Evolution vs. modern culture
The human species is uniquely adapted to flourish within the environmental and social milieu we have inhabited for millennia. Evolutionary adaptation is a slow process, with the last one hundred years being an insignificant blink of an eye. Yet within this time period, our environment, culture and lifestyle have experienced unprecedented changes… while our genes have not.
This mismatch between our genes and our modern life is the root of stress and disease. Our bodies are simply not equipped to handle our fast paced modern lifestyles, processed foods, sedentary habits, and the pollution of our air, water and food:
Our nervous system cannot distinguish the threat of a tiger from the panic of running late for a business meeting. This essential survival response was not designed to be left on for hours every day.
Due to modern agricultural methods, the nutrient content of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy has declined dramatically over the last fifty years. Additionally, processed foods, which make up the bulk of the American diet, contain unhealthy amounts of sugars, starches, hydrogenated fats, and preservatives. Because our body is designed to store all excess calories as fat for the long, hard, cold winter (which never arrives in our climate controlled homes) we are a population which is both malnourished and overweight.
In contrast to the active life of our ancestors, our work and leisure activities are primarily sedentary,with a consequent loss of strength, bone mass,cardiovascular health, and the "feel good" chemicals which support a healthy mood.
Our food system is largely dependent on pesticides, many of which are known or suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins, risking the health of farm workers, contaminating nearby waterways, and leaving harmful residues on our food. In addition, we are exposed to chemicals and heavy metals in common household products, plastics, and industrial pollution. Many of these chemicals accumulate in our bodies and are passed down to future generations.
Our bodies have highly sophisticated mechanisms to deal with short term psychological and physical adversity, but with the constant stresses and toxins of modern life, these mechanisms are consistently overtaxed. We are accumulating toxins faster than we can process them, and because our nervous systems are consistently on high alert (fight or flight), our body prioritizes short term survival over long term repair and healing.
Lifestyle & environment
The result of our ancient human genetics colliding with the reality of the modern world has been a widespread increase in stress, inflammation, and chronic disease which we rarely question, instead viewing this as an unpleasant, but almost expected facet of our human experience. In fact, these conditions are referred to as "diseases of civilization".
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, six out of every ten American adults have a chronic condition, such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, etc. Forty percent have two or more! Despite our acceptance of this unfortunate reality, it is quite well established that the majority of today’s chronic diseases are not in fact an inevitability, but are instead attributed to lifestyle and environmental factors.
This is great reason for hope! Within the constraints of our individual circumstances, we each wield tremendous power to choose healthier options, actions, and mindsets which dramatically impact our health!
My philosophy is that the path to health is to mimic, as best as possible with the options available to us, the conditions in which our species evolved to thrive. When we apply principles from ancestral wisdom, evolutionary biology, and common sense to re-align ourselves with Nature, we awaken our body's innate ability to heal.
This doesn't mean that to re-claim your health you have to quit your job, learn to hunt and forage, and sleep under the stars! It just means listening to your body, factoring in your personal needs, resources and abilities, and then choosing among the available options those which most closely resemble the choices of our predecessors.
The Pillars of Health
The lifestyle strategies for health include optimizing food, sleep, and movement, relaxing the nervous system, cultivating positive mindset and habits, reconnecting with nature, reducing exposure to toxins, increasing social support, and harnessing the tremendous power of the mind to heal the body. I call these strategies the Pillars of Health, and you can read more about them here.
When I view each of these overall strategies through the lens of ancestral wisdom and evolutionary biology, I am guided to the specific actions we can take to restore health. I can easily see, for example, that fresh, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods make sense. I can see that we were designed by nature to move our bodies. I see that we evolved within an environment rich with natural light, and fresh clean air.
Heal ourselves and the planet...
There is an urgency to this work of healing ourselves, because our health and the health of the planet are inextricably intertwined. Re-aligning with Nature is not a platitude, it is a necessity. A s environmental activist Joanna Macy says, "the earth is our larger body." To heal ourselves, we must heal the planet, and to heal the planet, we must heal ourselves and each other, and honor our interdependence with all life.
Questions? Let's talk!
The principles are universal, but everyone is unique. We all come with different strengths and challenges. I can help you find and implement the strategies that will give you the most leverage on your healing journey.
1. Thomas, D.E. (2012, April 1). A study on the mineral depletion of the foods available to us as a nation over the period 1940 to 1999. Nutritional Health, 17(2), 85-115, https://doi.org/10.1177%2F026010600301700201 Accessed April 2021.
2. Two studies conducted by the Environmental Working Group of newborn babies found an average of 200 different chemicals in their umbilical cord blood: (2004) https://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns, and (2009) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/newborn-babies-chemicals-exposure-bpa/ Accessed April 2021.
3. United States Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htm Accessed April 2021.
4. The Collaborative on Health and the Environment, www.healthandenvironment.org Accessed April 2021.