Last week, I posted on my experience at The Institute for Functional Medicine’s 2017 Annual International Convention: The Dynamic Brain. The conference was focused around the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s capacity to recover from injury by “rewiring” its neural networks in response to environmental stimuli.
The annual conference was a truly awe-inspiring event. Practitioners were given the gift of something beyond hope and continuing education. We were witness to clinical cases that documented the reversal of various brain disorders that many were taught were chronic.
In fact, we are programmed to believe that we are destined to decline and suffer brain deterioration. This is not just in medicine, but also from a bombardment of dreary headlines in the media. However, neuroplasticity has the potential to shine some positivity on human beings’ innate capacity to heal not just our bodies, but also our minds!
In a recent review, Neuroplasticity and Clinical Practice: Building Brain Power for Health, an overview of various factors that could guide this shift toward a “positive direction” for better health outcomes was presented. In the article, the author sought to provide a summary of how neuroscience could influence treatment and “empower and motivate clients to make the lifestyle choices that could help build brain power and could increase adherence to healthy lifestyle changes that have also been associated with simultaneously enhancing vigorous longevity, health, happiness, and wellness.”
The abstract further states:
Another goal is to explore the use of a focus in clinical practice on helping clients appreciate this new evidence and use evolving neuroscience in establishing individualized goals, designing strategies for achieving them and increasing treatment compliance. The timing is urgent for such interventions with goals of enhancing brain health across the lifespan and improving statistics on dementia worldwide.
Now that’s something to be excited about!!
I encourage those who want to dive a little deeper in to the science to read it. I was excited to find it because it reviewed some of the basic concepts we explored at the conference and sparked my desire to share more of what I learned with you!
Below I discuss some interventions that influence brain plasticity as presented in the article. I’ve included my comments in relationship to them and the conference. I hope after reading this blog you will be excited to share that we can, and do, have some control over our health and brain destiny!
Stretching Your Brain- Factors That Impact Neuroplasticity
1. Environmental enrichment (from rodents in a cage to adults learning multiple languages)
At the conference, we learned about different tools to manipulate the brain’s experience of reality. These included presentations about:
- Virtual reality
- Brain retraining using mental stimulation and cognitive tasks (BrainHQ)
- The use of mental resources and the neural mechanisms of learning (Positive neuroplasticity)
- Many others that you can skim here.
2. Diet, caloric restriction, and fasting
Some highlights of my training are listed below:
- Dr. Terry Wahles herself presented on the diet she used to recover function from progressive multiple sclerosis
- Dr. Bredesen discussed diet as one component in his MEND protocol that has been used to reverse Alzheimer’s Disease.
This is a basic concept in functional medicine. Practitioners shine in mastering how lifestyle can modulate health and inflammation. This was woven into all the discussions.
This was a large component of most of the brain-based therapies. Physical movement has been shown to positively influence many pathways involved in brain functioning and processing. Exercise is even being explored as a treatment for ADD and academic “Miracle-Gro” for the brain.
5. Various phytonutrients (including curcumin, fish oil, polyphenols, and resveratrol)
“Peppered” in most presentations were references on how food components from plants and herbs can modulate brain health. In the article, the author discusses various ways fish oil could positively impact the brain:
A random controlled trial (Boespflug et al., 2016) that supplemented with fish oil found “increased red blood cell omega-3 content, working memory performance, and BOLD signal in the posterior cingulate cortex during greater working memory load in older adults with subjective memory impairment.” Thus they suggested that supplementing with omega-3 fish oil could enhance brain cell response to challenges in working memory.
6. Music and the Senses
I mentioned in my last blog that the presentations on sensiorgenomics and the importance of functional neurology on brain health were two of my favorites. Dr. Titus provided us with an overview of the neuroanatomy of the senses’ pathways to the brain. He prescribes specific sensory modalities tailored to the patient in order to activate and deactivate certain parts in the brain to promote recovery.
I was compelled by the influence of smell on the brain of course, and, he even mentioned essential oils and the impact of odor! I was also intrigued by how the sound of music could affect the basal ganglia and sensory regions in the brain. (1, 2).
Dr. Titus presented a case on how he used music, showing love to a girlfriend, balancing on one leg, gargling, and a vibration plate to relieve the symptoms of spasticity and damage to the brain of a 17-year old boy.
This expanded on my love of functional neurology presented by Dr. Datis Kharrazian. Dr. Datis discussed how traumatic brain injury effects the brain-gut axis and built on what learned about a few years prior.
7. Perception and Stress
The influence of these factors were also commonly mentioned in many of our classes. I was blown away with the references that Dr. Stone had on the effect of prenatal influences (including stress, diet, epigenetics, and emotion) on postnatal outcomes.
8. Love and connection
Yes, love can light up pathways in the brain!
Sleep’s impact on the brain and plasticity was mentioned in almost all the experts’ slides.
What About the Gut?
Dr. Kharrazian’s presentation covered the brain-gut axis in detail. Dr. Perlmutter also discussed how gut bacteria effected levels of BDNF, or brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which acts like growth hormone for the brain
The Missing Brain Microboime
Alas, the topic of the brain microbiome wasn’t reviewed. I am sure it will be a future topic in upcoming conferences as more studies are released. Still, the research continues to pop-up on how our belly bugs influence brain and behavior.
I review some of the latest studies that were selected from my just released May 2017 Top Holistic and Integrative Health Reads! Feel free to access these wellness headlines for your skimming pleasure. It has more evidence of how lifestyle influences our body and mind. You can read it here.
Of course, it’s important to remember that it’s ultimately lifestyle and diet that influences how the bugs in our bellies act and which critter friends decide to reside inside of us! I’ve also previously discussed how the microbiome can be positively influenced with essential oils.
Now, let’s journey onto the “Dynamic Gut-Brain!” Click here.
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
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