Tag: Gene Expression
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.
Last month, I received an unexpected email request from a man named Craig Pickering: “Send me your saliva.”
Craig works for DNAFit, a genetic testing company using customers’ DNA results to optimize their diet and training. He’s a former Olympic 100 m and bobsleigh (bobsled to us Yanks) athlete, and a longtime reader of the blog, who’s helping elite athletes, weekend warriors, and regular folks alike discover their genes’ preferred diet and training style.
Intrigued, I received the testing kit and sent the sample back. Sure, why not? I’m game.
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.
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.
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?