Dr. Christopher Palmer: How to Understand the Powerful Connection between Mental and Metabolic Health [Episode #735]
This week’s topic is: Dr. Christopher Palmer: How to Understand the Powerful Connection between Mental and Metabolic Health
I am so excited to have my very special guest, Christopher Palmer, who is a Harvard psychiatrist and author of BRAIN ENERGY: A Revolutionary Breakthrough in Understanding Mental Health—and Improving Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More. Listen in as Christopher shares why there’s an increase in mental health disorders, inflammation and mental health, strategies to optimize your mitochondria function, and so much more!
Why the increase in mental health disorders?…
Inflammation and your mental health…
Trauma and mental illness…
How to define and self-diagnose mental health disorders…
Strategies to optimize our mitochondria function…
Dr. Palmer shares an example of what a changed diet could do to recover from chronic mental disorders…
Mental disorders and circadian rhythms…
About Christopher Palmer
Christopher Palmer, MD is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital. For the past 25 years, he has been an academic physician with administrative, research, educational, and clinical roles. Dr. Palmer received his medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine and completed his internship and psychiatry residency at McLean Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital.
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Note: The following is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it is incomplete or inaccurate. This is due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.
Kimberly: 00:01 Namaste loves and welcome back to our Monday interview podcast. I am so excited to share our wonderful, incredible, brilliant guest with you today. His name is Dr. Christopher Palmer, and he is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He has a new book out called Brain Energy, A Revolutionary Breakthrough in Understanding Mental Health and Improving Treatment for Anxiety, depression, O C dts and More. This book really highlights and his research and his message is really about holism and lifestyle and correlating what some might call put into a category of mental illness with overall lifestyle choices like diet, metabolic health. And it’s amazing to hear this conversation from a Harvard psychiatrist who’s really talking about, Hey, we have to eat right and sleep, and here’s the research and here’s the impact on your brain. And it’s just fascinating and he provides so much hope and action steps and really effective treatments beyond medication, beyond pills. So I absolutely love Dr. Palmer and I cannot wait to share this conversation with you today and about his amazing book, brain Energy.
Fan of the Week
Kimberly: 01:16 But before we do, I want to give a shout out as always to our fan of the week, and her name is trisha9596. She writes, impactful. I learned about the Feel Good podcast through another podcast, and I am so glad that I did. Kimberly is so inspiring and has so much to teach. This is so worth listening to. Well, my love, thank you so much, trisha9596 for your review. Thank you so much for being in our community. I’m certainly grateful that we found each other through cyberspace, through the podcast world. It is my great honor for to be connected and to just continue to share and to support. So thank you so much from the bottom of my heart for your review.
Please leave a review on iTunes and Subscribe
Kimberly: 02:15 It really means a lot. And for your chance, my love, listening to this to also be shouted out as the fan of the week, please also leave us a review. It’s an amazing way to support the show. It’s free, it’s easy. It just takes a minute or two over on Apple, Spotify, wherever you listen. While you’re over there, please be sure to subscribe to our show so you stay in the flow of our Q&A podcast, which is Thursdays, and our interview shows, which always run on Mondays. You can also share the show through a link or a screenshot to anyone that you think would benefit share the love.
Get Your Copy Of YOU ARE MORE
Kimberly: 02:58 And finally, if you haven’t yet checked out our new book, You Are More More Than You Think You Are – Practical Enlightenment For Everyday Life. It’s available wherever books are sold and goes deep into teachings and practices that are very useful for shaping your life from the inside out. Everything starts from the inside. Everything starts from intention and energy and builds, and it is shaped. You can see it. You could see your world shaped externally from internal change. So if you like our podcast, if you love the podcast, I think you’ll really love this new book. So please check it out again, wherever books are sold. All right, all that getting said, let’s get into our interview today with the wonderful Dr. Christopher Palmer.
Interview with Dr.Christopher Palmer
Kimberly: 00:28 Dr. Palmer, thank you so much for joining us today. I really love your book Brain Energy. It’s so timely and so interesting. But I wanna say right off the bat, one of the things that really struck me was the dedication at the beginning of the book. I lost my mother as well a few years ago and to cancer. And you write here, my futile attempts to save you from to my mother, my futile attempts to save you from the ravages of mental illness lit a fire in me that burns to this day, I’m sorry I didn’t figure this out in time to help you. May you rest in peace. And I could feel in your book a real energy, like a real true motivation. Like you were saying here, a fire was lit and the book is both very informative, but it’s interesting. It’s easy to read. There’s this real passion coming through. So thank you for sharing that. Thank you for including that personal aspect in the book as well.
The motivation for writing Brain Energy
Dr. Palmer: 01:33 Absolutely. Yeah. It’s interesting cuz when I started writing the book, I made a decision that I was gonna make it an academic book, but it’s accessible as possible to lay readers. So I wanted to make it interesting and engaging, but academic. And I kind of decided I shouldn’t share my personal story and my whole family history and all that stuff, I shouldn’t get into that. And then when push came to shove with a dedication, I knew I have to dedicate this to my mom cuz she is the reason I ended up becoming a psychiatrist. She is ultimately live in me this fire and anger and frustration at the mental health field. Why are you people so incompetent? Why can’t you help her? She came to you for help. She begged for help. She did everything you asked her to do. She wanted to get better. And you didn’t help her. You couldn’t help her. And her life was decimated because of your incompetence. That’s the way I felt and that’s why I became a psychiatrist. For better or worse, <laugh>. I know some people don’t like that. They don’t like to hear anger and frustration, but that is why I’m a psychiatrist.
Kimberly: 02:51 But then when you direct that anger and that energy into action, then we get something like this that can help so many people. So it’s not stagnant anger that’s just burning in you, but like you said, it lights a fire and it helps spread this important, very important wisdom and knowledge. So I’m so glad, doctor, that you shared your personal story because that’s how we connect. There’s the information, but then there’s real life. I started opening up about losing my mom and some of my personal struggles. And really the stories connect us as humans and we see that we really are all in this together. And it’s important to create awareness and to share with each other. So going along that you start the book with some pretty shocking stats here. I just wanna read a couple quotes. The World Health Organization estimated that in 2017, almost 800 million people on our planet suffer from mental health disorders. And then here’s the big one. The United States data now suggests that 50%, 50 half of the population will meet the criteria, criteria for a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. <inaudible>?
Dr. Palmer: 04:07 Yes.
Kimberly: 04:08 So <laugh>, I mean we’ll get into this in the book, there isn’t multifactorial of course, but this is whole conversation about mental health, which is a really important one, as we know wasn’t part of the collective conversation, what, 10 years ago, even five years ago it was starting to take hold. What is going on now, doctor, you know, get into this in detail, but in general sense the number one question is you get into right away is what is causing all this. And I love how you Yes. And start to get into it.
We discuss what is causing the increase in mental health disorders
Dr. Palmer: 04:41 And that is the big million dollar, billion, trillion dollar question right
Kimberly: 04:46 Now. Exactly. If it was always so
Dr. Palmer: 04:47 Simple is that we know that mental disorders across the board are skyrocketing and they in particular are affecting the younger population. Youth and young adults are experiencing dramatic increases in rates. It’s not just depression and anxiety. Everybody thinks well, everybody’s stressed, covid stressed everybody out. So no wonder this was all going on before the pandemic began. So let’s start there. But yes, the pandemic added insult to injury and made everything worse. So I’m not trying to take away from the pandemic. The pandemic definitely reached havoc, but it was already escalating. So let me give you a couple of just examples. So rates of depression and anxiety are definitely up in youth about doubled in youth. But rates of autism spectrum disorder have tripled in the last 20 years. Rates of bipolar disorder have over doubled in the youth in particular over the last 10 years, going back numerous decades, rates have skyrocketed. Bipolar disorder was essentially non-existent, never diagnosed. And so everybody’s struggling to understand what on earth is happening. And there are all sorts of explanations, a lot. Some people are thinking, well we just didn’t see it back then and now we’re seeing it
Dr. Palmer:06:26 <laugh>. But there’s one statistic that actually speaks way against that. And that statistic is that there are now more people disabled by mental illness than any other medical cause of illness on the planet throughout the entire world. The leading cause of disability is now depression.
Dr. Palmer:06:52 So even if people think, well, we’re just recognizing it more, one has to ask the logical question, well why are so many people disabled by it now when they weren’t disabled by it 20, 40 years ago? Something is happening. And to jump a little bit to the chase of one of the themes of the book, but I am here to argue is that metabolic health is spiraling out of control in the population. At the same time everybody knows, yes, we have epidemics of obesity and diabetes. And what I am here to tell you is that it is, they are directly related to the epidemics of mental health and they are all interconnected. And let me be clear, this is not about fat shaming, this is not about saying stupid, lazy people are overeating junk food and that’s making them mentally ill. That’s not the way this works. So let me jump out in front of that. But these are all interconnected. Mental health and metabolic health are inseparable.
Kimberly: 08:07 Yes. That was an amazing part of the book when we got into that. And you also, diabetes, obesity, obesity, cardiovascular function. So there’s one aspect, doctor with the fat, but then there’s this other part of you, you touched on junk food a little bit and chemicals and additives and the microplastics and the environment cuz we’re seeing a rise in mental health. We’re seeing a rise in infertility, a decrease in sperm, motility, all sorts of things are happening. So it’s not just, we can say, well fat is one factor, but also the actual chemicals, the preservatives that in food is also something that we can look at because something’s happening like you said
Dr. Palmer: 08:47 100%. And I’m glad you bring that up because I’ll give people a very clear example even clearer than microplastics and all the toxins in our environment that I too am very concerned about. But I’ll give everybody a really easy to understand example. So metabolic health is not only about weight. Weight is one factor and it is a metric. But metabolic health is about much more than just weight. The easy example to give are other toxins. And there’s one well known toxin that everybody knows about. It’s called cigarette smoking. So cigarette smoking is toxic to your metabolic health. But here’s the interesting thing. People who smoke cigarettes on average, way less than people who don’t smoke cigarettes. So this is one clear example that separates metabolic health from obesity. They are not necessarily the same thing. So smokers can be thin, but horribly metabolically ill. What does that mean and what does that mean? It means that smokers are more likely, even though they’re underweight or normal weight smokers are more likely to go on to have heart attacks and strokes. Those are metabolic disorders. Everybody knows that smokers are also more likely, even though they’re underweight to go on to develop insulin resistance and diabetes
Dr. Palmer:10:28 Twice as likely to develop type two diabetes, even though on average they weigh less.
Kimberly: 10:35 Right
Dr. Palmer: 10:36 Smokers, smokers are also more likely to go on to develop innumerable mental disorders. And we’ve got pretty good prospective data on that. People who smoke are more likely to, for example, subsequent develop subsequent depression. So smoking comes first, it poisons their metabolism and that results in depression. So one risk factor like a toxin can result in both metabolic and mental disorders. And that is the overall theme of the entire book.
Kimberly: 11:16 One of the things that you talk about is correlation versus causation, which I thought was really interesting. And there’s a chapter on inflammation, which we know in the United States and worldwide autoimmune is through the roof as well. So in your work doctor, it’s saying if I’m really inflamed, I may be more susceptible to mental illness but also vice versa. Correct. Can go both.
Inflammation and your mental health
Dr. Palmer: 11:41 Absolutely. Yeah, no. So one of the things that a lot of people, lot of people get confused about when they think about metabolic health or even mental health is they think in terms of lines or sequences. And what I mean by that is they think A causes B, right? And it’s a straight line linear <laugh>. So inflammation, inflammation causes brain inflammation which causes mental illness. And that’s the way it goes. And it’s a line, but in fact it’s actually a circular relationship, meaning almost everything in the human body, certainly with metabolism is regulated in what we call feedback loops. And it means we need to think in circular relationships. So inflammation, yes can impact the brain, but brain dysfunction can cause inflammation and even some normal brain functions like loneliness can cause inflammation and then that can become a vicious cycle.
Kimberly: 12:47 And same thing with hormones, which you also mentioned in the book.
Dr. Palmer: 12:50 Absolutely. So hormonal imbalances can cause metabolic dysfunction and mental illness. We know that cortisol, thyroid hormone, those are two clear examples for women, estrogen and progesterone and their fluctuations over through the months. That can affect some women in profound ways. And we’ve even got diagnostic labels, premenstrual dysphoric disorder for women who experience pretty significant mood symptoms around the times of their periods where we have good evidence that the hormonal fluctuations are definitely playing a role in their brain symptoms. But so hormones can influence metabolism and mental health, but metabolism mental health can actually affect the hormone levels themselves. And so again, it’s a feedback loop.
Kimberly: 13:52 We hear so much about hormones today, doctor, again, infertility and PCOS. There’s just so many different things going on.
Dr. Palmer: 14:01 Yeah.
Kimberly: 14:23 So there was a part of my book, again, back to we all relate to these numbers and statistics in our own life. And I will share personally my story. Back when I was 16, I was bulimic and you put in your book 95% of those experience think bulimia may have a mental health disorder. So I think about myself in high school, perfectionist obsessed with being the top of my class and never a lot of anxiety, a lot of insomnia. But back then there wasn’t this sort of conversation around it. And I read that doctor and I said, whoa, what was going on in me back then? What sort of mental disorder might I have fallen into with eating disorders we see with women?
One mental disorder could likely mean you have more. Here’s why…
Dr. Palmer: 15:13 Well, and that gets to one of the broader themes, which is if people have one mental disorder, they’re more likely to have another. Right. And you’re right, people with bulimia on average almost across the board have at least one other. And to a lot of people they think, well that makes sense. Wouldn’t you be depressed if you had bulimia or, or maybe the depression is causing the bulimia. But in fact I actually see them as all part of the same thing. What they represent is the areas of the brain that regulate your moods, your sleep, but also your eating behaviors, your hunger levels. Also your assessment of your worth in the world.
Dr. Palmer:16:13 That those areas of the brain can actually become compromised metabolically speaking and then they don’t work. They can either become underactive or overactive. And when they do, it means that people are having anxiety for no good reason or they are way overly critical of themselves in an extreme and exaggerated way. And anybody from the outside talking to that person will say, where are you getting this from? You are such a good, smart, wonderful, kind, attractive person. Why are you so down on yourself? There’s no reason for it. But to the person they think, no, I’m just worthless and I’m never gonna measure up. Yes. They
Kimberly: 16:59 Don’t see it.
Dr. Palmer: 17:00 Exactly.
Kimberly: 17:00 Yeah. Well it’s interesting where you talk about the influence of trauma and child or childhood and our upbringing and factors like neglect or just different traumas that can play out over time. And another researcher bezel, vendor col in his book, the Body Keeps the Score, talks about neglect being such a prevalent aspect of many people’s childhoods. You talked about 75% of Americans may experience some of that trauma, which then like you said, can affect your metabolic health for your wife. Are we doomed if we had neglected childhood or how do we rewire doctor, how do we come back from some of that? From your perspective, your research,
Trauma and mental illness
Dr. Palmer: 17:45 It’s such a good point and really important one. So to even add just a little bit to what you said. So people who have horrible kind of abusive neglectful childhoods, adverse childhood experiences, the more you have, the worse your mental health. And to most people that makes sense. But it’s actually mental disorders across the board. It’s not just ptsd, it’s also depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorders, substance use disorders, but even bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that most people think, well those are genetic or those are biological. Those have nothing to do with trauma. But in fact, no, all the tons of research tells us that’s not true. That trauma does have something to do with all of the mental disorders. But interestingly, people with horrible abuse childhoods also are more likely to develop all the metabolic disorders. Wow. They’re more likely to develop obesity, type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and they’re more likely to die early deaths.
Dr. Palmer:19:00 And it’s all interconnected. And one of the simplest ways that I think about it is that when somebody’s physical safety is being threatened, their body kind of goes on red alert and the body kind of knows the body in the brain know this is no time to rest or sleep. You are in danger, your life is in danger and so you should not be sleeping. And so those people tend to be more hypervigilant. They have trouble sleeping and some people say, well that’s a disorder. And I say, no, that’s not a disorder. That’s a normal human response to your life being threatened that your safety is in danger and you shouldn’t let your guard down. You shouldn’t be in a really sound sleep where you don’t wake up if somebody comes into your room, you should always be sleeping lightly because that’s gonna save your life.
Dr. Palmer:20:06 If somebody is abusing you, especially in the middle of the night, you should be waking up at the slightest sound. You should be waking up if someone comes into your room because you need to be able to protect yourself or at least understand what’s going on and try to protect yourself. But all of those safety measures take a toll. They take a metabolic toll on the human body and the human brain because you are not getting adequate sleep anymore. You’re not devoting metabolic resources to repairing your cells. Your whole system is on red alert and spending all of this energy on the defense systems of the human body. And that comes at a price. So the solution for those people, cuz you kind of said, well, is there any hope? So the solution for those people, first and foremost, the obvious one is that person needs to get into a safe situation.
Dr. Palmer:21:09 Yes, we can’t leave them in an abusive home and expect that we’re going to improve their mental or metabolic health because we’re not going to, they are going to continue having trouble sleeping. They’re going to continue to be anxious and depressed and everything else and they’re going to continue to be at increased risk for heart attacks and strokes and everything else as long as they remain in that abusive environment. But once we get them to a place of safety, we need to give them some time to let that response settle down hopefully. But for some people it won’t. For some people the damage is too much and their response system doesn’t turn off their kind of like their body has learned, don’t trust the world, don’t trust other people in the world. Nothing and no one are safe. And if that person has been in a safe environment for a couple of years and they aren’t able to learn to calm that stress response down or it’s not even learn, it’s just if that stress response isn’t calming down on its own, it should naturally decline because that person should begin to recognize I’m no longer threatened.
Dr. Palmer:22:34 And their brain and body should start to recognize you need sleep. You could really benefit from a good night’s sleep <laugh> and it’s safe and it’s safe for you to get some sleep now. But if their body and brain aren’t having that normal adaptation, I think there are many strategies that we can use to help that person recover. But we do have to be systematic about it. And so trauma focused therapies are critically important in these people, but I am a huge fan of metabolic therapies. At the same time, we can improve their brain metabolism and that will likely help a lot of people recover. So it’s not just go to psychotherapy once or twice a week and process your traumatic memories. We’re also gonna be talking about exercise and diet and sleep management and minimizing drug and alcohol use. Cause those are metabolic toxins, even though they might make you feel better in the short run, we’re gonna minimize those and we’re gonna put together a comprehensive treatment plan to help that person heal and recover.
Kimberly: 23:46 I love your holistic approach and you talk about treating the symptom versus the root, the C cause. And a lot of the medications, like you said, are sort of ameliorating the symptoms for the short term, but then sometimes medication becomes ineffective and it’s not really doing, creating that overall balance that human needs to continue to heal.
Treating the symptom versus the root cause
Dr. Palmer: 24:08 Absolutely. And I’m not here to take away medications from anybody who is finding them extraordinarily beneficial, but let me just share the kind of staggering news with those folks. If you guys don’t know this,
Kimberly: 24:24 Tell us <laugh>
Dr. Palmer: 24:25 The major, the majority of people, more than 50% of people who get treatment for a mental health issue are not getting completely better and staying better with our pills or our psychotherapies or our electroconvulsive therapies or our transcranial stimulation or the ketamine injections.
Kimberly: 24:54 Yeah, the ketamine clinic that are popping up everywhere,
Dr. Palmer: 24:57 <laugh> or any of it,
Kimberly: 24:59 Psy.
Dr. Palmer: 25:00 And that is a fact. Those are facts. I’m not trying to be pessimistic. I’m not trying to take away effective treatments from people who are benefiting from those treatments. If you are getting treatment and it’s helping you and you are recovered, great, all the power to you. But if you are anywhere from 60 to 90% of the people suffering from mental illness, you’re probably not all the way better and you’re probably still having symptoms and side effects. And what I’m here to tell you is there is a better way. There is a way to help your body and brain heal
Kimberly: 25:45 Incredible doctor. If for someone listening to this and perhaps thinking of themselves or a loved one or an acquaintance, how do we define, oh I may have a disorder versus I experience a lot of anxiety or I go into an anxious state. How do we sort of self-diagnose or understand that I need to get deeper help here or there’s something more going on than just general anxiety or generally feeling depressed sometimes
How to define and self-diagnose mental health disorders
Dr. Palmer: 26:17 Most often people or their friends and family can figure this out on their own. And the easy way to think about it again is that so there are normal reactions to adversity. Everybody gets anxious, everybody gets depressed under certain circumstances. If a kid is being bullied and teased, a normal human response to that is to be anxious or mad or scared or traumatized or whatever. Those are all normal reactions to being bullied and teased. And if that kid keeps going to school and keeps getting bullied and teased and says, I have anxiety is pretty obvious why that kid has anxiety. We don’t need to be say, oh this child needs a pill. We need to stop the bullying and teasing or teach this kid how to stand up for him or herself or manage the bullies or transfer schools or whatever we need to do. But we need to do something because this is not okay. This kid feels threatened, this child’s alert system is going off and we need to help figure out a plan to help reduce that.
Dr. Palmer:27:42 So lots of solutions. But does that kid have a disorder? I don’t think he does. Right now the American Psychiatric Association and DSM would say, yeah, that kid has a disorder. If he meets criteria for more than two months or something, then yeah, he is got a disorder. And that means that, oh, he must have a serotonin imbalance in his brain. And I’m saying, no, that’s idiotic. He doesn’t have a serotonin imbalance in his brain and we don’t have any scientific data to suggest that this kid is a normal human being who is experiencing adversity and we need to help him deal with that adversity. Now does that mean we should never give that child a pill? No. If we wanna give that child a pill, that’s fine. But we need to be clear. This is a normal kid who maybe we’re gonna use a pill to see if we can help some of the symptoms or reduce some of the symptoms. But somebody else may have anxiety or panic for no good reason. And usually they know it and they’ll say it. They’ll say, I was just sitting on the couch watching Netflix, nothing was wrong. And all of a sudden I just got this wave of panic over me or I just started obsessing about something that I’m supposed to do. And I started getting terrified or worried or feeling like worthless or what. And the reality is I’m just sitting here in the safety of my home watching TV and I’m having anxiety for no good reason
Kimberly: 29:22 Something is going on.
Dr. Palmer: 29:24 Then I would say that person’s brain is doing something that it should not be doing. That’s not okay, that’s not normal. And we need to understand why that might be happening. And once we figure that out and there are clear obvious that we can use metabolic approaches to understand what might be playing a role in that, and we can come up with treatment plans. And those treatment plans can be as simple as we might need to look at this person’s diet. We might need to look at this person’s sleep patterns. We might need to look at substance use. We might need to look for hormonal or vitamin deficiencies. So there are different things that we are gonna look at. But at the end of the day, I believe we can identify these things cuz they’re obvious common sense medical things for general health and wellness. We can identify these things and help people manage those brain symptoms.
Kimberly: 30:28 Well, it is very much common sense, but in past doctor it wasn’t necessarily common or common sense to a lot of doctors to look to something as basic as diet. So going back to again, personal story to illustrate your research. When I had bulimia, right, I’m 16 years old, I’m a perfectionist. I’m up all night trying to study and obsessed and worried about tests. I was really fat phobic so I wouldn’t let myself eat any fat. If I ate something fatty, I would throw it up. So there probably was a deficiency of fat and particularly omega-3 fats for my brain. My gut health was all screwed up. I was completely constipated. And then I went to college and I started eating again. I actually gained more weight and without any sort of professional diagnosis or any sort of specialized treatment, it seemed that things rebalanced. I stopped the bulimia and I started, the anxiety went way down. So it’s interesting, the environment shifted. I always felt like I stood out because I’m not fully white. And I grew up in a very Caucasian town in Connecticut. Then I went to college in Georgetown, which is very diverse. I don’t know, there were many factors that went on. But listening to when you talk about treatment and this holistic lifestyle, I think wow, it sort of went away. But my diet changed. I started eating fat again. All these things came back. Isn’t it interesting?
We discuss my personal experience with bulimia and how our environment and lifestyle plays such a huge role in our mental health
Dr. Palmer: 31:54 I think it’s a perfect example of what I’m saying. And you stumbled upon it and got lucky. You didn’t know that you were actually purposefully treating. And what I’m here to say is that the brain energy theory outlines the science down to the cellular level about what may have actually been happening in your brain. And that you’re right, you may have been deficient in essential vitamins and nutrients and those may have been causing metabolic dysfunction, which caused anxiety and insecurity and perfectionism and bulimia symptoms. And if we can restore a normal diet and maybe a safer environment where you don’t feel different, where you don’t feel threatened, yes. Cause that may have been playing a role as well. And certainly people can feel threatened because of their differences, because of their skin color, because of their sexual or gender identity, because whatever they can, people can feel threatened. And those are real things and those will affect your mental health and your metabolic health. But it sounds like the two big things that you did were you were in a different environment where you felt more accepted and not as different or not as you know of an outcast or whatever. At least in your mind. Yes, not as much of an other, but you also changed your diet.
Dr. Palmer:33:30 And if I had to choose between both of those, knowing everything that I know, I actually think the change in diet is probably the more powerful lever. And that you might have even been able to stay in Connecticut. And if we could somehow have worked with you and changed your diet, you might have actually gotten to a point where you’re like, screw these other people. I don’t care if I’m different. Screw them. I am a smart, good, kind human being and I don’t care what they think. And I’m a good person and I’ve got my friend group and I’ve got my significant other or whatever, and I’m okay.
Kimberly: 34:10 It’s like at that age doctor, you don’t want attention. It’s like, oh, the exotic one, where are you from? Millions of times. I don’t wanna stand out, I just wanna be another girl in the group. Yeah, it’s hard. Those vulnerable years are really tough. And what we’re seeing now, doctor, in a lot of vulnerability, there’s a lot of shifts. Gender fluidity, they not defining ourselves. How does that in society, I hope. And here in California where we live, there’s a lot more acceptance and support. But do you think, how is that gonna play with mental health? Is there any sort of correlation? What do
Dr. Palmer: 34:53 Think it’s all
Kimberly: 34:55 New stuff’s coming up
Defining the Self and how this plays with mental health
Dr. Palmer: 34:57 It it’s new and in many ways it’s old. So we know that LGBTQ plus youth in particular have dramatically higher rates of mental illness. We know that. So they have dramatically higher rates of anxiety, depression, substance use, suicide attempts in particular, the suicide rates are high. Now the brain energy theory would suggest that maybe that’s a normal response to a hostile society. That if the school you’re going to or your own family, your own parents don’t accept you for who you are, of course you’re gonna be depressed, anxious, or even suicidal. You’re gonna feel like, I don’t fit in. I can’t ever feel comfortable in this world. I’m never gonna find love and acceptance and maybe I’d rather be dead. Those are all actually kind of normal feelings. If somebody is really imposed upon and really tormented, that’s not unusual.
Dr. Palmer:36:12 So the remedy to that is actually to change society and to get people more acceptance, more love. But the reality is that even when LGBTQ people come out, they move out of their parents’ homes, they find their own way. They’ve got a strong social group all accepting, they still have higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance use and suicide attempts. They still do. Interestingly, they also have higher rates of some of the metabolic disorders. And on average at least one study found they tend to live shorter lives, even not from the suicide. They tend to have heart attacks at an earlier age. What is going on? It’s the metabolic consequences of the stress response I believe. Wow. And so one of the things about my theory is that mental and metabolic are interconnected and we can’t separate them. And so in my mind, the strategy for those people, it’s not just this hopeless dire, well there’s nothing we can do about it.
Dr. Palmer:37:29 Those are the statistics with our current model. But what I’m here to say is with this new model that is outlined in brain energy, this new model says that we can do something. So yes, the first strategy is to get that person to safety, get that person a friend group, a social group where they’re accepted, where they can be themselves without fear or they can genuinely feel accepted. But then we might need to do additional metabolic treatments to help them fully improve and recover. And what that means is we might need to look at that person’s diet and maybe use dietary strategies to improve their mental health and metabolic health. We might wanna look at exercise. Now they may say, well I don’t wanna be an athlete. And I’m gonna say, well I don’t care <laugh>, I want you to improve your metabolic and mental health. Whether anybody sees you exercising, whether you compete, I don’t care, but I want you to improve your mental and metabolic health. And exercise is one strategy to do that. I am gonna look at substances and reduce them if they’re dangerous or toxic. I’m gonna look at sleep. I’m gonna look at all of these things and help that person heal and recover from that traumatic childhood.
Kimberly: 38:58 You have a whole section on mitochondria as well. This powerhouse the cellular energy. So tell us how we can best take care of our mitochondria. What are some of your strategy? Or maybe talk about it a little bit, doctor, if people are unfamiliar with the role of mitochondria and then what can we do from a lifestyle perspective to enhance, to optimize our mitochondria function.
Strategies to optimize our mitochondria function
Dr. Palmer: 39:21 So that is, in many ways, to most people is going to be revolutionary about this theory is so right now when we ask the question, what causes mental illness? The leading psychiatrists and neuroscientists will say, no one knows. We can’t figure it out. It’s too complicated. All we know are some of the factors involved. We know about neurotransmitters and hormones and genetics and inflammation and stress and trauma and drug and alcohol use. All of these things seem to play a role in different ways for different people. But nobody can figure out how they all fit together. But when you do a deep dive into the science of mitochondria, which I kind of do in the book for better, or word yes, loved it. You hate science for people who hate science, sorry. And not, sorry cuz I want to help you understand the science so that you can reclaim your health and your mental health. But you gotta understand the science. And that means, I gotta talk a little bit about biology,
Kimberly: 40:19 But it it’s very readable. It’s very accessible the way you present it.
Dr. Palmer: 40:23 Thank you. I tried my best. So when you do a deep dive into the science of mitochondria, you actually can connect all of the dots of mental illness. So mitochondria play an instrumental role in the production and regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, gaba. They play a clear and direct role in producing and regulating key hormones like cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, progesterone. They play a key role in inflammation, both turning it on and off. They play a key role in the expression of genes in our cells. So if you think about genetics, mitochondria are key to the expression of different genes in our cells at different times. And when you put this all together, you can finally connect the dots of mental illness. More importantly, what you were saying is, so what can we do? That’s the great news is there are clear strategies that we can use.
Dr. Palmer:41:31 And they’re all obvious ones that everybody kind of sorta knows about. Diet, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, minimize substance use. Those things can have powerful effects on most people. Understand those things could probably work for somebody with depression or anxiety. But that has nothing to do with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Those are real disorders. You can’t just tell me that a Mediterranean diet’s gonna cure schizophrenia. And what I’m telling you is no, that’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m not saying a Mediterranean diet’s gonna cure schizophrenia cuz guess what? It won’t. And I’m not saying that people have schizophrenia because they’re eating a bad diet. That’s not the way this works either. What I’m saying is that people with schizophrenia have a metabolic problem in their brain. Same with bipolar, same with anxiety, same with bulimia, same with depression. All of those people have metabolic problems in their brains, but they’re different parts of the brain which results in these different symptoms.
Dr. Palmer shares an example of what a changed diet could do to recover from chronic mental disorders
Dr. Palmer:42:44 But would it be okay with you if I share a story to highlight what I’m talking about and what I mean people a lot of stories? Yes, please, please. A lot of people are thinking Chris Palmer, you’re just saying the same old stuff. And this doesn’t mean anything like diet and exercise. Take care of yourself and that’ll create a healthy brain. And that’s kind of what I’m saying, but really not what I’m saying at all. And so that a clear, easy example is I will tell you the story of a woman named Doris. Doris had a horrible abuse of childhood. She undoubtedly had symptoms of depression and PTSD and other things. And by the time she was 17, she got diagnosed with schizophrenia. She started having hallucinations and delusions every day of her life over the ensuing decades. She tried numerous antipsychotic and mood stabilizing medications, but they did not work.
Dr. Palmer:43:47 She gained massive amounts of weight and she had a guardian appointed by the courts cuz she couldn’t take care of herself. And she was miserable and hated herself between the ages of 68 and 70. She tried to kill herself at least six times and was hospitalized for those suicide attempts. At the age of 70, she was referred to a weight loss clinic at Duke University where they were using the ketogenic diet and for whatever reason at 70, 77, 0. Wow. So 53 years of schizophrenia, the chances of her getting better are zero according to everybody. There’s no way in hell she’s gonna get better. Lifelong disorder. She’s got lifelong schizophrenia and she’s 70 now. There’s no way any she off case and society had written her off and the mental health field had written her off as untreatable. She has a chronic brain disorder called schizophrenia and there’s no hope for her.
Dr. Palmer:44:52 And we do that with tens of millions of people. So she gets referred to this weight loss clinic and decides to give it a try for whatever reason, I don’t know where she got the courage or hope or gumption to go even try it, but she decided I’ll give it a try. Within two weeks, not only is she losing weight, but she begins to notice dramatic reductions in her auditory hallucinations. Within two months, all of her symptoms of schizophrenia are in remission. Within six months, she’s off all her psychiatric medications and her symptoms remain in full and complete remission. Wow. Doris. Doris went on. Doris went on to live another 15 years. Medication free, symptom free out of psychiatric hospitals. No more mental health professionals, no more suicide attempts, no more any of it. She had a new life because of a change in her diet.
Dr. Palmer:45:57 Now I am not here at all to say she just was eating a healthy diet. There is a tremendous amount of science behind the ketogenic diet in particular <affirmative>. And what we were doing, what was happening is that her brain metabolism was being healed and restored through a dietary intervention. But what I’m here to say is that we can use evidence-based strategies based on this unifying theory of mental illness to help tens if not hundreds of millions of people recover from chronic mental disorders. And I am incredible. I’m convinced that we can help easily more than 50% of people who are not helped. Now can I heal and every human being on the planet with mental disorder? No. I would never be so stupid as to say that because there may be some rare vitamin or nutrient or hormonal deficiencies that we don’t even know how to measure right now.
Dr. Palmer:47:01 And that might be messing up someone’s brain metabolism. And I wouldn’t know how to fix those. So I’m not gonna be able to heal everyone. No. But I have now treated dozens and dozens of patients with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, who are in remission now off medication, many of them off medications. And they are in full remission with new lives. And wow. What I’m here to say is it’s a new day in the mental health field. And it doesn’t have to be the severe disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia. It can be the depression or the anxiety or the personality disorders or the eating disorders or the substance use disorders. We can use strategies to help people recover.
Kimberly: 47:52 <laugh>, when you were telling this story about Doris, Dr. I literally was tearing up. It’s so incredible to hear these stories, like you said, after a life of suffering and how dramatic that shift is. And I also love talking about the ketogenic diet and you have so much amazing information in here. And I just wanna say to our listeners as well, there is a plant-based ketogenic version as well, cuz a lot of our community is plant-based. Doctor, I mean, I could pick your brain forever. I just have one last question. When you talk about circadian rhythms, research around therapy and balance in nature, right? There’s all this research around pan and grounding. Have you seen your patients this getting outside, exercising a sunlight just being in the natural air, it’s helping with mental disorders? Or is that there isn’t research yet in that
Mental disorders and circadian rhythms
Dr. Palmer: 48:44 Particular Yes, no, we’ve got tons of research on that actually. So we know that light exposure in particular, and that means getting outside folks, like staying inside with your shades pole that not good for you. Light exposure is actually really important to metabolic health and mental health. And there are two key components to light exposure. So one is that it’s actually probably most important to try to get some bright light early in the day, preferably in the morning. And that means just getting outside. If the sun is shining, let it shine on your face. Doesn’t mean look at the sun, it just means let it be on your face and that’s okay for 10 minutes or something. Totally fine, even if it’s not sunny. You don’t have to have a right on your face. You might need to stay out a little longer to get a good dose of bright exposure. But that actually helps regulate circadian rhythms and sleep. And it improves your metabolism actually all the way down to the level of mitochondria. But the other caveat with light exposure is that you don’t want light at night when you’re supposed to be sleeping. So that means staying off your tablet or phone or computer or the T television
Kimberly: 50:01 Like lock.
Dr. Palmer: 50:03 So you wanna try to create a dark, safe space where you’re sleeping and avoid screen exposure and other light exposure in the middle of the night. But getting outside and relaxing or meditating or just being in touch, being mindful of your environment, listening to the birds, watching the trees, looking at the sky. All of those things are kind of mindfulness or meditation practices in a way. And we actually have direct evidence that the primary biological benefits of those things is through metabolism and mitochondria, believe it or not. And that research was done. That research was done by a group of mind body physicians. So they knew if we help people meditate or just practice mindfulness, get out in nature and connect with nature. We know that if we do that, it has a powerful role on mental health. But it also has a powerful role on decreasing heart attacks and diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis and other things.
Dr. Palmer:51:18 And the rest of the medical community said, you guys are just making stuff up. That’s not real. That’s not a real intervention. We like pills. We don’t like that stuff. <laugh>. And so these researchers set out because they were like, no, you’re not taking us seriously and we are serious. These things really work. They really honestly work and they help human health and more doctors should be prescribing this instead of pills. And so these researchers went out to see, can we figure out how are these things working? And it turns out that these things are improving mitochondrial health and function and they have direct evidence of that through these genetic studies that they did. And so again, something like that. Common sense. Everybody’s heard. Yeah. Practice mindfulness, practice meditation. What I’m trying to do is put all of the science together to say maybe we should be prescribing mindfulness and meditation instead of another pill. And maybe we’ll actually help human beings a lot more effectively if we do that.
Kimberly: 52:37 Doctor, thank you so much. Your message, you being at the forefront of this movement, hearing a Harvard psychiatrist talking about mindfulness and meditation and diet. It’s like you are this champion for wholeness really, cuz it’s always been so compartmentalized. Okay, I’m over here, I’m gonna prescribe the pills and then here’s this other stuff and over here. But thank you so much. I absolutely love you so much. I love your energy. I love your book. The second I picked it up, there was a real lot, like I mentioned from the dedication all the way through. It is everybody needs to read this book, brain Energy and it moves along. Sometimes people think like a scientific book or nonfiction could be, oh, I couldn’t put it down. Honestly. It is an amazing book. Your authentic passion, Dr. Palmer is palpable. And so I’m so grateful for you and being such an amazing force for light, for good, for love, for humanity. Thank you so much for your work and sharing your wisdom with us.
Dr. Palmer: 53:53 Thank you, Kimberly. Thanks for having Yeah, no, thank you too for there are millions and millions of people who are desperate for help, who are desperate for better lives. Yes. And it’s going to take a team effort and you are a champion right at the forefront of that team. So thank you for all you’re doing.
Kimberly: 54:13 Thank you so much.
Kimberly 04:00 I hope you enjoyed our conversation today with Dr. Palmer, such a passionate, incredible soul. Please do check out his new book, brain Energy, A revolutionary breakthrough in understanding mental health and improving treatment for anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD and more. We will link in the show notes over at mysolluna.com directly to Dr. Palmer’s book, as well as to other resources where you can find more about his work, his incredible passion for really helping humans. You can really feel his authenticity coming through over on the show notes, and we’re over on our website rather. You will see links to other podcasts. I think you enjoy recipes, free meditations and more. So please do check it out. We will be back here Thursday for our next Q&A podcast till then, sending you so much light, so much love. Remember, you can always reach out with questions over on the site. You can always reach out to share how else we can best support you, which is really our mission here. So again, so much love, so much gratitude, and see you back here Thursday.