We know diet causes depression. This one might help cure it.

Going back to the basics is often the best path forward.

Last week, my Twitter feed was dominated by news about a “new organ” that has recently been discovered. Given how many centuries we’ve been conducting autopsies, this newsflash was rather hard to believe. The interstitium is not new, exactly, but its role has been greatly expanded. Once believed to a dense layer of collagen, it turns out these fluid-filled spaces might aid the spread of cancer tumors to lymph nodes. 

This discovery will likely lead to new lines of research in cancer. It also highlights how complex our bodies are, as well as why continual research is necessary for helping us fight disease. In this light, cancer research is not the only field we’re making progress in.

Depression is one of the most common psychological disorders on the planet. While there are no biological markers (as with cancer), the feeling of depression, defined in part by an inability to imagine a hopeful future, is spreading across the planet. While depression can (and does) manifest in every age group, the startling uptick in teens should be treated as a public health crisis. 

As author Lauren Slater, who’s been suffering from depression for over three decades, recently told me, though rates of SSRI prescriptions are increasing every year, so is the rate of people diagnosed with the disorder. That is not a good sign for this intervention except for the companies producing the drugs. 

SSRIs supposedly target serotonin in the brain. The problem is serotonin interacts with numerous other systems. It is impossible to isolate. Add to that the fact that 95 percent of serotonin is produced in the gut and it becomes obvious that psychiatrists and psychologists have been looking in the wrong place.

Over 90 percent of sensory information collected in your gut never reaches conscious awareness, writes UCLA professor Emeran Mayer. Turns out that’s the same percentage of information sent from the gut to the brain. The brain, treated as the most important organ in the body, only sends 10 percent of information back to the digestive system, a stunning conversational imbalance.

The notion that the food you eat causes depression is not new. As Olga Khazan writes at The Atlantic, “the connection between diet and depression is so well-established that more studies…aren’t really necessary.” 

Connecting those dots is ultimately unsatisfying without discussing a diet that reverses those effects. Some researchers believe the DASH diet might fulfill that role. Otherwise known as “dietary approaches to stop hypertension,” the DASH study kicked off in August 1993 when the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), noticed our increasing waistlines. The study ended in July 1997.

In a media environment dominated by holistic wellness bloggers pontificating on the next “superfood” and professional trainers touting another breakthrough nootropic, DASH is relatively tame. Being basic has its advantages, however—this diet is easy to understand and financially accessible for most: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, and moderate meat intake, with a focus on fish. Throw in some nuts and cut down on dairy. That’s about it.

Not sexy, I know. Yet the recent obsession with “clean” eating and supercharged, antioxidant-rich foods is more indicative of neuroses than good science. While I’m a fan of the ketogenic diet—I question DASH’s wisdom regarding “low-fat dairy” given what we’ve learned about fats, cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease since the nineties—we have to admit the so-called “Western diet” is not working.

Perhaps the real problem is processed food we’re consuming. While “processed” is a vague term—most every food is processed in some manner before meeting your mouth—what’s often left out in discussions on the Western diet is the list of unpronounceable preservatives and emulsifiers interacting with whatever quantities of actual food are in the packaging. The connection between sugar and obesity and sugar and depression is well established, so beyond the many names sugars are disguised as, the main point is to buy whole foods and cook them yourself.

Regardless, leaning heavily on plants is never a bad thing. As Khazan notes,

When people eat a plant-heavy diet, the fiber from the plant matter ferments in the gut and creates short-chain fatty acids, which, in turn, regulate the immune system and influence gene expression in the brain and elsewhere. People who eat fiber have more diverse gut bacteria, and these bacteria make various chemicals that influence our mood.

Terms like “emotional eating” and “comfort food” signify real phenomena. Unfortunately, those tend to be sugar- and carb-heavy foods, often eaten at night as our willpower levels drop. Along with an excess of processed foods, there is nothing comforting about the emotional distress that such products create in our bodies. A few days or even weeks of withdrawal to change a bad habit is a worthwhile sacrifice, especially when the result is the alleviation of depression.


Derek Beres is the author of Whole Motion and creator of Clarity: Anxiety Reduction for Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

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Humans evolved to live in the cold through a number of environmental and genetic factors.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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A study started out trying to see the effect of sexist attacks on women authors, but it found something deeper.

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