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Effect of Diet on Thinking

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

What one eats will determine in large measure how one approaches life. Personal discipline, victory over trials, the temper, and disposition are influenced greatly by the food we eat. Even the function of memory is made more or less keen by the diet. Let us consider the memory first.

There are several steps taken by the brain in processing information to get it in usable form for storage so that it can be retrieved from the files of the brain and made use of by the mind. To be useful to the mind, new information must be recognized as being either valuable or not valuable. In order to determine if new information is valuable, it must be compared with information that has already been stored in the mind. First, the mind will determine if it is familiar or unfamiliar information. Then it evaluates if it is beneficial or harmful. What degree of harmfulness does it possess (slightly bad, all bad) just what are its characteristics? The thorough evaluation of all information gathered by the senses is made each time the five senses operate.

We store material in the mind in several ways. Memory storage is of at least three different types: immediate recall, short-term memory, and long-term memory. In these three types of storage, both electrical and chemical processes are involved. Immediate recall is probably purely electrical, meaning that only electrical impulses are involved in both the storage of material in the mind and in retrieving this material from the mind. Immediate recall is the kind of memory used in recalling a telephone number, it being stored in the mind only long enough to do the dialing. Five minutes later, the number is entirely lost to the memory. This kind of memory is also the kind of memory that assists one to be a safe driver. As a driver is proceeding down the highway, if a car approaches from a side road, that fact is recorded in immediate recall. Then as the driver approaches from a side road, where the car is coming in from the side, the eye automatically turns toward it, being a part of the total input that makes the person a safe driver. Then, he entirely forgets the car, and five minutes later may not be able to recall even that there was a road to the side. This useful function of memory is operative in performing skilled actions, avoiding danger, and doing necessary tasks of daily living.

The second kind of memory is short term memory. This kind of memory can enable one to retrieve information for about a month or perhaps even up to a year. This kind of memory is the kind that would enable one to remember where a building is located so that a second visit could be made to it in a few days or a few weeks, but 20 years later one might not remember that such a building existed. This kind of memory helps one function in business and social life. It keeps one orderly in the home life, and enables one to live comfortably and socially among one's associates and to perform properly in industry or in a profession.

Long term memory storage is different from either immediate recall or short term memory. Long term memory storage is apparently accomplished chemically in the mind, whereas the first two types of memory storage are probably only electrically determined. Long term memory storage actually requires the production of new chemicals by the brain cells. We believe at the present time that DNA may be involved in long term memory storage. Certainly, amino acids and perhaps enzymes and hormones may be needed for long term memory storage. While electrical impulses are also involved in both the storage of material in the brain as well as in retrieval from the storage bank at a later time, we believe that in addition to electrical events, an actual chemical change occurs in the mind which becomes a permanent part of the structure of the mind. Forever thereafter the chemicals of that bit of memory are present in some part of the brain.

There are several matters that have to do with diet that can influence the production of the special chemicals that become memory particles. The chemicals for the memory particles must come from the foods we have eaten. Some of this food can be easily used, but some of the food could be referred to as shock foods. These "foods" include such things as alcohol, caffeinated drinks, drugs of various kinds, and even good foods that have fermented in the digestive tract to form toxic products. Alcohol can alter one's perception of the meaning of events or thoughts so that the initial evaluation of the material, and the placing of it in the mind in the particular way required to make it useful is different than it would be if one were not under the influence of alcohol. Every time a person stores something in the mind, it has a certain quality relationship to all other factors that are already stored in the mind.

The making of the chemical "memory particles" and the storage of material in the mind probably occurs on the very same night after the experience occurs. All information that one ever gets is brought to the mind by the five senses: vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. This information is apparently processed each night during dreaming.

Most dreams will contain something from the very day just past, also something from the recent past, and usually something from the distant past. This content of the dream is probably caused by the activity of the mind in comparing the new experiences of the day just past with the recent past and the distant past. In this way, the mind is enabled to put new material into the mind in its proper chronological position. Apparently, the mind reviews every fact that it has stored, somewhat the same way that a computer goes over the material that it has stored in it, several thousand facts being reviewed by the mind as it evaluates new material and makes the chemicals that are necessary to store the material in the mind.

At times, all material already stored must be re-evaluated and re-classified. In the light of recent events or a new philosophy, the old material is recognized as having been perceived or stored improperly. The revisions are also made during dream time. We can see then, that dream time becomes a very important part of each person's day. The average person dreams between 2 and 2.5 hours each day. This dream is characterized by a particular type of brain activity, characterized by the output of electrical energy which can be measured in the electroencephalogram. Dream time can be damaged, distorted, and profoundly interfered with by drugs such as alcohol, tranquilizers, and sedatives of various kinds, such as sleeping pills, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, and many others. The toxic effects of many prescription drugs including antibiotics, aspirin, and others also alter dreaming. Dream time can also be affected adversely by caffeinated drinks, and by the quality and quantity of supper. If food that one had at supper is very heavy, very much, or too close bedtime, dreaming may be altered, both its quality as well as the length of it. Faulty memory may be the result of these transgressions of nature's laws. Not only is the ability to bring something up from the memory likely to be weakened by poor health habits, but far more subtle things are involved such as how to make a business deal, or how to order the future.

Sleep studies have been done with people hooked up to the electroencephalograph in a sleep laboratory. Just at the time that dreaming was beginning to be registered on the electroencephalogram, the individual was touched lightly or a light was turned on or in some other way the dream time was interrupted. Using this method, dream time can be shortened from 2 to 2.5 hours all the way down to perhaps 20 minutes. After about 5 or 6 days having the dream time severely shortened, individuals will show a number of undesirable psychological manifestations. A previously cheerful and outgoing person may become morose and depressed. He may become very short of temper, even to the point of rage reactions. Some individuals will actually have hallucinations. Anything that can interfere with dream time, either shortening it or reducing its quality, can cause unpleasant symptoms. Supper, if taken at all, should be very light and several hours before going to bed so that no phase of digestion will interfere with dream time. No stimulants or sedatives should be taken, eliminating most drugs, many beverages, and all heavy or concentrated foods, as the influence on the brain of caffeine, alcohol, aldehydes, and amines that occur in foods have an influence on nervous tissue to stimulate or sedate. Foods that are very sweet, very oily, or very high in protein may dull the mind. A rich diet is unhealthful and may promote fermentation in the digestive tract, producing substances that dull the mind, such as alcohols, esters, and aldehydes.

Has it ever occurred to you that it is possible to use the mind in an injurious way? The mind has many different functions that require electrical impulses to go racing in many directions simultaneously. While carrying on many other functions, the mind must evaluate new material to let you know if a certain action would be harmful or beneficial. If the matter is accepted as harmful to the overall well-being of the person, the material is classified in a special manner in the library of the brain. Then, if one acts on harmful information as if it were in fact beneficial, the entire personality and intellectual structure is weakened. Let me give an example: If one has accepted the fact that smoking is harmful to the well-being, and yet he smokes, the act of smoking under these circumstances weakens the mental mechanism of evaluation of new material, and the development of a symmetric character. By the very act of smoking, one's ability to perceive and to properly evaluate materials is called in question by the authority structure of the mind. It can be stated that undisciplined behavior is always weakening to the person.

Now, let us enumerate a program for improving the memory. First be strictly regular in all things; that is, have a special time for major events such as going to bed, eating one's meals, getting up, having exercise, and the like. Regularity tends to improve the memory. Second, one should never lie down after a meal. To do so may cause the early onset of senility. The tissues of the brain become starved of oxygen if one reclines after eating. Since fats tend to build up in the bloodstream after a meal and fats in the blood can cause clumping together of red blood cells, tiny capillaries get temporarily plugged up, and the oxygen supply to the brain is much less than if one has some mild exercise after a meal. Third, one should neither crowd too many things into a small amount of time, nor allow time to pass without profitably using it. Either of these can cause the memory to be poor, the first by giving the brain more new material than can be processed in the available dream time, and the second by leaving blank areas that must be bridged.

Country living in strict simplicity is the most favorable to learning as well as to easy recall. If the surroundings are kept orderly, the mind finds it easier to develop a good memory. The home should not have in it more things than one is able to keep in perfect order. One should not have something on every desk, top, table, or bookcase. Porches and yards should be kept as free from clutter as possible. The mind becomes occupied with too many small things and memory becomes faulty.

The fourth item has to do with autointoxication. Because of the dulling effect that chemicals resulting from fermentation have on the brain cells, any practice that increases the build-up of these toxins in the blood will promote poor memory. These practices include eating between meals or within several hours of going to bed, as intestinal fermentation is much more likely to occur during the slower digestion of the evening, especially during sleep. Do not drink beverages or liquid foods at meals, so as to reduce the amount of fermentation. The liquid portion of the meal must be absorbed before the digestion of the solid portion begins. The delay leads to fermentation. To use recipes that produce complex mixtures of foods is more likely to initiate fermentation than is the use of single foods prepared simply. The variety of foods that one uses at one meal should be small. Especially, one should avoid combinations such as milk, sugar, and eggs as they are much more likely to ferment when combined than when used separately. Fruit-vegetable mixtures, for the same reasons, are also capable of dulling the mind. Eat fruits at one meal and vegetables at the next. One should never overeat, as overeating drains the body of electrical energy in the attempt to care for a large mass of undigested food.

The fifth matter is that of keeping the mind polished, keen, and interested by a continual study of new things. The memory expands with use, and the intellectual activity stretches the mind. To develop the mind in the best way, one should read and understand the illustrative stories and lofty principles of the Bible, memorizing portions of it each week. Mental development is promoted best by a study of the subjects given to us from the Divine Mind.

Sixth, one should avoid the excesses of all pleasurable sensations, as the over-stimulation of the sensory nerves can set up a condition causing forgetfulness. The overactivity of any part of the brain, to the exclusion of activity in other parts tends to separate the memory from the conscious parts of the brain. Then of course, one should train the mind to dwell on lofty themes. If one's mind constantly dwells on low matters, the entire mind tends to take the level of that which one allows to occupy the mind. If the subject matter for contemplation is always the sensual, or pleasurable indulgences - even if these are cultural, the loss of balance with the practical and manual or the spiritual and religious, results in weakening of the mind.

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