Dear Mark: Safe Tick Repellent, Fish Intake on Mediterranean Diet, and Therapeutic Value of Wine

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering a few questions from recent comment boards. First, with all the scary tick-related news coming out lately, are there any non-toxic tick repellents that actually work? Are there essential oils that repel and/or kill ticks? Is there a safer way to use insecticides? Next, were the people in the Mediterranean keto study actually eating a kilo of fish on their fish days? And is the wine an important part of the Mediterranean diet? Is the wine therapeutic or just for pleasure?

Let’s find out:

Non toxic effective tick repellents safe for children? Any suggestions? I live in NC so the tick thing scares the hell out of me. Found at parks in short grasses, like how am I supposed to avoid this???

If you want to avoid DEET and other pesticides, there are many essential oils that repel ticks. Let’s go through the various tick species.

The castor bean tick:

Repelled by miswak essential oil and killed by Libyan rosemary essential oil.

Repelled by rosemary and mint essential oils.

Repelled by Dorado azul, also known as pignut or bushmint and traditionally used as mosquito repellent. The terpene known as alpha-humulene was the most repellent terpene found in the oil; you can buy both the oil and the humelene.

Repelled by turmeric oil, even beating out DEET.

The cattle tick:

Repelled by French marigold essential oil.

Repelled by mastrante essential oil.

The deer tick:

Repelled by nootkatone (a grapefruit aromatic compound) and to a lesser degree ECOSMART organic insect repellent. Here’s a cool video showing ticks trying to climb a person’s finger that’s been dipped in nootkatone.

Nothing is 100% guaranteed to repel all ticks. In fact, many of these oils show 50-60% effectiveness in the field. But if you use a combination of relevant essential oils, frequent tick checking, smart clothing choices (long socks, shoes/boots, pants), and avoidance of tick-heavy landscapes (tall grass, oak leaves, etc, notwithstanding these new breeds that apparently love short grass), you’ll be in good hands—or at least better hands than the naked guy rolling around in piles of oak leaves.

And if you’re really worried, you could always tuck pants into your shoes, then spray the shoes and lower section of your pants with peremethrin, an insecticide that kills the ticks as they climb before they can reach your flesh. Use a dedicated pair of pants and shoes that you don’t use for anything else and reapply each time you go out. A light spray on the outside of reasonably-thick pants should provide tick protection without actually putting the pesticide into contact with your skin.

2.2 pounds of fish each day?!

I know, I was surprised to read that myself. But right there, according to the researchers:

We estimated during the first 4 weeks of this study that the average edible fish consumption per subject during the ‘‘fish block’’ day was approximately 1.12 0.41 kg=day.

So it wasn’t just an allowance of fish. They actually tracked their consumption and found they were eating over 2 pounds of fish on average on the days they ate fish.

The study said that they had “fish block” and “no fish block” days. With no mix of fish and other meats on the same day. What is the reason for this?

They offered no justification in the study write-up.

Maybe it was to increase variety.

Maybe it was to reduce their intake of omega-3s. I mean, a kilo of fish per day adds up to a lot of omega-3s, especially if you’re doing sardines and salmon. There is such a thing as too much a good thing, and excessive omega-3 can lead to blood thinning, excessive bleeding, and imbalanced omega-3:omega-6 ratios in the opposite direction.

Maybe it was to help people stick to the diet, to break up all that fish with some meat and chicken.

Great, but why the wine? Is it not a contradictory with ketosis? But is it for pleasure or is it for a therapeutic reason?

Wine is emphasized in Mediterranean diet studies (both keto and regular) because wine is considered an important part of the cuisines of most Mediterranean countries, at least on the European side. Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Greece all have an extensive history of wine production and consumption. Since researchers are casting a wide net to capture everything that might be contributing to the health effects, they’re including everything that appears in the “Mediterranean diet.”

It’s good to keep in mind that ketosis and alcohol detoxification do utilize some of the same physiological pathways. If you’re drinking an excessive amount, you’ll run the risk of inhibiting ketone production.

Still, wine does appear to have therapeutic effects, especially in people with metabolic syndrome—the subjects of this study.

Red wine is very high in polyphenols, due to both the polyphenols in grapes themselves and the unique polyphenols that form during fermentation. One study compared grape extract to red wine made with the same types of grapes, finding that red wine provided benefits the grape extract did not.

Drinking wine with a fast food meal can reduce postprandial oxidative stress and inflammatory gene expression; it can actually make an otherwise unhealthy meal full of refined, rancid fats less damaging (though still not advisable).

Blood pressure: In people with (but not without) a genetic propensity toward efficient or “fast” alcohol metabolism, drinking red wine at dinner seems to lower blood pressure.

Type 2 diabetics: Type 2 diabetics who initiate red wine drinking at dinner see reduced signs of metabolic syndrome, including moderately improved glycemic control and blood lipids.

Inflammation: A study found that non-drinkers who begin regularly drinking moderate amounts of Sicilian red wine enjoy reduced inflammatory markers and improved blood lipids.

I’d say the wine is a therapeutic addition to the Mediterranean keto diet. Don’t let that override your own experience, however. Wine might have therapeutic effects for many people, but not everyone feels better including it. It’s an option, but it’s hardly a necessary one for a healthy diet.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask away down below. Thanks for reading, everyone.


El-seedi HR, Khalil NS, Azeem M, et al. Chemical composition and repellency of essential oils from four medicinal plants against Ixodes ricinus nymphs (Acari: Ixodidae). J Med Entomol. 2012;49(5):1067-75.

Ashitani T, Garboui SS, Schubert F, et al. Activity studies of sesquiterpene oxides and sulfides from the plant Hyptis suaveolens (Lamiaceae) and its repellency on Ixodes ricinus (Acari: Ixodidae). Exp Appl Acarol. 2015;67(4):595-606.

Goode P, Ellse L, Wall R. Preventing tick attachment to dogs using essential oils. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2018;9(4):921-926.

Politi FAS, Fantatto RR, Da silva AA, et al. Evaluation of Tagetes patula (Asteraceae) as an ecological alternative in the search for natural control of the cattle tick Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus (Acari: Ixodidae). Exp Appl Acarol. 2019;77(4):601-618.

Lima Ada S, Carvalho JF, Peixoto MG, Blank AF, Borges LM, Costa junior LM. Assessment of the repellent effect of Lippia alba essential oil and major monoterpenes on the cattle tick Rhipicephalus microplus. Med Vet Entomol. 2016;30(1):73-7.

Schulze TL, Jordan RA, Dolan MC. Experimental use of two standard tick collection methods to evaluate the relative effectiveness of several plant-derived and synthetic repellents against Ixodes scapularis and Amblyomma americanum (Acari: Ixodidae). J Econ Entomol. 2011;104(6):2062-7.

Hansen AS, Marckmann P, Dragsted LO, Finné nielsen IL, Nielsen SE, Grønbaek M. Effect of red wine and red grape extract on blood lipids, haemostatic factors, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59(3):449-55.

Di renzo L, Carraro A, Valente R, Iacopino L, Colica C, De lorenzo A. Intake of red wine in different meals modulates oxidized LDL level, oxidative and inflammatory gene expression in healthy people: a randomized crossover trial. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:681318.

Gepner Y, Henkin Y, Schwarzfuchs D, et al. Differential Effect of Initiating Moderate Red Wine Consumption on 24-h Blood Pressure by Alcohol Dehydrogenase Genotypes: Randomized Trial in Type 2 Diabetes. Am J Hypertens. 2016;29(4):476-83.

Gepner Y, Golan R, Harman-boehm I, et al. Effects of Initiating Moderate Alcohol Intake on Cardiometabolic Risk in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: A 2-Year Randomized, Controlled Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2015;163(8):569-79.

Avellone G, Di garbo V, Campisi D, et al. Effects of moderate Sicilian red wine consumption on inflammatory biomarkers of atherosclerosis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006;60(1):41-7.

TAGS:  dear mark, Keto, toxins

About the Author

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.

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19 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Safe Tick Repellent, Fish Intake on Mediterranean Diet, and Therapeutic Value of Wine”

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  1. I live in a rural community with about 8,000 people, and the entire county only has around 20,000 people.

    Yet I know three people locally with lyme disease.

    According to the CDC, the number of tick-borne diseases doubled from 2004-2016. Over 36,000 reported cases of lyme disease in 2016, and the CDC suggests the true number of infections may be over 300,000.

    Disease carrying ticks have also substantially expanded their range in the past fifteen years.

    DEET is unpleasant, but not as unpleasant as many of the disease carried by ticks (and mosquitoes for that matter).

  2. I love the time restricted eating version of the Mediterranean diet. Sit down to a late lunch made of a pound of salmon, a pound of cod, a healthy side of vegetables cooked in olive oil, and half a bottle of wine. Follow it with an hour walk by the creek. A man could get used to a life like that.

  3. Peremethrin is toxic to cats. If you have cats, never use this stuff.

    1. Pretty much everything that will repel ticks is toxic to cats. If you have cats, you just have to be extra careful to not let them near your outside clothes, wash up extra good when you get home, and if you needed an excuse to stop letting them outside this is a good one.

  4. Her name is Jennifer I am very interested and us I had so many of tick on me. so many times throughout the years and it came down to me having Lyme disease.

  5. “There is such a thing as too much a good thing, and excessive omega-3 can lead to blood thinning, excessive bleeding, and imbalanced omega-3:omega-6 ratios in the opposite direction.”

    How would I know if I had the opposite O3-O6 ratio imbalance? I’ve been suffering from mental fatigue for a few years. To try to heal, I’ve tried to eat better and better, which means quite a high quantity of O3. Could this be it?

  6. I have used permethrin before while backpacking, but never heard of applying it every day. Maybe after each laundering. The idea is that it binds to fabric and kills the insects when they touch the fabric. It’s poison, I would not spray it every day.

    1. Yes, I believe that the instructions are to wet the clothes by spraying on a dilute solution, completely dry them, then launder prior to wearing them.
      I used permetherin to hike the AT in Maine for three weeks in June-July, with no problems from ticks or mosquitos. Very effective. But I would not apply wet every day.

  7. When I was a kid I use to walk through the tall grass and remove a dozen ticks from my pants. We never knew the real danger.

  8. I tuck pants into permethrin-treated cut-off ankle portion of white socks , which cover top of ankle to mid calf. These do not contact skin so do get her sweaty so do not require frequent cleaning. Re-treat once/yr. or after washing.

  9. I tuck pants into permethrin-treated cut-off ankle portion of white socks , which cover top of ankle to mid calf. These do not contact skin and do not get sweaty so do not require frequent cleaning. Re-treat once/yr. or after washing.

  10. Where can I get a good spray with nootkatone? I have done some google searching and not sure any of them actually have the right ingredients?

  11. My nemesis is the lone star tick, here in rural TN. I created a repellent that I actually tested on a tick. First the recipe: rose geranium oil plus citronella oil, diluted in jojoba oil and a bit of alcohol. I put this in a sprayer. The alcohol makes it easier to spray and less thick.

    I tested it by spraying it on a table, and putting a tick next to it. The tick tried to get away from the sprayed spot as fast as possible, repeatedly. Every day, I put this stuff NEAR but not ON the places you never want to get a tick, when I get dressed in the morning. (Mucus membranes should not be exposed to essential oils.)

    Also I spray my hat and shoes with permethrin and let it dry overnight. This lasts a few months as a repellent and is relatively non-toxic.

    Inspect yourself every evening for ticks. If one bites you, but you get it off within 24 hours, it is unlikely to infect you with any diseases.

    1. We live in rural Maine, and my husband spends a fair amount of time outdoors in the woods (we have 45 acres). He cuts up windfalls and cuts down trees for firewood, which clears the footpaths and creates open areas for wildlife. He often gets ticks, even though he uses Deet on this clothing (and always wears long pants and a long-sleeved shirt).

      The ticks don’t just crawl up from the ground, though, so tucking your pant legs into your socks does only so much. They can be in the overhanging leaves, in the ferns and bushes, on rocks and on trees, hanging on with their back legs, just waiting for some animal or human to brush up against them so they can latch on with their front legs.

      To avoid all ticks, he’d have to wear a hazmat suit.

      Yes, he got Lyme last year. They never tested him because although he didn’t have the bulls-eye mark around the bite, he had swelling and redness the size of his outspread hand on his thigh. He did the 7 days of antibiotics and the swelling and redness faded, but a year later he’s still having joint pain on that side of his body that only started after the tick bite.

      Living in the country, I pretty much stopped worrying about tick bites (though I do still spray). It’s like what they say about security breaches and identify theft: It’s not IF it happens, but WHEN it happens. Practically inevitable.

      1. PS: I didn’t mean to reply specifically to Shannon’s response.

        My husband had the small deer tick on him less than 12 hours, because it wasn’t there when he went to bed, but was there when he awoke the next morning. He still got Lyme.

        1. Then I’ll add another one that’s not very reassuring. My mother had a tick on her for less than six hours in June and got Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

          If the tick has really been attached for any length of time or if the bite area is reactive you need to see a doctor.

          1. I know exactly where and when I acquired the deer tick—on a canoe day trip—and I removed it from my upper arm (yes, the ticks are not just on the ground) within three hours—as we always shower and check for ticks at the day’s end. We also take all the recommended precautions with clothing, etc. Within a week the bullseye rash developed on my arm, and I came down with the worst ‘flu’ I’d ever had…I knew I had Lymes. The trip to the medical clinic was just for confirmation and the meds. Even with treatment that quickly, sequelae from Lymes developed…neuritis in several intercostal (rib) nerves and in facial nerve. Thankfully, all short-lived, but still very scary. Treat a tick bite hard and fast…your Dr will even give you prophylactic antibiotics to take if you live, like I do, in a tick infested disease area and know you’ve been bitten.

          2. Oh, and my dogs take an anti-tick and flea medication every month AND get an anti-Lyme ds injection yearly! Guess we need those for people, too!