Recently as we rushed through the Tampa airport I noticed in one of the bookstores a glossy “Special Edition” from Time titled “Mindfulness—The New Science of Health and Happiness.” On the cover was a picture of a blissful young lady who appeared to be totally tuned out. Because of my decades of interest in Neuroscience, especially the connection between diet and brain function, I quickly paged through the magazine. What I saw was page after page of mostly worthless woo and gibberish. so I put the book down and ran to my plane.
Bad Advice From Non-professionals
Once I arrived at our condo in Tarpon Springs Florida I decided to download the article on my Kindle to give it a good read. After all, my first impression might have been wrong. You might find it worthwhile to download this Kindle version so this post will make more sense. The actual physical book is pretty expensive. I read the article from cover to cover and it was worse than I had expected. Each subsequent chapter was worse than the previous one when it comes to presenting what I call flawed science or pseudoscience. Of course these opinions are mine alone, but they are based on over 40 years of clinical practice and a vast exposure to the scientific literature. To help you understand just why the information in this article was so flawed, we first need to review the nature of science. Modern science is a two-part process. The first part is empiric science where observations are made in the real world looking for patterns in the noise. When you make consistent observations over time you then try to come up with a theory to explain your observations.
For example, if every time you sail your ships away from the shore they never return, you might speculate that the world is flat and your ships are simply falling off the edge of the world. Or perhaps there is some type of horrible monster out there who loves to eat ships. If every time you send out your ships they discover another continent and then they eventually return to their starting point, perhaps it’s because the world is round. You could then devise a series of experiments to test each theory. Or perhaps you notice that every time you drop an apple (or any object for that matter), it tends to fall to the earth at a predictable rate. You might then speculate that somehow matter has properties that attract other matter. You could then devise controlled experiments to prove or disprove your theory. One thing you don’t want to do is to spend a lot of time studying side-ways falling apples!
Never Ignore the Science
When it comes to science and biology, things get even more complex. There are many variables in biology and if you miss some important ones, your data will be flawed and worthless. As I read through this article I recognized that many of the patients and writers had certain familiar brain dysfunction symptoms that generally aren’t found in healthy normal people. Over the past 40 years we have learned that these symptoms seem to occur after long-term exposure to highly processed food mainly containing excessive fructose from added sugars, high glycemic carbohydrates mainly from grains and excessive omega 6 fatty acids relative to omega 3 fatty acids. Of course this is the Standard American Diet that most people are exposed to every day of their lives. Over many years we have identified 22 typical symptoms of the disease. The lead symptom is always strong cravings for sweet and starchy food, pushing people to consume more of very food that is frying their brain. We decided to call this form of food-induced brain dysfunction Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome.
Thin Yet Fat?
We also noticed that folks with CARB syndrome tend to accumulate excessive body fat regardless of caloric intake, level of exercise, size, weight or BMI and they are much more prone to metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes. They also tend to have a lot more trouble functioning in every imaginable environment. This article is loaded with people who fit the classic CARB syndrome pattern and they are proud to present their various workarounds and tricks for dealing with their brain problems. By the way, all people with CARB syndrome experience a magnified response to stress. Healthy humans with normal brain function handle stress like water off a duck’s back, whereas those with CARB syndrome get stressed when the cat sneezes! Do really think that our ancient ancestors were into “stress management techniques” or mindfulness exercises?
A Major Scientific Breakthrough
You could certainly argue that it should be easy to ignore the musing of a simple country doctor like myself, but I am not the first professional to notice these trends. In 2003 James I. Hudson, MD, ScD; Barbara Mangweth, PhD and Harrison G. Pope Jr, MD, MPH from McLean Hospital in Boston published a series of articles making a strong argument that a diverse group of medical and psychiatric conditions are actually part of the same pathological process. These conditions include:
- Major depressive disorder (MDD)
- Bulimia nervosa
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Dysthymic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Social phobia
They proposed that these fifteen fairly common conditions aggregated together in both individuals and families, suggesting a possible common pathology. They went beyond suggesting that these conditions were co-morbid. They were proposing that they seemed to be part of the same pathological process with a strong hereditary component. In other words, they were proposing that the above 15 conditions were part of the same pathological process and likely shared similar treatments. They called this condition Affective Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As you can imagine, their proposal was considered to be extremely radical by the medical and scientific communities, much more than they could handle in a short period of time. Because they never identified the triggers or pathology of ASD, the concept eventually died on the academic vine. Most physicians and Psychiatrists today have never heard of the disorder.
A New Disease Process Emerges
Years ago I stumbled across their papers and realized that I was seeing the ASD pattern in many patients in my primary care practice. Over time I concluded that this disorder was triggered by the long-term exposure to highly processed food. Some individuals seemed to be more genetically prone to the ASD/CARB syndrome process. Hudson and Pope suggested that their might be treatments that would simultaneously benefit all of these conditions. Over many decades in my primary care practice, through trial and error I found some simple treatments that seem to completely reverse CARB syndrome over time:
- The cravings for sweet and starchy foods must first be suppressed with low dose drug combinations and targeted supplements like L-glutamine.
- Patients need to be educated about the healthiest way to eat. In general a whole foods diet seems to work best. Paleo and ketogenic diets seem to be the most effective for people with advanced CARB syndrome.
- Serum homocysteine levels must be kept below 7 by using various B vitamins including L-methylfolate.
- The EPA/AA ratio must be kept between 1 and 3 usually by supplementing with a high-quality omega 3 supplement or eating a lot of small fatty fish like sardines.
- Monoamine neurotransmitter levels must be restored by giving a mixed precursor supplement containing 5-htp and L-tyrosine in a ratio of 10 to 1.
- Exercising on a regular basis is good because of its positive effect on brain function.
- I recommend supplementing with a special form of magnesium called magnesium L-thronate, the only form to cross the blood brain barrier.
The details of these treatments are beyond the scope of this post but more information can be found at: https://carbsyndrome.com/.
When brain function was restored in my patients through these effective treatments, I found that many of the tricks and workarounds discussed in this article were completely unnecessary. They didn’t need meditation, yoga, mindfulness training, breathing techniques and all the tricks described in the article to deal with distraction and stress. I had to smile when I read the suggestion that people put their smart phone in a drawer so it won’t distract them. In my opinion that’s only true for people with untreated CARB syndrome.
Bring Back the Flip Phone
For example, one of the best physicians that I have ever worked with is my Cardiologist friend Mike Arsenian. One day I noticed that he was still using a flip phone. I asked him why he didn’t get a smart phone. He gave me a subtle smile and started “because I would probably accidently drop it in the toilet.” I knew the real reason. He had little use for endless “apps” and mainly used his phone to talk to colleagues and patients. If you called his flip phone number, he would always answer 24/7. When you could hear the wind in the background you knew that he was on his lobster boat pulling traps because Mike is also a commercial lobsterman. He runs 4 miles 4-5 times per week and eats a healthy diet. He takes a few supplements that I have recommended. It is very clear that Mike does not have CARB syndrome so most the recommendations in this article would be totally worthless for him and he clearly doesn’t need the mostly useless technology of a smart phone. You could probably also guess his view of social media!
Why Most Scientific Studies are Flawed
This article lists many different scientific studies supporting various activities to improve health and functioning. These are so-called “controlled” studies where people who appear to be the same are divided up into two groups. One group is subjected to the variable being studied while the other is not and at the end to the study the two groups are compared to see if the variable had any effect. The problem is, none of these studies considered whether or not people being studied had CARB syndrome. If an important variable is missed, the results of the study will automatically be flawed. Thus in my opinion virtually all psychiatric studies in recent years are invalid because they missed or ignored the CARB syndrome concept. My wife went to medical school with John Ioannidis who wrote the landmark paper “Why Most Published Research Findings are False.”
Two Types of Depression?
Another example might be instructive. Depression has been around since the dawn of mankind. It was initially labeled as melancholia or black bile. Patients with melancholia were always severely depressed and they gained no pleasure from any activity. They always lost their appetite and lost weight. They slept poorly and withdrew from family and friends. The only effective treatment for melancholia today is strong drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors and electroshock therapy. The incidence of this type of depression has not increased over time and none of the treatment methods outlined in this article will have any positive effect on improving melancholia.
Over the past 50-75 years we started to see a lot of depressed people who have an increased appetite with cravings for sweet and starchy food and weight gain. They also are able to gain some satisfaction from daily activities. They usually respond to SSRI medications and they also often improve with some of the techniques discussed in this article. The folks at DSM who come up with the criteria for psychiatric disorders decided to call this form of depression “atypical depression”. The incidence of this type of depression has increased at an epidemic rate over the past few decades. The folks at DSM just came out with version V and they consider melancholia and atypical depression to be subtypes of the same disease—major depression disorder (MDD).
Now let’s back up for a minute and start thinking like scientists. If a parameter such as weight qualifies you for a disease throughout the spectrum of the parameter, throw it out because it can’t possibly help you make the diagnosis! In my opinion atypical depression is not really a psychiatric disorder at all and it has no connection to classic depression. It is a brain/metabolic disorder called CARB syndrome and if you fail to treat it like CARB syndrome the patient will get worse rather than better. This isn’t rocket science—it’s plain old fashioned science, a parameter that seems to be sorely missing in the article.
Integrative Medicine—Let the Snake Oil Flow
This article also relies heavily on practitioners of “integrative medicine”. Dr. Andrew Weil who is quoted in this article defines integrative medicine this way: “Integrative medicine is healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person (body, mind, and spirit), including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship and makes use of all appropriate therapies, both conventional and alternative.” Talk about woo-ville. Medicine is either based on solid science or it isn’t. If people want to meditate, eat mindfully (say by chewing on a single raisin), attend a yoga class or practice controlled breathing, go for it. These activities can be enjoyable and satisfying but they are not part of medicine because there is little good science to support their effectiveness at reversing or treating common diseases.
I do agree that getting plenty of direct sun exposure and grounding both likely have health benefits so this article isn’t a total wash, but you have wade through piles of bad stuff to find the few useful tidbits.
This article also discusses at length the history of meditation in various cultures going back thousands of years. It’s important to remember one thing—back then nobody had CARB syndrome. Today trying to use meditation to treat an illness like CARB syndrome is like trying to kill an elephant with a peashooter! If you don’t have CARB syndrome I’m a great fan of some sort of meditation. I get mine as a member of the Greek Orthodox Church but I would never try to use meditation to treat a serious illness like CARB syndrome.
I was especially interested in the section titled “Fourteen Ways to Eat in the Moment (And Love it)” by Michelle May, author of the series of books titled “Eat What you Love, Love What You Eat” series of books. Because of my interest in the connection between diet and brain function I took a careful look at her recommendations. Let’s go through them one by one.
- Start with: Do I really want this? This implies that humans need to use their conscious brain to tell them what and how much to eat. This is only true for people with CARB syndrome where their normal automatic hunger drives have been disrupted. People with normal brain function eat on autopilot guided by their bodies’ nutritional needs.
- Actually sit down. They site a study showing that people who eat on the go tend to eat more food. In this case it was granola bars. First of all, nobody should be eating granola bars because they are loaded with added sugars, highly refined carbs and bad fats. People with CARB syndrome will never eat the right amount and type of food that their body needs regardless of their body position. People without CARB syndrome will never have to consciously think about food and eating because everything is on autopilot.
- Act like a baby. This section suggests that “we should take the time to notice the aroma and flavor of, say, a pizza slice we’re about to shovel down.” Once again I hate to tell you, but if you are eating a lot of pizza you are heading on a fast track to CARB syndrome, poor brain function and poor overall health. I would suggest eating like a healthy adult and let your normal hunger drives be your guide. Of course for that to happen you can’t have CARB syndrome.
- Have lunch anywhere but at your desk. They claim that if you eat at your desk you won’t fully experience your meal and you might end up overeating. Once again this is only true for people with CARB syndrome. People with normal brain function can eat anywhere and anytime they want and their intake will be automatically guided by their bodies’ nutritional needs. The human brain evolved to exactly match intake and type of food to what the body needs. The conscious mind isn’t involved in this process unless you have some type of brain dysfunction.
- Create a food speed bump. May recommends dividing food on our plate in half to remind us whether or not we really need to clean our plate. Once again, this is only true for people with CARB syndrome. To me this seems just plain silly.
- Go wild with Thai takeout. It’s implied that by tasting new ethnic foods you will be less likely to eat on autopilot and overeat. Seriously?
- Don’t swear off comfort food. This is one of my favorites. So-called comfort food is the primary trigger of CARB syndrome. If you want to be sick with poor brain function, go for it!
- Have candy, just don’t have it handy. “Renowned” food researcher Brain Wansink found that people consumed 125 less calories from Hershey’s Kisses if they moved the candy dishes six feet away from their desks. Once again, if you have CARB syndrome eating any amount of Hershey’s Kisses will fry your brain and eventually put you six feet under. People with healthy brains and no CARB syndrome will likely avoid this type of food no matter where it is placed. By the way, at one point Wansink was discredited for falsifying some of his study results. Perhaps he ate too many Hershey’s Kisses and that affected his ability to think rationally!
- Chew like a cow. They discussed a study where people wearing noise blocking headphones ate more cookies, pretzels and chips than those not wearing headphones. Somehow the sound of eating these items made them eat less. I hate to tell you but both groups are heading for CARB syndrome if they continue to eat any amount of this type of toxic food.
- Beat buffet syndrome. This section claims that tensing your muscles at a buffet will reduce the amount of food you put on your place. Sounds like a lot of fun but I’d like to see the studies. Once again people with normal brain function will automatically eat the right type and amount of food in any setting. People with CARB syndrome will virtually always eat too much of the wrong type of food. That’s what keeps commercial Buffets in business!
- Play with texture. They suggest things like adding crushed salted pretzels to frozen yogurt. I call it a fast track to CARB syndrome. Folks, I hate to tell you but this is not real whole food and if you eat it you will eventually fry your brain and become sick.
- Follow the rule of two. You can order a reasonable entrée plus any two things you really want. Have a little cocaine and methamphetamine with your ibuprofen! Wow—this is some of the worst nutritional advice that I have ever heard.
- Clean that cluttered kitchen. They claim a neat kitchen will automatically reduce food intake. This may be true for people with CARB syndrome, but as I have already mentioned, people with normal brain function will eat according to their bodies needs regardless of the environment.
- End the meal on a favorite. They give an example of finishing a meal with mashed potatoes if that is your favorite food. I hate to tell you but if mashed potatoes are your favorite food you already have CARB syndrome and your brain is in the toilet.
Mashed up Nutritional Advice
These 14 “tricks” are likely some of the worst nutritional advice that I have ever been exposed to if you want to be healthy. If you really want to know the heathiest way to eat, especially when it comes to brain function, I would start with Joe Mercola’s new book “Fat for Fuel”. In this excellent book he outlines the benefits of consuming a low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat (healthy fats) diet. This is an ideal diet to enhance brain function. Next on your reading list should be Jimmy Moore’s book “Keto Clarity”. As with Dr. Mercola he guides you through the benefits of eating healthy fats. One of the best new books out there concerning diet and health is Robb Wolf’s new book “Wired to Eat”. He walks you through a program to individualize your diet based on your own body type and genetics. He also wrote the excellent book “The Paleo Solution Diet”. Robert Lustig, Richard Johnson and Gary Taubes have written excellent books focusing on the toxic effects of fructose from added sugars. All of these scientists and writers are pointing you in the same direction—if you want to be healthy and avoid CARB syndrome, eat a diet low in fructose especially from sugars along with moderate protein and high quality healthy fats. I know these recommendations likely will give the authors of this article heart attacks, but sometimes the truth does hurt!
10 on the Fluff and Woo Scale
In summary, this article contains little or no science and is based on the opinions of various individuals who share Weil’s approach to medicine. If you have CARB syndrome none of these approaches will have any positive effect on your long-term health. You need effective treatment as I have outlined above. If you don’t have CARB syndrome or another serious medical problem, these activities will likely cause little or no harm but you don’t need them to be healthy. This silly article basically outlines the symptoms and thoughts of people with untreated CARB syndrome and unless they get effective treatment their long-term prognosis for good health is poor. For them to be giving advice to you about how to stay healthy in my opinion is mindless and unprofessional. I would give this article a 10 on the fluff and woo scale.