Strategies & Solutions
Since the onset of my brain injury, I have had cravings for intense flavors. I think I may have finally figured out why. Things like cacao (chocolate), ceylon cinnamon, vanilla beans, coffee, and others have what are called flavonoids. Flavonoids trigger various effects in the brain that change neurotransmitters, among other things.
Yesterday, for the first time, I tried a stick of ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is known as the “real cinnamon” and is sweeter, more subtle, and has almost none of the stuff that harms your liver compared to what most of us are used to buying in the grocery store (which is not cinnamon, but a close cousin in the cinnamon family).
I’ve still been clawing my way out of the adrenaline pit from my doctor’s visit over three weeks ago. Immediately after starting to work on this stick of cinnamon (it is crumbly and easy to break off and chew, unlike it’s poser cousin) my head felt cleared and less mired in a swamp. But I didn’t have the racing heart and other stimulant effects I get from caffeine or from the poser cinnamon stick I tried on a different day.
Then, this morning, sitting up in bed with our one-year-old, something happened that hasn’t happened since my brain injury. Usually I watch her with focused fascination as she crawls to a toy, crawls to me, then unexpectedly (to me only) flings it toward me suddenly. The sudden motion overloads my brain and I need time to recover. Not this morning. This morning I saw it coming. First time ever since the brain injury in 2002. More eating of ceylon cinnamon sticks is needed, but it seems a very strong candidate for the reason I saw this coming. I wonder what else is in store?
In addition to eating the sticks, I plan on making my own chi tea with vanilla beans, cloves, chocolate, ceylon cinnamon, and possibly others. We also use a lot of tumeric and cumin in our cooking, which help stimulate and heal the brain.
If you try the cinnamon and/or chi, I highly recommend getting organic spices. So many of the pesticides used are neuro-inhibitors, and we don’t need any help in neuro inhibiting. Sardonic grin.
May God startle you with joy!
Barbara, my wife, tells it this way: “One year ago today we got back from Mass on Christ the King and you asked me to watch you. You leaned your sticks against the garage and took off. My instincts from years of having to catch you when you fall had me diving. But you kept going. Down the road. Past the bridge. Out of sight. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I watched you go.”
For years I was unable to hold my daughters’ hands while walking. That all changed with the miracle of stick-free walking and running last Feast of Christ our King.
While praying Liturgy of the Hours’ Morning Prayer, I felt called to go for a run without my sticks. Prudence dictated I wait for Barbara to return from Mass in case I misunderstood and was stuck without sticks crawling back home. I ended up running 5k. Without sticks.
Deacon Patrick hiking (prior to starting to go barefoot and minimalist) with “bludgers” weighing 4 pounds each to help compensate for constant neurological vertigo.
I have brain injury, and with it constant neurological vertigo. I still do. Being neurological, it will be with me the rest of my life or until a miraculous healing. In the meantime, God has given me, and us, the miracle of being able to walk and run without sticks. How? God’s engineering. A miracle of God’s engineering. By going barefoot (which I began doing two and a half years before), my body has slowly regained the capacity to use proprioception to know where I am in space. My brain still has no idea where I am, though I run technical mountain trails. But being barefoot, or in huarache sandals or leather moccasins, GOd has given me the gift of walking and running without sticks, starting one year ago today.
May God startle you with joy this Feast of Christ our King.
I’ve been using a Mac, an iPhone, and and iPad since they first came out. They all sync up wonderfully, but it gets rather cost prohibitive to update the Mac over time. Recently a family donated a new iPad to me — the one with the retina display. Wow. I’ve had it on my iPhone. It makes a tremendious difference in a screen. Much easier on my eyes.
I dicided it was time to once again try and go without the Mac, doing everything on the iPad. Previous attempts did not last more than a few hours. Between the physical set up and available apps, it simply wasn’t ready yet. Wow. For me, it is ready now.
Everthing I do can be done simply and smoothly on the iPad. I use Apple’s wireless keyboard with it. The retina display is stunning and uses less brain energy to look at. There is beauty in the singular focus of the iPad. I can only see what I’m working on. That means more brain energy for that activity.
Between this switch and the addition of Field Notes (see previous post) I am getting far more writing done and with less brain energy. Writing is a joy again rather than feeling like I’m pulling teeth.
I’ve rediscovered paper. In particular, I’ve discovered Field Notes Brand pocket notebooks. They are thin, flat, and amazingly inviting to simply pour whatever comes to mind into, to be dealt with later.
For several years now, I’ve been exclusively capturing ideas in my iPhone. That works for some things, but not for writing. And as simple as the iPhone is to use, it still tends to get in the way of my thinking and ideas.
I tried various pocket notebooks. The typical Moleskine I have issues with because it is made in China using chemicals I don’t want near my brain. Then I tried Eco System’s small notebook. Bulky, thick, and never flat underneath when open. All that takes brain energy to deal with — brain energy I do not have to spare.
Enter Field Notes. I got one of their mixed packs, containing a plain, grid, and lined notebook. I expected the plain would be what I use, because every other time I’ve tried lined or grid paper the lines are obtrusively in the way. My brain can’t separate my content from the lines. What a wonderful surprise when I got to try Field Notes’ grid. It is a light brown, thin line grid exactly as thick as a line I would normally write on would be. It’s unobtrusive, so my brain doesn’t see it when I’m not using it, but it’s there as a guide when I want it. No more written lines wandering off up or down the page. I am free to focus on writing. Wherever I am.
Now, with the iPad’s voice recognition, I can dictate my notes into whatever app makes sense. Evernote, iA Writer, email — wherever I need my captured content to go, I can type it, speak it, or even photograph it in. The perfect balance of old and new for living life with brain injury.
Thank you to the tremendously detail oriented designers at Field Notes Brand for putting so much consideration into your product. Deceptively simple, they have removed everything unnecessary and kept everything that is. That is far harder than it looks.
For those with brain injury needing a something small and easy to carry, requiring no learning curve, and inexpensive yet powerful at doing whatever you need in a memory notebook, field notes are an excellent choice. If I could have only one thing to keep with me always for idea capture and memory aid, I would choose this little book over my iPhone.
Premise: we evolved brains for one simple reason: to move with complex intricacy.
If that is true, it stands to reason that movement in it’s various forms will help the brain heal by developing new pathways, which in turn will promote our capacity to think.
Thus, if you want to heal your brain it is perfectly reasonable to do so by moving about and living life as fully as possible. Have fun! And the video is fascinating.
New research appears to show lactate (you know, the stuff we wrongly used to think made muscles sore after exercise) is a preferred fuel of the injured brain.
There are a few options for getting lactate:
— run for three or more hours, which converts carbs to lactate
— eat fermented veggies (not in vinegar, but real fermented veggies), and drink the juice
— eat minimally processed yoghurt or kefir
Here are a few options for the veggies:
Paul Jaminet at Perfect Health Diet describes how to make your own.
Bubbies pickles, sauerkraut and more.
Here’s more info from Luis on my running group (who has thoughtfully helped with research on this. Thanks! Luis!
Lactate administration attenuates cognitive deficits following traumatic
“Lactate infused injured animals demonstrated significantly less cognitive deficits than saline infused injured animals. Thus, lactate infusion attenuated the cognitive deficits normally observed in this model, and therefore may provide moderately head injured patients with a treatment to help ameliorate the sequelae.”
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899301032991 ————————————————————————— ————————————————- Now humans:
A Different View of Lactate in Trauma Patients: Protecting the Injured Brain
“… Patients with moderate or severe head injury and an admission lactate
> 5 were more likely to have a normal mental status on discharge (*P* < 0.0001)." http://www.journalofsurgicalresearch.com/article/S0022-4804(09)00214-…
————————————————————————— ————————————————- The next two articles have great info:
Lactate metabolism: a new paradigm for the third millennium:
“…Lactate is an important intermediate in the process of wound repair and regeneration. The origin of elevated [La-] in injury and sepsis is being re-investigated. There is essentially unanimous experimental support for a cell-to-cell lactate shuttle, along with mounting evidence for astrocyte-neuron, lactate-alanine, peroxisomal, and spermatogenic lactate shuttles. The bulk of the evidence suggests that La- is an important intermediary in numerous metabolic processes, a particularly mobile fuel for aerobic metabolism…”
————————————————————————— ————————————————- Here they have a good summary:
“Role of lactate after traumatic brain injury Lactate has been shown to increase after TBI in animal models and in the clinical setting [37,38]. Goodman et al. [39•] observed in 126 brain-injured patients that lactate concentration was significantly greater in the patients who died than in those who survived, and this difference occurred primarily in the first 36 hours. However, the role of increased lactate concentration after TBI should be reassessed because it might be a marker of injury severity, but it is still unclear whether it is intrinsically harmful to the brain. There is emerging evidence to revise the hypothesis that glucose is the sole energy substrate used by adult brain cells to sustain neural activity. According the astrocyte-neuron lactate shuttle hypo the s i s ( f o r a m o r e c o m p r e h e n s i v e d i s c u s s i o n , s e e [40••,41••]), there is an increase in aerobic glycolysis in astrocytes in response to neural activation at glutamatergic synapses (characterized by glucose use and lactate production despite sufficient oxygen levels to support oxidative phosphorylation). Lactate might then be oxidized and used as energy substrate by the neurons. Rice et al.  observed that the administration of lactate 30 minutes after fluid percussion brain injury in rats attenuated cognitive deficits observed at days 11–15 post injury, suggesting a protective role of lactate after TBI. Recently, in a cohort of 49 brain-injured patients subjected to 179 determinations of lactate metabolism over the first 5 days, it was shown that cerebral lactate uptake occurred in 76% of them and in 44% of the measurements. Abnormal uptake of lactate by the brain (cerebral metabolic rate of lactate >97.5th percentile of normal) was observed in 28% of measurements; in contrast, abnormal lactate production by the brain occurred in only 2% of studies. Patients with a favorable outcome showed a greater brain lactate uptake when compared with patients with an unfavorable outcome [19••]. These data suggest that lactate can be effectively used as substrate by the injured brain and that therapeutic strategies aimed at reducing lactate concentration after TBI should be reevaluated.”
There is a new “medical food” out, Axona, in the form of a milkshake, which essentially is a single element of coconut oil extracted and put into a milk shake to power the brain with ketons rather than glucose, which studies show is healthy for the brain.
Just eat a ketonic diet instead, and reap the multitude of benefits of a high fat diet. Paleo is a great way to go. To learn more start here, at Mark’s Daily Apple or here, at the Perfect Health Diet.
The choice? Take an expensive supplement that addresses one component of the nutrition required by the brain (not addressing any other issues like brain toxins from grains and legumes, among many others) or eat a rich, healthful diet, achieve optimal weight without being hungry and enjoy life more fully along the way. I’ll skip the supplement, thanks.
May God startle you with joy!
Exercise really does help heal the brain. One of the now known ways it does is by helping generate new mitochondria in the brain and throughout the nervous system. When mitochondria, the powerhouse within each cell of the body, get low neurons risk dysfunction or death. Running the Colorado Trail, along with all other forms of exercise, help heal my brain. What exercise do you find helps heal yours?
Here are the articles and the pertinent quotes:
“These findings suggest that exercise training increases brain mitochondrial biogenesis which may have important implications, not only with regard to fatigue, but also with respect to various central nervous system diseases and age-related dementia that are often characterized by mitochondrial dysfunction.”
“Decreased oxygen metabolism due to mitochondrial dysfunction must be taken into account when clinically defining ischemia and interpreting oxygen measurements such as jugular venous oxygen saturation, arteriovenous difference in oxygen content, direct tissue oxygen tension, and cerebral blood oxygen content determined using near-infrared spectroscopy. Restoring mitochondrial function might be as important as maintaining oxygen delivery.”
“Mitochondrial defects are now described in a wide spectrum of human conditions, including neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases, aging, and cancer. Further studies examining the importance of mitochondrial pathophysiology in neurodegenerative diseases such as AD and HD may provide important insight into neurodegenerative disease pathogenesis and may indeed provide a target for specific therapies.
There is increasing interest in the potential usefulness of coenzymeQ10 (CoQ10) to treat neurodegenerative diseases because CoQ10 administration can increase brain and brain mitochondrial concentrations in brain in mature and older animals. CoQ10 (also known as ubiquinone) serves as an important cofactor of the electron transport chain, where it accepts electrons from complexes I and II, thus serves as an important antioxidant in both mitochondria and lipid membranes. A prior study showed that vitamin E has efficacy in slowing the progression of AD. The antioxidants curcurmin and melatonin exert beneficial effects on amyloid deposition in transgenic mouse models of AD. It is, therefore, possible that CoQ10 might similarly be beneficial in AD.”
A big thanks to Joe (JZ) and Luis Manuel for these links. Thanks, lads!
Ketogenic simply means getting your primary energy by burning fat, as opposed to most people in the US today who get most of their energy by burning glucose. Science is showing us that when fat is our primary fuel we function much smoother and healthier — including multiple studies showing brain benefits of burning fat os our primary fuel. In essence we access God’s engineering by shifting to burning fat rather than glucose.
Many people think our brain needs glucose as it’s primary energy. Wrong. Ketones are a by-product of burning fat and they duel our brain just fine. But if our body and brain are used to only having glucose as fuel (which likely means battling weight gain no matter how little you eat and often feeling hungry and having quick and sudden loss of brain and body energy, among other things (like high risk for diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and more, which are the result of the Standard American Diet (SAD)), it can be a challenging process to switch, a process some experience as the low-carb flu.
How do we switch to burning mostly fat? Diet. Simply put, eat (at least) twice as many fat calories as you do carb calories. Here is a great review of “The Perfect Health Diet” book, an excellent resource for exploring and understanding the ketogenic diet and the science behind it.
Diet essentials (from the Perfect Health Diet):
- By Calories, 20% carbs, 65% (healthy) fats, 15% protein. By weight, 65% plants, 35% animal foods,
- Eliminate all veggie oils, eating only olive oil, animal fat, coconut oil, cold water fish oil (be sure it is mercury minimal or free). Eggs are fantastic.
- Eliminate all grain and legumes, some nuts and seeds are OK, but soak them first to eliminate toxins and maximize nutrition and digestibility.
Counter to Popular Understanding…
- You will lose weight eating a high fat diet (lots of reasons, but put simply, your body is able to burn fat in addition to storing it).
- Animal fat is good for you, veggie oils are very unhealthy.
- Since USDA recommendations and the standard diet pyramid of food groups, US diet has dropped from an average of 40% fat to 30% fat, but we are fatter and less healthy and at greater risk of health issues than ever because we are malnourished.
- Grains and legumes are hard to prepare traditionally in a “pre-digested” way and such preparation does not eliminate all toxins — in effect their nutritive value is negative because of their anti-nutrients.
I have been experimenting with just how I do and feel on various levels of ketogenic diet. The results are amazing. The more ketogenic my diet, the better my brain capacity, cognitive energy, energy stability, longevity, and the better I feel.
Making the switch is not easy. There are some things I have struggled to hold onto. Despite wanting oatmeal to work for me, I have discovered there is no way with current modern food production methods to duplicate the way oats need to be handled to make them part of my diet. For me, giving up wheat and other grains was not a big deal, but the oats hurt and I needed to be sure I could not make them work. I can’t. The science is a lot to follow, but the Weston A. Price Foundation explains why, with the percent excerpt:
“Oats contain very little phytase, especially after commercial heat treatment, and require a very long preparation period to completely reduce phytic acid levels. Soaking oats at 77 degrees F for 16 hours resulted in no reduction of phytic acid, nor did germination for up to three days at this temperature.63 However, malting (sprouting) oats for five days at 52 degrees F and then soaking for 17 hours at 120 degrees F removes 98 percent of phytates. Adding malted rye further enhances oat phytate reduction.64 Without initial germination, even a five-day soaking at a warm temperature in acidic liquid may result in an insignificant reduction in phytate due to the low phytase content of oats. On the plus side, the process of rolling oats removes a at least part of the bran, where a large portion of the phytic acid resides.
How do we square what we know about oats with the fact that oats were a staple in the diet of the Scots and Gaelic islanders, a people known for their robust good health and freedom from tooth decay? For one thing, high amounts of vitamin D from cod’s liver and other sources, helps prevent calcium losses from the high oat diet. Absorbable calcium from raw dairy products, consumed in abundance on mainland Scotland, provides additional protection.
In addition, it is likely that a good part of the phytase remained in the oats of yore, which partially germinated in stacks left for a period in the field, were not heat treated and were hand rolled immediately prior to preparation. And some Scottish and Gaelic recipes do call for a long fermentation of oats before and even after they are cooked.
Unprocessed Irish or Scottish oats, which have not been heated to high temperatures, are available in some health food stores and on the internet. One study found that unheated oats had the same phytase activity as wheat.65 They should be soaked in acidulated water for as long as twenty-four hours on top of a hot plate to keep them at about 100 degrees F. This will reduce a part of the phytic acid as well as the levels of other anti-nutrients, and result in a more digestible product. Overnight fermenting of rolled oats using a rye starter—or even with the addition of a small amount of fresh rye flour—may result in a fairly decent reduction of phytate levels. It is unclear whether heat-treated oats are healthy to eat regularly.”
“Remember when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received – only what you have given: A heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”
= Saint Francis of Assisi
The best cognitive therapy (activity that stimulates brain connections and healing) there is is reaching out sideways to help others. St. Francis’ prescription for eternal wealth is also a powerful prescription for brain health and recovery.
In sharing the journey with people both brain injured and healthy, one thing stands out very clear. those who focus on themselves have worlds and capacity that get smaller and smaller while those who know themselves well, and meet their own needs while simultaneously reaching out to help others, no matter their own situation, have worlds and capacity that get larger and larger.
Why? Simple. We all have an epic battle going on inside us, between our saint (the breath of God within us) and our sinner (the effect of original sin). While we need to start with right relationship with ourselves and our God, we are all called to help build God’s kingdom by being generous and loving toward others. Doing so feeds our saint and weakens our sinner. This leads to eyes that see a world rich with gift and opportunity as well as others’ journeys in which we can share. Conversely, focusing on our selves to the exclusion of others, on the other hand does the exact opposite: it feeds our sinner and diminishes our saint, which blinds us to goodness and truth and closes us off to opportunities that lead to our own healing.
The irony is that in the journey of life we make far more progress by pausing and reaching out to help others (which launches us forward in unexpected ways through God’s grace) than if we focus on ourselves and block out others.
This is why the seventh stage of grieving is “Co-Creation” — by engaging the world and making it a better place we not only serve humbly to build God’s kingdom, but we also open ourselves to God’s flowing grace — which will always help us achieve our fullest potential, whatever that is and whatever our capacity.
May God startle you with joy!