You Can Change Your Brain

This is interesting …

The brain you had, and have, does not necessarily have to be the brain you have going forward.
The thoughts and beliefs and behaviors you had, and have, do not necessarily have to be the thoughts and beliefs and behaviors you have going forward.

How You Can Re-Programme Your Brain, BBC Radio 4.

For years, neuroscientists presumed that the structure of the adult brain was fixed. We were stuck with what we’d got.

But by the 1960s experimental evidence started to emerge suggesting the contrary: that in fact parts of the brain might be plastic, meaning they are able to adapt, grow and even regenerate.

What London cab drivers revealed about our brains:

Hop in the back of a London black cab, offer up your destination, and the driver is duty-bound to take you there by the fastest possible route. In order to do this, the cab driver has to memorise all the roads in London. No mean feat. Mastering “The Knowledge” normally takes two to four years.

Neuroscientists studying cabbies discovered that while this giant act of memorisation was undertaken, significant changes occurred in a region of the driver’s brain called the hippocampus. They found, using new neuroimaging technology, that it actually got bigger.

This had huge implications. It suggested that the brain we have is not the brain we are fated to have forever, and that we have the ability to make changes.

How do you change your brain? By changing your thoughts:

Experiments have proven that the brain retains the capacity for large-scale change – in structure and function – well into our 60s, 70s, and 80s. One of the most important of these changes is the growth of new neurons, known as neurogenesis.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT, is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. When we are taught to think about our life experiences differently, during this kind of psychological intervention, it can actually act back on the structure and function of the brain.

What gets me about this is that you can actually change the structure of your brain. And it’s not hard to do.

Every time you learn something new or have a new thought, new connections in the mind and new physical structures in the brain are formed and consolidated.

Study: High-Fat Diet Decreases Insulin Sensitivity

A diet high in fat, especially saturated fat, has been shown to increase lipids inside muscle cells and decrease insulin sensitivity. Photo credit: Cristian Baitg Schreiweis/iStockphoto

This is an older study but it shows this was known for decades: a high-fat diet contributes to insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes:

Effects Of Intravenous And Dietary Lipid Challenge On Intramyocellular Lipid Content And The Relation With Insulin Sensitivity In Humans, Diabetes, November 2001

In just three days on a high-fat diet, 12 young, healthy, male, normal-weight, nondiabetic volunteers, showed substantially increased lipid levels inside their muscle cells and a decrease in insulin sensitivity, similar to what occurred after an overnight intravenous lipid infusion.

– In the diet protocol, 12 male subjects ingested both a high-fat and low-fat diet for 3 days each.
– After the high-fat diet, IMCL [IMCL is intramyocellular lipid, that is, lipid located within muscle cells] levels increased significantly. Insulin sensitivity decreased to 83.3 ± 5.6% of baseline (P = 0.033).
– There were no significant changes in insulin sensitivity or IMCL levels after the low-fat diet.

Each subject received a high-fat low-carbohydrate diet and a low-fat high-carbohydrate diet for 3 consecutive days each.

1) High-fat diet: fat: 55–60% of energy intake, carb: 30–35%, protein: 11–16%
2) Low-fat diet: fat: 18–23%, carb: 62–64%, protein: 16–18% protein

After ingestion of the high-fat diet for 3 days, both IMCL levels and insulin sensitivity were clearly affected.

This conclusion agrees with findings from several studies that have showed that a fat-rich diet can increase plasma NEFA [nonesterified fatty acid] levels, and, moreover, that this increase in NEFA levels is accompanied by a decrease in insulin sensitivity (3,10,11,24,25).

In Tsimane Culture, Social Status Grows With Age

In a long-term study of the Tsimane, researchers find productivity and social status peak long after physical strength. Photo credit: Paul Hooper

Aging Gracefully In The Rainforest, Eurekalert, May 2017


The Tsimane of Bolivian Amazonia aren’t so different from the people living around you. Most adults live to 70, a few even to 90. They start aging in their 30s, just like the rest of us. And for the Tsimane, the onset of physical aging isn’t really tantamount to decline. Between the ages of 40 and 60, many individuals reach a social and economic peak when hard work and life experience bear their fruit.

In an article that appears in the current issue of Evolutionary Anthropology, researchers synthesize over 15 years of theoretical and empirical findings from long-term study of the Tsimane forager-farmers. This project — the Tsimane Health and Life History Project — sought to understand the human life course outside the context of industrial civilization. It followed a number of complex variables, from biomarkers related to health and aging, to surveys of social status, to observations of economic productivity.

“This project is really an example of big data outside the narrow industrialized context,” explains co-author Paul Hooper, an anthropologist based at the Santa Fe Institute. “The story the Tsimane bear out, through a mountain of data, is the story of all humanity. It’s the ability of a human to produce resources and support the people that they care about later in life, in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.”

Hooper credits adaptation, experience, and maturation for bringing about these late-life benefits. Although their physical strength peaks in their 20s, Tsimane men in middle and older age adapt by devoting less time to hunting and more to horticulture. Tsimane women divide their time between horticulture, food processing, and childcare. While less physically demanding than hunting, horticulture is productive enough that Tsimane between 40 and 70 wind up producing the majority of calories for their extended families. And, because members of older generations are identified as being the best storytellers and advisors, their social stock also rises with age.

“We were able to see that as adults age and their bodies become weaker, instead of ceasing to be productive, folks adaptively shift their behavior into arenas where their aging bodies perform quite well,” Hooper explains.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the findings suggest that human fitness cannot be measured outside of complex social and intergenerational contexts; that our relatively long human lifespans may have evolved to maximize not only individual survival, but also the survival of children and grandchildren. Aging, then, can be understood as a passing of resources and wisdom to the next generation.

The reality of aging, particularly for humans, is that there’s a potential for really high performance and quality of life remarkably late into the aging process.”

This struck me: “human fitness cannot be measured outside of complex social and intergenerational contexts.” The anti-aging movement, the life-extension movement, these are being pursued with an individual focus. They are asking, “How can a human being, an individual, separate and distinct from the beings around it, live a longer and healthier life?” But this study of the Tsimane show that we are not so separate from our surroundings, from the people around us.

When people are respected and valued and nurtured, they thrive. Their health and longevity reflect that care. Is the reverse true? When people are marginalized, do they suffer poorer health?

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism Linked To Poorer Health In Older People In England, Eurekalert, 3 April 2019

They describe health effects linked to age discrimination and speculate on reasons:

Exposure to age discrimination can provoke stress responses harmful to both mental wellbeing and physical health.

People may use unhealthy behaviours, like smoking, drinking, poor diet or physical inactivity [I’ll add here use of prescription or illicit drugs], to cope with experiences of age discrimination.

Age discrimination in healthcare could mean that older patients are not receiving the same standard of care as their younger counterparts.

People can internalize discrimination. They come to see themselves, even subconsciously, through a filter of how society sees them. I think this is at the root of people trying to look, think, and act younger. Youth is valued in our society, age not as much.

There’s a lot we can learn from the Tsimane.

Jose, a member of the Tsimane group who is 75 years old, stands in the plantain field he planted in Bolivia’s Amazon rain forest. Photo: Matthieu Paley/National Geographic. Source: NPR: Who Has The Healthiest Hearts In The World?

Cookies From Izzy At “She Likes Food”

Look at this photo! How could I not try them? They’re vegan. No added oil. Not exactly low calorie but packed with fiber and nutrients. (She includes nutritional info. How great is that?)

It’s from:
Healthy Make Ahead Breakfast Cookies – 6 Ways, She Likes Food, July 2017

I made her Carrot Cake cookies with some minor changes. Here’s my recipe:


2 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (I opted for less to keep the soapy taste down)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt, scant
1/2 cup almond milk (will increase this next time, or add some water)
1 teaspoon vinegar (acid activates the baking soda)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax combined with 2 tablespoons warm water)
1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup raisins


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with cup liners.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine remaining ingredients, including carrots and raisins, in another large bowl. Pour dry into wet and mix.

Spoon into muffin cups. Bake for 18 minutes. Remove from pans in about 15 minutes. Let cool for 20-30 minutes.

These are mine. Izzy’s don’t include raisins but I thought they made a good addition.

I started out spooning the dough onto a cookie sheet but it was sticky and crumbly and not easy to keep in a cookie shape. So I changed my mind mid-spooning and used the muffin cups. I’ll probably do this in the future. It kept everything together and it’s a nice way to serve.

I’m excited to try some other versions. Maybe apple cinnamon or lemon blueberry or that tropical one. You can do a lot with these. Very portable.

Thank you, Melinda for sharing the link!

Indigenous Bolivian Tsimane Eat High-Carb, Low-Fat – Have “Lowest Levels Of Coronary Artery Disease Of Any Population Recorded”

Tsimane man. Photo source: Powerpoint presentation, American College of Cardiology, 66th Scientific Sessions, 2017: Indigenous South American Tsimane Demonstrate the Lowest Levels of Coronary Atherosclerosis

I have another group of healthy low-fat, plant eaters to add to my list, which currently consists of:

Kempner Rice Diet patients: 2-3% fat
Okinawans before 1960s: 6%
Cubans during Special Period: 10%
Barnard’s 2006 study (High-Carb, Low-Fat For Diabetes) : 19% (their goal was 10%)

They are the Tsimane, an indigenous hunter-gatherer-farmer society from Bolivia.
According to The Lancet:
Coronary Atherosclerosis In Indigenous South American Tsimane: A Cross-sectional Cohort Study, The Lancet, April 2017

The Tsimane, a forager-horticulturalist population (hunting, gathering, fishing, and farming) of the Bolivian Amazon with few coronary artery disease risk factors, have the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population recorded to date. These findings suggest that coronary atherosclerosis can be avoided in most people by achieving a lifetime with very low LDL, low blood pressure, low glucose, normal body-mass index, no smoking, and plenty of physical activity.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited them:
Life Lessons From The Native Tribe With The Healthiest Hearts In The World, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, 21 April 2019


As far as diet goes, my expectation was that theirs would be a sort of “paleo” diet, with up to 65% of their calories from animal meat. Instead, I found nearly the opposite: The Tsimane get most of their calories from carbs. Foods such as plantains, cassava, rice and corn make up nearly 70% of their diet. This type of diet is born out of necessity in the Amazon, because farmed food is more certain, especially during a poor hunting season.

All-natural carbs are the mainstay of the healthy-hearted Tsimane, along with around 15% fat and 15% protein. Additionally, the diet provides twice as much fiber as the standard American diet

The social fabric of the Tsimane was strong, with lots of laughing, chatting and sharing. There is no doubt this socialization, and lack of loneliness, is also protective against heart disease, as we have seen in countless studies around the world, including the famous Roseto study in the United States.

Up until the day they die [usually of trauma, animal attacks, infections, and childbirth], the Tsimane are often very healthy.

‘Healthiest hearts in the world’ found, BBC, March 2017


  • 17% of their diet is game including wild pig, tapir and capybara (the world’s largest rodent).
  • 7% is freshwater fish including piranha and catfish.
  • Most of the rest comes from family farms growing rice, maize, manioc root (like sweet potato) and plantains (similar to banana).
  • It is topped up with foraged fruit and nuts.

It means:

  • 72% of calories come from carbohydrates compared with 52% in the US.
  • 14% from fat compared with 34% in the US, Tsimane also consume much less saturated fat.
  • Both Americans and Tsimane have 14% of calories from protein.

At the age of 45, almost no Tsimane had CAC [coronary artery calcium] in their arteries while 25% of Americans do. … By the time they reach age 75, two-thirds of Tsimane are CAC-free compared with the overwhelming majority of Americans (80%) having signs of CAC.

Tsimane father and son boiling plantains. Source: UC Santa Barbara, The Current

Tsimane agricultural plot: Rice and plantain. Photograph by Ana C. Luz. Source: ResearchGate

Tsimane digging up tubers. From CNN

My new list:
Kempner Rice Diet patients: 2-3% fat
Okinawans before 1960s: 6%
Cubans during Special Period: 10%
Barnard’s 2006 study (High-Carb, Low-Fat For Diabetes) : 19% (their goal was 10%)
Indigenous Tsiname from Bolivia: 14-15% fat

PREDIMED, The Oft-Cited Mediterranean Diet Study, Shows No Benefit For Heart Attack

In the Mediterranean diet that gets promoted today, people are advised to consume lots of olive oil and nuts. Here’s an excerpt from a table in the big Mediterranean diet study that often gets cited to defend this way of eating. The study is nicknamed PREDIMED,

Original study:
Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet, New England Journal Of Medicine, April 2013


There were 3 groups, about 2500 people in each group. One group (Mediterranean Diet with EVOO) was to consume a liter of extra-virgin olive oil a week, another group (Mediterranean Diet with Nuts) was to eat 30 grams of nuts a day, the last group was a control. The study ran for about 4.8 years.

When I look at the last two columns of numbers (starting with 0.31 and 0.25) I see that neither of the interventions (olive oil or nuts) reached a level of significance compared to control … for any of those three conditions: myocardial infarction or heart attack, death from cardiovascular causes, death from any cause. Any differences fall into the realm of chance. So, for instance, people eating olive oil or nuts had fewer heart attacks than the control group (37 and 31 vs. 38)? Or had more deaths from any cause than the control group (118 and 116 vs. 114)? No, that was all by chance. The P values would have to be below 0.05 for significance, preferably below 0.01.

There were also 179 people assigned to eat the Mediterranean diet (96 in oil group, 83 in nut group) who experienced a “major cardiovascular event” during the study. According to the authors, all 179 had “no cardiovascular disease at enrollment.”

It doesn’t appear, at least from this study, that eating a lot of olive oil or nuts will prevent a heart attack.

I often say this …
Imagine having no cardiovascular disease, being put on a special diet designed specifically to prevent heart attack, and experiencing a “major cardiovascular event” less than 4.8 years later? In contrast, Dr. Esselstyn took people with advanced coronary artery disease, put them on a low-fat, plant-based diet, and 12 years later they had no more cardiac events! Why isn’t a low-fat, plant-based diet the preferred diet? It won’t make Big Food any money.

Mediterranian Diet Post 11: People In The Middle Ages Ate Up To 3 Pounds Of Bread A Day, As Do Modern Sardinians

Getting Your Daily Bread – Breads in Medieval Society, Jessica Banks, Penn State University, 2005

Some excerpts:

Bread was the essential food for all classes of society in the Middle Ages.*

Over time, the whiteness of pure wheat flour and the bread made from it became a sign of times of plenty and of high social status because of its relative scarcity in the medieval diet.

Wheat had historically held the place of primacy among grains for bread baking because of its prevalence in the Mediterranean lands, but was not always the most commonly available grain in Northern Europe. … Rye, on the other hand, was the grain most easily grown in the British Isles and northwestern Europe (Scandinavia, Germanic lands, Netherlands, and much of France), and remained the most common cereal crop until the end of the eighteenth century.

[The] majority of the population ate meslin or maslin** bread (Fr. metail), a mixture of unbolted*** wheat and rye flours that was most economical in the growing climate of Northern Europe. … [A] mixture of flours acquired the mark of lower status, signifying the adulteration of pure wheat flour; peasants became associated with blackbread, the dark ryes and whole grain varieties.

Quantities of bread consumed were comparable across all social classes, as revealed by recent studies of medieval and colonial households. Each individual in houses of late medieval English nobility received standard daily food ration of 2-3 lbs. of wheat bread and 1 gallon of ale. … Soldiers posted at local castle garrison, and inmates at the local hospital, get almost exactly the same rations as the nobles.

The vast majority of the bread consumed in the Middle Ages was produced in commercial bakeries. The best indication of the importance of their product and their profession in medieval society was the amount of regulation placed upon them. [Both internal regulation through guilds, a type of trade union, and external regulation – the king’s court deemed only two foods were important enough to legislate: beer and bread.]

So, the majority of people in the Mediterranean region during the Middle Ages were of a lower class and ate some kind of mixed-grain, coarse-meal bread. That’s where a bulk of their calories came from – starch.

Sardinian Diet

Their diet sounds a lot like the diet of modern-day Sardinians (at least before the end of World War II), who are known for living long, healthy lives. Here’s What Dan Buettner writes about Sardinians’ diet in his book, The Blue Zones:

Bread is by far the main food. Peasants leave early in the morning to the fields with a kilogram of bread in their saddlebag … At noon their meal consists only of bread, with some cheese among wealthier families, while the majority of the workers are satisfied with an onion, a little fennel, or a bunch of ravanelli. At dinner, the reunited family eats a single meal consisting of a vegetable soup (minestrone) to which the richest add some pasta.

In most areas, families ate meat only once a week, on Sunday. In 26 of 71 municipalities surveyed, meat is a luxury eaten only during festivals, not more than twice a month. Interestingly for a Mediterranean culture, fish did not figure prominently into the diet.

Ravanelli are radishes. A kilogram is 2.2 pounds.

* From Wikipedia: In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages (or medieval period) lasted from the 5th to the 15th century.

Map of the approximate political boundaries in Europe around 450 AD.

** I guess you could call my Heritage Loaf a type of maslin bread. It’s a mixture of whole grain wheat and spelt flours, whole grain rye flour, and whole grain corn meal. Here’s a photo of my Heritage Loaf from a few days ago. I really like it.

For as dense as this loaf is, and considering I bake it free-form without a pan, it had good height. See those cracks along the side? That means, probably, the bread was underproofed. I could have left it to rise longer before I put it in the oven. The gluten would have relaxed more and the gases wouldn’t have burst through. Doesn’t affect the taste though 🙂

Here’s another “Maslin Bread Recipe” by Jennifer Ah-Kin.

*** Bolted means sifted. Bolted flour usually just had the bran removed. Unbolted flour was very flaky and coarse.