"There are three constants in life...change, choice and prinicples"
- Stephen Covey
I became a physicist because I've always been fascinated with finding core principles, simple, easily understood truths from which we can make reasoned predictions and decisions. I'm going to share my core health principles with you now.
If you don't agree with these, then let me know your reasoning. Maybe I’m wrong (see core principle #1 below).
My bet is you will see these principles as just common sense.
Modern medicine is engineering, not physics. Our healthcare system and research are focused on reverse engineering the human body. We're busy trying to figure out what the human body does. We are decades away from even asking "why" our bodies do the things they do. And, even about the "what"-question, we remain incredibly ignorant.
Core Principle #1: We don't know what we don't know.
To become a doctor takes years of training and anyone who obtains the degree deserves respect. But our ignorance, as a species, about human physiology, is staggering.
Here are just a few examples of stuff you'd think we know, but we don't,
- Why do we age?
- How much water should you drink each day?
- What causes Alzheimer's?
- Why are asthma rates skyrocketing in the last 20 years?
- Is dietary cholesterol actually bad for you?
- What causes Type 2 diabetes?
- What causes cancer?
- How does cancer spread?
- Why do we need sleep?
- What is a dream?
- What is memory and how are memories stored in the human brain?
- How do we perceive pain?
- Why do we have fingerprints?
- Why do many people with genetic predisposition for a medical condition never get it?
- Why do muscles almost never get cancer?
- What do probiotics actually do?
- What does the appendix do?
The list goes on forever. Did you know that in 2016 we "discovered" an entirely new human organ? How did we miss an entire organ for all history of modern medicine?
I suspect as you read this list, for at least one of these questions you thought to yourself, "Oh, I know the answer to that one!"
I assure you, you don't. Nobody does. But you've been told or read an answer somewhere along the way, and you believed it. Medicine is filled with that kind of pseudo-knowledge, things we think are true ("we" includes most doctors) that in reality are utterly unfounded on science.
Core Principle #2 - We are designed to be healthy
The human body is an engineering dream, a system that self-diagnoses problems and fixes them automatically. Every system in our body has this ability from single cells up to the most complex biological systems, e.g., neuroendocrine or gastrointestinal. We automatically detect foreign pathogens, or toxins and remove or isolate them. We recognize damage and repair it. If we can't correct it, it automatically gets cut off from the rest of the body or autodestructs.
You know this from your own experience. If you cut yourself, you don't have to tell some part of your body to get busy healing the injury. Your body detects the damage, automatically seals the immediate wound to limit the damage and prevent infection, sends the necessary chemical building block to repair the injury and, if necessary, reroutes nerves and blood vessels around the repair to keep the rest of your body running smoothly.
Automatic repair functions like that are happening all the time throughout our bodies. We fight infections. We correct DNA replication errors. We alter digestive enzymes with diet. Self-repair, regeneration, and redundancy are basic operating principles of human physiology.
These first two principles combine to provide a first corollary. Since we don't know what we're messing with and the system is designed to fix itself.
Corollary 1 - Most of the time the most effective course to wellness is to merely create an environment that allows your body to heal itself.
Core Principle #3 - There are no One-Size-Fits-All answers
I'm big fan of intermittent fasting (IF). One of the arguments for IF is that it accurately reflects the way our ancestors ate. I made this case myself when I launched our intermittent fasting tea. I stand by that. I believe that regardless of geography or climate, periodic periods of hunger have been a part of life for most of human history.
But, that same argument has been made by for the Paleo diet, the Keto diet, vegetarians, long distant runners, aerobics, tanning beds and nude beaches.
I'm big fan of intermittent fasting (IF).
We seem to have an innate yearning to return to a purer simpler time. But the reality of our noble ancestors was far from our ideal.
You know what our ancestors really ate? Whatever they could get their hands on!
How much exercise did our ancestors get? As little as they could manage and still eat (and not be eaten.)
How often did they sleep? As much as they could.
In short, they adapted to the conditions. So, when we talk about doing something like our ancestors we have to ask, "Whose ancestors?" For example, much of the argument for the Paleo diet is based on observation of a modern hunter-gatherer tribe in Tanzania called the Hadza.
Do you think those observations are helpful if you happen to be descended from Eskimos? Or Vikings? Or an Amazonian river tribe?
The counter-argument is, adaptation takes time, so we have to search for the behaviors of our most primitive ancestors, probably from Africa.
But adaptation doesn't take nearly as long as that argument assumes. The proof of that is plain as the nose on your face. No, literally, I'm talking about your nose.
Short flat nose? Probably descended from a people from a warm climate where a short nasal passage allows maximum inhalation with minimal effort. Long thin nose like mine? Perhaps from a cold environment. A long thin nose creates more air turbulence which warms the air before it impacts sensitive mucous tissue.
This nose adaptation took place far faster than 'genetic drift" predicts. If the shape of our nose can adapt so rapidly, what about our digestive system? Especially, considering that a significant portion of the heavy lifting in digestion is done by beneficial microbes. You don't think the bacteria swap out in a hurry as you move from one climate to another?
Which leads me to...
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to health.
This is why when some new fad diet comes along, it works for some and fails miserably for others. Maybe eating nothing but meat makes you feel fabulous? But your neighbor insists vegetarian is the way to go. You're both right.
Core Principle #4 - The 80/20 Rule Applies to Health
I think about, research and work on health as my full-time profession and my passion. There is a mind-numbing amount of information that hits my inbox every day, much of it seemingly contradictory.
For the average person, who gets all this in limited time from their favorite newsfeed or family and friends, it's almost impossible to keep up and confusing.
The 80/20 rule says, "Don't bother." Almost all of that stuff is noise.
Taking definitive action with a small number of fundamental things will have a more profound positive impact on your health than the latest fad diet, the trendy new supplement or social media's most recent hashtag exercise phenomenon.
Once you have the basics handled, if you still want to experiment with Bulletproof Coffee or whatever the in-crowd is on to next week, feel free. But know that then you'll be going after some small percent of the remaining 20%.
As a quick aside, you know what I'm talking about, right?
Bulletproof coffee is the brainchild of Dave Asprey. Mr. Asprey claims he got the idea after drinking yak butter tea hiking in the Himalayas. He noticed it made him feel amazing. When he returned stateside, he adapted the idea to his morning coffee.
Bulletproof coffee is fresh-brewed coffee (preferably prepared using Mr. Asprey's own expensive brand of coffee beans), MCT oil and unsalted butter.
Blend all that up into a foamy latte-like beverage, and you're bulletproof for yet another day. It's not my intention to focus on Mr. Asprey in particular. I don't know him. He seems like a smart guy. Bulletproof coffee is emblematic of a problem behavior some people are calling, "biohacking."
Mr. Asprey defines "biohacking as, "the desire to be the absolute best version of ourselves. The main thing that separates a biohacker from the rest of the self-improvement world is a systems-thinking approach to our own biology."
By that definition, I'm a biohacker too but where I fall off the turnip truck is in practice.
In practice, it's uninformed self-experimentation on the advice of some blogger or personality with a half-baked idea based on some original research that he or she didn't actually read nor understand. Most of these folks are really just looking for the next attention-grabbing thing to talk about.
Some of the science is valid. MCT oil probably is good for you, and I'm all for grass-fed butter. But, by the time it hits the Twitter-verse, it is so separated from the original research that it's often bizarrely transformed.
And unfortunately, many "biohackers" are really looking for the next quick fix, the magic pill that will take the place of boring old diet and exercise.
They ignore the 20% that will have a real impact and instead indulge in dubious health trends that will, at best, have a marginal benefit. They grab a pizza, sit down in front of their play station all weekend drinking bulletproof coffee and sending selfie's captioned "Check me out, dudes. I'm #biohacking!"
Good luck with that!
Core Principle #5 - Entropy Never Sleeps
The second law of thermodynamics holds that in a closed system, entropy always increases. In other words, stuff falls apart.
If you don't clean, your house will get messier. If you park your car in the garage and never drive it, it will still slowly fall apart. It’s a fundamental law of nature.
People too. If you do nothing (ie. a closed system) you fall apart, no effort required. That’s the driver for a degenerative cycle, entropy.
Regenerative cycles are a fight with entropy.
Energy is required and, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says, you can’t do that in a “closed system.”
So, what does all that mean for your health?
Sitting still, doing nothing, is a bad plan. That’s the way of entropy, the path of “falling apart.”
A regenerative cycle is powerful. It’s like a glider catching an updraft, minimal effort, lots of reward. But it requires energy from outside to get it going and maintain it.
In health terms, outside energy can be many things; family and friends, religion, the food we eat or new ideas and information.
I don’t know what your inspiration will be, your “outside energy.” But, the upward spiral is one heck of a lot better than the downward.
Seek your inspiration. Welcome outside energy. Find your upward spiral.
Do it today, old man Entropy never sleeps.