The popular story of how low-carb diets work goes something like this: Reducing your carbohydrate...
Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
I’ve been using adaptogens for quite some time, but in the last year I’ve been experimenting a little more with them. You may have caught my mention of a few adaptogenic varieties in one version of my daily big ass salad (not for a flavor hit). I’ve also briefly highlighted ashwagandha and holy basil, and I’ve always been a big believer (and user) of Rhodiola rosea for normalizing stress response.
All well and good. But what’s the backstory on adaptogens? What is there to gain? And what about the other options?
It’s fair to say that I gravitate towards tangible, actionable subject matter when it comes to improving my own and others’ health. Things like nutrition, fitness, sleep, hormonal responses, and supplement science may seem like a lot to chew on for the layperson, but these are my personal passions as well as my long-time profession.
And while these are certainly the big, actionable players in the game of health, I fully acknowledge there may be more lurking behind the scenes than we realize. A body that refuses to heal no matter how Primal you eat. Stubborn health conditions that simply refuse to fully go away, despite all the changes you make in your life. A propensity for disease that defies everything you’ve learned about ancestral nutrition and wellness. An intriguing new angle in the health sphere suggests the hurdle for some people may be embedded deeper than outer changes can access.
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two questions from readers. The first is more of a comment, but it brought up a few questions for me to address. Is “more serotonin” always a good thing? Is there such a thing as too much serotonin? And second, what’s the deal with broccoli sprouts? Are they good for us? Has the grungy hippy hawking sprouts next to your meat guy at the farmers market been right all along?
As I discussed last month, depression is the yin to anxiety’s yang. Between these two troublemakers, they’ve got dark clouds hanging over both the past and the future, making the present moment complicated at best (and for some people unbearable). Taken as a human composite, it’s an unfortunate trade-off for being cognitively complex. As individuals, however, we naturally just want a solution.
The problem is, there’s just so many confounding factors surrounding depression that it’s hard to know where to start. Your mind is an infinitely complex latticework of moving parts; one which continues to baffle and divide the scientific community. How does a practitioner prescribe suitable treatments for a problem they don’t fully comprehend? And, yet, medical science often (and perhaps inevitably) works with incomplete information.
Serotonin is a major regulator of mood and depression risk. These are important, vital roles, to be sure. Your mood describes how you experience and interpret the world. If it’s consistently bad, you’regoing to have a rough time. Yet, serotonin is much more than the “feel-good hormone.” It also influences sexual desire and helps us remember. It’s the precursor to melatonin, the neurotransmitter that allows us to sleep.
It almost goes without saying: Stress is at an all-time high. Not the kind of major traumatic stress we see elsewhere, sure. At least in the Western world, there aren’t any horrific sectarian conflicts scouring the landscape and generations to come. Our infrastructure is built to withstand most natural disasters. Our world is safe and predictable and sterile. But we’re stressed out just the same, afflicted with the kind of pernicious, low-level, unending stress that drives people into substance abuse, that promotes depression and suicide and broken relationships. The type that never quits. The kind you just want to drown out with Netflix and Facebook and anything at all to take your mind off the churning within.
As big-brained hominids, humans have the unique ability to think about the future. The very fact that we can perceive and plan for the time ahead has allowed us to conquer the earth, but it comes with a downside: anxiety. If extreme rumination on past events characterizes depression, worrying about imagined future scenarios describes anxiety.
This inherent capacity and human tendency to think ahead must be reined in and controlled. One way we can do that is make sure we’re getting enough of the nutrients that studies indicate may play an etiological role in anxiety.
Not every challenge has to be massive. Not every action item needs to take you to the promised land of optimal health and body composition. Sometimes, you just want a writer you trust to devise a list of potential little mini-challenges, short self-experiments, and approachable action items.
This is that list. Browse it. Jump around. See what resonates. Then get moving, and make them happen. I’m partial to 1, 5, 9, 13, 19, 20, 22, 26, and 30. But I’m sure whichever you choose will help you succeed this year.
I’ve never strayed from my basic assertion that the Primal Blueprint is about attaining hedonism congruent with good health. So, when I talk about engineering the good life, I’m not sacrificing health, or wellness, or fitness. I reject the assumption that enjoying oneself implies degrading one’s health. That’s often true, but it doesn’t have to be.
Engineering the good life often requires that you sacrifice immediate pleasures for lasting ones.
Engineering the good life is about removing negative inputs as much as it is about adding positive ones. If a negative input confers momentary pleasure, removing it will remove some pleasure but add more.
“Women carry trauma in their hips.”
(The stray remark got my attention, too.) I was walking along the beach when I heard it. Two women, deep in conversation, had passed me. Between the waves and my dog’s bark, it was the only snippet I caught. One had matter-of-factly professed it, and the other offered a knowing sigh in agreement. As a trainer, the thought jumped out at me—not so much the gendered suggestion (I have no claim on expertise there) but the idea that emotion gets stored in our bodies and not just in our memories. All of us are at various points in life subject to pain, loss and suffering. Whether we contend with something as severe as trauma or something difficult but normal like grief, anxiety or resentment, how do unresolved emotions linger within our physiology or even particular locations or functions within it? How might these feelings that we retain act as a wild card in our overall health? Finally, in keeping with this possibility, does “moving through” emotional suffering oblige us to move bodily toward healing?