I’ve been focusing on brain health and learning more about the gut-brain connection over the past several months, and the vast amount of research on the subject can be overwhelming. Not only do we have a “second brain” in our gut, but the microorganisms that make up that second brain actually play a large role in how we think, feel, and act. Feeling brain fogged and apathetic about life? It might be a result of taking antibiotics for the common cold, stuffy sinuses, or heartburn (lack of stomach acid + SIBO). The bacteria in your gut that are responsible for making you alert, motivated, and happy were killed by the antibiotic “bomb” you swallowed.

The good news is that there are various ways you can manipulate the bacteria in your gut-brain to help you overcome the symptoms related to a depleted microbiome: brain fog, depression, mood swings, cravings for junk foods, weight gain, chronic fatigue, sleep disorders, and other things. Here are some resources that can help you and your brain, especially going into the dark Winter months.

1. Intermittent fasting. Some beneficial (healing) bacteria thrive only when there is an absence of food in your belly. You should allow at least 12 hours between dinner and the next day’s breakfast on a daily basis. Some studies suggest that waiting 12 – 16 hours between dinner and the next day’s breakfast might be the optimal “sweet spot” that should be done at least once each week.

2. Sleep at night. The optimal hours for sleep are between 10 PM – 2 AM. This means you should go to bed by 9:30 PM so that you are already asleep by 10. It’s harder said than done, especially if you live in a metropolitan area with a vibrant nighttime entertainment scene. However, if you are suffering from problems such as depression, an early bedtime might help you immensely because it will help you get more sunlight during the daylight hours.

3. Light therapy in your ears. Most people are familiar with those blue light boxes that are used for seasonal affective disorder. However, this blue light can cause damage to the eyes and it’s just not effective for some individuals who require a higher dose of light therapy. Shining yellow light into the ear canal reaches the brain more efficiently without the side effect of damaging the eyes. This also helps to shift your microbiome in a way that promotes fat loss, elimination of food cravings, and increased alertness. The light therapy device for the ears that I highly recommend can be found here. I personally have used this device to overcome jetlag when traveling across time ones. It works better than anything else I’ve tried.

4. Nutritional Ketones (NK). Don’t confuse nutritional ketosis (NK) with diabetic ketoacidosis (DK). Ketones are an alternate fuel source for the brain, nervous system, heart, and skeletal muscle that humans relied upon for survival during periods in which food was scarce or carbohydrates were not available. (This happened most frequently in pre-agricultural times during the Winter months when fruits and vegetables were not available.) Scientists and medical researchers now know that ketones can help the brain heal from injuries, as well as promote enhanced focus and athletic performance. Ketones can also greatly reduce appetite, so they can also be beneficial for those who struggle with overeating. Lastly, cancer cells can only thrive in the presence of glucose. Ketones can fuel the body while starving cancer cells. Since plenty of carbohydrates are available to us year-round — and we never get to experience nutritional ketosis — this could be one reason why diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer, and obesity, are so common today despite advanced medical care. There is a growing amount of scientific research that suggests that a ketogenic diet, a calorie restricted diet, and the use of exogenous ketones can have powerful anti-aging and brain healing effects, even if you only implement these strategies into your lifestyle for a few months each year. (I suggest doing it during the Winter months when you’re more likely to crave buttered bone broth and less likely to want to eat watermelon.) To get started on the diet, check out this cookbook. For an exogenous ketone supplement that will help you reach nutritional ketosis right away, check out this tasty drink mix.

5. Paleo cheese. If your brain isn’t working even though you’ve gone gluten-free, you are probably sensitive to the proteins in dairy. If you switch to a dairy-free “vegan” cheese, you’ll most likely be taking in GMO canola or soy. Don’t worry about finding a proper cheese replacement because I’ve just found a paleo cheese made from veggies and grass-fed gelatin! You can get some here.

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