Interview With Raquel Marín: Get Your Brain In Shape

Together with the well-known Spanish neuroscientist Raquel Marín, we delve into a topic that we are all interested in: the relationship between the brain and the gut. Indeed, much of our health begins with the internal balance of this latter organ.
Interview with Raquel Marín: Get your brain in shape

Learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, socializing, maintaining a curious attitude, exercising… We can implement several different strategies to achieve brain well-being, but in recent years the focus has shifted to a very specific area: our gut.

We’ve all heard about the connection between gut and brain health. In addition, many neuroscientists, like Raquel Marín, emphasize, among many other themes, the communication between these organs and their connection to diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, or depression.

In a way, our diet is the specific cornerstone that we should all pay attention to, and not just take care of our physical health. A healthy and agile brain, young and ready to transform and respond to its environment in an efficient way, requires a series of highly essential nutrients such as B vitamins and natural antioxidants.

Raquel Marín's book "Get Your Brain Ready".

Get your brain in shape for a better quality of life

Are there concrete ways we can get our brains in shape and reach old age with our best skills and abilities? In reality, there is not just one strategy for this, there are many, and most of them focus on paying attention to our own lifestyles. That is why, like Raquel Marín, experts in the field make things easier by providing us with all the information we need to know on this subject.

Raquel Marín is a renowned Spanish neuroscientist and professor of physiology at the University of La Laguna in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Dr. Marín has become known in his home country above all for his work as a generalist in science and especially for his interesting publications, as exemplified by his latest book, Pon en forma tu cerebro (“Putting Your Brain in Order”). In his book, Raquel Marín offers us the keys to maintaining an active and healthy brain at every stage of our life cycle.

As poet Emily Dickinson has said, the brain is bigger than the sky itself. Somehow, this fascinating body that we often compare to the computer has a lot of resources, processes, and potential that many of us don’t yet know. Only those who are immersed in the subject can provide us with answers and objective information about what we should all find out and apply in our daily use.

If you’re interested in the subject and want to know how to get your brain in shape, the following interview with Dr. Raquel Marín will help resolve one if any of these doubts.

Q. In your book, “Get Your Brain Ready,” you say the brain is a demanding eater, why?

We always think about what we could eat for muscle, heart or skin health, but we always forget that the brain doesn’t eat everything. This body is one of the most demanding organs in terms of nutrients, as it is metabolically hyperactive and consumes a lot of kilocalories and a variety of nutrients that it does not produce itself. Without these nutrients, the brain functions poorly and our function is impaired.

Q. What can you tell us about communication between the brain and the gut?

In recent years, incredible research has been done that confirms that the gut may be the best ally or worst enemy of the brain.

Degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, or MS, longevity, and physical performance, among many others, are associated with early-stage imbalances in intestinal bacteria.

Q. How important is water to the brain?

The two fundamental components of the brain are fat and water. The brain is very sensitive to dehydration. Therefore, when we feel a headache, bloating, or brain fatigue, we can simply hydrate the brain and notice in just a few minutes how the intellectual well-being of the brain is improving.

Q. We often mix glucose with sugar, could you explain to us the difference?

Glucose is a simple molecule found in virtually every natural food we consume on a daily basis.

Sugar, on the other hand, can be defined as very diverse molecules and some of them are made synthetically to sweeten, preserve and make food more appealing. These (unnatural) sugars can damage the brain and lead to various inflammatory conditions.

Q. What foods and activities do we need to improve our intellectual and creative capacity?

The two main parameters that allow us to get our brain in shape and our “brain muscle” to function are the ones that promote communication at the neuronal level and optimize brain blood flow. These include fish fats, vitamins B, C, D and E, natural antioxidants (in colorful fruits and vegetables), iodine (from marine and lake sources) and fiber (intestinal health), which is abundant in legumes, seeds, cereals, vegetables and fruits.

The Mediterranean diet is considered one of the best in the world for neuronal health precisely because it is rich in these above mentioned foods.

Q. So what about improving the quality of sleep?

Foods high in tryptophan include grains, nuts and seeds, lean meats, fish, fruits (such as bananas, kiwis, plums, figs, grapefruits, melons, tomatoes) and dark chocolate.

Tryptophan helps the body produce a hormone called melatonin, which helps with sleep.  In addition, it is recommended that computer work or other intellectually demanding activities be avoided as much as possible before bedtime.

In addition, before going to bed, it would be desirable to follow certain routines that help you relax and promote preparation for rest. Good examples of these include relaxing music, soothing infusions, warm temperatures, and low-intensity activities. Also, if you go to the gym at ten o’clock in the evening or enjoy a dinner of steak with french fries and topped with half a bottle of red wine, it is also much harder to fall asleep then. 

To improve the quality of sleep, we can follow various routines that help to relax and promote preparation for rest.

Q. Finally, you have dedicated part of your book to talking about how to combine a hectic life with a brain-directed diet. What could we do about it?

I would suggest a combination of guidelines that combine a diet for “both our brains,” that is, our main brain and the normal flora of our intestines, with physical activity and that promotes both intellectual activity and emotional balance.

The brain is like muscles; depending on what you do, you will develop one if another way to use your intellectual abilities. Better knowledge of our brains means making optimal use of them.

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