Research Interests

Food and Lifestyle to Combat Neurological Disease


This graphic depicts a brain built from healthy foods: the cognitive-related cerebral cortex is made of spinach while the memory-related hippocampus is made of seafood. (The Economist, 2008)

The focus of our research is to understand some of the molecular mechanisms by which aspects of daily living, such as diet and exercise, enhance cognitive abilities through the action of many genes including specific neurotrophins on synaptic plasticity and energy metabolism. Our research has shown the individual benefits of specific diets, exercise, sleep, as well as the coordinative effect these activities can have towards providing even greater mental and physical benefits. Furthermore, the regulation of select genes underlying the effects of dietary factors has the potential to make positive impact on quality of life, preventing depression, Alzheimer’s and other mental diseases. We are employing a multidisciplinary approach, ranging from gene expression to behavioral techniques, to understand the therapeutic capacity of diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors to overcome CNS disorders. Furthermore, we are conducting research on the effects of diet and exercise on TBI.

Research Avenues

These two avenues provide direction for my research program: 1) How trophic factors induced by activity can help functional recovery following brain and spinal cord trauma. We are using several exercise models to boost the production of trophic factors in the brain and spinal cord. Our goal is to provide critical information to guide the design of behavioral therapies for the reduction of the severity of insult or disease, and to increase CNS function. 2) We are evaluating the effects of lifestyle on trophic factor production, with resulting effects on circuit remodeling, synaptic function, and cognition. We believe that changes in trophic factors as a result of select experiences can affect neuronal health with profound consequences for cognitive function.



Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as curcumin have profound effects on memory and learning, increasing memory retention and protecting against other effects of aging.

We have found that High-fat and high-sugar diets have the potential to lead to increased anxiety. Diets that are high in saturated fat promote metabolic dysfunction and cognitive alterations as well as increase oxidative stress in brain, reduce neurogenesis, enhance neuroinflammation, and exert anxiety-like behavior

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of unsaturated fatty acids, meaning that within the molecular structure of the fatty acid, there must be at least one double bond. This type of fatty acid is not only necessary for the body to complete normal functions, but it also provides numerous health benefits. In layman’s terms, omega-3 fatty acids are often referred to as “the good type of fat”, because they reduce cholesterol levels and “bad fat” (saturated fats) in the bloodstream. These type of fatty acids are commonly found in fish, nuts, and plant oils.  

Omega-3 fatty acids may protect against heart disease and stroke. It was discovered that Greenland Inuits (who consume large amounts of this kind of fat from seafood) suffered virtually no cases of heart disease. The omega-3 fatty acids in their diet reduced triglycerides, heart rate, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis.

As humans cannot synthesize this fatty acid, it is necessary for humans to get omega-3 fatty acids from their diets. Sources include certain types of vegetable oils (soybean, rapeseed, and flaxseed), which contain the omega-3 fatty acid called ALA. The other types are EPA and DHA, and are found in fish, particularly salmon. The body partially converts ALA and EPA to DHA, and they are both beneficial to the body.

We are currently researching how omega-3 fatty acids can assist in improving cognition, increasing synaptic plasticity, and support brain repair after traumatic brain injury. We have found that the increased consumption of DHA resulted in higher learning abilities, by stimulating the hippocampus.


Curcumin is a component of the well-known spice turmeric, which is commonly used in the cuisine (curry, for example) of numerous countries in southeast Asia.  Curcumin has long been used as a part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat many illnesses. Current studies seem to suggest that curcumin may prevent tumors, oxidization, arthritis, and inflammation.

In our research, we have found that the inclusion of curcumin in a test subject’s diet served to offset the negative effects of traumatic brain injury, reducing oxidative damage and increasing the levels of proteins in the brain that are associated with lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.

Traumatic Brain Injury:

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a serious problem as a large portion of deaths and disabilities worldwide are caused by TBI, causing disruption in cognitive ability.

Currently, no medicines or procedures exist to cure or even completely stop the effects of traumatic brain injury.

We are currently conducting research as how to slow down, or restrict the advancement of damage through dietary supplements and exercise. We have found that dietary supplements such as curcumin and DHA in combination with exercise can help slow down the negative effects of traumatic brain injury. We are also currently studying the potential therapeutic effects of blueberries in TBI in conjunction with other healing mechanisms. 

In our lab, we use fluid percussion injury (FPI) to model TBI. It creates an effect similar to that of sport injuries. Our lab studies mild to moderate injury levels effects to brain function. A mild injury induced by FPI does not lead to cell death or internal bleeding of the brain.

Spinal Cord Learning:

Spinal cord learning involves a specific process. Normally, the brain is connected to the spinal cord, and sends the spinal cord signals that allow the body to act and react.

We are conducting research as to whether the spinal cord can learn on its own, independently from the brain (this independence is created by severing the ties between the brain and spinal cord).


Exercise not only improves your physical health, but also improves your mental health.

Exercising increases activity in the front part of a human’s brain,the frontal cortex, which is in charge of information and more complicated thought processes by increasing oxygen and blood flow to the brain and increasing chemicals that assist in cognition.

Exercising also stimulates the hippocampus region of the brain, which is involved in long-term memory and learning. This causes the production of new nerve cells, which was previously thought to be impossible after a human had reached 30 years old.

We are currently conducting research as to how exercise combined with diet control can positively impact the brain, with and without injury. Research suggests that exercise increases plasticity in both injured and uninjured nervous systems.

Gut-Brain Axis:

The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication linkage that connects the enteric and central nervous systems. This allows the brain to affect activities within the gut and vise versa. The effects on both the brain and gut are dependent on the conditions of either or. 

When the gut is experiencing complications, the gut-brain axis will allow the condition of the gut to influence mental healthy, cognition, and mood. 

Our current research consists of cutting of the connections between brain and liver through the portal vein and observing the effects of TBI. We hope to be able to reduce the effects of TBI on the body by severing the brain’s connection to the gut.