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
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).
A hallmark of the Primal Blueprint is that our genetics were shaped by our ancestral environment. That the foods to which we had access, the amount of sun and stress and sleep to which our bodies became accustomed, the movement patterns in which we engaged represented environmental factors that exerted selective pressure on our genetic makeup and phenotypic expression to make us who we are today. As a result, heeding those environmental factors generally results in excellent health. And, even more importantly, many evolutionarily novel environmental factors – like grains, refined sugar, and high omega-6 vegetable oils (plus chronic stress, poor sleep, and all that other good stuff ) – are things to which we’ve only recently been exposed. When we are exposed to them in excess, like in say 21st century America, it generally results in poor health. Hence our current predicament.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how becoming an efficient fat-burner helps mitochondrial function, and last week I went over some of the nutrients and supplements most important for your mitochondria. All good and all useful, but today I’m going to talk about another route: exercise. It makes intuitive sense that mitochondria are profoundly affected by exercise, doesn’t it? They are the power plants of the cells (and that goes for muscle cells), they are the organelles that convert fat, protein, and glucose into usable energy – and continuously producing ample amounts of cellular energy to lift heavy things, run really fast (or really far at a slower pace), or jump high is what exercise is all about. What I like about exercise is that it’s an entirely self-contained lifestyle modification. Modifying your energy pathways from sugar to fat and obtaining certain nutrients requires eating different foods and different amounts of those foods, and supplementing (obviously) requires taking supplements. But exercise is entirely up to you. If you want to. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. And an empowering one, if you ask me.
I receive a lot of emails from folks worried about losing too much weight on the Primal Blueprint, underweight readers who need to gain weight, or the formerly overweight who have reached their target weight and wish to stay put. No, they don’t outnumber the questions from overweight readers, but that’s to be expected given the obesity rates in industrialized countries, from which most of MDA’s readers hail. Anyway, with the frequency of those emails increasing, I decided to take a look through the archives for pertinent posts. Other than the post on how to gain weight and build muscle, I realized that gaining weight hasn’t been addressed at length on MDA. I’ve explained how to pack on muscle mass, but what about the folks who aren’t going to squat heavy and don’t care about getting 70’s big?
Is Primal right for those people? I’m talking about:
In Monday’s “Dear Mark” post, I briefly outlined a few of the benefits to having healthy, abundant mitochondria, and in the past, I’ve alluded to the damaging effects of statins on mitochondrial function. All good, yeah, but a couple brief paragraphs in the middle of a Monday post aren’t enough. Mitochondrial function and mitochondrial biogenesis – the growth of new mitochondria – deserve more than that. Like, their own post. Today, I’m going to dig a little deeper. I’m going to lay out why growing more and healthier mitochondria (mitochondrial biogenesis) is good for your health, your longevity (and compression of morbidity), and your energy levels. I’ll explain why becoming a fat-burning beast optimizes mitochondrial function, and I’ll go over why this is so important if you’re looking to transform your body.
Height has historically been regarded as a marker of health and robustness. We seem to implicitly accept that bigger is indeed better, even if we don’t want to admit it. On average, tall people attain more professional success and make more money, the taller presidential candidate almost always wins, and women are more attracted to tall men. On a very visceral level, the taller person is more physically imposing. After all, who would you rather fight – the dude with a long reach raining punches from up high or the shorter guy with stubby arms who has to work his way inside your guard (although Mike Tyson did pretty well for himself with such “limitations”)? And on that note, who would you prefer as a mate – the physically imposing specimen or the shorter, presumably weaker male?
We in the Primal health community are quick to point out that agriculture reduced physical stature. Generally speaking, bone records indicate that Paleolithic (and, to a lesser extent, Mesolithic) humans were taller than humans living immediately after the advent of agriculture. Multiple sources exist, so let’s take a look at a couple of them before moving on:
A new mice-with-an-engineered-human-genetic-deficiency study is out that promises to shed light on why humans are so darn diabetic and obese – and the cause is an evolutionary “mistake.” A deficiency that apparently slipped through the cracks without somehow leading to our species’ demise. You see, we’re missing a genetic component shared by pretty much all other mammals besides ourselves. While mammals generally produce two types of sialic acids, N-acetylneuraminic acid (Neu5Ac) and N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), thanks to a mutation in a gene called CMAH, humans produce only the former. We don’t have the enzyme necessary to convert Neu5Ac to Neu5Gc. Why is this important? Sialic acids act as “contact points” for our cells to interact with the environment and other cells, and the latest research indicates that mice with the humanesque CMAH mutation are more prone to diabetes, especially when they’re overweight.
Diabetes is that rare brand of nasty disease that fails to strike real, visceral fear. It doesn’t carry the weight of a cancer or an AIDS or a heart disease. It’s something you get, like a gut, a long list of prescriptions, and a walker, as you grow older. People just live with it – millions upon millions across the world – and are rarely shocked or surprised to hear that others have it. Their ranks are ever growing, with, if a recent study on the effects of gestational diabetes on the fetus has anything to say about it, much of the conscription taking place in the womb. It’s called intergenerational diabetes, and it means that pregnant women with diabetes or even just poor maternal glucose tolerance could be turning their little ones into future type 2 diabetics. This is fetal diabetes without a genetic component; this is epigenetic owing to environmental (womb) input. The authors speculate that pregnant mothers with type 2 diabetes (diet and lifestyle induced, remember) could engender irreversible alterations to both the unborn kid’s hypothalamic neural network (where leptin, the satiety hormone, does its thing), pancreatic function, and muscle and liver insulin signaling. The idea is that they pop out with type 2 diabetes right off the bat. It’s diet-induced, sure, but not how we normally think of it. No baby bottle full of Coke required here. Of course, I still see this sort of condition as being reversible with diet and exercise…it’s just that it will require a LOT more adherence and starting at an earlier age. Moving on…
The following are both actual and paraphrased versions of questions I regularly get from readers:
If grains are so bad how can you explain the leanness and good health of Clarence Bass?
How do the Kitavans or Okinawans maintain good body composition despite a higher carb diet?
Mark, how were you able to maintain a low body fat percentage despite eating a half gallon of ice cream a day?
Why can my brother eat anything he wants and never gain a pound?
All of these examples seem contrary to what we say in the Primal Blueprint. How can they be explained? Are they anomalies? Tails of the bell curve? Is something else at work?
Stressed, anyone? Whether it’s the holidays, the weather, or just the same old tensions, you know that stress takes its toll on your well-being. Sure, you’d love to motivate yourself to take up a meditation practice, yoga class or some other endeavor that promises an effective retreat from the weight of daily pressures. (A vacation from your problems, anyone?) How about taking a deep breath? No, seriously. Experts are increasingly lining up to recommend simple breathing exercises for both immediate stress relief benefits – as well as deep, lasting physiological advantages.