4 Strange Ways Everyday Foods Can Affect Your Brain
Science is inventing new food all the time, which is great for those of you who've tried all of the existing foods already. The problem is that we humans will start wolfing this stuff down long before science fully understands its effect on our bodies. Some problems take decades to appear, or only show up in a few ultra-specific circumstances.
For example, the common foods below all seem to have some kind of weird effect on the human brain (or at least, are correlated with some weird effect, for reasons no one understands). I'm not warning you off of consuming any of these, but it's still worth knowing what the experts are saying ...
Note: I am the opposite of a doctor. If you think your diet is messing with your body or brain, please call a professional! A medical professional, obviously. Not, like, a professional wrestler or something.
Jerky Has Been Linked To Manic Episodes
If it was feasible, I would eat beef jerky for two meals a day, every day. I am a man of simple tastes (too simple, some would argue, as this diet would surely kill a person within a month). However, recent studies suggest there may (MAY) be a weird, completely unexpected side effect. Salty, cured meats may be leading you down the road to manic episodes -- that is, the kind that require hospitalization.
In a study that covered 1,100 people, researchers discovered that subjects who had eaten cured meats were 3.5 times more likely to have been hospitalized for some kind of mania than those who hadn't. Mania, to be clear, is defined by a super positive mood, ultra-high energy, feelings of confusion, and a disconnection from reality so severe that you need medical help. So not a super good thing. The study didn't prove that mental health suffers from ingesting those foods; it just noticed a very odd correlation between the two things. It possibly has to do with the nitrates most of those products contain.
A follow-up study confirmed the results, and then another test fed cured meat ingredients to rats to induce hyperactivity. Hyperactivity is of course not the same as mania, but we're talking about rats here, and sometimes close is as good as you can get. So salami makes hyper rats, if you're curious. Please use this information responsibly.
Again, there's no proven cause and effect here yet. All they have is the data showing a connection. So if this is something you've experienced in your life, hey, maybe ask a doctor about it. All I can say is that if it turns out there is indeed a link between beef jerky and mania, then all of those old Slim Jim ads are going to take on a dark undertone.
Related: Which Link Got The Most Play?
There's A Weird Connection Between Gluten And Schizophrenia
The gluten-free craze is up to its wheaty giblets in cash and media exposure. Every delicious food you ever ate also has a far inferior gluten-free version that'll cost twice as much and taste half as good. I mock because gluten-free diets are necessary for people with conditions like celiac disease and no one else, many of whom have no idea what gluten is or why they don't want it. To be fair to those people, though, it's really hard to nail down what exactly various food components do to different bodies, since everyone's genes and lifestyles are different. For example, there's a correlation between gluten sensitivity and schizophrenia that nobody completely understands.
Just to be clear from the get-go, no one is saying gluten causes or prevents schizophrenia. But they are saying that a doctor noticed that a bizarrely high number of people hospitalized with schizophrenia also had a history of celiac disease as children. How high? 50-100 times what you'd expect. And doctors treating patients for celiac disease observed that their patients were about 10 times more likely to be schizophrenic as the general population. Wait, does this mean the gluten screwed up both their brain and guts? Or that avoiding gluten did it?
Well, other studies have shown that patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions tend to have lower levels of an enzyme that breaks down gluten in the body. This can, I guess, lead to toxic levels of French bread in your brain. Other research shows that if patients removed gluten from their diets, symptoms associated with schizophrenia improved.
Doctors, who foolishly insist on "evidence" before making bold claims that can earn them sweet internet traffic, say we need tons more studies before anyone even understands why this link exists or what should be done about it. Still, expect plenty of "gluten causes schizophrenia" memes on Facebook. Probably with minions on them or something.
Downing Too Many Energy Drinks Can Apparently Lead To Brain Hemorrhages
Back in the day, before anyone cared enough to warn me against doing this, I used to go to a campus bar for lunch and enjoy the odd Vodka Red Bull or three. Sometimes I would also get a sandwich. But that zippy mix of uppers and downers really set the tone for my afternoon classes. It turns out it was also terribly bad for me and, unbeknownst to all of us, could have made my brain literally start to bleed. Would that have made some of my philosophy classes more tolerable? We'll never know.
Drastically overdosing on energy drinks to the point where you get a brain hemorrhage is a pretty new phenomenon. In 2016, there was a case study of the "first" instance of this happening. A 57-year-old man had an energy drink before doing yard work. 15 minutes later, he had an intracranial bleed and went to the hospital. Doctors attributed this to the fact that what he drank was basically a witch's brew of god knows what, packed with various chemicals and herbal supplements that no one has ever bothered to study fully. That means some energy drinks are kind of like downing a bunch of coffee and a handful of pills you found in a pharmacy dumpster. Also, "Pharmacy Dumpster" would be a decent name for an energy drink.
The next year, there was a widely reported story of a man who suffered such a severe brain hemorrhage that part of his skull had to be removed during a surgery to repair the damage, and his wife said doctors blamed the event on his energy drink consumption. Then in 2018, a man in the UK tore through 25 cans of Monster and Red Bull in the span of six hours while running a karaoke night. His severe caffeine overdose resulted in a brain hemorrhage, and it's likely the karaoke didn't help.
Now, considering how all of society functions on energy drinks, if they were truly dangerous in moderation, then the streets would be piled with corpses. Still, keep in mind that any beverage that intentionally comes with medical side effects (such as "alertness") also comes with the possibility of overdose. That's actually what separates it from a placebo -- too much of it will absolutely fuck you up. So pay attention to how much you're ingesting, and if you feel weird after drinking energy drinks (or anything else), talk to a goddamned doctor already.
All Sorts Of Foods React With MAOIs
You know those commercials for the latest boner pill that show a bunch of old men cycling or carving hammers out of driftwood during a sunset? And the voiceover narration sounds calm and reassuring until it gets to the side effects, which can include spontaneous vampirism, coagulated urine, and hairy eyeballs? And then it says you shouldn't take this medication if you're on MAOIs? Turns out you can take barely anything while on MAOIs, including numerous foods, because man, your insides become a circus of chaos if you do.
If you're not familiar with MAOIs, it stands for monoamine oxidase inhibitor, which should totally clear it up. These were the first mass-marketed antidepressant medications, used to treat depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and other psychiatric conditions. They've since fallen out of favor for two reasons (though they're still used for conditions like migraines and bulimia). For one, there are now much more effective antidepressants on the market. For two, MAOIs reacted badly with damn near everything. Not just other medications or alcohol, but food too. Lots of food, in fact -- anything high in tyramine.
That includes aged cheese, beer, chocolate, dried fruit, eggplant, spinach, tomato, tofu, and about a million other things. Incidentally, three more things that you can't eat on MAOIs are liver, fava beans, and Chianti. So when Hannibal Lecter said that famous line in Silence Of The Lambs, he was actually making an inside joke. He was saying he was off his medication, because otherwise he could have straight up died eating that meal. Eating these foods with MAOIs could lead to hypertensive crises, which can include vomiting, migraines, nosebleeds, stroke, and even death.
See? You shouldn't get your health advice from internet comedy articles. You should get it from serial killer movies.
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