POWERED BY THE GLOBAL HEALTH EDUCATION INITIATIVE
Nutrition: The Gut Brain Axis and Human Performance
Before you watch this webinar…
Webinar Summary & Resources
A New Model for Food: Beyond the Calorie >
Eating for our Microbiome >
Eat Seasonal. Eat Local. >
Food, Hormones + Women’s Health >
How to Eat for Peak Performance >
Eating for Brain Health >
How We Get Addicted to Food >
Micronutrients + Fears Around Plant-based Diets >
Why It’s Important to Manage Insulin >
Keep it Simple >
Fall In Love with Your Food >
A New Model for Food: Beyond the Calorie
(0:00) Eating is one of the most frequent things we do as humans, but it is still one of the most misunderstood things in human health. There are many factions and conflicts around food choices and diet categories. In this panel, we dismantle the macronutrient approach to nutrition. We want to help you pull away from the idea that you need to feed your cells nutrients and move towards the reality that you are an ecosystem that needs to be maintained.
Understand our food as a system by which we integrate ourselves into a diverse Mother Nature for optimal health.
– Dr. Zach Bush
Dr. Bush explains the process of digestion through the lens of the microbiome. The mitochondria within a human body’s 50-70 trillion cells are responsible for taking all the food that you eat and turning it into energy. It is this microbial process that allows humans to be regenerative multicellular organisms. (05:53) Condensing our understanding of food into calories is a very outdated, broken, and irrelevant way to think about food. As such, calories are not valuable units with which to measure food’s value. Consider what it actually means to feed a body when the majority of the food we intake is processed and absorbed by the microbiome in the gut, which then goes on to feed the mitochondria inside your cells.
Eating for our Microbiome
(8:10) Dr. Gemma Newman is a practicing doctor of medicine in the U.K for nearly 17 years, where she is involved in holistic health, nutrition advocacy, and plant-based medicine. She is also the author of The Plant Power Doctor. Dr. Newman explains that the foods we eat nourish the microbes within us that help us digest, create hormones, maintain a functioning immune system and gut-brain axis and so many other vital functions. Medical science is just beginning to scratch the surface on how all of these systems are interconnected. She says that food is what can give us some of the fastest transformations when we are seeking a healthier lifestyle and being.
It’s become even more apparent… that we’re very much part of a larger whole. As humans, we’re very much part of a microscopic whole as well.
– Dr. Gemma Newman
(11:53) Dr. Newman lists some practical ways to care for our overall physical health. She recommends limiting antibiotics, as they destroy the microbiomes and the natural environment around us. It is best to limit the consumption of industrially processed animal products since there are a lot of antibiotics used and we consume the chemicals secondhand when we eat these animal products.
(14:58) Dr. Newman explains how alcohol also strips our microbiome and encourages us to not eat too late in the day. The gut microbes have a circadian rhythm, so it’s best to eat our largest meal earlier in the day. It’s also important to make sure we get good sleep for proper nutrient absorption and to allow for the body’s regenerative and metabolic processes.
Other things to look out for are emulsifiers in food as well in addition to the chemicals in our cleaning products. When we use “anti-microbial” products, we are stripping away beneficial microbes. They also disrupt the acid mantle of our skin, which makes us more prone to skin conditions like eczema.
Prebiotics are essentially dietary fiber in various forms. Prebiotics are, in fact, more important than probiotics because prebiotics are fuel for the gut microbiome. It’s important to maximize dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as much as possible. Much of the fiber that we consume goes right down to the large intestine where it gets processed by our gut microbes. The microbes then create short-chain fatty acids, which help our immune system function optimally and regulate our nutrient digestion. This reduces our risk of chronic illness. Garlic, leeks, oats, lentils, chickpeas, bananas, legumes are all examples of foods full of prebiotics. (19:01) Dr. Bush mentions that fiber is missed in a lot of nutritional understanding. Fiber functions like coral reefs in the ocean, allowing for diversification within us which is necessary for good health.
Eat Seasonal. Eat Local.
(20:09) Colin Hudon is the owner and founder of Living Tea as well as an herbalist, acupuncturist,and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Colin has lived and traveled extensively throughout Asia, and he has a particular professional interest in fermented tea, which he calls “the best kept secret of Asia.”
Colin talks about his work to learn more about the foods we ate before our modern agricultural system with its addictive ingredients and advertising. What he’s found is that these older ways of eating were more complex and varied, and they describe a more synergistic relationship to nature. Particularly in the very old tradition of Chinese Medicine, he finds a philosophy of diet that is built around eating seasonally and locally so that our bodies can be in balance within our environment.
(24:29) The Chinese Medicine approach to food is foundationally energetic, describing food as warming, cooling, drying or lubricating. When we eat foods that grow in specific seasons, we can align ourselves with these seasons.He encourages his patients to choose local, seasonal foods so they can connect to the climate and region that they are in. Dr. Bush adds that when we homogenize our food, we lose the capacity for intelligent dialogue between our bodies and our environment.
Food, Hormones + Women’s Health
(28:39) Dr. Mindy Pelz has a background as a chiropractor and specializes in women’s health and nutrition. She emphasizes how important it is for women to eat according to their hormonal cycle. Within this cycle, there are moments when it’s appropriate to go into restriction and other moments where it’s important to eat more to build hormones. For women with a typical 28-day cycle, around day 21 the body needs progesterone; and carbohydrates are the foods that supply and build progesterone — beans, squash, potatoes, wild rices, seeds and nuts. On Day 12 of a typical cycle, there is a surge of estrogen; and it’s important to feed the gut bacteria which break down the estrogen into something usable for the body. These foods are the leafy greens, prebiotic foods, fermented foods. If we don’t eat appropriately for these pivotal moments in our cycle, then we will deplete our hormones.
(34:10) Dr. Pelz also says that fasting needs to be cycled as well, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every woman needs to find the rhythm to her eating that suits her hormonal profile. Fasting is a nourishing part of this cycle just like food is. Often, women don’t realize their hormone imbalances until menopause, and it’s important for women to change the way they eat at this time in their lives. Because progesterone is declining, they need to eat to match this change in their hormonal profile.
Dr. Bush explains that for menopausal and post-menopausal women, the sex hormones that were previously produced in the ovaries are then produced in the adrenals. Because of this shift, the body can’t tolerate stress in the same way because it will over-tax the adrenal glands. When the stress hormones increase, the sex hormone production decreases. Menopause is designed to increase the longevity of women, and it is an important transition in life and not a disease.
(38:41) Dr. Bush does not support the use of bio-identical hormones during menopause because that’s not how the body was designed to interact with these hormones. Applying these growth hormones (such as progesterone) on a stressed body is a recipe for cancer. At this phase in life, women need to eat to support their adrenals and monitor their stress levels so that their bodies can maintain these systems.
Dr. Newman says we should reframe menopause as an opportunity that marks the beginning of a new possibility in life. She encourages women to limit excess hormones in food and to keep their diets higher in tofu, tempeh, edamame, and miso since they deliver phyto-estrogens as well as selective estrogen receptor modulators. These foods also help men better regulate their hormones as well. Dr. Newman reminds us that it’s best to work on gut health gradually. Take time to build up the gut lining and the microbiome just like you would when you are building strength with weights at the gym.
How to Eat for Peak Performance
(43:21) Alex Guerrero has always had a passion for sports and began his career in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Alex is the co-founder of TB12, a holistic nutrition and training program to help athletes sustain longevity and optimal performance. Whether or not you are a professional athlete, the concepts and principles of good nutrition and a healthy biome impact all of us. “We’re all athletes.” He explains that dealing with elite athletes often brings a challenge of unlearning the calorie model. The athletes he works with then learn how a plant-based diet can help them sustain peak performance without losing mass or size. Alex encourages seasonal eating and nurturing the microbiome, which helps metabolize lactic acid and aids in recovery.
(47:43) People break down nutrients differently, so their nutritional protocols are highly individualized. To start, he helps people find the most nutrient dense foods possible in the areas they live in. Alex explains that it is also essential to eat to support the hormones. Healthy endocrine function is critical to help regulate insulin levels, which keep inflammation down. These foods include sweet potatoes, root vegetables, squashes, nuts, legumes, seeds; and he suggests even making nuts and seeds into sauces and milks.
(51:05) Dr. Bush recommends the documentary film Game Changers, which helps demonstrate the power of a plant-based diet for professional athletes. How can you get enough iron? The highest bioavailable source of iron is Romaine Lettuce, which has forty times more iron than kale or beef. Cows are about 1400 lbs of lean muscle, and they exist exclusively on a plant-based diet. Animals have high levels of nutrients because of their interaction with the microbiome and their nutritional input from the plants they eat. Vitamin B12 is also made through the microbiome, and Dr. Bush explains that our bodies are actually very good at making B12 via a healthy microbiome. If someone has been on a high antibiotic diet, it will requires time to build up the microbiome to the point where it can cultivate all the vitamins and nutrients it needs. Give yourself time to learn your own body and reconstruct your relationship to your food and nutrition.
At any age, at any physical level of output, you need to start trusting your bodies… because all healing comes from within.
– Dr. Zach Bush
Eating for Brain Health
(54:50) An area of performance that is very important is the brain, yet we live in an environment that is taxing on the neurologic system. Rates of Alzheimer’s, autism, and ADD have accelerated in the past 20 years, and doctors now see neurodegenerative conditions presenting in younger age groups at increased rates. Dr. Peter Cummings recounts his experience as a forensic and neuropathologist where he saw so many preventable deaths. He realized that the food most people eat isn’t just making them feel bad, but it is literally killing them. Mid-career, Dr. Cummings decided he wanted to do more to help people by approaching lifestyle as medicine.
Medicine has it backwards. We spend so much time focusing on getting sick people better and so little time focusing on people keeping healthy people well.
– Dr. Peter Cummings
He also agrees that this idea of calories in and calories out is an oversimplified way to approach what food is doing for you. Burning 500 calories on the treadmill is different than burning 500 calories in the weight room, and not all calories are created equal. There are many other variables that change how the energy is assimilated into the body.
The health of our planet has a direct effect on the health of our bodies.
– Dr. Zach Bush
(1:02:45) In regards to the gut-brain axis, it’s important to remember the body is a holistic machine. If we change something in the brain, then we also change something in the gut and vice versa. This communication between systems is essential for overall health.
There are 12 cranial nerves, which enable the “Four F’s” needed for survival: Feeding, Fighting, Flight and Fornication. They also connect to our emotions, which affect how our muscles work. The Vagus nerve is the biggest cranial nerve, which goes directly from the brainstem to the gut. It functions as a 2-way neurological connection between the brain and the gastrointestinal system,telling us that our emotions and emotional response to food are a huge component of what we eat. For instance, if someone is stressed, the vagus nerve tone decreases and the sympathetic nervous system increases. This disturbs the gut permeability and also creates negative outputs within the body.
(1:06:04) Dr. Cummings explains that every neuropathology condition is the result of an energy imbalance within the brain cells. Astrocytes are the nurse cell for neurons which also store glycogen. However, the neurons don’t use glucose; the glycogen is broken down into lactate, which then powers the neurons. The human body is an incredible recycling plant. For instance, when you’re working out and your body produces lactic acid, the brain uses that lactate to fuel itself. When there is brain dysfunction, there is a breakdown in the relationship between the astrocytes, the neurons and the ability to energize the neurons. It is a very delicate balance.
How We Get Addicted to Food
(1:09:05) Since the 1950’s, the fat, salt, and sugar combinations of the Western diet have induced exaggerated dopamine responses in the brain. If we were to do a PET scan on someone who just ate a happy meal, their brain would look the same as someone who just did a hit of cocaine or another strong dopamine-inducing agent. This creates a vicious cycle of diminishing returns, where it takes more of the food to get that “feel good” neurological response. This quick dopamine hit feels like a reward and creates an addictive pattern, leading to overeating and undernourishment
Micronutrients + Fears Around Plant-based Diets
(1:11:58) Dr. Newman addresses some of the criticisms or fears about phytonutrients in regards to plant-based diets. While they sometimes reduce the absorption of some minerals, this is not detrimental when eating a varied diet. These nutrients are also helpful because they help regulate the nutrients coming into the body, since an excess can lead to oxidation. If we intake too much of something in the diet, the harms can outweigh the benefits, so these regulatory functions are valuable. It’s important to look at the whole synergy of what the body is doing and not just overly fixate on one particular nutrient’s role. As long as you have a varied diet and a healthy microbiome, you should be able to get all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need with a whole foods, plant-based approach to eating.
(01:15:09) Alex Guerrero encourages his clients to make small changes over a two-week period of time to help them develop new behavior pathways. As they begin to feel better, it motivates them to keep going and take another step towards taking better care of themselves. Start with small, manageable steps and take time to educate yourself on what you can do to improve your overall performance or experience in life.
Starting small is better than not starting at all.
– Alex Guererro
Why It’s Important to Manage Insulin
(01:17:30) Dr. Mindy Pelz says that insulin imbalances also lead to imbalances with sex hormones. Whether someone is menopausal or post-menopausal, it’s important to get the insulin under control before trying to address the hormones. Otherwise, the attempts to build progesterone won’t be effective. The majority of the world is not managing insulin, which results in severe hormonal imbalances. However, menopausal women seem to suffer the most obviously from these imbalances.
(1:19:30) Dr. Cummings criticizes the traditional approach to changing the diet which involves logging food and eliminating negative choices. This approach doesn’t address the emotional motivations for eating those foods in the first place. Instead, he proposes slowly integrating more high quality, nutrient-dense foods that help people feel better. He says that insulin isn’t itself causing the problem, but is a marker for other things that are going on. When we consume glucose challenge drinks, for instance, the blood vessels react negatively and no longer can adjust their size to accommodate blood flow.
Keep it Simple
(1:22:50) Dr. Newman says that all of the obsessive, complex rules about active diets are unnecessary for most of the population. Calorie counting, carbohydrate restriction and loading, carb-protein ratios can inhibit people from getting active because the information feels overwhelming. She encourages everyone to keep it really simple to avoid overly restrictive eating and disordered relationships with food.
Think about food as a form of self love… Think about it as a celebration of yourself, a celebration of your body, a form of care and compassion as well for yourself for the world around you.
– Dr. Gemma Newman
(1:25:40) Colin Hudon shares his interest in the diets of people around the world who thrive over the age of 100 years. Traditional Chinese Medicine diets are primarily plant-based diets with nuts and fish. In particular, black sesame seeds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds help nourish the kidneys and support longevity. The water element in this practice is correlated to wintertime. When we eat warming foods for the kidneys, we are nourishing the aging body, the microbiome and the immune system. When we study cultures where people consistently live long, we also see that longevity goes hand in hand with happiness and love.
How can we lead lives in greater connection to the local ecology and recognize that humans are nature? We’re not somehow separate from it.
– Colin Hudon
Fall In Love with Your Food
(1:30:34) Dr. Mindy Pelz encourages us to get out of the rigidity of feeling like we have to eat one specific way. Find what nourishes you and fall in love with your food and your body. Inner work will help create a sense of peace. Dr. Cummings also encourages us to give ourselves a break from the pressure to look a certain way. Love your food. Love cooking your food. Love eating your food and also who you’re eating it with. Alex Guerrero asks us to dig deep to care about ourselves a little bit more, which will help us make one better choice today than we did yesterday.
Go back to falling in love with your body. Go back to falling in love with what nature has provided us for nourishment.
– Dr. Mindy Pelz
(1:33:54) Dr. Bush tells a story of a visit to a Blue Zone in the Greek Isles for an event, where he learned from his hosts that the secret to a long life is not what you’re eating, but who you’re eating it with. Shake off the fear around “scary” micronutrients; this is not the right story about your food. The reality is that food was created as a source of life, and life is only worth living if it is in communion with others. Let’s get connected to our food and also to one another.
In this era of fear and isolation, think about your nutrition not in the context of its micronutrients or macronutrients, its fiber, it’s probiotic or prebiotic qualities. But think about who you are sharing it with. Are you in fellowship? Are you in love with the world around you?
– Dr. Zach Bush