• Sugar : Food or Drug ?

    Part 1 . History and use of sugar

         Imagine a chemical substance that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy, and can do so when taken by mouth. It doesn’t have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to infants it provokes a feeling of pleasure so profound and intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives. Overconsumption of this substance may have long-term side effects, but there are none in the short term—no staggering or dizziness, no slurring of speech, no passing out or drifting away, no heart palpitations or respiratory distress. When it is given to children, its effects may be only more extreme variations of the apparently natural emotional roller coaster of childhood, from the initial intoxication to the tantrums and whining of what may or may not be withdrawal a few hours later. More than anything, our imaginary substance makes children happy, at least for the period during which they’re consuming it. It calms their distress, eases their pain, focuses their attention, and then leaves them excited and full of joy until the dose wears off. The only downside is that children will come to expect another dose, perhaps to demand it, on a regular basis, so more or less works like a drug. Well, this substance exists and is called sugar!
        Biochemically, the term “sugar” refers to a group of carbohydrate molecules consisting, as the word “carbohydrate” implies, of atoms of carbon and hydrogen. The names of these carbohydrates all end in “-ose”—glucose, galactose, dextrose, fructose, lactose, sucrose, etc. and all of them will dissolve in water and they all taste sweet to us to a greater or lesser extent. When physicians or researchers refer to “blood sugar,” they’re talking about glucose, because it constitutes virtually all of the sugar circulating in our blood.    However, the more common usage of “sugar” refers to sucrose, the white crystalline variety that we put in our coffee or tea or sprinkle on our morning cereal. Sucrose in turn is composed of equal parts glucose and fructose, the two smaller sugars (monosaccharides, in the chemical lingo) bonded together to make the larger one (a disaccharide). Fructose, found naturally in fruits and honey, is the sweetest of all these sugars, and it’s the fructose that makes sucrose particularly sweet. Although sugars like fructose, glucose, and sucrose are found naturally in foods that humans have always eaten, modern foods often contain refined, processed sugars that are anything but natural.
        Without refining, the juice of sugarcane is for local consumption only. Within a day of cutting, the sugarcane stalks will begin to ferment and then rot. But the juice can be squeezed or crushed or pounded out of the cane, and that, in turn, as farmers in northern India discovered by around 500 B.C., can be transformed into a raw sugar by cycles of heating and cooling—a “series of liquid-solid operations.” The sugar crystallizes as the liquid evaporates. One end product is molasses, a thick brown viscous liquid; another, requiring greater expenditures of time and effort, is dry crystalline sugar of colors ranging from brown to white. The greater the refining effort, the whiter and more pure is the end product. When cultivated with the instruments of modern technology, sugarcane can produce (as the sugar industry and nutritionists would state in its defence repeatedly in the twentieth century) more calories per acre to feed a population than any other animal or plant. It can survive years of storage; it travels well; it can be consumed on arrival unheated and uncooked. And, unlike honey or maple syrup, it has no distinctive taste or aftertaste. Refined sugar is colourless and odourless. It is nothing more than the crystallised essence of sweet. Other than salt, it is the only pure chemical substance that humans consume. And it provides four calories of energy per gram.

        Anthropologists believe that sugarcane itself was first domesticated in New Guinea about ten thousand years ago. As evidence that it was revered even then, creation myths in New Guinea have the human race emerging from the sexual congress of the first man and a stalk of sugarcane. The plant is technically a grass, growing to heights of twelve to fifteen feet, with juicy stalks that can be six inches around. In tropical soils, sugarcane will grow from cuttings of the stem, and will ripen or mature in a year to a year and a half. The juice or sap from the cane, at least the modern variety, is mostly water and as much as 17% sugar. This makes the cane, sweet to chew but not intensely so. Anthropologists assume that early farmers domesticated the cane for the sweetness to be derived from chewing the stalks and the energy it provided. Well before the art of refining came along, sugarcane domestication had already spread to India, China, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
        It’s a safe bet that humans have tried to extract sugar, at one time or another, from pretty much every substance or plant that was noticeably sweet and held the promise of offering its sugar up in quantity. Honey was consumed throughout Europe and Asia before sugar displaced it, and when European colonists arrived in the New World and found no honey, they introduced honeybees, which Native Americans took to calling the “English Man’s Fly.” Native Americans were using maple syrup as a sweetener before the Europeans arrived, and they introduced the colonists to the taste. (Thomas Jefferson was a proponent of maple syrup because it rendered slave labor unnecessary. The sugar maple, he wrote, “yields a sugar equal to the best from the cane, yields it in great quantity, with no other labor than what the women and girls can bestow….What a blessing.”) But neither maple syrup nor honey can be used to sweeten cold beverages, and neither mixes well with coffee. Neither could be produced in the quantities necessary to compete with sugar. We still consume them, but in limited quantities and for limited uses.
        Crusaders brought sugar home with them to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land, where they encountered caravans carrying "sweet salt”. Early in the 12th century, Venice acquired some villages near Tyre and set up estates to produce sugar for export to Europe, where it supplemented honey as the only other available sweetener. Crusade chronicler William of Tyre, writing in the late 12th century, described sugar as "a most precious product, very necessary for the use and health of mankind". The first record of sugar in English is in the late 13th century.  Known worldwide by the end of the medieval period, sugar was very expensive and was considered a "fine spice", but from about the year 1500, technological improvements and New World sources began turning it into a much cheaper bulk commodity.    
        Contemporaries often compared the worth of sugar with valuable commodities including musk, pearls, and spices. Sugar prices declined slowly as its production became multi-sourced throughout the European colonies in the Americas. Once an indulgence only of the rich, the consumption of sugar also became increasingly common among the poor as well. Sugar production increased in the mainland North American colonies, in Cuba, and in Brazil. The labour force at first included European indentured servants and local Native American enslaved people. However, European diseases such as smallpox and African ones such as malaria and yellow fever soon reduced the numbers of local Native Americans. Europeans were also very susceptible to malaria and yellow fever, and the supply of indentured servants was limited. African slaves became the dominant source of plantation workers, because they were more resistant to malaria and yellow fever, and because the supply of enslaved people was abundant on the African coast. In the process of whitening sugar, the charred bones of dead enslaved people were commonly substituted for the traditionally used animal bones. During the 18th century, sugar became enormously popular. Great Britain, for example, consumed five times as much sugar in 1770 as in 1710. By 1750, sugar surpassed grain as "the most valuable commodity in European trade — it made up a fifth of all European imports and in the last decades of the century four-fifths of the sugar came from the British and French colonies in the West Indies. From the 1740s until the 1820s, sugar was Britain's most valuable import.

        Sugar was “an ideal substance,” says Sidney Mintz in his book “Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History”.  “It served to make a busy life seem less so; in the pause that refreshes, it eased, or seemed to ease the changes back and forth from work to rest; it provided swifter sensations of fullness or satisfaction than complex carbohydrates did; it combined easily with many other foods, in some of which it was also used (tea and biscuit, coffee and bun, chocolate and jam-smeared bread). No wonder the rich and powerful liked it so much, and no wonder the poor learned to love it.Unlike alcohol, which was the only commonly available psychoactive substance in the Old World until sugar, nicotine, and caffeine arrived on the scene, the latter three had at least some stimulating properties, and so offered a very different experience, one that was more conducive to the labor of everyday life. These were the “eighteenth-century equivalent of uppers,” writes the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. “Taken together, the new drugs gave English society an almighty hit; the Empire, it might be said, was built on a huge sugar, caffeine and nicotine rush—a rush nearly everyone could experience.
        Sugar is extraordinarily useful in food preparation, even when sweetness is not necessarily the desired result, and this is one reason why sugar in all its various names and forms is now ubiquitous in modern processed foods. Sugar allows for the preservation of fruits and berries by inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms that would otherwise cause spoiling. As such, inexpensive sugar made possible the revolution in jams and jellies that began in the mid nineteenth century . It inhibits mold and bacteria in condensed milk and other liquids by increasing what’s called the osmotic pressure of the liquid. It reduces the harshness of the salt that’s used for curing and preserving meat (and the salt increases the sweetness of the sugar). Sugar is an ideal fuel for yeast, and thus the rising and leavening of bread. The caramelisation of sugar provides the light-brown colours in the crust of bread. Dissolve sugar in water and it adds not only sweetness but viscosity, and thus creates the body and what food scientists call the “mouth feel” of a soda or juice. As a seasoning or a spice, it enhances flavours already present in the food, decreases bitterness, and improves texture.
        Mintz has argued as well, that a primary reason that helped sugar through the centuries to escape religious-based criticisms, of the kind pronounced on tea, coffee, rum, and even chocolate, is that, whatever conspicuous behavioural changes may occur when infants consume sugar, it did not cause the kind of “flushing, staggering, dizziness, euphoria, changes in the pitch of the voice, slurring of speech, visibly intensified physical activity, or any of the other cues associated with the ingestion” of these other substances. Sugar appears to be a substance that causes pleasure with a price that is difficult to discern immediately and paid in full only years or decades later. With no visible, directly noticeable consequences, as Mintz says, questions of “long-term nutritive or medical consequences went unasked and unanswered.Most of us today will never know if we suffer even subtle withdrawal symptoms from sugar, because we’ll never go long enough without sugar to find out.
        Mintz and other sugar historians consider the drug comparison to be so fitting in part because sugar is one of a handful of “drug foods,” to use Mintz’s term, that came out of the tropics, and on which European empires were built from the sixteenth century onward, the others being, tea, coffee, chocolate, rum, and tobacco. Its history is intimately linked to that of these other “drugs”. Rum is distilled, of course, from sugarcane, whereas tea, coffee, and chocolate were not consumed with sweeteners in their regions of origin. In the seventeenth century, however, once sugar was added as a sweetener and prices allowed it, the consumption of these substances in Europe exploded. Sugar was used to sweeten liquors and wine in Europe as early as the fourteenth century; even cannabis preparations in India and opium-based wines and syrups included sugar as a major ingredient.
        The common tendency is to think of this explosion in the use of sugar by humans,  as driven by the mere fact that sugars and sweets taste good. We can call it the “pause that refreshes” hypothesis of sugar history. The alternative way to think about this is that sugar took over our diets because the first taste, whether for an infant today or for an adult centuries ago, is literally, as Michael Pollan put it, an astonishment, a kind of intoxication; “it’s the kindling of a lifelong craving, not identical but analogous to that of other drugs of abuse”. Because it is a nutrient, and because the conspicuous results of its consumption are relatively benign compared with those of nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol—at least in the short term and in small doses—it remained, as Sidney Mintz says, nearly invulnerable to moral, ethical, or religious attacks.
        A second factor in the transformation of sugar into a dietary staple—one of life’s necessities—was technology. The industrial revolution, inaugurated by Watt’s steam engine in 1765, transformed sugar production and refining just as it did virtually every other existing industry in the nineteenth century. By the 1920s, sugar refineries were producing as much sugar in a single day—millions of pounds—as would have taken refineries in the 1820s an entire decade. With sugar becoming so cheap that everyone could afford it, the manner in which we consumed it would change as well. Not only did we add sugar to hot beverages and bake it into wheat products or spread it on top—jams and jellies were two foods that cheap, available sugar made ubiquitous, since fruit could now be preserved at the end of the growing season and provide nutrition (sweetened, of course) all year round—but the concept of a dessert course emerged for the first time in history in the mid-nineteenth century, the expectation of a serving of sweets to finish off a lunch or dinner. The industrial work break also emerged, as a new era of factory workers learned to partake of some combination of nicotine, caffeine, and sugar; cigarettes, coffee and tea, and sweetened biscuits or candy could all be purchased inexpensively.

          Lastly, it is worth mentioning how sugar and sweets became, after thousands years of use, a synonymous to love and affection and the language with which we communicate them—“sweets,” “sweetie,” “sweetheart,” “sweetie pie,” “honey,” “honeybun,” “sugar,” and all manner of combinations and variations. Sugar and sweets became a primary contribution to our celebrations of holidays and accomplishments, both major and minor. For some people sugar and sweets have become the tools they used to reward their children’s accomplishments, to demonstrate the love and pride in them, to motivate them, to entice them. Sweets have become the currency of childhood and parenting.



    Taubes G. (2017); “The case against sugar” , Alfred A. Knopf, New York,.

    Mintz, S. W. (1991) ; “Pleasure, Profit, and Satiation.” In Seeds of Change, ed. J. J. Viola and C. Margolis (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution).

    Mintz, S. W. (1985) ; Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin.

    Pollan, M.  (2008);  In Defense of Food. New York: Penguin.

    Pollan, M. (2002) ; “When a Crop Becomes King.” New York Times Magazine, July 19: A17.

    Pollan, M. (2001) ; The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. New York: Random House.

    Ferguson, N. (2002) ; Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power. London: Penguin.

    Twain, M. (2010);  Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition. Vol. 1. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Sugar Research Foundation, Inc (SRF). (1945) ;  Some Facts About the Sugar Research Foundation, Inc., and Its Prize Award Program. Oct. Washington: Sugar Research Foundation, Inc.

    Sugar Association, Inc. (SAI). (1978);  Sugar Association, Inc., winter meeting of the board of directors, Chicago, Ill., Feb. 9, 1978. Research projects report, Washington, D.C. Sugar Association, Inc., Records of the Great Western Sugar Company, Colorado Agricultural Archive, Colorado State

    Prinsen Geerligs, H. C. (2010);  The World’s Cane Sugar Industry, Past and Present. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. [Originally published in 1912.]


  • Fasting - Part 2. Practical Applications

    How to incorporate the practice of fasting in our everyday life


         As we saw in the first part , fasting is the voluntary avoidance of food for health, spiritual, or other reasons. It’s done by someone who is not underweight and has enough stored body fat to live off. When done correctly, fasting should not cause suffering, and certainly never death. Food is easily available, but you choose not to eat it. This can be for any period of time, from a few hours up to a few days or – with medical supervision – even a week or more. You may begin a fast at any time of your choosing, and you may end a fast at will too.

    So, in theory,  anytime we are not eating ,we are intermittently fasting. But let’s dive into the science behind it.

        Intermittent fasting (IF) covers a broad class of dietary interventions that alternate periods of eating and extended fasting on recurring basis. IF interventions can include periodic 24-hour fasts, intermittent energy restriction (e.g., the 5:2 protocol), and time-restricted eating (TRE). Our bodies need a 24 hour continual source of energy just for the basic metabolic housekeeping – keeping the heart pumping blood, liver and kidney functions, the lungs sucking air, brain function etc. Since we do not eat food all the time, we have a system of storing food energy (in the liver and as body fat) for times where we are not eating, like when we are sleeping for example.  At moments like these , our body needs to pull some of the food energy we’ve stored away to keep our vital organs running. This is the reason we do not die in our sleep every single night.
       So, it becomes obvious that IF is not something unusual but a part of everyday, normal life. Yet somehow we have missed its power and overlooked its therapeutic potential. For example, you may be already intermittently fasting every day , between the dinner and the breakfast of the next day, a period that for most people is approximately 10 hours. Although the main benefits of IF start to appear after 12 hours of not ingesting any food, the 10 hours you stayed without feeding your self still count as IF. Just consider the term “breakfast.” It refers to the meal that breaks your fast – which is done daily in the morning. In that sense, even the English language implicitly acknowledges that fasting should be considered a part of everyday life.
        As we saw in the first part of this series,  at its very core, fasting simply allows the body to use its stored sources of energy – blood sugar and body fat. This is an entirely normal process and humans have evolved these storage forms of food energy precisely so that we can fast for hours or days without detrimental health consequences. Blood sugar and body fat is merely stored food energy ready to fuel the body when food is not available. By fasting, we are lowering blood sugar and body fat by using them precisely for the reason we store them. So, if we need to restore balance in our dietary patterns , if we need to achieve metabolic flexibility or if we need to lose weight, we may simply need to increase the amount of time spent burning food energy.

    That’s intermittent fasting.

    Intermittent fasting benefits

    IF’s most obvious benefit is weight loss. However, there are many potential benefits beyond this, some of which have been known since ancient times.  The fasting periods were often called ‘cleanses,’ ‘detoxifications’ or ‘purifications,’ but the idea is similar – to abstain from eating food for a certain period of time. People believed that this period of abstinence from food would clear their systems of toxins and rejuvenate them. Since we talked excessively about the benefits of fasting in general in the first part of this series, in this post i will just mention the most important benefits of IF reported through scientific research :

    • Weight and body fat loss - improved body composition.
    • Lowered blood insulin and sugar levels
    • Lowered blood insulin and glucose levels - Reversal of type 2 diabetes
    • Reduced hemoglobin A1c (A1c) levels
    • Improved mental clarity and concentration
    • Increased energy
    • Increased growth hormone, at least in the short term
    • Improved blood cholesterol profile
    • Increased longevity
    • Activated cellular cleansing by stimulating autophagy
    • Reduction of inflammation


    How can we apply in our everyday life the practice of IF?  Here, i am presenting some of the most important protocols.



        1.  Time-restricted eating (12:12 fasting, 14:10 - 16:8 fasting, 18:6 fasting, and 20:4 fasting)

        While IF, is a term used to describe a lot of different protocols, it’s most often used to describe something called Time Restricted Eating (TRE)—meaning, restricting the period of time you eat to a set number of hours each day. Time restricted eating, also called time restricted feeding (TRF) in research settings, typically consists of confining all your eating to a 12-hour, 10-hour, 8-hour, 6-hour, or 4-hour window, and fasting the remainder of the day. Lets see them analytically :

    • 12-hour fasting

    Many experts view a 12-hour eating/12-hour fasting window (think: eating breakfast at 8 a.m. and wrapping up dinner by 8 p.m.) as a great, safe place to start for anyone. It shouldn’t be that difficult , since one can fit the 8 hours of sleep in the 12 hour fasting window, therefore the challenge here is to remain without food for 4 more hours.  Piece of cake !

    • 14:10 and 16:8 fasting

    Some of the most popular versions of TRE are the 14:10 or 16:8 fasting plans, which consist of a daily 14-hour and 16-hour fast while confining your eating to an 10-hour and 8-hour window respectively. If you can't live without breakfast, slot your food earlier in the day (8 a.m. to 6 pm or 4 p.m.). If you prefer an early dinner, eat in the middle of the day (11 a.m. to 9 pm or 7 p.m.). If you're someone who regularly goes out with friends for late dinners, schedule your eating hours later in the day (1 pm to 11pm or 9 pm).

    • 18:6 fasting

    Also popular, but a bit more intense, is the 18:6 fasting plan, which is a daily 18-hour fast where you confined your eating to a 6-hour window. If your goal is weight loss and you’ve experienced a plateau on a 16:8 plan, this is the logical next step. While more research is needed, an 18:6 fast likely helps your body burn stored carbohydrates (glycogen) faster so you can start burning fat (in the form of ketones) for fuel, and some believe it may be enough to activate autophagy—a cellular clean-up process that’s associated with longevity.

    • 20:4 fasting

    The most restrictive of the popular TRE regimens is the 20:4 fast (sometimes called the “warrior diet”), which is a daily 20-hour fast where you confined your eating to a 4-hour window. This essentially breaks down to one meal a day and is not for beginners—you need to work your way up. Compared to a 16:8 or 18:6 fast, it’s speculated that you will burn more fat, lose more weight, and experience greater autophagy on a 20:4 diet, since the fasting hours last for almost all day.


           2.  Alternate-day fasting (36 hour fast)

          Also under the umbrella of intermittent fasting is alternate-day fasting (ADF). ADF is just how it sounds: You only eat every other day. So, practically,  you fast for 36 hours on a recurring basis. You finish dinner on day 1 at 7 pm for instance, and you would skip all meals on day 2, and not eat again until breakfast at 7 am on day 3. So that is a total of 36 hours of fasting followed by an 12-hour eating window. While some purists only consume water, herbal tea, and moderate amounts of black coffee on fasting days, others employ the 25 percent rule. In this version, you consume 25 percent of your normal caloric intake on fast days. This protocol has shown really good results for weight loss and reducing inflammation and while many clinics often recommend 36-hours fasts 2-3 times per week for reversing type 2 diabetes, alternate-day fasting is a more extreme approach to IF that may be hard to sustain over the long term. For obvious reasons, is not for beginners, and it should be reserved for specific medical cases.


        3.   5:2 plan

        A slightly easier variation of ADF, the 5:2 plan allows you to eat normally for five days every week while eating only 500 to 600 calories on the other two days. You can choose whichever two days of the week you prefer, as long as there is at least one non-fasting day in between them. One common way of planning the week on this protocol , is to fast on Mondays and Thursdays, with two or three small meals, then eat normally for the rest of the week. It’s important to emphasize that eating “normally” does not mean you can eat anything. If you binge on junk food, then you probably won’t lose any weight, and you may even gain weight.


    Where to place your TRE window?

         The ideal placement of your eating and fasting window will likely depend on a number of factors—work schedule, social obligations, fitness routine, and simply what feels best for your body—but a growing body of research seems to suggest that an earlier eating window may be better. A small but rigorously controlled randomised crossover study from 2019 found that when participants ate between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., they fared much better than when they ate the same three meals on an 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. schedule.  Moreover , they had lower blood glucose levels during the day and overnight, lower insulin levels, and an ideal cortisol pattern (with levels higher in the morning and lower at night)—all of which suggests an improvement in circadian rhythm. More surprisingly, though, was that after just four days, this earlier eating schedule increased the expression of the SIRT1 gene (associated with longevity and healthy aging) and the LC3A gene (a biomarker of autophagy).



    How do you manage hunger?

       The million dollar question! “If i am hungry in only 3 hours after eating , how will i be able to fast for many more hours?” … Hunger is not so simple as your stomach being ’empty’. Hunger is, in fact, a highly susceptible state with a complex hormonal regulation at play. In essence, there are two major components to hunger: The unconditioned biological stimuli – that is, the part that will normally stimulate hunger naturally (smells, sights, and tastes of food) and the conditioned stimuli (learned – movie, lecture, morning etc). These conditioned responses can be very powerful and cause great hunger. If for example we consistently eat breakfast every single morning at 7:00am, lunch at 12:00 and dinner at 6:00pm, then the time of the day itself becomes a conditioned stimulus for eating. Even if we ate a huge meal at dinner the night before, and would not otherwise be hungry in the morning, we may become ‘hungry’ because it is 7:00am. The Conditioned Stimulus (time of 7:00) causes the Conditioned Response (hunger). How to combat this? Well, intermittent fasting offers a unique solution. By skipping meals and varying the intervals that we eat, we can break our current habit of feeding 3 times a day. We no longer have a conditioned response of hunger every 3-5 hours.
        And what about the hunger we feel by the unconditioned biological stimuli during our day? The most important thing to realise is, that this type of hunger, usually passes like a wave. It comes and it goes. That is, we may not be hungry one second, but after smelling a steak and hearing the sizzle, we may become quite ravenous. And then, we may engage in an activity and we forget after some minutes completely the steak and our hunger .  Many people worry that hunger during IF will continue to build up until it is intolerable, but this does not normally happen. Approximately 3-6 hours after we eat a meal, we start to feel hunger pangs and may become slightly cranky. But if we simply ignore it and drink a cup of tea or coffee, or we keep ourselves busy with activities , it will often pass.



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  • Fasting - Part 1. The science behind it

    "Our food should be our medicine.  Our medicine should be our food.  But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness."
                                                   - Hippocrates

        Fasting is one of the most ancient and widespread healing traditions in human history. This solution has been practiced by virtually every culture and religion on earth. Hippocrates of Cos (c460 – c370 BC) is widely considered the father of modern medicine. Among the treatments that he prescribed and championed was the practice of fasting. The ancient Greek writer and historian Plutarch (c46 AD– c120 AD) also echoed these sentiments. He famously wrote, “Instead of using medicine, better fast today”. Ancient Greek thinkers Plato and his student Aristotle were also strong supporters of fasting.
        The ancient Greeks believed that medical treatment could be observed from nature. Humans, like most animals, do not eat when they become sick. For this reason, fasting has been called the ‘physician within’. This fasting ‘instinct’ that makes dogs, cats and humans anorexic when sick. This sensation is certainly familiar to everybody. Consider the last time you were sick with the flu. Probably the last thing you wanted to do was eat. So, fasting seems to be a universal human instinct to multiple forms of illnesses. Thus fasting is ingrained into human heritage, and as old as mankind itself. The ancient Greeks also believed that fasting improves cognitive abilities. Think about the last time you ate a huge meal. Did you feel more energetic and mentally alert afterwards? Or, instead did you feel sleepy and a little dopey? More likely the latter. Blood is shunted to your digestive system to cope with the huge influx of food, leaving less blood going to the brain. Result – food coma.
        Fasting is also widely practiced for spiritual purposes and remains part of virtually every major religion in the world. In spiritual terms, it is often called cleansing or purification, but practically, it amounts to the same thing. The practice of fasting developed independently among different religions and cultures, not as something that was harmful, but something that was deeply, intrinsically beneficial to the human body and spirit.

        So fasting is truly an idea that has withstood the test of time.  But what is exactly fasting and what does science say about it?

    Fasting involves controlled, voluntary abstinence from caloric intake to achieve a physical, mental, or spiritual outcome.

         Our ancestors would regularly go days or even weeks without food. As a result, humans have evolved specific adaptations to survive, and even thrive, during periods of famine. So, in reality, the body  only exists in one of two states – the fed (high insulin) state or the fasted (low insulin) state. Either we are storing food energy (increasing stores) or we are burning stored energy (decreasing stores). It is one or the other, but not both. More analytically :

    Feeding – During meals, insulin levels are raised. This allows uptake of glucose into tissues such as the muscle or brain to be used directly for energy. Excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver.
    The post-absorptive phase – 6-24 hours after last meal .   Insulin levels start to fall. Breakdown of glycogen releases glucose for energy. Glycogen stores last for roughly 24 hours.
    Gluconeogenesis – 24 hours to 2 days – The liver manufactures new glucose from lactate and amino acids in a process called “gluconeogenesis”. Literally, this is translated as “making new glucose”. In non-diabetic persons, glucose levels fall but stay within the normal range.
    Ketosis – 2-3 days after beginning fasting – This is when interesting things start to happen for the body. The low levels of insulin reached during fasting, stimulate lipolysis, the breakdown of fat for energy. The storage form of fat, known as triglycerides, is broken into the glycerol backbone and three fatty acid chains. Glycerol is used also for gluconeogenesis. Fatty acids may be used for directly for energy by many tissues in the body, but not the brain. Ketone bodies instead , which are produced from fatty acids during ketosis , are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier for use by the brain. After four days of fasting, approximately 75% of the energy used by the brain is provided by ketones. The two major types of ketones produced are beta hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate, which can increase over 70 fold during fasting.
    Protein conservation phase – >5 days – High levels of growth hormone maintain muscle mass and lean tissues. The energy for maintenance of basal metabolism is almost entirely met by the use of free fatty acids and ketones. Increased norepinephrine (adrenalin) levels prevent the decrease in metabolic rate.

       We see that the human body has well developed mechanisms for dealing with periods of low food availability. In essence, what is happening while fasting is a process of switching from burning glucose to burning fat . Fat is simply the body’s stored food energy. In times of low food availability, stored food is naturally released to fill the void. So no, the body does not ‘burn muscle’ in an effort to feed itself, at least until all the fat stores are used.


    Lets have a look on the effects of fasting on Hormonal Adaptation


    • Insulin


        Insulin and insulin resistance are major drivers of obesity. Fasting on the other hand , is the most efficient and consistent strategy to decrease insulin levels. This was first noted decades ago, and widely demonstrated scientifically afterwards. It is quite simple and obvious. All foods raise insulin, so the most effective method of reducing insulin is to avoid all foods. Blood glucose levels remain normal, as the body begins to switch over to burning fat for energy. This effect can be observed in fasting periods as short as 24-36 hours. Longer duration fasts reduce insulin even more dramatically. More recently, alternate daily fasting has been studied as an acceptable technique of reducing insulin.
        Regular fasting, in addition to lowering insulin levels, has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity significantly. Many argue that this is the missing link in the weight loss puzzle. Most diets reduce highly insulin-secreting foods, but do not address the insulin resistance issue which is crucial in diabetics.  Weight is initially lost, but insulin resistance keeps insulin levels and body weight high. Fasting is an efficient method of reducing insulin resistance.
        Lowering insulin also rids the body of excess salt and water. Insulin causes salt and water retention in the kidney. Very low-carb diets often cause diuresis, the loss of excess water, leading to the contention that much of the initial weight loss is water. While true, diuresis is beneficial in reducing bloating, and feeling ‘lighter’. Some may also note a slightly lower blood pressure. Fasting has also been noted to have an early period of rapid weight loss. For the first five days, weight loss averages 0.9 kg/ day, far exceeding the caloric restriction and likely due to a diuresis of salt and water.


    • Growth Hormone


       Growth hormone is known to increase the availability and utility of fats for fuel. It also helps to preserve muscle mass and bone density. Secretion is known to be pulsatile, making accurate measurement difficult. Growth hormone secretion decreases steadily with age. One of the most potent stimuli to growth hormone secretion is fasting. Over a five-day fasting period growth hormone secretion is more than doubled. The net physiologic effect is to maintain muscle and bone tissue mass over the fasting period.


    • Adrenalin


         Adrenalin levels are increased so that we have plenty of energy to go get more food. For example, 48 hours of fasting produces a 3.6% increase in metabolic rate, not the dreaded metabolic ‘shut-down’. In response to a 4 day fast, resting energy expenditure increased up to 14%.   Rather than slowing the metabolism, instead the body revives it up. Additionally, studies show that the adrenalin-induced fat-burning does not depend upon lowering blood sugar. Presumably, this is done so that we have energy to go out and find more food.

    And what about vitamins ,minerals and electrolytes?

        Concerns about malnutrition during fasting are misplaced. Insufficient calories are not a major worry, if the fat stores are quite ample. The main concern is the development of micronutrient deficiency. However, if the fasting regime is accompanied by the use of a multi-vitamin and mineral supplementation that will provide the recommended daily allowance of micronutrients , there should’t be any issue.  It is worth noting, that in 1973 a therapeutic fast of 382 days that resulted in loss of 125 kilos for a patient, was maintained with only a multivitamin potion and had no harmful effect on health . Actually, this man maintained that he had felt terrific during this entire period. The only concern may be a slight elevation in uric acid that has been described in fasting and can be solved by increased water consumption.

    Additionally, evidence suggests four brain health effects linked to fasting:

    • Brain cell re-generation


    • Cognitive and psychological benefits


    • Resilience to neurological conditions


    • Slowing the effects of aging.


    This research on brain health is focused on the use of ketones, molecules that as we saw before, are being produced and used by the body as a source of fuel while fasting. Administration of ketones is a well established therapy since decades for intractable epilepsy and seizures. It should be considered early in the treatment of Dravet syndrome and myoclonic-astatic epilepsy (Doose syndrome). A growing body of literature suggests also that the use of ketones may be beneficial in certain neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In these disorders, ketones appears to be neuroprotective, promoting enhanced mitochondrial function and rescuing adenosine triphosphate production. Ultimately , dietary therapy is a promising intervention for cancer, given that it may target the relative inefficiency of tumors in using ketone bodies as an alternative fuel source.

    So, let’s summarise.

        Fasting, but not low calorie diets, results in numerous physiological and hormonal adaptations that all appear to be highly beneficial on many levels. The main benefits of fasting are metabolic flexibility and weight management. In essence, fasting transitions the body from burning sugar to burning fat.  Resting metabolism is NOT decreased but instead increased.  We are, effectively, feeding our bodies through our own fat.  We are ‘eating’ our own fat.  This makes total sense since fat is, in essence, stored food. Fat is food stored away for the long term, like money in the bank.  Short term food is stored as glycogen, like money in the wallet.  The problem we have, is how to access the money in the bank.  As our wallet depletes, we become nervous and go out working to fill it again.  This prevents us from getting access to our stored money in the bank. In the same manner, as our glycogen ‘wallet’ depletes, we get hungry and want to eat.  That makes us look for food, despite the fact that there is more than enough food stored as fat in the body ‘bank’’.  How do we get to that fat to burn it? Fasting provides an easy way in.



    Anderson JW, Herman RH, Newcomer KL. Improvement in glucose tolerance of fasting obese patients given oral potassium. Am J Clin Nutr. 1969 Dec;22(12):1589–1596.

    Drenick EJ, Hunt IF, Swendseid ME. Magnesium depletion during prolonged fasting of obese males. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1969 Oct;29(10):1341–1348.

    Jackson IM, McKiddie MT, Buchanan KD. The effect of prolonged fasting on carbohydrate metabolism: evidence for heterogeneity in obesity. J Endocrinol. 1968 Feb;40(2):259–260.

    Jackson IM, McKiddie MT, Buchanan KD. Effect of fasting on glucose and insulin metabolism of obese patients. Lancet. 1969 Feb 8;1(7589):285–287.

    Thomson TJ, Runcie J, Miller V. Treatment of obesity by total fasting for up to 249 days. Lancet. 1966 Nov 5;2(7471):992–996.

    Stewart, W. K., & Fleming, L. W. (1973). Features of a successful therapeutic fast of 382 days' duration. Postgraduate medical journal, 49(569), 203–209. https://doi.org/10.1136/pgmj.49.569.203

    de Groot, S., Pijl, H., van der Hoeven, J., & Kroep, J. R. (2019). Effects of short-term fasting on cancer treatment. Journal of experimental & clinical cancer research : CR, 38(1), 209. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13046-019-1189-9

    Grajower, M. M., & Horne, B. D. (2019). Clinical Management of Intermittent Fasting in Patients with Diabetes Mellitus. Nutrients, 11(4), 873. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040873

    Furmli, S., Elmasry, R., Ramos, M., & Fung, J. (2018). Therapeutic use of intermittent fasting for people with type 2 diabetes as an alternative to insulin. BMJ case reports, 2018, bcr2017221854. https://doi.org/10.1136/bcr-2017-221854

    Wilhelmi de Toledo F, Grundler F, Bergouignan A, Drinda S, Michalsen A (2019) Safety, health improvement and well-being during a 4 to 21-day fasting period in an observational study including 1422 subjects. PLoS ONE 14(1): e0209353. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209353

    Klein S, Holland OB, Wolfe RR. Importance of blood glucose concentration in regulating lipolysis during fasting in humans. Am J Physiol. 1990 Jan;258(1 Pt 1):E32-9. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.1990.258.1.E32. PMID: 2405701.
    Ho KY, Veldhuis JD, Johnson ML, et al. Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. J Clin Invest. 1988 Apr;81(4):968-75.

    Zauner C, Schneeweiss B, Kranz A, et al. Resting energy expenditure in short-term starvation is increased as a result of an increase in serum norepinephrine. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jun;71(6):1511-5.

    Sumithran P, Prendergast LA, Delbridge E, et al. Long-term persistence of hormonal adaptations to weight loss. N Engl J Med. 2011 Oct 27;365(17):1597-604. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1105816.
    Bailey EE, Pfeifer HH, Thiele EA. The use of diet in the treatment of epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 2005;6:4–8.

    Huttenlocher PR. Ketonemia and seizures: metabolic and anticonvulsant effects of two ketogenic diets in childhood epilepsy. Pediatr Res. 1976;10:536–540.

    Otto C, Kaemmerer U, Illert B, et al. Growth of human gastric cancer cells in nude mice is delayed by a ketogenic diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides. BMC Cancer. 2008;8:122.
    Nebeling LC, Miraldi F, Shurin SB, Lerner E. Effects of a ketogenic diet on tumor metabolism and nutritional status in pediatric oncology patients: two case reports. J Am Coll Nutr. 1995;14:202–208.

    Maswood N, Young J, Tilmont E, et al. Caloric restriction increases neurotrophic factor levels and attenuates neurochemical and behavioral deficits in a primate model of Parkinson’s disease. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004;101:18171–18176.

    Kim DY, Davis LM, Sullivan PG, et al. Ketone bodies are protective against oxidative stress in neocortical neurons. J Neurochem. 2007;101:1316–1326.

    Bough KJ, Wetherington J, Hassel B, et al. Mitochondrial biogenesis in the anticonvulsant mechanism of the ketogenic diet. Ann Neurol. 2006;60:223–235. An elegant study correlating seizure protection with changes in gene expression, biochemistry, and electrophysiology.

    Murphy P, Likhodii S, Nylen K, Burnham WM. The anti-depressant properties of the ketogenic diet. Biol Psychiatry. 2004;56:981–983.

  • The Psychology of Eating , part 3

    Part 3. How the food we eat affects our mood and mental state.

        Our full physical and mental development is dependent on the food that we eat. Without sufficient food we would not grow, our bodies would be stunted and our physical organs would be undeveloped; moreover the development of our brain would be irrevocably harmed. But we also need high quality nutrition so that the body can repair itself fast , wounds can heal properly and cells can repair themselves as necessary. What we eat affects how our immune system works, how our genes work, and how our body responds to stress. All cells and tissues on our body , enzymes, neurotransmitters , hormones etc are made from the chemical components of the foods (and drinks) that we consume. So, we are literally what we eat.

        Additionally , the food we consume affects the microbiome of our gut. There is a plethora of studies showing how a healthier microbiome is going to decrease inflammation in the body, which consequently affects mood and  cognition. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), the gut’s brain is housed under the mucosal lining and between the muscular layers of the esophagus, the stomach, and the small and large intestines. The enteric nervous system is a rich and complicated network of neurons and neurochemicals that sense and control events in the digestive tract and, remarkably, can sense and respond to events in other parts of the body, including the brain. Amazingly, when scientists finally counted the number of nerve cells in the gut-brain, they found it contained over one hundred million neurons—more than the number of nerve cells in the spinal cord. What’s fascinating to note is that researchers have observed a significantly greater flow of neural traffic from the ENS to the head-brain than from the head-brain to the ENS. In other words, rather than the head informing the digestive system what to eat and how to metabolize, the focus of command is stationed in the belly. In addition to an extensive network of neurons, the entire digestive tract is also lined with cells that produce and receive a variety of neuropeptides and neurochemicals; the same substances, in fact, that were previously thought to be found only in the brain. These include serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and glutamate. Even more eye-opening is that many hormones and chemicals previously thought to exist only in the gut were later found to be active in the brain. These include insulin, cholecystokinin, vasoactive intestinal protein, motilin, gastrin, somatostatin, thyrotropin releasing hormone, neurotensin, secretin, glucagon, and bombesin. All these foundings confirm the strong connection of the gut with the brain.

        Another compelling discovery is that the entire digestive tract is lined with specialised cells that produce and receive endorphins and enkephalins, chemicals that yield an array of sensations including joy, satisfaction, and pain relief. Most of the digestive sensations we are aware of tend to be negative ones, such as digestive upset and discomfort. Yet the warm gut feelings we sometimes experience after a satisfying meal or an exciting encounter are, in part, the enteric nervous system squirting pleasure chemicals at distant and neighbouring cells. As many of us know, the gut is often a barometer of our emotional states and stresses. Those who suffer from peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, upset stomach, and other conditions would certainly concur. Perhaps this is why the gut produces an abundance of a class of chemicals known as the benzodiazepines. These psychoactive substances are the active ingredients in the prescription drugs Valium and Xanax. That’s right, your gut naturally produces these substances, in their exact chemical form, without a prescription and at no extra cost.

        But let’s have a look on the most common issues of mood and mental disorder. Anxiety for example is strongly related to a state of disturbance in the gut bacteria. When people experience unrelenting anxiety, then this means that they may be experiencing what is described by some theorists as an anxiety disorder. This includes panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social phobia and generalised anxiety disorder. Dr. Perlmutter considers that anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors which include the condition and processing ability of the gut, and the bacteria which inhabits it. He states: “When the balance of gut bacteria isn’t right, other biological pathways – be they hormonal, immunological or neuronal, aren’t right either. And the brain’s processing centres, such as those that handle emotions, aren’t right either. He quotes two significant experiments to substantiate his argument: In a 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mice fed probiotics had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone, than mice fed plain broth. (J.A. Bravo et al., 2011). The second study he describes was conducted at Oxford University. Neurobiologists found that giving people prebiotics (which is food for the promotion of good bacteria in the gut), resulted in positive psychological effects. What was observed by the Oxford researchers was that, compared to the placebo group, the individuals who had taken the prebiotics paid more attention to positive information, and less attention to the negative information. This effect, which has been noticed with individuals on antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication, indicated that the prebiotic group experienced less anxiety when faced with the negative stimuli. Also, the researchers discovered that the people who took the prebiotics had lower levels of cortisol, when measured via their saliva samples, which were taken in the morning, when cortisol levels are at their highest. Dr Perlmutter considers that these examples are relevant to the growing evidence of research studies that show a connection between mental health and gut bacteria, in particular in relation to anxiety.

        Another important factor in the management of anxiety involves regulating our blood sugar levels. Why can it make such a difference? The reason is because the sugar that we get in our bodies from processed foods such as white bread, white rice, white pasta, chocolates and fizzy drinks (to name a few junk foods) is immediately available, and immediately affects us. The body doesn’t have to work hard to digest the food and extract the nutrients. As a result, blood sugar rises rapidly and we can feel full of energy as a consequence. But this reaction is very bad for our body, which handles this sudden influx of sugar by releasing the hormone insulin. This informs our cells to mop up excess sugar very quickly. As a result of this activity by our insulin secretions, our blood sugar then drops, but it goes too low. Because of this drop, the hormone adrenaline is released. This is to initiate the unleashing of stored glucose, and then the experience of adrenaline is felt by the body. And as Dale Pinnock eloquently states “…adrenaline is to anxiety what petrol is to a bonfire”. You will then experience a change in your breathing rate; your heartbeat gets faster and faster; and your mind starts to race. These symptoms can be very unpleasant if you are already prone to experiencing anxiety.

        Additionally,  high calorie meals rich in trans-fats appear to stimulate immune activation.  Indeed, the inflammatory effects of a diet high in calories and trans-fatty acids have been proposed as one mechanism through which the Western diet may have detrimental effects on brain health, including cognitive decline, hippocampal dysfunction, and damage to the blood-brain barrier. Since various mental health conditions, including mood disorders, have been linked to heightened inflammation, this mechanism also presents a pathway through which poor diet could increase the risk of depression. This hypothesis is supported by observational studies which have shown that people with depression score significantly higher on measures of “dietary inflammation,” characterised by a greater consumption of foods that are associated with inflammation (eg, trans fats and refined carbohydrates) and lower intakes of nutritional foods, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory properties (eg, omega-3 fats).

        Blood sugar levels and trans-fats affect also anger levels. The are many studies that demonstrate the close relation between anger levels and diet. In a research  conducted by Professor Stephen Schoenthaler in 1983  for California State University, three thousand inmates of a prison were placed on a strict diet. The diet contained a marked reduction in sugary and refined foods. The results of this dietary restriction were as follows: There was a 25% reduction in assaults at the prison, a 21% reduction in anti-social behaviour, a 75% reduction in the use of restraints and a 100% reduction in suicides! A later study affirmed the validity of the results of Schoenthaler’s research. In 1983, in a double-blind study of 1,382 detained juvenile offenders on a sugar-restricted diet, the effects of this restricted diet were as follows: the anti-social behaviour dropped by 44% with the most outstanding reductions happening to the most serious offenders (Schoenthaler 1983). There is also research which suggests a link between trans-fats (including hydrogenated oils in processed foods), on the one hand, and aggression, irritability and impatience, on the other.  And, there have been several follow-up studies which have replicated and extended Schoenthaler’s results, demonstrating a strong link between healthy diet and more pro-social behaviour, indicative of better mood management and emotional control.  Of particular note is the finding that keeping the poor quality diet of prisoners, but adding vitamin and mineral supplements, plus fish oil supplements, will normally reduce anti-social behaviour, as levels of anger decline. And in the UK, between 1995 and 1997, at Aylesbury Young Offenders Institution, a placebo-controlled, randomised trial, was conducted by Dr Bernard Gesch (2002), in which young offenders were given food supplements (including vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids), and it was found that they committed 37% fewer violent offences, while the inmates who received the placebo showed no such reduction; thus demonstrating that improved nutrition reduces angry outbursts (which were being fuelled by vitamin and mineral and fatty acid deficiencies).

    So, which foods are recommended for improved mood and healthy mental state?

    Generally, eating a balance of foods, mostly plants, gives us the nutrients we need for physical and mental health. There is no superfood for mental health. Our pattern of eating is what matters the most. A balanced and varied diet of whole and unprocessed foods provides the mix of nutrients we need to be at our best. All nutrients are important for physical and mental health. Here’s how foods from the five core food groups support our mental wellbeing:

    • Fruit and vegetables provide us with fibre that feeds our good gut bacteria. Fruit and vegetables are important sources of the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that underpin our body’s core functions. Fermented foods, such as Kimchi , Kefir,  Kombucha or Sauerkraut, are also beneficial for our mental health, as they provide us with living good bacteria (also known as probiotics).


    • Whole grains, cereals and legumes  are excellent sources of minerals, healthy fats, protein and fibre. They give us B vitamins, folate, and other vitamins which support brain health and functioning.


    • Lean meats, including fish, and eggs are the best dietary sources of protein. Our body turns protein into many products, including brain chemicals that shape our mood. Moderation is key though – too much meat, particularly processed and fatty meats, can negatively affect our physical and mental health.


    • Dairy foods like yoghurt provide us with living probiotics, which boost our gut health and in turn supports mental health.


    • Healthy fats, especially omega-3, are essential for keeping our brain and nerves in tip-top shape. Great sources include olive oil, nuts, seeds, and oily fish like sardines, salmon, and mackerel.


    • Water is vital for mental health. Our bodies are 65% water, and our organs (including our brain!) need water to function well. Drinking adequate water keeps our brains more alert. For most adults this is around 2 litres, or 8 cups, of water each day.



    Taylor-Byrne, R. and Byrne, J.; How to control Your anger, anxiety and depression: Using nutrition and physical activity . The Institute for E-CENT Publications: Hebden Bridge. Kindle Edition.

    Furness J. and Bornstein J., “The Enteric Nervous System and Its Extrinsic Connections,” in Textbook of Gastroenterology (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1995).

    Gershon, M. , The Second Brain (New York: Perennial, 1999).

    Adrian T. E. and Bloom S. R., “The Effect of Food on Gut Hormones,” Advances in Food and Nutrition Research 37 (1993).

    Sandra Blakeslee, “Complex and Hidden Brain in the Gut Makes Cramps, Butterflies, and Valium,” New York Times, January 23, 1996.

    David, M. The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss (p. 191). Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.

    Gangwisch J.E., Hale L., Garcia L. et al. High glycemic index diet as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative. Am J Clin Nutr2015;102:454-63. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.103846 pmid:26109579

    Sarris, J., Logan, A. C., Akbaraly, T. N., Paul Amminger, G., Balanzá-Martínez, V., Freeman, M. P., et al. 2015. International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research consensus position statement: nutritional medicine in modern psychiatry. World Psychiatry. 14:370–1. doi: 10.1002/wps.20223

    Jacka, F. N., O'Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., et al. 2017. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med.. 15:23. doi: 10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y

    Lassale C, Batty GD, Baghdadli A, Jacka F, Sánchez-Villegas A, Kivimäki M, Akbaraly T. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Psychiatry. 2019 Jul;24(7):965-986. doi: 10.1038/s41380-018-0237-8. Epub 2018 Sep 26. Erratum in: Mol Psychiatry. 2018 Nov 21;: PMID: 30254236; PMCID: PMC6755986.

    Edwards, M. (2014) 'The candida depression connection - How yeast leads to depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental disorders'. Available online at: https://www.naturalnews.com/047184_ candida_ depression_gut_microbes.html#

    Enders, G. (2015) Gut: The inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ.  London: Scribe Publications. Pages 2-3.

    Salari-Moghaddam A, Saneei P, Larijani B, Esmaillzadeh A. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr2019;73:356-65. doi:10.1038/s41430-018-0258-z pmid:30054563

    O’Keefe JH, Gheewala NM, O’Keefe JO. Dietary strategies for improving post-prandial glucose, lipids, inflammation, and cardiovascular health. J Am Coll Cardiol2008;51:249-55. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2007.10.016 pmid:18206731

    Ross, J. (2003) The Mood Cure: Take charge of your emotions in 24 hours using food and supplements. London: Thorsons.

    Virkkunen, M. (1986) ‘Reactive hypoglycaemic tendency among habitually violent offenders’. Nutrition Reviews, Vol. 44 (Suppl). Pages 94-103.

    Schoenthaler, S.J. (1983) ‘The Northern California diet-behaviour program: An empirical evaluation of 3,000 incarcerated juveniles in Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall’. International Journal of Biosocial Research, Vol 5(2), Pages 99-106.

    Schoenthaler, S.J. (1983) ‘The Los Angeles probation department diet behaviour program: An empirical analysis of six institutional settings’. International Journal of Biosocial Research, Vol 5(2), Pages 107-117.

    Bravo, J.A., P. Forsythe, M.V. Chew, E. Escaravage, H.M. et al (2011) ‘Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behaviour and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve’. PNAS 2011 108 (38) 16050-16055; doi:10.1073/pnas.1102999108;

    Schmidt, K., Cowen, P.J., Harmer, C.J., et al. (2015) ‘Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers’. Psychopharmacology (2015) 232: Pages 1793-1801.

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    David, M. ; The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss (pp. 71-72). Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.

  • The Psychology of Eating, part 2

    Part 2. Long-term “fight or flight” stress management strategies.


    In the first part of the this series, we saw how the the psychological/mental state of the eater can affect his/her metabolic capacity and moreover we explained how eating in the natural and necessary state of parasympathetic dominance can yield breakthroughs with food and metabolism. In this second part we will examine the most effective long-term “fight or flight” stress management strategies.


    1) Deep breathing from your diaphragm.

    This technique stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System because it slows down your breathing. If you put your hand on your stomach and it rises up and down slightly as you breathe, you know you're diaphragm breathing. (This is why it's sometimes called abdominal breathing.) With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. While apps and audio downloads can guide you through the process, all you really need is a few minutes and a place to sit quietly or stretch out.

    How to practice deep breathing:

    • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
    • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
    • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
    • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.


    If you find it difficult breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying down. Put a small book on your stomach, and breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.


     2) Mindful Eating/Mindfulness

    For many of us, our busy daily lives often make mealtimes rushed affairs. We find ourselves eating in the car commuting to work, at the desk in front of a computer screen, or parked on the couch watching TV. We eat mindlessly, shovelling food down regardless of whether we’re still hungry or not. In fact, we often eat for reasons other than hunger—to satisfy emotional needs, to relieve stress, or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom. Mindful eating is the opposite of this kind of unhealthy “mindless” eating.   Mindful eating is based on mindfulness, a Buddhist concept that has become popular as a self-calming method and in our case as a method of changing eating behaviours. Mindfulness is the practice of living each moment as it comes and focusing on the present moment by staying constantly aware of the feelings, thoughts, emotions, environmental stimuli, and bodily sensations that come and go over time.

    To do something mindfully means to pay full attention to it and to embrace everything about it. You can do anything more mindfully — from washing dishes or sweeping the floor, to driving to work or playing with your children. By paying close attention to how you feel as you eat—the texture and tastes of each mouthful, your body’s hunger and fullness signals, how different foods affect your energy and mood—you can learn to savour both your food and the experience of eating. Being mindful of the food you eat can promote better digestion, keep you full with less food, and influence wiser choices about what you eat in the future. It can also help you free yourself from unhealthy habits around food and eating.

    Additionally , eating mindfully can help you to:

    • Examine and change your relationship with food—helping you to notice when you turn to food for reasons other than hunger (emotional eating , eating out of boredom etc).
    • Attain greater pleasure from the food you eat, as you learn to slow down and appreciate more fully your meals and snacks.
    • Make healthier choices about what you eat by focusing on how each type of food makes you feel after eating it.
    • Make a greater connection to where your food comes from, how it’s produced, and the journey it’s taken to your plate.

    3)    Meditation practice

    Meditation is one of the best ways to improve your stress response, reduce overall anxiety in your life, and live more peacefully. It is definitely a way to help yourself reduce the occurrences of “fight or flight” in your life and to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.

    Many people are intimidated by meditation; however, meditation should not be something you fear or worry about “accomplishing” or doing absolutely correctly. Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – in order to bring attention and awareness on the present moment and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. It is a practice that goes on and on and one that you can cultivate as a lifelong activity, which will provide endless benefits and help reduce physiological stress.

    While there are certainly protocols for different types of meditation and guidelines that you can use as you're just starting out, anyone can decide to become a meditator at any time. You can meditate for hours at a time, but you can also meditate for two minutes or ten minutes. Sitting meditation is generally where people start. You can meditate alone, with a partner, or in a group. You can meditate by using your own knowledge about meditation, or you can have a guide or teacher help you along. Meditation can be silent, or it may be accompanied by audible guidance from a teacher or listening to binaural sounds. You may decide to use a meditation cushion or chair or to sit on the floor or even at the edge of your bed.


     4)  Yoga/Tai Chi (Qi Gong)

    Many people find that movement helps them concentrate better when it comes to meditation. If sitting meditation tends to be a challenge because of its motionlessness and stillness, you might try yoga , tai chi or any other mindful exercise.

    Yoga is another great way to find peace and calm when you feel your mind is racing. The mind-body connection with yoga is an amazing and well-documented phenomenon. Essentially, the theory behind the mind-body connection is that what goes on in the mind — thoughts, emotions, and feelings — affects what goes on in your body, which in turn affects how you feel physically. At the same time, how you feel physically and how healthy and fit your body is will affect your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

    Yoga is a practice that takes into consideration the mind-body connection and aims to benefit both aspects of your being. While it may appear that yoga poses only deal with the physical body, by engaging in a mindful movement while focusing on breathing, your mental state is actually heavily influenced by the same poses. Each pose is able to strengthen and/or improve flexibility in your body while also stimulating the organs and improving circulation. At the same time, every pose is also meant to stimulate the brain, inducing calm and focus.

    Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice and was originally a form of self-defense. However, today it is used to reduce stress and promote physical fitness. The practice is often done in a group with a leader. It is described frequently as "meditation in motion." By using slow, gentle movements that flow from one to the next, tai chi helps your body stretch and exercise itself while your brain aims to focus on the breath and stay in the moment, watching each flowing movement as you perform them. Tai chi is also especially good for those who suffer with chronic pain or illnesses and for the elderly, as a way of getting exercise for both the mind and body.
    4.    Visualisation

    Visualisation, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging studies (fMRI), researchers have found that whether we are imagining something or we live it in reality , the same areas of the brain get activated. This means that you can trick your brain "thinking" that you are indeed living the visualised experience, getting all the same "hormonal" benefits . This suggests also, that since there is little difference between the memory we develop from our imagination and perception of actual experience, we have higher power to influence the lens through which we perceive and experience future events. With other words,  when you start using visualisation , you have a more exceptional ability to shape your future and change your life.

    Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it’s a tropical beach, a favourite childhood spot, or a quiet wooded glen. You can practice visualisation on your own or with an app or audio download to guide you through the imagery. You can also choose to do your visualisation in silence or use listening aids, such as soothing music or a sound machine or a recording that matches your chosen setting: the sound of ocean waves if you’ve chosen a beach, for example.

    Visualisation works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. For example, if you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake:
    See the sun setting over the water
    Hear the birds singing
    Smell the pine trees
    Feel the cool water on your bare feet
    Taste the fresh, clean air


    It’s important to remember, however, that there is no single relaxation technique that works for everyone. We’re all different. The right technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind to elicit the relaxation response. That means it may require some trial and error to find the technique (or techniques) that work best for you. Once you do, regular practice can help reduce everyday stress and anxiety, improve your sleep, boost your energy and mood, and improve your overall health and wellbeing. Bear in mind though, that relaxation does NOT mean flopping on the couch and zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. This does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. The point is to activate your body’s natural relaxation response, a state of deep rest that puts the brakes on stress, slows your breathing and heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and brings your body and mind back into balance. So, apart from the techniques mentioned above , the following activities can help us stay more in Parasympathetic mode :

    • Spend time in nature

    • Play with your pet

    • Engage in positive social relationships.

    • Engage in prayer/ Practice gratitude.

    • Massages. Even gently massaging around the carotid sinus located on the sides of your neck can stimulate the vagus nerve and subsequently help you relax and unwind.


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