Brain Food (part 6: a little more progress)

I did two balance experiments with a warmup of 8 trials. In one, the order of feet (which foot I stood on) was left, then right; in the other, right, then left. In both experiments I did much better (i.e., balanced longer) on my right foot than my left foot, ps < 0.001. This surprised me; I had never heard of such an asymmetry. The difference was so large that the platform size (0.75 inch) good for the left foot was too easy for the right foot. To make things as simple and easy as possible I decided to stop testing both feet and to only measure balancing on my right foot (and to use a 0.5-inch platform to make it more difficult and avoid a ceiling effect). I tested my balance (a) in silence and (b) listening to a book. The results were similar so I decided the standard condition will be listening to something. I want to make my balance test fast and pleasant. I came across several promising related facts: 1. On the Shangri-La Diet (SLD) forums, spacehoppa said she felt “solid on [her] feet” — which may mean her balance has improved. If so, the improved balance that I noticed may be widely true. She also said “my mind feels clearer,” another effect I noticed from omega-3’s, and more reason to think omega-3 improve brain function.

2. On the SLD forums, porkypine wrote, “I have a very strong reaction to the 1500 mg of OmegaBrite that I have begun taking in the morning. . . . During the day, I am not just happier, but actually chipper, which is not a normal state for me. I have wondered if I am getting too much Omega-3.” This supports one of the assumptions behind my upcoming tests of the effects of omega-3 on balance: the effects of omega-3 on the brain happen quickly. It also highlights an advantage of measuring balance rather than something else, such as mood — namely, it is reasonable to assume that the better your balance, the better your brain is working. As this quote shows, the mapping between mood and goodness of functioning is not so clear.

3. In a book about neurology (Defending the Cavewoman by Harold Klawans), including Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, I read: “A [Fore] woman in late pregnancy who was unable to walk easily across a narrow tree trunk bridging a gorge knew from that change in her balance that she had kuru and that she would die of it. The physicians examined her and thought she was normal, but in less than one year, she was dead.” This shows that balance is an especially sensitive measure of brain function, at least under demanding conditions. It’s relatively easy to notice worse balance.

Balance is also much easier to quantify than many other measures of brain function, such as mental clarity.

7 Replies to “Brain Food (part 6: a little more progress)”

  1. One thing about balance is that I was told by my doctors that balance has three areas that control that function: vision, inner ear, and the brain. If at least two of those areas are functioning normally, your balance will function properly. If two or more areas are not functioning normally, your balance will be impaired.

    I would submit that for you folks, the impact of omega-3 on the brain may be creating the improvement.

    I’m envious–all three of those areas are impaired for me. I have not seen any improvement in my balance even with the omega-3 from the flaxseed. It hasn’t gotten worse either, so that’s something.

    I do plan on trying fish oil, since there are elements of omega-3 that are not available in large quanities in flaxseed oil that are available in fish oils. Perhaps that will impact my balance for the good.

    Thanks for all of your work.

  2. A bit of personal history to show why I was so interested in Seth’s finding about omega-3s and balance:

    I was born with a very slightly deformed left foot, nothing crippling, but noticeable if I was barefoot or wearing sandals and uncomfortable, right on the edge of painful, pretty much all the time. I had had three surgeries to correct the bunions that resulted from the anomaly, but they did no good; the bunions just came back and the foot became more and more trapezoidal. Then in 1997 I learned about a new surgery to correct the underlying problem; my new foot doc said I should decide whether to have it pretty soon because they won’t do it on people over 60. I hemmed and hawed and finally, in January of 2003, six months before I turned 60, I had the new procedure, which was actually four surgeries, two in January and two the next September. Yadda yadda, months in bed, foot six inches above heart, blah blah blah. The upshot was I got a new foot, and it’s great. It never hurts even a tiny bit, and I can walk from here to Sunday with a big smile on my face.

    What I couldn’t do was balance on one foot. Balancing on the old left foot would have been impossible, and since I couldn’t do it on the left foot I never did it on the right foot either. There’s nothing wrong with my inner ear or my vision — I can ride a bike, no sweat — but my feet had never learned how to balance independent of each other. I would try to stand on my right foot; the folks in rehab always tell you, “Do the good one first; then the good one can teach the other one.” But my right foot had no more idea how to stand alone than the left one did.

    So since September of 2003 I’ve had it as a goal to put my socks on standing up. Teeter-teeter, teeter-teeter … BANG. Teeter-teeter … SMASH. I didn’t give up, but I also never seemed to make much progress. Both feet were equally bad. It was like a funny little game I’d play with myself every morning. Kind of funny, kind of sad.

    Last Thursday, having read the first of Seth’s Brain Food posts, I chucked some flax and borage oil in my first Crazy Shake. Friday, Saturday, the same. Sunday I took some fish-oil capsules too. Monday, again, the flaxseed oil, again some fish-oil capsules.

    Tuesday morning I put my socks on standing up.

    This morning I put my socks on standing up. Then I got all cocky and put my */shoes/* on standing up — something that had never been a part of my wildest ambitions for myself. I tied the knots standing up, not needing to steady myself against my dresser. I stood on one foot waiting for the bus, then on the other. Downtown I walked up an escalator no hands — wow! Then I walked */down/* an escalator no hands. Wow! Wow! Oh man, this foot-balancing thing is fantastic.

    Now of course, it’s easy for the dubious viewer to see that I am a dupe of the Seth Roberts Evil Empire. The Omega-3s are nothing but magic feathers, and I could have put my socks on standing up all along if I weren’t such a wimp. So the dubious will say. But as for me, I’m switching from canola oil and ELOO to walnut oil, swishing the flax oil into my Crazy Shakes, chucking down the fish oil pills, and eating massive quantities of salmon and sardines. You’ll recognize me easy, I’m the little old lady at the bus stop, standing meditatively, first on one foot and then on the other, smiling my secret smile.

  3. Considering that now that I have deep restful sleep from flaxseed oil I have nominated Seth for sainthood.

    If I can put my socks (heck–if I can put my pants) on standing up again I will nominate Seth for Ruler of the World.

    The brain injury people need to be looking at this protocol to use as a part of rehab.

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