Behold your weekly dispatch. Let's dive right in.
Dawn's Big Three This Week:
1) 🥑 Food For Thought
A friendly reminder to pass on salt for your brain's sake.
2) 🥇 Motivation Station:
High-octane conversations and how to cope.
3) ☔ Make It Brain:
Why laughing is better than the NHS.
Want More of This? Get Some Brain Food Every Week.
🥑 Food For Thought 💭
CUT THE SALT
Did you grow up eating bland food? Now’s a good time to thank whoever fed you as a kid, though your taste buds might disagree. Excessive salt intake can lead to poor cognitive performance.
Research backs this essential nutrient’s impressive ability to improve and preserve memory.
Scientists now believe that sodium overkill can also also take a serious toll on brain health. It boils down to a gut reaction.
The Gut-Brain Axis
You may know about a growing body of research dedicated to exploring what scientists call the gut-brain axis.
Preliminary work suggests a close relationship between the digestive system and brain.
It explores why certain foods, like salt, can cause inflammation and set off harmful auto-immune chain reactions that ultimately affect our memories and ability to learn.
In one study, researchers worked closely with mice, manipulating sodium levels and tracking the rodents’ immune response to salt.
As levels increased, scientists spotted a series of chemical reactions that compromised blood flow to specific brain regions in the mice, namely the cortex and hippocampus, both of which are crucial for learning, memory and the ability to comprehend lengthy compound sentences in a short-form internet article.
(Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.)
I’m not a mouse. Am I off the hook?
So far, this type of research has only involved four-legged furballs but scientists believe salt affects human brains in similar ways.
This, of course, is slightly alarming because, according to the World Health Organization, nearly every adult under the sun consumes too much salt.
So if scientists are correct and excessive sodium in the small intestine alters the brain’s blood flow, maybe you’d like to get a head start and replace your salty snacks with walnuts or blueberries or even homemade kale chips sprinkled in anti-inflammatory turmeric. You decide.
FOR THE NERDY: Your brain on salt
🥇Motivation Station 🏃♀️
DOWN WITH DRAMA
Do you work with somebody who seems to thrive on conflict? Maybe they’re the bickering type or they adore complaining. Maybe power trips are their favourite getaways.
Communicating with these types in a highly stressful or emotional setting can be excruciating. No amount of logic, reasoning, or persuasion translates. It’s as if they’re not even listening.
According to Dr Mark Goulston, it's not necessarily their fault. It's their brain's.
It's not a croc
Buried beneath your neocortex and all its social graces and intellect, there’s a core section some call your reptilian brain. It’s home to survival instincts and fear responses.
When it detects a threat, the reptilian brain flips a switch initiating an adrenaline-fuelled Jekyll/Hyde moment.
Reason and eloquence are literally shut off. Survival is king. Everything’s a matter of fight or flight.
If a person feels significantly threatened in an argument, no amount of reason will compute until he or she comes down from the adrenaline rush.
Talk them off the ledge
Goulston suggests that understanding the science behind certain people’s irrational response to conflict sheds light on managing volatile working relationships.
The key is to eliminate the perceived threat by meeting their fundamental needs to be understood and valued.
Goulston’s tips for containing chaos
Don’t call someone out for overreacting. It will backfire. It communicates that you don’t take them seriously.
Attempt to label their emotions and ask if you’re correct. “I sense you’re angry” can lead to “yes I am” and that means you agree on something. Things are looking up.
Once the emotionally charged person starts processing, don’t interrupt. Just let the wound drain. These things take time.
The brick wall standing between you and your conflict-stricken colleague will likely dissolve once the perceived threat dissipates and their reptilian brain calls it quits. Here's hoping.
FOR THE NERDY: More from Dr Goulston.
☔ Make It Brain
If you’re like most people in January, wellness is on your mind.
Well, forget steam rooms and aromatherapy for a hot second.
What if we told you that your time spent busting a gut with friends at the pub (or, I don’t know, laughing at American politics) was actually considered self care?
It’s true: Laughter is the best medicine.
Dr Feel Good
A group of scientists decided to investigate how the brain lights up when laughter takes over.
Participants were split into three groups. The first group freely endured tickling; the second was tickled and told to suppress their laughter. The third group fabricated giggles.
Researchers then used MRI scans to investigate the brain chemistry linked to laughter.
As predicted, the folks who were genuinely laughing exhibited the most impressive scans.
Brain regions associated with pain perception, digestive function, blood pressure, sensory processing, decision making, memory formation, empathy, compassion, and language put on a light show.
Researchers also discovered that “fake it ‘til you make it” applies to achieving laughter’s health benefits.
Both voluntary and involuntary laughter ignited the brain region that is stimulated to treat chronic pain. (We’re talking about periaqueductal gray matter, in case you’re wondering.)
As it turns out, laughter is like pizza. It’s best when it’s authentic but even counterfeit stuff is still delicious.
And it just gets better
It draws people into relationships.
It boosts the immune system.
It wages a war on stress.
It forges resilience.
You get it. Make laughing a priority this week.
May we suggest the following?
Seek out your funniest friends.
Hit the archives and watch a few ancient episodes of The Office.
Indulge in retro boy band music videos.
Better still, imitate the choreography and reap the benefits of dancing too. (Admit it. You always wanted to memorize those moves. Now you can do it in the name of preserving your physical and mental health. Off you go. Bye, bye, bye.)
FOR THE NERDY: Read the study here.
What We Love This Week
🎧 Speaking of humour and digestion, this hilarious podcast features charismatic and esteemed gut specialist, Miguel Toribio-Mateas. Learn why diversity is key to achieving gut-brain health and have a few laughs for good measure.
📖 Could depression just be a symptom of inflammation? The book's a little long for most, so why not squeeze out the value in 10 minutes instead? Here's a meaty extract from the book The Inflamed Mind.
📽 Check out 30 seconds of neural joy. And to think this video captures merely 0.0001% of the brain's synapses. Stunning.
You’re talking. We’re listening.
“I love this newsletter so much. It's the perfect amount of info each week, I've been keeping track of, and making small improvements to myself along the way. Thanks guys.”
- Maryna Irzhanenko, Portfolio Manager at Flinder
“Was expecting great insights about how to maximise my mind but wasn't expecting to get so many good recommendations too. Love discovering new things in your top 3 every week."
-Ian Walker, Founder of Laundry Republic
Godspeed. Take it easy on the salt and laugh as much as possible. Don't forget to practice your hostage tactics on that challenging colleague.
See you next week,
PS. Wanna give the gift of Brain Food? Forward this to a friend.