Brain Development & Nutrient-Dense Diets

I am extremely honoured to be a part of Orthomolecular News Service, and lately, Dr Richard Cheng and I had a fascinating talk regarding brain development, which I have shared with you this week on the Unstress.

Join me today as I go through my conversation with Richard and cover important issues including brain development, Robin Dunbar's Human Evolution, regenerative agriculture, tuberculosis bacteria, nutrient-dense diet, and so much more!

Brain Size Development & A Nutrient-Dense Diet

Well, this week’s episode was a little bit unusual because, as many of my regular listeners would know, I have the honour of being on the editorial board of the Orthomolecular News Service

The Orthomolecular News Service

Now, the Orthomolecular News Service is an incredible resource, which I would encourage you to explore because when you hear people, so-called experts, perhaps even your own doctor, say there’s no evidence to support nutritional medicine or the use of supplements. What they really should be saying is they haven’t read it because there is so much research. Let’s be honest, and evidence-based medicine is, as we’ve covered in a few recent podcasts, not everything it’s cracked up to be. 

Look, all evidence is flawed. There are limitations. However, the logic behind nutritional medicine and particularly orthomolecular medicine, which is the use of supplements, makes sense. You see when you look at how biochemistry works, how every cell in your body works, if you were to Google the Krebs Cycle. Just Google it and have a look at the cycle of the biochemical cycle which goes on in our body.

Oxidative phosphorylation & Gluconeogenesis 

Oxidative phosphorylation is another one. Gluconeogenesis is another one. Look, I’m throwing terms out there, but these are biochemical processes that go on in each and every cell in your body from the moment of conception and right through your life. The knowledge of biochemical processes is really important if you are interested in not just managing chronic disease but actually curing disease, and understanding why things go wrong so that you can fix it. 

One thing we know for sure is the body never has a deficiency in statins, paracetamol, anti-depressants, and mRNA vaccines. There’s no deficiency there. But we need a nutrient-dense diet in which to function optimally, and that is what the OrthoMolecular News Service is focussed on.

I’m incredibly honoured to be part of that, and I’ve had the pleasure, and the privilege of interviewing many of the members of that. Thomas Levy is one. Andrew Saul, the Editor of the Orthomolecular News Service. Another Richard Cheng, Carolyn Dean, Todd Penberthy, and Michael Gonzalez. Of course, Ian Brighthope, who I’ve had on many, many times, and it was during my time as President of the Australasian College of Nutritional Environmental Medicine that I was invited to be on there.

I follow the email interchange between these remarkable practitioners, clinicians, researchers, and educators, and on one occasion, I was sharing with them a book that I had read recently called Human Evolution by Robin Dunbar

Brain development

That was an article or part that really caught my attention, and it was the focus of this week’s episode. So Richard Cheng actually interviewed me, and it was a conversation for the Orthomolecular News Service, and it was a conversation which focussed on brain development because that’s a pretty important part of our evolutionary journey, the way in which not only our brain size has increased, but which part of our brain has increased.

When we split from the apes and chimpanzees some 6 million years ago, around four or five, four and a half million years ago, we had got up on two legs, and they were Australopithecus and the brain size of Australopithecus just to put a figure on it was about 450 cc. 

Never mind the value, the measure, but just hold that figure in your head for a moment. About three or 4 million years ago, Homo Habilis started to use more advanced tools; stone tools were an increase in brain size to around 750 ccs. Something remarkable happened when Homo Erectus started to develop more sophisticated stone tools. 

That opened this up to a greater array of foods, particularly when it was combined with fire. We started to eat more animal-based foods. Yes, animal-based foods are an important part of our evolutionary journey. But let’s just focus on brain size.

Brain size

Brain size increased again to about a thousand cc. It developed. As we consume these nutrient-dense foods because one thing animals do is spend an awful lot of time grazing on food which we could not consume. 

Miraculously, they converted into meat, which, if we cook, makes it more bioavailable to us. And so, the ability to cook food then resulted in animal-based foods increased in brain size. And that brain size increased. When we got to Homo Sapiens at our height. The Homo Sapiens brain was around 1400 cc.

Remember, we started with a similar brain size to our chimpanzee ancestors, Australopithecus 450. By the time we got to Homo Sapiens, about two or 300 million to 300000 years ago, our brain size got to around 1450 cc. Interestingly, the Neanderthals had a bigger brain size than we did, but it was different. 

Their brain size was bigger in the back of their brain, where the orbital or visual cortex was centred. And it’s postulated that when they were in the Northern Hemisphere, in darker climates, particularly during winter, their visual acuity needed to be more finely tuned.

But what was interesting was that around 70,000 years ago, the Homo Sapiens and remember 70,000 years ago, something remarkable happened. We started to move out of Africa, and very quickly, we moved across the continent to our own Australian, where it’s in Australia. We have the longest surviving human culture in history. In human history, because well, the Indigenous populations of Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, inhabited Australia at least 65,000 years ago.

Anyway, the point being that we moved out of Africa 70,000 years ago and what was really interesting in this book, which I’m holding up now, which is Human Evolution, Robin Dunbar, it was an article, a part of this book which said about 70,000 years ago we formed a symbiotic relationship with a very important bacterium called tuberculosis. 


Now, tuberculosis is a serious disease, and there are human forms, and there are animal forms. But in those early days, the human form was not pathogenic. It was not life-threatening. That changed when we moved into the Neolithic times, when we started to form tightly knit communities and lived in close proximity to people and animals. 

When we started to see the animal forms of tuberculosis and that was in it is a serious health condition. But back 70,000 years ago, we had like we do with millions and trillions of other microbes, we began a symbiotic relationship with the tuberculosis bacteria. 

Now, why is that significant? Because the tuberculosis bacteria produced vitamin B3, niacin, and so this was a really important nutrient because it has such a significant impact on brain development. 

I said that the Neanderthals had a bigger brain than we did. I think it was 15 or 1600 cc at our height as Homo Sapiens, we had a brain size of 1450 cc, but importantly, we developed a prefrontal cortex which had all sorts of implications about how we interacted with each other, how cooperative we were as a species, our ability to form bigger groups and be more cooperative and co-regulate. We’re going to be doing lots of episodes coming up, some interesting episodes coming up about the importance of that.

Symbiotic relationship with the tuberculosis bacterium

What struck me about this one page in this book was when Robyn Dunbar pointed out. Symbiotic relationship with tuberculosis bacterium, which produced B-3. And that prompted the discussion in this week’s podcast with Dr Richard Cheng. What was so nice about it is that Richard has been on the podcast before talking about group-protected immunity early on in COVID and the use of vitamin C and Vitamin D and zinc and magnesium. This was something that we put out there, courtesy of the Orthomolecular News Service. I shared it with you all very early on.

In February 2020, that message went out to all my regular listeners and followers on Instagram and all the other platforms, and that was that if you took vitamin D, zinc and magnesium and vitamin D, your chance of having the complications or dying from COVID was significantly reduced. 

I’ve been interested in nutritional and environmental medicine for over 35 or 40 years. I’m now part of the Orthomolecular News Service, which we will have links to in this podcast in the show notes. It’s a service that I think you should and could look at the archives of. 

This led to a conversation which was on the Orthomolecular News Service. I rather cheekily thought, “Wow, it was such a great conversation with Richard that I would appropriate it and include it in my Unstress.” Which is this week’s episode.

Why our brains are bigger than our ancestors?

There were a lot of territories covered, it raised a lot of issues. It reminded me of why our brains are bigger than our ancestors, and that is because of our relationship with animal-based products and the fact that we are able to cook them and make them more bioavailable, which puts our whole vegan plant-based movement globally, which is going on into say interesting question and I’ve dealt with this issue before about the ethics of it and the health benefits of it. 

I have dealt with that before. I agree totally with the ethics of what vegans are concerned about. But as another guest on my podcast, Allan Savory, once said, “Don’t blame the resource, blame the way the resource is managed.” So don’t blame meat; blame the way it is managed because industrial animal agriculture, feedlots, pens, and cages are just not the way to treat animals. 

What’s not good for the animal is not good for us. It’s not good for the planet. However, if you are treating the animal well, as is the case in regenerative agriculture, then hey, guess what? Not only does the animal have a happy life, one bad day in their life. Hey, don’t we all? I mean, I think it’s called death.

But not only do we have a healthier animal, but we also have a healthier product coming from that animal. And not only that, but regenerative refers to the fact that soil is arguably the most important resource we have on Earth because it’s in healthy soils that healthy foods are grown. 

Yes, I know hydroponics, and I know industrial animal agriculture can grow lots of food, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy or fit for human consumption. We are losing soil at the rate of well, depending on what/who you read, but anywhere from 25 to 75 billion tonnes of soil is lost every year, and it’s been estimated that we only will have enough soil for another 60 harvests. Whatever it is, whether it’s 50, 60 or 100 harvests, we should not be squandering this important resource.

Therefore regenerative agriculture plays an important role. It takes nature 500 years to grow one inch or 2.5 centimetres of soil on a well-managed regenerative farm, which has been a topic of conversation on this podcast for many years and will continue to be. 

You can grow one inch or 2.5 centimetres of the soil, not in 500 years, but in 3 to 5 years. So don’t blame the resource; blame the way the resource is managed. So that’s what this week’s podcast kind of touched on, focussed on, but it alerted me to a whole range of other issues, which I think is, is something we should all be engaged with. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.



This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.