Your Brain On Doenjang – Why You Are What Eat (sort of)
We know that bacteria are an important part of the digestive process, and have been so for millions of years.
In all there are 1,000 different types of bacteria in the gut, which operate as a cohesive network, weighing between 1-3 pounds all together.
The fancy-shmancy term for this ecosystem of bacteria is the microbiome.
Until recently, scientists only studied them in connection with digestive, metabolic or allergic issues.
Bizarrely, it has emerged that the microbiome is also regulates brain activity – how we think and how we feel.
How does that make any sense?
John Cryan, a neuroscientist at the University College of Cork, suggests there is a strong evolutionary reason for the microbiome wanting a hand in the brain’s workings:
“Happy people tend to be more social. And the more social we are, the more chances the bacterial microbes have to exchange and spread.”
Making the connection between gut and brain has opened up a whole range of possibilities regarding treatment of brain disorders such as anxiety, depression, and most notably, autism.
(3/4 of people with autistic tendency also suffer from a gastrointestinal abnormality such as gluten allergy)
Altering the microbiome in lab mice has been shown to improve their behavior, including mice with autistic tendencies.
It isn’t clear exactly how everything is connected yet, but there is a suspicion that simply turning certain compounds on and off – such as 4EPS, which is 40 times more prevalent in the bloodstream of mice with autistic tendencies – could be sufficient to correcting behavior.
Bacteria such as lactobacillus (which is present in absurdly high amounts in Korean kimchi) has also been shown to reduce anxiety-like behavior in mice. Other bacteria have been shown to act like anti-depressants, increasing perseverance and decreasing levels of stress hormones.
The whole story is likely to be more complex – a combination of metabolic processes, common neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, other neuroactive chemicals, and the immune system, which is also in turn linked to mood and behavior.
While all this may take years for scientists to figure out, the more intriguing theory is that ancient Koreans of Gojoseon managed to created fermented foods that not only nourished the bodies of their fellow men and women, but also helped to improve their mood, outlook and behavior.
Legend tells us that Doenjang was invented by a meditation master with the specific purpose of helping people to commit fewer bad deeds.
Over time, as well, the positive effect of Korean food on the human brain likely accumulated. Korea is regularly placed 1st or 2nd in global surveys of IQ.
And let’s not forget the key statistic of the number of countries Korea has invaded in its history – zero.
There’s probably a fair amount the ancestors can teach us yet about how to be better people.
In the meantime, let’s chow down on some tasty lactobacilli.