Grey matter matters.

Aging and dementia.

Nutrition and the brain.

A nutrition and health post.

Blog time : it’s March 2021 and if anything has gone to plan so far this year then iv’e just finished my first food cycle of several days of dietary ketosis followed by an extended fast and finished with a second period of deliberate low carbohydrate and ketogenic style eating.  In short that begins to explain my new approach to nutrition this year and that quick look at the first week/10 days of a 6 week cycle is what i think i will be doing on a cyclical basis : the first part of each 6 week cycle being geared towards reducing  my still too high viscera fat, repair (autophagy) and minimizing (harm, insulin resistance, inflammation and disease).   After that part of the cycle my nutrition goals move more towards retaining and re-training muscle…thus heavier on the anabolic side.  If all goes well then the end of a 6 week cycle should see me out on the trail, walking distance with load and eating a higher carbohydrate load which will mimic our mountains and canyons diet.

For the main part of this post though i want to do a follow up to my first post about fasting ‘live long and prosper’ and also a part of my story about what happened this time last year, a few weeks into my first experiments with LCHF/Keto, when something pretty dramatic seemed to happen in my head. In all of these posts iv’e just tried to explain what happened to me in the first few months of my own health reset experiment : as i have said before i was both technically and measurably obese and hypertensive when i went into my reset experiment, i’d had a knee replacement 2 years before and i had the new problem of losing grip when i was working with hand tools.   Well, for this piece i need to add a new factor to that and which is a lot more subjective : that i seemed to have a lower level of interest in stuff generally and a lower level of concentration and i think of attention span.  I note particularly that if i could be bothered to pick up a book and actually read then i wouldn’t read for long or if i tried to work on a piece of writing i would maybe finish one poor paragraph and then spend the next hour just idly surfing the net and of course drinking coffee and eating biscuits.

For me the internet is kind-of a deadly trap which is one of the things i recognize from having done Jordan Peterson’s  ‘Big 5‘ personality trait test and some of the work in his self authoring programme : in brief i seem to be very high on trait openness which is the creativity and curiosity trait and which isn’t quite balanced by enough conscientiousness and sheer order to actually get stuff done. One problem that i have is that i am quite simply interested in lots of things, any site visitor might even see that just from a quick look through my blog ; ok so the bulk of it is about boats, sailing and the sea but there is also a lot of other outdoors stuff, then there’s the men’s health posts the fitness and nutrition posts, the garden and then the Opsimath/Philomath section which i should be writing a lot more about.  With the first problem goes a second….that i like to read and research a lot unless it’s an off the cuff blog post about my own experiences in that subject.   I’m also trying to write one practical book about pocket yachts, have parts of a novel in files on the screen and when my mind goes into time-off mode i’m usually thinking about either another writing project or one of my boat projects.  i sometimes joke that i have ‘too much to think’ !

Looking back on the time just before i started my big reset i think i see 2 other factors or problems as well, one being that i seemed to be avoiding doing harder things , in my writing for example and that sugar craving was a constant companion : i would be trying to do one thing and in the next moment my brain would go ‘oh look…..biscuits’.  Today i think that my long term sugar addiction was a problem and that it may have even begun to do long term damage to my mental processes….the kind of thing that results in the mental ‘fog’ we often see in older people : in short, the beginnings of dementia.

Drawing on another part of my life ie my years as a nurse i think we were seeing a large increase in dementia in our older patients and to the extent that we even began to regard that as normal aging : it isn’t by the way and there is no good reason why the human brain should deteriorate in that way. We should perhaps think of at least one common form of dementia as Type 3 Diabetes because it is directly related to insulin resistance across the blood-brain barrier and that’s not much more than a sugar poisoning problem earlier in the victims life.

Up until last year i kind-of knew that somehow hard exercise, especially resistance exercise, improves brain function and i was aware of some claims that maybe diet and fasting had similar effects : i hadn’t ‘joined the dots’ at that time though and didn’t know about the relationship between fasting/exercise and BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) or the link between insulin resistance and brain function.  Since then iv’e done the harder work and i know now that hard exercise and fasting both increase BDNF and that BDNF is crucial to brain recovery brain ‘health’ and new learning….also of course that the brain is nothing like as reliant on glucose as i was once taught as a student nurse : in fact the brain runs really well on mainly ketones and a small supply of glucose.

So, what happened then ?

What happened to me at about this time last year and around 6 weeks into my experiment with LCHF/Keto diet is that i had a huge increase in energy and drive and the desire to ‘get shit done’ as us we sailors are want to say.  In a way this was quite funny because one of the first things i actually did was wrote out a list of everything that just needed doing around the place….and once i’d done that i sat down and had a coffee, the list being that long.   One of the first big days of work i did was one outside where i spent a day clearing and burning the big bramble patch on our border and it was during that long day’s work that i experienced feeling faint occasionally when i kept having to stoop down and stand up repeatedly.  I know now what was happening, that i’d accidentally reversed my hypertension through going low carb but i hadn’t noticed yet that my work rate had gone up or that i was spontaneously doing a lot more physical work and going out for longer and longer walks.

If there was a chicken and egg situation here, even perhaps one of causality then it began with my change of what i ate rather than how much i ate : i changed from a very high carbohydrate diet in which there was a lot of high sugar , processed food and i note a lot of ‘healthy’ seed oils, to a much lower carbohydrate diet and no seed oils.  Instead i was eating a lot more saturated and mono-unsaturated fats (olive oil and butter).   Within 6 weeks i simply had this urge to do work and get stuff done, from there i found that i wanted to be outside a lot more and taking longer walks and from that i also started doing simple body weight exercises at home and within a few weeks i was setting myself targets of how many press-ups to do that day or how much firewood to cut, scavenge and ‘ruck’ home ; but that wasn’t the end of it.

When i did get through my exercise and my job list for the day i would also come to the keyboard with far more concentration and focus : that improved over time just with my initial dietary changes but i note that i had another step-change later in the year when i started doing longer fasts.  One very early side effect that i noticed during my longer fasts, longer than 24 hrs say, was the amazing feeling of mental calm and clarity that i was experiencing…..and that has only got better over time.

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