Showing posts with label Physiology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Physiology. Show all posts

Sunday 8 May 2022

How to Fuel Your Brain With Energy

What is your fitness philosophy?


In other words: why do you train and exercise? What is it that you hope to achieve by being physically active?


Many of us train because we want to look better. Some of us train because we want to be healthier and stave off disease. Others train because they want to perform better at a particular sport or activity they enjoy.


But I have a different reason for training: I train because I want to change the way I feel and because I want to change my mindset. And this is also one of the driving factors behind my diet choices.




One of the biggest limiting factors in most of our lives – one of the things that most prevents us from achieving all that we want to achieve – is tiredness. You wake up in the morning and instead of leaping out of bed filled with enthusiasm, you instead struggle to drag yourself up and to actually start being productive. Then you get home and instead of doing something fun, interesting or productive, you instead just crash on the sofa and watch day time TV. Sound familiar?


Everything you do is less enjoyable when you’re tired. All of your decisions are worse. All of your challenges are harder. And I’m not talking about physical tiredness – I’m talking about mental tiredness. And that’s what you can actually fix with the right training program and diet, unbeknownst to many.


How to Increase Brain Energy


So how can you increase energy in your brain? One method is to increase the strength of your heart. If you do this, then you’ll be able to pump more blood, oxygen and nutrients to your brain, thus allowing it to perform more optimally. How do we do this? With steady state cardio This means the kind of cardiovascular exercise that involves long durations of exercise. A good example is running a few miles twice a week, which can help to enlarge the left ventricle in your heart. This also reduces stress by helping you to lower your resting heartrate and thus produce less cortisol.


Also important is to increase the efficiency of mitochondria. These are the parts of the cells that turn glucose into usable energy and the more you have and better they function, the less tired you will feel. You can increase these with a combination of HIIT training and foods/supplements that are known to support them such as CoQ10, PQQ, l-carnitine and others.

Everything You Need to Know About Panic Attacks in Order to Stop Them

It’s one thing trying to improve your ability to control your own stress response so that you can combat anxiety and improve your health. But it’s quite another when you experience serious panic attacks that leave you crippled and that prevent you from engaging in normal activities.


But in fact the tools you will use to achieve both ends are similar. The difference is just that panic attacks might require a more intense and a more focused approach.


And in either case, understanding the biology behind the experience can be a fantastic tool to help you take control more effectively.


Let’s look at what panic attacks are and how you can take them on head-to-head.


The Basics of Panic Attacks


When you experience any kind of stress, it’s because your sympathetic nervous system is releasing specific hormones and neurotransmitters into your system. Specifically, these are:


- Adrenaline (epinephrine)

- Noradrenaline (norepinephrine)

- Cortisol

- Testosterone

- Estrogen

- Dopamine

- Serotonin


When these occur together, your experience of pain is dulled, you become more attuned to your senses, your thoughts are focused, your strength increases your muscles contract. Your heartrate accelerates significantly and more blood and oxygen are sent to your muscles.


But the thing is that this increases your overall strength your reflexes and your ability to fight or run. This is a useful response in the right context.


The problem is when you misinterpret these signals and cause a panic attack. What happens in this case is that you notice yourself get anxious and you become worried that this is going to cause you embarrassment or make you faint (perhaps because you have previous experience with panic attacks). You begin to hyperventilate and this combined with the elevated heartrate causes chest pain. And some people mistake that chest pain for the signs of a heart attack.


All this makes you more anxious and that in turn means you ramp up the response even more. Your heartrate increases more, you get more anxious and eventually you might even start to get dizzy from all that oxygen.

The Solution


The solution then is to recognize that you’re having a panic attack but not to give it any power over you. And the way you do this is to try and detach yourself from it and essentially continue to go about your normal business. Of course, this is easier said than done but as soon as you stop letting it control you and as soon as you aren’t afraid of panic attacks, you’ll find they end a lot more quickly and eventually they can stop happening entirely.


Cognitive behavioral therapy can help with this, as can using the technique known as AWARE which is simply a set of steps to remove yourself from the experience and to avoid being afraid of the stress.


Most people will have a panic attack at some point in their lives but if you can understand what is happening and control your emotions, you’ll find it can disappear as quickly as it arrived.


How Anxiolytics Work and Whether You Should Use Them

If you can control stress, calm your mind and avoid anxiety then you’ll find it has huge benefits for both your body and your mind. The stress response actually makes us stronger, faster and even smarter in the short term. But over time, this can place a serious strain on the body that eventually wears you down and leaves you more susceptible to illness and other problems.


This is why people who experience a lot of anxiety might consider the use of anti-anxiety medications called anxiolytics. But what exactly do these do? How are they affecting your mental state? And should you use them? Let’s look at the way they work in more detail.


What is an Anxiolytic?


Anxiolytics are any drugs that reduce the stress response and to do this, they alter the neurotransmitters and hormones that the brain produces in order to encourage calmer and to act even as a mild sedative.


One of the main neurotransmitters that anxiolytics act on is GABA. GABA stands for Gamma Aminobutyric Acid and is a neurotransmitter that suppresses neuronal activity. That is to say that when it is released, it prevents neurons from firing. This in turn causes you to experience few thoughts and ‘slower’ thinking. It lowers the heartrate and it makes you less attuned to your surroundings.


GABA is one of the neurotransmitters that is affected by alcohol in fact and is responsible for some of the symptoms that we associate with being drunk. This is why some people will self-medicate with alcohol for stress or social anxiety.


Alternatively, some anxiolytics work by increasing serotonin. Serotonin is the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter and this is also how anti-depressants work such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors).


The Problem


To increase GABA, most anxiolytics work by blocking the reuptake of GABA in the brain so that there is more of it free in the brain. When you do this over a long period of time however, it causes changes in the brain and adaptations. Specifically, because there is too much GABA, the brain stops producing as much of it itself and decreases the number of receptors. Now you need to take larger doses of anxiolytics to experience the same heightened levels of GABA and now you will likely feel even more anxious when you’re not using them. This is called ‘tolerance and dependence’ and it can lead to addiction.


What’s more, is that anxiolytics do not address the thinking that leads to the release of those hormones in the first place, it deals with the symptoms rather than dealing with the cause.


And then there are the short term, immediate side effects associated with anxiolytic use such as drowsiness and confusion.


So, should you stop using anti-anxiety medication? This is very easy to say but not so easy if you experience frequent and severe bouts of anxiety. You should always listen to your doctor’s advice. But just know that this medication is not a long-term solution. Focus on therapy in conjunction with medication in order to address the root cause of the issue more permanently.


How Your Body and Mind Are Intimately Linked Through Your Hormones

In the book Calm Mind, Healthy Body, we discuss in detail the importance of having a calm mind and we look at how controlling and calming your thoughts can ultimately improve your health by removing the stress response. 


But did you know that this also works just as potently the other way around? That is to say that your health can also impact on your stress levels? Even your hunger can impact on stress, which in turn impacts on hunger again. It’s a complex interplay and in a moment, we’ll see more about this works and why your lifestyle is a key factor in controlling your stress.


What Happens When You Eat


If you’re stressed right now, then one method you might be able to use to fix that is to eat more. When you eat, your blood sugar spikes. This is then in turn followed by a spike in insulin, which triggers the body to remove the sugar from the blood along with any nutrients.


If you’ve eaten carbs (which provide the fastest sugar spike) then you will also have tryptophan in the blood. Tryptophan is an amino acid that also happens to be a building block of the neurotransmitter ‘serotonin’. Because tryptophan can cross the brain barrier and because it gets left behind by the insulin response, this then leads to a sudden spike in serotonin in the brain and you feel very good.


This is why you feel in a good mood after you’ve eaten! 


What’s more, is that serotonin eventually converts into melatonin, the sleep hormone. That’s why everyone always falls asleep after Christmas dinner!


What Happens When You Get Hungry


But let’s say you haven’t eaten for a while. What happens then? 


Well, you now have very low levels of tryptophan in your brain and this in turn increases cortisol, there is no way to impact a single neurotransmitter in isolation; levels of one will always impact on levels of the other.


Cortisol then replaces serotonin and this increases the production of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. That’s what makes your stomach start to rumble. It also increases stress and triggers anxious thoughts. This is why we get ‘hangry’ and why you’re ‘not you when you’re hungry’.


Other Things That Impact on Your Mood


There are plenty of other ways we can impact on our levels of neurotransmitters and hormones too though. 


For example, when you wake up first thing in the morning you will have been fasting all through the night. At this point your serotonin levels are incredibly low and you have high cortisol making you stressed. At the same time, the light from the sun also increases the release of cortisol which wakes you up (stress hormones are stimulatory whereas relaxation hormones tend to be sedative). Cortisol removes melatonin from the brain and also widens the veins via nitric oxide.


Then there are other things you can do: exercise for instance is well known to increase serotonin and other endorphins and boost the mood. It’s time to stop thinking of your brain as an isolated thing!


Why Stress is Really Bad for You

You’ve probably been told before that stress is really bad for you. It’s something that is constantly rammed down our throats and we’re constantly being reminded how stress can cause heart problems, cause weight gain and generally cause all manner of problems.


This is not news then. But what we don’t get told so often is precisely why stress is so bad for us or what it actually does to negatively impact on our health. Read on then and we’ll look at the reasons why stress is actually such a problem and what you can do to prevent it, or at least to limit the negative consequences.


Stress and Your Physiology


The first thing to note is that stress has a profound and direct effect on your physiology. That is to say that it increases your heart rate, it increases muscle tension and it causes your blood to actually thicken. All of this is intended to make us more efficient at combat and better able to run away in order to escape danger. This is all controlled by the body releasing specific hormones, and those include dopamine, adrenaline, cortisol and glutamate among others. These are our ‘stress hormones’ (though some of them are more accurately described as neurotransmitters).


As the heart rate increases and the blood vessels dilate, more blood is sent specifically to the muscles and to the brain with the intention of enhancing focus and physical performance.


This is great news again for fighting and for getting away from danger. But what it also means is that blood is being directed away from your other systems, away from your immune system for example and away from your digestion. When you’re being chased by a lion, or falling off a mountain, those things just don’t really matter quite so much!


The Long-Term Problem


The problem then comes when this is allowed to continue over a longer period of time. In the wild, chronic stress didn’t really exist: we wouldn’t have to worry about things like debt or having a mean boss! 


And when stress doesn’t go away, that means that your immune system and your digestion never get the attention they need. This is why you can end up getting heartburn or becoming ill when you’re constantly stressed.


Meanwhile, your body is consistently releasing adrenaline and your heartrate is consistently beating hard. Eventually this can become a problem as well as you become more and more likely to suffer a heart attack. And remember, your blood pressure has also gone up, making you significantly more likely to experience very high blood pressure.


Likewise, this prolonged state of arousal can lead to a number of other issues. For instance, the heart working this hard for this long can potentially put a lot of strain on you and maybe even lead to a heart attack. Likewise, the constant secretion of adrenaline can eventually lead to ‘adrenal fatigue’. At this point, the body has exhausted its supply of adrenaline, leaving you exhausted and potentially even depressed.


Thursday 5 May 2022

Physiology and Your Mood

If you want to get the most out of yourself and your life, then it is crucial that you learn to control your mood. Your mood will affect your ability to focus, your enjoyment of any and all activities and so much more.


But of course, controlling your emotions is easier said than done. This is something we would all like to do no doubt, but if it were that easy then we would all be happy all the time!


There is a secret to doing this though that many people miss. And while it may be impossible to guarantee that you’ll ever have complete control over the way you feel, it can sure make a big difference and help to give you a lot more control.


How Your Body Affects Your Mood


The missing key that so many people overlook is physiology. In other words, your body and your physical state.


What are our emotions for? They’re to drive us toward desirable things and to keep us away from things that could potentially harm us. When we feel scared, this motivates us to seek a safer shelter. When we feel disgusted, this prevents us from wanting to eat gone off food.


At a deeper level though, being hungry also impacts on your emotions and motivates behavior. When you are hungry, you will usually have low blood sugar. This in turn releases cortisol the stress hormone, along with ghrelin. This is why we get hangry! Conversely, when you eat, you produce serotonin which puts you in a good mood. This then converts to melatonin and makes us sleepy.


Being ill causes inflammation through pro-inflammatory cytokines and these suppress activity in the brain, creating brain fog and depression.


Feelings and emotions are different. You feel hungry, you feel tired and you feel ill. But these create emotions such as stress, anger and sadness.


The Takeaway


So, what are we getting at here? What is the practical takeaway from all this advice?


The moral is that it isn’t all about your thoughts and your lifestyle. If you’re angry or if you’re sad then it may not be due to you having a bad day – you may just be hungry or ill!


Then there’s the fact that our hormones tend to change on a cycle. Keep all this in mind when you are trying to manage your mood and make sure that you set yourself up with the best possible chance of a happy, positive day!