Thursday, April 12, 2012

the winter that never came. part 1

i want to write about cold, hunger, darkness and physical exhertion. sounds bad doesn`t it. in my ears it sounds perfect - evolutionarily perfect that is. this is a recount of going back to the basics - of the hows and whys. lots of theory and some selfexperimenting. there will be several installations. lets begin with the background, the logic.

being paleo means a lot more than eating lowcarb. in the paleosphere lowcarb even isnt a must anymore. for me paleo is a lifestyle that encompasses everything necessary to achieve optimal health - the thrive not survive way of life. what we need to do in order to comprehend what that really means is very simple: yes, we live in a modern world but our bodies and our biochemistry is far from "modern". even though i do not even want to envision what my life would be like without modern comfort (im too old and lazy), i have been given a brain and some imagination and a strong desire to make myself into the best, healthiest - OPTIMAL - version of myself. my biochem and evolutionary biology background brought me to paleo as my logical thinking found a soundingboard in a filosophy that states that in order to thrive we need to feed our bodies the fuel that we were designed for. but the simple fact is this is not enough - yes the paleo "diet" is important. very much so, but there is so much more to it. to why modern man is such a physical wreck despite of all our modern comforts and possibilities. in a time when we have so much more possibilities, science and knowledge open to us - why is mankind in such a sorry state healthwise?????

lets hope that the theory of "gluttony and sloth" has died a deserved slow and painful death at least for the majority of paleosphere. lets say we all agree that there is a lot of underlying complex interplay (hormonal, biochemical) that makes calories in = calories out moot in the same way as telling a poor man that he is poor because his moneyflow into the bankaccount is smaller than the flow out of it. the info might be true. maybe. maybe not. maybe he got robbed. lost his job... we dont know. but you get my point though. hopefully. the info will not do him any good because it isn`t answering the question why.

i want to go deeper than the surface with this post. i want to make it clear that even though the outside may be perfect- you might be a fitness model - the inside (what really matters - the biochemistry, the longevity, the health of a person) might not match. i want to talk about why is that possible and even probable and what can we do to make certain we dont fall into that trap. the trap of complacency.

modern life has created a hoard of lifestyle factors, especially in the last 100 years, that have brought the human animal farther and farther from our "natural habitat" - the niche, the environment that we developed over millions of years to successfully inhabit. since the times of Lucy the aurtralopithecus afarensis 4,2 million years ago to this day, the last 100 years have changed our lives more than all the previous millenia put together. im sure every sane person can understand that that must create some kind of stress on our bodies and minds. we eat things our granny would not have recognised as food. we have streched the day into the night with electrical light. we use our tvs and computers to the wee hours of the night flooding our retina with the blue spectrum - corresponding to broad daylight. and we suffer from insomnia and wonder why. our houses are well insulated, our clothes are technological, our cars have heated seats - we live in eternal day and summer. whats wrong with that you may ask?

the thing that is wrong with all those nice things is: our biochemistry is GOVERNED by 2 things: the circardian and seasonal rythm (the light and temperature of our environment) and our diet corresponding to that rythm.

So you can see - we have created an eternal summer and daylight environment that is very far from the environment that we have developed in and evolved to thrive in. so what should we do? give up these modern comforts? or maybe use this large brain that evolution has given us and come up with ways to tap into the latent genetic and biochemical potential within us that corresponds to a certain kind of environmental niche. the lion will not thrive in alaska. the human animal can not thrive in an eternal summers day.


even those of us who come from tropical ancestry can understand that there is a difference between hot and wet seasons, day and night, drought and plenty, that has been successfully eliminated from our modern lives. for those of us that live in temperate regions the change has been, simply put, huge. our biochemistry was molded over millenia to fit those cycles. to prepare our bodies to cope with the changing seasonal temperatures using that which was available to us - seasonally available fuel sources. for example - the abundance of carb-rich food during summer and early fall prepares our bodies for winter - and im not talking about simple fatstorage here - the biochemistry gos much deeper than that. after such a season our bodies would have been primed to take on the winter - ready for it in every way and benefitting from it! those of us who were fit enough, emerged lean and mean in the springtime. now we eat a "summertimediet" all round the year preparing our bodies for a winter that never comes.
so lets list a few biological mismatches between our lagging archaic biochemistry and our current modern world:

- food availability vs. scarcity

lets just say that 6-8 meals a day was not an option for 99,99% of hominid history. so why would it be optimal now? im sure you probably know i have been practicing intermittant fasting for years. thats why. going just a little deeper this is what IFing will accomplish for you: increased autopghagy (clearance of dead cellmatter and thus reducing inflammation), increased HGH response in fasted training, increased insulin and leptinsensitivity.

- carbohydrate content of our food

logical thinking will supply that carb-rich food (veggies, tubers, fruit and berries) were not available year-round for the majority of our history. it would be also logical to assume (and correct) that carb-loading in late summer/early fall would bring about some biologic conditioning and correspond with biochemical adaptations in accordance with seasonality - eg. abundance of carbs in the diet would signal approaching winter and our body would make use of the carb-load preparing us for the season of cold and scarcity.
this carbload essentially triggers seasonal insulinresistance which is very beneficial when one needs to store energy for a cold and dark period of scarce foodsupplies. except the winter never comes any more.

- omega 6 content of our food

the interesting thing is that the maximum omega 6 content/load of seasonal foodsupply coincides with that of carbohydrates. we used to get more omega 6 when plantmatter was available to us in addition to the higher omega 6 content of game meat in the summertime.
it is an essential fatty acid, yes. with an essential job to do in our bodies. one of those jobs is increasing the plasticity of our cellmembranes in order to cope with the onset of winter. this change would be reversed during the winter in the favour of omega 3-s in accordance with carbs reappearing in the diet and the lengthening of light cycles. that never happens now. be continued... digging deeper in part 2