Tag: mental health

Why the Blood-Brain Barrier Is So Critical (and How to Maintain It)

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.

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16 Ways to Increase Neuroplasticity (and Why That’s Important)

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.

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The Dangers of People Pleasing in the Modern World (and What to Do about It)

“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.

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Dear Mark: When Walking Is No Longer Enough; Fermented Foods and Depression

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?
Let’s go:

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The Fat Burning Brain: What Are the Cognitive Effects of Ketosis?

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.

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From Float Tanks to Silent Retreats: Why Are People Looking for More Extreme Forms of Sensory Deprivation?

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.

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Nootropics: Brain Enhancers, Smart Drugs, or Empty Hype?

Hang around on nootropic forums where fans and users congregate and you’ll come away with the notion that you’re missing out on a leg up if you’re not taking the latest and greatest nootropic supplement. Nootropics promise vague benefits to “cognition” and “performance,” but what’s really happening? Do nootropics actually work as advertised? Some of them do, absolutely. But others, maybe not so much.

Today’s post will deal solely with compounds, foods, and supplements available over the counter in most countries. Other supplements may have promise, like modafinil and micro-dosed psychedelics, but are unavailable through standard legal means. Plus, their potential benefits may come with some dramatic side effects. So I won’t discuss those. Not today, at least. Instead, I’ll talk about some of the more commonly referred to ways you may (or may not) be able to boost your brain power—some of which are clearly primal approved.

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This Is Your Brain on Bugs: How Gut Bacteria Affect Mental Health

As many of you adopt new behaviors and habits during this year’s 21-Day Challenge, there’s a fascinating unseen story going on between your brains and bellies I thought it’d be worth talking about. New behaviors and habits create new neural pathways, which are essentially new road maps for how you’ll think, feel, and act in the future. Now the integrity of those neural pathways—whether they’re firing at full force and with the right materials to do their job—is intimately connected to something I’ve talked about on the blog before in different ways: our gut microbiome. But as you’ll see, this microscopic landscape is worth talking about again—specifically because it influences your brain (that grand master of all organs) and how well you’re likely to stick to all those newly adopted changes in the future.

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7 Ways to Slow Down Your Perception of Time

I’m 62. I’m supposed to have a big belly. I’m supposed to be taking at least four prescription drugs a day (PDF). I’m supposed to be lining up for the early bird special at the Denny’s on Lincoln. I’m not supposed to be lifting weights, sprinting, and beating younger guys at Ultimate Frisbee. I shouldn’t be snowboarding, starting exciting new business ventures, or going shirtless in the Southern California sun without sunblock. I’m supposed to be set in my ways, not open to new evidence. I’m supposed to be remembering my younger, better days as time slips away and I descend ever more rapidly into frailty, financial insolvency, and death. Time is supposed to speed up as I age, not slow down.

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Psychedelics: A New Medical Frontier?

Long before humans interacted with the numinous through intermediaries and holy books, we experienced it in other ways. All night drumming and dancing sessions, extended fasts, exposure to extreme temperatures, steam lodges, and week-long wilderness forays, and other rituals have all been used to produce visions and transcend normal waking consciousness. There’s even a theory that early Christian baptisms were actually simulated drownings that produced near-death experiences and the direct sensation of being in the presence of a higher power.

But perhaps the oldest, most reliable way to directly experience the divine is through the use of psychedelics.

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