Signals generated by the brain can influence the composition of microbes residing in the intestine and that the chemicals in the gut can shape the human brain’s structure.
1. For people with IBS, research shows for the first time that there is an association between the gut microbiota and the brain regions involved in the processing of sensory information from their bodies.
2. The researchers gained insight into the connections among childhood trauma, brain development and the composition of the gut microbiome.
“The UCLA researchers collected behavioral and clinical measures, stool samples and structural brain images from 29 adults diagnosed with IBS, and 23 healthy control subjects. They used DNA sequencing and various mathematical approaches to quantify composition, abundance and diversity of the gut microbiota. They also estimated the microbial gene content and gene products of the stool samples. Then the researchers cross-referenced these gut microbial measures with structural features of the brain.”
Based on the composition of the microbes in the gut, the samples from those diagnosed with IBS clustered into two subgroups:
- One group was indistinguishable from the healthy control subjects, while the other differed.
- Those in the group with an altered gut microbiota had more history of early life trauma and longer duration of IBS symptoms.
- The two groups also displayed differences in brain structure.
“Analysis of a person’s gut microbiota may become a routine screening test for people with IBS in clinical practice, and in the future, therapies such as certain diets and probiotics may become personalized based on an individual’s gut microbial profile. At the same time, subgroups of people with IBS distinguished by brain and microbial signatures may show different responsiveness to brain-directed therapies such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, cognitive behavioral therapy and targeted drugs.
“A history of early life trauma has been shown to be associated with structural and functional brain changes and to alter gut microbial composition. It is possible that the signals the gut and its microbes get from the brain of an individual with a history of childhood trauma may lead to lifelong changes in the gut microbiome. These alterations in the gut microbiota may feed back into sensory brain regions, altering the sensitivity to gut stimuli, a hallmark of people with IBS.”
A study on brain-to-brain synchrony, published in Current Biology examined the neuroscience of classroom interaction and found that shared attention—spurred by certain stimuli, like eye contact and face-to-face exchange—generated similar brain wave patterns in students.*
“The human brain has evolved for group living, yet we know so little about how it supports dynamic group interactions,” the study notes. Real-world social exchanges are a mystery and much previous research has been limited to artificial environments and simple tests. This effort, however, measured brainwave activity during face-to-face interaction in a natural rather than constructed environment, investigating social dynamics across time.”
“Classrooms make a particularly good place for neuro-scientific exploration because they’re lively—with lots of actors and factors at play—but also semi-controlled environments with limited influences and all activities led by a single teacher. “This allowed us to measure brain activity and behavior in a systematic fashion over the course of a full semester as students engaged,” the researchers explain.”
“The brainwaves of 12 teenage students’ brainwaves were recorded during 11 different classes throughout the semester; each session was 50 minutes long. The students followed live lectures, watched instructional videos, and participated in group discussions. Researchers tracked students’ brainwaves throughout using portable electroencephalogram (EEG) systems.”
“The study tested the hypothesis that group members think similarly, and that the more engaged they are, the more similarly the think—and that this could be seen in shared brainwave patterns. The researchers believed that engagement predicts, and possibly underpins, classroom learning specifically and group dynamics generally. Indeed, they found that when students were more engaged in a teaching style—listening to a lecture versus watching a video, say—they were also more likely to show similar brainwaves.”
“That brainwave synchronicity seems to be generated from a number of small, individual interactions. Particular types of exchanges seemed to especially influence the meeting of the minds in the study, say the researchers. For example, eye contact was linked to shared intentions, which “sets up a scaffold” for social cognition and more engagement. These individual interactions seemed to lead to a shared sense of purpose across the group—which manifested in specific brainwave patterns, likewise shared across the group.”
The researchers believe their work with teens in the classroom—which wasn’t easy given the students’ energy levels and EEGs attached to their boisterous young brains—shows it is possible to investigate the neuroscience of group interactions under “ecologically natural circumstances.” They hope it leads to more exploration of brainwaves out in the wilderness that is civilization.
*The research, led by psychologist Suzanne Dikker at New York University
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
– Yogi Berra
Yay. Sure. 100%. When I meditate it’s 50%-50% at best. My monkey mind swings from trees with great abandon, my thoughts rambling, rumbling and wildly roaming.
When the stress, thinking of “doing nothing” for 20 minutes, negates benefits here’s 6 alternative forms of meditation
(I’ve tried five of them- and they work. You can guess which one I’ve ignored)
1. Take a Musical Bath
2. Dance When NO ONE Watches
Dancing is the natural progression from listening to music. Many of us have had the horrible feeling of dancing while being stuck in self-conscious over thinking and paranoid about how we look.
Meditative dance is ignoring everything that is going on outside our own body and becoming one with the music. Flay your arms, sway your hips, roll your eyes – Let go of protecting your self image, have fun and even be silly.
3. Draw with your eyes
Drawing is less about talent and more about learning to see. Thinking actually can get in the way so that’s why this exercise is meditative.
(Don’t worry about what it’s going to look like, it’s the meditative process that counts not the Museum of Modern Art.)
By drawing without looking you use your sight perception to get out of your head- what you THINK it should look like – and be in the moment
- Choose what to draw — a cup, your foot, a chair, it doesn’t matter,
- Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes.
- Arrange yourself so you can see the object you will be drawing without seeing the paper. Put your pencil through a paper plate so you can’t see your paper.
- Focus your eyes on some part of the object and coordinate your eye moving around the outline (contours) of the object with moving your pencil to record what your eyes observe.
- Without looking at your hand, your paper or your pencil focus only on the shape of an object.
Do not look down at the paper as you SLOWLY move the pencil, concentrating on the lines, and contours of the object as you let your pencil “flow” in time with your eyes.
- Continue observing and recording until the timer rings
Just like any meditation practice, this exercise can be difficult at first but will become easier as you learn to shift your thinking from an analytical, labeling mode to one that is more intuitive, MEDITATIVE.
Not only is yoga incredible for flexibility, balance and strength, it’s also one of the oldest forms of meditation. You combining various movements with coordinated breathing to help focus on your inner body.
Watch yoga videos on YouYube, there’s hundreds to choose from – and practice them a few times a week.
Don’t get caught up with all the bells and whistles, yoga is about feeling connected to the earth and your inner body. (The last time I checked your feet were already touching ground.)
5. Meditative Munching
Remember, the power of meditation comes with practicing full focus. When your mind strays return to taste, texture, temperature. Eating in front of the TV, in the car or standing over the sink only encourages the monkeys to leap around.
Eat slowly, savor each bite – focus on the textures, flavors, aromas and the temperature. (And while you’re chewing, feel grateful for each bite of nourishment.)
6. Restore with Chores
(We’ve gone from what I consider the most enjoyable – eating – to the least)
Chores can be meditative WHEN you focus solely on what your are doing. Your monkey mind will try and take over to keep you entertained and stimulated.
Just as in all meditative practices keep refocusing your monkey mind on the task at hand: Washing dishes – focus on the temperature of water, seeing the pot become cleaner and cleaner; Mowing the lawn – examine the cutting patterns, inhale the aroma of cut grass; Making the bed – notice the feel, color, wrinkles of sheets, the tension of folds, your hand motion . . .
(Personally, I’d rather monkey around.)
Randy Nelson, who chairs the Department of Neuroscience in the West Virginia University School of Medicine, is exploring how maintaining a truly dark sleeping environment may make it easier to keep weight off.
“Being exposed to light at night changes how the “clock” genes that regulate our biological rhythms are expressed. Normally, encountering light upon waking in the morning synchronizes our internal body clock. “Think of it like an old-fashioned watch that gains 15 minutes every day. The way that it could still work as a good 24-hour clock is if you set this watch back 15 minutes whenever you wake up,” said Nelson, who directs basic science research for the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute.”
“But exposure to light at night can “hijack these clockworks,” he said, and the effects can be surprising. He and his colleagues have found that being exposed to light at night-even if it’s as dim as a nightlight-correlates to weight gain in animal models. Instead of confining their eating to the usual time of day, the animals ate around the clock, and they weighed more than their counterparts that experienced typical bright days and dark nights.”
“Nighttime light does more than disturb regular eating patterns. It also interferes with metabolic processes. “It’s well established that the feeding cycles are phase-locked-to use an engineering term-to the circadian cues,” said Nelson. “If you’re a day-active creature, like most of us, then we eat during the day. That’s when our metabolism is set up to process food, when our insulin starts going up, when we’re ready to deal with calories coming in.” Calories we take in at night don’t benefit from these favorable metabolic conditions. Our bodies don’t process them as much, and they tend to get stored as fat.”
Research indicates that personality differences could dictate how we experience the passing of time.
Jeff Conte, a psychology professor at San Diego State University ran a study in which he separated participants into Type A people (ambitious, competitive) and Type B (creative, reflective, explorative). He asked them to judge, without clocks, how long it took for one minute to elapse.
Type A people felt a minute had gone by when roughly 58 seconds had passed.
Type B participants felt a minute had gone by after 77 seconds.
Being consistently late might not be your fault. It could also be your type. The punctually-challenged often share personality characteristics such as:
- People with anxiety diagnoses often avoid certain situations
- Individuals with low self-esteem may take more time to check their work.
- Depression often comes with low energy, making mustering the motivation to get a move on all the harder.
- Some persistent lateness comes from “an obsessive thinking problem.”*
- Some can “crave” the neurochemical thrill of being rushed.
Reference: Diana DeLonzor, author of Never Be Late Again.
*Dr Linda Sapadin, a psychologist and author of How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age
***Tim Urban, self-proclaimed late person and 2015 TED speaker.