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The UltraMind Solution: Key #1 - Optimize Nutrition

Posted Dec 20 2008 6:43pm

This is my second blog in a series on my new book, The UltraMind Solution.

You can download a free sneak preview of the book at:

Now, on to the good stuff!

The most powerful tool you have to fix your broken brain is not a drug or psychotherapy -- it’s something you use every day.

This tool is your FORK. And what you put on it can help -- or harm -- your brain.

Food is not just calories. Food is information.

And you have to put the right information on your fork for your brain to work properly.

Your brain needs all the raw materials of life to function properly. This material is food -- real, whole foods, not the processed junk foods that line most of our supermarket shelves.

If I could choose any medicine to prescribe, I would choose food.

That’s because food is the most powerful medicine!

It can heal or harm you. It all depends on what you choose to eat.

Despite all of our modern medical bells and whistles, conventional medicine is still notoriously poor at treating mental illness, neurological disorders, and chronic disease.

What most doctors don’t know is that we CAN prevent, treat, reverse -- and often even CURE -- chronic illness and our broken brains with food.

We are an overfed but undernourished nation. We are suffering from some serious nutritional deficiencies that can damage our brains, cloud our thoughts, and leave us depressed and hopeless.

No wonder so many of us are suffering with broken brains.

But you don’t have to. All you have to do to heal your brain is to eat the right foods.

Today, I’m going to review some of the most critical nutrients for brain function, tell you where you can get them, and explain why taking supplements is absolutely essential if you want to optimize your brain.

These are four of the most important tips you need to know to develop an UltraMind.

Nutrition Tip #1: Become a Fat Head

One of my patients, a 20-year-old woman who hated seafood and avoided it her whole life, suffered from depression, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder (ADD), obesity, muscle pain, and chronic fatigue. Her blood tests showed a severe deficiency of omega-3 fats and an overload of inflammatory omega-6 fats.

So we gave her an oil change, with high doses of fish oil (EPA and DHA). Soon, she recovered from her depression, brain fog, and ADD, her pain disappeared, and she lost 60 pounds!

Why was she so deficient? Well, for 5 million years we evolved in a seafood-rich environment or ate wild animals and plants full of omega-3 fats.

But these days, few of us gather wild plants to eat or hunt for our meat. That’s why 99 percent of people today are deficient in the most important ingredient our bodies need for normal cell and brain function -- omega-3 fatty acids.

Why are omega-3s so important?

To answer that question, think about your brain for a minute. It weighs only 3 pounds, or 2 percent of your body weight. But it uses 20 percent of the oxygen you breathe and consumes 20 percent of the calories you consume. And it contains 100 billion cells, each of which has 40,000 connections!

The brain is the most complicated organ in the universe.

And every one of its cells and cellular connections are—or SHOULD be—made of omega-3 fats.

Your cells are built of the fats you consume. If you eat omega-3 fats, cellular communication will flow smoothly.

But if you eat soy oil, trans fats, or beef fat, your brain cells become stiff and hard like Crisco, cellular communication breaks down, and your brain stops working properly.

You’re probably all too familiar with what happens next.

You become depressed, demented, anxious, and exhausted or suffer from a host of other brain disorders.

One of the reasons we are seeing an epidemic of broken brains in today’s world is that there has been a thousand-fold increase in the consumption of processed soy oil in the last century.

The people who eat these soy oils are more depressed, demented, distracted—and violent. Murders are actually more common in countries whose inhabitants consume more soy oil and less seafood.

One study has even found a 35 percent reduction in felony-level violent offenses among prisoners who supplemented with omega-3 fats.

Our brains just don’t work without omega-3 fats. Period.

That’s why low levels of omega-3 fats have been linked to everything from depression and anxiety, to bipolar disease and criminal behavior, to schizophrenia, to ADD and autism and learning disabilities, to dementia and many other neurological diseases.

So how do you know if you are deficient?

If you have dry, scaly patches on your skin or have excess hard earwax or soft, cracked, or brittle nails or chicken skin—tiny bumps on the back of your arms -- then you are almost certainly deficient in omega-3 fats.

Here’s the solution:

    • Cut out trans fats and processed food, minimize animal fats.
    • Eat omega-3 fatty acids from wild, coldwater fish like salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
    • Take a supplement of 1,000 mg of purified, toxin- and mercury-free omega-3s (EPA/DHA) twice a day.

And remember, if someone calls you a fat head, take it as a compliment … as long as you eat the right kind of fats.

Nutrition Tip #2: Balance Your Serotonin

Today, about 121 million people are suffering from serotonin deficiency and are depressed and anxious as a result.

Serotonin is the feel-good molecule. It is one of a class of important chemicals in your brain and body called neurotransmitters. This particular neurotransmitter is responsible for sending messages of relaxation and happiness.

If you have enough serotonin, your mood will be balanced and joyful. If you don’t, you spiral down into darkness and depression.

The typical treatment given for serotonin deficiency is Prozac.

But depression is NOT a Prozac deficiency.

In fact, the “serotonin deficiency” that Prozac is designed to treat is really just a symptom of deeper problems—imbalances in the body like toxicity, chronic stress, a poor diet, vitamin deficiencies, and inflammation.

And it can be fixed by balancing the 7 keys to an UltraMind!

If antidepressants worked perfectly, then I would prescribe them. But pills don’t work to treat the causes of illness.

Nonetheless, one in ten Americans are taking antidepressants.

Most patients taking antidepressants either don’t respond or have only a partial response.

In fact, success is considered a 50 percent improvement in just half the symptoms of depression. And this minimal result is achieved in less than half the patients taking these medications!

But the drug companies work hard to make sure you don’t know this.

A recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that drug companies selectively published studies on antidepressants. They published nearly all the studies that showed benefit and almost none of the studies that showed they don’t work.

This kind of underreporting warps our view, leading us to think that antidepressants (and other psychiatric medications) do work when they don’t. This makes more doctors prescribe them and more people take them.

I’ll admit, the approach is half right. Chemical imbalances lead to problems. But the real question is never asked.

WHY are those chemicals out of balance in the first place -- and how do we get them back to their natural state of balance?

These drugs don’t cure the problem. They cover over the symptoms.

To cure the epidemic of broken brains, we have to ask a new set of questions:

How do we find the cause of this epidemic? Are we defectively designed?

Or are our toxic environment, nutrient-depleted diet, and unremitting stress affecting our sensitive brains?

Are more drugs really the answer? Or is there a better way to address the underlying causes of this epidemic so we can regain our mental—and physical—health and live whole, functional, fulfilling lives?

There IS an answer to brain problems, but it isn’t more drugs or psychotherapy. Although these tools can be a helpful bridge during your recovery from a broken brain, they won’t provide long-term solutions.

The secret that promises to help us fix our broken brains lies in an unlikely place, a place modern medicine has mostly ignored.

The answer lies in our bodies.

You don’t have to take drugs to get your serotonin levels up. You can do it naturally by following the 7 keys to an UltraMind:

    1. Eat high-quality protein to make sure you get enough amino acids like tryptophan.
      2. Relax and calm your mind—stress depletes serotonin.
      3. Cool off inflammation by getting rid of hidden food allergens, toxins, and infections.
      4. Balance your blood sugar by eating whole real foods with plenty of fiber and protein with each meal.
      5. Get enough vitamin B6 so your body can transform tryptophan to serotonin.
      6. Take magnesium to boost serotonin levels.
      7. Get rid of toxins like mercury.

    The Importance of Vitamins and Minerals

    Unless you eat a wholesome diet and follow a perfectly healthy lifestyle, you need to supplement with vitamins and minerals every day.

    More than 90 percent of Americans are deficient in one or more nutrients at the minimum level to prevent deficiency diseases like scurvy. Many of us don’t get enough vitamin C, E, D, iron, or zinc.

    That’s a problem, because nutrients help run all the chemical reactions in your body, including all the ones that make you happy, remember things, focus, and be mentally sharp and alert.

    Let’s look at the effects of a few nutrients of the most important nutrients for brain function.

    Nutrition Tip #3: Get Enough Methylation Vitamins

    A few special mood, memory, and attention vitamins are so critical that EVERYONE should make sure they have enough of them.

    These are folic acid, and vitamins B6 and B12. These are called the methylation vitamins and are at the hub of your entire brain chemistry.

    In one study of older adults, the group with the lowest levels of vitamin B12 lost twice as much brain volume as those with the highest levels.

    Another remarkable study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that 27 percent of severely depressed women over age 65 were B12 deficient.(1)

    Doctors are now using a prescription version of folate called Deplin to treat depression and to improve the effectiveness of antidepressants. (2) In fact, if you have folate deficiency, it is unlikely that antidepressants will even work.

    What’s remarkable is how backward the thinking about depression is. Doctors tend to only use vitamins if antidepressants don’t work.(3) They should be prescribing the vitamins in the first place and then supplementing with antidepressants only if vitamins and lifestyle changes don’t work.

    People with a low folate level have only a 7 percent response to treatment with antidepressants. Those with high levels folate have a response rate of 44 percent. That’s more than six times better. In medicine if we get a 15 to 30 percent improvement we are happy. But a 600 percent improvement—that should be headline news.

    That is why I recommend supplementing with these methylation vitamins every day. I tell you exactly what you should take in The UltraMind Solution.

    Nutrition Tip #4: Take Your Magnesium -- The Relaxation Mineral

    If you are tense or tight, anxious or irritable, then you might be magnesium deficient.

    You also might be magnesium deficient if you have:

    Anxiety, autism, ADD, headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue, irritability, muscle cramps or twitches, insomnia, sensitivity to loud noises, palpitations, angina, constipation, anal spasms, fibromyalgia, asthma, kidney stones, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, PMS, menstrual cramps, irritable bladder, irritable bowel syndrome, reflux, trouble swallowing, and more.

    We eat a diet that has practically no magnesium -- a highly processed, refined diet that is based mostly on white flour, meat, and dairy, none of which contain magnesium.

    This is compounded by the fact that magnesium levels are decreased by excess alcohol, salt, coffee, sugar, phosphoric acid in colas, profuse sweating, prolonged or intense stress, chronic diarrhea, excessive menstruation, and by diuretics (water pills), antibiotics and other drugs and some intestinal parasites.

    We live lifestyles that cause us to lose whatever magnesium we have from our bodies, and we never replace it.

    When was the last time you had a good dose of sea vegetables (seaweed), nuts, greens, and beans?

    If you are like most Americans, your nut consumption mostly comes from peanut butter, and mostly in chocolate peanut butter cups. As for seaweed, greens, and beans—well, most Americans don’t eat many of these at all.

    You can also supplement with magnesium, which can have magnificent effects. But you need to know how much to take and what form to take. I give you all the details in my new book, The UltraMind Solution.

    You can get a free sneak preview of it by going to:

    In my next blog I will teach you how to balance your hormones—and why hidden hormonal imbalances are often at the root of problems with mood, thoughts, memory and behavior.

    Now I’d like to hear from you ...

    How does food seem to affect your emotions and mental health?

    Do you feel better after eating some foods and worse after eating others?

    What supplements do you currently take to address mental problems?

    Please let me know your thoughts by posting a comment.

    To your good health,

    Mark Hyman, MD

    PS -- Remember, you can download a free sneak preview of UltraMind right now by going to

    And since I know many of you have friends, family or co-workers who may suffer from a broken brain, please pass this message along to them as it may provide them the hope that they’ve been looking for.

    (1) Penninx BW, Guralnik JM, Ferrucci L, Fried LP, Allen RH, Stabler SP. Vitamin B(12) deficiency and depression in physically disabled older women: epidemiologic evidence from the Women's Health and Aging Study. Am J Psychiatry. 2000 May;157(5):715-21.

    (2) Papakostas GI, Petersen T, Mischoulon D, Ryan JL, Nierenberg AA, Bottiglieri T, Rosenbaum JF, Alpert JE, Fava M. Serum folate, vitamin B12, and homocysteine in major depressive disorder, Part 1: predictors of clinical response in fluoxetine-resistant depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 2004 Aug;65(8):1090-5.

    (3) Alpert JE, Mischoulon D, Rubenstein GE, Bottonari K, Nierenberg AA, Fava M. Folinic acid (Leucovorin) as an adjunctive treatment for SSRI-refractory depression. Ann Clin Psychiatry. 2002 Mar;14(1):33-8.

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