Millennials Are Hitting Old Age In Their Thirties

There is a comedy sketch, This is Your Brain After Thirty, from the group It’s a Southern Thing. It is a parody of a pharmaceutical commercial. And the target audience is Millennials who are now feeling the evidence of growing older. The voiceover begins, “Are you in your 30s? You may not feel old. But you don’t exactly feel young, either.” Then it presents three characters with their symptoms:

  • Person 1: “Sometimes I walk into a room and completely forget what I walked in there for.”
  • Person 2: “I can’t remember my own phone number. And I’ve had the same number for ten years.”
  • Person 3: “I know I had supper last night. I clearly don’t skip meals. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what I ate.”

The voiceover continues with the official diagnosis. “Then you might be suffering from Thirties Brain.” There is nothing quite as comforting as having a label. That explains everything. That’s just what happens when one reaches old age in one’s thirties. Yeah, that’s completely normal. Don’t worry, though. “It’s not your fault,” reassures the voice of authority. More info is then offered about it:

“It’s a common condition that affects millions of people. People who are old enough to take their 401(k) seriously, but not quite old enough to enjoy eating at Golden Corral. It’s not your fault. Your brain is too full of useless knowledge, now. Why remember your own phone number, when you could retain every word of the 2001 hit “Drops of Jupiter” by Train? Thirties Brain can make even the most simple conversations feel exhausting. But as soon as it feels like you can think clearly again, your brain stops working again. If this sounds like you or someone you love, then ask your doctor about our new twice-a day…”

Of course, this is just comedy, but it’s funny for the very reason so many can relate to the experience. In becoming part of popular culture, it’s being normalized. That is rather sad when one thinks about it. Should we really be normalizing early onset neurocognitive decline? What they are now jokingly calling “Thirties Brain”, would not long ago have been called “Fifties Brain” or “Sixties Brain”. Indeed many serious health conditions like Alzheimer’s used to be entirely identified with old age and now are increasingly being diagnosed among the young (when we were kids, Alzheimer’s would sometimes be called Old Timer’s disease). The same is true of type II diabetes, which originally was called adult onset diabetes because adulthood was typically the age of diagnosis. These conditions are part of metabolic syndrome or metabolic dysfunction that involves insulin resistance as a key component.

Also common in metabolic syndrome is obesity. It instantly stood out that each actor in the parody commercial were all quite overweight to the point of being obese. Yet obesity also has been normalized, particularly in the South where it’s rampant. Obesity involves inflammation throughout the body, as inflammation is also seen in the brain with Alzheimer’s (along with depression, etc); and inflammation is related to autoimmune disorders, from multiple sclerosis to rheumatoid arthritis. Body fat is an organ, like the liver, spleen, or thyroid. And, in particular, body fat is key to the functioning of the hormone system. Hormones like insulin don’t only regulate appetite and glucose but also a number of other interlinked systems in the body. That is why metabolic syndrome can manifest as numerous health conditions and diseases. And that is why metabolic syndrome is the main comorbidity of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

If you’re experiencing “Thirties Brain”, you should take that as a serious symptom to be worried about. It’s an early sign of health decline that is only going to get worse, unless you change your diet and lifestyle. People typically have metabolic syndrome years or even decades before finally being diagnosed with a disease that doctors recognize, something like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. But it can often be easily reversed, particularly if caught early. Unfortunately, few Americans realize that this is a public health crisis and one that is entirely preventable. Many experts have predicted that healthcare costs are going to continue to skyrocket, as it eats up more of the national GDP and causes widespread medical debt.

This could end up an existential crisis for our society. That is what happened during the World War II draft. The United States Military suddenly realized so many young men were severely malnourished: “40 percent of the raw recruits drafted by our military proved to be so malnourished that they could not pass a physical and were declared unfit for duty” (Stephen Yafa, Grain of Truth, p. 17; quoted in Malnourished Americans). After the war, there was a public campaign with nutritional fortification of food and meal programs in schools, along with official dietary recommendations. It was also a time when obesity was finally seen as a public health crisis (Nicolas Rasmussen, Fat in the Fifties: America’s First Obesity Crisis).

At present, the military is once again acknowledging that this is a serious problem (Obese Military?). By law, the U.S. military is required to serve food that conforms to the U.S. dietary guidelines. Yet, despite military personnel having high levels of exercise, obesity is also increasing in the military. As research has shown, even when caloric intake and exercise is controlled for, the standard American diet (SAD) is obesogenic (Americans Fatter at Same Level of Food Intake and Exercise). But, on a positive note, the military is beginning to recognize the cause of the problem. They’ve determined the link the diet soldiers are being given. And research on soldiers has shown a ketogenic diet will help with fat loss.

The U.S. military is forced to be so honest because it’s simply not an option to have obese soldiers, much less soldiers experiencing neurocognitive decline. It’s only a question when other institutions of authority will catch up. There are signs that changes are already in the air (Slow, Quiet, and Reluctant Changes to Official Dietary Guidelines; & American Diabetes Association Changes Its Tune). After decades of blaming saturated fat, it’s becoming clear that the real culprit is carbohydrates and industrial seed oils; although other factors are involved in the general health crisis, such as possibly hormone mimics that are stunting male development (Real Issues Behind Regressive Identity Politics), but that is diverging from the immediate topic at hand.

The fact is the consumption of saturated fat has declined ever since, back in the 1930s, industrial seed oils replaced animal fats as the main source of fatty acids in the American diet. Likewise, beef intake has dropped about as low as it was in the first half of the 20th century, after a brief period of peaking out in the 1970s (Diet and Health, from John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future). Meanwhile, what has risen in the American diet, besides industrial seed oils, are mostly plant foods: vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, soda pop, grains, rice, legumes, nuts, and seeds. The only animal foods that have seen a significant increase are fish and chicken, the two supposedly healthy meats. That is the modern SAD diet that has led to the sudden appearance of “Thirties Brain”. Welcome to the new normal!

To make a related point, this health decline can’t be blamed on a factor like behavior, no matter how much lifestyle is implicated as well — you can’t outrun a bad diet, as some say. The young generations have become quite health-conscious, but it’s simply the health advice they’ve been given is wrong. Young adults are eating more supposedly healthy foods than did people in the past, including with rising rates of plant-based diets: Mediterranean, vegetarianism, veganism, etc. Also, when younger, Millennials (and Generation Z) had lower rates of teen sexual activity, alcohol consumption, and drug use. As observed elsewhere, one could call them prudes (Rate of Young Sluts) or at least that used to be true. But something has definitely changed that is now affecting their behavior.

After living through a major recession and a global pandemic, we are now seeing a rise of behavioral health issues among younger Americans with rising rates of self-medication, specifically alcohol and tobacco (Blue Cross Blue Shield Association study finds nearly one-third of millennials are affected by behavioral health conditions, Independence Blue Cross). Still, the rates of alcohol and tobacco consumption is now approximately the same as it was in the early 1900s, which was rather low compared to the later spike in the second half of the 20th century (graph from The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General; & Mona Chalabi, Dear Mona Followup: Where Do People Drink The Most Beer, Wine And Spirits?).

Some countries that with more alcohol and tobacco usage than the US are, nonetheless, healthier (France, Germany, etc). Limiting ourselves to the US, consider the residents of Roseto, Pennsylvania in their having been studied from 1954 to 1961. At the time, they were the healthiest population in the country, despite being quite fond of drinking and smoking, not to mention their love of processed meat and saturated fat like lard (Blue Zones Dietary Myth). So, a recent slight shift of drinking and smoking among Millennials also ends up being a non-explanation. It’s more likely a result of declining health than a cause, and hence the reason to describe it as self-medication. Or, more generally, the addictive mindset isn’t limited to addictive substances; and, besides, drug use is nothing new (The Drugged Up Birth of Modernity).

Anyway, keep in mind that these Millennial rates of substance abuse are still lower than was seen, for example, among Generation X that had far fewer health problems at the same age, even with GenXers being the most lead poisoned living generation. Something unique is going on right at present and it’s hard to explain it with anything other than a ultra-processed diet high in carbs and industrial seed oils. Back when the first wave of GenXers hit their thirties in the mid-1990s, no one was talking about “Thirties Brain”. And neither did it come up with the prior generations. We are complaining about U.S. presidents of the Silent Generation (Donald Trump and Joe Biden) in their seventies who have obvious neurocognitive decline, but that is a vast difference from one’s thirties.

To put that in further comparison, there was a discussion of health in terms of running. It was part of an argument that humans evolved for running. This is supported by the fact that persistence hunting (i.e., running game down) is one of the oldest and most widespread hunting techniques, as it requires almost no technology other than something to club or stab the animal to death after it collapses from heat exhaustion. The human body seems extremely well-adapted to long-distance running, especially in heat; and this also seems closely linked to the predilection for ketosis (Human Adaptability and Health). What is relevant for our discussion here is that hunter-gatherers reach their peak aerobic health in their fifties. The average middle-aged hunter-gatherer can outrun the average eighteen year old hunter-gatherer. Up into old age, hunter-gatherers can keep up a fast pace with others who are much younger.

Think about how many middle-aged or older Americans who could do the same. Unsurprisingly, hunter-gatherers likewise have very little of the diseases of civilization. Obesity, of course, is almost unheard of among them. The have what is called a long healthspan where most people live healthily into old age and suddenly die without any lingering sickness or long periods of degeneration. In such a healthy society, they likely wouldn’t even understand the concept of “Thirties Brain”.

* * *

Some might think Millennials are being unfairly criticized. That is not the intention. This health decline hardly began in recent decades. Weston A. Price and others were talking about it in the early 1900s. There was even a growing debate about it in the century before that, Heck, all the way back in the 1700s, people were recommending specific medical diets for obesity and diabetes, as it was already being observed that they were becoming more common. The only difference is that we are finally hitting a point of extreme consequences, as diseases of old age are now prevalent among the young, sometimes in early childhood.

We write posts like this with genuine concern and compassion. We are not disinterested observers, much less see ourselves as standing above these problems with condescension. It’s all rather personal. Though relatively healthy in many ways, we have experienced serious neurocognitive and mental health issues since our own childhood. And we suspect we previously were suffering from metabolic syndrome, if not yet diagnosed with any particular disease. To be specific about the point made in the parody video, we have experienced our own equivalent of “Thirties Brain”, as we had a memory-related learning disability that was diagnosed in third grade. For our entire lives, we’ve struggled with memory recall.

So, personal concern is underlying our public worries; magnified by the fact that our nieces and nephew span across the generations of Millennials and GenZ, allowing us to observe firsthand the health issues involved. From our own experience, we know what it’s like to be addicted to carbs and to suffer the consequences. We know what it’s like to struggle with serious mental illness, specifically depression with suicidal ideation, since young adulthood. It saddens us immensely to think that large numbers of Millennials will begin having so many harsh problems this early in life. That is a plain shitty situation, and Millennials did nothing to deserve it. Like the rest of us, they were simply born into this society with its food system and dietary recommendations.

For the most part, the majority of Millennials and other Americans have basically been doing what they were told is healthy. They don’t realize that what has been normalized should not be taken as normal because very few of them have anything to compare against. It’s not like most of us have ever lived among hunter-gatherers to realize how far human health has fallen. Even the traditional rural diet and lifestyle has mostly slipped from living memory. Certainly, hunting and fishing have become uncommon. Getting ultra-processed food from a grocery store or restaurant is simply what people do now.

* * *

44% of older millennials already have a chronic health condition. Here’s what that means for their futures
by Megan Leonhardt

Why insecure millennials are set for unhealthy middle age
by Greg Hurst

Gen X, Millennials in Worse Health Than Prior Generations at Same Age
by Amy Norton

Millennials less heart-healthy than Gen Xers at the same age
by Anicka Slachta

BCBSA: Millennials’ mental health is on the decline—and COVID-19 is making it worse
by Paige Minemyer

Millennials on Track to be Most Obese Generation in History
by Cathy Cassata

Diabetes’ Impact Is Rising Fastest Among Millennials
by Laura Entis

Study: Young adults with high cholesterol face greater risk of heart attack or stroke
by Ken Alltucker

The number of millennials with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is surging, report finds
by Tracy Romero

Millennials may need to worry about autoimmune disease, right away
by Swedish Blogger

For millennials, cancers fueled by obesity are on rise, study says
by Sandee LaMotte

Study: Millennials’ Increased Risk for Some Obesity-Linked Cancers — 5 Takeaways
by Sandy McDowell

The coming of vegetables, fruits and key nutrients to the European diet
by V. J. Knapp

“On the basis of evidence now accumulating, vegetables and fruits were not always an integral part of the European diet. Prior to 1800, vegetables and fruits were not esteemed but rather looked down upon. It has only been over the past two centuries that these two critical foods have come into vogue. First, they had to be accepted by a growing number of medical men and observers. Then, once licensed as edible foods, vegetables and fruits, starting with the potato, actually did make their way into every man’s diet. And by the end of the nineteenth century, these rich sources of carotene and Vitamins A, C and E became so universal that Europeans now forgot that a hundred years earlier these foods had barely been consumed.”

What’s on your table? How America’s diet has changed over the decades
by Drew Desilver

What happens when you take public health advice to heart?
by Lena Zegher

Why are we fatter and sicker than ever? The graphs that explain how sugar, fruit juice and margarine are to blame
by Anna Hodgekiss

What fruits and vegetables looked like before
by Andreas Eenfeldt

Banana – before and after

banana1banana2

Carrot – before and after

carrot1carrot2

Watermelon – before and after

watermelan1watermelon2

15 thoughts on “Millennials Are Hitting Old Age In Their Thirties

    • I translated that. It means: To age prematurely; before one’s time, one’s prime, one’s years, etc. Yeah, that fits.

      This is one of those posts that kinds of writes itself. I simply was shocked by the fact that this could be portrayed as comedy.

      With young people in my family, I’ve seen firsthand the greater health problems earlier in life. And it saddens me, as I know how much I struggled with my own health issues.

      • Dear Benjamin,

        I can see that you like translating, as do I. Chinese is a very terse and economical language. Four words are all it takes. The Chinese language and literature contain a great deal of ancient wisdom of a bygone culture, which I have both translated and analyzed in great detail in my post entitled Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass” published at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2020/11/11/strong-wind-knows-tough-grass/

        I agree with you that health is paramount, and that the lack of health can be quite troublesome and detrimental to our quality of life.

        Happy mid-September to you!

        Yours sincerely,
        SoundEagle

        • I checked out the piece you linked. It’s detailed. I’ll have to look at it later when I have more time to give it some thought. There is plenty of interest in Chinese culture, in particularly in contrast to living in another kind of culture.

          Chinese writing is different than most Western alphabetic languages in that it still has pictographic qualities to it. There is a visual element that is more important. Western society has only moved back toward a more visual mode with modern media technology.

          Yeah, health is paramount. But there is also the strangeness of how quickly living memory disappears and the utterly new becomes normalized. It wasn’t that long ago when most Americans were still rural. Even when my parents were children, farming, hunting and fishing were much more common experiences to the average person.

          Into the 1960s, it was stated as common knowledge that carbs make one fat, as more people back then understood that is how one fattened cattle. The disconnection from rural life has increasingly disconnected us from traditional knowledge, including that of diet and nutrition.

          Indeed, mid-September is upon us. Summer is drawing to a close. And the coolness of the mornings shows that Fall is on its way.

          • Dear Benjamin,

            Thank you for your reply. I look forward to your visiting and commenting on my post entitled Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass“, as I am certainly very keen and curious about what you will make of my said post.

            I am in the process of taking a very good look at your post entitled “Leftism Points Beyond the Right and Beyond Itself”, and will endeavour to give you a comment there.

            Yours sincerely,
            SoundEagle

          • I will prioritize giving your post a closer reading. Maybe I’ll get around to it later today or, if not, sometime in the next day. But it depends on much mental focus I have, as it’s the work week.

            About the newest post, it’s still in the process of being revised. As is my habit, I finish a post and then have numerous other thoughts and clarifications that come to mind. I always worry about not communicating well, particularly with difficult topics.

          • Yeah. You might want to wait. If you read it now, you’ll get the gist of it. The main text, I think, is more or less done. But I was writing an additional section of commentary at the end. So, you could just read the first part and, if you felt motivated, come back later for the rest of it.

          • I guess I’ve finally finished the revisions to my newest post. I did end up writing quite a bit more. No one ever accused me of concision.

            It is such a tough topic and I don’t know if I have the talent to make it sensible to most people. I was presenting a way of thinking that is not typical. This led me to use many examples.

            Failing all else, it was useful for clarifying my own thoughts. It involves a number of ideas and themes that have been rolling about in this blog for years. Maybe over time I’ll get better at boiling it all down.

            Underlying my intellectual analysis is my almost spiritual concern for egalitarianism, grounded in my early religious upbringing (Unity Church, ACIM, etc). If egalitarianism is the core of human nature, then can there really be an opposite to it?

            That is to say we basically remain the same human species as has existed for hundreds of thousands of years. For all the complexity of modern civilization, there remains the tribal impulse to belong.

            I have my doubts that reactionary pseudo-tribalism can serve the same purpose. But neither do I desire to romanticize the past. The question is what new possibilities lie fallow in the human mind.

          • I felt compelled to keep editing and revising the post. Most importantly, I decided to add an initial summary of contents.

            The post is long and so I realized few might actually read the full text. For sake of convenience and effective communication, all of the main points are concisely listed right at the beginning.

            It does feel satisfying to have finished it. For me, writing is a thinking process. That is why I find myself going back to a post multiple times after posting it.

            My mind feels more clear now about what captured my interest, what was relevant, and what brought it all together. I realized it related to another writing project that is still in the works.

            I don’t know what purpose is served by such writings. It just seems there is so much confusion and that contributes to our collective sense of impotence and inaction. Clarity is like a good place to start.

            More basically, I’ve had a shifting opinion about ideological labels, specifically that of ‘liberalism’ and ‘leftism’. At times, they can feel empty from overuse and misuse. But I suspect these labels retain significance.

          • Dear Benjamin,

            I agree with you that there can be much confusion and conflation about ‘liberalism’ and ‘leftism’.

            Thank you for your visiting and commenting on my post entitled Strong Wind Knows Tough Grass“.

            I have been getting very occupied with a number of errands. Grrrrr! So much to do and so little time . . . . .

            Hopefully, I shall be able to find the time in a day or two or over the weekend to comment on your much-edited post entitled “Leftism Points Beyond the Right and Beyond Itself”, and also to reply to your comment that you submitted to my said post.

            I must point out that the standard of your written English is excellent. Hence, reading your expressive posts is both refreshing and rewarding. The same cannot be said about many folks, even some of those in the academia. Indeed, the standard of English has been on the wane for various reasons since the 1960s. In other words, English standard has declined dramatically nowadays. Some words have been so abused that I grate my teeth in despair. There is one egregious example of such a word, meticulously discussed in my post entitled “⚠️ Use WITH Caution Or Not At All 📝📜” published at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/use-with-caution-or-not-at-all/

            Yours sincerely,
            SoundEagle

          • There is no hurry. It took me a while to get around to commenting on your post.

            As for my written English, it should be pointed out that I was raised by a teacher and a professor. If nothing else, I know the basics of proper prose.

            I’m not exactly a stickler when it comes to language. But obvious mistakes stand out to me.

            That is part of what I ended up doing with my other post. It’s surprising how much editing was needed to correct and clarify various issues.

            This requires much rereading. It’s strange how some things don’t stand out in one’s attention at first. It can be challenging to edit one’s own writings.

          • I lied to you. Having some free time today, I did an even more thorough editing and revising. Besides going through the text again, I added a short intro, a table of contents, and section headings.

            I realized it was way too long to be so disorganized. I needed to give prospective readers a better sense of what the post is about, to entice them to actually read it.

          • When you read my new post, assuming you haven’t already done so, you’ll notice it has much relationship to the post you linked. I bring up some similar thoughts in my comment over at your blog. I was reminded of the post-bicameral changes of civilization.

            A main change was the first written laws that actually appeared right at the end of the Bronze Age, near when the widescale collapse happened. You can’t have bureaucracies without written laws and, indeed, that was precisely when governments showed signs of bureaucracy.

            An interesting result of this was touched upon in your post. It’s not only that there are written laws but the co-arising of a legalistic mindset. Whether the Taoists, Stoics, or Christians, there was the counterpart of those who became defined by their challenging bureaucratic systems and the legalistic mind.

            Those are two sides of the same coin. That has some resonance to my discussion of the progressive left and reactionary right being interlinked and framed within the liberal paradigm. You were discussing one side of this equation, in rightly emphasizing the greater significance of bureaucracy that usually gets ignored.

            I think I mentioned Francis Fukuyama in my comment to you. He has done good work in elucidating why bureaucracy is so important and how it has developed. That is the fear the American right has with the real world examples of social democracy. It’s not that they’re genuinely opposed to bureaucracy but to fairness and egalitarianism.

            The right talks a lot about meritocracy. The problem is they do so in justifying the very lack of meritocracy. It’s empty rhetoric. What they really support is rigid hierarchy which is completely incompatible with actual functioning meritocracy.

            On the left, it’s a bit more complex since egalitarianism and fairness can exist with or without a modern state, with or without big government. The left is not specifically in favor of bureaucracy, although neither opposed to it on principle either.

            Bureaucracy, by itself, is not the main issue. Rather, it’s what a particular kind of bureaucracy represents and makes possible. But, obviously, there is a vast difference between the bureaucracies of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Maoist China, etc and that of Nordic countries.

            The politics, though, is mostly of side interest to me. That is why I so appreciated your grounding your discussion with a poem about a specific individual in ancient China. He embodied an extreme version of the legalistic and principled mind that had taken hold with the spread of written laws and literacy.

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