Part I – Personal Health
You don’t use a sports car to trailer a cigarette boat. It might do the task – for a while.
Before the chassis screams and the engine breaks.
The same is true of human beings. Our hunter gatherer bodies are not fit for the Internet Age.
Not at all.
Many of the diseases we face – whether heart disease or cancer or many auto-immune illnesses – result or increase due to the mismatch.
A fish out of water will not survive long – unless you splash water back on it.
That’s what we need to do – to fit our persons – our physical capacities, interests, needs, desires, and imaginings – to the bodies we possess.
Fitting the person to the body requires understanding where the mismatches come from. Then you have a chance to fix them.
Let’s start with two large mismatches between our persons and what our bodies are built for – the areas of food and light.
A few propositions:
1. Humans have a 30 foot gut for a reason. Our long, rippled GI tract lets us eat and digests even tough, fibrous plant foods.
Dogs have a six foot gut. They’re carnivores.
Though in the past 10,000 years humans have adapted to agriculture we evolved to eat: A. An enormous variety of things and B. The fibrous plants and roots that make up the bulk of hunter gatherer diets.
2. Humans are built for intermittent starvation.
A. Human history is a long story of famines. About 75,000 years we nearly died out. Starvation is what our bodies survived. We’re very good at storing calories – for both chronic and acute emergencies.
B. As the studies of Proietto and others show, once you gain weight your body likes to keep it – as back-up. Lose weight and your hormonal picture appears hungry all the time.
3. A body adapted to frequent starvation now faces superabundance.
A. Since the 1980s, calorie consumption in the U.S. is up 20%.
B. In 1970, .4 pounds of corn syrup was consumed by the average American. In 2010 it was 38.4 pounds, a good piece of the added 145 pounds of sugar we place our diet each year – beyond the natural sugars we eat.
C. Of the 30 odd sugars used in the human diet, the group under Robert Lustig at UCSF and UC Berkeley blames high fructose corn syrup as precipitating our childhood obesity epidemic.
D. By government statistics, about 68% of Americans are now overweight or obese. DEXA scans of abdominal fat – the most potentially deleterious fat stores – would rate that overweight proportion even higher. Many women in particularly suffer from TOFI – thin outside, fat inside.
1. Until the 19th century, most artifical lighting in the world consisted of candles.
2. By diary studies, people in the 18th century slept about 9.5 hours and routinely took naps.
3. The advent of electric lights has changed human body clocks. Just brief bursts of light at night will cut off production of melatonin, the hormone of darkness.
4. American adults are now averaging around 6.5-7 hours a night of sleep.
5. Sleep less, weigh more – sleeping what are the “new normal” amounts of sleep is associated throughout the world with greater weight gain, prediabetes and diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
6. The majority of American workers now check email right before they go to sleep; a third to a half check email and texts during sleep time.
7. Ipads can put out about 75 lux (light units); such light from electronic devices is sufficient to knock out melatonin production and help shift biological clocks to later hours, making waking harder.
8. Shift work is now considered a potential carcinogen by the WHO. Shift work is associated with weight gain, more heart disease and stroke, and greater GI disturbances.
9. According to Roseanne Armitage at the University of Michigan, kids who get less slow wave sleep weigh more.
10. Eating at night – in animal studies – is associated with higher weight. Lab and epidemiologic studies now point to the same results in humans.
Fitting the Person to the Body
You can fit the body to the person, or you can fit the person to the body.
The first takes a lot of work – if it’s possible.
So what can do we to fit our needs and desires to the capacities of our bodies?
Recognize that a fish out of water needs water.
Here are a few generic actions that can fit us back towards what we are evolved to do:
1. Eat whole foods. Processed foods provide large dollops of salt, fat, sugar, packaged into calorically dense meals we’re not suited for. And because we crave salt, sugar and fat for good evolutionary reasons, we enjoy the taste of processed foods – a lot.
2. If possible, move after meals. Even simple activities like standing can decrease glucose and insulin peaks. Then we won’t become quite so big.
3. Try not to eat at night. We metabolize foods differently after the sun goes down. A meal eaten at night will lead to higher glucose and fatty acid levels, more problems with GERD – especially if we lie down within an hour of eating – and probably greater weight gain.
4. To survive you need to sleep. Before sleep you first need to rest – to relax enough to get sleep.
We did not evolve with electric lights – or multiple electronic devices. They change body clocks, weight, mental sharpness, and physiologic regeneration.
Turn down lights at least an hour before sleep –you’re your electronic devices off – unless your job urgently demands they stay on.
5. Give yourself enough time to sleep – at least enough to A. Work effectively B. Control weight C. Remain sharp D. Have a decent mood. That amount of time will vary from person to person, but is generally higher than 7 hours a night for adults.
Technology is not destiny. There are people who claim they’d like nothing better than to eat whatever they want all 24 hours of the day, never rising from a sitting or lying position.
The truth is different. Many folk get their greatest pleasures from physical actions – of many different forms. And most find that if they don’t use their bodies as built, their bodies don’t work real well.
Eating and sleeping all around the 24 hour day is a particular disaster.
Which leads to sickness. Fitting the person to the body is particularly important in illness and the future of medical treatment, which we’ll discuss in part II.
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