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How Nutrient-dense Animal Fats Promote Mental and Emotional Health
Weston Price observed healthy and cheerful dispositions accompanying the broad facial development and robust immunity to degenerative disease that characterized members of isolated groups eating traditional diets. He emphasized above all the importance of the fat-soluble vitamins for prevention and reversal of tooth decay and full skeletal development. Modern science has now elucidated the role of nutrient-dense animal fats in preventing mental illness and supporting the focused, goal-oriented behavior needed to confront challenges and pursue a happy, satisfying, and successful life.
Clinically defined psychiatric disorders afflict just under half of Americans for at least one period of time during their lives.1 Depression and anxiety often occur together and also often occur in conjunction with physical ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease2 and asthma.3 The lifetime prevalence of depression, anxiety, impulse control and substance abuse disorders is twice as high for people born after 1945 than for those born earlier, and the proportion of Americans suffering from three or more disorders—nearly a fifth—has more than tripled for the post-World War II generations.1
A Dreary Picture
Since the 1980s, Americans have become much less future-oriented, racking up heavy debt rather than saving money. The personal savings rate has dropped from its traditional eight to twelve percent to near zero and went negative in both 2001 and 2005—the first times since the Great Depression.4 The ratio of household debt to after-tax income has doubled from just over 60 percent in the early 1980s to its current 120 percent.5 It would take the average American household 240 years to pay off its debt with the money it currently saves.6
This dreary picture of household finances reflects an even drearier picture of public finances. The national debt has recently ballooned to over ten trillion dollars and ever since September, 2007 has been increasing at nearly four billion dollars per day.7 In fact, the National Debt Clock located in Times Square has been keeping track of the national debt only since 1989 but has already run out of digits—in September, 2008, the dollar sign had to be removed in order to make room for the new value.8
Personal success depends on confronting challenges with focused, goal-oriented behavior rather than hiding from such challenges in self-defeat, while at the same time restraining the impulse to spend and consume all the fruits of one’s labor in the present in order to build something greater for the future. Societies likewise build wealth in the aggregate when their members refrain from consuming a portion of their resources in the present so that those resources can be invested for the future. This begins with the first seed that a farmer plants in anticipation of harvest and the first calf that is raised to maturity for the milk, cheese, and butter she will produce. It extends to the family that saves ten percent of its income to eventually purchase a home and the entrepreneur who turns natural resources and knowledge into industrial machines.
As a nation—and increasingly as a global community—we have lost sight of these principles. Worse, they have been systematically undermined by the government and politically connected corporations for nearly a century. As our government creates new money to pay for government debt or to bail out irresponsible corporations, inflation sets in and the value of savings declines. After taxes and inflation, capital investments that would otherwise earn a ten percent return earn only 1.5 percent while deposits in savings accounts steadily lose over two percent per year.6 Wealth can be transferred from one group of people to another through taxes and inflation when a nation fails to save and invest, but it cannot be created.
Inner levels of the government have known that fluoride is psychoactive since at least 1944, precisely the time when interest in fluoridating public water supplies began.9 Since then, a whole slew of potentially psychoactive drugs and food additives has been released onto the market, although none has received such an orchestrated campaign of government support as the cholesterol-lowering statins, which produce episodes of transient global amnesia in the worst cases10 and modest impairments in cognitive functioning for the average adult user,11 but whose effects on personal finances or social and family life and whose cognitive effects in the young children to whom they are now marketed have not been studied.
As will be shown in this article, nutrient-rich animal fats are so important to a healthy psychological and emotional disposition that the orchestrated campaign to replace meat and eggs with soy and refined grains and to replace traditional animal fats with corn, soy, and canola oils has most certainly been a major factor contributing to the ongoing decimation of the American Dream.
A Silver Lining
As future-orientation diminishes and impulse disorders increase across social strata, more children will get in trouble in school, more poor people will go to jail, and more rich people will get multi-billion dollar handouts from the government. Families that stubbornly—or heroically— hold on to old-fashioned work ethics and savings habits will be punished by inflation while banks that lend out money they do not even have to reckless investors will be rewarded with more money created out of thin air. Although this scenario may sound like a recipe for disaster, the truth is that while the big boys at the top are partying away the remains of the public’s wealth, each of us in the traditional foods movement is rebuilding society from the bottom up.
As communities become more connected to their resident farmers, they will begin to recapture the basic principles of wealth creation that every farmer embraces, beginning with the very simple understanding that the fruits of the harvest can never be sold before the soil is tilled and the seeds are planted. As we teach people to put aside a portion of their time to invest in healthy eating now so their vibrant years can extend decades into the future, we teach people to become more future-oriented. The lesson of future-orientation is brought home to us regularly on a smaller scale as we observe how much more delicious and satisfying an overnight bone broth is than a soup taken out of a can, or how several weeks of aging can make all the difference in the flavor and aroma of homemade sauerkraut.
At the same time, the traditional diets we embrace provide the fat-soluble nutrients necessary to give us freedom from depression and anxiety and to support the motivation we need to sustain focused, goal-oriented effort over time.
The Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are the four traditionally recognized fat-soluble vitamins. The essential fatty acids arachidonic acid and DHA, however, are needed in similarly small amounts and fulfill similar functions. While all of these nutrients are important to the nervous system, in this article I will discuss how arachidonic acid cooperates with vitamins A and D to promote mental health by regulating the adrenal hormone cortisol and the neurotransmitter dopamine through the potent central nervous system regulators known as endocannabinoids (See Figure 1).
Arachidonic acid is a 20-carbon omega-6 fatty acid found primarily in eggs and liver and in smaller amounts in all other animal fats including butterfat. It is generally considered a “bad fat” because certain highly regulated enzymes can convert it into inflammatory compounds, but it is nevertheless necessary for healthy hair and skin, ovulation, and thus fertility.12 Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health followed almost 20,000 women for over eight years and found that the more high-fat dairy the women ate the less likely they were to have problems with ovulation, while the more low-fat dairy the women ate the more likely they were to fail to ovulate and thus be infertile.13 These data suggest that many people in the general population may not obtain adequate amounts of arachidonic acid.
While we obtain preformed arachidonic acid from animal fats, healthy adults can also synthesize small amounts from omega-6 linoleic acid, found in both plant oils and animal fats. Vitamin A, however, is necessary for this conversion (see Figure 2) and, as we shall see, also helps carry out dopamine signaling more directly. Vitamin A is present in large amounts in liver and cod liver oil and in small amounts in eggs and butterfat. Healthy adults can convert beta-carotene and other carotenoids present in fruits and vegetables to vitamin A, but this conversion is generally inefficient. Half of Americans consume less than the RDA for vitamin A14 and over a quarter of Americans consume less than half this amount.15
Vitamin D directly interacts with vitamin A in many contexts and is critical to maintaining blood and tissue levels of calcium. Calcium is a central regulator of arachidonic acid metabolism in virtually every type of cell, making vitamin D essential for proper handling of this nutrient. Vitamin D is present in large amounts in fatty fish and cod liver oil and in small amounts in the fats of land animals. We also obtain vitamin D when we are exposed to sunshine in the ultraviolet-B range, which at most latitudes is available only during the summer months. About half of all Americans and over 80 percent of African Americans have blood levels of vitamin D below the level needed to maximize calcium absorption.16
Arachidonic acid is the direct precursor to the endocannabinoids, the natural compounds made within the body that activate the cannabinoid receptors. These compounds and their receptors are named after Cannabis sativa, also known as marijuana. The active component of marijuana, THC, activates the same receptors, although since it is a pharmacological agent provided at unnaturally high doses, it has many undesirable effects that the natural activators derived from arachidonic acid do not have.
A brain cell will only convert arachidonic acid into endocannabinoids in response to a rapid influx of calcium into the cell.17 This influx is tightly controlled: the cell deliberately keeps the concentration of calcium outside its boundaries ten thousand-fold higher than the concentration of calcium within its boundaries; only when told to do so by another chemical signal will the cell open the calcium channels that will let this mineral come flooding in.18 Obviously, if calcium is not present, due to deficiency of either calcium or vitamin D, there will be no influx of calcium into the cell to initiate the conversion of arachidonic acid to endocannabinoids. Calcium must therefore be obtained in the diet, and vitamin D is necessary to absorb this vital mineral so that it can be transported through the blood and into the brain. It is also possible that the brain uses vitamin D as the direct chemical signal to open the calcium channels since a number of other cell types use vitamin D in a similar way.19
Endocannabinoids regulate the adrenal response to stress, mediated primarily by the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response; they also regulate the production of dopamine in the brain, which is responsible for the motivation to sustain goaloriented effort over time. By curbing the excess production of cortisol and supporting adequate production of dopamine, endocannabinoids help prevent excess tension, anxiety, burnout, and feelings of self-defeat and help support the confrontation of challenges with the attitudes necessary for success.
Cortisol: Flight or Fight
We often hear that it is not stress itself that is bad, but our reaction to stress. If we confront our challenges and overcome them, they will help promote our success, but if we fear them, run from them, and worry over them, we will mentally and emotionally fall apart.
One of the potential reactions to stress is the fight-or-flight response. The adrenals produce the hormone cortisol, which raises blood sugar, increases muscle tension and strength, and prepares us for the extreme reactions necessary to defend our lives when our survival is threatened. This reaction is necessary in certain situations but needs to be regulated. If we react to the minor stresses in our daily lives with the fight-or-flight response, we will be constantly anxious and will eventually burn out or develop chronic conditions like heart disease.
The fight-or-flight response is controlled by the hypothalamus, an almond-sized gland-like portion of the brain that communicates with the master gland, the pituitary. The hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which tells the pituitary to release its own signal into the blood, which in turn tells the adrenal gland to ramp up its production of cortisol. This system is called the hypothalamus- pituitary-adrenal axis or the HPA axis.20
A number of lines of evidence suggest that the regulation of the fight-or-flight response by the hypothalamus is disturbed in anxiety and depression. Mice that are genetically altered to make too much CRH or that are injected with CRH exhibit behaviors characteristic of these two mental illnesses. Depressed adults and those who have experienced traumatic experiences earlier in life have elevated levels of CRH in their cerebrospinal fluid, and this generally normalizes if they are treated with effective therapies. A drug that antagonizes CRH reduced depression and anxiety in a placebo-controlled trial, although the drug also proved toxic to the liver.20
The endocannabinoids derived from arachidonic acid are central regulators of the HPA axis. When researchers physically restrain rats for thirty minutes, their blood levels of corticosterone—the equivalent of cortisol in the human—shoot up seven-fold. When they are given a drug that raises the level of natural endocannabinoids in the brain, however, corticosterone only rises two- to three-fold.21 It is difficult for us to say for sure whether this suppression of the fight-or-flight response is good or bad, because we do not know what the ideal blood levels of adrenal hormones are for a given stressful situation. It would be more informative to look at how such a drug affects behavior.
In the “elevated zero maze” (Figure 3), rats are held high off the ground and are given the opportunity to stay in closed spaces or explore open spaces. This test evaluates the internal conflict the rat experiences between its fear of predators and its desire to explore its environment. The higher the level of anxiety, the more the rat will run from its fears and stay in the closed spaces; the lower the level of anxiety, the more the rat will confront its challenges and explore the open spaces. Rats on an ordinary lab chow diet will spend only twenty percent of the time in open spaces, but rats given the drug used in the previous experiment, which raises the level of natural endocannabinoids, will spend up to forty or sixty percent of the time in the open spaces.22 This finding suggests that the levels of endocannabinoids achieved in the brain on a “normal” diet can, at least in rats, be increased in order to produce less anxiety-driven and more productive behavior.
Dopamine: Goal-Oriented Behavior
The endocannabinoids not only regulate the HPA axis; they also regulate dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine concentrations ordinarily increase in response to novel or pleasurable experiences, but this increase can be completely abolished by feeding rats a drug that blocks the cannabinoid receptor.23
Dopamine has traditionally been seen as a “reward” stimulus. If rats are required to do work to obtain a highly palatable food, they will cease doing the work if researchers deplete them of dopamine through surgery or drugs. Researchers initially concluded from this finding that, in the absence of dopamine, the food is no longer pleasurable. Several lines of evidence have developed over the last two decades, however, that refute the simplistic understanding of dopamine as a reward molecule and show instead that dopamine provides the motivation to sustain consistent, goaloriented effort over time. When dopamine levels drop, animals become less future-oriented and more present-oriented and are only willing to do work that will obtain an immediate reward.24
One of the most often-used experiments in this line of research is called the concurrent choice procedure. In it, rats are given the choice between a regular food that they can obtain freely and a preferred food that they can only obtain by pressing a lever. Dopamine depletion does not change the rat’s preference for the preferred food if the lever-pressing is not required, so the rat still finds it just as pleasurable. If the work requirement is low—for example, if the rat must only press the lever once or four times to obtain a pellet of the pleasurable food—then the dopamine-depleted rat will press the lever just as often as the normal rat. Even if weights are added to the lever so that the rat has to do more and more physical work, the dopamine-depleted rat will still do just as much work as the normal rat. It is only when the rat must do work for a longer amount of time before obtaining its reward that the dopamine-depleted rat fails to perform.24
The clearest demonstration of this finding was an experiment published in 2001 in which rats were rewarded one pellet of preferred food for every fifty lever presses, but on different payment schedules. Normal rats would do just as much work to receive six pellets after 300 lever presses as they would to receive one pellet after fifty lever presses. Dopaminedepleted rats, however, began doing much less work to receive two pellets for every 100 lever presses and essentially ceased doing any work at all when they were rewarded with four pellets for every 200 lever presses.24 This experiment clearly showed that dopamine is a central regulator of future-orientation and the willingness to sustain effort over time towards a goal that will be achieved at some point in the future.
Endocannabinoids thus not only prevent the anxiety and feeling of self-defeat that leads us to run from challenges rather than confronting them, but also help support the future-oriented maintenance of sustained effort that is necessary for personal financial and career success and a prosperous society.
Vitamin A: Friend or Foe?
Vitamin A supports the production of arachidonic acid (see Figure 2) and supports the dopamine system more directly by stimulating the production of dopamine receptors and at least three other proteins involved in carrying out the cellular response to dopamine.25 Researchers have not examined the relationship between vitamin A status and depression, but the physical ailments with which such mental illnesses are associated are in turn associated with vitamin A deficiency. For example, the incidence and severity of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease, and the incidence and severity of asthma in children, are all associated with deficient blood levels of vitamin A.26-28 This would lead many people to suggest that vitamin A might be involved in preventing depression or anxiety. Recent literature reviews, however, suggest precisely the opposite—that vitamin A causes depression.25,29
In fact, one review even acknowledged that the actions of vitamin A on the dopamine system are “the opposite to what would be expected for an agent that promotes depression.” Rather than suggesting that vitamin A helped prevent depression, the authors suggested that vitamin A may support dopamine signaling so robustly that it leads to dopamine exhaustion.25
There are two lines of evidence that these reviews offer in support of the hypothesis that vitamin A causes depression: the vitamin A-related drug Accutane has been associated with depression and suicide; and researchers have claimed that the high vitamin A intakes of the Arctic Inuit cause a phenomenon known as Eskimo hysteria.
Accutane is not vitamin A. The body handles it differently from natural vitamin A (see Figure 4) and there are a number of lines of evidence showing that it acts as an anti-vitamin A compound that can aggravate vitamin A deficiency. In newborn mice treated with dexamethasone, a drug that induces emphysema-like changes to lung tissue, natural vitamin A helps treat the disorder while the active ingredient of Accutane has no effect and may even make it worse.30 Accutane caused night blindness, a traditional sign of vitamin A deficiency, in a child with cystic fibrosis, whereas vitamin A supplementation resolved the night blindness.31 In rats, the active ingredient of this drug accumulates in the eyes and interferes with vitamin A recycling; rats taking it at high doses took fifty times longer to recover from exposure to intense light than rats that did not take the drug at all.32
A physician published a letter earlier this year reporting that two patients developed depression on Accutane; when the physician took them off the drug and supplemented them with 10-12,000 IU of vitamin A for seven to ten days, the depression resolved and they were able to go back on the drug without it recurring.33 The totality of the evidence strongly suggests that vitamin A deficiency contributes to depression and that Accutane is associated with this mental illness because it interferes with vitamin A metabolism.
Ironically, in order to understand the connection of vitamin D with mental health, we must examine the next criticism levied against vitamin A.
Vitamin D and Eskimo Hysteria
Recent reviews reference a 1985 paper arguing that the high intake of vitamin A among the Arctic Inuit was responsible for a phenomenon of hysteria that they called pibloktoq.34 This disorder involves several days of irritability or withdrawal, a sudden excitation wherein the victim flees the camp and engages in irrational and dangerous behavior, convulsive seizures, a twelve-hour period of coma or stuporous sleep, and a return to normal. The author offers the following lines of evidence supporting a tie to vitamin A toxicity: the Inuit consider polar bear liver, which is the richest source of vitamin A, to be toxic; explorers who eat polar bear liver out of necessity experience drowsiness, irritability, headaches, and nausea within hours of consuming it; and case reports of vitamin A toxicity involve irritability, drowsiness, double vision and anorexia.
Even within this paper the author mentions numerous facts that make this hypothesis problematic. The specific symptoms of pibloktoq are limited to the Arctic and Antarctic and tend to occur in the late winter and early spring. There is no compelling explanation for why vitamin A toxicity would fall within these geographical and seasonal restrictions. The Inuit consider polar bear liver safe as long as the membrane is removed and consider seal liver, which contains half as much vitamin A, safe to eat in unlimited quantities. If vitamin A were the toxic component of polar bear liver, the cultural prohibition against eating the membrane would therefore be useless. Finally, vitamin A toxicity generally accompanies chronically high intakes over time, usually of chemically altered supplemental forms, whereas the hysterical episodes found among the Inuit are acute and sporadic.
In 1972, another author offered a much better hypothesis tying the episodes to hypocalcemic tetany, a disorder of involuntary muscle contractions accompanying severe deficiencies of calcium and vitamin D.35 The muscle contractions occur because the peripheral nerves cannot regulate their impulses in the absence of calcium. The disorder is often accompanied by “emotional and cognitive disorganization” and convulsive seizures, probably resulting from the absence of calcium in the central nervous system. Like pibloktoq, episodes are acute and sporadic.
Populations that inhabit areas of the Arctic where fishing is limited or the weather is unsuitable for drying fish—the primary source of vitamin D and calcium in the Inuit diet—have high rates of tetany in infants and muscle cramps, a related symptom, in adults. The bone disease rickets, by contrast, is extremely rare, suggesting that in the physically demanding environment of the Arctic, the Inuit have adapted by giving skeletal development priority over the nervous system. The Inuit have inherited numerous cultural adaptations centered on providing sufficient calcium and vitamin D to the members of their groups, especially to pregnant and lactating women, reinforcing the concept that vitamin D and calcium are periodically limiting factors for good health in these populations.
If we are to investigate the mechanism by which vitamin D may be involved in this illness, we should look first of all to its primary function—maintaining calcium status. One compelling explanation for how vitamin D may prevent the convulsive seizures associated with hypocalcemic tetany and pibloktoq is that it supplies the calcium necessary for the production of endocannabinoids. The marijuana derivative hashish has been used since at least the fifteenth century to treat epilepsy. More recent research has shown that the endocannabinoids named after this drug are powerful inhibitors of glutamate toxicity and many other seizure-promoting excitotoxins. Boosting their levels in the brain helps prevent the experimental induction of seizures, while depleting or antagonizing them lowers the amount of drugs necessary to induce seizures.36
The production of endocannabinoids from arachidonic acid is critically dependent on the supply of calcium since it is the influx of this mineral into the cell that turns on the enzymes responsible for this conversion.17 At a minimum, vitamin D is required to supply sufficient calcium to the brain in order for this influx to take place. Since some cells use vitamin D as a signal to open calcium channels and allow a rapid influx of calcium,19 it is possible that brain cells require vitamin D for endocannabinoid production in this way as well.
The Pursuit of Happiness
When taken together these data suggest that nutrient-dense animal fats rich in vitamin A, arachidonic acid, and vitamin D will not only help us avoid mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, but help us to confront our challenges with focused, goal-oriented behavior and to sustain effort over time in order to realize important goals in the future. While there are many other factors that influence mental health—cognitive, social, spiritual—there is a physiological element of mental health that cannot be ignored. A return to traditional foods and traditional methods of food production and preservation will help us restore a culture willing to invest in its future while supplying the nutrients necessary to support the motivation to make that future happen.
Figure 1: Arachidonic Acid Cooperates with Vitamins A and D to Regulate Stress Via Dopamine and Cortisol
Arachidonic acid is converted as needed to the endocannabinoids, key regulatory molecules within the central nervous system that support the production of adequate dopamine and curb the production of excess cortisol. In doing so, they help prevent anxiety and depression while supporting the motivation to sustain goal-oriented effort over time. Arachidonic acid can be directly supplied in the diet through animal fats or be made from linoleic acid found in animal fats and plant oils. Vitamin A helps the body make arachidonic acid from linoleic acid and helps the body make the receptors and other proteins that carry out the cellular response to dopamine. Vitamin D helps maintain the calcium necessary to signal the conversion of arachidonic acid to endocannabinoids and may be involved in directly initiating this signal as well.
Figure 2: Vitamin A Is Necessary for the Conversion of Linoleic Acid to Arachidonic Acid
Although arachidonic acid can be supplied directly in the diet, the body can also make it from linoleic acid. Vitamin A directly stimulates the production of the delta-5 desaturase enzyme and appears from unpublished data generated by our laboratory at the University of Connecticut to at least indirectly stimulate the production of delta-6 desaturase. These enzymes also require vitamin B6and biotin.
The Big Picture: Endocannabinoids, Adrenal Hormones, and Thyroid Hormone
A number of lectures at this year’s Wise Traditions conference covered the interactions between endocrine hormones and their relationship to disease. In the lecture on which this article is based, I discussed the ability of endocannabinoids derived from arachidonic acid with the help of vitamins A and D to prevent excess cortisol production and to protect brain cells from glutamate toxicity. Jack Samuels, conversely, discussed the ability of MSG, a form of glutamate, to increase cortisol production.
In the iodine track, Janet Lang discussed the effects of excess cortisol production on thyroid hormone status. Since cortisol shifts the body into a catabolic state in which it will break down tissues, the body will react by decreasing thyroid hormone output and thus slowing metabolism in order to prevent excessive breakdown of important tissues. Since cholesterol is required to make cortisol as well as the sex hormones, excess cortisol production also “steals” cholesterol away from sex hormone production.
David Brownstein discussed the importance of thyroid hormone in preventing heart disease. In the cholesterol-fed rabbit model, massive doses of cholesterol produce atherosclerosis, but if the cholesterol is fed with iodine or thyroid hormone, it does not.
In my article “Cholesterol and Heart Disease: Myth or Truth?” on Cholesterol-And-Health.com, I cover the importance of thyroid hormone for the functioning of the LDL receptor. In the presence of adequate thyroid hormone, the LDL receptor brings cholesterol-containing LDL into tissues such as the liver for recycling, the adrenal gland for cortisol production, or the testes and ovaries for sex hormone production. When LDL spends too much time in the blood instead of delivering cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins to these tissues, the polyunsaturated fatty acids in its membrane oxidize and it drives the inflammatory process of atherosclerosis in the arterial wall.
These lectures demonstrate the interrelationship between endocrine hormones and the importance of vitamins, minerals and natural foods for balancing and stabilizing the entire system. By avoiding excess glutamate and other excitotoxins, by obtaining adequate arachidonic acid and fat-soluble vitamins for endocannabinoid production, and by avoiding fluoride and bromine and obtaining adequate iodine for thyroid function, we can support the proper functioning of our endocrine system and make sure our cholesterol and fat-soluble nutrients are used for health-promoting purposes rather than left to the ravages of the oxidative degeneration that characterizes toxin-loaded, nutrient-poor modern diets.
Figure 3. The Elevated Zero Maze
The elevated zero maze is shaped like a zero (an open circle) and is elevated off the ground. The rat has the choice between spending time in the open spaces or the closed spaces, thus facing the internal conflict between its fear of predators and its desire to explore its environment. More time spent in the open spaces is taken to indicate a lower level of anxiety.
Dopamine, Time Preference, and the Housing Bubble
The hormonal system of the body has a self-regulating mechanism called homeostasis. Because homeostasis is the complex product of many interacting feedback systems, trying to control a specific component of the system with a drug often works for a time but eventually stops working or produces adverse effects because the drug fails to address the nutrient shortage or toxic factor to which the process of homeostasis is reacting.
Societies engage in homeostasis as well. Economists of the Austrian school call the phenomenon of future-orientation or present-orientation that appears to be regulated by dopamine “time preference” and consider it one of the key homeostatic regulators of society’s allocation of resources. A high time preference means one is present-oriented, whereas a low time preference means one is future-oriented. Dopamine depletion in rats, then, increases time preference.
When people become more future-oriented and their time preference decreases, they save a greater portion of their income. When they deposit that portion into a savings account, more money is available for loans and the interest rate, which is the price of borrowing money, decreases. Large loans required for long-term production of high-priced goods such as houses are thus more available. Since people save more money when they are preparing to buy a house in the future, the interest rate acts as a homeostatic factor that communicates the reduced time preference and increased future- orientation to investors. Investors take out larger loans to build houses, expecting that the saved money will be used to purchase them once they are built.
Our monetary system, however, does not allow this homeostatic regulation to take place. When the government creates digital money out of thin air, the supply of money increases and the interest rate decreases without anyone ever having saved a penny. Investors still take out loans to build houses, but the hoped-for buyers never decreased their time preference, never increased their future-orientation, never saved their money, and simply will not be able to afford to purchase the houses that are being built. When buyers and sellers finally realize this, the housing boom is revealed to be a housing bubble and the bubble bursts. More “drugs” can be added to treat the side effects of the monetary inflation—for example, subsidies can be offered to government-sponsored mortgage entities that will offer loans to people who cannot afford them—but the overmedication of society has the same disastrous consequences as the overmedication of the body. The current financial crisis demonstrates this fact quite clearly.
The natural treatment for society is to return to future-orientation and reduced-time preference by cultivating a culture of responsible saving and by supplying nutrient-dense animal fats that help support adequate production of dopamine, which allows us to sustain effort over time in pursuit of our future goals.
Figure 4: 13-Cis-RA Enters Nucleus Unregulated
Source : Ruhl and others. Embryonic subcellular distribution of 13-cis and all-trans-retinoic acid indicates differential cytosolic/nuclear localization. Toxicol Sci. 2001;63(1):82-9.
The Feel-Good Foods
The foods that protect us against depression and help us engage in low time-preference, future-oriented activities are the same foods that traditional cultures valued for good health. They provide vitamins A and D, calcium and arachidonic acid in abundance.
- Cod liver oil (vitamins A and D)
- Butter from grass-fed animals (arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
- Egg yolks from grass-fed chickens (arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
- Fats from grass-fed animals (arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
- Organ meats from grass-fed animals (arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
- Bone broths (calcium)
- Raw whole milk from grass-fed animals (calcium, arachidonic acid, vitamins A and D)
- Fish eggs (vitamins A and D)
- Small whole fish (calcium, vitamins A and D)
- Shell fish (vitamins A and D)
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This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2008.
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