A central part of my upcoming book - You Don't Need Medicine - To get Healthy - is to do what Martin Luther did for religion. It is to give us access to ideas that we can all understand and use to take charge of our own health.
I am just starting the part of the book where I introduce you to the amazing people who have worked for decades uncovering the systemic aspects of how our health works. Here is a heads up of the cast of pioneers who will help us all change our own lives and so the world. It's just a quick survey - The Book will have so much more and lots of data and images.
Aging - Professor Michael Rose
We all take it for granted that as we get older, we will get ill. In reality this is indeed the case for most of us today. But is Aging = getting ill part of our evolutionary design or is it no more normal than the fact that if you lived in London in 1850, you would likely die of cholera?
Professor Michael Rose (UC Irvine) is the world's leading thinker on Aging. It was his insight that convinced me that I could avoid becoming ill and disabled as I grew older and so set me on this course for myself.
What Michael, and his colleague, Larry Mueller, have found out is what we think of the inevitability of aging = decrepitude is not a set pattern. And for humans not at all.
Humans are designed to get old as fit and contributing people. This does not mean that we don't get wrinkles and grey hair. It does not mean that our sight and hearing may not decline. But it does mean that we are designed to be active contributors to society. The reason for this is tied into our evolutionary past. Raising human children takes such effort, over such a long time, that a small tribe had to have no baggage. The Middle Aged and the Old had to be contributors. In tribes where they were not, they died out.
There is a plateau where the loss of powers ceases. We can see the remnants of this in those family members who reach 85 and are still fit. This group can go on well into their 100's. Of course they die. But they remain vital until just before the end.
What Rose and Meller have found out is that this plateau will normally kick in in middle age - Provided that we live close to the rules of environments that we are evolved to do best in.
The closer our ancestry is to Hunter Gathering the more the risk and the more the opprtunity. Here is what that means in practice:
- Eat the right diet - a very varied diet that has NO grains or novel foods - Novel being foods that we have not evolved to eat
- Be active - not go to the gym for an hour 3 times a week - get off your bum and move all day
- Have a real Tribe - aka be part of a small community where you play a real role and have a real place. Loss of control and identity is a major negative.
- Be brought up as a small child in a community where adults create a trusting structure around us
- Live in a small community - there is a very tight correlation to aging well and small communities
- Obey the time and seasons of nature - sleep a lot - get sunlight
- Don't travel too much or too far or be in contact with people who do
There is no silver bullet. Our health and how we age is a complex matter involving many interactions that we have with our environment. But the good thing about complex systems is that they have simple rules that we can all understand and so act on.
We can choose to eat differently. We can choose not to sit all day. We can choose to have a real network and to put meaning back into our work. We can choose to make parenting the most important job we have. We can choose where we live. We can choose to go to bed earlier and to spend more time outside. We can choose not to travel too much.
Each of these choices challenge the prevailing culture that we live in. We can choose to push back from that and get more connected to the other pioneers who are doing the same.
All of these choices are hard to make. All connect to each other but they all roll up to the big choice. Do you want to get ill as you age or not? For living as we do today makes chronic illness your destiny. The institution of medicine is making no progress in prevention and can only help you with the sypmtons. Only you can keep you well and only you can restore your health if you lose it.
So here, in the evolutionary setting, is the cast of today's Pasteurs - Doctors and Scientists - who are part of the new revolution in health.
Diet - Profesor Staffen Lindeberg
We are all told to "Eat Healthy" and to "Take more Exercise". But what is healthy eating? Lindeberg has done all the work and he is clear. Traditional societies - those close to our Hunter Gatherer way of life - have NO chronic illness.
The one thing that traditional people do NOT eat are grains and lots of sugars. Neither do they eat any kind of processed food. When they start to eat the modern diet, they get ill. When Lindeberg took people off the modern diet, they got well.
The modern diet is too novel for us. 10,000 years is nothing in evolutionary time. And the past 50 years of industrial food, is a blip.
Diet is the most leveraged part of taking charge of your health.
Our next two pioneers take Lindeberg's work to the next level.
Diet - Dr Natasha Campbell McBride
Your digestive system is not only a set of organs. Our digestion is a complex and co-evolved colony of partner bacteria. We have trillions of bacteria in our gut that do the real work of digesting our food. The make sure that the good stuff is shared and the bad stuff is eliminated. They are the gatekeepers.
Our digestive system is the core of our immune system. Sick gut flora allows toxins to leave the disgetion and enter the body. All chronic illness has some form of inflammation at the core.
Grains are major disrupters of our gut flora. Anti Biotics are mega disrupters.
Gut health is a vital part of total health. McBride, whose son developed autism and so spurred her work in diet, is a great communicator and her lab has developed a wide range of strategies that can help.
Diet Dr Mary Vernon
Fat does not make us fat. We get fat when we disrupt our insulin mechanism. We do that when we overload it with too much sugar. When I say sugar I mean a very wide range of foods that have a high sucrose and glucose load.
Once you understand how this process works, you will never believe that fat makes you fat again and you will be able take make a major change to your health.
Dr Gordon is one of many people that are working on this metabolic part of our health. I offer her up here because she is so clear and personable.
Diet Gary Taubes
If you are still hanging onto the fat makes you fat and that grains are good for you, then Gary Taubes has done all the research to demolish this.
Activity - Dr James Levine
We are all told to "Take More Exercise" - We think that this means go to the gym. The real issue is we must be more active. One hour three times a week in the gym, has little effect on you if you have sat for 10 hours a day.
Professor Levine makes it quite clear that sitting on our bum all day is a big problem. We are not designed to sit all day. We are designed to move all day.
How long do you sit all day? 8 hours 12 - 16? We have become like astronauts but in a bad way.
So what to do? Design activity into your day. I use a standing desk. Walking is the best exercise too. Have walking meetings like the monks used to do. Your son has ADD at school - maybe not - Maybe he is right and needs to move around all day - maybe it is school that is sick?
This one insight offers all of us a wide range of new possibilities to improve our health. Activity is a design issue.
Just as we are designed to be active, we are designed to sleep. Sleep is not a waste of the day time: it is a powerful resetting process that operates many restoring and repair functions for the mind and body. Dr Czeisler is one best people in the field. His work explores not only what sleep does for us but what YOU can do to get better sleep.
Sunlight or Vitamin D - The Vitamin D Council
When we moved inside as a species, we lost contact with a vital part of what we get from the sun, Vitamin D. The Vitamin D Council is a goldmine of information about why we need more D than we are getting by living inside all the time.
We evolved in Africa. We are evolved to need a lot of Vitamin D.
Our Social Environment - Dr Sir Michael Marmot
Do you work at the bottom of a hierarchy? Then you will get ill and die 4 times earlier than those at the top. Married to your work as a man? Retirement will kill you in 5 years. Are you at the lower end of the vast income inequality in the US and the UK? You will get ill.
How much control and Status we have in life directly affects our health. Medicine and access to healthcare has nothing to do with these differences in health outcomes.
Dr Sir Michael Marmot is the world's leading authority on how human social environments affect our health. Cubicle land and factory work is lethal. Large differences in national income is lethal. Inequality is lethal.
His research on the Brtish Civil Service is a landmark piece of work that sheds light on how this works.
Our Social Environment - Professor Robert Sapolsky
So how does this process work? All primates get stressed by social issues. Zebras only worry at the moment when they are being chased by the lion. Baboons worry all the time about their place in the troop. Humans worry even more. Our consciousness can be a curse. We can worry oursleves about the mortgage or global warming too.
Sapolsky is the leading scientist studying the primate and human stress mechanism.
Sapolsky is a brilliant scientist and a remarkable explainer. His lectures online are very accessible and offer massive insights as to why we, as the most social of all animals, have to pay attention to our social environment and do all we can to make it less stressful.
Social Environment Early Childhood - Dr J Doug Willms
The single most important social factor on our health over a lifetime is the social environment that we had from 0 - 3. When I say 0, I mean from the moment of conception. Children's world view, and so their stress reaction to life is set by 3. This setting drives the development trajectory for life.
Professor Doug Willms is the authority on the link between family culture and long term development outcomes for children.
So how we parent is key. If we are too top down, use power all the time, don't touch enough, speak to but not converse with - all signs of a stressed person - then we set up poor conditions. If we allow everything, let the child run her life, don't stand firm on important issues, are distant - then this too has poor outcomes. The worst being when each parent has one of these two styles.
The best outcomes are from parents who stand firm on important things but allow a lot of room for all others. Who have lots of conversation with their infants. Who touch their kids a lot and who are affectionate with each other.
This style of parenting is not tied into any one income level. So many of us have been captured by our own stress response to the corporate world. It leads me to believe that earning our living in a different way will help.
Social Environment Parenting - The Late Jean Liedloff
Just as Michael Rose goes back in time to show us a lifestyle that is suited to how we evolve, so the late Jena Liedloff does this in how best to parent. Her work is the manual of our evolution and is very accessible and pragmatic
Social Environment - PTSD - DR Jonathan Shay
PTSD is a massive issue in the west today after more than a decade of warfare. Here again people have been shaped by their environment. So is the cause of PTSD the trauma of seeing or doing bad things?
Shay has discovered that this is too simple a perspective. The deeper cause of PTSD, and all illness caused by trauma, is Betrayal. This is why incest is such a terrible act as it involves the worst betrayal of all.
PTSD is driven by bad leadership. A military that has leaders who care not for their men but for their careers. A political class that goes to war and exploits the patriotism of their young men for a game and not a real cause. A system that rotates men too often and breaks their attachments.
This betrayal was seen everywhere in Vietnam. All that was wrong in Viertnam has taken place again in Iraq and in Afghanistan. As those involved learn that they were betrayed, their feelings will deepen. The PTSD epidemic will grow.
Shay also has done the work to find a way for these men to come home. And it is not drugs or experts. It is in helping people help each other. It is in helping them find a tribe again. Medicine and conventional therapy does not work. Only the tribe can offer the trust required to quiet the demons.
Changing Deep Beliefs - Alan Deutschman
How do we change our wiring? If we have depression, PTSD, had a shitty childhood, have addictions? There is no pill. There is no smart man in a white coat. But there is a proven social process and journalist Alan Deutschman has made a lifetime study about what this is.
His work, Sapolsky's, Mate's, Frankl's and Shay's all intersect and support each other. Alan offers a special clarity and great case studies.
Changing Deep Beliefs - Neuroplasticity - Dr Norman Doidge
And so what is this kind of change that Alan reviews so clearly? ? We have to rewire our brain - literally. Our beliefs, or our automatic responses to an event, have been hard wired in our brain by repetition. The more times we go to THAT place, the faster we go there. It is like a river cutting a chasm.
Doidge and Sapolsky have unravelled how this mechanism works and are using the understanding of the plasticity of the brain to change the wiring.
Dr Norman Doidge has had great success in helping people rewire. Even people with schizophrenia.
Good for you
This is a long list and if you have reached this far, well done. As you can see there is not a pill in sight. I hope you can see that all of this is related and all of this intersects. It's complex. But if you make a start, you will be amazed at how you start to change and gain confidence.
The best place to start is diet. It is the most leveraged area and you will get the fastest response in health gains. Then you will have the confidence to try other areas.
If you want to know more now, I have a supporting website called the Missing Human Manual. There is loads more information, videos, articles etc from all of these people there. If you want to even deeper, Michale Rose has put together a major work on the evolutionary context at 55 Theses