For today’s Dear Mark , we’ve got four questions. Actually, there are five because one of the questions has two parts. First, I discuss the anti-androgenic effects of peppermint tea. Beneficial for PCOS, a mixed bag for males? Next is a two-parter about heirloom wheat (is it Primal?) and failure stories (do I get email from people who haven’t had resounding success with the Primal lifestyle?). Then, I explain what your dip technique (tricep exercise, not chip consumption method) should look like in order to minimize the risk to your shoulder health. Finally, I help a reader out with a conundrum: being unable to get going in the morning because it’s so dark outside upon waking. My wife Carrie takes over from there, giving her take on a few approaches to feeding an adopted infant.
I noticed while reading Tara Grant’s The Hidden Plague , that drinking spearmint tea can lower androgens and can help with PCOS in women.
I don’t have HS or PCOS, but have always enjoyed throwing a bag of peppermint tea into my green tea a couple times a day.
I’ve never had a particularly strong libido, so should I stop with the peppermint tea?
On the opposite end, I have some thinning hair at the temples, so lowering DHT might help.
What do you think?
You might be looking at the potential double-edged sword of pharmacological intervention, Joe.
Sure enough, mint tea can reduce androgens. In rats, peppermint tea lowers testosterone  and increases follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone levels. The reduction in testosterone could very well lower libido . A close relative of peppermint – spearmint – has also been used to lower hirsutism  in women by way of lower free testosterone  and greater luteinizing hormone levels. That may sound like a bad thing for hair loss – less hirsutism means less hair, right? Not exactly. The same mechanisms that induce hirsutism in women tend to induce hair loss in men. That’s why hair loss drugs like finasteride (also known as Propecia) are used to treat hirsutism in women . Of course, a well-known side effect of finasteride is the destruction of libido. Again, double-edged sword.
I’d suggest giving a peppermint-less green tea a shot for a couple weeks to see if anything changes. There’s no right answer here. There’s only experimentation, and a weighing of costs and benefits. What’s more important to you? Libido or hair around the temples? It might not even come down to that, of course. You could drop the tea, see a boost to libido, and suffer no further hair loss. Or vice versa. Good luck.
1. Are Emmer and Einkorn wheat primal, or a treat in the 20%? Grok didn’t grow grains, but he must have encountered and harvested limited amounts in season.
2. Every Friday you post a Success Story. Do people send you failure stories where Primal didn’t work for them (assuming they truly followed it). And is there anything to learn from failure stories?
1. Heirloom or “ancient” wheat varietals are definitely not Primal , but they’re probably “better” than modern wheat varieties. Einkorn, for example, has been shown  to cause less intestinal toxicity in patients with celiac. Emmer has more antioxidants than regular durum wheat, but less than quinoa . Plus, the very fact that they aren’t dwarf wheat , which comes with its own set of problems – including enhanced gluten reactivity and poorer mineral density – is a big plus.
But it’s still wheat, and it’s still got many of the same anti-nutrients as regular old wheat. There’s gluten, of course, but there are also amylase inhibitors . Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what constitutes an acceptable 20%. I personally avoid grains, particularly the gluten-containing kind, because I can feel the effects immediately upon eating a decent amount. A bite of really good, really crusty bread with butter  at a restaurant? It’s been known to find its way into my mouth without much ill effect. You won’t see me eating pizza, muffins, or pasta, though. That’s my choice. Yours is entirely up to you.
2. I don’t get failure stories, per se, though I do get plenty of emails from people who are still having issues despite having gone Primal. That’s actually my intent. It’s why I bill our Friday stories  as “Primal Blueprint Real Life Stories,” not just “Success Stories.” Real life isn’t composed entirely of pristine, perfect lifestyles  and triumphant, resounding victories over everything that ever ails you. Real life is real people with real problems – problems that don’t always go away in an instant. There are successes and failures and slip-ups, and repeats of each in turn.
I learn a ton from the struggles! Whether it’s because they write back after having figured out the issue on their own, or because I decide to research and write an answer to their question (either through Dear Mark  questions or an entirely new post), I’m often forced to challenge my beliefs and reevaluate previously-held opinions. It’s really not an option. I can either face (new) facts or become irrelevant. And that goes for everyone – the struggle is how we grow and evolve.
Hey, Mark! I love to do dips along with the 4 basic movements (pushup, pullup, squat, plank) for my workouts, but are dips good for us in the long term? It seems to me like they might cause shoulder problems after years of doing them.
Dips are great, until they’re not. I used to be a dipping machine until I hurt my shoulder, probably going too low and ignoring the warning signs my body was giving off among other things. If you’re going to do dips, be very aware of your technique. Some tips:
- Stay as upright as possible. Avoid leaning too far forward.
- Chest up, shoulders back. “Pack” your shoulders back and down so that they are aligned with your ears; this will protect them by helping you engage the lats and abs to stabilize the body. It’s pretty common to see people doing dips with “hunched” shoulders, which is why dips are so commonly associated with pain and injury.
- Only go below parallel if your mobility is up to par . If you feel like your anterior shoulder/pec is stretching excessively, you’re probably sacrificing technique for depth. Stop when you feel the stretch.
- Aim to keep your forearms perpendicular (or close to it) to the bars.
- If you have existing shoulder issues, be very careful. Use assistance as needed. I’d already tweaked my shoulder going for a 1 RM on bench, so this could have made things worse for me.
- Consider using gymnastics rings. They’re far more difficult, but when done correctly they allow your shoulders more freedom. You’re not locked into a specific grip width as with parallel bars. If you’ve never done ring work, you’ll probably have to work up to a full rep by using support (one foot on a box or chair).
- Balance them out with external rotation exercises: Cuban presses , face pulls , and shoulder prehab routines . Make sure you’re doing plenty of pulling, too: pullups  and rows.
- Listen to your body! If you’re experiencing pain, stop. If your shoulder is popping and clicking – even without pain – stop and reevaluate your form. If a rep feels “weird,” just stop for the day. It’s not worth it. The shoulder is a fragile thing (that’s partially why it’s been so important to human evolution !).
You can think of dips as upper body squats. Very powerful and effective, but dangerous if you’re not using proper form. If you’re smart about it, I don’t see why you couldn’t do them for the foreseeable future.
Today, I read this article  in the New Yorker, which not only explains why hitting the snooze button is probably counterproductive, but also how many of us are shortchanging our sleep due to “social jetlag.” I was particularly struck by this sentence: “It’s bad to sleep too little; it’s also bad, and maybe even worse, to wake up when it’s dark.”
But what do you do in the winter at a northern latitude? I live in Berlin, Germany, which has a latitude of something like 52.5 N. In North America, this would be the equivalent of living in Newfoundland. Right now, it’s still dark at 8 am, and it’s dark again by 3:30 pm.
Yeah, that’s a rough one. It used to be that cities set their own time zones, at least in the United States, according to the availability of light. Noon was whenever the sun was highest in the sky. This made time zones more “natural.”
Unfortunately, we are now privy to the constraints of schedules set to arbitrary times established without regard to natural light cycles. To beat it, we’ll have to continue the trend and impose artifice to “beat” nature. The easiest and most effective way is probably to expose yourself to massive amounts of bright light  immediately upon waking. And not just regular old house lighting, but rather ultra-bright lighting designed to combat seasonal affective disorder by mimicking natural light. Something in the range of 10,000 lux should do, like this . Plan for at least 10 minutes, preferably 20, of direct light exposure. Put it in the bathroom as you get ready. It works well  with few side effects  and may even reduce your sweet cravings .
Consider getting a wake up light, too, instead of a regular alarm clock  (or use your alarm clock as a backup). The folks at Philips, makers of the morning wake up light  I’ve linked to in the past , actually ran a study (no doubt biased of course, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the results; see the PDF  here and decide for yourself) on the effects of switching from a standard alarm clock to their wake up light. People in the experimental group using the wake up light reported feeling more alert, more awake, and that it was easier to get up in the morning. They were also more likely to report having become morning people .
And now, let’s hear from Carrie:
So I am still a few years away from this, but I have been thinking of this question for awhile now. When I am ready to have children, I want to adopt. I just read that you breastfed your children for at least 1 year, and that children under 6 months should really just be breastfed, however that is something I will not be able to do since I will be adopting. I will be adopting a new born, and I am not sure what I should feed my future child before I can feed them solid food. What would you suggest?
Well, if you’re lucky and the anecdotes are to be believed, some adoptive parents can actually begin lactating. A case study  from the Journal of Human Lactation points to an adoptive mother who used a combination of therapies and pharmaceuticals (bilateral pumping, metoclopramide, and syntocinon) to induce lactation. It took four months for milk to actually appear, but by the fifth month of the child’s life he was exclusively breastfed and gaining weight on schedule. I’ve also heard from friends and lactation consultants that adoptive mothers can sometimes even spontaneously lactate just from the surge of motherhood hormones. According to Kelly Mom , most adoptive mothers who induce lactation are able to supply between 25% and 75% of the child’s needs through breast milk. That means you may want to have supplementary food on hand just to be safe. Also, note that even if you can’t feed your baby entirely from the breast, you’re still improving your bond with your new child by breastfeeding some of the time and that’s arguably just as important as the nutrition.
If you end up trying to start lactation via pharmaceuticals, you’ll want to discuss that with your OB/GYN. Otherwise, breastfeeding as an adoptive mother involves trying the same things a birth mother might try to increase supply, only more so!
- Explore galactogogues like fenugreek, blessed thistle, and fennel which have been shown to increase supply.
- Feed as often as possible, about every 2 to 3 hours. Feeding increases demand and therefore supply.
- Use your breast as comfort, even if the baby isn’t really hungry. Fussy baby? Offer the breast.
- Pump and/or hand express. It’s not as effective as nursing at increasing supply, but it definitely helps, especially on top of regular feeding.
- Read more tips from Kelly Mom , pretty much the premier site for breastfeeding advice.
If breastfeeding isn’t an option, the next best step is using donor milk. A Facebook group called Human Milk 4 Human Babies  can help you get set up with a local donor. There’s also a great website called MilkShare  with lots of resources for finding a mother-to-mother milk donor.
Some will try to scare you away from unregulated donor milk, saying it can contain live viruses like HIV. And while that’s technically true, it’s extremely rare and really shouldn’t be an issue if you use milk from someone you know and trust. Ultimately the choice is yours.
There are also donor milk banks, but the problem with those is the milk is pasteurized, thus negating many of the immune benefits and altering the composition of the proteins. It’s definitely better than not using breast milk, though.
Homemade formula is a thing, too! And it’s actually pretty good! The Weston A. Price Foundation has a few recipes for making formula using either raw cow milk, raw goat milk, or liver  as the base. If you can get your hands on raw milk, that’s probably the best alternative for you and your baby. Even if you can’t, vat-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk can work, too (after all, standard formula uses high heat-treated milk). See if there’s any raw milk near you .
I found that during breastfeeding eye contact happened naturally and it was a meaningful bonding experience. While bottle feeding I had to make a conscious effort to maintain the same level of eye contact and connection, so make sure to emphasize that!
Another way I bonded with my babies was through infant massage. Today I would use coconut oil for this and if you’d like to learn more you can go to the International Infant Massage Website . I started massaging them as infants and even today Kyle at 19 years old asks for a back massage if he is sore from his workouts. It is a sweet way to stay connected to your own grown son.
Good luck! Whatever happens, as long as you love your new baby, everything will work out great!
That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to send in your questions!