Are you ready to choose foods that lower your risk for disease, enhance your relationships, and even help make you a more peaceful person?
If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that nutrition is about more than looks, athletic performance, or even health. We’re just discovering the ways that food interacts with our physiology and our psychology, influencing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Looking at food from this truly holistic perspective is illuminating and can be life-changing. Our culture encourages popping a pill to relieve symptoms of disease instead of seeking out the root of the disease. What if we did everything we could to prevent it in the first place? To do so, we need to stay informed by the brightest minds in the medical field.
I was thrilled to welcome integrative medicine luminary Dr. David Perlmutter, an award-winning doctor, author of numerous groundbreaking books such as Grainbrain, and most recently the author of Drop Acid, a book about the impact of uric acid. Dr. Perlmutter and I talked about the culprits behind diseases, how diet affects behavior, and how diet and exercise are the best medicines around.
Dr. David Perlmutter is a Board-Certified Neurologist and five-time New York Times bestselling author. He serves on the Board of Directors and is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition.
Dr. David Perlmutter received his M.D. degree from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine where he was awarded the Leonard G. Rowntree Research Award. He serves as a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and has published extensively in peer-reviewed scientific journals including Archives of Neurology and Neurosurgery. In addition, he is a frequent lecturer at symposia sponsored by institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, Colombia University, The Scripps Institute, New York University, and Harvard University and serves as an Associate Professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Fear is never a good place to make decisions from. When we operate from fear, there’s no way we’re being our best selves. But when we think of fear, we don’t usually think of diet. That’s why I had to ask Dr. Perlmutter about the fear-based or what he calls the “amygdala-based” brain. It’s a state of operating from this more primal state, and it can be affected by food. I asked which ones.
“It’s really foods that threaten metabolism. [Specifically, it’s] refined carbohydrates — to which you may be sensitive as a unique individual — and foods that tend to elevate uric acid. These are the foods of the day, by and large.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard evidence of the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Many of us have explored raw foods, veganism, organ meats, and the keto diet among others to improve our holistic — mind, body, emotions, and spirit — health. We may have explored the idea that what you eat affects your mood and your mindset with ideas coming from the East (think non-violence and vegetarianism), but I have to say, I found Dr. Perlmutter’s insights truly groundbreaking.
“The biggest issue for us is fructose. It leads to uric acid, turns on inflammation, turns on oxidative stress, and does [many other things]. But … through the lens of what that’s doing to our thinking process and locking us into amygdala based behavior, it’s a big deal.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
Since I’ve recently had an expert on narcissism on the show, I asked David if this inflammatory process might contribute to that disorder. Amazingly, he said yes. Not only does he devote entire chapters to it in his book Brain Wash, but he also says that a thread of this idea runs throughout the book.
“Narcissism is … the amygdala doing its thing. That it’s all about me. It’s [ultimately] all about my fears. So it’s a very fear-based program from which the brain … operates and it doesn’t really have the door open to the feelings of others and [for thinking] ‘What [might I] do to be helpful for that other person?’ [This is ] because [inflammation] separates [and] segregates the prefrontal cortex from the amygdala.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
You’ve probably observed that conflict is on the rise, as is a lack of empathy. Could it be that our diet is behind some of this?
I mused that if we’re operating from a fear-based perspective all of the time, it’s pretty hard to be compassionate and calm. How do you act when you’re stressed and worried? Maybe you lash out at a coworker, lose your temper with your spouse, or act selfishly with a friend. We’ve all done it at some point or another. David explained this behavior even further.
“[The] prefrontal cortex exercises control, reigns [things] in, and says, ‘Hey … I know you want to eat this food. … I know you want to be a bully and hit somebody, but we’re gonna reign [those things] in because there’s a better purpose here in life.’” – Dr. David Perlmutter
If the amygdala is the reptilian brain or the little kid in the room, the prefrontal cortex is the adult. David explained that in order for these two to work optimally, there needs to be communication between them. But when the amygdala is overly activated, it shuts down access to other parts of the brain. That means that we’re operating from that reptilian brain, which is all about survival, immediate pleasure, and immediate gratification.
“Our gift as humans is that we have a … prefrontal cortex. The superhighway, the communication [between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex] is bidirectional. We really depend upon it to get the job done as humans living together on this planet, [and] when that is compromised … we’re locked into that other mentality … [a mentality that is basically based on] feasting and reproduction. [It’s all about] my needs and what I want, and what I want right now.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
Is it a surprise that the same process which creates this fear-based thinking is also terrible for our health? The inflammatory process is linked to disease in a number of ways, and the worse our health gets, the more we crave that immediate gratification. It creates a cycle that can be hard to break.
“One of the most powerful threats [to the connection between amygdala and prefrontal cortex] is the process of inflammation. … The foods we eat … fan the flames of inflammation by disrupting our metabolism, [which] separates us from the input of the adult in the room and lock us [into the amygdala.] And it’s a feed-forward cycle, meaning that the more you’ve locked [yourself out of] the prefrontal cortex, the worse decisions you make. For example … you continue to eat those bad foods … the inflammation is augmented … [and] you spiral down.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
So what can we do to break this cycle? Sleep, exercise, nature, and the right food, with the food being a diet composed of healthy fats, protein, fiber, and as little sugar as possible. He also advocates for using good biotech such as a Fitbit, Oura, or Apple Watch. If you’re really motivated, you can even try using a blood sugar tracker such as the PK Vitality glucose monitor.
By using these wearables, you can monitor your sleep, stay in shape, and see how foods are affecting your blood sugar levels. As you make changes to become healthier, you lower your levels of inflammation, supporting brain health, better moods, and a more peaceful way of living.
I have to say that sugar is one of my biggest opportunities for growth. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t do drugs, but when I’m not careful, I totally cave into sugar. As Dr. David would say, when my prefrontal cortex a.k.a. adult isn’t in the room, I give in to my cravings. I know many of you are in the same boat. It turns out, there are really good reasons for that.
“Our desire for sugar is deeply programmed. It’s not learned, it’s not an app that we picked up along the way. … It was built into [our] hard drive that we will seek out sweets. Sweet tells us that food is safe. It tells us that it is ripe, meaning highest in nutrients. It’s good for the fruit because that’s when the seeds of that fruit need to be dispersed. So everything works together. But it also tells us that winter’s coming, which means it tells our bodies to shift metabolism and start making and storing fat, and it turns out that the danger signal that winter’s coming, the signal that tells your body to make that happen, involves uric acid.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
That brings me to the topic of Dr. Permutter’s book, Drop Acid, described as a book that exposes the deadly truth about uric acid. According to Dr. Permutter, research and public information into uric acid will explode in the next decade, making it one of the most promising areas of integrative medicine today.
“Certain primates … developed mutations in the genes that dealt with an enzyme called uricase that breaks down uric acid. They developed mutations that turned that enzyme off. So they couldn’t break down uric acid, and the uric acid levels would elevate. [This helped them survive.] … Then they would pass the genes on, and that comes to us. That’s why we make fat when we’re exposed [to fructose].” – Dr. David Perlmutter
Unfortunately, fructose is now everywhere. There’s a mismatch between what our bodies were designed for and what’s available. This is why we have trends like the paleo movement and the keto diet, which try to mimic the conditions that our bodies were designed to handle. What have you tried to help support your brain in its struggle to function optimally on a modern diet?
“The brain does run on a form of sugar called glucose, and there is even some suggestion that the brain can metabolize a small amount of fructose. [But] the brain is not tolerant to any significant degree of disruption of our metabolism. This is what I call metabolic mayhem because this disturbance of our metabolism sets the stage for inflammation, and that is the underlying cornerstone of brain degeneration.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
Despite all of the research that shows how damaging fructose is to your body, it’s in the majority of food products in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Meanwhile, the government continues to fund corn production — which creates the corn syrup we see in our foods — on a mass scale. It’s big business because it’s cheap and it makes food taste good.
The consequences can be deadly. Inflammation is linked to most major diseases Americans die of today.
“Alzheimer’s is an inflammatory disease, like coronary artery disease, type two diabetes, and obesity. These are inflammatory conditions. Alzheimer’s is very much the brain on fire, which is what the word inflammation means: to be on fire. So we’ve gotta do everything we can to put the fire out.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
It’s disturbing to see how our unhealthy habits contribute to some of the most devastating diseases, but it’s also incredibly empowering. While the research is still in its infancy stages, it’s promising to know that we have much more power than we think we have.
What changes can you start making right now to lower your risk for disease, support your relationships, and calm your mind? Think about how much more effective you’ll be when you’re supporting your brain’s ability to make wise decisions. It’s worth it!
Friends, Dr. Perlmutter’s books and articles should be shared far and wide. Don’t forget to stop by his website to learn more about his work. The world needs it more than ever. And please share this episode with someone who needs to hear it — you could change someone’s life.
I want to acknowledge Dr. Perlmutter for sharing his life-changing wisdom.
“Greatness is identifying and exploiting your gift. … What is your gift? … Do your very best to get as much out of it as you possibly can.” – Dr. David Perlmutter
Friends, join me on Episode 1,211 to learn how the food you eat impacts so much more than you realize with Dr. David Perlmutter. It’ll change your life!
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