What is the lesson of COVID-19?

The US has been reacting to this public health crisis of COVID-19. But one can’t remain in emergency mode permanently. So, we’ve suddenly switched to the opposite reaction of reopening everything as a free-for-all as if everything is fine and normal again. Then there will likely be a massive upswing again of infections, followed by another period of fearful reaction.

We are stuck in this cycle because we are unprepared, both in terms of public policy and public health. But a major factor is the population is so unhealthy with 88% of Americans being metabolically unfit, not to mention environmental risks to the health of poor communities. Even in the best of times, that would eventually be devastating simply in terms of financial costs. Some predict we might eventually go bankrupt from treating all those sick Americans, along with the increasing costs of sick days, disability pay, etc.

The main thing that COVID-19 is showing us is how weak of a position we are in. It’s multiple factors that are putting us in a difficult bind. And this is a rather minor pandemic. If a truly deadly pandemic hits, which is inevitable, our society is going to be totally crippled and devastated. We barely can manage public health issues and healthcare costs without a pandemic. This situation is only going to get worse, specifically as the rates of metabolic disease continue to rise.

If we don’t become pro-active about dietary policy and healthcare quickly, we could be facing an existential crisis as a society. So, why is no major official or expert talking about public health in terms of factors we can control, specifically comorbidities such as diet-related and pollution-related suppression of the immune system? We can try to control external risk factors through public policies on social gathering and such, but we’d be wiser in the long term to improve public health by improving the metabolic and immunological health of Americans so that we are less susceptible to infections in the first place.

Being unhealthy is not only a threat to the individual. When magnified across an entire society, most of the population being unhealthy is a much greater threat. Every single unhealthy individual is a risk factor, is a threat of infectious spread to their family, friends, neighbors, fellow church congregants, etc. Personal health is a public health issue. But Americans seem only to know how to react to such things, or else scapegoat individuals for failure of public policy. Even those who want to dismiss it all are likewise trapped in an opposite reaction. Both sides have their head in the sand about the most central factor.

Even if the COVID-19 pandemic fizzles out in the end with maybe only a million or so dead in the United States, it doesn’t change the basic public health crisis that will continue to get worse. Imagine when even more people in the United States and worldwide have metabolic diseases, and imagine when an even more virulent infectious disease hits. If we make no changes before then to improve individual and public health, we will be in a worse position than now and we will still be unprepared. Are we going to learn any lesson from this crisis?

None of this is to consider the potential combination of other factors. We are likely entering a period of one crisis after another with each crisis as bad or worse than the one before. Besides pandemics and other public health problems, there will be climate change events with worsening and increasing number of superstorms, along with floods, droughts, wildfires, famines, etc that will lead to refugee crises, social instability, civil wars, political coups, international conflict, fight over resources, and on and on.

That could be on top of the crises of destabilizing inequality, loss of public trust, and weakening political authority; not to mention various backlashes of reactionary politics, authoritarianism, riots, terrorism, and so much else. In the end, worsening health concerns, even pandemics, might be the least of our worries. But certainly a great enough public health crisis alone could unleash a cascade of stresses, conflicts, and failures within American society and across the geopolitical order.

This situation with COVID-19 is a warning we should heed. This could be, as some claim, the new normal. Or else a mere suggestion of the new normal yet to come.

Dietary Risk Factors for Heart Disease and Cancer

Based on a study of 42 European countries, a recent scientific paper reported that, “the highest CVD [cardiovascular disease] prevalence can be found in countries with the highest carbohydrate consumption, whereas the lowest CVD prevalence is typical of countries with the highest intake of fat and protein.” And that, “The positive effect of low-carbohydrate diets on CVD risk factors (obesity, blood lipids, blood glucose, insulin, blood pressure) is already apparent in short-term clinical trials lasting 3–36 months (58) and low-carbohydrate diets also appear superior to low-fat diets in this regard (36, 37).” Basically, for heart health, this would suggest eating more full-fat dairy, eggs, meat, and fish while eating less starches, sugar, and alcohol. That is to say, follow a low-carb diet. It doesn’t mean eat any low-carb diet, though, for the focus is on animal foods.

By the way, when you dig into the actual history of the Blue Zones (healthy, long-lived populations), what you find is that their traditional diets included large portions of animal foods, including animal fat (Blue Zones Dietary Myth, Eat Beef and Bacon!, Ancient Greek View on Olive Oil as Part of the Healthy Mediterranean Diet). The longest-lived society in the entire world, in fact, is also the one with the highest meat consumption per capita, even more than Americans. What society is that? Hong Kong. In general, nutrition studies in Asia has long shown that those eating more meat have the best health outcomes. This contradicts earlier Western research, as we’re dealing with how the healthy user effect manifests differently according to culture. But even in the West, the research is ever more falling in line with the Eastern research, such as with the study I quoted above. And that study is far from being the only one (Are ‘vegetarians’ or ‘carnivores’ healthier?).

This would apply to both meat-eaters and vegetarians, as even vegetarians could put greater emphasis on nutrient-dense animal foods. It is specifically saturated fat and animal proteins that were most strongly associated with better health, both of which could be obtained from dairy and eggs. Vegans, on the other hand, would obviously be deficient in this area. But certain plant foods (tree nuts, olives, citrus fruits, low-glycemic vegetables, and wine, though not distilled beverages) also showed some benefit. Considering plant foods, those specifically associated with greater risk of heart disease, strokes, etc were those high in carbohydrates such as grains. Unsurprisingly, sunflower oil was a risk factor, probably related to seed oils being inflammatory and oxidative (not to mention mutagenic); but oddly onions were also likewise implicated, if only weakly. Other foods showed up in the data, but the above were the most interesting and important.

Such correlations, of course, can’t prove causation. But it fits the accumulating evidence: “These findings strikingly contradict the traditional ‘saturated fat hypothesis’, but in reality, they are compatible with the evidence accumulated from observational studies that points to both high glycaemic index and high glycaemic load (the amount of consumed carbohydrates × their glycaemic index) as important triggers of CVDs. The highest glycaemic indices (GI) out of all basic food sources can be found in potatoes and cereal products, which also have one of the highest food insulin indices (FII) that betray their ability to increase insulin levels.” All of that seems straightforward, according to the overall data from nutrition studies (see: Uffe Ravnskov, Richard Smith, Robert Lustig, Eric Westman, Ben Bikman, Gary Taubes, Nina Teicholz, etc). About saturated fat not being linked to CVD risk, Andrew Mente discusses a meta-analysis he worked on and another meta-analysis by another group of researchers, Siri-Tarino PW et al (New Evidence Reveals that Saturated Fat Does Not Increase the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease). Likewise, many experts no longer see cholesterol as a culprit either (Uffe Ravnskov et al, LDL-C does not cause cardiovascular disease: a comprehensive review of the current literature).

Yet one other odd association was discovered: “In fact, our ecological comparison of cancer incidence in 39 European countries (for 2012; (59)) can bring another important argument. Current rates of cancer incidence in Europe are namely the exact geographical opposite of CVDs (see Fig. 28). In sharp contrast to CVDs, cancer correlates with the consumption of animal food (particularly animal fat), alcohol, a high dietary protein quality, high cholesterol levels, high health expenditure, and above average height. These contrasting patterns mirror physiological mechanisms underlying physical growth and the development of cancer and CVDs (60). The best example of this health paradox is again that of French men, who have the lowest rates of CVD mortality in Europe, but the highest rates of cancer incidence. In other words, cancer and CVDs appear to express two extremes of a fundamental metabolic disbalance that is related to factors such as cholesterol and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor).”

That is an argument people have made, but it’s largely been theoretical. In response, others have argued the opposite position (High vs Low Protein, Too Much Protein?, Gundry’s Plant Paradox and Saladino’s Carnivory, Carcinogenic Grains). It’s true that, for example, eating meat increases IGF-1, at least temporarily. Then again, eating in general does the same. And on a diet low enough in carbs, it’s been shown in studies that people naturally reduce their calorie intake, which would reduce IGF-1. And for really low-carb, the ketogenic diet is specifically defined as being low in animal protein while higher in fat. A low-carb diet is not necessarily a high-animal protein diet, especially when combined with intermittent fasting such as OMAD (one meal a day) with long periods of downregulated IGF-1. Also, this study didn’t appear to include plant proteins in the data, and so we don’t know if eating lots of soy, hemp protein powder, etc would show similar results; although nuts were mentioned in the report as being similar to meat in correlating to CVD health but, as far as I know, not mentioned in terms of cancer. What would make animal proteins more carcinogenic than plant proteins or, for that matter, plant carbohydrates? The hypothetical mechanism is not clear.

This anomaly would’ve been more interesting if the authors had surveyed the research literature. It’s hard to know what to make of it since other studies have pointed to the opposite conclusion, that the risks of these two are closely linked, rather than being inversely associated: “Epidemiologically, a healthy lifestyle lessens the risk of both cardiovascular disease and cancer, as first found in the Nurses’ Health study” (Lionel Opie, Cancer and cardiovascular disease; see Rob M. Van Dam, Combined impact of lifestyle factors on mortality). “Research has shown there are interrelationships among type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These interrelationships may seem coincidental and based only on the fact these conditions share common risk factors. However, research suggests these diseases may relate to one another in multiple ways and that nutrition and lifestyle strategies used to prevent and manage these diseases overlap considerably” (Karen Collins, The Cancer, Diabetes, and Heart Disease Link).

Yet other researchers did find the same inverse relationship: “We herein report that, based on two separate medical records analysis, an inverse correlation between cancer and atherosclerosis” (Matthew Li et al, If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Another). But there was an additional point: “We believe that the anti-inflammatory aspect of cancer’s pan-inflammatory response plays an important role towards atherosclerotic attenuation.” Interesting! In that case, one of the key causal mechanisms to be considered is inflammation. Some diets high in animal proteins would be inflammatory, such as the Standard American Diet, whereas others would be anti-inflammatory. Eliminating seed oils (e.g., sunflower oil) would by itself reduce inflammation. Reducing starches and sugar would help as well. So, is it the meat that increases cancer or is it what the meat is being cooked in or eaten with? That goes back to the healthy and unhealthy user effects.

As this confounding factor is central, we might want to consider the increasingly common view that inflammation is involved in nearly every major disease. “For example, inflammation causes or is a causal link in many health problems or otherwise seen as an indicator of health deterioration (arthritis, depression, schizophrenia, etc), but inflammation itself isn’t the fundamental cause since it is a protective response itself to something else (allergens, leaky gut, etc). Or as yet another example, there is the theory that cholesterol plaque in arteries doesn’t cause the problem but is a response to it, as the cholesterol is essentially forming a scab in seeking to heal injury. Pointing at cholesterol would be like making accusations about firefighters being present at fires” (Coping Mechanisms of Health).

What exacerbates or moderates inflammation will be pivotal to overall health (Essentialism On the Decline), especially the nexus of disease called metabolic syndrome/derangement or what used to be called syndrome X: insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, strokes, etc. In fact, other researchers point directly to inflammation as being a common factor of CVD and cancer: “Although commonly thought of as two separate disease entities, CVD and cancer possess various similarities and possible interactions, including a number of similar risk factors (e.g. obesity, diabetes), suggesting a shared biology for which there is emerging evidence. While chronic inflammation is an indispensible feature of the pathogenesis and progression of both CVD and cancer, additional mechanisms can be found at their intersection” (Ryan J. Koene et al, Shared Risk Factors in Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer). But it might depend on the specific conditions how inflammation manifests as disease — not only CVD or cancer but also arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s, etc.

This is the major downfall of nutrition studies, as the experts in the field find themselves hopelessly mired in a replication crisis. There is too much contradictory research and, when much of the research has been repeated, it simply did not replicate. That is to say much of it is simply wrong or misinterpreted. And as few have attempted to replicate much of it, we aren’t entirely sure what is valid and what is not. That further problemetizes meta-analyses, despite how potentially powerful that tool can be when working with quality research. The study I’ve been discussing here was an ecological study and that has its limitations. The researchers couldn’t disentangle all the major confounding factors, much less control for them in the first place, as they were working with data across decades that came from separate countries. Even so, it’s interesting and useful info to consider. And keep in mind that almost all official dietary recommendations are based on observational (associative, correlative, epidemiological) studies with far fewer controls. This is the nature of the entire field of nutrition studies, as long-term randomized and controlled studies on humans are next to impossible to do.

So, as always, qualifications must be made. The study’s authors state that, “In items of smaller importance (e.g. distilled beverages, sunflower oil, onions), the results are less persuasive and their interpretation is not always easy and straightforward. Similar to observational studies, our ecological study reflects ‘real-world data’ and cannot always separate mutual interactions among the examined variables. Therefore, the reliance on bivariate correlations could lead to misleading conclusions. However, some of these findings can be used as a starting point of medical hypotheses, whose validity can be investigated in controlled clinical trials.” Nonetheless, “The reasonably high accuracy of the input data, combined with some extremely high correlations, together substantially increase the likelihood of true causal relationships, especially when the results concern principal components of food with high consumption rates, and when they can be supported by other sources.”

This data is meaningful in offering strong supporting evidence. The finding about animal foods and starchy foods is the main takeaway, however tentative the conclusion may be for real world application, at least in taking this evidence in isolation. But the inverse correlation of CVD risk and cancer risk stands out and probably indicates confounders across populations, and that would be fertile territory for other researchers to explore. The main importance to this study is less in the specifics and more in how it further challenges the broad paradigm that has dominated nutrition studies for the past half century or so. The most basic point is that the diet-heart hypothesis simply doesn’t make sense of the evidence and it never really did. When the hypothesis was first argued, heart disease was going up precisely at the moment saturated fat intake was going down, since seed oils had replaced lard as the main fat source in the decades prior. Interestingly, lard has been a common denominator among most long-lived populations, from the Okinawans to Rosetans (Ancient Greek View on Olive Oil as Part of the Healthy Mediterranean Die, Blue Zones Dietary Myth).

This study is further support for a new emerging understanding, as seen with the American Heart Association backing off from its earlier position (Slow, Quiet, and Reluctant Changes to Official Dietary Guidelines). Fat is not the enemy of humanity, as seen with the high-fat ketogenic diet where fat is used as the primary fuel, instead of carbohydrates (Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health, The Ketogenic Miracle Cure, The Agricultural Mind). In fact, we wouldn’t be here without fat, as it is the evolutionary and physiological norm, specifically in terms of low-carb (Is Ketosis Normal?, “Is keto safe for kids?”). Instead, that too many carbohydrates are unhealthy used to be common knowledge (American Heart Association’s “Fat and Cholesterol Counter” (1991)). Consensus on this shifted a half century ago, the last time when low-carb diets were still part of mainstream thought, and now we are shifting back the other way. The old consensus will be new again.

* * *

Carbohydrates, not animal fats, linked to heart disease across 42 European countries
by Keir Watson

Key findings

  • Cholesterol levels were tightly correlated to the consumption of animal fats and proteins – Countries consuming more fat and protein from animal sources had higher incidence of raised cholesterol
  • Raised cholesterol correlated negatively with CVD risk – Countries with higher levels of raised cholesterol had fewer cases of CVD deaths and a lower incidence of CVD risk factors
  • Carbohydrates correlated positively with CVD risk – the more carbohydrates consumed (and especially those with high GI such as starches) the more CVD
  • Fat and Protein correlated negatively with CVD risk – Countries consuming more fat and protein from animal and plant sources had less CVD. The authors speculate that this is because increasing fat and protein in the diet generally displaces carbohydrates.

Food consumption and the actual statistics of cardiovascular diseases: an epidemiological comparison of 42 European countries
Pavel Grasgruber,* Martin Sebera, Eduard Hrazdira, Sylva Hrebickova, and Jan Cacek

Results

We found exceptionally strong relationships between some of the examined factors, the highest being a correlation between raised cholesterol in men and the combined consumption of animal fat and animal protein (r=0.92, p<0.001). The most significant dietary correlate of low CVD risk was high total fat and animal protein consumption. Additional statistical analyses further highlighted citrus fruits, high-fat dairy (cheese) and tree nuts. Among other non-dietary factors, health expenditure showed by far the highest correlation coefficients. The major correlate of high CVD risk was the proportion of energy from carbohydrates and alcohol, or from potato and cereal carbohydrates. Similar patterns were observed between food consumption and CVD statistics from the period 1980–2000, which shows that these relationships are stable over time. However, we found striking discrepancies in men’s CVD statistics from 1980 and 1990, which can probably explain the origin of the ‘saturated fat hypothesis’ that influenced public health policies in the following decades.

Conclusion

Our results do not support the association between CVDs and saturated fat, which is still contained in official dietary guidelines. Instead, they agree with data accumulated from recent studies that link CVD risk with the high glycaemic index/load of carbohydrate-based diets. In the absence of any scientific evidence connecting saturated fat with CVDs, these findings show that current dietary recommendations regarding CVDs should be seriously reconsidered. […]

Irrespective of the possible limitations of the ecological study design, the undisputable finding of our paper is the fact that the highest CVD prevalence can be found in countries with the highest carbohydrate consumption, whereas the lowest CVD prevalence is typical of countries with the highest intake of fat and protein. The polarity between these geographical patterns is striking. At the same time, it is important to emphasise that we are dealing with the most essential components of the everyday diet.

Health expenditure – the main confounder in this study – is clearly related to CVD mortality, but its influence is not apparent in the case of raised blood pressure or blood glucose, which depend on the individual lifestyle. It is also difficult to imagine that health expenditure would be able to completely reverse the connection between nutrition and all the selected CVD indicators. Therefore, the strong ecological relationship between CVD prevalence and carbohydrate consumption is a serious challenge to the current concepts of the aetiology of CVD.

The positive effect of low-carbohydrate diets on CVD risk factors (obesity, blood lipids, blood glucose, insulin, blood pressure) is already apparent in short-term clinical trials lasting 3–36 months (58) and low-carbohydrate diets also appear superior to low-fat diets in this regard (36, 37). However, these findings are still not reflected by official dietary recommendations that continue to perpetuate the unproven connection between saturated fat and CVDs (25). Understandably, because of the chronic nature of CVDs, the evidence for the connection between carbohydrates and CVD events/mortality comes mainly from longitudinal observational studies and there is a lack of long-term clinical trials that would provide definitive proof of such a connection. Therefore, our data based on long-term statistics of food consumption can be important for the direction of future research.

In fact, our ecological comparison of cancer incidence in 39 European countries (for 2012; (59)) can bring another important argument. Current rates of cancer incidence in Europe are namely the exact geographical opposite of CVDs (see Fig. 28). In sharp contrast to CVDs, cancer correlates with the consumption of animal food (particularly animal fat), alcohol, a high dietary protein quality, high cholesterol levels, high health expenditure, and above average height. These contrasting patterns mirror physiological mechanisms underlying physical growth and the development of cancer and CVDs (60). The best example of this health paradox is again that of French men, who have the lowest rates of CVD mortality in Europe, but the highest rates of cancer incidence. In other words, cancer and CVDs appear to express two extremes of a fundamental metabolic disbalance that is related to factors such as cholesterol and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor).

Besides total fat and protein consumption, the most likely preventive factors emerging in our study include fruits (particularly citrus fruits), wine, high-fat dairy products (especially cheese), sources of plant fat (tree nuts, olives), and potentially even vegetables and other low-glycaemic plant sources, provided that they substitute high-glycaemic foods. Many of these foodstuffs are the traditional components of the ‘Mediterranean diet’, which again strengthens the meaningfulness of our results. The factor analysis (Factor 3) also highlighted coffee, soybean oil and fish & seafood, but except for the fish & seafood, the rationale of this finding is less clear, because coffee is strongly associated with fruit consumption and soybean oil is used for various culinary purposes. Still, some support for the preventive role of coffee does exist (61) and hence, this observation should not be disregarded.

Similar to the “Mediterranean diet”, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which is based mainly on fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy, also proved to be quite effective (62). However, our data indicate that the consumption of low-fat dairy may not be an optimal strategy. Considering the unreliability of observational studies highlighting low-fat dairy and the existence of strong bias regarding the intake of saturated fat, the health effect of various dairy products should be carefully tested in controlled clinical studies. In any case, our findings indicate that citrus fruits, high-fat dairy (such as cheese) and tree nuts (walnuts) constitute the most promising components of a prevention diet.

Among other potential triggers of CVDs, we should especially stress distilled beverages, which consistently correlate with CVD risk, in the absence of any relationship with health expenditure. The possible role of sunflower oil and onions is much less clear. Although sunflower oil consistently correlates with stroke mortality in the historical comparison and creates very productive regression models with some correlates of the actual CVD mortality, it is possible that both these food items mirror an environment that is deficient in some important factors correlating negatively with CVD risk.

A very important case is that of cereals because whole grain cereals are often propagated as CVD prevention. It is true that whole grain cereals are usually characterised by lower GI and FII values than refined cereals, and their benefits have been documented in numerous observational studies (63), but their consumption is also tied with a healthy lifestyle. All the available clinical trials have been of short duration and have produced inconsistent results indicating that the possible benefits are related to the substitution of refined cereals for whole grain cereals, and not because of whole grain cereals per se (64, 65). Our study cannot differentiate between refined and unrefined cereals, but both are highly concentrated sources of carbohydrates (~70–75% weight, ~80–90% energy) and cereals also make up ~50% of CA energy intake in general. To use an analogy with smoking, a switch from unfiltered to filtered cigarettes can reduce health risks, but this fact does not mean that filtered cigarettes should be propagated as part of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, even some unrefined cereals [such as the ‘whole-meal bread’ tested by Bao et al. (32)] have high glycaemic and insulin indices, and the values are often unpredictable. Therefore, in the light of the growing evidence pointing to the negative role of carbohydrates, and considering the lack of any association between saturated fat and CVDs, we are convinced that the current recommendations regarding diet and CVDs should be seriously reconsidered.

The Sickness of the Sick Care System

“Today medical schools in the United States offer, on average, only about nineteen hours of nutrition education over four years of medical school. Only 29 percent of U.S. medical schools offer the recommended twenty-five hours of nutrition education. A study in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health assessed the basic nutrition and health knowledge of medical school graduates entering a pediatric residency program and found that, on average, they answered only 52 percent of eighteen questions correctly. In short, most mainstream doctors would fail nutrition.
~Dr. Will Cole, Ketotarian (quoted here), 2018

Burnout has become an increasing problem among physicians. A recent Medscape survey found high rates of burnout among medical practitioners, including 42% of psychiatrists and mental health professionals. Depression is also extremely common in physicians, who have a suicide rate higher than that of the general population, and even higher than that of other academics. There is also a high suicide rate in psychologists, with some studies suggesting that close to 30% have felt suicidal and nearly 4% have made a suicide attempt. One study of more than 1000 randomly sampled counseling psychologists found that 62% of respondents self-identified as depressed, and of those with depressive symptoms, 42% reported experiencing some form of suicidal ideation or behavior.
~Batya Swift Yasgur, Challenging Stigma: Should Psychiatrists Disclose Their Own Mental Illness?, 2019

“Researchers Rubén Díaz and Carlos Rodríguez, explored the burnout prevalence of mental health professionals in Panama (where I live and work) and found that about 36 percent of its community has suffered from burnout syndrome at one point or another of their careers… While it’s not shocking to learn that mental health professionals also struggle with mental health issues—given that we’re human and all—it’s disconcerting to see research show that mental health care professional are hesitant to seek help. In the aforementioned study, about 43 percent of psychologists “struggle to see the presentation of mental illness and psychological distress within themselves,” and one in five psychologists withholds information about their emotional difficulties.
~Mariana Plata, Therapists Need Therapy, Too, 2018

Probably no single fact illustrates the frequency of this disease [neurasthenia] more impressively than this, that at all times while on duty, I have a number of physicians, who are themselves sufferers in this way, under my care. Many of these medical patients have been affiicted for years, without ever reaching the true diagnosis of the condition, and in not a few instances, the real debility and distress are heightened and intensified by fear of impending disablement. Overworked and overworried physicians are quite apt to develop this disease, and for reasons elsewhere stated… are also more likely to develop at the same time hypochondria or pathophobia. At least one of every ten of those who consult me for neurasthenia are physicians.
~Dr. George Miller Beard, A Practical Treatise On Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia), 1884

“Perhaps he is best known for the establishment of his rest cure, a method of treatment for patients, especially women, who suffered from hysteria and neurasthenia. The cure became the standard treatment for many decades, particularly in England… On a visit to Paris, Mitchell sought out the great Jean Martin Charcot (1825-1893) for help without revealing his name. Where was he from? “Philadelphia?” Then said Charcot: “You should consult Weir Mitchell; he is the best man in America for your kind of trouble.”
~Whonamedit? Biographical Dictionary, Silas Weir Mitchell

“Heard joke once: Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says, “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.”
~Alan Moore, Watchmen, 1987

Old Debates Forgotten

Since earlier last year, I’ve done extensive reading, largely but not entirely focused on health. This has particularly concerned diet and nutrition, although it has crossed over into the territory of mental health with neurocognitive issues, addiction, autism, and much else, with my personal concern being that of depression. The point of this post is to consider some of the historical background. Before I get to that, let me explain how my recent interests have developed.

What got me heading in this direction was the documentary The Magic Pill. It’s about the paleo diet. The practical advice was worth the time spent, though other things drew me into the the larger arena of low-carb debate. The thing about the paleo diet is that it offers a framework of understanding that includes many scientific fields involving health beyond only diet and also it explores historical records, anthropological research, and archaeological evidence. The paleo diet community in particular, along with the low-carb diet community in general, is also influenced by the traditional foods approach of Sally Fallon Morrell. She is the lady who, more than anyone else, popularized the work of Weston A. Price, an early 20th century dentist who traveled the world and studied traditional populations. I was already familiar with this area from having reading Morrell’s first book in the late ’90s or early aughts.

New to me was the writings of Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz, two science journalists who have helped to shift the paradigm in nutritional studies. They accomplished this task by presenting not only detailed surveys of the research and other evidence but in further contextualizing the history of powerful figures, institutions, and organizations that shaped the modern industrial diet. I didn’t realize how far back this debate went with writings on fasting for epilepsy found in ancient texts and recommendations of a low-carb diet (apparently ketogenic) for diabetes appearing in the 1790s, along with various low-carb and animal-based diets being popularized for weight-loss and general health during the 19th century, and then the ketogenic diet was studied for epilepsy beginning in the 1920s. Yet few know this history.

Ancel Keys was one of those powerful figures who, in suppressing his critics and silencing debate, effectively advocated for the standard American diet of high-carbs, grains, fruits, vegetables, and industrial seed oils. In The Magic Pill, more recent context is given in following the South African trial of Tim Noakes. Other documentaries have covered this kind of material, often with interviews with Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz. There has been immense drama involved and, in the past, there was also much public disagreement and discussion. Only now is that returning to mainstream awareness in the corporate media, largely because social media has forced it out into the open. But what interests me is how old is the debate and often in the past much more lively.

The post-revolutionary era created a sense of crisis that, by the mid-19th century, was becoming a moral panic. The culture wars were taking shape. The difference back then was that there was much more of a sense of the connection between physical health, mental health, moral health, and societal health. As a broad understanding, health was seen as key and this was informed by the developing scientific consciousness and free speech movement. The hunger for knowledge was hard to suppress, although there were many attempts as the century went on. I tried to give a sense of this period in two massive posts, The Crisis of Identity and The Agricultural Mind. It’s hard to imagine what that must’ve been like. That scientific debate and public debate was largely shut down around the World War era, as the oppressive Cold War era took over. Why?

It is strange. The work of Taubes and Teicholz gives hint to what changed, although the original debate was much wider than diet and nutrition. The info I’ve found about the past has largely come from scholarship in other fields, such as historical and literary studies. Those older lines of thought are mostly treated as historical curiosities at this point, background info for the analysis of entirely other subjects. As for the majority of scientists, doctors and nutritionists these days, they are almost entirely ignorant of the ideologies that shaped modern thought about disease and health.

This is seen, as I point out, in how Galen’s ancient Greek theory of humors as incorporated into Medieval Christianity appears to be the direct source of the basic arguments for a plant-based diet, specifically in terms of the scapegoating of red meat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Among what I’ve come across, the one scholarly book that covers this in detail is Food and Faith in Christian Culture edited by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden. Bringing that into present times, Belinda Fettke dug up how so much of contemporary nutritional studies and dietary advice was built on the foundation of 19th-20th century vegan advocacy by the Seventh Day Adventists. I’ve never met anyone adhering to “plant-based” ideology who knows this history. Yet now it is becoming common knowledge in the low-carb world.

On the literary end of things, there is a fascinating work by Bryan Kozlowski, The Jane Austen Diet. I enjoyed reading it, in spite of never having cracked open a book by Jane Austen. Kozlowski, although no scholar, was able to dredge up much of interest about those post-revolutionary decades in British society. For one, he shows how obesity was becoming noticeable all the way back then and many were aware of the benefits of low-carb diets. He also makes clear that the ability to maintain a vegetable garden was a sign of immense wealth, not a means for putting much food on the tables of the poor — this is corroborated by Teicholz discussion of how gardening in American society, prior to modern technology and chemicals, was difficult and not dependable. More importantly, Kozlowski’s book explains what ‘sensibility’ meant back then, related to ‘nerves’ and ‘vapors’ and later on given the more scientific-sounding label of ‘neurasthenia’.

I came across another literary example of historical exegesis about health and diet, Sander L. Gilman’s Franz Kafka, the Jewish Patient. Kafka was an interesting case, as a lifelong hypochondriac who, it turns out, had good reason to be. He felt that he had inherited a weak constitution and blamed this on his psychological troubles, but more likely causes were urbanization, industrialization, and a vegetarian diet that probably also was a high-carb diet based on nutrient-depleted processed foods; and before the time when industrial foods were fortified and many nutritional supplements were available.

What was most educational, though, about the text was Gilman’s historical details on tuberculosis in European thought, specifically in relationship to Jews. To some extent, Kafka had internalized racial ideology and that is unsurprising. Eugenics was in the air and racial ideology penetrated everything, especially health in terms of racial hygiene. Even for those who weren’t eugenicists, all debate of that era was marked by the expected biases and limitations. Some theorizing was better than others and for certain not all of it was racist, but the entire debate maybe was tainted by the events that would follow. With the defeat of the Nazis, eugenics fell out of favor for obvious reasons and an entire era of debate was silenced, even many of the arguments that were opposed to or separate form eugenics. Then historical amnesia set in, as many people wanted to forget the past and instead focus on the future. That was unfortunate. The past doesn’t simply disappear but continues to haunt us.

That earlier debate was a struggle between explanations and narratives. With modernity fully taking hold, people wanted to understand what was happening to humanity and where it was heading. It was a time of contrasts which made the consequences of modernity quite stark. There were plenty of communities that were still pre-industrial, rural, and traditional, but since then most of these communities have died away. The diseases of civilization, at this point, have become increasingly normalized as living memory of anything else has disappeared. It’s not that the desire for ideological explanations has disappeared. What happened was, with the victory of WWII, a particular grand narrative came to dominate the entire Western world and there simply were no other grand narratives to compete with it. Much of the pre-war debate and even scientific knowledge, especially in Europe, was forgotten as the records of it were destroyed, weren’t translated, or lost perceived relevance.

Nonetheless, all of those old ideological conflicts were left unresolved. The concerns then are still concerns now. So many problems worried about back then are getting worse. The connections between various aspects of health have regained their old sense of urgency. The public is once again challenging authorities, questioning received truths, and seeking new meaning. The debate never ended and here we are again, and one could add that fascism also is back rearing its ugly head. It’s worrisome that the political left seems to be slow on the uptake. There are reactionary right-wingers like Jordan Peterson who are offering visions of meaning and also who have become significant figures in the dietary world, by way of the carnivore diet he and his daughter are on. T?hen there are the conspiratorial paleo-libertarians such as Tristan Haggard, another carnivore advocate.

This is far from being limited to carnivory and the low-carb community includes those across the political spectrum, but it seems to be the right-wingers who are speaking the loudest. The left-wingers who are speaking out on diet come from the confluence of veganism/vegetarianism and environmentalism, as seen with EAT-Lancet (Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet). The problem with this, besides much of this narrative being false (Carnivore is Vegan), is that it is disconnected from the past. The right-wing is speaking more to the past than is the left-wing, such as Trump’s ability to invoke and combine the Populist and Progressive rhetoric from earlier last century. The political left is struggling to keep up and is being led down ideological dead-ends.

If we want to understand our situation now, we better study carefully what was happening in centuries past. We are having the same old debates without realizing it and we very well might see them lead to the same kinds of unhappy results.

Health, Happiness, and Exercise

I’m unsurprised that 10,000 steps was a random number selected for marketing reasons. Like so much else, it never was backed by any scientific evidence. I agree that it doesn’t take that much physical activity to promote health. The basic thing is to simply not sit on your butt all day. Anything that gets you up and moving throughout the day will probably be a vast improvement over a sedentary lifestyle. By the way, I think it goes without saying (or should) that mental health is closely linked to physical health, far from being limited to exercise. It seems common sense that physical health is the causal factor. But even assuming this, what would be the exact line of causation?

Then again, this entire approach of explanation is based on an assumption. All we know is that healthier people move more than unhealthy people. But we haven’t yet proven that merely getting up and going for a walk or whatever is the direct cause in this equation. It’s possible that it’s simply part of the healthy user effect or maybe the happy user effect (just made up that last one). People seeking better health or those already feeling good from better health are going to exercise more, whether or not movement by itself is the main factor to get credit.

From personal experience, improving health (lowing weight, increasing energy, and eliminating severe depression) by way of low-carb/keto diet was a major contributing factor to feeling more motivated to push my exercise to the next level. I can exercise while in poor physical and mental health, but it’s easier to first eliminate the basic level of problems. I always feel bad when I see overweight people jogging, presumably with the hope of losing weight (exercise didn’t help me lose weight and seems of limited benefit to most people in this regard). I’d suggest starting with dietary and other lifestyle changes. Exercise is great in a healthy state, although in an unhealthy state one might end up doing more harm than good, from spraining an ankle to having a heart attack.

It’s highly context-dependent. For simplicity’s sake, diet will probably have a greater impact on mood than exercise, despite how awesome exercise can be. After feeling better, exercise will be less of a struggle and so require less force of willpower to overcome the apathy and discomfort. I’m all about going the route of what is easiest. Life is hard enough as is. There is no point in trying to punish ourselves into good health, as if we are fallen sinners requiring bodily mortification. If one is just starting out an exercise program, I’d say go easy with it. Less is better. Push yourself over time, but there is no reason to rush it. Exercise should be enjoyable. If it is causing you pain and stress, you’re doing it wrong. A stroll through the woods will do your health far more good than sprinting on a treadmill until you collapse.

Don’t worry about counting steps, in my humble opinion, as you shouldn’t worry about counting calories, carbs, ketones, or Weight Watcher points (yes, I realize Westerners are obsessed with numbers and love the feeling of counting anything and everything; who am I to deny anyone this pleasure?). It easily becomes an unhealthy moralistic mindset of constant self-control and self-denial that can undermine a natural good feeling of health and well-being. That is unless you’re dealing with a specific health protocol for a serious medical condition (e.g., keto diet for epileptic seizures) or maybe, in extreme cases, you need the structure to achieve a particular goal. I’m just saying be careful to not go overboard with the endless counting of one thing or another. If counting is helpful, great! Just maybe think of it as a transitional stage, not a permanent state of struggle.

Sometimes rules initially help people when their health has gotten so bad that they’ve lost an intuitive sense of what it feels like to do what is healthy. I get that. But regaining that intuitive, not just intuitive but visceral, sense of feeling good in one’s body should be the ultimate goal — just being healthy and happy as one’s natural birthright (I know, a crazy radical idea; I spent too much time in the positive-and-abundance-thinking of practical Christianity). Experiment for yourself (N=1) and find out works for you. If nothing else, start off with a short walk every once in a while or heck just stand up from your desk and get the blood flowing. Keep it simple. Maybe it isn’t as hard as it first seems. Don’t overthink it. Relearn that childlike sense of enjoying the world around you, immersed in the experience of your own body. Don’t just exercise. Go play. Run around a field with a child. Have a chat while walking. Simply appreciate the state of being alive.

* * *

by Amanda Mull, The Atlantic

“It turns out the original basis for this 10,000-step guideline was really a marketing strategy,” she explains. “In 1965, a Japanese company was selling pedometers and they gave it a name that, in Japanese, means the 10,000-step meter.”

Based on conversations she’s had with Japanese researchers, Lee believes that name was chosen for the product because the character for “10,000” looks sort of like a man walking. As far as she knows, the actual health merits of that number have never been validated by research. […]

“The basic finding was that at 4,400 steps per day, these women had significantly lower mortality rates compared to the least active women,” Lee explains. If they did more, their mortality rates continued to drop, until they reached about 7,500 steps, at which point the rates leveled out. Ultimately, increasing daily physical activity by as little as 2,000 steps — less than a mile of walking — was associated with positive health outcomes for the elderly women.” […]

Because her study was observational, it’s impossible to assert causality: The women could have been healthier because they stepped more, or they could have stepped more because they were already healthier. Either way, Lee says, it’s clear that regular, moderate physical activity is a key element of a healthy life, no matter what that looks like on an individual level.

“I’m not saying don’t get 10,000 steps. If you can get 10,000 steps, more power to you,” explains Lee. “But, if you’re someone who’s sedentary, even a very modest increase brings you significant health benefits.”

But since happiness can be incredibly difficult to define, I’d call these odds very interesting but not necessarily conclusive. Chen and colleagues acknowledge that more research is needed to prove whether exercise causeshappiness, or if other factors are involved. As just one example, it could be that exercise makes us healthier (which is well established by science) and being healthier is what makes us happy. […]

Not as much research has been done whether happiness is a key to motivating people to exercise. But one 2017 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine certainly suggests as much.

Over 11 years, nearly 10,000 people over age 50 were asked about their frequency and intensity of physical activity, at work and otherwise. Those with higher psychological well-being (a proxy for happiness and optimism) at the start of the study had higher levels of physical activity over the next decade. Also, those who started out happy and active were more likely to stay active.

“Results from this study suggest that higher levels of psychological well-being may precede increased physical activity,” said Julia Boehm, a researcher at Chapman University and lead author of the study.

In very preliminary results of my Happiness Survey for The Happiness Quest,regular exercise is emerging as a theme among those who self-report as being the happiest. However, the survey is self-selecting, the numbers are as-yet small, and the happiest respondents also associate strongly with other traits and habits, so at best the responses are just another possible indicator of an association between exercise and happiness, not a cause-and-effect relationship, and no indication in which direction any effect may flow. […]

I can only conclude, despite the years-on, years-off nature of my exercise routine, that exercise puts me in a good mood. And when I’m in a good mood, I tend to exercise more. In many ways, it matters little which is the cause and which is the effect. And I’ll bet it’s simply a virtuous circle (and, in those off years, a vicious spiral).

Healthy Diet Made Simple

Let me share the Cosmic Secret of Dietary Success™. It cannot fail! Money back guaranteed.

I’ve studied and experimented with various diets. And I’ve observed many others in their own experiences and results. One begins to see patterns across all dietary regimens and strategies. There is a basic consistency to what works for most people.

Here it is — the official DICE Dietary Protocol© (not in order of priority):

  1. Don’t eat fat and carbs together, limiting one or the other or both. That is to say, do a low-carb/moderate-to-high-fat diet or a low-fat/moderate-to-high-carb diet. In either case, it can be done as plant-based, animal-based, or fancy-free omnivory. In practice, this would mean, for example, eating the bread or eating the meat but not eating a sandwich with the two combined. This is the standard strategy for any health issue related to metabolic syndrome, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver. This is because lots of starchy carbs and added sugar combined with lots of fats, especially industrial seed oils (oxidized and high in omega-6 fatty acids), causes all kinds of havoc in the body. Going one way or the other will effectively improve health, at least in the short term of counteracting the accumulated harm of the Standard American Diet (SAD). Debates about what is the best long-term diet is a separate issue.
  2. If struggling, try an elimination diet in order to determine specific allergies or intolerances: wheat gluten, dairy lactose, egg whites, plant oxalates, and many other potentially problematic foods and categories of foods (such as the nightshade family and anything high in histamines). There are many versions of the elimination diet. The most conventional one is to remove from the diet everything besides rice. However, a downside to this is that a significant percentage of people have a high glycemic response to rice, which is a problem with 88% of the American population with one or more symptoms of metabolic syndrome. So, some might find using meat, instead of rice, as a better starting point (Like water fasts, meat fasts are good for health). Few people have any problems with fresh meat from ruminants. In fact, some find this so beneficial with all that ails them that they remain carnivore or else decide to use plant foods sparingly. Sure, others might instead choose to go the vegetarian or vegan route, but I’ve never heard of anyone trying an elimination diet with rice and deciding to eat nothing other than rice for the rest of their lives.
  3. Change metabolic functioning with fasting, calorie restriction, portion control, protein leveraging, hormonal hunger signaling, etc. This is one of the most powerful and effective tools, especially for fat loss and weight maintenance. Some of these methods have the added benefit of curbing appetite, cravings, and addictions while improving mood, energy, and stamina. This is specifically true with ketosis that can be achieved by numerous means, not limited to the ketogenic diet. Many diets, intentionally or unintentionally, increase ketone levels and, simply put, that makes one feel good. There are way more ketogenic and lower-carb diets than is generally acknowledged in how they are labeled or marketed (e.g., Weight Watchers’ Paleo Diet). This is a natural tendency in the dieting world because low-carb, especially ketogenic, is a powerhouse strategy. It’s not the only strategy, but it’s hard to go wrong with it. Even on higher carb diets, many people will turn to other methods that promote ketone production — the above mentioned fasting, calorie restriction, and portion control or else long periods of aerobic exercise. People intuitively seek out ketosis, whether or not they know anything about it.
  4. Exclude highly processed foods with chemical additives, refined carbs, added sugar, and seed oils. Basically, avoid junk food and fast food: candy, chips, crackers, commercial breads, pop, fruit juice, and other such crap. So, eat whole foods or else those prepared in traditional ways: lightly cooked or steamed vegetables, soaked and rinsed legumes, long-fermented breads, real sauerkraut, yogurt, raw aged cheese, homemade bone broth, naturally-cured meat, etc (ignoring minor disagreements over details, as there are always disagreements). Generally, avoid packaged foods, especially those with long lists of ingredients that you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. And when possible, cook your own meals with ingredients procured from trustworthy sources.

Some combination and variation of this set of guidelines will solve basic diet-related health concerns for almost anyone. For bonus points, eat foods that are locally produced, in season, organic, pasture-raised, wild-caught, nutrient-dense, and nutrient-bioavailable. You’re welcome!

“Now we know.”
“And Knowing is half the battle.”
“G.I. Joe!!!”

Dietary Health Across Generations

It’s common to blame individuals for the old Christian sins of sloth and gluttony. But that has never made much sense, at least not scientifically. Gary Taubes has discussed this extensively, and so look to his several books for more info about why applying Christian theology to diet, nutrition, and health is not a wise strategy for evidence-based medicine and public health policy.

Yes, Americans in particular would be wise to do something about their health in a society where 88% of the adult population has one or more symptoms of metabolic syndrome with about three-quarters being overweight and about half diabetic or prediabetic (Joana Araújo, Jianwen Cai, June Stevens. “Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016”; for more info, see The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Science Daily). Consider, these statistics are even worse for the younger generations. But let’s put this in even greater context. It’s not only that each generation is unhealthier than the last for this declining health is being inherited from before birth. There is now an obesity epidemic among 6 month old babies. I doubt anyone thinks it’s reasonable to blame babies. Should babies eat less and exercise more?

This goes back a while. European immigrants in the early 1900s noticed how American children were much chubbier than their European counterparts. By the 1950s, there was already a discussion of an obesity epidemic, as it was becoming noticeable with the younger generations. We are several generations into this modern industrialized diet of highly processed starchy carbs, added sugar, and seed oils. Much of this is caused by worsening environmental conditions, from harmful chemicals to industrial food system. The effects would begin in the womb, but the causality can actually extend across numerous generations.

This is called epigenetics, what determines which genes get expressed and how. And this epigenetic effect is magnified by the microbiome we inherit as well, since microbes help determine some of the epigenetic effect, involving short-chain fatty acids that can be obtained either through plant or animal foods (Fiber or Not: Short-Chain Fatty Acids and the Microbiome). This is important, as it is easier and more straightforward to manipulate our microbiome than our epigenetics, or at least our knowledge is more clear about the former. By changing our diet, we can change our microbiome. And by changing our microbiome, we can change our epigenetics and that of our children and grandchildren.

The dietary aspect is the most basic component, in that some diets seem to have an effect directly on the epigenome itself, however the microbiome may or may not be involved — for example, there is “recent evidence that KD [ketogenic diet] influences the epigenome through modulation of adenosine metabolism as a plausible antiepileptogenic mechanism of the diet” (Theresa A. Lusardi & Detlev Boison, Ketogenic Diet, Adenosine, Epigenetics, and Antiepileptogenesis). It’s been proven for about a century now that the ketogenic diet is the most effective treatment for epileptic seizures, but there has been much debate about why. Now we might know the reason. The mechanism appears to be epigenetic.

This is not exactly new knowledge (Health From Generation To Generation). Such cross-generational influences have been known since earlier last century, but sadly such knowledge is not epigenetically inherited by each succeeding generation. Francis M. Pottenger Jr studied the health of cats on severely malnourished and well-nourished diets — by the third generation the malnourished cats were no longer capable of breeding and so there was no fourth generation. This doesn’t perfectly translate to the present human diet, although it does make one wonder. Many of our diseases of civilization seem to be at least partly caused by malnourishment. This is a public health epidemic as national security crisis.

Here is the question that comes to mind: In this modern industrialized diet, what generation of malnourishment are we at now? And if as a society we changed public health policies and medical practice right now, how many generations would it take to reverse the trend and fully undo the damage? To end on a positive note, we could potentially turn it around within this century: “Dr. Pottenger’s research also showed that the health of the cats could be recovered if the diet were returned to a healthy one by the second generation; however, even then it took four generations for some of the cats to show no symptoms of allergies” (Carolyn Biggerstaff, Pottenger’s Cats – an early window on epigenetics).

So, what are we waiting for?

* * *

To give you some idea of how long our society has experienced declining health, check out some of my earlier posts:

Malnourished Americans
Ancient Atherosclerosis?
The Agricultural Mind

* * *

Videos, podcasts, and articles on epigenetics as related to diet, nutrition, microbiome, health, etc with some emphasis on paleo and ketogenic viewpoints:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nutriepigenomics
from Wikipedia

Changes in the diet affect epigenetics via the microbiota
from EurekAlert!

Diet and the epigenome
Yi Zhang and Tatiana G. Kutateladze

Dietary Epigenetics: New Frontiers
by Austin Perlmutter

RHR: The Latest Discoveries in Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, and Epigenetics
by Chris Kresser

Epigenetics, Methylation, and Gene Expression
by Kevin Cann

Epigenetics: Will It Change the Way We Treat Disease?
by Kissairis Munoz

Hacking Your Genes Through Epigenetics and Targeted Nutrigenomics
by Daniel Rash

The Promise of Paleo-Epigenetics
by Jennifer Raff

Dawn of Paleoepigenomics
by Zachary Cofran

37: Robb Wolf – Diets, Epigenetics, Longevity, and Going Foodless for 9 Days
by Andy Petranek

Epigenetics and the Paleo Diet
from The Paleo Diet

Paleo, Epigenetics, and Your Weight
from Paleo Leap

EP157: Improving Mental Health with Epigenetics, Diet & Exercise with Alex Swanson
from Paleo Valley

Epigenetics Warning: Are You Wrecking Your Kids’ Health?
by Louise Hendon

EPISODE 64: Epigenetics 101 with Bailey Kirkpatrick
from Phoenix Helix

Episode 90 – Dr. Lucia Aronica studies keto and epigenetics
by Brian Williamson

Can Keto Affect Your Genes?
from KetoNutrition

Energy & Epigenetics 1: The Infant Brain is Unique
by Jack Kruse

Dr. David Perlmutter: Intermittent Fasting, Epigenetics & What Sugar Really Does To Your Brain
by Abel James

Epigenetic Explanations For Why Cutting Sugar May Make You Feel Smarter
by Caitlin Aamodt

Eating Sweet, Fatty Foods During Pregnancy is Linked to ADHD in Children
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

High Fat, Low Carb Diet Might Epigenetically Open Up DNA and Improve Mental Ability
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

A Child’s Mental Fitness Could Be Epigenetically Influenced by Dad’s Diet
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

Dad’s Drinking Could Epigenetically Affect Son’s Sensitivity and Preference for Alcohol
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

B Vitamins Protect Against Harmful Epigenetic Effects of Air Pollution
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

Vitamin D Adjusts Epigenetic Marks That Could Hinder A Baby’s Health
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

Could We Use Epigenetics and Diet to Fix Binge Eating?
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

Early Epigenetic Nutrition ‘Memory’ Could Program You for Obesity Later in Life
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

The Consequences of a Poor Diet Could Epigenetically Persist Despite Improving Eating Habits
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

Epigenetic Transfer of Nutrition ‘Memory’ Ends Before Great-Grandchildren
by Bailey Kirkpatrick

How your grandparents’ life could have changed your genes
by Tim Spector

Nutrition & the Epigenome
from University of Utah

The epigenetics diet: A barrier against environmental pollution
from University of Alabama at Birmingham

How Epigenetics May Help Explain the Complexity of Autism Spectrum Disorder
from Zymo Research

Epigenetics, Health and the Mind
from PBS with John Denu

Eating for two risks harm to the baby
by Laura Donnelly and Leah Farrar

Micronutrients in Psychiatry: Sound Science or Just Hype?
by Seth J. Gillihan

Epigenetics: A New Bridge between Nutrition and Health
by Sang-Woon Choi and Simonetta Friso

Role of diet in epigenetics: a review
by Abhina Mohanan and Raji Kanakkaparambil

The science behind the Dutch Hunger Winter
from Youth Voices

Epigenetic Marks From Parents Could Influence Embryo Development and Future Health
by Tim Barry

Can Your Diet Epigenetically Shape Your Child’s Health?
by Janeth Santiago Rios

Epigenetic Insights on Nutrition, Hormones and Eating Behavior
by Janeth Santiago Rios

Paternal Environmental and Lifestyle Factors Influence Epigenetic Inheritance
by Estephany Ferrufino

How Diet Can Change Your DNA
by Renee Morad

Food that shapes you: how diet can change your epigenome
by Cristina Florean

The Unknown Link: Epigenetics, Metabolism, and Nutrition
by Nafiah Enayet

Obesity, Epigenetics, and Gene Regulation
by Jill U. Adams

Epigenetics and Epigenomics: Implications for Diabetes and Obesity
by Evan D. Rosen et al

Epigenetic switch for obesity
from Science Daily

Epigenetics between the generations: We inherit more than just genes
from Science Daily

Low paternal dietary folate alters the mouse sperm epigenome and is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes
by R. Lambrot et al

Diet-Induced Obesity in Female Mice Leads to Offspring Hyperphagia, Adiposity, Hypertension, and Insulin Resistance
by Anne-Maj Samuelsson et al

Maternal obesity increases the risk of metabolic disease and impacts renal health in offspring
by Sarah J. Glastras

Transgenerational Epigenetic Mechanisms in Adipose Tissue Development
by Simon Lecoutre et al

Your Grandma’s Diet Could Have Made You Obese, Mouse Study Suggests
by Kashmira Gandery

Your Diet Affects Your Grandchildren’s DNA, Scientists Say
by Christopher Wanjek

You Are What Your Grandparents Ate
by Maria Rodale

People who eat too much fast food could cause heart disease in their great grandchildren by Jasper Hamill

Eating Badly When Pregnant Might Make Your Kid Fat
by Zak Stone

Perinatal Western Diet Consumption Leads to Profound Plasticity and GABAergic Phenotype Changes within Hypothalamus and Reward Pathway from Birth to Sexual Maturity in Rat
by Julie Paradis et al

A Maternal “Junk Food” Diet in Pregnancy and Lactation Promotes Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Rat Offspring
by S. A. M. Bayol et al

Exposure to a Highly Caloric Palatable Diet during the Perinatal Period Affects the Expression of the Endogenous Cannabinoid System in the Brain, Liver and Adipose Tissue of Adult Rat Offspring
by María Teresa Ramírez-López et al

A maternal junk food diet alters development of opioid pathway in the offspring
from Science Daily

‘Junk food’ moms have ‘junk food’ babies
from Science Daily

Born to Be Junk Food Junkies
by Linda Wasmer Andrews

Reality check: Do babies inherit junk food addictions from their moms?
by Carmen Chai

Bad Eating Habits Start in the Womb
by Kristin Wartman

Could Over-Snacking While Pregnant Predispose Children to Be Obese?
by Natasha Geiling

Overeating in pregnancy could lead to child obesity
by John von Radowitz

Eating for two puts unborn child at risk of junk addiction
by James Randerson

Craving for junk food ‘inherited’
from BBC

Craving for junk food ‘begins in the womb’
by Fran Yeoman

Hooked on junk food in the womb
by Fiona MacRae

How pregnant mums who ‘eat for 2’ can make their babies fat
by Victoria Fletcher

 

A Fun Experiment

I’ve written a lot about diet lately, but let me get personal about it. I’ve had lifelong issues with diet, not that I thought about it that way when younger. I ate a crappy diet and it was the only diet I knew, as everyone else around me was likewise eating the same basic crappy diet. Even my childhood sugar addiction didn’t stand out as all that unique. Though I didn’t know it at the time, looking back at it now, I’m sure an unhealthy diet with nutrient-deficiencies and food additives (maybe along with environmental toxins or other external factors) was likely contributing factors to my learning disability and word finding difficulties (WFD) — see previous posts: Aspergers and Chunking; and Specific Language Impairment. As early as elementary school, there were also signs of what would later be diagnosed as depression. I knew something was wrong with me, but felt at a loss in that there was no way to explain it. I was just broken, inferior and inadequate. I didn’t even understand that I was depressed during my youth, although my high school art teacher once asked me if I was depressed and, in my ignorance, I said I wasn’t. Being depressed was all I knew and so it just felt normal.

I didn’t have the insight to connect my neurocognitive and psychological struggles to physical health. The crappiness of my diet only became apparent to me in adulthood, although I’m not sure when I started thinking about it. I grew up in churches where people were more health-conscious and my mother tried to do what she thought was healthy, even as good info was lacking back then. Still, a basic mentality of healthfulness was instilled in me, not that it initially did me much good. It took a while for it to lead to anything more concrete than doing what was the height of “healthy eating” in those day, which was skim milk poured over bran cereal and an occasional salad with low-fat dressing. That simply would’ve made my depression and learning disabilities worse as it surely was fucking up my neurocognition precisely as my brain was developing, but mainstream advice asserted that this USDA-approved way of eating would cure all that ails you. Fat was the enemy and fiber was a health tonic. Few at the time realized that fat-soluble vitamins were key to health nor that a high-fiber diet can block nutrient absorption.

Everything fell apart after high school. I despised life and wanted to escape the world. I dropped out of college and seriously considered becoming a hermit, but the prospect was too lonely and after moving out to Arizona I felt homesick. Then in going back to college, I attempted suicide. I failed at that as well and earned myself a vacation in a psychiatric ward. I was bad off, but having been raised in New Thought Christianity I was always looking for answers in self-help books and similar things. It would’ve been maybe in my early to mid 20s when I first read books that were explicitly about diet, nutrition, and health. I do recall, for instance, a book I picked up on low-carb diets and it wasn’t about the Atkins diet — it might have been an old copy of Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s Not By Bread Alone or it could have been something else entirely. Around that time, there was a minor incident that comes to mind. I told my friend that fast food was unhealthy and he didn’t believe me. It sounds odd now, but this was back in the 1990s. His mother was a nurse and regularly bought him fast food as a child. So how could it be bad? Many people at the time didn’t have much sense of what made food healthy or not, but obviously something had got me thinking about it. I knew that some foods were not healthy, even as what a healthy diet should look like was a bit hazy in my mind, beyond the nostrum of eating more fruits and veggies.

I lacked knowledge and there weren’t many sources of knowledge prior to my getting internet. Still, based on what limited info I could glean, I did start experimenting during that period. I began trying supplements to deal with my depression with the related low energy and low motivation, as therapy and medications had failed to put a dent in it. Around 1998, four years after graduating high school and a couple years after the suicide attempt, I tried vegetarianism for a time, maybe for a year or so, but it mainly involved eating as a regular meal a mix of Ramen noodles, eggs, and frozen vegetables cooked in the microwave — it was a poverty diet as I was living in poverty. I probably also was eating plenty of junk food as well, considering most cheap processed foods are vegetarian. Avoiding meat certainly doesn’t guarantee health — it didn’t fill me with joy and vitality. A bit later on I did finally try a low-carb diet, but it mainly consisted of eating processed meat because I was too depressed to cook. Even then, I might not have been getting many fat-soluble vitamins, as I didn’t understand nutrient-density. I wasn’t procuring pasture-raised meat, much less emphasizing organ meats, bone broth, wild-caught fish, etc.

My experiments weren’t well-informed and so weren’t done under optimal conditions. There was no one around to offer me guidance and so it didn’t work out all that well. I don’t give up easy, though. I went looking for guidance from dozens of psychiatrists, therapists, energy healers, body workers, and even a shaman. In my desperation, I’d try anything. Then I went to massage school where I learned Shiatsu massage and traditional Chinese theory, along with some other modalities. Even that didn’t change anything. My massage teachers were alternative health practitioners, one being a naturopath, but it seemed like no one understood what was wrong with me and so nothing could make a difference. My depression was an incomprehensible mystery. Rather than something being wrong with me, I was the problem in being inherently defective, so it seemed in my lingering dark mood.

The only thing that made much of a difference was exercise. I found that I could keep the worst symptoms of depression at bay through jogging, if only temporarily. At some point, I learned to jog before eating anything in the morning and I found that my hunger and cravings were less for the rest of the day. I had accidentally discovered ketosis and didn’t know what it was. It didn’t make sense that physical exertion minus food would lead to such results — rather counterintuitive. I was also occasionally fasting around then which also would’ve contributed to ketosis. That isn’t to say ketosis while in nutrient deficiency is a good thing. I’d have been better off in having avoided ketosis entirely and, instead, having filled up on nutrient-dense fatty animal foods. I needed healing and only high dosage of nutrition was going to accomplish that. I had been too malnourished for far too long at that point. Ketosis would’ve been great after a period of deep nourishment, but I didn’t understand either the significance of key nutrients nor how to implement ketosis in a more beneficial way.

At some point, I read Sally Fallon Morrell’s Nourishing Traditions (1995) where I was introduced to nutrient-density and fat-soluble viatmins along with traditional food preparation, but I was too depressed and too isolated to fully and successfully implement what I was learning. Depression is a real kick in the ass. Still, I was slowly accruing basic knowledge and making small changes when and where I felt able. I was limiting some of the worst problematic foods. In particular, I began cutting back on junk food, especially candy. And I replaced sugar with such things as stevia. Simultaneously, I increased healthier foods like probiotics and Ezekiel bread, although I’m not sure that the latter really is all that healthy (it has vital gluten added to it and it mostly starchy carbs). I tried to limit my sugar intake to foods that were relatively better, such as yogurt and kefir. I still was experimenting a bit with supplements, but wasn’t getting any clear results. My depression persisted and I see now that, even with these changes, I continued to lack nutrient-density. It just wasn’t clicking together for me. Maybe my depression had moderated ever so slightly, to the degree that I was a functional depressive and not in the total gloom and doom of my late teens to early twenties. I figured that was as good as it was going to get. I had survived that far and figured I’d be depressed for the rest of my life. Let me put this in perspective. This slightly lessened depression was, nonetheless, chronic and severe. For example, suicidal ideation persisted — maybe more as a background noise to my thoughts, but there, always there. I had this suspicion that eventually depression would catch up with me and then that would be the end of me. Suicide remained a real possibility in my mind, a persistent thought. It was hard for me imagine myself surviving into old age.

I carried on like this. I managed my life at a bare minimal level. I held down a job, I sort of kept my apartment clean, I fed my cats and sometimes changed their litter, and I more or less paid my bills on time. But depression had kept me working minimal hours and barely staying above poverty. There wasn’t only the depression for, over the decades, a crippling sense of shame had accumulated. I felt worthless, a failure. I wasn’t taking care of myself or at least wasn’t doing it well. Everything felt like a struggle while nothing I did seemed to make a difference. It was shitty and I knew life was just going to get worse as I aged and thinking about that made me feel more hopeless. To add to that general anxiety and despair, as I drifted through my thirties, I began gaining weight. I had always thought of myself as athletic. I played soccer from 1st grade to 11th grade and was always slim and trim, although I remember at one point after high school having been so inactive for a number of years that I felt winded just by walking up a hill — that was a strange experience for me because I had never been out of shape before that time. That was why I came to focus so much on exercise. Yet with age, mere exercise wouldn’t stop the weight gain, much less help with weight loss… nor any of the other symptoms of declining health. I was jogging multiple times a week for long periods, sometimes while wearing a heavy backpack as I hoofed it out to my parent’s place on the far edge of town. Still, the excess fat remained. That was rather dispiriting. Yet from a conventional viewpoint, my diet was balanced and my lifestyle was generally healthy, at least by American standards. I was doing everything right, as I understood it. Just the expected results of aging, most doctors would likely have told me.

I realize now that insulin resistance probably had set in quite a while back. I was probably prediabetic at that point, maybe even in the early stages of diabetes (I sweated a lot, in the way my grandmother did before her diabetes was managed with insulin shots). I know that I no longer handled sugar well, which helped keep my sugar addiction in check. About a decade ago, my friend and I visited a nearby donut shop and I got several fine specimens. Upon eating them, I felt sick with a slight headache. No more donuts for me. Sugar or not, my diet was still fairly high-carb, but I wasn’t yet fully aware of how starches and sugars sneak into everything. Then last year I randomly came across the paleo documentary The Magic Pill and watched it without any expectation. I suppose it was just basic curiosity, as is my habit. Something about it resonated with me. I showed it to my parents and they too found it inspiring. So, we all set about changing our diets — having mutual support from family was surely an important factor for motivation. The diet portrayed is standard paleo with a combination of low-carb and nutrient-density. What made the documentary compelling was how a wide variety of people were followed as they tried the paleo diet: a woman living alone with various health problems, a family with a young daughter with severe autism, and an Australian Aboriginal community that had lost their traditional way of life. It demonstrated the significant changes that could occur through diet. The transformation of the autistic girl was particularly impressive. The entire documentary was motivational. After that, I looked for some other documentaries to watch with my parents: The Perfect Human Diet, Carb Loaded, etc. Learning more reinforced this new view and brought together all that I had learned over the decades. I finally had a broader framework of understanding.

It was this low-carb paleo diet that was the starting point for me, although my mother never was quite on board with it. After looking online, she was drawn to the FODMAP diet in hoping it could help with her gut issues, specifically GERD and belching, but also osteoporosis (and indeed it did seem to work for her, as her former high-fiber diet apparently was the source of her problems), although her diet had some overlap with paleo. Going into my typical obsessive-compulsive mode, I gathered dozens of books on the subject, voraciously took in all the info I could find online, and began following various people on social media. I quickly figured out the basics and what was most essential while determining the points of disagreement and uncertainty. What I liked about the paleo and low-carb community was the attitude of curiosity, of exploration and experimentation. Try something and see what happens. And if it doesn’t work, try something else. There was no failure, a much more positive attitude about health. Within three months of implementing the paleo diet, I had lost 60 pounds of fat and I did it without starving myself. I simply figured out how to tap into the body’s natural mechanisms for fat-burning and hunger signalling. As I switched from general low-carb to ketogenic, my experience improved even further. It finally dawned on me that my depression had gone away, simply and utterly disappeared, decades of depression along with a lifetime of sugar addiction no longer an issue. I didn’t need to struggle against it. I wasn’t even trying to cure my depression, not that I realized this even was a possibility. It was a complete surprise.

It’s been a little over a year now. I’m still coming to terms with this new state of being. It’s strange. Depression had become part of my identity, as had sugar addiction and the roller coaster hangriness of insulin resistance. I now simply wake up in the morning feeling perfectly fine. It’s not that I go around feeling ecstatic, but the extreme low moods and funks no longer happen. I feel more balanced and relaxed. I used to fall into long periods of apathy and despair where all I could do was isolate myself until it passed, sometimes requiring days or weeks before I could rejoin humanity. How I functioned at all in such a state is kind of amazing, but not nearly as amazing as the miracle of its drama-free disappearance. Depression was there and then it wasn’t. I didn’t really notice it going away, until after it was gone. This leaves me in a strange position, as the decades of depressive thought and behavioral patterns remain. It’s hard for me to know how to not be a depressed person. I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. I don’t remember the last time I had any suicidal tendencies or fantasies. Yet the decades of damage to my body also remains as a reminder.

That hasn’t stopped me from getting back in shape and beyond. In fact, I’m in better shape now as I move toward middle age than ever before in my life. It’s not simply that I’ve been working out but that I enjoy working out. It feels good to me and I enjoy doing physical activity, pushing myself to the point of exhaustion. Unsurprisingly, I’m looking better. People notice and tell me. This sometimes makes me uncomfortable, as I’m not used to getting compliments. Just today I went to a picnic with a large crowd, some people I knew and some I didn’t. I met a friendly young woman and she was obviously flirting with me as we talked. It was a nice day and, having been out in a kayak, I had my shirt off. She told me that I looked “gorgeous” — the exact word she chose.* I’ll be blunt about this. No one has ever said anything like that to me in my entire life. I had never been a buff guy before and now I actually have muscles. It changes how I carry myself, how I feel.

It makes me realize why some fat people, after losing a bunch of weight, will sometimes gain their weight back just to feel normal again. The person I am now is not the person I’ve known myself for as long as I can remember. And I don’t know what to do with people relating to me differently. I’m sure people treat me differently not only because I look different but probably because I’m putting off a different vibe. I’m less sullen and dissociated than I used to be. An easygoing friendliness comes more naturally to me now. I don’t feel so crappy in no longer being on a crappy diet, but I’m not sure what it might mean to be healthy and happy. That is an odd concept to my mind. What if I could really be different? I take this seriously. In the past, I didn’t feel capable of being different, but all of that has changed. I don’t feel so irritable, frustrated, and angry. In place of that, I find myself wanting to be kinder and more forgiving. I want to be a good person. I realize that, in the past, how I could be an asshole and I was often open in admitting this basic fact of my former state, sometimes apologizing for my antagonistic moods. My life didn’t always feel like a net gain for the world and I’m sure some people might have agreed with that assessment. I could be harshly critical at times and that doesn’t make others feel better — I seriously harmed a number of relationships.

Now here I am. It’s a bit late in my life, but I have a second chance to try to do things differently. It will take some further experimentation beyond diet to find better ways of relating to others and to myself. That said, I’ll go on tinkering with my diet and lifestyle. It’s an ongoing experiment, all of it. Most importantly, it’s a fun experiment. The idea that I can try various things and discover what works is new to me. I’m more used to failure, but now I’m starting to see ‘failure’ as simply part of the experiment. There is no failure. Life doesn’t have to be hard. And I’m realizing that I’m not alone in this, as I’ve come across hundreds of stories just like mine. Sometimes simple changes can have profound effects.


* I must admit that it was a disconcerting experience. A young beautiful woman telling me in no uncertain words that I’m attractive. That is not the kind of thing I’ve grown accustomed to. I handled the situation as well as I could. It was kind of an amusing scenario. She was with her family. Along with her parents, she was visiting from Tunisia in order to see her sister who now works at the local university.

So, this young woman wasn’t going to be around long. Developing a romantic relationship didn’t seem to be in the cards, even if I had wanted it, but I feel ambivalent about romantic relationships these days. I’ve become comfortable in my bachelorhood with its lack of complications. Even so, I played along with the flirtation. As I sat near her with her family at the picnic table, she kept wanting to feed me. And how I could I decline food offered by a beautiful woman, even when she offered me carbs. That is my new plan for carb cycling — I’ll eat carbs every time a beautiful woman feeds them directly to me.

Anyway, combined with introversion and shyness, the lifetime of depression has made me reticent. I’m not confident around the opposite sex, but I’ve had long years of training in hiding any anxieties. Still, I didn’t know what purpose there was in flirting with this nice-looking person who would soon be gone. She said she might be back to visit again in a few years and that seems like a long time when you just met someone. I convinced myself there was no point and didn’t give her my contact info or ask for hers. But now I feel some regret.

I was acting according to my old self, the one who was ruled by his depression. Maybe it was irrelevant that I might not see her again. I should have left the door open for the possibility. These are the kinds of habits I need to learn.

“For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Quaeda.”

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow
by Yuval Noah Harari

  • “Poverty certainly causes many other health problems, and malnutrition shortens life expectancy even in the richest countries on earth. In France, for example, 6 million people (about 10 percent of the population) suffer from nutritional insecurity. They wake up in the morning not knowing whether they will have anything to eat for lunch: they often go to sleep hungry; and the nutrition they do obtain is unbalanced and unhealthy — lots of starches, sugar and salt, and not enough protein and vitamins. Yet nutritional insecurity isn’t famine, and France of the early twenty-first century isn’t France of 1694. Even in the worst slums around Beauvais or Paris, people don’t die because they have not eaten for weeks on end.”
  • “Indeed, in most countries today overeating has become a far worse problem than famine. In the eighteenth century Marie Antoinette allegedly advised the starving masses that if they ran out of bread, they should just eat cake instead. Today, the poor are following this advice to the letter. Whereas the rich residents of Beverly Hills eat lettuce salad and steamed tofu with quinoa, in the slums and ghettos the poor gorge on Twinkie cakes, Cheetos, hamburgers and pizza. In 2014 more than 2.1 billion people were overweight compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition. Half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030. In 2010 famine and malnutrition combined killed about 1 million people, whereas obesity killed 3 million.”
  • “During the second half of the twentieth century this Law of the Jungle has finally been broken, if not rescinded. In most areas wars became rarer than ever. Whereas in ancient agricultural societies human violence caused about 15 per cent of all deaths, during the twentieth century violence caused only 5 per cent of deaths, and in the early twenty-first century it is responsible for about 1 per cent of global mortality. In 2012, 620,000 people died in the world due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.”
  • “What about terrorism, then? Even if central governments and powerful states have learned restraint, terrorists might have no such qualms about using new and destructive weapons. That is certainly a worrying possibility. However, terrorism is a strategy of weakness adopted by those who lack access to real power. At least in the past, terrorism worked by spreading fear rather than by causing significant material damage. Terrorists usually don’t have the strength to defeat an army, occupy a country or destroy entire cities. In 2010 obesity and related illnesses killed about 3 million people, terrorists killed a total of 7697 people across the globe, most of them in developing countries. For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Quaeda.”

Harari’s basic argument is compelling. The kinds of violence and death we experience now is far different. The whole reason I wrote this post is because of a few key points that stood out to me: “Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.” And: “For the average American or European, Coca-Cola poses a far deadlier threat than al-Quaeda.” As those quotes make clear, our first world problems are of a different magnitude. But I would push back against his argument, as for much of the rest of the world, in his making the same mistake as Steven Pinker by ignoring slow violence (so pervasive and systemic as to go unnoticed and uncounted, unacknowledged and unreported, often intentionally hidden). Parts of the United States also are in third world conditions. So, it isn’t simply a problem of nutritional excess from a wealthy economy. That wealth isn’t spread evenly, much less the nutrient-dense healthy foods or the healthcare. Likewise, the violence oppression falls harder upon some than others. Those like Harari and Pinker can go through their entire lives seeing very little of it.

Since World War Two, there have been thousands of acts of mass violence: wars and proxy wars, invasions and occupations, bombings and drone strikes; covert operations in promoting toppled governments, paramilitaries, and terrorists; civil wars, revolutions, famines, droughts, refugee crises, and genocides; et cetera. Most of these events of mass violence were directly or indirectly caused by the global superpowers, besides through military aggression and such, in their destabilizing regions, exploiting third world countries, stealing wealth and resources, enforcing sanctions on food and medicine, economic manipulations, debt entrapment, artificially creating poverty, and being the main contributors to environmental destruction and climate change. One way or another, these institutionalized and globalized forms of injustice and oppression might be the combined largest cause of death, possibly a larger number than in any society seen before. Yet they are rationalized away as ‘natural’ deaths, just people dying.

Over the past three-quarters of a century, probably billions of people in world have been killed, maimed, imprisoned, tortured, starved, orphaned, and had their lives cut short. Some of this was blatant violent actions and the rest was slow violence. But it was all intentional, as part of the wealthy and powerful seeking to maintain their wealth and power and gain even more. There is little justification for all this violence. Even the War on Terror involved cynical plans for attacking countries like Iraq that had preceded the terrorist attacks themselves. The Bush cronies, long before the 2000 presidential election, had it written down on paper that they were looking for an excuse to take Saddam Hussein out of power. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq killed millions of people, around 5% or so of the population (the equivalent would be if a foreign power killed a bit less than 20 million Americans). The used uranium weapons spread across the landscape will add millions of more deaths over the decades — slow, torturous, and horrific deaths, many of them children. Multiply that by the hundreds of other similar US actions, and then multiply that by the number of other countries that have committed similar crimes against humanity.

Have we really become less violent? Or has violence simply taken new forms? Maybe we should wait until after the coming World War Three before declaring a new era of peace, love, and understanding. Numerous other historical periods had a few generations without war and such. That is not all that impressive. The last two world wars are still in living memory and hence living trauma. Let’s give it some time before we start singing the praises and glory of our wonderful advancement as a civilization guided by our techno-utopian fantasies of Whiggish liberalism. But let’s also not so easily dismiss the tremendous suffering and costs from the diseases of civilization that worsen with each generation; not only obesity, diabetes, heart disease but also autoimmune conditions, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, mood disorders, ADHD, autism, and on and on — besides diet and nutrition, much of it caused by chemical exposure from factory pollution, oil spills, ocean dumping, industrial farming, food additives, packaging, and environmental toxins. And we must not forget the role that governments have played in pushing harmful dietary recommendations of low-fat and high-carb that, in being spread worldwide by the wealth and power and influence of the United States, has surely harmed at least hundreds of millions over the past several generations.

The fact that sugar is more dangerous than gun powder, Coca-Cola more dangerous than al-Queda… This is not a reason to stop worrying about mass violence and direct violence. Rather than as a percentage, the total number of violent deaths is still going up, just as there are more slaves now than at the height of slavery prior to the American Civil War. Talking about percentages of certain deaths while excluding other deaths is sleight of hand rhetoric. That misses an even bigger point. The corporate plutocracy that now rules our neo-fascist society of inverted totalitarianism poses the greatest threat of our age. That is not an exaggeration. It is simply what the data shows us to be true, as Harari unintentionally reveals. Privatized profit comes at a public price, a price we can’t afford. Even ignoring the greater externalized costs of environmental harm from corporations (and the general degradation of society from worsening inequality), the increasing costs of healthcare because of diseases caused by highly-profitable and highly-processed foods that are scientifically-designed to be palatable and addictive (along with the systematic dismantling of traditional food systems) could bankrupt many countries in the near future and cripple their populations in the process. World War Three might turn out to be the least of our worries. Just because most of the costs have been externalized on the poor and delayed to future generations doesn’t mean they aren’t real. It will take a while to get the full death count.

 

Amish Paradox

The Amish are another example of a dietary ‘paradox’ that only seems paradoxical because of dietary confusion in nutrition science and official guidelines. When we look closely at what people actually eat, many populations that are the healthiest have diets that supposedly aren’t healthy, such as lots of meat and animal fat. There are so many exceptions that they look more like the rule (Blue Zones Dietary Myth).

Besides a few genetic disorders, the Amish are a healthy population (Wikipedia, Health among the Amish). They have low incidence of allergies, asthma, etc. Some of that could be partly explained through the hygiene hypothesis (Sara G. Miller, Why Amish Kids Get Less Asthma: It’s the Cows). Amish children are exposed to more variety of animals, plants, and microbes that help to develop and strengthen their immune systems. This exposure theory has been proposed for centuries, as it was easily observable in comparing rural and urban populations. Raw milk might be an additional protective factor (Kerry Grens, Amish farm kids remarkably immune to allergies: study). Whatever the cause, the Amish are healthier than even comparable populations such as North Dakota Hutterites and Swiss farmers.

This health advantage begins young. They have low rates of Cesarean sections and few birth complications (Fox News, Amish offers clues to lowering US C-section rate). Despite lack of prenatal care, their infant mortality rate is about the same as the general population. Vaginal births, by the way, are known to contribute to positive health outcomes. On top of that, Amish mothers do extended breasteeding and that breast milk certainly is nutritious, considering diet of Amish mother’s is nutrient-dense. This early good health then extends into old age (Jeffrey Kluger, Amish People Stay Healthy in Old Age. Here’s Their Secret). They have lower rates of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia (Jimmy Holder & Andrew C. Warren, Prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease and Apolipoprotein E Allele Frequencies in the Old Order Amish). This might relate to lower rates of environmental toxins, food additives, etc, although it surely involves more than that. Considering their low incidence of allergy and asthma, that indicates there would be less inflammation and autoimmune conditions. And that would offer neurocognitive protection against mental illness (Eric Haseltine, Amish Asthma Rates Offer Clues to Preventing Mental Illness). Related to this, suicide is far less common (Donald B. Kraybill et al, Suicide Patterns in a Religious Subculture, the Old Order Amish).

Another intriguing example of health is that the Amish get fewer cavities, even as they eat a fair amount of sugar while few floss or brush regularly (Jan Ziegler, Amish People Avoid Cavities Despite Poor Dental Habits). Weston A. Price already figured that one out. Most traditional people don’t have dental care and, nonetheless, having healthy teeth. It’s because of the fat-soluble vitamins that are necessary for maintaining tooth enamel and promoting remineralization. The dessert foods certainly don’t help the Amish, that is for sure. Still, though hunter-gatherers, for example, eating more sugary foods (honey, tropical fruit, etc) show worse dental health, they don’t have as many cavities as seen among high-carb modern Westerners. High nutrition can only go so far, but it sure does help.

Along with far less obesity and diabetes, the low cardiovascular disease also stands out because the Amish do have high cholesterol, but recent research shows that mainstream understanding is wrong, as cholesterol is one of the most important factors of health (Robert DuBroff, A Reappraisal of the Lipid Hypothesis; & Anahad O’Connor, Supplements and Diets for Heart Health Show Limited Proof of Benefit). Yet because their cholesterol is high, mainstream doctors and officials are trying to get the Amish on statins (Cindy Stauffer, Why are Amish more at risk of having high cholesterol?). It is sheer idiocy. Cholesterol is not the cause of cardiovascular disease and, as most current studies demonstrate, statins don’t decrease overall mortality. In fact, reducing cholesterol can be severely harmful, such as causing neurocognitive problems since the brain is dependent on cholesterol. For cardiovascular health, what we need to be looking for is inflammation markers, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, along with overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids and deficiencies in the fat-soluble vitamins.

Cancer rates among the Amish further demonstrate how mainstream advice has failed us. In one study, researchers “found that Amish dietary patterns do not meet most of the diet and cancer prevention guidelines published by American Institute for Cancer Research and others (9). Most cancer prevention guidelines emphasize minimizing calorically dense foods, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings per day), avoiding salt-preserved foods, and limiting alcohol consumption. With the exception of limiting alcohol intake, our data suggest that the Amish do not meet these guidelines” (Gebra B. Cuyun Carter et al, Dietary Intake, Food Processing, and Cooking Methods Among Amish and Non-Amish Adults Living in Ohio Appalachia: Relevance to Nutritional Risk Factors for Cancer). Yet the researchers couldn’t believe their own evidence and still concluded that the Amish “could benefit from dietary changes.”

It didn’t occur to the researchers that the cancer prevention guidelines could be wrong, instead of the traditional foods that humans have been eating for hundreds of thousands of years. Not only do the Amish have few processed foods and hence not as much propionate, glutamate, etc (The Agricultural Mind) but also they have an emphasis on animal foods (Food in Every Country, United States Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch). Traditionally for the Amish, animal foods were the center of their diet. They typically eat meat with every meal and eggs year round, they are known for their quality raw milk and cheese (full fat), and even the carbs they eat are cooked in lard or some other animal fat. Interestingly, the Amish eat fewer vegetables than the non-Amish. Maybe they are healthy because of this, rather than in spite of it.

The Amish have much higher energy intake and 4.3% higher saturated fat intake. Because they eat mostly what they grow in gardens and on pasture, they would be getting much more nutrient-dense foods, including omega-3s and fat-soluble vitamins. Interestingly, they have nothing against GMOs and pesticides (Andrew Porterfield, Amish use GMOs, pesticides yet cancer rates remain very low), but there simple living probably would still keep their toxin exposure low. Even though they like their pies and such, their diet overall is low in starchy carbs and sugar, and the pie crusts would be cooked with lard from pasture-raised animals with its fat-soluble vitamins. Plus, I suspect they are more likely to be eating fruits and vegetables that comes from traditional cultivars that fewer people have problems with.

Also, because refrigerators and freezers are rare, their food preparation and storage is likewise traditional: slow-rising of breads, long-soaking of beans, and cooking of garden plants fresh from the garden; canning, pickling, and fermenting; et cetera. Look at Weston A. Price’s work from the early 1900s (Malnourished Americans; & Health From Generation To Generation). He found that populations following traditional diets, including rural Europeans, were far healthier and had low rates of infectious diseases, despite lack of healthcare and, of course, lack of vaccinations. Among the Amish, there may be some infectious diseases that could be prevented if there was a more consistent practice of vaccination (Melissa Jenco, Study: Low vaccination rate in Amish children linked to hospitalization), although exposure to outsiders might be the greatest infectious risk. The research on vaccinations overall is mixed and the conclusions not always clear (Dr. Kendrick On Vaccines). Even if their mortalities from infectious diseases might be higher, as is the case with hunter-gatherers, their health otherwise is far greater. When infectious deaths along with accidental deaths are controlled for, hunter-gatherers live about the same age as modern Westerners. The same is probably true of the Amish.

It’s hard to compare the Amish with other Blue Zones because places like Okinawa and Sardiniania don’t have the same kind of isolated farming communities. The Blue Zones are different from each other in many ways, but for our purposes here their shared feature is how so many of them are dietary paradoxes in contradicting conventional thought and official guidelines. They do so many things that are claimed to be unhealthy and yet their health is far above average. Once we let go of false dietary beliefs, the paradox disappears.