Part 5 of 5: Exercise and the Brain-Gut Axis

With the exception of an upcoming bonus article, this is the last of my Brain-Gut series.  This 5 part blog series is a reflection of my personal emphasis on optimal brain function.  And brain health evaluation is incorporated in my practice, both chiropractic and lifestyle/Ayurveda.

I thought my family was immune to dementia, until I lost my grandmother about 2 years ago to this debilitating condition, the first known family member to suffer at the hands of brain degeneration. It was difficult to see this petite, frail woman in the dementia ward of a hospital; strapped to a wheelchair, anxious, childlike, manic, trying to grab the coffee out of my hand and eat everything in sight, including the plastic wrap of her sandwich. She kept calling me by my late mother’s name. During my previous visit to Toronto, just a couple of years earlier, we were laughing and preparing tea in her kitchen.  Although lifestyle can trump family history, this still scared the crap out of me. I am the one descendant who is a picture of her: body frame, strength, personality, stubbornness- it’s like we skipped a generation between us.  So, am I next?  I became more determined to not allow myself to go down that road or any adverse path of preventable diseases.

It’s impossible for the brain to function optimally without adequate oxygenation.  If brain circulation is compromised, several things happen:
1. Nutrients from your food or supplements can’t reach the brain.
2. Neurodegeneration happens: poor connection between neurons (brain cells) and neurotransmitter synthesis is compromised.
3. Blood-Brain barrier is compromised: leads to brain inflammation.
4. Reduced ATP production: ATP provides fuel for the cells and an energy source to remove unwanted proteins.

The bottom line is that poor brain circulation leads to a cascade of vicious cycles of degeneration.

How do we know if we may have Decreased Brain Circulation? Here’s a few signs to look out for:

Difficulty focusing and concentrating
Cold hands and feet and nose
Must wear socks at night
Toe nail fungus
Poor nail health

The Under Dog!
The Under Dog!

Exercise is cheap. You can get it for free just by walking in a park or running a mountain trail. A set of dumbbells and a yoga mat make a good, inexpensive starter kit for some strength and flexibility training. Exercise has positive chemical impacts on the brain that are distinct from any medication or supplement. It causes the release of “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF). This “factor”triggers the growth of connections between neurons, as a result enhancing brain plasticity aka “neuroplasticity” (its ability to change, grow and form new neural connections in response to the environment ie: memorize new information). Low levels of BDNF have been found in every major brain-related disease. The higher the intensity of exercise, the higher the BDNF release.

Other Positive Physiological Effects of Exercise:
1. Insulin resistance improves with even a mild to moderate 20 minute walk.
2. Blood glucose control improves with more intense exercise.
3. Reduced pain and inflammation due to release of opioids (natural pain relieving chemicals), leading to that “exercise high”
4. Prevent muscle wasting and improves coordination through the expression of the isomers of nitric oxide which lead to enhanced muscle growth, contraction and workout recovery.
5. Enhanced growth hormone release which helps the brain recover from trauma (strenuous, high intensity exercise).
6. Improved gut motility – Movement is life! Exercise helps stimulate peristalsis of the colon and the excretion of toxins.
In the last few years, more and more of my patients and friends report a family member (some as young as their 50’s) starting to show signs of brain degeneration and I’m sure many readers can relate to this article. And, I have been seeing new patients who have already been diagnosed or starting to show signs of neural degeneration. Along with spinal adjustments to facilitate healthy communications to and from the brain, exercise is the best therapy.

Exercise is the easy part.  But for most, getting started or finding the motivation to stick with a program is difficult. Read my Where Do I Start?” page for some simple, easy steps! And, look out for free self-tests and e-guides to help you create your own program and jump-start your brain function. They are currently in development, so subscribe now to my newsletter/blog (Click Follow My Blog on the right) and you will receive them directly to your inbox!

I lost the matriarch of my mother’s family, the last link to the oldest family stories and our cultural traditions. She should’ve had a few more years in this lifetime. Get up and move. Feed your body clean, gluten free whole foods and safe sourced proteins. Push the negativity out of your life and cut ties to which don’t serve you. There is no such thing as a brain transplant so take care of the one you got.

Dr. Melanie

Coming soon:  Bonus article: “Listen to Your Gut.”
If you are struggling with any suspected brain or gut related issues and would like a personal consultation, please contact me through this website. I offer a free 20 minute consultation to all subscribers to this blog.

Related Articles:
Throwing in the Towel
Part 1 of 5 The Brain-Gut Series


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