Meet Mark

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...

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Tag: Gene Expression

You Are What Your Mother and Father (and Grandmothers and Grandfathers) Ate

On September 11, 2001, passenger jets struck the Twin Towers, leveling them, killing thousands of New Yorkers, and traumatizing tens of thousands more. Among those directly affected, but not killed, by the attack were 1700 pregnant women. Some of those women developed post traumatic stress disorder, some did not. When the PTSD-positive group had their kids, their cortisol secretion was lower and stress response to novel stimuli was impaired. Although as fetuses they weren’t conscious of the chaos, it affected them as if they had directly witnessed the blast. The affected children were no different genetically – they didn’t have “the stress gene.” Rather, the activity of the genes that regulate the stress response had been altered by an environmental input.

This was epigenetics in action.

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Dear Mark: ApoE4, Red Eye Recovery, TEDx Paleo Debunking, and Cough Drops

It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another edition of Dear Mark. This week, I’m covering four reader questions. First up is a really tricky one: ApoE4, the ancestral allele that’s classically associated with a host of maladies, like cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. What’s the deal with it? We don’t have any concrete answers (yet), but I give my take on it. Next, I tell a reader who’s flying to Chile for vacation how I recover from travel-related sleep disturbances and realign my circadian rhythm. After that, I cover another paleo debunking that’s actually not much of a debunking, this time a TEDx video from Christina Warriner. And finally, I explore the eternal question of Halls cough drops, including whether or not any natural alternatives exist.

Let’s go.

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Should You Get Your Genome Sequenced?

Earlier this year, I explored the “evolution” of human dietary requirements in the last 10,000 years by examining some of the SNPs – single nucleotide polymorphisms, or variations in genetic sequences – that relate to diet and nutrition. I concluded that while certain genetic changes to the way we process certain foods have arisen in certain populations, for the most part we’re still best off eating from an ancestral, Primal spread of animals, sea creatures, and plant life. Nothing has changed on that front in my mind, but people are still understandably curious about their genetic predispositions toward various conditions, and, with the recent reduction in price for SNP sequencing from 23andMe (to $99 with no subscriptions required), as well as slightly more affordable full-on genome sequencing (~$1000) on the not so distant horizon, it’s easier than ever to actually do it.

But should you?

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What About Type 1 Diabetes?

You hear a lot about type 2 diabetes on this and other sites in the community. It’s easy to see why: type 2 diabetes is the “lifestyle” diabetes, the preventable one, the one that “doesn’t have to happen” and that you can “fix if you just dial in the food.” All true, for the most part. Whether you’re in the camp that thinks it’s red meat or egg yolks causing it, or fatty liver from excess PUFAs and fructose, the point is that people commonly accept the idea that T2D is preventable and manageable with the right diet and lifestyle. But what about type 1 diabetes? Why don’t we hear so much about it?

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Are We Pre-Programmed to Be Happy?

I think we can all agree that a basic goal in life is the attainment of happiness, that mind state characterized by positive and pleasant thoughts and emotions. But how do we become happy? By definition, happiness requires some type of pleasure to be present. We need good feelings and good physical sensations. Furthermore, the pleasure must come first, before the happiness. Something, and I don’t care what it is, has to make you feel good before you can truly call yourself happy. As such, our behaviors and our motivations are shaped by that pleasure-seeking tendency. And that pleasure-seeking is mediated through the reward system, which has several different but interrelated components: liking, which describes the sensation of pleasure; wanting, which describes the desire to obtain the thing; and learning, the Pavlovian-esque conditioning. Basically, if we do something or expose ourselves to something (a fun social situation, a healthy food, the sun) that confers a survival and/or health benefit (improved social standing, some vital nutrient that our body needs, vitamin D production), our reward center “activates.” We like it, we want it, and we learn that having it is in our best interest.

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Autism: A Brain or Whole-Body Disorder?

You could say this post is a long time coming. In the last few years, I’ve lost count of the huge number of emails I get from parents with kids who have special needs either asking for advice or explaining how The Primal Blueprint has made a significant difference for their children. These are parents who love their kids for all their abilities and differences and who want to explore every reasonable lifestyle intervention they can to make their kids’ lives everything they can and should be.

I’ll state the obvious here. I’m not a disability expert, but I’ve been moved and motivated by these parents’ emails. From a general health perspective, I’ve wondered how our modern lives could be contributing to the epidemic. Likewise, I’m curious how research can illuminate potential benefits of lifestyle interventions. What is the biological picture behind the dysfunction in these conditions, and how can biology be harnessed to restore functioning? A recent approach focused on the whole brain and whole body is asking those exact questions – and finding answers.

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Are Humans Hard-Wired to Be Optimistic?

If you ask most people, they’ll pretty much agree that optimism is better than pessimism. Oh, you might get one or two who laugh at the cockeyed optimists and their naivete about the world and its harsh, grim realities, but when you get down to it, optimists feel good about their lot in life, while pessimists feel bad about where they and the world are headed. Feeling good is a good, desirable state of being. Feeling bad about the future, well, just feels bad. Which would you rather experience?

Exactly.

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Why Fast? Part Four – Brain Health

Pretty much every feature of the human body can be found, in some form or another, on other species. Opposable thumbs? Great for building and using tools, but apes have them, too. Even the giant panda has an opposable sesamoid bone that works like a thumb. Bipedalism? Helped us avoid direct mid-afternoon sun and carry objects while moving around the environment (among other possible benefits), but plenty of other creatures walk upright, like birds and Bigfoot. The human foot? Okay, our feet are quite unique, but every other -ped has feet (just different types), and they all work well for getting around. So, what is it that makes us so different from other animals (because it’s got to be something)?

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Maybe There is Such a Thing as Too Much Information

A couple weeks back, the LA Times published a piece on a geneticist’s experience with “personalized medicine.” Based on careful and constant monitoring of his sequenced DNA and around 40,000 health markers – or “omics” – over 14 months by a team of his colleagues, Stanford geneticist Michael Snyder observed in painstaking detail exactly what his body was doing during periods of sickness and health. If and when a viral infection entered the picture, Snyder and his team could watch how thousands of biomarkers responded. He could track its invasion, his body’s battle against it, and its eventual retreat. Although Snyder had no family history of diabetes, his sequenced DNA revealed he was at risk for it, so he began monitoring his blood sugar. Sure enough, a couple weeks after the viral infection, he noticed that his glucose was abnormally elevated. Analysis of his “omics” profile during the infection showed that auto-antibodies, which are often produced by the body in response to infections, had begun targeting an insulin receptor-binding protein which impaired his ability to clear glucose from the blood. Snyder was eventually diagnosed with the disease (but later fought it off with diet and meds), and though it isn’t spelled out clearly in the article, it sounds like the fallout from the viral infection may have precipitated his development of type 2 diabetes.

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Why Fast? Part Three – Longevity

A time-honored and research-tested way to extend an animal’s lifespan is to restrict its caloric intake. Studies repeatedly confirm that if, say, a lab mouse normally gets two full bowls of lab chow a day, limiting that mouse to one and a half bowls of lab chow a day will make that mouse live longer than the mouse eating the full two bowls. Cool, cool, a longer life is great and all, but what about the downsides of straight calorie restriction, aside from willfully restricting your food intake, ignoring hunger pangs, relegating yourself to feeling discontent with meals, and counting calories and macronutrients obsessively? Are there any others? Sure:

Loss of muscle mass. Humans undergoing calorie restriction often suffer loss of lean muscle mass and strength, all pretty objectively negative effects (unless you really go for the gaunt “Christian Bale in The Machinist” look and use a super-strong bionic exoskeleton for all your physical tasks).

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