I am sure that you have experienced this inner challenge all too often, probably not that far from home either. It’s frustrating isn’t it, when the chance of an altered life (for the better) is within reach but requires a change in actions, behaviour, circumstance and choices.

Even when changes are made, they can be lost again and the opportunity trickles away, without some process or support system in place to capture and revert.

Let’s take Broccoli, it’s a pretty innocuous vegetable that carries natural compounds with pretty impressive effects on disease risk and management, and it can be eaten raw or cooked, does not cost a lot but seems to be a food too far for many.

One of the reasons it’s a challenge is that plants in their original environment devised defence mechanisms, you see they do not like being eaten either, and these defences tend to be the opposite of sweet – they are bitter compounds.

For some, bitter compounds are far more of an organoleptic challenge than for others, and that means behaviour change now has a second rationale to resist. The phytochemicals such as indole-3-carbinol that generate the bitter tastes which are produced by the breakdown of the glucosinolate glucobrassicin are found at relatively high levels in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and kale. They are known to bind to environmental sensors called aryl hydrocarbon receptors (AhR) which are key in generating protective mucins and repairing epithelial cells. Without them, nutrients absorption is diminished, stem cells start to divide uncontrollably, leading to nutrient depletion and an allied risk of cancer generation in the gut.

Another source of cruciferous compounds is Sauerkraut, a meal of bacteria infused vegetables that take this mechanism option one step further by binding one of its metabolites to another receptor, unique to humans and apes, via a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCRs) belonging to the family of hydroxycarboxylic acid receptors (HCAR). A metabolite released by the lactic acid bacteria in the meal, called D-phenyllactic acid, binds strongly to this receptor. Promoting signalling to monocytes in the immune system and allowing our continued consumption of foods that are starting to decay, promoting an anti-inflammatory and immune mediating effect whilst also increasing our tolerance to alcohol – a mutation many are eternally grateful for!

Compelling though the two vignettes are, these and others like them rarely work to convince the reluctant consumer that eating cruciferous and other vegetables are a better choice than the easily accessed processed foods that so dominate the nutritional intake of the majority, with the resultant loss of function and creation of non-communicable disease.

So another pitch for vegetable and related fibre intake could work by employing the mid 50’s approach to sci-fi movies – ‘normally helpful bacteria in your colon will begin to eat you unless they get what they want’.

You see unless bacteria that inhabit our digestive tract and particularly the colon get adequate supplies of fibre, they begin to munch on the natural layer of mucus that lines the gut, eroding it to the point where dangerous invading bacteria can infect the colon wall.

While this work was in mice, the take-home message from this work for humans amplifies everything that doctors and nutritionists have been telling us for decades: Eat a lot of fibre from diverse natural sources. Your diet directly influences your microbiota, and from there it may influence the status of your gut’s mucus layer and a tendency toward disease.

Does this narrative ensure behaviour change? Probably not, but does it create opportunity, or supply additional options to stimulate behaviour change, possibly? One of the takeaways from the recent Institute for Functional Medicine International Conference on Stress, Pain and Addiction was that breaking addictive or dependency related habits or engaging in health-promoting ones requires a collective approach, stresses that alter various metabolic, immune, endocrine and neurochemical pathways can be hard to reset.

Emotional contagion, a phrase employed by Dr Mogil requires a strategic engagement to unwind and found that specific strategies to achieve behaviour change were in the main, best employed by women (much to the agreement from the audience). Dr Garland explained that teaching people to take in the ‘good’ and mindfully savour natural, healthy pleasures may provide the learning signal needed to restore adaptive, hedonic regulation and ultimately facilitate the adoption of healthful non-addictive behaviour.

This year IFM also provided the opportunity for poster presentations, and Leonie Ash RNT revealed her long thought out application of intersecting interventions to resolve the life-damaging effects of adverse childhood trauma. Her presentation was selected by the attendees as the most deserving of the related IFM award, and her technique to break the triad of physical, mental-emotional and social ill health was well received and will no doubt attract further research and application. We recommend reviewing her presentation, as it’s very practical and may just help put the broccoli resistance issues into perspective!

Finally, Dr Robert Sapolsky gave one of his outstandingly entertaining and informative presentations on stress, which if you were denied the opportunity to hear, can be revisited here, where he presents largely the same lecture at the Beckman Institute in 2017.

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