Saturday, November 17, 2018

how to keep fit from disease

There is a strong association between health status and phenotypic expression. This is something we instinctively know, but it’s largely overlooked within conventional medical circles nonetheless, which is unfortunate, seeing as one can tell a lot about a person’s health and medical situation by examining his or her physical appearance.

Whereas characteristics such as white teeth, acne-free skin, thick, beautiful hair, and strong glutes and upper back muscles are all symbolic of good health, characteristics such as high body fat levels, poor posture, and “sunken” facial expressions are indicative of suboptimal health. By tracing these physical characteristics back to the stimuli that produced them, one can alter the health status and appearance of the individual(s) in question.
The hunter-gatherer baseline

The hunter-gatherer lifestyle – the original/default lifestyle of hominins – produces a characteristic set of phenotypic traits. Foragers are lean and moderately muscular (1, 2, 3). They tend to have well-developed jaws and dental arches and good posture (1, 3, 4). Furthermore, they rarely or never get acne and have good eyesight (1). These traits form the evolutionary phenotypic norm, in a narrow sense, for our species Homo sapiens sapiens. Deviations from this hunter-gatherer baseline typically reflect evolutionary mismatches.

Perhaps needless to say, modern, industrialized environments produce human phenotypes that differ markedly from those that are produced by natural environments that resemble the milieus in which our preagricultural ancestors lived. When exposed to modern environments in which highly processed foods, transportation vehicles, and pharmaceutical drugs are ubiquitous, the human genome expresses a suboptimal phenotype.

Industrialized humans tend to be overweight and carry low levels of muscle mass. Moreover, in most developed nations, as well as in many developing countries, acne vulgaris and other similar skin disorders are extremely common, a lot of people have bad posture, and if you go out on the street and look around, you’ll see that a lot of people look drained of energy and carry themselves in a way that is symbolic of chronic fatigue and/or depression.

This is not surprising, seeing as we – modern humans – are exposed to a wide range of environmental forces that the human body has little to no evolutionary experience with.
Building healthy humans via reverse engineering

By paying attention to the physical characteristics of humans who are exposed to different types of environments, as well as by looking into what types of environmental exposures that are required to produce different phenotypic traits, one can create a blueprint for building healthy, as well as good-looking, humans. It’s important to recognize that there’s a lot of overlap between the physical traits that we generally consider to be attractive and the traits that are strongly associated with health status. This isn’t surprising, seeing as we’re evolutionary programmed to seek out healthy mates, in part because healthy mates are more likely to produce healthy offspring that manage to survive and reproduce. For example, strength and muscularity are typically considered attractive features. These features are also, to an extent, reflective of good health and physical robustness.

A person who is fairly knowledgeable about how the human body functions and how our physical appearance is affected by outside forces can, via “reverse engineering”, “build” humans with different phenotypic traits. For example, acne vulgaris, a common disease of civilization, is largely absent among humans who live in natural environments. This condition is largely caused by hyperinsulinemia, inflammation and dysbiosis. If one exposes a child to a proinflammatory diet, antibiotics, and/or other environmental agents that are known to cause hormonal issues, inflammation, and dysbiosis, acne vulgaris is, with a high degree of certainty, going to rear its ugly heads. Conversely, if the child is not exposed to these detrimental forces, he’ll be at a lower risk of developing skin lesions as he gets older.

Similar types of principles apply to other health conditions. The key thing to acknowledge is that our phenotypic characteristics partly reflect the environmental stimuli our bodies have been exposed to throughout our lives. Obviously, we can’t change our eye color by changing what we eat and how we live our lives; however, we can change our body fat levels, the texture of our hair, how much muscle we carry, the moisture levels of our skin, and so forth.

One of the first things I tend to do when I start working with a new client is to quickly examine his or her physical appearance (e.g., posture, body fat levels). This way I get an immediate impression of the client’s health and well-being. This type of examination obviously doesn’t tell me everything I need to know about the client’s body and medical status; however, does it equip me with some basic information about the client that I can use as the basis for our work together.
How you can use your physical appearance to improve your health
The skin mirrors what goes on inside the body. If your skin is healthy-looking and free of lesions, then chances are the inside of your body is in good shape as well.

Many physical characteristics that we humans generally perceive as unattractive and pernicious, such as acne-laden skin, clearly visible belly fat, and hunched shoulders all reflect suboptimal health. Acne, as previously mentioned, signals that the body is chronically inflamed and harbors a dysbiotic microbiota. Excessive fat mass goes hand in hand with chronic inflammation, in part because fat tissue, when it’s overwhelmed with energy, initiates an inflammatory cascade. Overweight is also strongly associated with insulin and leptin resistance. Finally, poor posture is typically caused by muscular imbalances and weaknesses, which tend to undermine health.

Inflammation is a common denominator linking many deleterious physical states and characteristics (5, 6, 7). If you are overweight, suffer from a skin disorder like acne or eczema, feel drained of energy, and/or otherwise don’t feel or look as well as you’d liked, then chances are your body is chronically inflamed and you could benefit from changing your diet and taking steps to improve your microbiota and immunity. By keeping tabs on how your physical appearance changes as you alter the types of stimuli that your body is exposed to, you can determine whether what you’re doing is working or not.

It’s important to point out that simply assessing a single variable (e.g., body fat levels) is not sufficient to make any solid inferences about a person’s health status. A lean person or a person with clear skin isn’t necessarily a healthy person. Genetics do matter. Leanness and/or lesion-free skin are both suggestive of good health; however, it’s the composite of physical characteristics that matter the most. Many characteristics that are perceived as undesirable commonly appear together, seeing as they have the same or similar origins.
A long-standing practice in medicine has been to classify diseases as either non-communicable or communicable. Whereas conditions such as influenza, tuberculosis, and AIDS have long been known to be contagious, disorders and diseases such as colon cancer, acne vulgaris, and type-1 diabetes are generally considered to be non-communicable. Scientific research that has emerged over the most recent decades challenges the validity of this practice and has made it clear that the line between so-called non-communicable and communicable diseases is a lot more blurred than previously thought.
Multicellular organisms such as ourselves are a part of a larger ecological network in which microbial cells and genetic material are transmitted between life forms

By now, it’s well-known, not just among scientists, but also among large parts of the general population, that the human body is home to trillions of tiny organisms, including bacteria and fungi, as well as viruses, which are by some considered to be non-living. We humans are obviously not the only organisms on this planet that house complex microbial ecosystems: many other life forms do as well. The vegetables you ate for dinner last night, the cows you see grazing on the pictures printed on milk cartons, your neighbor’s dog, and the unwelcome insects that are lurking in your basement all co-exist with various forms of microscopic life forms.

These organisms, as well as yourself, are all part of a larger ecosystem of life forms that impact each other in various ways, some of which involve the transmission of microbial cells and genes. Perhaps needless to say, the microbes that reside on the skin of the tiny critters that are lurking in the dark corners of your basement and the bacteria that are hard at work in the guts of grazing cows, where they break down complex polysaccharides such as cellulose, are not going to affect you much, seeing as you are unlikely to get into close contact with them. However, the bacteria that clung to the raw vegetables you ate for dinner last night may have had an impact on the biological system that is you. Some may even have found a spot to live in somewhere in your gut.

kissing-dogAnd let’s say that you are a good neighbor one night and agree to watch over your neighbor’s dog so as to give its owners a chance to get out and watch the latest and most popular flick at the local cinema without having to worry about Fido. You find the dog to be really cute and end up cuddling with it for many hours. In its desire for closeness, the dog starts drooling all over you, exposing you to some of its bodily fluids (e.g., spit). Just like with the vegetable situation, this may leave an imprint on the ecosystem that is you. The microbes that you may pick up from these types of encounters with other multicellular organisms, whether dead or alive, are obviously not going to dramatically alter the way your body functions. At least most of them aren’t. This is particularly true if you harbor a sturdy, diverse microbiota. However, some of them may subtly change your microbiota, and hence, the way your body functions.

You is a fluid entity/concept. You is malleable, in part because you can pick up microbes from the environment: an environment that includes many different animals and plants, as well as the parasites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and so forth that they harbor. These latter organisms, which live inside larger organisms, affect many aspects of their hosts’ behavior and biology, including their health and well-being. With these facts in mind, it immediately becomes apparent that health is contagious. It could be argued that many, if not all, conditions that are generally thought of as being non-communicable are actually communicable, at least to some extent.
Transmittable health

Obviously, you won’t contract colon cancer, a condition that is closely linked with gut dysbiosis, simply by coming into contact with a person who has this disease. However, if you’re in close proximity with that person (e.g., share a household with him), especially for prolonged periods of time, you may certainly expose yourself to microbial communities that could unfavorably affect your health. This is particularly true if you regularly swap microbes with the diseased person in question via activities such as kissing and sex.

Your susceptibility to being negatively affected by the dysbiotic human microbiotas you are exposed to will largely depend on the resilience and diversity of your own microbiota. If your own microbiota is severely degraded or unstable, you’ll be more susceptible to harm than if it resembles a diverse and flourishing rainforest.

These same principles apply to all diseases that are characterized by microbiota disturbances. Given that disease is pretty much always accompanied by microbiota disruption, it goes without saying that the implications of this type of genetic transmission between organisms are far-ranging. Most humans alive today, in particular those who live under westernized conditions, harbor a microbiota that is suboptimal with respects to what constitutes a truly healthy human microbiota; hence, it’s not really surprising that so many people these days fall sick to heart disease and colon cancer or that virtually all teenagers in industrialized nations get acne.

This begs the question: Have we entered into a vicious cycle in which significant parts of the population are spreading ill-health via transmission of microbes? As crazy as it may seem, the answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. To which extent to this transmission is harming people’s health is elusive; however, there’s no doubt that some people are spreading ill-health via their microbiotas. This is particularly true in the case of mother-infant relationships, which typically involve prolonged close contact between the infant, which is in the process of developing a microbiota, and its mother.

It’s certainly a grim thought that we, via our mass consumption of fast food, widespread use of antibiotics, and modern, unnatural lifestyle habits, may have created a firestorm of illness that’s spreading rapidly across the landscape. What’s important to remember though, is that it’s not just bad health that is, to a certain extent, transmittable between organisms (remember, many other organisms besides humans, as well as non-living components of our world, such as buildings, soil, etc., harbor complex microbial communities, and hence, are a part of the “microbial exchange network”); good health is also, to an extent, transmittable. A healthy partner may actually be the best probiotic there is. In other words, it may be possible to turn the vicious cycle mentioned earlier into a virtuous one. Achieving this on a global scale will obviously be very difficult, seeing as fast food, microbiota-disrupting drugs, and manufactured, “dead” environments have become strongly embedded into our world. However, on a smaller scale, let’s say the scale of your home and family for example, it’s certainly a lot easier to “turn the tide”.
Is there any science to support these claims?
couple kissing
Intimate kissing and sex don’t just involve pleasure. It also involves the transmission of millions of microbes.

I don’t think any well-informed people will disagree with me when I say that we humans pick up microbes from our environment. This really goes without saying, as we need to get our microbiotas from somewhere. They don’t just magically come into existence. We not only receive quite a bit of bacteria from our parents, in particular the female constituent of this pair; we also pick up microbes from other sources, including the humans we interact with throughout our lives.

For example, a fairly recent study found that approximately 80 million bacteria are transmitted during a 10 second French kiss (1).

The question becomes: How important is this type of transmission of microbes in the context of human health and disease? In my mind, there’s no doubt that it’s very important. I would actually go as far as to say that the swapping of microbes that take place between mothers and their offspring (e.g., during birth and breastfeeding) is in many ways more important in the context of health and disease than the vertical transmission of human genes down the generations.

Emerging science is adding some supportive evidence to this claim. Perhaps needless to say, it’s very difficult to investigate whether a non-communicable disease that’s characterized by some form of dysbiosis, such as acne vulgaris, is contagious. One can’t simply round up a bunch of teens with acne and a bunch without and tell them to make out with each other or live in the same house for prolonged periods of time. I don’t think you’ll get many volunteers for such a project. Also, there are many additional complications with doing a study like this. Among other things, it’s well known that each human carries a unique microbiota; hence, it’s very difficult to control for everything that ideally should be controlled for.

So, I don’t think we should expect to see a study investigating the horizontal transmittability of so-called non-communicable diseases any time soon. This doesn’t mean that the science on this topic is a blank slate though. Research has found that cohabiting family members share microbiota with one another and with their dogs (1, 2). A study that is particularly relevant to this article was published in The World Journal of Gastroenterology just a few months ago. It investigated the influence of cohabitation on the gut microbial communities of partners of ulcerative colitis patients and found that the fecal microbiota communities of the participating ulcerative colitis patients and their spouses were relatively similar. This indicates that the dysbiotic gut microbiotas harbored by the ulcerative colitis patients had been partially transferred from the patients to their spouses (2).

Scientific research has also verified that transmission of microbes involves transmission of health. It has been shown that children who grow up in the presence of farm animals and/or pets tend to be healthier than children who grow up in a less biodiverse environment and that this may largely be attributed to varying levels of microbial exposure (3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Furthermore, it’s well known that the transmission of bacteria from mothers to their offspring affects the health of the offspring.

Many other pieces of evidence also hint that health is transmittable between animals, including humans, via the transfer of invisible organisms. For example, it has been shown that the immune systems of people who live together often converge with respect to their immune cell profiles (8), which is most likely partly due to transmission of microbes. Last but not least, we have evolved ways to detect disease in others and tend to avoid sick and inflamed people and animals (9). This indicates that there is a fitness costs associated with exposure to sick organisms; a cost that is probably partly related to microbial exposure.

I’d argue that we don’t really need hundreds of studies to find out whether health is contagious via transmission of microbes. All we need is a basic understanding of how organisms such as ourselves are put together and function. We already know that we are constantly exposed to microscopic life forms and that some of these life forms become a part of the microbial ecosystems we harbor. We also know that our microbiotas greatly affect our health; that most, if not all, diseases go hand in hand with some type of microbiome disruption; and that dysbiosis is a underlying cause of many health problems. These facts alone should make it clear that it’s time to reconsider the idea that some diseases are wholly non-communicable.

The internet is a dangerous place. Unless you’re careful about what you search for, what websites you visit, and what links you click on, you may quickly find yourself surrounded by quackery on all sides. The risk of this happening is particularly high if you surf into health/fitness-related sections of the internet, which are notorious for being especially rich in non-scientific information, broscience, and unsubstantiated claims and practices. The fact that quackery is so prevalent online, as well as in our society in general, is problematic for a number of reasons, one of which is that a lot of people are misled into using money, time, and resources on health and medical-related things that not only are unlikely to work, but that may cause them harm.
To an untrained eye, quackery isn’t always easy to spot

It can be difficult for the average internet-surfing Joe to spot what’s quackery and what’s not, seeing as he doesn’t know much about how science works or how the human body is put together and functions. Something that a skilled health professional or scientist clearly recognizes as quackery may to the average Joe appear to be credible, high-quality stuff. He may end up take a liking to it, embrace it, and somehow incorporate it into his life, although he probably has little to no idea what it is he’s actually doing (My impression is that most people who go on a detox don’t know what toxins they are actually trying to get rid off).

I know how easy it is to get fooled into thinking that X detox protocol, supplement, or cleanse will do wonders for one’s body. This is something I learned in the past, at a time when I knew much less about health and medicine than I know now, as I was actively surfing the internet, looking for ways to improve my health and fitness.

Combine the fact that most people are not clearly able to distinguish what’s quackery from what’s not with the fact that the internet has given everyone – irrespective of credentials and experience – an opportunity to become a “health expert”, and one can quickly understand why quackery is so prevalent these days.

Many self-proclaimed health experts, some of whom operate out of the internet, have little to no formal education and/or don’t possess basic knowledge about statistics, biology, chemistry, or other basic sciences. Some of these individuals don’t abide by the “rules of science” and create and share questionable advice and methods with their followers. Moreover, perhaps even more concerning, some people classify anything that they don’t like as quackery, pretty much regardless of what the science actually shows. This causes confusion among the public and hinders some scientifically sound concepts and ideas from gaining mainstream acceptance.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or that I have a good understanding of how every medical treatment known to man works (or doesn’t work); however, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that it’s very difficult to safely navigate through the world of medicine if one doesn’t know anything about statistics and biology and isn’t accompanied by an evolutionary guide.

It’s highly problematic that quackery, which I define as information, practices, methods, and the like that are non-scientific in nature, has no biological/evolutionary or physiological merit, and is unlikely to do much good, is omnipresent in our world. Not just because quackery steals attention away from – and sometimes even overshadows – real, scientifically sound information and medical practices, but also because many forms of quackery have the potential to cause us harm…
Quackery is not benign
“Detox water” won’t cleanse your body or rid it of toxins, but at the very least, it won’t do you any harm (as long as you don’t drink gallons of it every day). Unfortunately, not all forms of quackery are equally harmless.

Grandmothers who frequently share old wives’ tales and sprout off about foods, drinks, and herbal teas that will cure this and that may be loony, but they tend to be fairly harmless. Other forms of quackery, however, are not as innocuous. For example, colon cleanses, shake diets, juice cures, and medical treatments that involve “detoxifying” the body with the use of a myriad of different herbs and supplements can cause a lot of harm. Among other things, they alter the gut microbiota and may cause chronic inflammation.

The main problem with these types of treatments is that they have little to no evolutionary or scientific merit. The human body is a product of evolution. It’s a biological system that has its own ways of regulating and detoxifying itself. These mechanisms and apparatus are not foolproof; however, they don’t just magically cease to function. Unlike what therapists who conduct colon cleanses claim, your colon isn’t filled with foreign objects or pollutants that your body hasn’t been able to get rid of. It may certainly be that it harbors a dysbiotic microbial community, but “cleaning” it via the conduction of a colon cleanse certainly won’t fix that.

That brings us over to the key point I want to get across with today’s article: If something is found to be wrong with a body, simply targeting and treating the symptoms or markers of the problem won’t get one very far. One has to look into and address the reasons as to why the problem occurred in the first place. It’s not always simple or straight-forward to locate these reasons; however, it’s usually possible to make some headway if one digs into the science on the matter at hand.

For example, if you feel constipated and/or your gut isn’t working as well as you’d liked, doing multiple colon cleanses or using supplements that are intended to “detoxify” the body and gut is unlikely to do you much good. To make some real headway towards getting better, you have to find out why you became constipated in the first place. Chances are your microbiome and diet lie at the root of the issue.

Similar principles apply to other issues. I’m very skeptical of unsubstantiated treatments for so-called adrenal fatigue, medical therapies that involve the removal of heavy metals from the body via the use of a myriad of dietary supplements, and so forth.
The evolutionary mismatch model is arguably the most powerful tool the modern health professional has at his disposal
The human body is an amazing system that was sculpted, by natural selection, over evolutionary time. It has its own way of regulating the workings of its various organs and tissues. Unfortunately for us, many of these regulatory machineries go “into a tailspin” when they are exposed to a modern environment laden with processed foods, antibiotics, cigarette smoke, pollution, etc.

I don’t doubt for a second that a lot of contemporary humans are chronically inflamed and sick and have abnormally high or low levels of various hormones, toxins, and other substances circulating in their bodies; however, I very much question the idea that in order to solve those issues, people have to perform tests for this and that – food intolerance, circulating levels of heavy metals, adrenal function, etc. – and proceed to go on a very special diet and use a variety of supplements, medical herbs, and so forth to correct the issues that were detected on the tests.

I prefer to stick with scientifically sound medical practices. If something doesn’t make sense from a scientific or evolutionary/biological perspective, I shy away from it. Call me naïve, but I think that many of the health issues that plague the modern man are best addressed with a species-appropriate diet, coupled with microbiome restoration. Obviously, not every health problem known to man can be cured or attenuated via species-appropriate nutrition and microbiome restoration; however, many undoubtedly can.

The only logical conclusion that I can come to is that evolutionary mismatches are the fundamental cause of most of the derangements and abnormalities of the biology of the modern man. Instead of operating under the belief that each and every one of us is a snowflake that requires a unique, special diet and supplement program to be or become healthy, I prefer to let the evolutionary mismatch model guide me in my work.

This is not to say that I don’t think different people have different needs and goals, health and fitness wise, or that no medical tests have merit. All I’m saying is that I think it’s important to remember that all organisms, including us humans, conform to the rules of nature. There is a reason why our bodies are put together and function the way they do, a reason for why we get sick, and a reason why humans who are exposed to different types of environmental stimuli differ with respects to their phenotypic expression. By looking into what these reasons are, we can make some headway towards creating a model that allows us to effectively address various types of health problems.

It’s important to remember that the human body has little to no evolutionary experience with all of the dietary supplements, medicinal herbs, powders, and detox pills that can be found in modern health food stores. This doesn’t mean that nobody can benefit from using any of those products; however, it should cause us to think twice before we incorporate them into our nutritional regimen. We evolved eating real food. There’s no reason to think that we’ve suddenly developed completely new nutritional requirements.

The internet is overflowing with quackery. When you are presented with new information, you should always ask yourself whether the information is scientifically and evolutionarily sound. If it isn’t, you’d probably be wise to discard it. This is particularly true if the information in question has to do with non-scientific, potentially harmful medical or nutritional therapies, such as colon hydrotherapy, detoxification programs, juice cures, shake diets, and the like.

The human body is a complex system that has its own ways of regulating its levels of fluids, toxins, nutrients, and so forth. If the levels of any of these compounds are abnormally high or low on a chronic basis, that indicates that something is hindering the regulatory machineries from restoring homeostasis. Simply trying to eliminate the compound in question via the ingestion of supplements, herbs, or the like is unlikely to be a long-term, permanent fix for the problem. Rather, it’s probably more fruitful to address the underlying issues that caused the problem to develop in the first place. Chances are these issues have to do with the microbiome and evolutionary mismatches.

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