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
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?
You all know about intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut.” The job of the gut lining is to be selectively permeable, allowing helpful things passage into the body and preventing harmful things from getting in. Nutrients get through, toxins and pathogens do not. Leaky gut describes the failure of this vetting process. But what about “leaky brain”?
A similarly dynamic barrier lies between the brain and the rest of the body: the blood-brain barrier. Since the brain is the seat of all the conscious machinations and subconscious processes that comprise human existence, anything attempting entry receives severe scrutiny. We want to admit glucose, amino acids, fat-soluble nutrients, and ketones. We want to reject toxins, pathogens, and errant immune cells. Think of the blood-brain barrier like the cordon of guards keeping the drunken rabble from spilling over into the VIP room in a nightclub.
For hundreds of years, the localizationism theory of the brain reigned: the idea that the adult brain is composed of distinct regions, each responsible for a separate function. Most people still hew to this, assuming that vision goes here, memories there (with separate sections for short and long term memories), smell here, verbal fluency over here and quantitative processing over there. We assume the number of neurons is fixed and their wiring soldered.
But the emerging science of neuroplasticity shows how wrong this is: rather than fixed and immutable, the neural connections between different “regions” of the brain can reorganize themselves. This is why someone with brain damage to one part of the brain can often recover—neuroplasticity allows a healthy section to assume the role of the damaged section. It’s also how we learn, form memories, and develop new skills.
“Be Selfish.” It’s without a doubt the habit of Highly Successful Hunter-Gatherers I’ve gotten the most feedback on throughout the last few years. (You can check out the other nine if you’re curious or want a refresher.) The reason, I think, is that it’s so unexpectedly radical, so brashly subversive to an almost universally held tenet: good people serve others rather than themselves. You can file it under the “better to give than receive” ethic and the general cult of self-sacrifice that permeates Western moral and work culture. We’re supposed to want to help others, to devote our lives to the service of the greater good. To be selfish is to be shallow, vapid—a flimsy, one-dimensional model of what it means to be human. But as modestly proposed in The Primal Connection, we’re working here with an unfortunate distortion that can quickly wade into treacherous, life-sucking waters.
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two questions. First up, what happens when a brisk walk isn’t enough to attain the optimal fat-burning heart rate zone? It’s a good problem to have—better fitness—but it still needs a response. What activities can a person do to slightly increase the intensity without going over the target heart rate? And second, are fermented foods a potential cause of depression? If they have any effect on serotonin, could this cause problems rather than improvements?
Although mainstream sources still mistake “the brain needs glucose” for “the brain can only run on glucose,” regular MDA readers know the truth: given sufficient adaptation, the brain can derive up to 75% of its fuel from ketone bodies, which the liver constructs using fatty acids. If we could only use glucose, we wouldn’t make it longer than a few days without food. If our brains couldn’t utilize fat-derived ketones, we’d drop dead as soon as our liver had exhausted its capacity to churn out glucose. We’d waste away, our lean tissue dissolving into amino acids for hepatic conversion into glucose to feed our rapacious brains. You’d end up a skeletal wraith with little else but your brain and a hypertrophied liver remaining until, eventually, the latter cannibalized itself in a last ditch search for glucose precursors for the tyrant upstairs. It would get ugly.
I’m thinking about a Philip K. Dick story, never published, perhaps never put down on paper or even imagined. In this story, which might only exist in my mind, the world is awash in sensory stimuli. Bright lights, flashing signs, an endless cacophony. A world of quick jump cuts. It’s like the Khaosan Road at 11 PM, standing on a Los Angeles overpass at rush hour, or living inside a Youtube video. Imagine your first night in the Amazon, only instead of insects and birds and other creatures, it’s horns and conversations and alarms and drunks and car doors and rattling manhole covers and ringtones. In the world of this story, silence is a premium. To escape from your senses, you need to pay up.