For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions from readers. First, did I mess up by not mentioning meditation in the neuroplasticity post? Yes, and you’ll find out more below. Next, what are my thoughts on taking astragalus for fighting off colds and flus? Does it work? And finally, does red light therapy have the potential to reduce chronic pain? Does it do anything else?
I’m sorry that meditation is not mentioned, but magic mushrooms are. Meditation increases white matter in the brain (which influences efficiency of electrical signals in brain), and lessens shrinkage due to age. Meditation also has a positive influence on the preservation of telomere length and telomerase activity (when these shorten, we experience adverse aging effects). I would much rather do it the natural way (via meditation) than taking a chance with hallucinogens.
Thanks for your comment, Susan. This is why I love my readers. They call me out.
Everything you say is true. Meditation is a powerful trigger for neuroplasticity.
Beginners aren’t doing much. They’re just trying to learn how to make those connections, so the activity is minimal.
Experienced meditators (average of 19,000 practice hours) are in the active learning phase. To reach the desired state, they really have to work hard. The connections are lighting up.
The expert meditators (average of 44,000 practice hours) already have those changes established in their brains, and it takes less effort to maintain and activate them.
And one thing people should keep in mind: Trying to meditate but “failing” isn’t actually failing. It’s the attempt that’s the entire point. Learning to juggle, walk a slack line, or anything else that feels impossible at the start activates neuroplasticity. Failure is a necessary component of learning and brain remodeling.
As for the psychedelics, I absolutely agree that they can be more risky. Being one of the more powerful inputs a person an introduce to their brain, the psychedelics require more respect, caution, and planning than other plasticity inducers. That’s why I recommend that people wait for legalization (or decriminalization), or at least ensure they’re with someone experienced whom they trust. Note that the majority of psychedelics, including psilocybin, have sky high LD50s; it’s almost impossible to consume enough that you reach toxic levels.
Hi Mark! Last year my family and I were hit hard by cold and flu season, and this year I want to be prepared! A naturopath friend suggested astragalus. Can you tell me more, like whether it’s worth it and the best way to take it?
Astragalus, one of the foundational herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, certainly affects the immune system.
It can modulate the Th1/Th2 cytokine balance in asthma (mouse model), reducing lung inflammation.
But we don’t have any hard data showing that it can fight flu or cold infections. I do think it’s very plausible and probably possible.
I’d say it’s worth a try, as long as you’re not spending more than $20-30.
But don’t forget about good old crushed raw (or almost raw) garlic—in my opinion the best anti-cold “supplement” around. Garlic can improve immune function and reduce the occurrence of common colds. Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I’ll crush and dice up an entire head of garlic and lightly simmer it in a big mug of bone broth. You can also try aged garlic, which may be even more potent.
I’ve had chronic pain for years, which has definitely lessened since I went Primal last year! But I still have lingering issues. I keep hearing about red light therapy for chronic pain, and I know some gyms and other facilities market it as a selling point. Have you tried this? Is there anything to the idea?
There’s definitely something to it. It’s not some fringe therapy lacking support in the literature:
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.