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Healthy Diet and Lifestyle Choices May Actually Re-Program Your Brain, According to a New Study

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Perhaps it is no surprise that scientists have finally demonstrated what many of us have already intuitively discovered… By making conscious lifestyle choices, it is possible to ‘train’ your brain to crave healthy foods instead of junk foods!

Even though we are conditioned to love and even rely upon the fat-filled, sugar and carb overload we experience from many unhealthy foods, we are not intrinsically bound into this cycle: It is possible to alter the brain’s reaction to unhealthy foods through changes in diet and education, according to a new study published on Monday in Nutrition & Diabetes. 

According to study co-contributor Susan B. Roberts Ph.D. in their Monday press release, “We don’t start out in life loving French fries…This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly! – what is out there in the toxic food environment.” Scientists have long theorized that over a lifetime of eating these toxic foods, we form unhealthy food addiction circuits in the brain that are difficult to reverse or break, leading to a lifetime of junk food cravings and long-term consequences like sickness and obesity.

To examine whether it is possible to break unhealthy food addiction patterns in the brain, a Tufts University research team employed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans to study the brain’s reward centers in 13 overweight and obese men and women. Eight of the study members participated in a six month weight loss program “specifically designed to change how people react to certain foods,” incorporating several features like behavioral weight management education and high-fiber, low-glycemic menu plans, recipe suggestions and tip sheets. Five of the study participants served as the control group and did not receive any weight loss programming.

All participants underwent MRI scans at the start of the study and at the end of its six-month duration. During the scans they were shown pictures of high calorie foods, low calorie foods, and non-food control images. After six months of weight loss programming, the reward center of the brain had changed significantly in the experimental group, specifically in the areas associated with learning and addiction. The researchers also noted an increased sensitivity to the images of healthier foods, and a decreased sensitivity to the images of higher calorie foods. As expected, the participants in the experimental group also lost significantly more weight than those in the control group.

These preliminary findings indicate that our brain’s food addiction pathways are not set in stone, but are flexible through changes in mindful eating and increased food education. Certainly more research needs to be conducted with a larger number of participants, an increased follow-up duration and deeper investigation into the causal mechanisms of change. Furthermore, if lifestyle changes and education can alter the brain’s reaction to food, can similar targeted interventions also alter the brain’s reactions to other addictive triggers like drugs, alcohol and gambling?

Overall, these results seem to point to the resilience of our minds and bodies to recover from unhealthy lifestyle patterns. Even after years of abuse and neglect, it is never too late to break the cycle and make an active decision to lead a healthier life. And quite amazingly, doing so may actually help heal the addictive or dysfunctional pathways in your brain that kept you trapped in that cycle in the first place!

Research links:

http://www.nature.com/nutd/journal/v4/n9/pdf/nutd201426a.pdf

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-09/tuhs-tyb082714.php

Image credits: jere.pohjankoski.fi

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Kelly Neff is a psychologist, author, founder of The Lucid Planet and the host of the hit new show, Lucid Planet Radio. She has reached millions of people with her articles on psychology, transformation, and wellness, which have been featured on websites like The Mind Unleashed, Mind Body Green, My Tiny Secrets, and now, The Lucid Planet. Before she became a full-time author, Dr. Neff spent seven years as a psychology professor where she helped thousands of students learn about health, relationships, love and sexuality, and co-authored the groundbreaking manual in her field, Teaching Psychology Online. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Georgetown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Neff is an avid participant in the visionary art, music and culture scene in her home state of Colorado and beyond. You might find her traveling the globe to give workshops, speeches and do research at transformational festivals. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Light and Love!

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Health

3D-Printed ‘Suicide Pod’ Gets Legal Approval in Switzerland, Could Roll Out In 2022

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Switzerland is among a small group of countries, mainly in Europe, that allows for people to end their own lives under strict provisions through the assistance of a licensed physician.

However, one company in the Alpine nation is hoping to streamline legalized euthanasia by removing doctors from the process through a new invention that allows people to end their own lives quickly and painlessly. And now, the device has passed an important review by Swiss legal authorities.

Nonprofit company Exit International has produced a 3D-printed suicide chamber dubbed the “Sarco,” reports  Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. The 21st-century sarcophagus-like machine could roll out as soon as 2022.

Those faced with terminal disease and other excruciating physical conditions, as well as severe psychological pain, will be able to make a clean exit from this mortal coil by lying comfortably inside the small chamber. At the press of a button, the chamber will then fill with nitrogen gas, depriving them of oxygen and terminating their life in 30 seconds.

“There is no panic, no choking feeling,” said Philip Nitschke, the nonprofit’s founder who has been dubbed “Dr. Death” by media.

The chamber is also easy to transport, allowing people to end their lives wherever they choose – be it in a cabin in the forest, at the beach, or anywhere else they might choose.

The device is controversial, however, due to the fact that it removes medical professionals from the process of euthanasia. However, Exit International hopes that it can develop an AI-assisted online exam that can gauge the mental acuity of those who wish to use Sarco.

“We want to remove any kind of psychiatric review from the process and allow the individual to control the method themselves,” Nitschke explained.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide and live in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of helpful resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. Resources in other countries can be found here.

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Health

Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People

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The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.

Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.

Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.

Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.

Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.

“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”

However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.

In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”

“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”

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Environment

Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say

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With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.

According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.

The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.

While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.

Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.

“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.

“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.

Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced

However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.

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