Saturday, 17 November 2018

How to Achieve Better Health

Few, if any, people in contemporary industrialized societies are truly healthy. If you ask a dozen people on the street to answer honestly about their current health condition, the majority will probably tell you that they are struggling with one or more chronic health problems, whether it’s lower back pain, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, acne vulgaris, fatigue, overweight, or disorders that are generally considered more serious, such as type-2 diabetes, breast cancer, or cardiovascular disease. Some may say that they’ve tried what feels like every diet, drug, and supplement under the sun in an attempt to overcome their problems – but with little to no success.
A common belief is that the so-called diseases of civilization that plague us in the modern world emerge because the human body is inherently flawed, and that to find solutions to these problems, we have to look at each disorder individually, establish which pathways, receptors, and hormones that are involved. and develop drugs, supplements, and other similar therapies. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take evolutionary theory and ancestral health principles into account – and it typically fails at addressing the underlying causes of the diseases.

As opposed to modern medical research and practice, which largely focuses on the molecular and physiological mechanisms underlying health and disease, the goal of Darwinian medicine is to understand why people get sick, not simply how they get sick. When we look at human health through the lens of evolution it quickly becomes clear that many, if not most, of the chronic diseases that plague us in contemporary, Western societies don’t appear because there is something inherently flawed with the human body, but because there has been inadequate time and selection pressure for natural selection to sculpt the human body into one that is well adapted to our modern environment.

In the modern, industrialized world most of us subject our bodies to stimuli that fall in the category of being too much, too little, or too new, and as a result, mismatch diseases present themselves.

When we realise that the so-called diseases of civilization are a manifestation of an evolutionary mismatch, we immediately get a better understanding of what it takes to combat these conditions. The first priority is to resolve the conflict between our environment and our ancient genome (1, 2). Here are 8 lifestyle changes that can help you do just that…
1. Eat more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables

salad-daysThis is standard advice within the world of nutrition, but sadly, a lot of people fail to realise how important it is.

In my recent article on the topic I talked about how consumption of fermentable fibers help promote an anti-inflammatory gut microbiota, healthy intestinal barrier, and properly functioning immune systems, and I discussed data which show that fiber intake has plummeted since our days as hunter-gatherers.

Most of the carbohydrates in the typical Western diet are digested and absorbed in the small intestine, leaving little for the critters in the colon. In my mind, there’s no doubt that this low intake of indigestible (to the human host) carbohydrates in contemporary societies is an important cause of many chronic diseases; in particular colon cancer and IBS, but also a wide range of other health disorders that are seemingly unrelated to the gut.

We evolved to eat a diet that not only feeds our human self, but also our microbial self. I’m willing to bet that you are probably taking in less than optimal amounts of fiber, even if you are adhering to a Paleo-style diet or healthy whole foods diet. Onions, leeks, artichokes, tubers, broccoli, slightly green bananas, and apples are some fiber-rich foods that you could probably benefit from eating more of.

P.S. Getting full benefits from fiber-rich foods requires having a gut microbiota that is matched to the diet (See point 4 for more info)
2. Do more strength training

strength-traiining-the-pressFossil evidence shows that our physically active Paleolithic ancestors had strong bones, broad and well-developed shoulders, and low incidence of osteoporosis (3, 4). This is in stark contrast to contemporary, industrialized societies, where a lot of people spend the majority of their wakeful hours sitting in front of a computer, have to take breaks to catch their breath when walking up the stairs to the office, and develop fragile and weak bones, poor posture, and back and knee pain.

Many of the readers of this blog are probably already doing some form of strength training on a regular basis, but if you aren’t, it’s time to get started. Not just because adding some muscle can help you look better naked, but also because doing squats, deadlifts, presses, push-ups, kettlebell swings, and other multi-joint exercises can improve your posture and help prevent and possibly reverse many musculoskeletal problems.

The best way to get started depends on your current health condition and goals. If you’re someone who’s struggling with fatigue, HPA axis dysfunction, and/or other similar problems that reduce your ability to perform strenuous activities, simply doing some bodyweight exercises a couple of times a week may be more than enough.

For those who are already performing strength training on a regular basis, focusing more on progressive overload in the compound lifts and improving exercise technique may be more important than just adding more exercises and volume.
3. Get more beneficial microorganisms into your gut

saurkrautI can’t emphasise this point enough. Overuse of antibiotics, excessive hygiene, consumption of highly processed foods, reduced exposure to biodoversity from the natural environment, and many other factors associated with our modern lifestyle have left the gut microbiome of the typical Westerner in a sorry state.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that we’ve lost some old microbial friends that co-evolved with our ancestors for millions of years. This loss of biodiversity is an important underlying cause of many chronic diseases; in particular those associated with poor immunoregulation (5, 6).

I often get e-mails and questions from people who are constantly tweaking their diet in an attempt to resolve chronic health issues such as food intolerance, fatigue, low libido, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and acne. Sometimes, an unhealthy diet, perhaps lacking in dietary fiber or containing high amounts of sugar, is largely to blame. However, many of the people who suffer from these health problems are already eating a very healthy diet. After all, they’ve often spent years adjusting their diet in an attempt to overcome their issues, so it’s only natural that they’ve landed on a plan that isn’t too off base.

Usually, in these cases, the main problem isn’t the quality of the diet, but rather the body’s inability to properly digest and metabolize the food that is consumed. Hundreds of bacterial species are needed to break down those components of the diet that the human host doesn’t possess the genetic capabilities to digest itself (7). Without a diverse gut microbiota that is matched to the diet, symptoms of food intolerance and health problems associated with chronic low-grade inflammation, such as the ones mentioned above, will occur.

So, how can you get some more critters into your gut? As you know if you’ve read my work or followed what’s going on in the world of the microbiome; there are many ways, including, but not limited to, getting a dog, eating more fermented vegetables, doing some gardening, eating raw, minimally cleaned fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and taking high-quality probiotic supplements.
4. Reduce your exposure to artificial lighting the last couple of hours before bed

computer-nightI talk a lot about sleep on this site – and for good reason. There are few things that are more important to our health than making sure we get enough high-quality sleep.

Exposure to artificial lighting (e.g., computer screen, lamps) at night messes with our melatonin production and makes it harder for us to fall asleep and sleep well throughout the night, and consequently, one of the most important things we can do to improve our odds of getting a good night’s sleep is to turn off the lights when bedtime approaches. It’s particularly important to avoid using blue-light emitting electronic devices right before bed.

Ideally, we would just turn off all of our electronic devices and lamps when the sun goes down and bring out a book and some candle lights – but that’s clearly not an option for most people. However, making some small adjustments to your lifestyle, such as not using your phone the last 1-2 hours before bed, installing f.lux on your computer, turning down the lights late at night, and/or buying a pair of amber goggles that block blue-spectrum light, can really go a long way towards optimizing sleep.
5. Eliminate or reduce your consumption of highly processed foods, acellular carbohydrates, and foods with a very high fat density

fast-foodThe Western pattern diet bares little resemblance to the diet our East African Paleolithic ancestors consumed. It’s higher in starch, salt, sugar, refined fat, and omega-6 and lower in dietary fiber, omega-3, most micronutrients, and protein, among other things (8).

While I would argue that the deterioration of the human diet started already with the Agricultural Revolution approximately 11.000 years ago, it’s probably the changes that have occurred over the last two centuries that have had the most harmful effect on human health.

Of all the issues with the Western diet, the high intakes of highly processed foods, acellular carbohydrates such as refined grains and refined sugars, and foods with a very high fat density, like refined vegetables oils and very fatty meats, are high on the list of the most problematic ones. As I’ve previously described on the blog; a high intake of these foods sets the stage for a suboptimal gene expression pattern, gut dysbiosis, leptin and insulin resistance, weight gain, and chronic-low grade inflammation.

Many readers of this blog have probably already taken most of these foods out of their diet, but if you haven’t, doing so could very well en up being one of the best decisions you ever make for your health. Replacing these Westernized products with meat, seafood, fruit, eggs, and vegetables will cool down inflammation, help you achieve the body composition you want, and contribute to the prevention of chronic disease.
6. Log off the internet, log onto the real world

RunningI think we can all agree that there are many benefits to having access to modern technology. However, there are also many negative aspects that come with our constant connectedness.

While we have become increasingly more connected to the rest of the population on this plant in the online world, we’ve become increasingly more disconnected from people in the real world – in the sense that more and more communication happens through e-mail and phone, and a lot of people spend most of their days staring at a computer screen.

Our increased use of electronic devices is problematic for a number of reasons, one of which being that our constant connectedness can make us chronically stressed. When kept within reason, the use of the internet can help enhance our lives. However, it can quickly get out of hand, especially if we end up constantly checking our phone and spending hours each day watching the online lives of other people on social media.

For 99% of the species on earth – and also for our species throughout most of our evolutionary history – acute stress is the dominant form of stress. While the short-term stress our ancient ancestors faced when attacked by a predator lead their bodies to adapt to rapidly changing environmental conditions, the repeatedly or continuously activated stress response that often accompanies life in the 21st century can become maladaptive. In other words, natural selection never equipped us with the mechanisms to deal with constant stimulation of the fight-or-flight response and a steady supply of stress hormones such as catecholamines.

While I generally follow my own advice/practise what I preach, I do have a way to go in some areas. As a blogger and contributing writer for various sites, I pretty much have to spend a lot of the time on my computer if I’m to get things done. However, I have certain rules regarding my use of electronic devices – and in particular social media and web surfing. I also make a conscious effort to be present in the moment when I’m with people, instead of spending time checking my phone and e-mail. I definitely have a way to go in this area; and I’m willing to bet that you probably do too…
7. Start buying more organic and grass-fed foods, as opposed to conventionally produced food

fruits-vegetablesThose who get their information about nutrition from the media might be led to believe that it doesn’t really matter whether you buy organic or conventionally produced food. After all, some studies seem to indicate that organic foods don’t contain more micronutrients and health-promoting phytochemicals than non-organic (9). However, the thing that is often forgotten is that many studies do show that organic fruits and vegetables have a superior nutrient profile when compared with conventionally produced varieties (10, 11).

Perhaps more importantly, there are several other factors besides the nutrient composition that have to be taken into account. By choosing organic instead of conventionally produced food you reduce your exposure to pesticides and help support a more sustainable form of food production.

As for animal source foods, emphasising food quality is especially important; not just because animal welfare is something that should be taken into account, but also because organic, free-range eggs, grass-fed meat, and wild-caught seafood have a superior fatty acid profile when compared with conventionally produced products.

What most people don’t realise is that when they eat raw, minimally cleaned fruits and vegetables, they aren’t only providing their body with nutrients, they are also ingesting plenty of food-borne microorganisms; some of which may pass through the acidic barrier in the stomach and contribute to the biodiversity of the gut microbiota. Recent research shows that “humans are exposed to substantially different bacteria depending on the types of fresh produce they consume with differences between conventionally and organically farmed varieties contributing to this variation” (12). While the importance of these differences is still to be elucidated, I have a strong feeling that there are some benefits to choosing food that is produced in a way that is closer to the way nature intended.

Last, but not least, as I think most people will agree, a grass-fed steak from the farmer’s market tastes so much better than a conventionally produced piece of meat that contains residues of antibiotics and growth-promoting hormones.
8. Get toxic products out of your life

cosmeticsCultural innovations and technological progress have allowed us to design plastic bottles, fancy cosmetics, drugs and supplements for virtually every condition known to man, cleaning detergents, and a wide array of other products that contain ingredients that even those with a PhD in chemistry can’t spell. These products benefit us in various ways, but they can also harm our health.

Many of the ingredients (e.g., dioxane, formaldehyde, lead/lead acetate, parabens, and phthalate) found in cosmetics and beauty products we put on our skin and in our hair could disrupt he hormone system and in other ways adversely affect our health (13, 14, 15, 16).

Soaps and anitbacterial gels help decrease the spread of pathogens, but they also reduce our exposure to beneficial bacteria and alter the skin microbiome in ways that we are just beginning to understand.
Completely removing all of these modern products from the bathroom closet is not on the table as a possible solution for a lot of people. However, a lot can be gained from replacing the worst offenders with more natural products and making a conscious decision to reduce your use of conventional cosmetic products and harsh cleaning products.


’ve always felt a need to figure out what it takes to achieve perfect health. When I first started getting serious with the whole health & fitness thing more than a decade ago, I designed my lifestyle according to what mainstream medicine, public dietary guidelines, and conventional wisdom told me was healthy. As for my diet, I ate a lot of whole grains, restricted my intake of red meat, eggs, and other foods high in saturated fat and/or cholesterol, drank a protein shake directly after every strength workout in an attempt to take advantage of the so-called “anabolic window”, consumed several small meals throughout the day, and always ate an early breakfast – regardless of whether I was actually hungry or not. In terms of exercise, I had been doing a lot of sports and endurance training for most of my life, but as I got older, my interest gradually started to shift more towards strength training. Just like so many else in the fitness community, I started out with the typical bodybuilding-type training split where each muscle group was trained to exhaustion once a week.

I experimented a lot with new training routines, supplements, and diets, but I always kept the key ingredients of the standard model; primarily because a lot of the conventional wisdom surrounding training and eating was, and still is, so ingrained in the public’s mind – and at the time, in my mind as well. I was definitely doing some unconventional and/or “extreme” things here and there, but overall, it’s safe to say that I was doing pretty much everything society told me was healthy; I was very physically active, ate a diet based on public dietary guidelines, and lead a lifestyle that most people would consider to be very healthy. The problem: The approach didn’t make me healthy at all. My body and health were a wreak – and conventional medicine didn’t seem to have any solutions.

Why am I telling you this? Primarily to show that I can relate to all of you out there who are struggling with chronic health issues, feel you are getting little help from mainstream medicine, and/or have experienced poor results from following conventional health & fitness advice.
A better way

It took years of trial and error, mediocre results, declining health, and intense research before I realised that instead of looking to mainstream medicine, the latest trends in the health & fitness community, and public dietary guidelines for advice, I should have turned my attention towards what evolution and good science could teach me about nutrition, exercise, and health. This new perspective on things opened me up to a whole new world, and I’ve now spent the better part of a decade immersed in everything related to nutrition, ancestral health, and evolutionary health promotion.

In retrospect, I clearly see that the approach to diet, training, and lifestyle I stuck with when I first started getting serious about health & fitness has no solid scientific support, but at the time, I believed I was doing the right things. After all, most of what I did was consistent with the mix of standard advice I got from dietary guidelines, public health authorities, dietitians, and health & fitness gurus.

When I look back on my early days of trial and error with diet, training, and health, I realise that I was grasping in the dark. I had never learned about ancestral health principles or the importance of applying an evolutionary perspective to health and nutrition, and consequently, I was destined to make a lot of mistakes.

As everyone who’s followed this blog knows, the approach to diet and exercise I stuck with in the beginning – which is the approach a lot of people out there choose – has little evolutionary support. Humans clearly aren’t well adapted to eat the type of diet I was taking in or follow the high-volume, high-intensity strength training program I did.

As I started to broaden my horizons many years ago, I gradually moved away from my old way of doing things. The grain-centered, low-fat diet was replaced by a Paleo-style diet, and the bodybuilding-type training split was abandoned in favor of a more balanced training program. Many other areas of my life also received a solid injection of evolutionary wisdom.
Getting back in touch with our evolutionary roots

My overarching health & nutrition philosophy, which was sculpted through many years of trial and error and  research into nutrition and health, has now stayed fairly unchanged for many years. That’s not to say that I never change my stance on certain topics, don’t have a lot left to learn, or have no nagging health issues left to resolve, it just means that the foundation that supports everything else has become firmly established. After all, it’s hard to argue with millions of years of evolution.

One of my main goals with this site is to get more people to recognize the importance of evolutionary biology and Darwinian medicine. Why? Because when you start to see things through the lens of evolution, you get a much better understanding of the world. Also, as I’ve tried to convey here on the blog, applying evolutionary theory to the understanding of health and medicine is crucial, as it gives us insights and tools we need to be able to take control of our own health.

It’s important to mention that natural selection selects for or against traits based on their effect on the fitness of the organism. It only “cares about” health as long as it impacts reproductive success. In other words, studying our evolutionary journey doesn’t immediately tell us how to achieve perfect health. However, as anyone who’s followed this blog or stayed up-to-date on the research on Paleo and ancestral health knows, looking at nutrition, exercise, etc. through the lens of evolution is important, as it gives us a good idea of what type of lifestyle and environment we’re well-adapted for; insight that lays the foundation for building a healthy and fit body. As I’ve repeatedly highlighted on this blog, Paleolithic humans were lean, fit, and largely free from the so-called diseases of civilization, a statement that is supported by several lines of evidence, including studies of hunter-gatherers and traditional people who live in environments that closely resemble those we evolved in as hunter-gatherers in the Paleolithic era (1, 2).

There has been inadequate time and selection pressure for natural selection to sculpt the human body into on that is well adapted to live in a modern, industrialized environment. To achieve a healthy and fit body, we have to align our diet and lifestyle with our primal genetic identity ( 1, 3, 4). That doesn’t mean that we have to move into the wild or adopt a strict Paleo diet. It simply means that we should keep in mind that we are still – to a significant extent – stone agers from a genetic perspective (1, 5). This is clearly of importance when we make diet and lifestyle choices, as the “physical activity, sleep, sun exposure and dietary needs of every living organism (including humans) are genetically determined”.

All of this is not to say that adopting a Paleo-inspired lifestyle is enough to help everyone overcome their chronic health problems and achieve their health & fitness goals. It’s certainly a natural first step for everyone, and for those who are fairly healthy to begin with, it’s usually enough. However, for those who struggle with chronic health problems of some sort, a more personalized approach is sometimes needed. If your health condition is very poor, perhaps as a result of years of poor diet and lifestyle choices or certain underlying genetic/epigenetic factors, specific diet and lifestyle adjustments or treatment protocols may be needed to really see the improvements you are hoping for (I should now, as I’ve been dealing with my share of chronic health problems over the years). That’s why Darwinian-Medicine.com not only includes basic diet and exercise tips, but also information on how to repair a broken microbiome, optimize gene expression, sleep better, etc. It’s not always easy to find solutions to complex health problems, but with an evolutionary framework to help guide our decisions, everything becomes so much easier…
I realise that the title of this article might seem like it’s taken straight out of a book about supernatural phenomena or religion and divine forces. It doesn’t sound very scientific. In science and medicine, different things and phenomena are typically studied in isolation. In its totality, the world around us is too complex and massive for the human mind to fully get a grasp of, so, in order to make the task of exploring the world seem less daunting, we try to cut it into smaller pieces. Some scientists focus all of their attention on one or a couple of microorganisms that live on Earth; others spend their whole careers investigating the workings of a single human organ; and yet others single out a specific hormone or compound that they set out to learn everything about.

The upside of doing things this way is that we – as a species – acquire in-depth knowledge about many different things. The downside is that we may forget or neglect the fact that “everything” is connected: nothing operates in isolation. History has shown us that we humans are extremely prone to make this error in thinking. We often forget that the world, including the human body, is built up of complex systems, which interact in various ways, not by isolated structures or compounds that are unaffected by each other.
We fail to see the big picture

Let’s imagine that a gym goer notices that he has tight hamstrings. Most likely, he’ll start doing a lot of static stretching in an attempt to loosen them up (the standard approach to fixing muscle tightness). Chances are he’ll pay little attention to the question of why his hamstrings got tight in the first place and which other muscles that may be involved.

If another part of his body malfunctions, he’ll likely use a similar strategy. For example, if his brain stops working properly, then chances are he will seek out the help of a brain specialist, who will most likely scan and investigate what’s going on up in the fantastic organ that equips his patient with cognition and memory. Most likely, all of the brain specialist’s focus will be on the brain; little attention will be paid to other organs and how they may affect the workings of the mind.

I could go on, but I think you get the message. The problem with specialization is that it can lead to oversimplification. We oversimplify things and forget to look at the big picture. We forget to see the forest for the trees sort to say. This problem is particularly severe and widespread within the field of medicine.

The field of medicine is separated into many different branches. Some branches deal with the nervous system of the human body, some deal with the workings of the musckuloskeletal system, some are built up of theories and concepts related to mental health, and so on. Different health practitioners and medical scientists specialize in different areas. Some know a lot about brain disorders, some are experts on gut health, and yet others do their best work when they are presented with patients who suffer from liver-related diseases.

Some doctors, in particular general practitioners, haven’t specialized in one field, but rather know a little about “everything”. Unfortunately though, modern medicine and medical training are built on the way of thinking mentioned earlier: “the separation approach”. The result is that many conventionally trained health practitioner fail to see the big picture of things. Perhaps needless to say, it’s recognized that different bodily systems and organs interact with each other. However, this fact is not given enough attention. Far from it.

This is unfortunate, because it’s impossible to locate and address the root causes of illness if you’re caught up in the workings of just a single organ or receptor and operate under the belief that all diseases and health problems are separated from each other by their etiology.
If one part of your body isn’t working correctly, then chances are many other parts are malfunctioning as well

To illustrate the issue above, let’s take a look at brain disorders. Disorders such as autism, ADHD, and chronic depression have historically been thought to originate in the brain, and health practitioners and scientists have focused virtually all of their attention on locating and manipulating the parts of the brain that are involved in the development of these types of conditions. This approach hasn’t gotten us very far. The incidence of these and many other brain diseases just keeps on increasing. It’s clear that our current approach to preventing and treating brain-related illness isn’t working.

I would argue that the main reason it isn’t working is that we’re overlooking several factors that play a key role in brain health. The assumption that the brain is separated from the rest of the body in terms of its health and functioning has proven to be highly flawed. The brain is not separated from the rest of the body; it’s a part of it. Actually, it is greatly affected by what goes on further down in the larger system that it is a part of.

Particularly the gut has a profound impact on the brain. Actually, as you probably know if you’re a regular reader of this site, the gut is likely the place of origin of many, if not most, brain diseases. Hence, we have to bring it into the equation, or else we will never be able to effectively prevent and treat ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s, and so on.

We have to acknowledge that when something is wrong with the gut, it’s not just the gut that’s compromised, but also many other bodily organs. If you go to your doctor and tell him you’re suffering from gastrointestinal problems such as bloating and diarrhea, he will likely diagnose you with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), unless he’s able to detect signs or symptoms of organic gastrointestinal disease.

What he may not tell you though, is that your problems are not isolated to the gut. A faulty gut goes hand in hand with a faulty body. Your immune system is not working at peak capacity, your energy levels are undoubtedly lower than optimal, your memory and cognitive abilities are likely impaired, and your libido is low, among other things. In other words, your whole body is compromised, in part because poor gut health is tightly linked with chronic inflammation.

This is something a lot of people don’t know. They think that conditions such as liver disease, depression, and type-1 diabetes are isolated to the organs they affect (the liver, brain, and pancreas), failing to realise that these disorders typically develop as a result of chronic, systemic inflammation and/or imbalances in the microbial communities of the body. Hence, it goes without saying that a holistic approach is required to treat these conditions. You can’t simply go in and manipulate a couple of receptors in the diseased organ.

This is one of the key things I want to convey with this site. Most diseases and health problems originally develop as a result of faults in the system that is the human body; not due to faults in the specific organ that’s affected. Most of the time, the organ damage is a secondary occurrence. For example, in type-1 diabetes, a loss of microbiota diversity, dysbiosis, and chronic inflammation typically precede the destruction of the pancreatic beta cells.

All of this is to say that very few, if any, diseases and health problems develop in isolation. For example, if you are obese, then chances are you also suffer from other health problems, such as insulin resistance. You are also at a higher risk of developing various types of cancers, heart disease, and many other disorders, due in part to the fact that your body is chronically inflamed.

This brings us over to the next thing I wanted to talk about in today’s article: “the cycles of life”.
The cycles of life

Again, I’m using a heading that may seem like it’s taken out of a book on divine or supernatural forces. The notion that life operates in cycles may seem foreign to a lot of people. They may see the world as a fairly static structure that is composed of many distinct building blocks; not as a massive, complex system that is composed of many smaller systems.

One such subsystem is the human body. One of the things that have become increasingly clear to me over the past decade is that many of the processes that take place inside the human body occur as part of different types of cycles. For example, in the case of obesity mentioned above, the consumption of an unhealthy diet, coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle, leads to dysbiosis and fat accumulation. This then sets the stage for chronic inflammation, cravings for more unhealthy foods, and fatigue/sedentary behavior. In other words, a vicious cycle is set in motion. The intensity of this cycle will likely increase over time, unless the deleterious behaviors that drive it are eliminated.

If the deleterious behaviors are eliminated, the vicious cycle may turn into a virtuous one. In other words, a new set-point or homeostasis is reached. For example, if the imprudent diet is replaced by a prudent one, the state of the microbiota will improve, fat will be released from adipose tissue, and the levels of inflammatory cytokines in the blood will decline. This will then translate into changes in dietary preferences and less fatigue, which will fuel the engine of the virtuous cycle.

Many other parts of the human body operate in a similar manner. For example, let’s return to the tight hamstrings I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Hamstrings don’t get tight for no reason. There’s always going to be an explanation as to why they tighten up. Often, we have to expand our perspective beyond the hamstring muscle to find this explanation.

vicious-cycle-muscle-imbalance-syndromeAs I’ve discussed in many of my articles on musculoskeletal problems (e.g., this one, this one), hamstring tightness often develops as a result of muscle imbalances in the hip region. Typically, when the hamstrings are tight, other muscles, including the glutes, abs, and hip flexors are also in a compromised state. The former two tend to be weak and inactive, whereas the latter tend to be tight, like the hamstrings.

This type of muscle imbalance syndrome develops due to a vicious cycle, in which excessive sitting and/or other deleterious behaviors lead to tightness of the hamstrings and hip flexors and weakening of the muscles that produce posterior pelvic tilt. These imbalances then cause the person in question to change how he moves his body and compensate for poor glute and abdominal strength, which further exacerbate the muscular imbalances. Again, this cycle can be turned into a virtuous one; if the deleterious behaviors are eliminated.

These types of processes don’t just take place inside the human body; they take place in the rest of the natural world as well. This is one of the reasons why it’s important that we are cautious about interfering with nature.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a good track record in this regard. Via our activities we have disrupted the flow of nature: we’ve damaged the soil in which we grow our food and harmed the ecosystems of the world. The consequences of these changes are more severe than we think. We don’t fully acknowledge that we’ve disrupted the “natural” flow of the cycles of life and that some of the fallout of our actions lands upon us and our health. For example, when we disrupt the microbial ecosystems of the soil in which we grow our food, we also change the microbial communities that cling to the plants we eat, something that will obviously affect our health.

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