I have learned something new that I did not know before. We can prevent the modern illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, strokes, type 2 diabetes and dementia. I used to think that these were Normal. That it was my and your destiny to get them as we aged. I now know that this assumption is incorrect.
Normal means “Inevitable” or “Destiny”. For these diseases to be that kind of Normal, they would have to be part of our evolved biology. If they are not that, then they can be prevented. For if they are not part of our evolutionary design, then they can only be a product of how we live. We can do something about how we live. Let me show you what I mean.
It was “Normal” to die of cholera in London in 1850 or of Yellow Fever in Panama in 1900. It was “Normal” for many women to die of infection after giving birth in hospital until 1900. Your family would not think it was Normal for you to catch Cholera in London today. If your wife died of infection after giving birth, you would sue! To die of an infection in not Normal now. But we do think it is Normal to suffer and die from heart disease, cancer, strokes and dementia.
So the question of our time is can we repeat the same kind of breakthrough in science that we did in the 1880’s?
This is what this site is all about. I am inviting you to become part of the great revolution in health. Where you will be able to take control of your own health. Where you can chose to have a long and vital old age.
Please come with me and find out why I am this excited.
What breakthrough? The breakthrough will not be found in a “Cure”. None of the terrible disease of our past have been conquered by a cure.
All the great infectious diseases were defeated by insights into their lifecycle and so pathways into humans. We did not cure TB with a drug. TB was prevented by changing the environment so that it lost its grip. That TB is rising again is less to do with the weakening of the power of drugs and more to do with how society is evolving again.
Humans endured 2 millennia of infectious disease until the late 1880’s. Until then we were helpless before waves of infectious epidemics. What changed everything almost overnight was new knowledge that changed the context about how we thought infection spread. We had to give up the idea that infection was spread by God’s will, by imbalances in our humours and by smells. This was the wrong Context that had prevented any alternative.
Science discovered that infection was based on none of these tightly held ideas. Tightly held even though none of them had ever lead to a reduction in the power of the infectious disease. The Context change was that infection was based on tiny organisms that had a life cycle and a relationship with us. We all know this now. We all accept this now. But when this was first proposed, everyone rejected it. After all, we all knew then that it was smells that spread disease. Worse, it was not just the ill informed public who rejected this new idea but the medical establishment. The leaders of the establishment punished the new thinkers and held back change for decades. Why did they do this? Human nature. All the prestige, all the position and all the money was tied up in the establishment of the time. It took 40 years for the new to prevail over the establishment and then only another 30 years for it to win the battle with infection.
Once again a handful of scientists and practitioners have used science to find the pathway for our modern diseases of civilization. But their discoveries are only a start. For the real battle ahead is one of acceptance. For, as back in the 18880’s, this new knowledge violates the current context which is that each disease is separate and has to be “cured” by a treatment or by the dictum that we only have to eat less fat and take more exercise. A gigantic establishment has arisen from these ideas. Ideas that, as with the idea about smells, are having no effect at all on the epidemic’s rapid rise. Making it all even more challenging, we too as a public have bought into these ideas.
The new context is not at all about finding the cure. It is all about understanding how the social and environmental pressures of modern life affect our evolved biology. The answers to this will not be found in a pill, or a hospital.
But we have become obsessed with both. We tend to think that only more medicine can help and so will look with suspicion on the new. Just as most people did back in 1880.
So it may help to look back at how the battles against infectious disease were won. For they were won with no cure either.
The war against infectious disease was won by understanding the relationship between germs, viruses and us. It was won in the realm of public health and in understanding of infection’s pathways and ideal environments. This meant that in Panama the effort went into eradicating the breeding grounds for the mosquito. Not into trying to find a cure for Yellow Fever. It meant that Lister pioneered an antiseptic operating environment years before antibiotics could cure infection. It meant that London built the sewers and so made good sewage and clean water the foundation of urban life.
The more appropriate Context for disease remains in exploring how humans create and then react to the environment they create. We use our brilliant minds to create a new way of living that opens up a vector for a poor fit with our biology. In other words we open a new vector for illness. So, we domesticate animals and live closely to them, but we also get small pox and flu. We travel the oceans, but as a result we now can transmit the plague. We travel to America with our European diseases and so wipe out the natives. We return from the New World and so bring back syphilis. We have an agricultural and industrial revolution, and so fill our cities and and so die of cholera and typhoid. Today we have an agribusiness revolution and a global economy. This too has created a vector for disease. Each of these cultural changes have opened up gaps with our biology. Consequently, each of these steps has produced epidemics. The best response in each case was to make adjustments to our environment to close out the new vector.
As you can see from he chart below, we did not “Cure” these diseases. We changed the environment to reduce or eliminate their power.
Our modern diseases, heart disease, cancer, strokes, type 2 diabetes and dementia, are also products of the modern culture that we have created. They stem from our reaction to the culture that we live in. They, like most of our infectious diseases, are an environmental outcome of how we live. They are not a Normal part of our evolved biology. We know this because they do not exist in any population that does not share our way of life.
Heart disease, cancer, strokes and dementai and of course type 2 Diabetes are unknown in all populations that do not share the modern western lifestyle.
They are not an inevitable outcome of living longer. They are not the fallout of having defeated infection. They are diseases that are derived from us developing a culture that is not a good fit with our evolutionary biology.
The good news is that we can all agree that we have a problem. We know that we have a problem just as people in London in 1850 or in Panama in 1900 knew they had a problem. We face an epidemic. And as Western society ages, we cannot afford to treat the millions who suffer from these diseases. We have to find a better way.
But the risk for us today is the same as it was for the pioneers of Germ Theory. Today the establishment are invested in a Context of a Mechanistic Cure that will attack each “Illness” as an isolated entity.
What has been lost in the economic apparatus of the health establishment is that disease is a product of a mismatch between our culture and our biology. Finding separate cures is no substitute for eliminating the cause.
The good news is that there is now, as there was in 1880, a body of science that will prevail. The truth always does in science in time. The issue for you and me, is that will it prevail in time for us? Will you be dead or bankrupt before the new wins?
My hope for this site is to help to accelerate their victory. Their victory that will drive another breakthrough on the same scale as the breakthrough for infection.
So what and who is at the basis of the revolution that has the power to transform our health.
Three areas of related research can be combined under one huge idea. Just as back in 1880, several areas of research were also combined under one huge idea about the lifecycle of bacteria and humans.
Years of independent research into our Metabolic Environment or How we Process Food, our Social Environment or How we are Affected by other People and our Minds and our Interaction with the Natural Physical Environment or How we interact with our bodies and the physical world can now be woven together into a new Holistic Whole for how to live a healthy life.
Capping all of this is the Context for all of this work. How close we fit our evolved biology is the driver. Our evolution has wired us up to thrive when we fit these rules and to do poorly when we do not fit the rules. When we eat what we are designed to eat, we do well. When we live and work in the ideal social context we do well. When we inhabit our bodies and the physical world in the ideal we do well.
When we understand this better, we can make choices in how each of us lives and about how we live in society. In so doing we take back control of how we age and so our health. In so doing we set in motion forces that give us a chance of not only fitting our lives better to our nature but also to the natural world all around us.
So here we will meet the scientists and learn what they have discovered. Here you will see what is ideal best fit for us in our diet, in our social and public life, in our activity and in our relationship with the natural world. Here you will meet the pioneers who are putting much of the science to work. I will curate the hard science, the popular science, the stories and the amusing things that will help inform us. I hope that I can offer the full range of material from the most dense to the most fun. It’s a big tent.
My work is to weave their work into a coherent whole. Let me introduce many of them to you now.
Aging – You will meet Dr Michael Rose, Evolutionary Biologist, whose discoveries about how humans are designed to age is the capstone of this new context. He will show you the rules of “Fit”. He will show you how aging works for all creatures and then how aging applies to us humans. He will show you that we are not designed to get progressively more decrepit with age. That is provided that we live the lives that we are designed by millions of years of evolution to live. He will show you that we are genetically programmed to age well.
You will meet Professor Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an Evolutionary Anthropologist. She will show you how the demands of rearing human children, who take up to 25 years to mature, drove this genetic design for a long and active middle and late age. Our kids need us! This is why we were designed to be fit and active.
Metabolic Environment – Diet – Insulin - You will meet Professor Staffan Lindeberg whose book – Food and Western Disease shows the connection between modern diet and modern diseases. Every question that you have about any food and its impact on you is to dealt with in this epic book.
You will meet Professor Richard Wrangham, Anthropologist, whose insight into diet and our skull, jaws and gut, leads him to posit that humans had fire and cooked at least 1.7 million years ago. That we are designed to eat food of a certain type and that our optimal diet is based on meat. Meat is a core part of our Fit.
You will meet Science Writer, Gary Taubes, whose book Good Calories – Bad Calories – is the gauntlet thrown down before the establishment today whose “Miasma Theory” is that “Fat makes Us Fat” or that Calories in have to balance with Calories out. Taubes will show you the metabolic pathways that cause most of the modern diseases.
You will meet Professor Robert Lustig whose life’s work is the investigation into what “sugar” does to us. You will see the crucial and influential role that “sugars” play in our lack of it today.
As we learn from these people we will see that what we eat is the cornerstone of getting back our “Fit” with our true nature and is the area where each of us can take the most control. It is the area also where, we can experience the best results in the shortest time. Often only 2 months is enough to know that you are on the right path.
Social Environment – Stress – Cortisol – You will meet Dr Sir Michael Marmot, the world’s leading Epidemiologist. He sets the context for how our social place in the world, status, connection, role is the great modifier for our health. You will find out that where you are on the pecking order at work, in the family, with friends, in your country even has a major impact on whether you will die early of one of the modern diseases. Poor status, poor social connections and low control drive constant stress. This social stress makes us even more vulnerable. He will set the stage for a lot of work that explores what happens to us socially.
You will meet Professor Robert Sapolsky. His life’s work is the stress pathway that is our curse as a thinking and highly social primate. If we were a Zebra, we only go into fight or flight for a few moments when being chased by a lion. But apes and primates fuss all the time about our social position. Humans fuss even more as we worry also about what happened in the past and why might happen in the future. You will see how this mechanism works.
You will meet Professor Doug Willms. His life’s work is the study of the impact of the family culture on the early years of a child and how then this affects their life long trajectory of development. He shows how the immediate social environment of the family is the most affective way of setting up good or not good pathways for health, learning and behavior for a lifetime. You will discover what are the best fitted ways of being with your kids to ensure that they have the best start in life. Dr Hyrdy also has a great deal to offer us on this topic as well.
You will meet Professor Megan Gunnar whose life’s work is exploring the stress pathways that are driven by the family environment. Her work neatly ties into Dr Hrdy and Dr Willms. We can now see the root environment for the early years that drive a lifetime trajectory for our development. Our mindset about who we are and how the world works is set here. How we react to the world is wired into us at that point.
You will meet Dr’s Andrew Clarke and David Brown, Occupational Health Physicians, who have taken this work directly into the workplace and have discovered, after decades of experience, how managerial culture also has a huge impact on the health of employees. All the dramas of the family are re-enacted at work and all the stress pathways that are involved at home, play out here too. You will find out what can be done to improve this and what you can do about your self.
You will meet Dr Jonathan Shay, whose life’s work is the study of PTSD in veterans. You will learn that the heart of trauma is betrayal. Soldiers that have been betrayed by their leadership suffer the same kind of “betrayal” as children of incest or rape victims. Shay will show you how the mind is rewired by this kind of trauma. He will also show you that the only possible “cure” is social. The victim has to be helped by their peers alone. He will show you that it is only changes to the culture of the military in terms of PTSD that can reduce the incidence.
You will meet Professor Robin Dunbar. His work has been to discover the evolutionary designs for human social groupings. He has discovered the rules about how large can our social world be and still fit who we are. The answer is 144 by the way. His work on social groupings is having a major impact on how we design organizations to be high functioning and healthy.
You will meet Professor Robert Putnam. His work has been to explore the nature of “Social Capital” our trusted connectedness as a society. He has been able to show the same kind of gradients as Professor Marmot. So using Putnam’s work we can see how societies have different health outcomes based on their culture. As with parents, the more Authoritarian, the more shut down and the worse the outcomes.
You will meet Professor Geert Hofstede. His work has been to discover the elements that make up a human culture and then show how the mix is different by nationality and ethnicity. His work offers us an explanation for why we so often misunderstand others even when the speak their language. For it is our culture
Interaction with the Natural Physical Environment – The Circadian Response We all know that we need to be more active and that our bodies are designed to be active. We all know that we should take more exercise. But there is a wider context for our body than activity alone. We are also designed to interact with the physical world around us. There is a fit to our bodies and a fit to the physical world.
You will meet Professor Charles Czeilser whose life’s work is sleep. You will find out that sleep is more than rest and is itself a major factor in out health and in how we process information. Much of our learning takes place in sleep. We will learn that to sleep well that we have to obey a number of evolutionary rules. The most important part of these rules is how and when we interact with light. How we manage our exposure to light and to the rhythms of the day and year are much more important than we thought. Related to light, a major debate about the importance of Vitamin D is bubbling up. How much do we need? How do we get it will all be discussed here.
You will meet Dr David Dinges, whose life’s work is the effects of sleep deprivation. His research has involved extensive laboratory, simulator and field studies on the consequences of sleep loss and circadian misalignment from both lifestyle and medical disorders; effects of sleep disorders; recovery potential of naps; nature of sleep inertia; impact of cumulative sleep debt; differential vulnerability to the neurobehavioral effects of sleep loss; and development of technologies for monitoring human neurobehavioral capability, such as the widely used the Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT).
Just as our social environment affects us so does the physical built environment. Our buildings and our cities can fit with us or not. You will meet Christopher Alexander, a great architect, whose life’s work has been the study of “Natural Architecture”. Professor Alexander has looked deeply into these processes and has been able to extract a set of observed rules for how to build structures that fit and so are life enhancing. This is something that we used to do very well but have “forgotten”.
Other Resources – There are many others who are pioneering these ideas in their own work and life. I will do my best to bring as many of these people into the frame as well. For instance the Paleo Movement is growing fast and has many well informed evangelists and a large body of experience to share. There are tools like Heartmath that do work to help you evaluate your stress. There are authors such as Eckhart Tolle who can help you find peace from the social stress that you create for yourself. There is the emerging science of Neuro Plasticity which is helping us unwire deep habits and to avoid the stress response. There are people exploring an exercise regime that has a better fit as well.
I am a voracious reader but I can only scratch the surface of what is available that can help us. I will do my best to bring in all those that have a contribution. I will do my best to bring in your experience too.
But if you come into this site and help, then we can really make progress.
We will be challenging the norms of what is “Normal” for today. So like all who seek to give up a powerful habit, we will need a special kind of help – each other.
My hope is that when we are done, that we will have not only harmonized our lives to our nature but to the planet too. We will have come home.