Your Brain and The Primal Blueprint

Hi folks! I’m Emily Deans, M.D., a psychiatrist who normally blogs over at Evolutionary Psychiatry and at Psychology Today. However, Mark Sisson was kind enough to ask me to do a guest blog for Mark’s Daily Apple, and of course I am thrilled to oblige. My main interest is to explore how the differences in our modern lives and diets compared to a traditional/evolutionary experience may influence how our brains work and leave us more vulnerable to mental illness. If modern diets and lifestyle do leave us ragged in brain as well as body, The Primal Blueprint, being a practical diet and lifestyle that specifically emulates evolutionary conditions, would then theoretically be part of an antidote to modern mental health problems.

Certainly there are a number of anecdotes in the MDA forums of these Primal changes improving mood and anxiety problems, and some other anecdotes where mental state had no change or became worse. Of course, by the time our brains are strained enough to begin experiencing psychiatric symptoms, the problem can be complex and hard to undo. For now, let’s examine how a Primal Blueprint lifestyle and diet would presumably help the brain be healthy and resilient. Oftentimes diet and lifestyle changes are most effective as a preventative or protective measure, and treatment requires diet and lifestyle changes as well as more specific and personalized interventions.

To understand how Primal living would protect and nourish the brain, it’s important to understand a few things about how the brain works and what makes it vulnerable to modern diet and stress. First, the brain is very fatty (60% dry weight) and needs lots of the proper fatty precursors to work to the brain’s design specifications. That means having enough cholesterol and long chain omega 3 fatty acids (specifically DHA). A Primal Blueprint diet will supply these building blocks in spades. In fact, very low cholesterol is associated with violent death, accidents, and suicide, which I discuss at some length in this post, Low Cholesterol and Suicide. The association does not prove causation, of course, but I find it makes common sense and would be prudent to make sure we have the appropriate building blocks available for our nerves and synapses to work properly.

The second thing to understand about the brain is that it is hungry. It uses energy like gangbusters. Depending on what source you read, the brain makes up between 2.5-5% of our total body weight, but it uses around 20% of our energy. The reason it uses so much energy is because thought is expensive and basically runs on electricity. All this energy is used to pump ions across membranes, rather like ski lifts taking skiiers to the top of the hill. Once you have enough skiiers at the top, open a gate, set them loose, and they use all the stored energy to zip to the bottom. Thought runs the same way – ions are pumped against a charge gradient, so that when the proper signal comes, you have a whole host of ions to release and start that spark of nerve communication. But it takes a lot of energy to get those skiiers to the top of the hill, and it takes a lot of energy to keep the brain primed and working at maximum efficiency.

And here is where the problem with energy efficiency comes in – the brain uses so much energy that it is vital for brain health for the energy systems to be working at tip-top efficiency. If you start to overtax the systems, you get build-up of metabolic byproducts. Ion gradients discharged aren’t replaced as fast as they ought to be, and you end up with toxic brain signals being perpetuated, and inflammation gumming up the works. And it is not as if we can really decrease our need for our brains – we can’t just voluntarily stop all thinking, after all, and conscious thought is only a small part of the whole. We do use all of our brain – most of it for involuntary actions like breathing or posture control. Things we can’t just put a stop to when we need our brains to rest and recover. Poor energy efficiency and metabolic garbage building up is thought to play a part in a whole host of brain problems, including psychiatric disorders, migraines, autism, and dementia.

Fortunately, there are all sorts of things we can do to help with cellular energy efficiency in our bodies and brains. I don’t think it is a coincidence that these things line up with a Primal Blueprint diet and lifestyle – the Primal lifestyle is meant to mimic what our systems are “designed” for, after all, so it would make sense that our cells would work efficiently within a Primal paradigm. Energy for our animal cells is made primarily in the mitochondria – the power plants of the cells. Mitochondrial researchers (who, I’m guessing, know nothing about a Primal Blueprint lifestyle and diet), have come up with the following list of things that keep mitochondria happy and promote efficiency and clean energy:

  1. A high-fat diet and utilization of ketones – ketones require a bit less processing by the mitochondria to make energy than glucose does.
  2. A ready supply of energy and mitochondrial cofactors such as the animal flesh-derived carnitine and carnosine, along with the cholesterol buddy ubiquinone (CoEnzyme Q10), vitamin A, and the crew of B vitamins which are also utilized in the respiratory chain.
  3. Protein and/or calorie restriction which promotes the activation of PPAR (that is peroxisome-proliferator activated receptors). See, the mitochondria have two major types of garbage containment facilities, the lysosomes and the peroxisomes. They are the waste clean-up crew, and they become more active in states of protein restriction and ketosis. In addition, the old and inefficient mitochondria spewing more reactive oxygen species than they ought get properly decomissioned in states of protein restriction. This is one part of a positive clean-up process called “autophagy.” The Primal Blueprint diet, with the recommendation of intermittent fasting, will promote autophagy.
  4. Aerobic exercise seems to stimulate the creation of new, shiny, efficient mitochondria.

What sorts of things promote mitochondrial inefficiency and general dirty cell-killing, dementia promoting badness?

  1. Hyperglycemia
  2. Inactivity
  3. Micronutrient deficiencies
  4. Never dipping into ketosis

I find it striking how well a Primal Blueprint diet and lifestyle converge to make happy mitochondria (and by extension, a happy and efficient brain). Intermittent fasting combined with eating plenty of fat will promote ketosis and autophagy. Primal Blueprint dieters will be focused on eating whole, natural foods and nose-to-tail consumption to improve the chances of getting all the vitamins and micronutrients our mitochondria love. In addition, the amino acids such as creatine and carnosine that make mitochondria hum can be made from other essential amino acids, but are readily available from eating meat directly. And of course a key part of the Primal lifestyle is activity in reasonable levels of exertion and meaningful quantity. The Primal Blueprint diet, being antinflammatory and muscle-sparing, is the perfect fuel to spur activity.

In contrast, the Standard American Diet du jour will promote inflammation, hyperglycemia, weight gain, fatigue, and sedentary living. Micronutrient deficiencies will be the rule, unless one is exceedingly careful. One is told never to let 3 hours or more go by without eating lest the metabolism sputter to a halt. Restricting calories to the point of avoiding obesity only while eating 5-6 times a day is no picnic. Welcome constant food with constant hunger and constant restriction. One could hardly think of a more unnatural way to eat, or a better way to make for miserable free-radical spewing mitochondria, and eventually a cranky brain.

When you have a happy brain, you will still (and should still!) experience sadness when things go bad, or stress in hard times, but you will be more focused, energetic, and motivated. You will be resilient and should be able to relax easily. To me it seems a Primal brain is more likely to be a happy brain, and the first prescription should always be whole, nutrient-dense food, avoidance of inflammation, appropriate exercise, sleep, and play.

Read more articles written by Emily Deans, M.D. at Evolutionary Psychiatry

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79 thoughts on “Your Brain and The Primal Blueprint”

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    1. Ditto here. A “calmness” that’s difficult to describe, and definitely a better way to live.

      I certainly still feel stress – but recognize it and try even harder at those times to give my body what it needs: healthy fats, rest & some play… Not a bunch of empty “feel good for a moment” starchy carbs. I’ve regretted it every single time I’ve caved in to the temptation of the quick fix. It’s hard to re-program habits though, isn’t it? I’ve been primal over 9 months and I still find myself in the grips of serious carb cravings — always in conjunction with stress in my life.

      Great article!

      1. I have also noticed a much more calmness within myself. Is it all because of eating paleo foods? I would say no.

        But, thats the thing! This is the Primal LIFESTYLE. I don’t just eat primal or paleo foods but I exercise this way. I make sure I get my sunlight or take a vitamin D supplement. I play as much as possible. I place an importance on sleep.

        Wait, me sleep? I was failing at this miserably for a while. For the last few nights I have had high quality sleeps especially last night. I went to bed before 10 pm for the first time in MONTHS. I have never been more focused in my life. I feel amazing and have accomplished so much today.

        But, of course, food plays a HUGE roll and maybe the biggest. I feel so incredibly blessed to have found the PB last year. I have been primal for 1 full year and will never look back. I mean, I am only living how our body was designed to live. Living similar to how we lived for tens of thousands of years. Of course I am going to be more focused and be able to learn more, etc!

        Primal Con in less than 2 days! Woohoo!

      2. What calmness?! hehe

        Ever since going primal (1 year ago) I can’t seem to slow my body down…it wants to move ALL the time when the brain is awake.

        Someone stop the buzz! Wheeeeee…

        1. Haha. I have more energy too but when I want to be calm I can be. I naturally start to feel tired shortly after sunset and am able to fall asleep within 10 minutes and sleep like a baby.

          I can be bouncing around any time I want but its also easy to stay calm. I am able to focus easier.

  1. Yep, me too! Happier, more even keeled, feel stressed less often and when i do feel it, i handled it better.

  2. I haven’t tried to kill my bro since going primal. Of course, legally speaking, I hadn’t before that. (Kidding!)

  3. Love the post. Do you think that damage done from SAD eating are permananent?

    How about damage during brain development (i.e. in utero)?


    1. I personally don’t think so. I am not 100 percent primal yet, but on my way to it, and I am seeing a lot of the problems I used to have fade away. I have not had a true panic attack in over a year, although I am still finding my balance in day to day life. I can tell when I have slipped up and gotten a dose of modern processed foods because I start to slip back into the depression and anxiety that plagued me for years when I was taking advantage of the fast food lifestyle. I also see the difference in my friend who is diagnosed with quick change bi-polar, when he is maintaining a mostly primal lifestyle his symptoms are far more manageable. Based on personal experience I think the damage is repairable, with effort.

    2. I don’t think you can think about it that way. Life is messy. We do the best we can, and we fix something when we know how. Your spirit is the same (I believe) healthy or sick. But probably, yeah, I would think it would do things that can’t be undone to your body.

  4. I gotta say, I have noticed a drastic improvement in my ability to sleep without herbal supplements, or the occasional anti-anxiety I need to take, since going primal. I feel so much more at ease and happier than I ever felt eating the typical “healthy” diet. I am forever grateful I stumbled upon this blog!

  5. I went primal about 3 months before my husband decided to leave me in April 2009 then in the July I lost my father suddenly, my elder brother died in the November, I had to move home 1 week before Christmas, had my dog put to sleep in the January and 2 weeks later watched my mum lose her battle for life. I kept primal (when I was eating that is) as best I could throughout that whole period – it has been hard but my resilience has amazed everyone – never turning to antidepressants or alcohol. With Marks Daily Apple (keeping me company after the children were in bed) and my zest for life (I thank God that I ditched the carbs before all this happened)I have managed to come through all of this smiling and full of energy. Now I know why!!

    1. Wow – Suzie – that sounds like my life two years ago. I wish I had been Primal back then as it may have helped me through all the stress. I’m sorry for all the loss in your life.

      1. Hi and thanks Melissa – by the sounds of it you know what I’m talking about. Primal kept me focused when I needed it. I have read through so many heartwarming stories here that it gives us all hope when times get tough. It really helped me on my journey. Even though you weren’t primal back then, I hope being primal now is helping you with your healing. When life starts to get heavy on my shoulders – me and my other dog take a trip to the woods – an hour uphill walking and the beauty surrounding me normally puts life back in prospective. I’m really enjoying this journey :o)

    2. Wow. Good on you for staying primal during that time of your life, especially considering you had just started, and it was a relatively new change for you.

  6. Yay, Emily! I couldn’t agree more that the type of lifestyle we live around here promotes the best possible brain health. When I ate a SAD diet, dietician diet, or vegan diet I could never seem to pay attention to anything for very long. But no more.

  7. Really enjoyed this article, having guest posters back the knowledge on this site up with new perspectives always fascinates me.

    What I still find nuts is that it looks like more and more evidence points to fasting as a natural, healthy part of living. I never would haves guessed that six months ago.

    Good stuff, thanks for the post.

  8. This is indeed great information supporting what we can for the most part just see and feel with our physical bodies. The one additional factor that I would be interested in is the psychological factors. Dealing with new lifestyle changes, even good ones, can cause some disrutption in our overall psyche. For instance being an alcoholic, as I was, and one day going into a bar having friends wonder why I was not drinking. There is always a story! People who use to eating wildly at parties, or bars with friends may encounter people that laugh or ridicule them due to their new beneficial lifestyle, jealousy can be a wicked tool. It is easy to say that we can just let that roll off the back and move on, but not as easy to accomplish behaviourly without supportive friends or “forum mates” with whom we can commiserate.
    Grok was not only living the life, but trying to figure out what it all meant, developing psychologically; without the use of the internet and organized social events..religion, AA, Biggest Loser or MDA and PB.

    “Groking on” in the Arctic.

    1. Sounds like you need new friends! Finding friends who are in line with your new lifestyle can certainly be challenging! I’m just glad MDA is here to keep me motivated!

  9. Great Article!!

    Primal eating has greatly improved how I feel throughout the day. The first few months of 2011 have been very busy with grad school and work. Some nights I don’t get to sleep until 11 or 11:30 and I am up at 5am. I truly believe that my Primal eating has helped me surf the highs and lows. A few years ago, my current schedule would have sent me into a feeding frenzy of carbs and I would have been unhappy, heavier, and more stressed.

  10. What a great article!

    I love the idea that I can eat fat and it’s good for my brain. It definitely works better as a result.

  11. Great article. I have noticed that since “going primal” I have fewer mood swings and my brain works better for longer. Used to be I could do a high amount of mental activity for a short period of time and then fizzle out. Now it seems to be steadier. I can definitely say primal eating has improved my mood. I tried to be vegetarian once and was very very grumpy. Also nice to know that the brain uses 20% of the body’s energy. People always used to roll their eyes at me when I would say that thinking and learning does burn energy. YAY!

    1. Couldn’t agree more! Waaaaaaay less mood swings for me, and I made it through a winter (in Chicago) without seasonal affective disorder for the first time in my life!

  12. This was enjoyable even though it was long and real smarty. 🙂 I did not know that our brains were fatty tissue, but seeing as how they jiggle it makes sense.

    I don’t follow primal/paleo necessarily, but I do follow slow-carb principles (from the 4 hour body), and I have noticed a lot of the same changes in my own body. Much higher energy, longer-lasting fullness, and even almost no problems with acid reflux.

    It’s nice to see real science confirming what we all believe already. 😉


  13. This is very interesting. I have noticed an increased sense of well-being, clear-headedness, and just overall good-feeling since I’ve changed my way of eating. What’s more, going and having something that is contrary to primal eating causes general crankiness and low energy. It’s fascinating to actually look at and see the physiological reasons for this. Thanks for the guest post, and keep up the interesting content, Mark!

  14. Eating low fat just made me very VERY depressed and my skin looked dreadful to boot. Now I am eating MEAT and salad and my skin has never been so soft and my mood (the exercise probably helps too and ditching the insane job) has never been better. 🙂

  15. My brother has a form of OCD called Dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking). I have been urging him to try going primal for a long time now. He lately has and he (the huge skeptic) has admitted he feels better and less obssessive. I was wondering if there is anyone else with evidence of primal and OCD. Actually, it probably has more to do with negative effects of gluten and grains disturbing the gut which then inhibits brain function. Did I mention he was diagnosed with Crohns disease 4 years before the OCD? Amazing how it all ties in. Well, I think so anyways.

  16. I have noticed a difference in how stressed I get…. I still get anxiety, but I work through it much more quickly and it isn’t as intense.

    When I was in Germany last week I threw Primal to the winds for dinner times (managed to keep Primal for breakfast and lunches mostly) because the bread is amazing, the butter you would not believe, and combined… I was in heaven. Plus there was a distinct lack of vegetables where we were staying. After a few days of this I noticed my mood swings start up again and how shaky I would get if I hadn’t eaten in a few hours…. eating bread and butter was great, but I went right back to being Primal as soon as I got home.

    1. Wow, you must’ve went to the wrong part of Germany.
      In Palatinate you could’ve had unlimited dishes of Liverwurst, Bloodsoup, Boar, Rabbit, Lard, Schnitzel, Rumpsteaks…all with Potato or real egg noodles and a big salad with eggs and bacon.
      OMG, and Liver dumplins, fermented Sauerkraut…and fermented red beet salad…yumm.
      And all with a Stein of Beer =P

  17. I was just telling my husband the other day that I’d been thinking about how horrifically depressed I was in college, and on a vegan diet. There are only two times in my life that I’ve felt depressed to the point of suicidal thoughts, and both coincide with extreme, low-fat, whole-grain centric eating phases. CW says lethargy, distraction, disconnection, etc. are all symptoms of depression, but at least in my case they were all (including the depression itself) symptoms of a low-fat, whole-grain-centric diet.

    Hooray for the PB!

  18. Are there some rough guidelines for how much and what kind of aerobic exercise is good for the brain? I imagine too much aerobic exercise could easily drift into “chronic cardio” and it’s associated problems – but what is the right amount? I ask because I basically just lift weights and sprint, and I wonder if I’m missing out on some brain benefits of an occasional, longer, slower run…

  19. This article is disappointing and terrible! What does “list of things that keep mitochondria happy and promote efficiency and clean energy” mean? Or “mitochondrial ineffiency and general dirty cell-killing, dementia promoting badness?”

    This article is full of statements like these are over-simplified to the point of meaninglessness. To a scientist with the proper background it’s impossible to tell what specifically she’s talking about, and to the lay person they offer no legitimate insight or advice.

    I’m a big fan of Emily Deans blog, and have been following the Primal blueprint for a year and a half but I expect much more from both Mark and Emily.

  20. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is how your mood improves or worsens depending on your diet, and combining that (admittedly anecdotal) observation with the existence of the enteric nervous system. Doesn’t it (again anecdotally) seem that your mood would be linked fairly closely to your food intake? Seems like it would be an easy thing to test…

  21. @EF: When it comes to healthy brain function, it may be more helpful to think in terms of “movement” rather than “exercise”. A subtle difference, I know! Movement is really the key though. Healthy brain function is highly dependent on proprioceptive stimulation that is generated when we move our joints…especially those of the spine. This afferent input to the brain is recognize as an essential ingredient for proper mind-body function and health. Any genetically congruent movement and energy expenditure patterns (such as PBF) are going to be beneficial to the brain. So, you are definitely getting a real benefit when you sprint and lift heavy things…but also if you simply walk or move your joints through their full range of motion…(and avoid sitting too much). There’s no need to go “chronic cardio” to keep your brain happy!

  22. I don’t know much about what kind of research there is out there to support a paleo-lifestyle in terms of brain health. I do know from my own experience that including things like play and exercise into my lifestyle has made me a much more joyful person. I don’t think these are revolutionary findings, however they are certainly important ones.

    It would be nice to see more solid nutritional research to back this evolutionary theory of dieting. The research I have read has been quite unscientific.

  23. This is a great article and I love that it is written by a psychiatrist. Can you comment at all on the negative effects of grains on the brain (as I’ve heard in Robb Wolf podcasts the idea of leaky gut leading to leaky brain, due to grains), and can you also comment on how nutrition professors always teach that we need to eat a diet of 50 – 60% carbs for the brain because that is it’s only source of fuel?

    1. Hi Erica – there is some indirect evidence and animal studies supporting the theory of gluten and wheat proteins being neurotoxic. You don’t actually need a “leaky gut” for this to happen – and irritating the gut can also, most likely, cause stressful cytokine release resulting in mental problems, just as stress can irritate the gut as well.

      As to the brain and glucose – there are certain cells of the brain with tendrils too long and skinny for mitochondria. These parts of cells can only run on glycolysis and need glucose to function. However, the body can readily make glucose from protein via gluconeogenesis. You certainly don’t need 60% carbs in your diet for your brain to work. That said, if your metabolism is healthy (no insulin resistance) I don’t see anything wrong with eating starchy non-gluten carbs like potato or white rice.

  24. This post confirms what I always suspected. I spent so much of my life (before being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes and before going Primal) suffering from mental fogginess, and more recently, frequent memory lapses. I believe my years of carb heavy eating contributed to these symptoms. Since going Primal, the mental ‘fog’ has lifted and my ability to concentrate has improved significantly. Sadly I do still suffer from occasional lapses in memory. Boy I hope that damage is reversible!

  25. I have no doubt that this is valid, and I am trying to wrap my head around eating more organ meats for this very reason. But just going Primal has unexpectedly reduced my anxiety by about 80%.

  26. I also feel much calmer. I used to have anxiety problems when going to bed but now I just drop off to sleep. I also don’t wake up every few hours.

  27. It’s hard to quantify because the Primal lifestyle invokes so many major dietary and lifestyle changes at once. I feel superhuman, does that count? 🙂

  28. Last November I was teetering on the very edge of a nervous breakdown brought on by physical exhaustion, a job I hated, a 3 hour daily commute and a poor lifestyle. I’d stopped excercising and ate processed food. My brain no longer seemed to function, so much so that I couldn’t even work out which light switch to press for which light in my house. I think my mental fuse had blown. As a highly qualified professional person, it was frightening. I sought counselling and one of my strategies was to change my lifestyle.

    I started primal in January, primarily because I found this website and the easy cookbook with photos! I went back to excercise and began to eat this way. Interestingly I was then made redundant, so that sorted out the rubbish job (funny how the universe helps you when you’ve made a decision)! I’m now job hunting for the right job this time and am loving my time off. I’m in no doubt that the primal diet has quite literally saved my mind. I’ve seen colleagues who haven’t been so lucky and gone a different way.

    My mind is slowly and surely becoming more focused and clearer and calmer, possibly helped by some Theanine. The monthly PMT rage has gone and the regular depression/mental slump has gone. The anxiety and panic attacks have gone. I feel mentally 100 times stronger and able to face the world again. I have 100 times more physical energy, but 500 times more mental energy, which is brilliant. All without antidpressants and just a few counselling sessions. Of course the proof will be when I return back to work! But I really think it’s now going to be ok as long as I stick to the 10 principles (plus a daily session of laughing!)

    Many people focus on the physical effects of the primal diet, namely the weight loss. My weight loss have been very slow, but it’s still there and I’m here for the long haul and not a quick fix. I know in a years time my body will look different – I don’t need it to happen overnight. I know I’ve been eating more fruit than I should – and I wondered if maybe my brain needed a bit more energy to heal itself. But after reading this article however, I think I need to be starting with the IF. At the moment my priority is healing my brain, not getting into smaller jeans.

    Thankyou for writing this blog and thankyou Mark for facilitating it. It’s important that we focus on the mental benefits as well as the physical benefits.

  29. Great article, thanks so much. The main thing that stuck in my head was the statement about the brain using as much as 20 PERCENT of our energy. My question is: is it possible to increase my caloric usage (i.e., lose weight) by thinking more? I’m serious!

    1. Yes. It is possible, I believe. The Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky reports that on their match days chess masters burn 6-7,000 calories “just by thinking.” Of course, some of that is just their basic metabolism and much of the rest could be “nerves” etc. rather than the mental effort of calculating moves. Still, it’s definitely possible to increase calories burned without moving your body.

      Here’s his TED talk:

  30. Thanks to all for the interesting post and comments! I love the MDA community. Could I ask a question?

    Generally, since giving up grains and starches, my experience has mirrored other MDA readers: more calmness, more energy, more focus, just more JOY. But….

    If I eat low carb (under 30 grams/day) for more than six or seven days, I experience strange, vague feelings of fear or dread, out of the blue. They go away if I raise my carb intake by eating more vegetables or having a cheat day. What does this mean?

    I read somewhere that when the body isn’t getting glucose from diet it makes its own, and that this process uses or produces adrenalin, which can cause anxiety.

    Is this true? Has anyone else experienced this? Thank you!

    1. Low carb flu? Carbs can also increase intake of tryptophan into the brain (precursor for serotonin) – before things equilibrate there can be some anxiety.

  31. I am happier too, particularly since ditching PUFAs, including nuts. But. I am not necessarily calmer. I was saying in the forums that sometimes I am filled with a kind of righteous indignation that feels like lava flowing up in my body. It feels like some kind of power, not exactly pleasant but not unpleasant. It happens when a powerless person is being mistreated. Sometimes it’s me: it happened when I was being sexually harassed along with other women in the ‘hood, last summer. I finally felt that lava flow one day and let the main perp have it! It worked.

    At my job there are some serious injustices. Recently I called out those perps also. I am going to leave this job soon because of all the problems, but I’m not worried: I think I can find a better one. Before, I probably would have thought that I had to stay at a job I didn’t like because I couldn’t find another one.

  32. Fantastic article. Glad to see the connection between ketogenic diets and dementia getting some press. I’ve spent the last few weeks going through dozens of articles on Pubmed relating to studies conducted on Alzheimer’s patients and the possible correlation between insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia and Alzheimer’s.

    Countless studies have shown dramatic increases in cognitive ability when Alzheimer’s patients are put on a ketogenic diet high in MCTs. The general con-census for this being that people who are insulin resistant have a pour ability to utilize glucose for energy; putting them into a ketogenic state allows for their brain to utilize ketones as a source of energy, restoring some function that was previously inhibited by pour glucose tolerance. I’d love to hear some professionals weigh in on this.

  33. OUTSTANDING post! As an educational psychologist and part-time psychology instructor, I actually teach a unit on primal living, and have my local crossfit coach, Jason Seib, come and speak to my students. This article confirms what I have been telling students in terms of the mind-body connection and the relationship to mental illness symptom mitigation through lifestyle.

    Cheers Mark for bringing in more expertise to confirm what we experience!

  34. As usual, excellent piece. As a regualr reader, my advice to anyone who *isn’t* reading Dr. Deans’ blog is they are missing one of THE best of the best in the ancestral health world.

    Interestingly I came across this “paleo diet assessment” in a WebMD email today.It is good in that it get more word out there and also in that they didn’t go what I’d call crazy-negative in the assessment. However, it is always back to the same-old, same old with claims for the need for grains and the claim that your diet will somehow be deficient producing the need for careful monitoring and supplementation…ARGH..

  35. I have been primal for over a year now and noticed that on my recent trip to Europe, my jet lag was minimal. I figured I was finally getting good at doing things to prevent jetlag, but after reading this, I think the PB lifestyle is more to blame. While there, I made sure I walked a few miles every day and that is a big part of it and is a big part of PB. Thanks Mark for another great one.

  36. Great article – guest writers for the blog is a great idea.

    I love your analogy of the ski lift too. I’m a medical chemistry major and a psychology minor. Fascinating article!

  37. This is exactly what I want to study when I graduate from college… I’d really like to be able to read the original research article. Do you think you could link it or at least name the title and author? I’d love to read further!

  38. I feel like my brain is waking up. I feel so much more focused! The Primal lifestyle has me sailing through my husband’s deployment without depression or anxiety. (I have a history of depression, which is why this is remarkable!)

    1. Sorry, I didn’t mean to put a question mark after sharing but a period. I really did like the article!

  39. Hi Melissa, discovered your blog a few months ago, so I was excited to see you over here on the Daily Apple! Enjoyed the article and am fascinated with the relationship between food and mental health.

    I was wondering what you think of whey protein? I have been reading lately about whey protein fractions and some of their specific effects:

    Attention Span


    Also, Trans-palmitoleic acid from whole milk seems to have excellent anti-inflammatory/cardiovascular effects:

    I would be interested to know more about your take on dairy…

  40. This one is going to my archive for sure. It couldn’t be more concise and, for someone like me who became interested in the human psyche first before human physiology, nutrition, and biomechanics, this is a very nice “round-trip” for me. Everything makes so much sense.
    Bravo. Thanks Emily and Mark for posting this.

  41. Excellent article! I had some pretty horrible depression issues in my early 20’s and I am convinced much of it was related to my diet at the time. Since going Primal, balancing Omega6:0mega3 intake and removing grains my life has literally changed. It improved both my mind and my body.

  42. Who benefits most from the recommendation to each five small meals a day?

    The snack food industry!

    Yes – the Primal lifestyle enables people to be more resourceful and resilient.

  43. I wish there was an unspoken rule here at MDA that all posters inform us of (1) how long they have been living primally and (2) how serious their commitment has been, e.g., on a percentage scale. The problem is that people get very excited by major life changes and that excitement in turn may produce a sense of euphoria and inner peace. This is a wonderful thing, but I think that even a conversion to, say, veganism, or christianity, or islam, etc, no doubt may produce the same feelings of control and peace, at least in the short term. And of course the very reason placebo controls are used in clinical trials is proof of the power of the mind to affect physiology and metabolism in novel situations. If we here are interested in truth rather than dogmatism, then we really need to know how much we can attribute an individual’s positive changes to primal living versus a more general effect of major life changes per se.

    I raise this issue because I have been primal for 2.5 years with a 95% commitment on average, and I too experienced a wonderful sense of peace and strength in the first 10 months or so. Unfortunately, those feelings have been gone for quite some time now and my life-long struggles with depression and anxiety have returned with full force. I am at a rock-bottom low in my life and I must say that it is difficult to even find the strength to post my comment. I am trying very hard not to be a ‘drop-out’ blogger. If other depressives who go primal have similar difficulties then blog comments will be strongly biased towards the fortunate euphorics. Moreover, the comment bias can make those struggling feel, unfairly, like odd-ball outliers and only blame themselves for their problems and make depression all the worse.

    So please read comments with caution (including this one) and in the future let us know how long and how deeply committed you are to primal living. Maybe then we can get a little closer to understanding cause and effect.

    1. I have been Primal for 1 year and 6 weeks.
      I did not change my eating habits because I was vain and just wanted to look good naked.
      My goal was to heal my severe digestive problems and fatique. I tried everything from cardio, starvation, ditching eggs, ditching wheat, eating organic, I even tried vegetarianism…which lasted 4 weeks until I passed out on the toilet.

      I did not know that ALL grains (I ate sesamebread), veggie spread, marmalades, chocolate, ultra-heated milk + all the other garbage the food companies put into packaged (even organic) foods now would cause me such great harm. And I thought I was eating ” healthy”.
      I also had ‘mini heart attacks’ several times a year.

      No more ‘mini heart attacks’due to lack of saturated fats, no more brittle nails and hair, no more digestive problems, no more PMS, no more muscle aches, no more joint pain, soft spots on teeth healed up, teeth are whiter, eyes are brighter, no more slime build up in my throat, no more sinus problems, no more sneezing, no colds ever, no more fatique, no more sugar cravings, no more temper fits and the list goes on.

      I am 99% committed…the 1% is when I get invited to someones house and get ‘healthy organic home-made carrot cake’ offered…for the sake of a couple friendships I have to give in. This does not happen often, maybe 4x a year total.

      Eating primally has not affected any other aspects of my life. I have several other goals in life and I’m looking forward to achieving all of them. I needed my health to do all those other things and I’ve achieved that to where nothing else stands in my way now.

    2. And…sorry I forgot to make the most important point of my post…I have no chance of going back to my old eating habits because even 1 slice of that carrot cake or 1 slice of pizza or 2 slices of bread plug me up so bad that I’m miserable, bloated, have hard stools and be constipated for 2 weeks…it’s that bad. This ‘Diet’ was the cure for all my health problems.

  44. My brain is defo loving the new high fat way of eating. I too used to suffer from brain fog, poor motivation, lethargy, a habit of feeling like I just wanted to fall asleep all the time. Added to that I had to eat really regularly or I would feel sick and shaky and have weird palpitations. I feel really focussed now. I used to need ten hours of sleep a night at least. I got up at 8am today and went to the gym. I was also focussed enough to go to the supermarket after. My head is so clear that I can deal with being a bit tired when that happens. I seriously think I may have been heading for some sort of insulin issue, maybe even headed for type II who knows. My Mum gets the low blood sugar thing as well. I no longer get it since being primal. Low carb helped but primal was the key.

  45. I find it very worrying that so many people are trying to lose weight by going on a low fat diet. No wonder there are so many brain-related diseases on the increase such as Alzheimer’s and Autism.