This graph shows recent results from the test I used to track my brain function. The test is a choice reaction task done on my laptop: see a digit (e.g.,”2″), press the corresponding key as fast as possible. The x axis shows the time of the test. The ticks (“Sat”, etc.) mark the beginning of the associated days. The y axis shows the average percentile of the reaction times. Higher percentile = faster. (Let me explain what “percentile” means: Each reaction time is compared to earlier reaction times with the same stimulus, and its percentile is computed. For example, a percentile of 60 means that 60% of previous responses were slower.) An average of 60 is quite good and 40 is quite bad. I usually do two tests per day, one right after the other, in the late afternoon (e.g., 4:30 pm). (more…)
Archive for the 'nutrition' Category
- Benefits of yacon syrup
- MIT & Aaron Swartz
- A job search in the English Department at UC Riverside
- Watch out for iron overload. You may be eating too much iron.
- Scoliosis successfully treated without surgery. “Surgery was recommended as the only option to help her recover.”
This graph shows my brain test reaction times over roughly one year. Each point is a different test; I usually do two tests per day back to back. I assume faster = better. In February 2013 I returned to Berkeley from Beijing. In August 2013 I went back to Beijing. When I returned to Berkeley, my scores got worse (slower). I was shocked. Surely Berkeley is healthier than Beijing. At first I thought it was jet lag, but the scores stayed worse long after that made sense. Then I thought it might be some difference in diet, even though I eat similar food in the two places. I tried to make my Berkeley diet closer to my Beijing diet. This might have helped. I noticed accidentally that chocolate improved my score and started eating chocolate frequently. This artificially reduced the difference since in Beijing I had not been eating chocolate. In Berkeley I started doing two things I hadn’t done in Beijing: alternate-day fasting and whole-body vibration. I don’t know if they made a difference. When I returned to Beijing in September, my scores got better, even though I was not eating chocolate. Eventually I improved my sleep in Beijing but that seemed to make little difference. The comparison is far from perfect — many things varied — but by and large my scores got worse when I went from Beijing to Berkeley and improved when I went from Berkeley to Beijing.
What might have caused this? There are a hundred possibilities but one stands out. In both places, I brew and drink several cups of tea every day. In Beijing, everyone, including me, drinks water from big plastic bottles that are delivered to your house. You can choose pure water or “mineral” water, which has added magnesium and potassium. In Berkeley I use tap water (Brita filtered). I don’t think potassium affects brain function — for example, eating bananas makes no difference — but there is plenty of evidence that magnesium improves brain function. In Beijing I had tested a magnesium supplement and found no effect, consistent with the idea that I was already getting enough. Magnesium is also believed to improve sleep. In Beijing I seemed to sleep better than in Berkeley. Again, this is consistent with a difference in magnesium levels (more in Beijing). If ordinary magnesium-enriched water improves brain function, it would be significant because it is so easy, in contrast to other ways of increasing magnesium levels.
Six years ago I started using a reaction-time (RT) test (a test where you press a key in response to something as fast as possible) to track my brain function. I took the test daily. It must use only a small part of the brain but I assumed that something that made me faster would probably improve overall brain function. Behind this belief, which I call better RT, better brain, were countless studies of brain anatomy and physiology, which had shown that neurons and glial cells all over the brain share many features. Cells in different parts of the brain are much more alike than different. More support for this assumption was that certain doses of flaxseed oil improved both RT and other measures of brain function, such as balance.
I also assumed that changes that improved RT would probably improve overall health — what I call the better RT, better body assumption. It was less plausible than the better RT, better brain assumption because the cells in different organs of the body differ so much. They have many similarities but also many differences. I believed it for two reasons. (a) Flaxseed oil not only improved several measures of brain function, it improved my gums, no doubt because it reduced inflammation. It had been far from obvious that improving gums was so easy or that flaxseed oil (in the right dosage) would do so. The assumption better RT, better body had made a surprising prediction, you could say, that turned out to be true. (b) The brain gets much the same blood as the rest of the body. (Not exactly the same, because of the blood-brain barrier.) In the same way, all plug-in electrical appliances use the same house current. Just as all appliances have been designed to work well with that current, all our organs should have been shaped by evolution to work well with same mix of nutrients. You can’t feed your brain differently than your heart.
When I discovered that butter improved RT, the better RT, better body assumption made a second even more surprising prediction: Eating more butter improved my health. This contradicted the claims of all mainstream health experts, who say saturated fats cause heart disease. I stuck with my assumption — I still eat a lot of butter. The data I’ve seen since then has supported my conclusion. For example, my Agatston score got better, not worse, after a year of eating lots of butter. The Agatston score is currently the best predictor of heart disease.
I recently found more support for the better RT, better body assumption. Several studies have found that RT is a good predictor of health (better RT, better health). Even more impressive, it is a better predictor than many of the predictors we already know of. The RT test used in these studies is close to the test I now use, which I developed independently. The RT test in these studies involves showing a digit (0-4), after which the subject presses one of five keys (labelled 0-4) as fast as possible. My current RT test is very similar but uses 7 digits instead of 5.
A 2005 study looked at the oft-reported correlation between higher IQ and lower mortality. The IQs and RTs of about 900 persons were measured in 1988. Deaths until 2002 were noted. RT was associated with lower mortality, even after taking out associations with smoking, education and social class. RT and IQ are correlated (better RT, higher IQ). When the RT-death association was removed, IQ no longer predicted death. So RT does a good job of capturing whatever it is about IQ that predicts mortality.
A 2009 study compared RT to more conventional health predictors (“risk factors”). About 7,000 subjects were followed from 1984 to 2005. RT in 1984 was a good predictor of all-cause mortality compared to classic risk factors. Smoking was by far the best predictor, followed by RT. RT was a better predictor than physical activity, blood pressure, a questionnaire measuring “psychological distress”, resting heart rate, waist/hip ratio, alcohol intake, and body mass index.
A third study, based on the same subjects as the 2009 study, found that amount of decline (slowing) in RT (from one test to a second test seven years later) predicted death. People with more decline were more likely to die.
All this supports studying how your RT is controlled by your environment, especially what you eat. You have to choose wisely what to study. The point is not to be as fast as possible regardless of everything else. Lots of drugs (stimulants, such as caffeine) decrease RT for short periods of time. I doubt they improve health. (If they harm sleep, they probably worsen health.) What makes sense is to look for two things: 1. Poisons. Things that slow you down. I discovered that tofu did so. I gave several reasons for thinking that tofu affects many people this way, not just me. Billions of people eat tofu, unaware of this possibility. 2. Deficiencies. Study things that are missing from your life now but were likely to be present when we evolved. It is quite plausible that our ancient ancestors ate more omega-3 (in fish, but also in flaxseed) and more animal fat (from big animals, but also in butter) than we do now. My data suggest omega-3 and animal fat are nutrients necessary for health whose importance mainstream nutrition researchers have not fully appreciated.
My RT data have shown me there’s a lot I didn’t/don’t know about how my food affects me. Maybe everyone can say that. Unlike almost anyone else, however, I can reduce my ignorance myself. I don’t need to rely on experts.
After I posted that tofu made me stupid — made me slower on a reaction-time test — a reader named Ann, who lives in Florida, said she had discovered that her migraine headaches were caused by soy. How she discovered this:
I was 49 years old and in that hot flashes stage of life, had read that soy could help alleviate them and tried a soy capsule not at a meal, immediately noticed sinus pressure and itchiness.
So I started reading all labels and eliminated soy from my diet and my migraines and sinus headaches went away! The hot flashes eventually went away on their own. I was losing whole days every month to the migraines. Every now and then the soy sneaks in at a restaurant but not as bad as before. Whenever anyone says they have migraines I always suggest looking at soy. Regretfully my daughter has the same issue, but she has way fewer headaches after eliminating soy.
I used to blame a lot of my headaches on allergies, never thinking it could be something I was eating. At age 60 now, my cholesterol numbers are excellent and I weigh 122 pounds when so many of my friends are overweight.
I asked how long it had taken to discover this.
I had been having migraines for years, 10-20, but in the mid 90s they got worse (could have coincided with more soy in food). Saw a doctor but he just prescribed imitrex which helped but did not prevent them. He never suggested looking for a food cause. It was dumb luck or divine intervention that I tried that soy capsule in 2001 or 2002. I am often amazed at how much better I feel health wise since then. Since soy is in so much processed food my diet is very basic “real” food. Raw fruits and veggies, plain nuts, fresh meat, real cheese, eggs, yogurt, any desserts I make from scratch with real butter. I’m always excited when I find a cracker that doesn’t have soy since that’s usually my bread substitute.
Let me repeat part of that: A doctor she saw because of migrains did not suggest trying to find an environmental cause. The same thing happened to a woman I wrote about for Boing Boing. Her doctor just prescribed one drug after another. Her migraines turned out to be caused by cleaning products. Not knowing that migraines often have environmental causes is like not knowing the germ theory of disease.
Few soy eaters realize the dangers of soy, as far as I can tell. I wrote to one of them, Virginia Messina, a nutritionist who has said “there is no reason to believe that eating soyfoods is harmful to brain aging.” She has not replied.
A long list of possible migraine triggers (from the UC Berkeley health service) does not list soy, although it does mention soy sauce. It says soy milk should be safe. In a 2006 interview, one headache doctor recommended avoiding all soy. In the comments to this, a woman says:
SOY is the biggest trigger for my migraines. For years I suffered daily from migraines but after watching EVERYTHING I eat and reading all labels and avoiding SOY as best I can I am doing better. The biggest problem is that SOY is in everything!!!! I think one day they will find out how bad it is for us.
Imagine that. Putting something that damages the brain in everything.
I’ve been testing my brain function daily for the last six years. I use a reaction-time test (see digit, type digit as fast as possible) that takes about five minutes. I have gradually improved the test over the years — this is about version 8. One reason for this testing is that I might observe a sudden change. That could suggest a new factor that affects brain function — whatever was unusual before the change (e.g., a new food). This is how I discovered the effect of butter. My score suddenly improved, I investigated. Another sudden change (improvement) happened soon after I switched from Chinese flaxseed oil to American flaxseed oil. I hadn’t realized that something was wrong with the Chinese flaxseed oil. I started brain tracking after I noticed a sudden improvement in balance the morning after I swallowed about five flaxseed oil capsules. Millions of people had taken flaxseed oil capsules, but no one, it seemed, had noticed the balance improvement. Maybe other big changes in brain function go unnoticed, I thought.
- No correlation between omega-3 levels and cognitive function. I found strong effects of flaxseed oil (high in omega-3) in experiments, so this finding doesn’t worry me. Maybe the measures of cognitive function in this study depended on too many things they didn’t measure or control.
- Does methanol cause multiple sclerosis? Woodrow Monte makes a good case. “In the 1940s, . . . the National Multiple Sclerosis Society found the incidence of the disease to be virtually equally distributed between the sexes. . . . The real sea change in the incidence of MS in women did not come until after the introduction of a brand new methanol source . . . a can of diet soda sweetened with aspartame has up to four times the amount of methanol as a can of green beans. . . . At the 59th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Boston on April 26, 2007
- Honey in human evolution. “Upper Paleolithic (8,000 – 40,000 years ago) rock art from all around the world depicts early humans collecting honey. . . . .The Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania list honey as their number one preferred food item.”
- What one climate scientist really thinks about Michael Mann. “MBH98 [Mann et al.] was not an example of someone using a technique with flaws and then as he [Mann] learned better techniques he moved on… He fought like a dog to discredit and argue with those on the other side that his method was not flawed. And in the end he never admitted that the entire method was a mistake. Saying “I was wrong but when done right it gives close to the same answer” is no excuse. He never even said that . . . They used a brand new statistical technique that they made up and that there was no rationalization in the literature for using it. They got results which were against the traditional scientific communities view on the matters and instead of re-evaluating and checking whether the traditional statistics were [still] valid [in this unusual case] (which they weren’t), they went on and produced another one a year later. They then let this HS [hockey stick] be used in every way possible . . . despite knowing the stats behind it weren’t rock solid.” Smart people still fail to grasp the weakness of the evidence. Elon Musk, the engineer, recently blogged, responding to Tesla fires, that Tesla development must happen as fast as possible because if delayed “it will . . . increase the risk of global climate change.”
Thanks to Dave Lull, Stuart King and Joe Nemetz.
Most days I wake up feeling more tired than when I went to bed the night before, however I find that if I take up to a tablespoon [15 ml] of raw honey immediately before bed I almost always wake up feeling totally refreshed. I’ve suffered from low energy, brain fog, fatigue and sore muscles for years. I tried eliminating food groups (dairy, grains, nightshades, etc) but that didn’t fix the problems (although wheat has been problematic) but taking the honey did. I usually sleep without any problems that I’m aware of — even if I awaken feeling unrefreshed I will still sleep through the night and won’t awaken early or whatever, but the crucial thing is I feel rested when I wake up, if I get that right I can even eat bad food and feel good all day. I tried coconut oil and coconut oil combined with honey but they didn’t work.
I hadn’t heard that before. I searched “health benefits of honey” but didn’t find it. A Wikipedia entry about the health benefits of honey doesn’t mention it. In China, many people think honey is a health food, yet a Chinese friend of mine, who eats honey daily, hadn’t heard this. The uses of honey in Traditional Chinese Medicine lie elsewhere. Honey as sleep aid is briefly mentioned (with a question mark: “Key to a restful night’s sleep?”) in The Honey Prescription (2010).
Many say or assume something quite different. According to Dr. Mercola, to sleep well “avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars”. A Huffington Post writer says, “You already know which edibles to avoid before bedtime — namely, alcohol, coffee and sugary desserts.” Honey is half fructose, which UCSF professor of pediatrics Robert Lustig calls “poison”. Lustig says fructose is “one of the most egregious [= worst] components of the western diet, directly contributing to heart disease and diabetes, and associated with cancer and dementia.” John Yudkin, a well-known nutrition professor, wrote books about the harm done by sucrose. He considered fructose even worse. Nutrition researchers rarely study time of day effects. For example, nutritional epidemiologists ask what you’ve eaten but don’t ask when.
I found a bit of evidence supporting what Stuart found — namely, two comments here:
Just started honey and vinegar hot drink 2 weeks ago. Am amazed at the increased quality of sleep and relief of night time pain. Thought I was imagining it so did not have my drink one night. Didn’t sleep and was racked with pain again all night. . . [my recipe:] 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar and 1 tbsp honey with 1 cup hot water.
Honey knocks me out and I actually wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day–amazing. I’ve been using the honey for a few months now. The difference has been “night and day!”
I asked Stuart how he discovered that honey improved his sleep. He replied:
I read something that Tim Ferriss said about having a small snack before bed [Ferriss advises protein and fat, not honey -- Seth], I think he mentioned that unrefreshed sleep was due to low blood sugar. At the time I was doing carb back loading (I’ve since stopped that as carb restriction gave me problems). I would have a snack before bed but it didn’t always work. I think the small fructose amount in honey was what helped, starches didn’t always help. I did some research and came across your blog and Dave Asprey’s blogs on sleep, Dave mentioned raw honey. He encouraged people to take MCT oil with the honey to stay ketogenic, I tried coconut oil with the honey instead but it didn’t work. If anything it made my sleep worse with stomach cramps. I think there is an amount where benefits end, I think anywhere between a teaspoon or a tablespoon is about right. . . . The first time I did it I couldn’t believe it, I felt so good the next day.
He added later:
I have noticed that if I eat a lot of sugar during the day (soft drinks, desserts and so forth) then I don’t feel refreshed [when I wake up] regardless of the honey. Perhaps there’s something about honey that helps regulate blood sugar. I think it works better on an empty stomach/lightly fasted. So if you had dinner at 7 pm you might not eat anything after and take the honey at 9 or 10. In the past I’ve had a late dinner then maybe some dessert or fruit in the following hours, then added the honey just after and I don’t think it worked as well. When I first tried it I used commercially available heated honey and it worked great. I’ve tried 2 tablespoons, but I don’t think that worked any better than one and sometimes as little as 1 teaspoon is enough.
In summary, three people reported great improvement in sleep from honey at bedtime. Stuart found several other things: 1. If he ate a lot of sugar during the day, the effect went away. 2. Other carbs didn’t work. 3. An empty stomach was important. 4. Effective doses ranged from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.
I believe Stuart has discovered something very important. My belief rests on several things:
1. Repetition. I started eating honey (1 tablespoon) at bedtime. My sleep (much better than Stuart’s to begin with) clearly improved, even with 1 teaspoon. I felt more rested when I awoke and more rested throughout the day. The improvement happened night after night. One evening I didn’t eat the honey on an empty stomach. The improvement didn’t happen, just as Stuart would have predicted. I told a friend about it. He took 1 tablespoon at bedtime. His sleep immediately improved by a large amount. He stopped waking up in the middle of the night and stopped needing a nap in the afternoon. Another friend has tried it once (so far). “When I woke up the next morning,” she wrote, “I’d realised I’d slept all the way through the night without waking up in the early morning (a nice change) but had a terrible case of the jitters (a not-so-nice change).” A third friend tried it twice. She slept better the first night but not the second. Maybe she failed to eat it on an empty stomach or had too many sweets during the day.
2. Strength increase. As soon as I started the honey, I got stronger — a complete surprise. For years I have done one-legged standing to exhaustion several times per day because it improves my sleep. To reach exhaustion sooner, I stand on one bent leg. Recently I’ve been doing it four times per day (right leg twice, left leg twice). For a year, I’ve averaged about 3 minutes to exhaustion. After I started the honey, the length of time until exhaustion quickly increased. Here are the measurements:
Each point is a different day; each is the average of the two durations for the first right and first left leg standing of the day. The 2013 tick marks the start of 2013. Nothing changed except the honey. The strength increase was also clear in other ways. In Beijing, I live on the sixth floor of a walk up. It became noticeably easier to climb the six flights of stairs.
The strength increase astonished me. The dietary change was tiny, did not happen before exercise, and involved a safe widely-available food (in contrast to the drugs athletes use, such as steroids). I believe better sleep increased muscle growth. I predict that taking the honey at other times, such as in the morning, would not have the same effect. My earlier observations that lots of standing and one-legged standing improve sleep make more plausible causality in the opposite direction: something that improves sleep will increase muscle growth.
When I described my strength increase to Stuart, he replied:
I have noticed that when I do the honey, my weight goes up over the next week or two, perhaps by 400-500 grams [yet] my waist doesn’t increase (I measure it with a tape measure) even after a few weeks. I also have been sure that I noticed rapid muscular growth around my chest, shoulders and arms, similar to what I have noticed when going hard at the gym after a few months off. I kind of assumed that maybe I had more stored muscle glycogen from the honey, but had also considered that improved sleep as you said was the reason.
3. Evolutionary explanation. It has been a mystery why evolution shaped us to like sweetness so much. Israel Ramirez (whose research led to the Shangri-La Diet) pointed out that the usual explanation (sugar is a source of energy) makes no sense. If it’s because sugars provide energy, why don’t potatoes and rice taste just as good? They don’t. Nutritionists lump sugars with other carbohydrates, thereby ignoring the puzzle. No anti-sugar advocate — not Yudkin, Lustig or anyone else — has provided a good explanation of why evolution shaped us to like the taste of a “poison”.
There are several related puzzles. Why are meals divided into main course and dessert? In other words, why do we eat the sweet part separate and later? If we like sugars because they provide energy, this makes no sense. If sugars are simply carbs, this makes no sense — we eat plenty of carbs during the main course. The separation of dessert and main course, if it reflects brain mechanisms, must mean that sugars are quite different than other carbs. Somehow we benefit from this division. A few people, in particular Elizabeth Capaldi, an experimental psychologist, have figured out that sweet food tastes worse if we are hungry (enough). This is why dessert comes after the rest of the meal. Yet other carbohydrates do not taste worse. Stuart pointed out something else along these lines, which I had not heard before but which is clearly true: We eat dessert much more after dinner than after lunch.
Stuart’s observations explain these mysteries. All four observations (liking for sweetness, separation of main course and dessert, sweet things taste bad when hungry, dessert after dinner but not lunch) make sense if we have evolved mechanisms to push us to eat sweet foods near bedtime. Long ago, these foods would have mainly been fruit. Because sleep is so important for health, there would be powerful selection for anything that improved sleep.
4. Basic physiology. The brain runs on glucose. In my brain tests, sugar drinks, cupcakes, and other sugar-rich foods make an obvious difference 30 minutes to 2 hours later. (I get faster.) And the brain controls sleep, an enormously complicated and time-sensitive process. Too little blood sugar during sleep could easily disrupt sleep.
5. Basic nutrition. Honey is half glucose, half fructose. When you eat it, the glucose enters the blood quickly and would supply glucose to the brain in the first half of the night. In contrast, the fructose turns into glucose and enters the blood slowly (fructose has a low glycemic index). This would supply glucose to the brain in the second half of the night. Many fruits, such as bananas, figs, and grapes, have a similar composition (similar amounts of fructose and glucose). Most fruits have plenty of fructose and glucose. A 50/50 glucose/fructose mixture makes honey near the start of sleep a good source of blood glucose over an extended period without food. Notice that you need both — glucose and fructose — in roughly equal amounts to get a roughly steady supply over six or seven hours.
6. Basic engineering. When you are asleep, there can be no “course correction”. You must subsist for the next six or so hours without any behavioral help, such as drinking water when thirsty. So it makes design sense to do something shortly before sleep that will provide a relatively steady supply of glucose throughout the night (“time-release”). That won’t be a lot of glucose at once. You need a food that is a mix of sugars.
7. Support for general idea. A few weeks ago a woman told me that when she ate very low-carb her sleep suffered, so she ate more carbs and her sleep got better. This supports the general idea behind what Stuart found — that the brain needs a certain amount of glucose to work well during sleep and it is best if it gets at least some of it from carbohydrate.
8. Explanation of correlation of sugar and bad health. Why is sugar consumption often correlated with poor health? This is easy to explain: sugar at the wrong time is the problem. Too much sugar during the day interferes with the bedtime benefit (and may also interfere with sleep in general). Stuart found exactly this: Eating lots of sugary foods during the day disturbed his sleep and eliminated the honey effect (“if I eat a lot of sugar during the day . . . then I don’t feel refreshed [when I wake up] regardless of the honey”). Too much sugar during the day could make it harder to get optimal glucose levels during the night. For example, too much sugar during the day might raise insulin levels, causing too-low blood sugar at night and/or causing a fructose/glucose mixture eaten at bedtime to be digested too quickly. Anything that harms sleep will increase disease. Good health, good sleep and good immune function are closely connected. An example of the evidence is that shift workers get more cancer than non-shift workers.
9. Reichenbach’s Common Cause Principle, in my paraphrase, is lightning doesn’t strike twice in one place for different reasons. If two rare events might have the same cause, they probably do. In this case, lightning has struck three times in one place. 1. Huge sleep improvement from tiny dietary change. 2. Huge strength improvement from tiny dietary change far from time of exercise. 3. Evolutionary explanation of why sugars taste good, why dessert exists and follows the main course, and so on. Before this, no one has come close to a plausible evolutionary explanation. The absence of an explanation is remarkable because two of the phenomena — sweetness tastes good, sweets are eaten separately after the rest of the meal — are so obvious.
I believe Stuart’s discovery is important for two other reasons that might not impress anyone else. One is similarities with my earlier work. First, I’ve found other “cross-over” interactions with time of day, where something helpful at one time is harmful at another time. Vitamin D in the morning improves sleep, Vitamin D at night harms sleep. Morning faces improve mood, evening faces harm mood. Second, wondering why we like sour, umami and complex flavors was the first thing to suggest to me that we need to eat plenty of fermented food to be healthy. Many facts later, I’m sure this is true. Finally, evolutionary reasoning has helped me find several new experimental effects (morning faces, Shangri-La Diet, flaxseed oil, standing and sleep).
Finally, Stuart’s discovery explains something puzzling I’d noticed repeatedly for years. Now and then I slept unusually well. I’d wonder why — how was yesterday different from usual? — and see that the only unusual thing was that I’d had dinner at a friend’s house. At the times, I guessed that seeing faces in the evening was somehow improving my sleep. This did not make sense in terms of my morning faces work, but a connection between social contact and sleep was well-established. Now I realize that dinner at a friend’s house is one of the few times I eat dessert. A friend told me that when his partner has dinner parties, she serves dessert long after the main course.
This report suggests that different honeys may differ in important ways.
I told a Dutch friend about this. She said it was common in Holland to have milk and honey at bedtime, although she herself didn’t do this. I asked why. No clear reason, she said. An excuse to have something sweet? Could this be why the Dutch are so tall? Children grow when asleep. Better sleep, more growth. My strength increase suggests what a big effect this could be.
Here is a graph (source) of the omega-3 and omega-6 content of common foods. Although walnuts are relatively high in omega-3, they are much higher in omega-6. This may be why eating them reduced the performance of my lab assistants on a brain test.
When I’m in China, I eat 60 g/day of ground flaxseed. According to this graph, this provides 1.2 g/day omega-3, far more than I would get from any ordinary diet. For example, eating lots of fish would provide much less. I chose this amount based on balance and brain speed results. Flaxseed is hard to get in Beijing. Surely I am the biggest consumer in the China. I am pretty sure I am the only person ever to have optimized my intake. The best amount turned out to be surprisingly high. ”We recommend one to two tablespoons [per day],” says a website that sells flaxseed. High consumption of omega-3 should protect me against bad effects of omega-6. For example, when I eat peanuts (high in omega-6), my brain test scores don’t change.
Experts say flaxseed is a poor source of omega-3 because it provides short-chain omega-3 whereas the brain needs long-chain omega-3. My results — plenty of brain benefit from flaxseed — suggest this is wrong. The experiments that measured short-chain-to-long-chain conversion did not take account of the effect of experience on enzyme production. If you eat more of a certain food, your body will produce more of the enzymes that digest it. The subjects in the conversion experiments may have had little experience. If your long-chain omega-3 supply is limited by what enzymes can produce, you will get a steadier supply of long-chain omega-3 from enzymatic production than you will from eating the same amount all at once. For this reason dietary short-chain omega-3 could easily be a better source of long-chain omega-3 than dietary long-chain omega-3 itself.
- blood levels of omega-3 correlated with children’s behavior. “Many, if not most UK children, probably aren’t getting enough of the long-chain Omega-3 we all need for a healthy brain, heart and immune system.”
- “Chemical brain drain”. See the comment about Dursban.
- The back pain of a friend of mine, which had lasted 20 years and was getting worse, went away when he followed this doctor‘s advice.
- Appreciation of Jane Jacobs
Thanks to Alex Chernavsky and Dave Lull.
In a study to be released Tuesday, participants with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had slightly smaller brains and scored lower on memory and cognitive tests than people with higher blood levels of omega-3s. The changes [that is, the differences] in the brain were equivalent to about two years of normal brain aging, says the study’s lead author.
As this article recommends, I used to eat plenty of fish. But I still noticed a dramatic improvement in my balance and cognitive abilities when I started taking flaxseed oil. The best amount seemed to be 2-3 tablespoons/day. Fish wasn’t supplying close to the optimum amount of omega-3. One comment on the article was
The only proper response to this article should be, “Duh.”
I disagree. A better response is to ask How much room for improvement is there?
Probiotic fermenting bacteria only work in the upper part of the gut, not in the colon. The anaerobic bacteria that work in the colon must be slowly acquired by persistent eating of diverse veggies to provide diverse polysaccharides and uncooked veggies to provide the bacteria.
I agree and disagree. It’s an excellent point that the bacteria near the stomach are quite different from the bacteria deep in the colon. So you need different sources of each. I don’t know what “probiotic fermenting bacteria” are (I was under the impression that all bacteria “ferment”), but, yeah, bacteria that live on lactose (e.g., in yogurt) are going to be quite different than bacteria that live on more complex sugars that are digested more slowly than lactose and thus pass further into the intestine.
To me, this explains why I like vegetables. I have no trouble avoiding fruit, bread, rice, pasta, and so on, but I hate meals without vegetables. Why? This line of thought suggests it is because they supply complex polysaccharides needed for deep-colon health. As Ayers implies, you wouldn’t need a lot. This line of thought suggests how you or nutrition scientists can decide what fermented foods to eat (some for each part of the digestive system).
I disagree about raw vegetables. Like most people, I don’t like raw vegetables. I like the crunchiness but the taste is too weak. That most people are like me is suggested by the fact that raw vegetables are almost never eaten without dip or dressing (which add fat and flavor) or something done to make them more palatable (e.g., sugar and liquid from tomatoes). If raw vegetables were important, even necessary, for health, the fact that they are hard to eat would make no evolutionary sense.
I do like pickled/fermented vegetables of all sorts, such as kimchi and sauerkraut. I believe they are a far better source of the bacteria you need than raw vegetables (they have far more of the bacteria that grow on raw vegetables than ordinary raw vegetables).
An article in the latest Nutrition Journal says that a “proprietary” extract of chicken meat, called CMI-168, improved brain function. From the abstract:
Normal, healthy subjects were supplemented with either placebo or CMI-168 for 6 weeks. The subjects were given a series of cognitive tests to examine their levels of cognitive functioning at the beginning and end of supplementation, as well as two weeks after termination of supplementation. The combination of these tests, namely Digit Span Backwards, Letter-Number Sequencing, and the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), was used to assess the subjects’ attention and working memory. . . . Subjects supplemented with CMI-168 showed significantly (p < 0.01) better performance in all cognitive tests after 6 weeks’ supplementation compared to [placebo] and [their] superior performance was maintained even 2 weeks after termination of supplementation.
This is the first time I’ve heard that something in chicken improves brain function. The abstract understates the strength of the evidence; p < 0.001 (not 0.01) in almost all relevant comparisons.
However, several details make me question the claim. (more…)
In a review of Anna Reid’s new book, Leningrad: Tragedy of a City Under Siege, I learned that one of the calorie sources that starving Leningraders came to eat was:
‘macaroni’ made from flax seed for cattle
To which I say: Damn. The implication is that, before the famine, “flax seed for cattle”, which is roughly the same as flax seed, was considered unfit for human consumption. Only when starving did Leningraders stoop to eat it. I can buy flax seed in Beijing. But not easily.
The triangle is complete. I have now learned that the main things I care about in my diet, which I go to great lengths to eat every day, are all considered “disgusting” by a large number of people:
1. Flax seed. It is the best source of omega-3 I have found. I eat ground flax seeds every day. Flaxseed oil goes bad too easily.
2. Butter. Perhaps the most reviled food in America, at least by nutritionists. A cardiologist once told me, “You’re killing yourself” by eating it.
3. Fermented foods. Many fermented foods are considered disgusting — after all, they are little different than spoiled foods.
- The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education (1998). Aaron Swartz was greatly influenced by this book.
- High-carb versus low-carb diet difference influences memory. There were a thousand differences between the diet called high-carb and the diet called low-carb, don’t take seriously the idea that the crucial difference is the carbohydrate difference. That’s just one possibility. The main thing to learn from this study is that your memory is affected by what you eat.
- Climate models predict poorly. “Christy said he believes the models overestimate warming because of the way they handle clouds.” I have said for a long time that too much faith has been put in climate models, which have not been shown to predict correctly.
- Experts and guidebook say toxic plant is edible. Someone who trusted the guidebook died.
Thanks to Jeff Winkler and Tom George.
After I posted a link to an article about magnesium deficiency (“50 studies suggest that magnesium deficiency is killing us”), a reader who wishes to be anonymous looked into it.
After reading your post about magnesium oil, I read up on it, and thought I’d try it. I didn’t notice any difference, but I have a report. In my reading, I came across stories of people who sprayed the oil on wounds.
I have a recurring minor irritation that, when it occurs, usually takes weeks to heal. Passing a large stool can cause small tears in the rectum, so small they don’t even bleed but nonetheless can be felt. If another stool, even a regular-sized one, passes before the tears heal, they are painfully re-opened, though not re-opened fully. The pain is not severe but is, frankly, a pain in the ***. In my case it usually takes weeks for the tears to completely heal.
I was a couple weeks into this cycle when my bottle of magnesium oil arrived. I had read that it promotes healing and some people spray it on wounds. So I sprayed it on my irritated area once a day for three days, and on the third day when I passed a stool there was no pain! Never before had it healed so quickly, and I’ve had this problem at least once a year for over ten years.
I’m impressed. This resembles a theory making an unlikely prediction that turns out to be true. Other examples of magnesium benefits are here and here. Maybe magnesium will improve my sleep. That should be easy to test.
Grass-fed beef is better than ordinary (grain-fed) beef because it has a better omega-3/omega-6 ratio. I’ve heard this a thousand times. It’s true. Grass has more omega-3 than grain, which is high in omega-6. But it is misleading. For practical purposes, grass-fed and grain-fed beef are the same in terms of omega-3 and omega-6.
Peter Ballerstedt made this point in his talk at the recent Ancestral Health Symposium. He showed this slide, based on research by Susan Burkett.
This shows the amount of omega-3 and omega-6 in one serving of various foods. The amounts in grass- and grain-fed beef are small relative to other foods most people eat. People who have said eat grass-fed beef, such as Michael Pollan, should have been saying eat less chicken. When I started eating grass-fed instead of grain-fed beef, I noticed no differences, which agrees with this analysis.
Vitamin D and Cholesterol: The Importance of the Sun (2009) by David Grimes, a British doctor, contains more than a hundred graphs and tables. Most of the book is about heart disease. Grimes argues that a great deal of heart disease is due to too little Vitamin D, usually due to too little sunlight. I recently blogged about other work by Dr. Grimes — about the rise and fall of heart disease.
Part of the book is about problems with the cholesterol hypothesis (high cholesterol causes heart disease). One study found that in men aged 56-65, there was no relationship between death rate and cholesterol level over the next thirty years, during which almost all of them died (Figure 29.2). There is a positive correlation between death rate and cholesterol level for younger men (aged 31-39). The same pattern is seen with women, except that women 60 years or older show the “wrong” correlation: women in the lowest quartile of cholesterol level have by far the highest death rate (Figure 29.5). A female friend of mine in England, who is almost 60, was recently told by her doctor that her cholesterol is dangerously high.
The book was inspired by Grimes’ discovery of a correlation between latitude and heart disease: People who lived further north had more heart disease. This association is clear in the UK, for example (Figure 32.4). Controlling for latitude, he found a correlation between hours of sunshine and heart disease rate (Table 32.3): Towns with more sunshine had less heart disease. No doubt you’ve heard that dietary fat causes heart disease. In the famous Seven Countries study, there was indeed a strong correlation between percent calories from fat and heart disease death rate (Figure 30.2). You haven’t heard that in the same study there was a strong correlation between latitude and dietary fat intake (Figure 30.8): People in the north ate more fat than people in the south. The fat-heart disease correlation in that study could easily be due to a connection between latitude and heart disease. The correlation between latitude and heart disease, on the other hand, persists when diet is controlled for.
Grimes convinced me that the latitude/sunshine correlation with heart disease reflects something important. It is large, appears in many different contexts, and has resisted explanation via confounds. Maybe sunshine reduces heart disease by increasing Vitamin D, as Grimes argues, or maybe by improving sleep — the more sunshine you get, the deeper (= better) your sleep. Sleep is enormously important in fighting off infection, and a variety of data suggest that heart disease has a microbial aspect. As long-time readers of this blog know, I take Vitamin D3 at a fixed time (8 am) every morning, thereby improving my Vitamin D status and improving my sleep.
Grimes and his book illustrate my insider/outsider rule: To make progress, you need to be close enough to the subject (enough of an insider) to have a good understanding but far enough away (enough of an outsider) to be able to speak the truth. As a doctor, Grimes is close to the study of disease etiology. However, he’s a gastroenterologist, not a cardiologist or epidemiologist. This allows him to say whatever he wants about the cause of heart disease. He won’t be punished for heretical ideas.
This post (“The vitamin deficiency that’s written all over your face”) by Sarah Pope at Healthy Home Economist is very good. It takes various pieces of data and puts them together to suggest that people who don’t get enough Vitamin K2 will get facial wrinkles sooner. The most interesting data is the difference between women in Shanghai, Bangkok and Tokyo — the Tokyo women had the fewest wrinkles. They eat the most natto, of course, and natto is notoriously high in Vitamin K2. Pope should have added that Tokyo women probably also eat a lot more of other fermented foods than Shanghai and Bangkok women — for example, more pickles and miso.
Another example of the same sort of reasoning:
Further research which bolsters the notion that getting plenty of K2 in the diet makes for smoother facial features is found in the research of Korean scientists and was published in the journal Nephrology in 2008. The rate at which the kidneys are able to filter the blood is an important measure of overall kidney function. Researchers found that reduced renal filtration rate was associated with increased facial wrinkling. What does decreased kidney filtration rate predict? You guessed it – Vitamin K2 deficiency, according to American research published the year after the Korean study.
I wonder what other nutritional deficiencies poor kidney function is associated with. These associations are far from convincing but it is a new (to me) and testable idea. And Vitamin K2 is quite safe.
- The state of self-tracking by Ernesto Ramirez and Gary Wolf
- Schizophrenia (the negative symptoms) improved by folate and B12 supplementation but only in patients with impaired folate metabolism
- Why more Type 1 diabetes in Finland than neighboring Russia?
- A scientist tries to cure his own cancer
- Resveratrol disappointment
- Where do allergies come from? ”Foreign-born children residing in the United States had half the risk of developing allergies than those who were born here.”
Thanks to Peter McLeod, John Batzel and Joseph Sinatra.