The popular story of how low-carb diets work goes something like this: Reducing your carbohydrate...
Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
Several years ago, I gave my take on the “personalized care” movement: the broad push to use a person’s genetic data to design optimal therapies, treatments, interventions, and pharmaceuticals. I was supportive and hesitantly optimistic, but I also acknowledged the limitations and drawbacks. Yes, genetics do determine how we respond to different therapies, and we can optimize medical care using the information—if we understand what our genes are saying and how they interact with the environment.
It’s only picked up steam. In last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative, pledging renewed efforts and funding to develop treatments tailored for an individual’s genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Businesses have sprung up promising to analyze your genetic data and create personalized workout routines, meal plans, and daily habits.
We’ve made big strides in personalized medicine.
For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’ll be addressing the concerns raised in the comment section of last week’s CRISPR post. Many of you were rather alarmed at my apparent whole-hearted endorsement and enthusiastic embrace of the latest gene-editing technology CRISPR. Actually, I am more cautious than I may have let on. You brought up some great points. And I’ll try to address some of them down below.
By now, you’ve no doubt heard of CRISPR, the latest gene-editing tool sweeping research labs across the globe. It was first discovered in certain strains of bacteria, who use it as an important weapon against dangerous viruses. In bacteria, CRISPR identifies a virus that poses a threat, records the virus’ genetic data and imprints it onto RNA molecules. An immune enzyme called Cas9 grabs one of the RNA molecules and goes exploring. When Cas9 encounters a virus that matches the data on the RNA molecule, it latches on and slices the virus in half to prevent it from replicating and posing any threat.
The entire premise of the Primal Blueprint is enabling you to be the architect of your health and happiness. If we can identify the environmental triggers and selective pressures under which the human genome developed, we’ll have a great roadmap for engineering our optimal lifestyle. And for the most part, it works. Not everyone will get the exact body they desire. You won’t all lose every extra pound. I can’t guarantee a six pack or a complete eradication of baby weight. But all in all, eating and living this way seems to produce good results. You can, it seems, affect your health, body composition, and fitness.
But genes still matter. And there’s a large trove of evidence showing that a person’s genetics are really good at predicting their risk of obesity.
One major downside to having these big prominent heads stuffed with consciousness-spawning brain matter is that they sometimes ache. Nobody likes a headache. You can find fetishists who enjoy pinching, slapping, biting, burning and any matter of objectively painful stimuli. But there aren’t “headache fetishists.” No one’s chugging a 32 ounce Slurpee in search of brain freeze, or getting drunk for the hangover.
The difficult thing about headaches is figuring out why they’re occurring. Pain in other areas is different. You can look at your hand if it’s hurting and figure out why. You can see the cut on your knee and know what’s going on. But you are your head, and the headache is inside. Your consciousness sits behind your eyes observing reality and directing your role in it. It’s all a big mystery. Or so it feels.
Spring has sprung across most of the country. Awesome, right? Not if you’ve got seasonal allergies. Anyone with a severe case of hay fever knows how horrible it is being outside on a windy otherwise beautiful spring day with pollen blowing and rapacious bees buzzing around. Your eyes water and swell up. Your nose congests, you go into mouth breather mode. Pressure headaches start. You can’t taste your food. You can’t really see through the tears and redness. Everything above the neck itches. Sneeze attacks seize you. You’re supposed to be in heaven. It’s all so lovely. Yet all that beauty, greenery, and life are lost on you. Spring is your enemy when you have hay fever.
As I mentioned earlier this year, our personal ancestry can help determine how we respond to certain dietary, behavior, exercise, and lifestyle patterns. The big question remaining is this: does going Primal mesh with some of the more common polymorphisms? Yes. The Primal Blueprint is a living document. Its foundation rests on pre-agricultural human evolution, but by remaining flexible and offering ample room for personalization, it acknowledges the fact that evolution has continued to occur.
Let’s take a look at five genetic mutations and how the Primal way of eating, living, and moving can help mitigate their downsides.
Go back 160,000 years and we all share a common ancestor: The emergence of the first Homo sapiens in East Africa. Since then, humans have spread across every environment imaginable and adapted to those environments. Much remains the same. We all breathe oxygen, require protein, produce insulin, oxidize fatty acids. But extended stays in unique environments have created genetic proclivities in different populations. For example, descendants of people who settled in high-altitude areas like the Himalayas, the Andes, and the Ethiopian highlands tend to show greater resistance to low-oxygen environments, while the Greenland Inuit show unique adaptations to cold environments, including increased activity of heat-stimulating brown fat. And among the island-dwellers of Sardinia, where the landscape constrained the amount of available food, there’s considerable evidence of positive selection for short stature.
What other differences exist, and how can we explore them to inform and improve our own diet and lifestyle choices?
With winter all but officially upon us, we might already be feeling the season, maybe even planning warm weather vacations. I venture most of us have wondered if we’re not somehow healthier during the summer months. Is it just a mental vitality from the additional daylight hours and relative ease of outdoor time, or is there something more at work? Does our health really take a hit in winter? For those who enjoy this brand of trivia, there’s an actual field of study devoted to this called biometeorology. And with the minutely detailed research into epigenetic activity, we’re getting a fuller picture all the time of astonishing nuances as well as big picture shifts. To a Primal mind, it all makes sense. Humans evolved within a seasonal context—without any of the modern accommodations that would buffer climate or weather influences. Why would our bodies not have adapted with responsive wiring?
You read Mark’s Daily Apple every day. Paleo health, nutrition, and fitness folks populate your Twitter feed almost exclusively. You’ve got several PubMed alerts set up, helping you stay on top of the emerging evidence. Everyone in your immediate circle knows to come to you with questions about diet and exercise. You’ve been living like this for the better part of a decade, and things are going well. But what if there were a few blindspots you didn’t know about, or assumed you didn’t have to consider?
I’ve been doing this for a long time. Over the course of 10-odd years, I’ve realized that many Primal and paleo enthusiasts have a few glaring blindspots. They may not be cataclysmic, but addressing them—or at least acknowledging their existence—can certainly improve your health and happiness.