, etc.). Ranking of fruits by fructose concentration here.
The "bad" fructose comes from high concentrations, such as fruit juices (yes, even the sugar-free ones) and almost all processed foods, since they contain high-fructose corn syrup. Common ones include sweetened yogurt, energy bars, cereals, soft drinks, candy, biscuits, and even salad dressings! Avoid these like the plague!
So what about DHA? Where can we get it from? The single best source of DHA for humans is fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel). While some grains contain a DHA precursor called ALA (e.g. flaxseeds), that form of CANNOT be readily converted by humans into DHA (I talked more about this in a previous post).
HOWEVER: a good source of vegetarian DHA for humans is marine algae (seaweed).
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