Five years ago today, we embarked on an incredible journey. Together, we sought to understand the roots of brain health, and how we can help fend off ailments like dementia and Alzheimer’s, diseases for which there are no known cures. This journey began with the release of Grain Brain.
In the five years since, science has continued to investigate the roles carbs and gluten play in our health, and our message has moved to the mainstream. As a result, the information in Grain Brain is now accompanied by ongoing changes and revelations in the world of medicine. Today, I want to share with you the five most interesting things I’ve learned/seen since Grain Brain hit shelves.
- The Western scientific community has aggressively shifted its position regarding the validity of the idea that sugar poses the greatest nutritional threat to our health, and that dietary fat is not the villain it had been previously portrayed to be. How exciting it is that even the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for a dramatic restriction of sugars (finally!), while indicating that fats should now be considered an important part of a healthful diet. Clearly, there was more than a bit of backlash when I made these statements in Grain Brain. But there’s still work to be done. Case in point: the American Heart Association continues to sanction the idea that women can add six teaspoons of sugar to their diets each day, while men can get away with nine!
- Grain Brain came out swinging against the consumption of gluten. The response was supportive, but there was pushback. The biggest pushback came from those who wanted to hold on to the idea that the only people who needed to restrict gluten were those who were diagnosed with celiac disease. How powerfully validating it has been to see the science that clearly defines the notion of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, meaning that people can experience a variety of symptoms, many of which are not gut-related, who do not carry a diagnosis of celiac disease! This was eloquently described in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Moreover, newer research has shown that permeability of the gut lining, a central mechanism in creating inflammation in the entire body, occurs in all humans with gluten consumption. So it looks like we didn’t stretch the point.
- Yes, your brain can grow new neurons. As we originally described in Grain Brain, the human brain has the incredible ability to grow new brain cells. Our original discussion focused on the pivotal role of exercise in enhancing this process, known as neurogenesis. Newer research not only continues to confirm the role of exercise in promoting neurogenesis, but also demonstrates how being on a ketogenic diet enhances this process. Since Grain Brain was published, we have been all over this exciting science that shows how cutting carbs, eating more healthful fats, and supplementing with things like MCT oil enhance the body’s production of ketones, which change the expression of our DNA (for the better) and provide a superfuel for the brain. (If you want to learn more about ketosis, sign-up to get my free guide to ketosis and the ketogenic diet)
- Our gut bacteria control our health destiny. This simple fact has virtually exploded on the health and science scenes. While this was not described in Grain Brain, it was the central thesis of our follow-up book, Brain Maker. Who knew that each and every one of our day-to-day lifestyle choices, including our food choices, exercise habits, sleep routines, stress levels, supplement regimen, etc., not only exerted direct effects on our health, but other effects that may be even more pronounced, through changes that occur in our gut bacteria.
- We can change the expression of our DNA. This exciting topic has certainly challenged one of the fundamental tenets of biology for any of us who were in medical school prior to the 1990s! Then, it was a widely held belief that our DNA was an inviolate code that dictated everything about our health and wellbeing. What a conceptual revolution! We now fully recognize that, moment-to-moment, our various lifestyle choices directly influence our gene expression. We literally have the ability to turn on genes that favor health while suppressing those that code for risk for disease, just by the choices we make! While this was an important discussion in Grain Brain, this science, known as epigenetics, has expanded dramatically. We now understand, for example, that even our gut bacteria play a role in modulating the expression of our DNA. The research showing how dietary choices affect gene expression has certainly expanded, especially in the area of the ketogenic diet. This is powerful and empowering information that each of us can leverage to rewrite our health destiny!
Some incredible stuff. I can’t wait to see where the next five years, and beyond, take us. Thank you for joining me on this adventure, and I look forward to continuing this discovery right along with you.
(And keep an eye out for the revised and updated edition of Grain Brain, which has some completely new materials, which is due out in December, but available for pre-order today!)