Tag: mental health

Dear Mark: Depression Diet?

I occasionally get emails from readers who are interested in lifestyle changes that can either complement or replace their conventional treatments for depression. Since our post a few weeks ago on antidepressants, I’ve gotten a slew of emails asking me about the role of nutrition in mental health. In response I thought I’d devote a Dear Mark to the general question of diet and depression. Thanks to all who wrote in or commented on the boards or forum!

It comes as no surprise that nutrition directly impacts brain performance just as it does the functioning of every other organ. Although the roots of clinical depression involve a complex (and theoretically contentious) mix of physiological, genetic and socio-emotional factors, the physical picture hones in on neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that travel between nerves in the brain. Of all the neurotransmitters, the key players in mood disorders are dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. When we talk about a diet that supports mental health, we’re essentially looking at nutrition that sustains both optimal neurological functioning and hormone balance.

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Reprogramming Your Genes Starts with Reprogramming Your Mind

Reboot, renew, repair, revitalize? What goals went into your decision to join the Primal Challenge this month? (If you’re on the fence, what vision or particular aspirations pull you toward giving it a shot?) What are you looking to change? How do you hope to feel? What would you like to achieve?

Whether you’re ramping up an already Primal style or beginning to “baby-step” it (more on that tomorrow), rest assured that you’re undertaking powerful stuff. As we’ve mentioned in the past, the Primal Blueprint isn’t about quick, temporary fixes or surface level makeovers. (Although you will find yourself feeling slimmer and looking good…) By its very nature, the PB’s reach extends far beyond the number on a bathroom scale, the arch of a flexed muscle, or the fleeting drama of a bikini reveal. For our part, we have bigger things in mind.

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The Depression Diet

The Depression Diet? We’ve discussed the “Recession Diet” and we’re always on the lookout for food budget hacks and tricks for our readers, and the economy isn’t getting any better. And so, although commentators, pundits, and politicians are loathe to utter the “D” word, we just couldn’t resist the chance to alliterate and provide some helpful money-saving tips for our readers looking to maintain their Primal ways.

1. The Rule of 3

To keep things simple and inexpensive, limit meals to three basic components: a fat, a protein, and a vegetable. That covers your dietary fat and protein intakes (the most important parts of a Primal meal) while giving you enough leeway to make things interesting. Start with the three building blocks and dress them up with easy additions (garlic, salt, pepper, spices). Think:

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Endorphin Mainline

Though I’m a big proponent of Olympic lifts, and I use free weights on a regular basis, there’s something to be said for getting a great workout using just your surroundings, gravity, and maybe a pull-up bar. We can’t always get to a gym, and one-time fees can be pretty exorbitant – but we always want to be able to get a good workout in. When you’re stuck out of town on business, surrounded by fast food joints, stressed out of your mind and close to breaking, a great workout can really make the difference and save our sanity. We can’t always eat good Primal fare or even get plenty of sleep, but we can always blast our body with an intense, Primal workout using only our own body weight.

Here’s how.

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Eating Habits and Memory Function

Diet is a powerful force as we say time and again. Most of the studies revolve around the physical aspects: inflammation, disease risk, body composition, blood markers, etc. But there’s the promise a good diet can offer other elements of health, including cognitive performance. With climbing rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s, these correlations are nothing to shake a stick at.

In that vein, this recent study caught our eye. Researchers from the University of Muenster in Germany followed subjects who had been grouped into three practices: a caloric restriction group (30% cut in daily intake), a group that increased their consumption of essential fatty acids (20% increase), and a control group. After three months, all subjects retook tests focused on memory activities. The group that cut its calories showed a “significant increase” in scores related to verbal memory. The apparent cognitive improvement could be correlated, the researchers say, with “decreases in fasting plasma levels of insulin and high sensitive C-reactive protein.” No noteworthy changes were seen in the other subjects.

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Low Carb Diets Affect Short Term Memory

A soon-to-be published study in Appetite [2009 Feb;52(1):96-103] (but apparently already published online earlier this summer) done by a group at Tufts seems to have “proven” that when you remove carbohydrates for three weeks from the diet of people who have depended on them for decades, you get some short-term memory loss, fuzzy thinking and/or mood swings. In what appears to me to be yet another colossal waste of time and money, the Tufts researchers concluded that “the brain needs glucose for energy, and diets low in carbohydrates can be detrimental to learning, memory and thinking.” What? They got grant money for this? Most of my Primal Blueprint 30-day challengers could have told you that for free! If you understand the power of gene expression and the ability of the human body to acclimate, this study only “proves” what we’ve known for over 100 years.

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Dear Mark: Brain Pills

Dear Mark,

I’ve been a faithful reader of your blog for a couple of months now since Tony Horton turned me on to it at one of his fitness camps. Anyway, the reason I am writing today is to refer you to an article about some scientists who are proposing “cognitive enhancing drugs” for healthy people. I had to check the dateline to make sure it wasn’t recycled from April 1st. I’m sure you’ll be interested in it and I’m sure your readers would enjoy your commentary on it:

Scientists Back Brain Drugs for Healthy People

Thanks to reader Dave for forwarding the article. A number of people I know actually sent me the news with various questions and comments of their own. It’s made for a lot of interesting conversations, shall we say, in the last several days.

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Study Spotlight: The Mood Diet

Were you angered by traffic this morning or awakened abruptly? Have you been feeling blue with the onset of winter or charged by the vigor of the holiday season? Would you describe your mood lately as generally optimistic and happy? Or are you plagued by an enigmatic anxiety or erratic energy? Has depression been a problem for you? Do you find yourself easily annoyed or frustrated?

We were as surprised as anyone when we read the latest study following the seeming success of so-called “mood eating” and its physiological response. The research, a collaborative endeavor of the Institute of Nutrition and Physiological Function and the Center for Complementary Nutrition Therapy, followed 17 participants for 5 weeks. Dr. Stephen Quatschen, head of the study, says subjects experienced emotional release and corresponding physiological changes from particular foods. It seems Quatschen and his associates have identified varieties of foods that appear to temporarily counter or enhance several common emotional moods. Food characteristics such as texture, smell, shape and color strongly figured into subjects’ responses.

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Sports Fans, Fish Eyes and Dental Hygiene

Ah, yes. Another mishmash of random yet relevant contemporary science news updates is upon us. This week’s offering includes news that engaging in sports (or even just being a fan) can improve one’s mental faculties; that though a diet rich in oily fish is supremely beneficial to your overall health, just a once-a-week fishy fix can protect your eyesight in old age; and that a link between gum disease and heart disease has been established. Interesting enough, but how do these studies relate to – or even support – the Primal Blueprint? Read on to find out.

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Science News Roundup: Brain Health

We’re back with another slew of new scientific studies that seem to reinforce our commitment to the Primal Blueprint. Of course, we admittedly don’t need much convincing, but it’s always important for newcomers to see some of the tangible benefits of the lifestyle supported by cutting-edge scientific research.  This week, we’re examining the effects of behavior and nutrition on brain health and memory.

Okay, you all know how the Primal life promotes healthy weight loss, lean mass retention, increased energy, better sleep – those are the basic benefits that attract most newcomers, after all – but brain health? Sounds a little weird, yeah?

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