Suicide is now the 10th most common cause of death in the United States, and the risk is highest in younger age groups. The overall rate of suicide has dramatically increased by 33% between 1999 and 2017. Another remarkable statistic is that this dramatic increase in suicide only seems to be occurring in the United States. Three groups where suicide is rapidly increasing tend to stand out: physicians, police officers, and schoolteachers. Losing these highly trained individuals is not only an unspeakable tragedy for the families, friends, and co-workers they leave behind, it is also a tremendous loss of valuable resources that are essential to maintain a healthy, safe and educated society. When the discussion turns to why these professionals are ending their lives, job-related stress always ends up on the top of the list.
The Tremendous Stress of Medical Practice
I know personally about the stresses of trying to survive as a practicing physician. I make less money working full-time today than I did twenty years ago, yet during this time, the stress in my life from medicine has increased exponentially. Government regulations, diminished payments by Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurances, possible malpractice suits, long and exhausting hours, and oversight by endless regulatory bodies are some of the main stressors that hammer away at physicians daily.
Police Under Daily Attack
The average police officer seems to have it much worse. Their compensation isn’t anything to brag about, and they are regularly harassed and even physically attacked by irate citizens. You likely have seen citizens throwing trash, urine, and other objects at police on national television. They seemed to have lost the support of many of the groups that they are mandated to serve.
The Collapse of Public Education
School teachers don’t have it much better. They often have large classes of listless and misbehaving students, and they are no longer allowed to take any disciplinary actions against even the most disruptive students. Many parents no longer show much interest in what if anything their children are learning in school, so many teachers feel isolated, unappreciated, and helpless when it comes to educating students.
This stress/suicide connection is assumed by virtually all people who have examined the epidemic of suicide in these three groups. The problem is, this narrative doesn’t necessarily fit the facts. For example, across the world, the United States ranks 38th among the 183 countries of the world when it comes to the incidence of suicide. Many of these countries with lower suicide rates than in the United States have a lower standard of living, more poverty, more violence and crime, and less access to food than we do in this country. In other words, they tend to have a lot more stress.
The True Nature of Stress
The same is true if you look back in history. My grandfather Glen and grandmother Amber lived in a sod house on the plains of Iowa. Between roving groups of bandits, intermittent lack of food and modern healthcare, and the stress of providing everyday necessities for their family, they had a heck of a lot more stress than I have ever experienced. They then moved to Duluth, Minnesota, where Glen worked in the local steel mill inhaling toxic fumes every day, resulting in pancreatic cancer in his 60s that took his life. Previous generations in America often lived in constant stress, yet their incidence of suicide was much lower than it is today.
Over my 45 years of front-line medical practice, I have had a keen interest in neuroscience and the brain. There’s one thing I consistently noticed over the years in my patients—those folks with normal brain function virtually never commit suicide. From an evolutionary standpoint, a high rate of suicide doesn’t make a lot of sense
Virtually all suicides seem to occur in these two groups:
- Those with serious mental disorders like true major depression (melancholia), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder II, or dementia with behavioral disturbance.
- Those with food-induced brain dysfunction.
The Diet-Suicide Connection
Most people are familiar with the connection between suicide and common mental disorders, but even most scientists and physicians aren’t yet familiar with “food-induced brain dysfunction”? Let me walk you through it. Recent research has strongly suggested that highly processed food is neurotoxic or poison to our brains. What is “highly processed food”? It typically consists of a combination of high levels of fructose mainly from sugar, high glycemic (rapidly absorbed) carbohydrates mainly from grains and excessive pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids relative to anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. This deadly triad has taken over our modern food supply to the point where it’s challenging to avoid consuming at least some of this food is you live in the United States. Processed food gradually entered our food supply in the first 50 years of the last century, but in the 1950s and 1960s, highly processed food consumption skyrocketed. If you graph the increase in this toxic food in our diet against the incidence of suicide in this country, they follow the same path.
How does highly processed food do its damage? It tends to occur on two levels. Most people and professionals are aware that exposure to this food over decades can slowly lead to most chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, insulin resistance obesity, many cancers, and many autoimmune disorders. This damage tends to occur on a cellular level. For all the details, I recommend that you read Barry Sears’ excellent new book, “The Resolution Zone.” He will walk you through this process and give you the tools to reverse these conditions driven by unresolved inflammation.
Highly processed food is also directly neurotoxic and can interrupt normal brain functions very quickly. The underlying pathology is a bit complex, but this type of food leads to large glucose spikes that never occurred in our evolutionary past. After each spike, glucose suddenly crashes below normal (hypoglycemia). Our brains rely on glucose to produce energy, so brain hypoglycemia sets off the alarm bells and pushes out strong hunger drives. If you respond by eating more highly processed food resulting in more spikes followed by crashes, the brain will push out the big guns—cravings for sweet and starchy food. In bygone days this would have pushed us to eat low glycemic foods like tubers, berries, or low glycemic fruits because back then, there were virtually no high glycemic carbohydrates available. Eating this type of food would rapidly stabilize brain glucose levels, and everyone would live happily ever after.
The Pathology of Highly Processed Food
In today’s world of 24/7 highly processed food, when you are hit with increased hunger or cravings for sweet and starchy food, you tend to start binging on highly processed food. We know that the glucose spikes produced by eating this type of food are toxic to the neurons in the brain. They cause these critical cells to dump out too many monoamine neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, quickly leading to depletion of these chemicals in the brain. The glucose spikes also produce excessive free radicals in the neurons, making it more difficult for the cells to produce neurotransmitters to replace those that have been lost by dumping. Over a short period of time, you end up with a brain depleted of these crucial messengers leading to brain dysfunction symptoms that overlap with many traditional psychiatric and brain disorders. This pathology leads to significant diagnostic and therapeutic confusion, so these folks are virtually never appropriately managed because the scientific and medical professions completely missed this disease.
We now refer to this disease as Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome. People with CARB syndrome can develop up to 22 brain dysfunction symptoms, and if you scan through this list of symptoms, you can easily imagine how adding any significant stress to this disorder could push people to make bad decisions like suicide. The inflammation-driven insulin resistance present in most of these folks makes their brain even more sensitive to the toxic effects of highly processed food. Whenever I have been with groups of physicians, police officers, and teachers, many of those present tend to be visually obese, indicating significant insulin resistance. Because highly processed food tends to disrupt normal brain function very quickly, even those who appear to be thin and healthy can suffer from substantial CARB syndrome.
The Key to Dramatically Reducing Suicide Risk and Improving Your Health
If the above scenario is true, what is the best approach to reduce this high incidence of suicide? We have yet to develop a stress elimination pill, and even if we did, I would swallow the whole bottle leaving none for you! (Just kidding). “Stress management” can be very challenging, so in my patients, I learned to treat and reverse their underlying CARB syndrome leading to a much lower risk of suicide or other impulsive acts. The path back to healthy metabolic and brain health is fairly simple. Just follow these steps:
- Read “The Resolution Zone” by Barry Sears and follow his simple and straightforward program that is affordable and available to virtually anyone interested in improving their health.
- Avoid all highly processed food and eat a diet of whole food with plenty of fermentable fiber from non-starchy vegetables.
- Take a high-quality omega 3 supplement to get your AA/EPA ratio to between 1 and 3. This test is available from Omegaquant.
- Take a polyphenol product that is water-soluble like maqui berry.
- Take a mixed neurotransmitter precursor product like CARB-22 that contains L-tyrosine and 5-htp in a ratio of 10 to 1. This helps to quickly rebuild brain neurotransmitter levels and dramatically improves brain function, so it’s much easier to comply with any health-promoting program. Start with two capsules twice daily and gradually increase to four capsules twice daily.
- Take the amino acid L-glutamine 1,000 mg two or three times daily to suppress cravings for sweet and starchy food.
- Have your physician check your homocysteine level (a simple blood test), and if it is above 10, take this combination of vitamins: methyl-cobalamin 1 mg daily, pyridoxal 5’-phosphate 100 mg daily, L-methylfolate 1mg daily and trimethylglycine (TMG) 500 mg daily. These are available from Life Extension Foundation. After 4-6 weeks, recheck your homocysteine, and if it is still above 10, gradually increase the TMG until it drops below 10.
The above protocol will not only dramatically reduce your risk of suicide, it will also supercharge your brain function, and as you likely know, your brain plays a crucial role in every biological process in your body. I will go into more detail about CARB syndrome in my upcoming book “Brain Drain,” so stay tuned. I also recommend visiting the various Zone web sites run by Barry Sears for many tips on how to maintain optimal health with the least amount of effort.