Though Brain Awareness Week is still approaching, held next week on March 11-15, the European Brain Council held its annual event early this year, ensuring access to the European Parliament in Brussels and an audience of policymakers and the general public.
This year, the event focused on “Mood and Food: Exploring the gut-brain connection”, examining the connection between mood and food, exploring the relationship between what you eat and how it can affect your mood and daily function.
Our host, MEP Marian Harkin (ALDE, IE) opened the event with a warm welcome and supportive words for the work of EBC and like-minded organisations, having hosted a few brain-related events in the European Parliament that day and throughout the week in light of Brain Awareness Week next week, as well as support for the work being done to raise awareness on the subject of brain disorders and brain research.
“I think when we speak about research, sometimes it can be quite narrowly focused or maybe on a particular disease, but the research in this field [gut-brain axis] affects every single one of us here, our families, our communities, in fact, every citizen in the European Union.” Ms Harkin stated, continuing with sharing her own personal interest in the field of research.
“As we are in the European Parliament, it is important also to mention the role that Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe funds can play in prioritizing brain research.”
MEP Jose Inacio Faria (EPP, PT) also joined us for the event, adding that he, too, has an interest in the field and learning more from the speakers. “I always say: what we can spend on prevention we can save on treatment and also ensure healthier citizens.”
EBC Vice-President, Prof. Patrice Boyer, echoed Ms Harkin’s welcome on behalf of EBC and spoke a few words on the current work of EBC and the importance of such awareness raising events. He also alerted the room to the official launch of the EBC Election Manifesto, which was first available that evening and the continued dissemination of the Brain Mission call for Horizon Europe.
Our first speaker was Alejandro Arias Vasquez, who leads a research group that aims to identify the biological mechanisms underlying the way the brain functions in health and disease, with strong emphasis on neurodevelopmental disorders at Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands. Alejandro spoke on the role gut bacteria can play in the risk of psychiatric diseases and described the results of some of the studies he is carrying out to investigate this. He is the coordinator of the H2020 Eat2beNICE consortium on the effects of nutrition and lifestyle on impulsive, compulsive and externalizing behaviours.
“The project I’m involved in is trying to determine, scientifically – with robust evidence – which type of dietary interventions affect your brain. We’re working towards identifying how, for example, restriction-elimination diets work for ADHD, how the Mediterranean diet works for cognitive performance in people 55 years plus, how probiotics affect the risk of aggressive behaviour in adolescents or how nutritional supplements can help people with impulse control problems. These are all very relevant societal problems. And there’s already some interesting data; already testing if you should eat rice, or potatoes, or greens, or maybe reds? The data is out there. We’re still not completely there in order to answer clinically, but the progress is amazing.”
Our second speaker, Kimberley Wilson, is a nutrition trained Chartered Psychologist, specialising in Whole Body Mental Health. Kimberley spoke on the need for increased public engagement in the field of nutrition, wellbeing and how they affect our brain and minds, as well as how we translate research to clinical practice.
“We really need to start getting people thinking about their brains much earlier in life. We need to start engaging younger people in thinking about their brains. It’s not about flat abs, it’s about strong minds. In essence, somehow, we need to make the brain more ‘sexy’. My personal campaign is to engage people with good quality research and to empower people to use their lifestyle factors to improve their brain health.”
Her clinical work looks at the role nutrition and lifestyle play in our mental health, including disordered eating, functional disorders of the gut-brain axis (IBS) and our emotional relationships with food. Her private clinic, Monumental Health, integrates psychological therapy with evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle advice to effectively treat mental health concerns.
It was clear the audience was up for a discussion, with many questions being fielded to the two speakers after both had spoken, with the conversation being led by Prof. Boyer.
Thank you to all who attended the event and to our partners in organization, the European Dana Alliance for the Brain. For further information on the event, please contact Stephanie Kramer (firstname.lastname@example.org)