For over 40 years I have been studying the extremely complex connection between food and brain function. Many experts have recognized the connection between highly processed food and various common brain disorders. Their perspective goes something like this: You eat too much highly processed food and at some point you will become insulin resistant and pre-diabetic, a condition that now affects more than 50% of our population. Many will also become obese or develop type II diabetes. We do know that being exposed to these pro-inflammatory diseases for years will have a predictable adverse affect on brain function leading to an increased incidence of dementia, depression, ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar II and other common brain disorders. David Perlmutter's excellent book "Grain Brain" reflects this concept quite well. I agree that this is likely true but I have a different view of how bad food affects brain function. In my opinion when you eat a diet of highly processed food the brain is the first rather than the last organ to be adversely affected.
Connecting the dietary dots
I learned this over many years by measuring the body composition of over 10,000 patients in my primary care practice. Because of my interest in neuroscience I was also paying attention to their brain dysfunction symptoms. I learned a few things along the way:
1. When a healthy person eats bad food like binging on pizza and sugary soda, they likely will feel crummy for a period of time and then they will return to normal. This can happen to anyone and it does not indicate a disease.
2. If a person consumes a diet of highly processed food for years, at some point they will develop specific brain dysfunction symptoms that persist 24/7. We have identified 22 of these symptoms that tend to slowly develop over time.
3. This fits the definition of a disease that we now call Carbohydrate Associated Reversible Brain syndrome or CARB syndrome.
4. Because the symptoms of CARB syndrome overlap with many traditional medical and psychiatric disorders and because most physicians are unaware of the CARB syndrome concept, they end up labeling these patients with a long list of disorders, a condition that I call "labelitis". Patients are diagnosed with major depression, bipolar II, ADHD, IBS, anxiety disorders, OCD, PTSD and other conditions. They are given multiple drugs that eventually make them worse because they really only have one disease-CARB syndrome.
5. Unlike many psychiatric disorders CARB syndrome is preventable, treatable and reversible and it starts by changing your diet. A low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat (healthy fats) diet is the best way to go. Get your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables rather than grains. I favor a Paleo or ketogenic style diet with some intermittent fasting thrown in for good measure. Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf have great web sites outlining this type of diet. Jimmy Moore's book "Keto Clarity" is good starting point for a healthy high fat diet. Dr. Mercola has many great tips on healthy eating and is also loaded with other tips for living a healthy life.
6. The lead symptom of CARB syndrome is persistent cravings for sweet and starchy foods. These cravings are so overwhelming that most patients simply cannot follow a healthy diet. I have found that the key to successful treatment is to suppress these cravings with combinations of low dose medications when necessary and targeted supplements for virtually everyone. The amino acid L-glutamine can help suppress these cravings and you really can't overdose on this amino acid. I also highly recommend taking a precursor supplement containing L-tyrosine and 5-htp in a ratio of about 10-1.
7. When it comes to managing patients, pay attention to the brain dysfunction symptoms, especially the cravings. Anything that reduces the craving for sweet and starchy foods is good and anything that makes the cravings worse suggests that you are doing something wrong. This is a good way to determine whether a drug or dietary changes are working for you.
The wisdom that comes with living with a disease
Over the years I have found that patients with CARB syndrome immediately "get it" when it comes to understanding a rather complex brain disorder because they have been living it. When I go through the 22 symptoms of CARB syndrome they often think that I can read their mind. No healthcare provider has likely ever asked them most of these questions before. As a matter of fact I developed the CARB syndrome concept by carefully listening to and observing my patients over many decades.
Physicians in the dark about nutrition
Educating healthcare providers is another story. Most physicians receive little or no nutritional training in medical school so they leave nutritional advice to the dietitians. In my experience often their advice is decades out of date. I have a Psychiatrist friend here in Greece who has shown a great deal of interest in the topic and I am trying to educate him. He has noticed that many of his patients have some of the 22 symptoms of CARB syndrome but he never connected this with diet. I noticed that in the hospital where he works they feed their patients a truly horrible diet that is far from a Mediterranean diet. It contains about 85% high glycemic carbohydrates, 10% low quality protein and 5% bad fats. I have tried to convince him that this diet is cancelling out many of the treatments he is giving his patients. He told me today that when he stays at the hospital when he is on call and eats the hospital food, he feels terrible for several hours. I told him that this is normal and is not CARB syndrome. If he eats this food every day and the symptoms persist 24/7 he will then be entering the ugly world of CARB syndrome.
The challenge of educating the educated
He also has a research position at a top Greek university. I find it a bit odd that a simple country doctor could educate a top clinician in psychiatry but true scientists will evaluate new theories from many different sources. Remember that all of today's experts are simply wrong. How do I know? Leap ahead a few decades and look back and you will see what I mean. Science is evolutionary so it is always changing. When you live on the fringes of the current experts you are either a crackpot (wrong today and wrong tomorrow) or a future expert who has the ability to see where science is heading before others. I try to be a future expert and I am not afraid of being judged by father time.
The wisdom of making a self-diagnosis of CARB syndrome
The key to successful treatment is first making the diagnosis of CARB syndrome. Because this is a new concept most physicians are unaware of the concept, so I try to teach people to make a self-diagnosis. I believe that this is a reasonable and ethical approach because all the treatments that I recommend are very low risk. If the concept proves to be wrong by father time, virtually nobody will be harmed. Eating a healthy whole foods diet certainly will not harm anyone. It might take decades for the medical and scientific communities to accept this concept. If you have CARB syndrome I strongly suggest that you don't wait decades to do something about it. My mission is to help guide you through this challenging task.
Learn more about the CARB syndrome concept at:
To learn if you might have CARB syndrome I recommend reading this article:
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