Mad Cowboy Interview 08: Dr. Neal Barnard
(Part 01 of 04)



MC: "I was quite taken by your book. It's not often I read the same book twice in a week, Dr. Esselstyn's 1st work comes to mind. One of the things that really struck me is the over-arching conceptual umbrella that you develop by using the evolution of "The Beatles" as an analogy. I'd love it if you'd summarize it in terms of ID, EGO, and SUPER-EGO. I thought it was just brilliant. I don't know if it was you or a ghost writer who envisioned the concept.


NB: "Thank you! I don't use ghost writers. You know, when we're born, we have the ability to "flail" our arms, and cry, things... only gradually does the nervous system develop enough that it can say, "Okay, instead of flailing our arms, why don't we inhibit that a little bit? Let's refine it, so you can actually reach out and pick something up. Instead of "wailing" let's see if we can form words. And so much of the development of the nervous system is actually inhibitory. It stops you from just thrashing around..."


MC: "That's a fascinating interpretation. There are some really intriguing broader implications."


NB: "The maturation of an individual is largely inhibitory. So instead of wetting ourselves, crying out screaming... grabbing, breaking... but not completely (we're not going to become a mummy), what we're going to do is to learn what we want to do. But you do it in an organized, careful, and restrained fashion.


So, the Beatles were mentioned because here were four energetic, vigorous, talented, untrained musicians..."


MC: "Rude, crude, and lewd..." [chuckling]


NB: "... and Brian Epstein ran a record business out of his parent's furniture store. And he stopped in to see that at a club, and they were smoking, and they were playing while turning the backs on the audience, they had all this talent, but they were out-of-control. He said, "these guys could go places IF they can learn how to dress right, and look right, and behave right." And so he sat down with them and became their manager, and within a very short time they conquered the World. But, Epstein died..."


MC: "...the barbs..."


NB: "Yes, presumably of an accidental overdose of sleeping medication, or whatever, no one really knows. They then started falling apart again."


MC: "You can clearly see that downward progression when looking at their music from then on."


NB: "Yes."


MC: "So in humans, at the end of life..."


NB: "...we lose our inhibitions. That's often how it goes. So you have a person who can still wail, but they can't make sense any more. They might reach out and break things, wet themselves... people talk about them "reverting back to childhood." In a way, that's right.


So that the point that I made, we all have these Beatles in the beginning..."


MC: "The ID."


NB: "Yes, yes... called the ID, and there are structures that are appetite for food, for sex, for aggression, for all these things. And they need a Manager. Freud called this the "EGO." So the EGO wants what the ID wants, but it says "you have to be patient, I want a record contract too, I want dinner too, I want all these things. But you cannot get it by demanding, you get it by earning it working, being patient." That's the EGO, and the EGO, if it is assaulted, by bad diet, by lack of exercise, by bad health in general, the brain has physical structures that are destroyed every time, then the ID re-emerges in a form that is uncontrolled, and can't fulfill any of it's actual functions."


MC: "I love in your book how you present this analogy slowly, knowing where you are going to go with it towards the end of the book. It was like reading a detective story in background, thinking "where is he going with this? He couldn't just be throwing this out gratuitously, there has to be a reason he's going this way."


NB: "Well, thank you for saying that, my editor wasn't so sure about it!"

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MC: "Well, I think it's quite effective. The payoff at the end, when you mention how this relates to Sir Paul McCartney as SUPEREGO, looking out the window with Linda... did that really happen?"


NB: "It did happen."


MC: "That was fantastic, a transcendent moment, an epiphany!"


NB: "Paul McCartney talks about this a lot. He was with Linda, his first wife, who has unfortunately passed away, but they were sitting in a beautiful place, eating lamb, and there were all these lambs frolicking in the field... and they looked at their plate, they looked out the window, they looked at their plate, and they looked at each other and said: "We can't do this." And that's where the SUPEREGO comes in... which you can call, if you wish, the Conscience. Where they said: "we have to let values dictate what we do, not just our own drives."


MC: "SUPEREGO you also use in dealing with the issue of moderation. I keep getting hit with the issue of "everything in moderation" again and again, and I know you do, as well as Dr. Esselstyn. McDougall talks about, so does Dr. Campbell. You have some wonderful ways to look at it, including the concept of dopamine as your "To Do Manager."


NB: "Well, Esselstyn is much more eloquent on moderation than I will be. But I will say this, moderation applies to healthy things. so let's say you have a 7 yr. old daughter, she loves playing the violin, after 11 hours you have to say: "Sweetie, moderation... you also have to read, you have to go to school, you have to bathe... you can't just do violin all the time." Broccoli, very good for you, but if you eat five meals of nothing but broccoli, it's time to moderate it.


Moderation does not apply to heroin, or things dangerous for you... cigarettes... what's a moderate amount of cigarettes to have? Moderation is a good thing for healthy things, but when it comes to something that's hurting you, you don't moderate it all, you get rid of it, because, I did smoke cigarettes (I don't mind if you write this). I used to go over to GW Hospital when I was a medical student and an intern, and I would go in there and I'd buy Methols in the Gift Shop..."


MC: "...I've never had a bad habit in my life..."


NB: "I'm sure... so anyway, when I quit, I realized I could not do a moderate amount of tobacco, and I don't think people can do moderate amounts of unhealthy food. Either you're in a bad rut or a good rut [laughing]. You can do a moderate amount of anything healthy, like strawberries, sure... they're not taking over your life, but they're not an addictive food."


MC: "...and then, you provide ideas on how to support your SUPEREGO. You talk about exercise, intimacy, and other motivators, like thinking about Animal Rights... basically, you're promoting a "wholistic view," to understand the larger picture."


NB: "It helps. It helps enormously. For me, I know that if I eat in a healthier way, my coronary arteries are going to be better off, the likelihood of dementia might be diminished if I eat in a healthier way. In addition to remembering those things, I also remember blowing away animals at the end of a gun, and I remember driving cattle to slaughter. If I think about those events with a certain amount of regret, then that will help me stay on the straight and narrow now."

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MC: "The concept of cheese, which is near and dear to my heart, it kept me from going vegan for a long time. I kept hearing the vegan and vegetarian whine: "I want my pizza." You talk about cheese (I quoted you in my book) as being an addictive substance. Can you expand on this?"


NB: "In our research studies we noticed that when people would go onto a vegan diet they would do very very well with it, but a number of people would report craving cheese, and I thought "why?" It smells like old socks, "why do people crave it?" But they do..."


MC: "[laughing]... the smellier the better, especially with a glass of red wine..."


NB: "..explain it! But if you look into the literature you discover that cheese has a protein called casein, and casein breaks apart in your digestive tract to produce what are called "casomorphins." "Casein-derived morphine-like" compounds. Why would there be opiates in cheese or in milk products in general? My presumption, is just as nature built into cow's milk, if I can put it that way, protein and fat... sugars to nourish a calf... it also includes hormones in the milk, to direct the growth of the calf. It also includes a little "feel good," so that the calf is re-assured and feels calm after nursing. And it's in human breast milk as well."


MC: "I've noticed that over the years a lot of people have benefited from your theories on this matter. It's affected a lot of us."


NB: "There's one thing I should note or added, is that casein is concentrated in cheese. Much more than other dairy products. That's why it's more addicting."


MC: "Then there's what Dr. T. Colin Campbell says about casein in "The China Study," and it being a "cancer enabler."


NB: "Sure."

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MC: "Getting back to your new book... you've quantified the issue of why Alzheimer's is important to address. I remember reading a book about "hamburgers, the brain, and Alzheimer's" awhile back, "Dying for a Hamburger." I remember seeing the curve of the incidences of dementia and Alzheimer's over time. The author pointed out that this is reminiscent of a curve that you'd see in an epidemic, not in something that is a genetic propensity."


NB: "Right."


MC: "Does that map with your perspectives?"


NB: "Yes. Even the research studies... well, it's clear that there are genes that affect Altzheimer's risk genetically..."


MC: "..APOe"


NB: "...right, APOE, the APOE epsilon allele... the bad one, but there are others, too. But, research studies show that even those people with that genetic trait, tend to be stronger, influences by their dietary choices."


MC: "You brought up genes, and one of the concepts you presented in your book that had me stop and think awhile about the implications, was that you generalize genes as two types, and I'd rather you talk about it than me. I'm tired of hearing this again and again, "it's genetic, it's genetic, it's my genetics..."


NB: "There are genes for many conditions, but I think of some genes as what I call "dictators," the genes that say "you're going to have blue eyes." Those genes give orders that you can't refuse. But the genes for Altzheimer's disease, or the genes for Type II Diabetes, they're not dictators at all. I think of them like "committees." They make suggestions, and you can argue with them. I don't want to get Alzheimer's, I'm going to eat in a different way. And the genes for Diabetes, you can fight with them as well. And so often what runs in a family is not DNA, but recipes, that get handed from one generation to the next."


MC: "Another fantastic analogy that really impressed me in your book. It explains so much and such a useful concept.

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Moving forward, there's another broad structure to your book with "three steps to shielding your brain." Could you elucidate them?"


NB: "Sure. And I have to confess I've broken down in different ways at different times. But the first thing has to do with food. You want to get away from the bad fats. And that's not only saturated fat that's in animal fat... including in fish, and including in chicken. So it's not just beef you want to avoid, you want get away from animal products. Dairy is among the worst sources... it's very very high in saturated fat, but also the trans-fats."


MC: "...we're talking broad steps, so you're saying "food" in general?"


NB: "Yes, that means getting away from the bad fats and it also means bringing in the good things. There are vitamin-rich foods. "Folate" as in "foliage...."


MC: ""Folic" and "Folate" I don't know if that's the actual derivation or you thought this up?"


NB: "You know, bored scientists have to come up with names for vitamins, so that's a pretty easy one. Folic acid is what you get as a supplement, and Folate is the one in food. It's in beans and bananas, and other healthy foods. So you want to eat those good things and you also want to careful about the metals..."


MC: "...the metals issue surprised me..."


NB: "And that goes a little bit beyond what most people have talked about before. When you look at heart disease, iron does play a role, but most people aren't too aware of it. With something like copper toxicity, people haven't talked about at all. But it's very simple. There's copper in copper pipes, there's iron in cast-iron pans, there's boatloads of both in liver..."

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