Following on from last Friday’s post on low-fat diets and depression, I have found subsequent research which has, happily, produced more evidence.
Today’s entry excerpts a February 2011 article on Underground Wellness by Sean Croxton, who describes himself as ‘currently munching on oysters!’ Well done, that man.
His article — ‘Is Your Low-fat Diet Making You Depressed and Anxious?’ — spells out the perils of a regime without adequate animal fat. He cites a favourite health researcher of mine, the late Weston A Price. You can find the Weston A Price Foundation‘s website in my lengthy References blogroll.
Croxton says that, as our genes developed 10,000 years ago, we would benefit from looking at cultures whose way of life is still agricultural or hunter-gatherer. Not only has diet enabled the survival of these cultures. It also gives them robust mental health, far superior to ours. Emphases mine below:
Although we have no written or eyewitness accounts of the mental and emotional state of cavemen and women, we can look at the works of Weston A. Price and Vilhjalmur Stefansson, PhD to draw some conclusions as to the role of diet in mental health. In the case of Stefansson, a Canadian explorer and anthropologist, the Eskimos he studied and lived with were “the happiest people in the world”. Not only were they happy, but they were also extremely healthy, free of cancer, heart disease, and the diseases of civilization.
The Eskimo diet consisted of 80% animal fat. In fact, they warned Stefansson of the dangers of eating lean meat. They said it would make him sick, just as it making us sick.
Croxton says that Weston A Price found in his cultural research that:
the native people he studied and lived with consumed ten times more fat-soluble vitamins and four times more minerals than we consume. These primitive people had no need for jails or mental institutions. Similar to Stefansson, Price consistently found that with adequate fats and nutrients came not only superior health, but also a pleasing, cheerful disposition.
Meanwhile, we Westerners have been turning to self-help books, anger management courses and high-carbohydrate / low-fat diets.
Perhaps, as Croxton suggests, diet is the source of our problem.
I noticed things began changing gradually in the 1980s. By the end of the decade, Americans were generally more irritable and agitated than in the two previous decades. This was the time when the low-fat mantra began appearing everywhere, from doctor’s offices to magazines to the supermarket.
To balance the loss of fat from our diets, large carbohydrate-heavy desserts — especially oversized cookies which could adequately feed a family of four — began appearing in American malls and shopping districts. We all thought they were quite novel at the time. The mantra which accompanied these carb-laden delights was ‘Carbohydrate comforts. Remember having cake when you came home from school?’
Thirty years on and the West is wondering why they have not only an obesity epidemic but also a surge in aberrant behaviour, from school bullying to road rage to increased psychiatric diagnoses.
We wonder how it can all be happening right now and why? Perhaps carbohydrates in that concentration aren’t so good for society after all.
Nor is too little animal fat.
Croxton interviewed an author who studies addiction, Pam Killeen. She told Croxton:
Approximately 60% of our brain is made up of fat. About 25% of the fat is the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, while 14% is the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid (AA).
The ideal food sources for these critical fats are wild fish, shellfish, grass-fed meat, lamb, goat, and pastured poultry and eggs. Yet, we prefer farmed fish, grain-fed cattle, the skin removed from our chicken, and the yolks out of our eggs. That is, if you eat animal foods at all.
We make grand attempts to keep our cholesterol levels down to save us from heart disease, yet we ignore the fact that “our brains make up 2% of our body’s weight and contains 25% of its cholesterol”. In fact, “myelin, which covers nerve axons to help conduct the electrical impulses that make movement, sensation, thinking, learning, and memory possible, is over 1/5 cholesterol by weight”. Cholesterol also increases neurotransmitter function five-fold and is needed for the proper functioning of serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) receptors in the brain. Low cholesterol will not save you from heart disease and it will certainly have a negative impact on your mood and brain function.
Then, there are mineral deficiencies of which we are unaware:
An imbalanced zinc-to-copper ratio can cause fatigue, anxiety, hyperactivity and more. The best sources of zinc are red meat, organ meats (yum!), seafood, and oysters (I’m eating some right now).
Croxton tells us that one of the most important food supplements we can take is Vitamin D. It is only available naturally in animal products. The only other way of getting it, other than via a pill (which needs to be balanced with other vitamins in order for us to process it properly), is by basking in direct sunlight. However, our use of sunscreens inhibits that method of absorption.
He concludes that it is time we moved away from our late 20th and early 21st century carb-heavy, fat-free diet and go back to the basics:
We have never in the history of the world consumed a diet this low in saturated fats, fat-soluble vitamins, and minerals. We’re paying the price for it, not only physically but mentally.
We do not have an antidepressant deficiency! Rather, many of us are deficient in the nutrients that build healthy brains and neurotransmitter function.
Having spent several hours reading about this topic, I couldn’t agree more.
What if we could kiss our anti-depressants goodbye? What if we could help ourselves to be less stressed at home and at work?
Perhaps it is possible, with a bit more animal fat and protein. It is time to ditch our dependence on carbohydrates.
More on this topic tomorrow.