Guardrails ... And Our Health

Guardrails.

You might ask why there is so much information or guidelines pertaining to lifestyle regarding food, exercise, sleep and the list goes on.

The simple reason is, there are no “guardrails” any more. So now you ask guardrails? What can you possibly mean? Here comes the ancestral explanation.

The environment which our primal ancestors lived in had “guardrails”!

For example:

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  • When the sun set, it became dark, they went to sleep - “guardrails”!

  • The food available was animal (or marine) based, leaves and greens, nuts and berries (for example) - “guardrails”!

  • As herders/nomads they moved, likely had to chase down their animal meal, so they were active - “guardrails”!

The environment we live in today has “no guardrails”!

For example:

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  • When it gets dark, we turn on the lights. This can affect sleep duration, sleep quality, or circadian rhythms “no guardrails”!

  • We have unlimited food choices 24/7 365 days a year, including those that are not natural and are altered in some way - “no guardrails”!

  • We have solved the problem of having to be active. We can drive everywhere, we can take the elevator, we don’t have to herd or relocate for food or safety - “no guardrails”!

The point is:

  1. No organism evolves or survives in a toxic environment. Some times they are able to adapt. Maybe take a look around and see how well we are adapting to the environment we have created.

  2. We did not have to think about what to eat, how to be active, when to sleep or how to get enough sun because we had “guardrails”! 

  3. We have now removed the “guardrails” and we are struggling with staying on the road!

  4. Our primal ancestors did not have to know anything regarding sleep, food or activity because the environment was conducive to our survival and evolution. It was defined. There were no choices.

  5. Because we have figured out how to remove the “guardrails” we now have to know an extensive amount about how all these choices, which are not representative of our natural evolutionary environment, affect our bodies and health while we try to stay on the road without “guardrails”!

Here are a few examples of how the environment has changed:

In the primal environment, you would not find a singular food that had high amounts of fat and sugar together. For example you might find berries with some sugar content but not fat in it. You would find an animal source of food that has protein and fat but not sugar.

Then you might say, but I could have an animal source of food and then eat some berries. Possibly, but the berries would have no where near the sugar content of foods these days. Also, the berries might be only one serving a day and a decent amount of work had to happen to pick them rather than purchasing a pint.

Have you ever heard of eating seasonally? Did you wonder what that meant?

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From a primal perspective (depending on geography) we might have fruits/berries available late summer. Consuming these along with leafy greens is much easier and more readily available than hunting down prey and might be the bulk of our food source at that time of the season. Perhaps there was a mix of these foods but leaning heavier toward a more carbohydrate based food source. We might even over consume more sugary foods and put on some body fat. That’s what the body is supposed to do, store when food is available. The bodies metabolism shifts to accommodate these foods - more glucose based.

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During the cold winter months, the fruits/berries would not be available. The sources might lean toward animal foods, perhaps nuts. These foods consist of protein and fats. These foods may even be scarce. The bodies metabolism shifts to accommodate these foods and even utilize body fat, effectively more fat based. That's what the body is supposed to do, use what it stored when food is not as plentiful. Perhaps feasting and fasting.

So what about living at the equator? Pretty much the same season with lush climates allowing for plentiful fruits and vegetables. How is that explained?

Everything depends on the rest of the “context” or “environment” in which it exists. Perhaps those at the equator would not have had a significant level of animal protein and fat. Also, the presence of more fruits was during a season that was pretty much the same all the time allowing for summer like activity.

You might also be interested to know of research that is finding sunlight plays a role in fat cells releasing fatty acids (fat loss) and also plays a role in how cells make energy. So those at the equator with more sun exposure (and less clothing) would receive this biological benefit. Interior lighting (LED), clothing inhibiting sun exposure, and working inside do not allow for the proper light exposure.  The image next shows the difference in natural and artificial lighting.

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Blue light aids fat loss and red light aids cellular energy production. The natural environment we evolved with had this all under control. That’s why as an organism, we functioned well and evolved.

Do we have the ability to adapt? We do, just not at the rate we are changing our environment and maybe not to all circumstances. Take for example skin color. The dark color of those at the equator controlled the dose of sunlight these individuals received. As we migrated north, our skin color adapted to allow us to obtain the sunlight needed at a geography where the sun was less intense. Now here is another interesting point. You might know that sun exposure aids in our production of vitamin D. But did you know that the process of making the vitamin D uses cholesterol? This isn’t to say sun exposure is the solution to your high cholesterol, but it is a component to how our bodies are able to be healthy when present in the environment it evolved in and that it works in harmony with the environment. We might inappropriately believe that our health and biological function can be independent of our environment.

Hopefully from some of the scenarios and the few facts given here, you can appreciate why understanding how our bodies work within the environment we have created is important to your health. Hopefully you gained an appreciation of why in our evolutionary past, we did not need to know anything about food, exercise or sleep and why now we do.

You now have a couple options. 1) do not make an effort to learn how your body works relative to this new environment and try and stay on a road with no guardrails and with no knowledge of how to drive resulting in going off the road (or poor health), or 2) learn about how your body works and what it needs (and what it should avoid) in order to be able to drive on a road with no guardrails (good health),

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At the Lifestyle Works Clinic, we provide the education needed so that participants can achieve wellness within an environment with “no guardrails”, resulting in individuals achieving the evolutionary biological needs that lead to good health.

* The content in this article is not meant to be all inclusive and completely comprehensive. It is meant to highlight key aspect that individuals may want to investigate further. Any data point can have different meaning, relevance, or credibility based on the rest of the context-environment.

If we want health, "get comfortable with the uncomfortable"

“Get comfortable with the uncomfortable”! Who would want to do that right? You do if you want health.

We evolved in concert with our primal environment over hundreds of thousands of years (more if we delve deeper to our cellular origins) in our effort to survive and reproduce. Our biological and physical makeup is an outgrowth of this. Our bodies minimize functions not used and grow functions that are used and needed.

Here is an example:

At the heart of our being are our cells. Within our cells (except red blood cells) are the power plant energy makers for the cell - mitochondria. They make the energy that the cell needs to carry out its role. If we were considering a muscle cell and they were not doing their job - can you say muscular fatigue?

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Here is what’s important. When the cell observes over time that it doesn’t need the same degree of energy, it reduces the number of mitochondria. (can you say sedentary?) The reduced number of mitochondria becomes problematic when there comes a time when high energy demand exists and the cell cant keep up with the demand due to reduced cellular energy from fewer mitochondria. The few mitochondria that are trying to do the job have to work very hard and produce a lot of exhaust (think of your car engine). That exhaust produces “oxidative stress” in the cell (think of you sitting in your car with it running in your garage) which if the cell can’t mitigate the oxidative stress (exaust), will damage the cell structure and DNA (the brain of the cell). (imagine how you would feel in that car garage)

Lets say the cells we are talking about belong to heart muscle. Get the picture?

So whats the point? The body adapts to the demand placed on it. Sedentary results in less biological function to support anything other than sedentary.

Next point: more is not always better!

If you take interest in your heath (which you must) and understand how your body functions (which you must) you will come to know that everything works in phases - acute, not chronic. Our biological functioning is biphasal - in tune with the light and dark timing of our environment and in turn coordinates all its functioning with it - like sleep and being awake. Our primal physical activity was intermittent periods of intense activity (like sprinting) amoungst a lot of being lazy and wandering (rest and recovery) This leads us to the subject of Hormesis.

Hormesis is an extension of Paracelsus’ statement. It implies that there are necessary doses of environmental challenges. The right “doses” provide beneficial adaption, while “overdoses” of the same challenges are harmful in the long-term. The doses that provide beneficial adaptation are said to be “hormetic” doses. So you see, the “benefit is in the dose”. To much is detrimental. For example, to much intense exercise without proper recovery is detrimental to health. Whereas an acute stressor with proper recovery results in adaptation/growth.

If we consider physical activity in the next image: A represents inactivity, B represents an appropriate acute stimulus and C represents to much physical activity or over stimulus.

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If in the next image we consider nutrition, A represents inadequate nutrition (not specifically calories), B represents adequate nutrition and C represents excessive nutrition. Nutrition includes essential proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and calories.

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There has been a good amount of recent research on how calorie reduction has bearing on aging. There is much more to this so don’t just stop eating thinking you will live forever!

Now we are going to transition. In our primal evolutionary years, we had guidance on what was effective for our existence. It was a relationship between environmental conditions and how those conditions provided for our existence (food, water, oxygen) and how we adapted to that environment. For example it is believed that our migration to near the sea and the consumption of seafood and the omega3 provided by it resulted in the growth of our species (away from our monkey relatives) including the development of the frontal lobe of the brain. You can see some background on this here, here and here.

So what’s the point. We had guardrails back then to head us in the right direction without our having to think about it. The food was natural and healthy - there were no choices. Sprinting was required - you had to chase down your meal. Recovery/rest was easy - there were no morning commutes. Sleep was simple - the sun set, we slept untll it rose - there was no artificial lighting or TV to stay up for. By the way, Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and believer that sleep took away from productivity, was a type 2 diabetic.

There are no guardrails now. We have outsmarted it all in the name of comfort and convenience. The fact of the matter is that the combination of our not truly understanding how we work as an organism and so can not predict the effect of our moving away from our evolutionary habits and environment, coupled with our new drivers for existence, is taking us down an unhealthy non-hormetic path. The drivers used to be survival and reproduction. With our new found intelligence and inventions, those drivers are not as much in the forefront. The new drivers are “avoidance of discomfort” and “seeking pleasure”.

The consequence of these new drivers are our seeking comfort and avoiding discomfort! This was not an option in our primal history. Nietzsche’s axiom states, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger”. This is profoundly accurate in the world of DNA, genes and epigenetic science. Organisms—human or otherwise—either adapt to challenges by becoming stronger or they die. Challenges in the right amounts are not only beneficial, but necessary. I’m sure you can think of examples in your own life where rather than do what might be good for you (but uncomfortable), you chose what is pleasurable (but not good for you) - there are no controls to keep you on the healthy path - no guardrails - only your own will and choices.

Earlier in this post the example of reduction in cellular mitochondria was given as a result of less use of that cellular function. The opposite can happen. With the correct hormetic dose, cells reproduce more mitochondria. This is called mitochondrial biogenisis. If you want to read more on mitochondrial biogenisis you could look here. This whole concept adds the potential for judgement on the why, what, and how of one’s exercise and nutrition. Why do you exercise? To burn calories? Or to improve the density of cellular mitochondria in away that avoids excessive oxidative stress and cellular damage?

So, the message is “get comfortable with the uncomfortable”! The uncomfortable may very likely be good for you, been part of your heritage and key to your health and longevity.

Don’t for a moment believe that just because you enjoy it or it brings you comfort that it is good for you! Thats not to say one can’t enjoy and have pleasure with the uncomfortable. A little physical challenge can make you feel wonderful. Think of a mountain hike on a nice clear fresh air day.