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
And now for another round of Monday Musings…
Poop is the new probiotic. Doctors have been using fecal transplants as a “last resort,” mostly to treat the rising scourge of Clostridium difficile, a gut bug that affects about 250,000 Americans every year and proves extremely resistant to antibiotics. Shooting a fecal extract from healthy people into the C. diff-ridden colons of the affected has a 95% success rate. Some docs are pushing for the last resort to be the go-to move. I can’t argue with that.
But gut health isn’t just about acute infection. It’s also about basic metabolic health. A study showed that sterile mice receiving a fecal transplant from obese mice gained more weight than sterile mice who received transplants from lean mice. And most recently, a Dutch pilot study gave 18 obese males with pronounced metabolic syndrome fecal transplants from lean individuals. They did not lose weight, but they did experience improved insulin sensitivity and triglyceride numbers. These improvements reverted after about 12 weeks.
Life adapts when necessitated by changing conditions that impact survival. These are evolutionary pressures, with nutrition being probably the strongest. Flora bend toward the sun and plunge rooty tendrils deep into soil in search of moisture and minerals, while mobile organisms walk, run, fly, crawl, scrounge, or swim for food. Herbivores prefer to go where the vegetation is the densest and most nutritious, while predators follow close behind. Life is in constant flux, then, with food availability as the invisible hand directing traffic.
One of my favorite topics, as many of you know, is epigenetics. It’s the burgeoning area of science that has blown apart the traditional nature-nurture dichotomy by examining the lifestyle-induced activation or dampening of genes. Epigenetics is increasingly filling in the gaps for understanding and monitoring degenerative disease risk. If you’re relatively new to MDA, take a look-see at my past articles (Gene Expression, What I Mean By “Reprogramming Your Genes”, Gene Expression: Location, Location, Location, Environmental Toxins and Gene Expression, Epigenetics and Depression) for a good Primal introduction to the concept. That said, when it comes to science there’s always more to read and know. New discoveries. Bold initiatives. Elegant correlations. Confirmed expectations and unexpected wrinkles. It’s what gets me up and roaring in the morning. Gladly, I’m not the only one….
I’m fascinated by the idea that all the signals I send my body through diet and exercise and other environmental conditions can, as you say, literally reprogram my genes. I’m always on the lookout now for research that shows how lifestyle factors are related to gene expression. Have you seen anything new in your studies?
The following reader email brought to mind a NY Times article I read a few weeks ago. The article discusses a fairly new field of research that is uncovering the surprisingly fundamental and intricate ways our bodies influence our thinking and vice-versa. We’ve discussed the mind-body connection in the past, but embodied cognition puts the relationship in a new cast. Think motion-emotion, action-thought. It’s all integrated in ways you wouldn’t expect….
I’ve been a PBer for a couple years now and feel better than I ever have. I’m at this point interested in digging deeper into new areas of the PB. I’m intrigued by the mental-physical connection some of your posts and book refer to. Other than the relaxation and stress influence, what kind of sway does the mind-body thing really hold? How do you suggest harnessing it? Thanks and Grok on!
From time to time I’ll get a comment from a skeptical reader that says something like, “I don’t think it’s possible to reprogram your genes through diet/lifestyle. Of course our genes are set at birth and our DNA, or program, is copied into every cell of our bodies. You cannot modify or reprogram your genetic code.” I’d like to address this misunderstanding.
One of the best ways to illustrate what I mean by “reprogram your genes” is to use the analogy that Duke University’s Randy Jirtle, Ph.D., uses in the following videos. Think of your genome as being like computer hardware. If you were to program your computer you wouldn’t be changing the hardware, rather, you would be changing the software that tells the computer what to do. So just as we talk about reprogramming or programming a computer and don’t suggest that the hardware itself has changed we likewise can talk about reprogramming our genes without suggesting that the genes have changed. In the case of genes what we are really changing is the epigenome. To quote Dr. Jirtle, “the epigenome would be like the software that tells the computer when to work, how to work and how much.”
Luckily for us our genes are not our destiny. We have immense control through lifestyle behaviors to turn some genes on and other genes off for desired physical results. Watch these videos for it to all come together if it hasn’t already.
It’s the heart of the Primal Blueprint: understanding that our lifestyle factors direct influence the expression of our genetic code. While the DNA itself is set, the structure fixed, that’s hardly the end of the story – our story. How we live – even where we live – holds significant sway over the final picture. And by picture I mean, of course, the picture of our genes’ activity: when proteins are produced (and how much), when or whether certain genes are turned on or off. This activity, researchers are increasingly finding, is key in the development – or avoidance – of any number of conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Rather than a predetermined formula simply set in motion in the womb, our genes demonstrate a much more complex, nuanced interplay. The sum of all our daily choices and exposures direct our epigenetic signaling and the course laid out by that ongoing sequence of gene activity. As I’ve said many a time, our original genetic heritage doesn’t design our physiological fate. How we live determines how our genes play out their hand. No doubt a powerful concept, the comprehension can take us by surprise. The quickly expanding field of epigenetics has, indeed, rewritten old school genetics. It’s even ruffled a few feathers here and there, but isn’t that always the case with new breakthroughs?
A number of readers have sent me links (thanks, readers) to a new study coming out of the UK that raised some eyebrows all across the Internet earlier this week. The headlines seemed to scream from everywhere “Do High Fat Diets Make Us Stupid and Lazy?” That, in turn, made me scream, so I took a look at this paper in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology: Deterioration of physical performance and cognitive function in rats with short-term high-fat feeding
What I found was a less-than-impressive short-term study on rat performance that told me what I already knew: that it takes a while for new gene expression to really kick in when you radically shift diets. Just like some of you are seeing in the 30-day challenge. So what?
Reboot, renew, repair, revitalize? What goals went into your decision to join the Primal Challenge this month? (If you’re on the fence, what vision or particular aspirations pull you toward giving it a shot?) What are you looking to change? How do you hope to feel? What would you like to achieve?
Whether you’re ramping up an already Primal style or beginning to “baby-step” it (more on that tomorrow), rest assured that you’re undertaking powerful stuff. As we’ve mentioned in the past, the Primal Blueprint isn’t about quick, temporary fixes or surface level makeovers. (Although you will find yourself feeling slimmer and looking good…) By its very nature, the PB’s reach extends far beyond the number on a bathroom scale, the arch of a flexed muscle, or the fleeting drama of a bikini reveal. For our part, we have bigger things in mind.
As you may know, at the core of the Primal Blueprint is gene expression – the idea that our genes can be “switched” on or off, or influenced into producing varying amounts of proteins based on environmental factors (like diet, exercise, and exposure to toxins). In fact, the Primal Blueprint is designed around maximizing positive expression and minimizing deleterious gene expression, the idea being that the best way to express our genes is by living like our Primal ancestors. Eating clean, whole foods, getting plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and sleep – these are the ways Grok lived (if he was lucky), and these are the methods by which our genes are best influenced. And it’s not just conjecture. Time and time again, science (read: unbiased, unaffiliated observations on the human condition) has suggested precisely the same thing about environmental effects on the way our genes work.
I’d love to see your take on the validity of the metabolic type diet. I have found that a primal-style eating plan similar to yours works wonders for me, but I have seen some people comment that they maintain lean bodies with a very different approach than you. One commenter even stated that he gains weight when he increased fat calories. It seems like people can react differently to certain foods.
Metabolic typing periodically gets a boost in press every once in a while. The premise of typing suggests that people have distinctive metabolisms that are best served by a corresponding nutrition profile. Presumably, these metabolic distinctions are genetic differences based on your ancestors’ geographic origin. For example, if your ancestors are from the South Pacific islands, your nutritional needs differ significantly from those of the Lapps in Scandinavia, etc.