Monday, December 20, 2010

My Intestinal Saga, Part 2: Lower Back Pain

Following the parasite party in my gut, I had a few months of sulfurous burps that just would not go away.  I was the weakest I'd ever been in my life.  If my memory serves me correctly, this was the start of years of funky stools (the description of which I'll spare all of you readers out there unless you personally inquire), as well as a sudden increase in the lower back pain I'd had since high school.  One day, maybe a year after the gut bug debacle, I was shoveling dirt in a garden when all of the sudden I tweaked my back into immobility.  This lasted 3 days.  It was incredibly painful and a huge wake-up call for me -- something about what I was doing for my health wasn't working.  Rather than blame it on being weak and malnourished from vegetarianism and parasites, I turned to purely external physical solutions, such as yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and body posture practices.  I focused on keeping my spine aligned and balancing the use of my muscles.  To a certain extent, this worked quite well and kept me somewhat capable physically, although I honestly could not imagine having to do yoga or pay attention to my posture the rest of my life -- it seemed unsustainable.  And why was it that primitive peoples -- who I had begun to study in depth -- appeared to be so light and tension-free in their bodies without needing to do daily maintenance practices such as yoga?  Also, working around kids a lot in summer camps I noticed how they naturally had absolutely perfect posture without any kind of attention to it.  I decided it was my goal to experience this natural freedom from tension.  Yet all that seemed to work was doing yoga three times a day and paying careful attention to my body posture.  There had to be a better way.

In the summer of 2005, I began work with a wilderness therapy program, called The ANASAZI Foundation, and was spending weeks in the backcountry with troubled youth.  Not learning my lesson from the experience with Vince Pinto in the Chiricahuas, I was confident that I could drink from streams without purifying the water.  I was so convinced psychologically that I was the healthiest, most resilient dude of anyone I knew that I believed I could withstand whatever nature threw at me.  I was wrong.  Again.  Three more parasitic episodes over a couple of months and I finally started purifying my water like a logical person would.  I no longer felt invincible and really started to question some of the crazy things I was doing, such as constant yoga and a vegetarian diet.

During my time at ANASAZI, I also realized something profound about my back pain: it would subside to almost no pain at all while I was in the wilderness.  At first, I thought this might be the product of living a more natural lifestyle and walking the earth as humans had done for millions of years before me.  Over time, however, I began to realize that there was something about the food I was eating in the backcountry -- both in amount and type -- that appeared to lessen the pain.  Lentils, rice, and ash cakes in small amounts were my staples in the field.  When I came back to civilization, I'd load up on loaves of bread, peanut butter, salad and tons of yogurt.  So I tried an experiment: eat how I ate in the field while I was at home in the city.  The results were the same: far less back pain and an overall feeling of being lighter in my body.  I thought I had found an answer.  I remained underweight and felt dizzy upon standing, had sunken eyes and a lack of energy, but without back pain, I felt 1,000 times better.  It seemed that more pure food -- and less amounts of it -- was the key to regaining my health.  Or was it?

Part 3 of "My Intestinal Saga" up next ..

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Intestinal Saga, Part 1: Dabbling in Parasites

Giardia Plush Doll
Wow.  It's been a really long time since I've posted a blog entry.  I'd like to have some extravagant reason as to why, but the truth of the matter is that I've simply been inspired in other directions for the past several months.  My own physical health progress has been at a standstill this whole time until quite recently.  As some of you may know, I have had long-standing digestive problems that possibly came about after many episodes of backcountry parasitic infections beginning almost 8 years ago (which also was the time I began experimenting with vegetarianism).  My digestive problems usually manifest in the form of a slowed down transit time, hard stools and bloating, along with infrequent sharp pains in my intestines (my apologies if anybody is disturbed by my blunt description).  These symptoms have greatly affected my body and my mental state in negative ways: poor sleep, sudden fatigue, coming and going depression, muscle tension, pain, and the like.  When I began eating well again and adding certain supplements to my diet, I was able to lessen or eliminate many of these issues.  I thought I would delve a little deeper into my health history and describe what kinds of changes I made along the way get well again, dietary or otherwise, with the intention of possibly guiding some of you folks out there in blogger land to better health and also receiving feedback from anybody who wants to offer me some other directions I might be able to take to further improve my situation.

Hmm.  Where to begin?  I guess I should probably go back as far as I can remember, and that would be my childhood years.  The major body disturbances I recall from this time, let's say around age 8 and for several years after, were TMJ syndrome and frequent headaches.  I would grind my teeth at night and wake up with a sore jaw quite often.  The headaches seemed to arise at random moments throughout the day, but I remember them being excruciating.  Besides that, as far as I know, everything ran smoothly (if you know what I mean).  It's debatable whether or not the aforementioned problems were from digestion, but later -- in the midst of my health transformation, around age 23 --  I would discover some connections that surprised me.  More on that later. (See the three part post on my own personal health profile for more on my physical transformation and dietary history.)

Now on to high school.  This was when I first started to notice bloating in my lower abdomen.  I've been an avid athlete all my life and high school was the most active time of my life.  Lifting weights 6 days a week; running 3 miles every other day; swimming laps and doing sprints; and practicing on baseball and soccer teams on top of all of that.  Pretty active, right?  Well despite all of that, I still had this perceptible "belly" on me.  At the time, I attributed it to fat, but I'm fairly certain now that it was just bloating -- I was pretty ripped in every other regard.  So what caused the bloating?  I don't know for certain.  My educated guess based upon later experimentation is that it was brought up by some kind of milk and/or gluten intolerance.  Another primary physical issue of that time in my life was lower back pain.  This was why I absolutely abhorred doing any kind of physical labor that involved bending over and lifting.  Again, I now believe I have answers as to why that was happening.  We'll get to these epiphanies in the chronological order that I discovered them.

Okay, post high school -- my time of spiritual journeying and reconnecting with nature.  Here's where the "fun" begins.  Parasites.  Wonderfully horrible parasites.  My first episode happened after going on a survival trip with my friend and mentor, Vince Pinto (who owns and operates a nature school, called Raven's Way Wild Journeys).  We hiked into a stream in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona with minimal gear, including a complete lack of water purification.  Vince drank from this stream on several occasions with no problem, so I was confident that I would do just fine, as well.  Along the stream, there were cow patties literally every couple of feet.  This meant that the water was likely contaminated.  Welcome to the wild, wild West, where cattle have more rights in nature than humans.  Cow excrement aside, Vince and I found a pristine place up stream which we assumed would be safe to drink.  36 hours later, instead of camping in the desert, I was camped beside a toilet.  Giardia.  Vince, on the other hand, was fine.  Unlike him, I was underweight and underfed at the time, so I attribute my susceptibility to the little buggers -- and his resistance to them -- to that.

Part 2 of "My Intestinal Saga" coming soon.

If, for some odd reason, you are absolutely enamored with how cute and cuddly the giardia microbe above is, you can get your very own plush doll at Giant Microbes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Obesity & Heredity, Part 4: Epigenetics

I first heard about epigenetics from Dr. Theodore Belfor, the man behind the adult palate expansion device called the Homeoblock.  It is his opinion that epigenetics will be the most important field of science in the next decade.  In brief, epigenetics is the study of  the changes that take place within the epigenome – literally, "on top" of the genome – due to environmental factors, such as food and pollution, without affecting the DNA sequence.  Here's a more lengthy explanation from a website  published by a European group who call themselves “The Epigenome Network of Excellence:”

Conrad Waddington (1905-1975) is often credited with coining the term epigenetics in 1942 as “the branch of biology which studies the causal interactions between genes and their products, which bring the phenotype into being”. Epigenetics appears in the literature as far back as the mid 19th century, although the conceptual origins date back to Aristotle (384-322 BC). He believed in epigenesis: the development of individual organic form from the unformed. This controversial view was the main argument against our having developed from miniscule fully-formed bodies. Even today the extent to which we are preprogrammed versus environmentally shaped awaits universal consensus. The field of epigenetics has emerged to bridge the gap between nature and nurture. In the 21st century you will most commonly find epigenetics defined as 'the study of heritable changes in genome function that occur without a change in DNA sequence.'

Take home quote from above: “...epigenetics has emerged to bridge the gap between nature and nurture.”  This is extremely important in the study of health and nutrition, as there are many questions of what brings about good health and poor health in the context of inheritance, none of which can be fully answered without evaluating specific individual choices – dietary, environmental, etc. – made within each generation (which affects future generations).   In other words, nurture – how we are taken care of as children and how we take care of ourselves as adults  – is what molds and shapes nature – the way our bodies and minds express themselves epigenetically, which is then potentially passed to our children.

How do epigenetic changes take place?  The Epigenome Network of Excellence reporter, Brona McVittie, puts it this way:

The genetic blueprint, like a complex musical score, remains lifeless without an orchestra of cells (players) and epigenotypes (instruments) to express it... Epigenetic factors include both spatial patterns, such as the arrangement of DNA around histone proteins (chromatin), and biochemical tagging...With some 30 000 genes in the human genome, the importance of silence, as with any orchestral performance, must not be underestimated...As cells develop, their fate is governed by the selective use and silencing of genes... Failure to silence genes can produce a hazardous cacophony.

What does all of this have to do with obesity?  Well, scientists have discovered that epigenetic changes in mice that are pregnant mothers can directly impact the health of the offspring.  How?  By turning on or off specific genes through dietary or environmental means.  One of these health effects, in addition to cancer and diabetes, is a tendency of the offspring to become obese as adults.  In one study, if a single gene, called the “agouti gene,” is overexpressed through the failure to suppress another gene (Avy), it greatly influences the ultimate health of the offspring (emphasis mine):

Failure to epigenetically suppress the Avy gene during development causes the agouti gene to be ectopically overexpressed later in life. This high level of agouti expression in essentially all tissues causes numerous downstream metabolic and endocrine effects that ultimately affect gross biological end points such as obesity and survival. This agouti overexpression and its physiological effects have been termed the yellow agouti obese mouse syndrome. This syndrome includes a yellow or mottled yellow coat color, altered metabolism and obesity from a young age. It also results in adult diabetes, increased cancer susceptibility and, by 24 mo of age, twice the mortality seen in normal mice.

Interestingly, whether or not a mouse becomes obese seems to depend on the levels of methyl-donating substances, such as folic acid (a vitamin naturally found in high amounts in organ meats, many kinds of legumes, and dark leafy greens).  The reason behind this has to do with the way that DNA passes information to cells in the body -- a process called  DNA methylation.  Whether or not certain genes are expressed has a lot to do with this process.  Without enough methyl-donating substances, such as the B-vitamins, betaine, choline, SAM-e and genistein (from soybeans), DNA methylation is disturbed and abnormal cell expression, along with switching on or off certain genes, results.  You can see why folic acid supplementation is recommended for pregnant women and why women in traditional cultures consume "sacred" foods rich in methyl-donating nutrients, such as liver, before and during pregnancy.

So, if obese people supplement their diet with folate or genistein, can they reverse the epigenetic changes that may have brought about their obesity?  Short answer: we don't know.  In animal studies, there's more certainty.  Here's what Randy Jirtle, an expert in epigenetics, has to say:

Weaver et al. (Nat. Neurosci. 7: 847-854, 2004) at McGill University, however, have shown recently that maternal nurturing behavior can stably alter the epigenotype in rat pups soon after birth. Moreover, these epigenetic changes are reversible in adulthood following methionine supplementation or treatment with histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors (Weaver et al.Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 103: 3480-3485, 2006). Thus, data supporting the reversal of environmentally induced epigenetic changes via dietary supplementation or pharmaceutical therapy in adulthood is mounting.

The implications for humans are far-reaching.  Perhaps someday we'll have a way of epigenetically treating obesity, diabetes, and cancer.  For now, the best we can do is eat a nutrient-dense real-foods diet while avoiding processed and refined foods -- the foods that have most likely brought about our health dilemmas in the first place.

For a great overview of epigenetics, check out PBS Nova's educational page on the subject.  Also, here's a nice website by the University of Utah.

SIDEBAR: Is Plastic Making Us Fat?

Aside from diet, another significant factor in the tendency of the agouti mice to become obese comes from the mother's exposure to biosphenol-A (BPA), a common plastic found in many food and beverage containers.  Here's Randy Jirtle again to explain:

We have demonstrated recently that when female pregnant mice are exposed to BPA, the incidence of yellow Avy offspring is markedly increased because DNA methylation of the agouti gene is decreased (Dolino et al.,Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104: 13056-13061, 2007). BPA also epigenetically alters gene expression of at least one other gene, indicating a genome-wide effect. Yellow agouti mice become obese in adulthood and have a high probability of developing diabetes and cancer. Consequently, BPA exposure leads to adult diseases in agouti mice by altering the epigenome during the earliest stages of development—a condition that can be counteracted by maternal nutrient supplementation with methyl-donating substances (folic acid, etc.) or genistein.


SIDEBAR: Weston A. Price & Epigenetics

Epigenetics may seem obvious to folks out there who are familiar with Darwin's theory of evolution.  “Of course our bodies and minds are shaped by our environment; and of course we evolve (or devolve) throughout time and generations.  That's the way nature works!”  The big difference, as far as I can tell, is that unlike DNA, epigenetic changes actually take place within one lifetime, not over eons of evolution.  The way the epigenome appears to be altered is by dramatic changes in environment, particularly diet.  Think Nutrition and Physical Degeneration or Pottenger's Cats.

Actually, one might say that Price and Pottenger recognized epigenetics when they observed physical degeneration in the people and animals they respectively studied, although they didn't call it that.  The changes in facial structure and lowered immunity in their studies appeared to be a direct result of poor diet generation after generation.  Once again, during one lifetime, the epigenome can be altered significantly.  Could it be that the mothers and fathers eating a modern diet and the cats eating cooked food altered their epigenome and then passed on these traits on to the next generation?  Is this why each generation appeared to be progressively worse than the last?  The field of epigenetics suggests this is the case.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obesity & Heredity, Part 3: Why Are Thin People Not Fat?

Below is an intriguing BBC documentary, called "Why Are Thin People Not Fat?"  In this film, ten thin people who have no history of obesity overeat whatever foods they want for several weeks and the results are evaluated at the end of the experiment.  One especially interesting facet of the documentary is the fact that the Asian participant gains the least weight of all the participants and also appears to have the most elevated metabolism.  Could it be that his genes are more pure -- i.e. less degeneration in his family -- than the others?  Watch and decide for yourself!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obesity & Heredity, Part 2: You Are What Your Parents Ate

Stephan Guyenet at Whole Health Source wrote a brilliant blog series a few months back, called “The Body Fat Setpoint,” in which he describes the mechanisms behind an individual's ability to maintain a  very specific weight.  No matter how much a person overeats and how much weight is gained, his or her body is simply primed to be at this “setpoint” and will “defend” it diligently through natural fat regulation mechanisms.  Stephan references a study where:

They overfed lean and modestly overweight volunteers 50% more calories than they naturally consume … After 6 weeks of massive overfeeding, both lean and overweight subjects gained an average of 10 lb (4.6 kg) of fat mass and 6.6 lb (3 kg) of lean mass...  Following overfeeding, subjects were allowed to eat however much they wanted for 6 weeks. Both lean and overweight volunteers promptly lost 6.2 of the 10 lb they had gained in fat mass (61% of fat gained), and 1.5 of the 6.6 lb they had gained in lean mass (23%).  

To me, the most interesting aspect regarding human overfeeding studies like this is that, once the overfeeding period has ended, the participants return to their original weight without dieting.  As Stephan indicates, this means that our bodies have the inherent ability to maintain our “normal weight.”  Refer to the post I wrote on tribal fattening practices and the fact that the fattened women who refuse to overeat their real foods diet return to a healthy weight in short order.  Normal weight, however, appears to be different for every individual. For example, when a person has a normal weight – a setpoint – that, by all standards, can be seen as obese, we are left with the question of just why in the heck this is happening.  Why does the body insist on remaining in such a biologically abnormal state?

Many scientists and researchers claim that leptin – a hormone which regulates appetite – plays a key role in obesity, as many people who are overweight exhibit low levels of the hormone.  Much research has been conducted on the validity of this theory and it is now recognized that leptin resistance – in which the body can no longer can recognize when it has had enough food – is what enables a person to eat more than they need, thus leading to obesity and keeping that person obese.  And, surprise, surprise: artificial fructose is a prime culprit in leptin resistance because fructose doesn't stimulate leptin (or insulin for that matter).  No stimulation, no appetite regulation.

Skinny Jeans & Skinny Genes

Okay, so leptin appears to play a role in weight maintenance.  That's all fine and good, but why can some people eat and drink whatever they want -- including artificial fructose -- without affecting their body composition while some people become obese?  This is where I believe heredity comes into play.  Depending on what stage of degeneration a person is in – first, second, or third generation of processed food consumption, let's say, and/or what a person's mother ate while pregnant with him/her – obesity can be more or less of a potential complication.

In my case, for example, my mother wasn't overweight when I was in the woom and neither of my parents are overweight now.  This is despite consuming a lot of high-fructose corn syrup and omega-6 vegetable oils for much of their lives.  I was raised on this typical industrial diet and never experienced issues of overweight as a child, and I have no issues now.  At age 18, I altered my diet and cut out processed foods, which is how I eat now, eight years later.  But my older brother, now age 29, has continued to eat our childhood foods without gaining significant weight.  Other health problems aside, my family has no weight issues.  Is there something about us genetically that is behind all of this?  I think it's a strong possibility.  And maybe this is because, like Don Gorske, we may have a closer-to-pure hereditity.  We are not yet degenerated to the point where the disease of obesity has set in.

In contrast, I know of a few childhood friends (two brothers) who now appear to be on the receiving end of metabolic discord through familial degeneration.  In their twenties now, they are both experiencing weight problems.  They also drink a lot of beer and don't seem to have the best diet in the world.  Observing their parents, the mother has been overweight for at least half of her life (including several years before becoming pregnant) and the father has always been slim, despite drinking a lot of beer and not having the best diet in the world just like his sons.  Why is dad slim while having very similar dietary habits to his overweight sons?  Are his genetics more pure and less degenerated – less overall processed food consumption – than the mother's genes, which appear to have a hereditary predisposition to being overweight?  This may be the case, and it would explain the weight issues of the two sons, as they would inherit half of their mother's genes.        

Several studies have been done evaluating the role heredity may play in obesity.  The most compelling subset of these studies are those that include data from adopted children, their adoptive parents, and their biological parents.  Here's an abstract from one of these of these studies, called “Genetic contributions to human fatness: an adoption study:”

A strong relationship was found between the degree of fatness of biologic mothers and that of their adult offspring who had been separated from their mothers at birth and adopted during the first year of life. This relationship persisted even after age, height, and possible confounding environmental factors were controlled. There was little evidence for either selective placement on the basis of parental fatness or gene-environment interaction. There was no relationship between the degree of fatness of adoptive parents and that of the adoptees.

It's interesting that the weight of the child was directly affected by the weight of the biological mother and is not affected by the environment of the adoptive home.  This supports my theory on the two sons who I described above.  There is, however, one glaring confounding factor in all of this talk about obesity and heredity, and that is the increasing consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in the last 30 years.  This amazingly effective human fattener was not significant in the industrialized diet until 1980, when Coca-Cola officially began adding this biochemically engineered sweetener to its popular soft drink.  This also happens to be the time when obesity levels really began to take off.  Check out the graph below from the paper, “High-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity:”

So does that mean that heredity may not be as important as diet in the development of obesity?  Not necessarily.  I believe the two go hand-in-hand and, as I said earlier, it's possible that it is heredity and the diet of the mother which determines susceptibility to the effects of HFCS or other processed foods.

So what lesson have we learned here?  Well, there's still a lot of questions, but I think we can safely say that some people have more difficulty with weight than others, and that reason may not necessarily be connected to dietary choices in all cases.  Rather, there are several lifetimes of degeneration that may be influencing each individuals propensity to gain – and keep on – the fat.

For solutions to inherited susceptibility to obesity, I refer you back to Stephan, who I think provides some good advice.  As far as my recommendations, the best change anyone can make in their diet to make a difference in health, and perhaps body composition, is to simply eliminate the four nasties: artificial fructose, gluten, trans fats, and vegetable oils.  Eat real food.  And please, please, please raise your children on real foods so they don't have the same health difficulties that many of us adults have!  

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Obesity & Heredity, Part 1: Don Gorske

For better or for worse, we inherit much of the body composition tendencies of our parents.  This can be argued as merely adopting their food habits, which directly affects our health, and I believe that's a big part of why our bodies are the way they are.  However, there are most certainly genetic predispositions to certain body shapes and sizes, as well.  Often times, I focus on diet as the #1 instigator of health and disease, but when it comes to issues of overweight and obesity I often find myself wondering just how much genetics can play a role in whether a person is thin or fat, muscular or lanky, apple or pear-shaped.  Many of us know folks who can eat whatever the heck they want without any apparent health effects or significant body composition changes.  

Case in point, Don Gorske, the infamous McDonald's enthusiast who has eaten 24,000 Big Macs since 1972.  Despite this indulgence -- and the sodas that come with it -- Gorske appears to be in good health.  (I say “appears” because he is not overweight and has good cholesterol numbers; not so sure about his teeth, triglycerides, HDL:LDL ratio, VLDL levels or other markers of health.)  He has a full head of dark hair, walks every day, and also has a positive outlook on life.  Arguably, these are signs of good health.  How can this be?  Isn't fast food one of the prime suspects in modern disease?  Could this mean that fast food is off the hook?  Well, before you go out gorging on McDonald's because of one man's seeming success on such fare, read on.

Mr. 180, Matt Stone, recently blogged about Gorske, pinpointing dietary, philosophical, and hereditary  reasons as to why this man's physical health seems to be unaffected by the foods he eats.  Of all the reasons listed by Matt, I believe heredity to be the most important factor.  For one thing, as Matt says in his post, Gorske grew up “ cow country and didn't start eating fast food until age 18 ...”  Developmentally speaking, this Big Mac-lover had a head start in good health -- especially if we consider that he only started eating fast food after his body and metabolic tendencies were well-established.  And while it's interesting to observe Gorske's apparent well-being and question the assumption that fast food is detrimental to our health, the picture would not be complete without full consideration of his unique heredity.  Perhaps he is the fortunate heir of health not-far-removed from that of our ancestors.  What of his genetics, his childhood health, his parents' and their parents' health?

Unfortunately, I don't have access to this information, but I would hazard a guess that his parents were closer to a traditional diet than not for most of their lives, and that they were maybe the first or second generation of degeneration.  In contrast, many of us have parents or grandparents who were well on their way to degeneration during their life time and this directly affected our health -- epigenetics influenced strongly by diet. (See section below, “Degeneration in the Cafeteria.”)  Maybe some of us, like Gorske, are able to avoid some of the dramatic metabolic changes seen today -- namely obesity -- simply because our parents and grandparents hadn't quite reached that particular stage of degeneration.  Obesity, if we think about the very low historic levels and the high levels of today, appears to be a stage of degeneration that comes after maybe three generations of poor food habits.  It also appears to be in direct connection with the consumption of the modern franken-foods -- artificial fructose, trans fats, white flour, vegetable oils.    

Whatever the case may be, it's evident that obesity is an abnormal human state brought about by heredity, which is influenced by dietary changes.  What's interesting, however, is that some people -- like Don Gorske-- due to perhaps a closer-to pure heredity, are able to escape the effects of poor food habits during their lifetime.  How their children might fare is another question.    

You know what would be an awesome experiment?  Taking a bunch of thin people who appear to do just fine on junk-food, like Gorske, and feeding them lots and lots of food and seeing how quickly they gain weight, how their metabolism reacts, and whether or not they return to their normal weight when the experiment is over.  Maybe this would provide answers as to why thin people are thin.  That post is up next.


SIDEBAR: Degeneration in the Cafeteria

Imagine a line at a cafeteria with a limited amount of food.  There's (1) the traditional foods of our ancestors: raw dairy, grass-fed meats, fish, fresh grains, fruits and vegetables; there's (2) a mixed-diet of these traditional foods with some processed foods (mainly sugar and white flour); then there's (3) the factory-raised meats, white flour, artificial fructose, and rancid vegetable oil-laden diet of today.  First in line, our great grandparents, enjoyed a diet primarily of traditional foods and experienced good health.  Second in line, their children (our grandparents) approached the front of the line and much of the traditional foods had already been eaten by their parents, so they began eating some white flour and sugar with some ill health effects, notably lowered immunity and dental disease.  Third in line, these childrens' children (our parents) arrived at  the food and they were left with more white flour and sugar than traditional foods; they developed physical deformities from nutritional deficiencies and might have developed some issues with weight and diabetes as well as other degenerative diseases, depending on their parents' food choices.  That brings us to the last ones in line (the 20 and 30-somethings of today) who are left with the most processed of all processed foods: high-fructose corn syrup, rancid vegetable oil, trans fats, and the like.  These poor folks not only have a poor diet, but may inherit the traits of their parents 100-fold, possibly becoming obese and diabetic at an early age, in addition to a slew of health problems that come along with being at the end of a long line of degeneration.  Below is a (purely theoretical) visual representation of this. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Adult Palate Expansion, Part 2: A Brief Chat with Theodore Belfor, DDS

As a follow-up to my last post on palate expansion in adults, I decided to give Dr. Theodore Belfor a call to find out more about his Homeoblock palate-widening appliance, as well his background and interest in the subject of craniofacial changes.  What followed was a brief, yet fascinating chat that delved into many subjects.  Here's a bulleted summary our conversation.

  • The cost of the Homeoblock procedure: anywhere from $2600-6000, depending on your own personal facial structure, which can be evaluated at Dr. Belfor's clinic in New York through a catscan and 3d image analysis.  He tries to keep the cost of the Homeblock close to the popular teeth-straightening product, Invisalign 
  • Human de-volution: Dr. Belfor acknowledges that human beings have rapidly devolved in a very short amount of time -- i.e. the last 100 years.  While Darwin's theory of evolution recognizes changes in species over millenia, our rapid de-evolution is an indication that something we are doing externally is influences our physical deformities.  He suggests diet and pollution as main causes.  
  • Epigenetics: (This is the changing of genes through influences other than DNA -- i.e. facial deformities)  Dr. Belfor believes this is going to be the most important field in science in the 21st century as people come to realize that many of us are not expressing our genes fully and that we must find out why and do something about it.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome: Recently, Dr. Belfor spoke with a doctor in Australia who connects craniofacial deformities with sudden infant death syndrome.  With a lacking craniofacial development, the 9th (Glossopharyngeal) nerve in the head, which controls swallowing, gag reflex, and speech, could very well play a role in SIDs in that arterial blood flow to it may be be restricted, which could lead to a lack of signaling to baroreceptors, Belfor says.  Baroreceptors signal the central nervous system to regulate blood pressure levels and with their malfunction could lead to possible cardiac arrest.  (Hopefully I'm getting all of this right.)
  • Weston A. Price, DDS: Dr. Belfor is familiar with Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and says that Price's research is the basis for the realization of our physical deformities and, thus, influences any dental work (including his) that seeks to restore the facial structure of the human genetic blueprint.
Unfortunately, Dr. Belfor had to leave the conversation somewhat abruptly because he had patients to tend to, but I'm extremely grateful that he was willing to speak and share what he did for the ten minutes we were on the phone.  It seemed that if he was not busy, he would have talked to me for much longer, as he definitely has a passion for what he does and seems to enjoy very much sharing that passion with others -- even if they are some random blogger/independent health researcher like myself.  What a great guy!  If I was in the New York area, I would not hesitate to go in for a craniofacial evaluation.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Adult Palate Expansion

I am deformed.  I look nothing like my ancestors.  As a child, I had braces.  I was a frequent mouth breather.  At age 16, I said bye to my wisdom teeth.  I have only 24 teeth left.  My dental palate is not broad and sweeping; my jaw isn't square; my nasal passage isn't wide.  I'm a human being raised on a processed food diet, and this is the result.  When I first read Weston A. Price's book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, it was hard to find out that I'm not developmentally optimal.  I thought, "Well, crud, there's yet another thing that's wrong with me that can't be fixed."  I began comparing photos of myself as a child with some of the photos from Price's book.  Here's me next to a traditional Swiss gal:

See the lack of resemblance?  Check out the overall roundness of the Swiss girl compared to my more narrowed facial structure.  Compare my nasal passage to hers.  Cheek bones?  Jaw?  And, wow, how about them teeth!  This isn't due to genetics, as many of you know.  It's all about nutrition during the developmental years, as Price discovered.  Damn you, margarine, sugar, and white flour!

The other day I was thinking about how it might feel the have the facial features characteristic of the healthy cultures in Weston Price's studies as opposed to the narrow palate, brace-straightened teeth, weak jaw, narrowed nasal passage, and lackluster cheek bones that characterize my own facial structure.  If I were all of the sudden blessed with an optimal facial structure and all the teeth the good Lord intended me to have, would I breath easier?  Speak better?  Smile more fully and more often?  Have less tension in my jaws?  Feel a heightened sense of well-being?  While it's interesting -- if not somewhat depressing -- to imagine such a possibility, I never thought once that this would ever be achievable.  I guess you can say that's why I've come to terms with my deformed self.  I can't change it, can I?  What other choice do I have besides acceptance of my not-so-optimal lot in life?  Sigh.

I was impressed by a study about two twins recently referenced in Wise Traditions, the Weston A. Price Foundation journal.  One twin received palatal expansion, while the other did not.  Here's a photo that shows the dramatic difference in the two -- not just in their teeth, but their overall facial structure:

Impressive, eh?  It's readily apparent that dental appliances can make a huge difference towards regaining the facial structure of our ancestors.  But I'm far beyond the developmental time period during which such devices can help me attain a facial appearance closer to that of the human genetic blueprint, right?  These things only work for the growing child or teenager.  At age 18, the bone plates are fused, and there's no budging them.  Once you're an adult, there's no room for any adjustments, right?  Well, I began to wonder: Is there such a thing as adult palatal expansion?  And, if so, would it make any difference health-wise if I were to apply such technology to my own head?  Let's just find out.  (Google, you are my friend.)

The first website I came across, called Facial Development, is absolutely fascinating.  It's authored by Theodore R. Belfor, DDS, who has a clinic in New York state that actually specializes in expanding adult palates using a dental appliance called a Homeoblock.  From his website:

The Homeoblock™ appliance is a revolutionary patented oral device that is much like a retainer in looks, but the results go way beyond teeth straightening...The Homeoblock™ appliance works with the body, so that physiological changes occur naturally; developing the bones of the face and resulting in the strengthening of facial muscles. These changes occur due in large part to each person’s genetic potential  Often, facial development does not reach its potential due to the food we eat, polluted air and poor dental care to name a few.

Wow.  A dentist who acknowledges that facial development is influenced by diet?  I wonder if he knows about Dr. Price.  Browsing the website further, I came upon a paper that Dr. Belfor wrote called, "Facial Changes as a Result of Palatal Expansion in Adult Patients Using the Homeoblock Appliance."  Check out this before and after 3d image taken of one of his patients who used a Homeoblock:

Look closely and notice the differences in the cheek bones, chin, and lips.  Pretty incredible.  So not only does palatal widening make for straighter teeth, it also induces significant changes in the overall facial structure -- even in adults.  Dr. Belfor markets his work as a way of creating a more youthful appearance in addition to straightening teeth.  An interesting effect of palatal widening is reduced wrinkles.  But he's also very enthusiastic about other changes that occur with the procedure (emphasis mine):

 I am experiencing the most incredible excitement on a daily basis. I routinely expand adult underdeveloped maxilla and mandible taking the teeth along for the ride. There are many different goals, as many as there are different patients. However, the result is always the same; more prominent cheekbones, wide smiles, and strong jaws!"  

Prominent cheek bones?  Wide smiles?  Strong jaws?  Is this guy Weston Price incarnate?  So, wait a minute, how can any of this actually work if the bones are fused by age 18, as is commonly believed?  Well, let's let Dr. Belfor answer that one:

Bone is essentially plastic in nature. Tension and intermittent pressure persuade the bones to redefine at any age. In fact, our typical patient is between 30 and 60 years old. In the upper dental arch nature has provided a suture line front to back between the two bones that form the palate. This allows for an easy widening process and as the palate expands, the cheekbones as well, creating more prominence.

Okay, so maybe there's a chance for a "deformie" like me to experience optimal facial structure after all!  I would like a second opinion, though.  I  mean, isn't there a possibility of teeth relapsing or other complications happening?  Let's see what one scientific study had to say about adult palatal widening procedures and the risks involved, in this case using an implement called a Haas expander:

Rapid maxillary expansion (RME) in the adult is thought to be an unreliable procedure with several adverse side effects and, consequently, surgically assisted RME is considered the preferred procedure...Rapid maxillary expansion using a Haas expander was examined in 47 adults and 47 children...The results indicate that nonsurgical RME in adults is a clinically successful and safe method for correcting transverse maxillary

arch deficiency.

This study had a follow-up time of an average 5.9 years, and the patients' teeth remained in place.  Here's a dramatic before-and-after image from the study showing one case of palatal expansion, a 30-year-old female:

Now that's just amazing.  30-years-old and there's still room for correction of the dental arch.  I wonder, though, are there any health benefits to having the palate expanded and the resultant craniofacial changes that take place?  Dr. Belfor, what do you think?

Orthopedic jaw development, particularly arch expansion, allows for improved sinus drainage and widens airflow passages. This can result in snoring reduction and lessened symptoms of sleep apnea...Voice enhancement. Improved facial balance and skin tone. Arresting and reversing the premature aging of the face. 

 Sounds to me like it would be worth it.  Only one problem, I have no idea how much the procedure actually costs.  I'm sending an e-mail to Dr. Belfor to find out.  Also, I'm going to ask him if he's influenced at all by Weston A. Price, as he seems right there with the 1930s dentist philosophically.  If anybody out there has more information on the procedure, please leave your comments.

Here's one more link with an article and video on adult palate expansion: "Skull Stretching."

See "Popular Posts" to the right for all of my updates on palate expansion.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Primitive Nutrition Talk: Health Stories (Continued)

Here's some more footage from part one of the Wintercount discussion.  Here I continue my health story and recount fond memories of my experiences with zero-carbohydrate diets, digestive problems, and giardia.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Primitive Nutrition Talk: Health Stories

Here's the first of a series of videos from my discussion/presentation on Primitive Nutrition, which took place at the Wintercount Rendezvous 2010.  In this video are a few of the diet experiences shared by folks that sat in on the talk, as well as my own health story.  I'll be publishing more videos of this presentation in the coming weeks, covering many nutrition and health topics from an evolutionary and anthropological perspective, as well as diving into the work of Weston A. Price.

By the way, if anybody knows how to sync video and audio, I'd greatly appreciate some advice, as you can see that the second half of the video is a few seconds off.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wintercount Rendezvous 2010

After going shirtless and stocking up my vitamin D reserves in the Sonoran Desert at the Wintercount Rendezvous, I'm back to blogging and am pretty excited to share some of the experiences I've had over the last few weeks.  I bought a digital video camera just before attending the gathering in order to document some of my Primitive Nutrition classes, as well as an interview or two.  Now I'm learning how to edit the footage and soon will have some of these videos to share here on my blog.  For now, I thought I'd provide a glimpse into what I've been up to lately -- particularly for all you curious folks out there who might be asking yourselves, "Just what in the heck in this 'Wintercount' thing this guy mentions so often?"  Enjoy!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Small Game in Primitive Living, Part 3: Cooking For Maximum Nutrients

Indigenous peoples all over the world applied universal cooking practices to their animal foods for optimum nutrition.  For larger game, a common practice was to consume nutritious organ meats -- liver, kidneys, heart, etc. -- in addition to muscle flesh and fat after roasting over the fire, boiling in stews, or burying in pits lined with hot rocks.  The full spectrum of amino acids, water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins exist in these parts of the animal.  For minerals, bones were added to long-cooked broths or cracked open to extract the rich, creamy marrow inside.  Smaller bones were sometimes gnawed on; the flavorful juices perhaps provided a dose of calcium and gelatin, similar to the nutrients found in bone broths.  The Townsend Newsletter For Doctors and Patients (2005) published an article about the properties of traditional bone broths and had this to say about nutritional content:

Broth can be thought of as a protein supplement, and a calcium supplement. The chemical ingredients extracted from broth are glycine and proline (collagen/gelatin), calcium and phosphorus (minerals), hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate (GAGs), and other minerals, amino acids and GAGs in smaller amounts.

Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains (Au Press)If my memory serves me correctly, I once read an anthropological account of a few hundred years ago in which one Native American tribe always had a pot of broth on the fire and added scraps and bones to this pot continuously.  The observer of this practice states that this tribe drank "copious" amounts of the broth.  

Aside from the boiling of bones to release their minerals and nutritive elements, some tribes went to great lengths to supply yet another source of fat -- in addition to marrow and body fat deposits -- called "bone grease."  This type of fat was attained by the long boiling of smashed bone and skimming the resultant grease off the surface.  In a book called Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains, author Jack Brink goes into incredible detail about the production of bone grease, even going so far as to reproduce indigenous boiling techniques by adding hot, fire-heated rocks to buffalo hide containers filled with water.  He explains how bone grease is different than marrow:

Though bone looks to be solid, it is really more of a latticework of twisted strands of bone tissue interspersed with tiny spaces ... The tiny spaces ... aren't empty; they are filled with small globules of fat.  Called bone grease, it is a fat separate from the marrow in that is located in the bone structure itself, not the marrow cavity. (p. 190) 

Another universal practice among primitive cultures is the use of blood.  In a class I took at Wintercount one year, called "Using the Whole Animal," we caught the blood of a freshly slaughtered goat in a bucket and consumed the thick, scarlet red liquid after cooking it in a frying pan over a fire.  It resembled ground meat and tasted very rich and satisfying.  Of course, many of us know of the Masai and their practice of drinking raw, fresh blood -- so cooking isn't a requirement.  Blood is a good source of electrolytes, especially sodium, which are sometimes hard to come by in primitive living.  It is also high in protein and, in and of itself, a very sustaining food.

Powdered Woodrat

Now that we've reviewed some of the primitive cooking and eating practices for larger animals, let's examine how this information relates to the main subject of this series: small game.  While it goes without saying that all of the nutrients present in large game are also present in smaller game, the difference in cooking techniques to maximize these nutrients requires some explanation.  The cooking of small game is perhaps a simpler, more effective means of maximizing nutrition in primitive living due to the simple fact that long boiling times and extensive processing and butchering is not required.  In fact, many small animals can be eaten whole, bones and all (of course, removing the intestines is a probably good idea in any case).

Survival Skills of Native CaliforniaAuthor Paul Campbell, who I've met at several primitive skills gatherings, documents the traditional hunt and preparation of white-throated woodrat in his book, Survival Skills of Native California (pp. 340-345).  A Kiliwa Indian named Sam Ochurte leads Campbell on the hunt and, after procuring a few woodrats by way of bow and arrow, the native builds a small fire to cook his quarry.  He then singes the hair off, cooks the skin to a crisp, bacon-like consistency and removes the charred pieces of skin, eating each with a pinch of salt.  Ochurte then removes the intestines from the woodrats and returns them to the coals to finish cooking.  When thoroughly cooked, the whole rats are set upon one rock and pounded with another, as in a mano and metate setup, until they are a small pile of shredded meat and crushed bone.  He then picks out any uncrushed fragments and the rest -- smashed up bones, teeth, meat, and organs -- he eats.  As Campbell acknowledges, "The nutritional value of even one complete rodent must have been considerable."

Campbell notes that similar processing techniques were observed historically in several other California tribes.  Rabbits, hares, squirrels, and other small game were prepared this way.  In addition to this, larger game bones, such as deer vertebrae, were also pounded and stored or eaten -- ancient calcium supplements in a sense.  He describes other cooking methods for small game, including the boiling of whole small animals -- taken out temporarily to remove the skin similar to the above account -- and eaten whole, guts and all.               

By using the whole animal, primitive peoples easily attained the nutrition required for optimal health, and modern abos would be wise to follow suit in primitive living excursions and experiments if they are to sustain their health and maximize nutrients to thrive in the wilderness.   


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Small Game in Primitive Living, Part 2: Protein, Fat, & Calories

Without a doubt, the procuring of adequate food while in a primitive living situation is one of the most consuming (pun unintended) tasks that any modern abo-wannabe participates in.  After several days in the backcountry with a group of fellow primitive living enthusiasts, food fantasies inevitably come up.  "Oh, man, it'd be so great if we came across a pizza smothered in cheese, topped with pepperonis and meat. "  Sometimes these food fantasies take on a spirit of their own and the resultant food combinations are often dishes that no normal, well-fed human being would enjoy (or even think of, really) in civilization.  I once heard a guy say, "I had a dream last night that I was gorging on Church's Chicken topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup."  Mmm ... fried chicken and Ben & Jerry's in one glorious conglomeration.

What does it take to keep a person satisfied in the wilderness when he or she is living on the land, solely utilizing what is in nature to fill his or her belly?  Is it possible to live primitively, happily, with a full stomach while keeping the food fantasies at bay?  First and foremost, it depends on the environment in which one is attempting to get fed.  Many natural areas in the world are sorely lacking in many of the abundant plants and animals that used to flourish only a few hundred years ago.  In the Sonoran Desert, for example -- my stomping grounds -- wild antelope, grazing on extensive, lush grasslands, used to be a common sight.  Now, in most areas where the antelopes once roamed and the grass once grew, there remains scrubby, sad-looking mesquite trees, strangling the land and creating an impermeable barrier of interlaced thorny branches.  Along with over-hunting and over-population, this is a direct effect of over-grazing cattle on lands where they never ranged historically. 

Human beings have left a profound mark upon the earth, and this leaves folks who want to recreate a primitive living experience with limited resources.  What modern abos are left with is but a miniscule piece of nature's pie.  "The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be."  And, unless we go to Alaska or other relatively unspoiled places, we cannot simply walk out into our backyards and find dinner.  Or can we?

A question I've pondered often is whether or not human beings can live comfortably and successfully with what is available in these altered natural places -- can we work with the limited resources available?  While the abundance of large game animals and wild plant foods in most places -- especially deserts -- has dwindled, perhaps there remains an underestimated, underutilized opportunity for sustenance in small game animals, whose populations have remained relatively stable over time.  Can squirrels, rabbits, birds, mice, and other tiny creatures provide all that a person needs to live well in the wild or elsewhere? 

Matt Graham's experience suggests that it is indeed possible to meet at least one person's caloric and nutritional needs on such fare.  By setting traplines of two simple traps -- one being a spring snare and the other being a Paiute figure-four deadfall -- checking them every day, and cooking the caught animals (mostly squirrels and rabbits) for optimum calories and nutrition, Matt was able to provide for himself during his three months of full-on primitive living in the southern Utah desert.  However, over those three months, he also ended up slowly losing body mass, indicating inadequate caloric intake over time.  Just how many squirrels and rabbits was he eating day to day?  If he had attained more, would he have felt more satisfied and maintained a better body composition?  And what quantity of small game would that require?  I hope to discuss some of these questions with Matt at Wintercount.  Until then, I thought it would be interesting to speculate a little.

Using the data from a research paper (intended for the evaluation of predators' diets in zoos) called "Nutrient Composition of Whole Prey (Excluding Fish) Fed in Zoos" -- and a lot of help from Stephan at Whole Health Source -- I was able to make some calculations and come up with the protein, fat, and calorie content of a few small game animals per pound of whole carcass (note: some animals are eviscerated, meaning their hides and internal organs are discarded):

Here we see that, while a pound of each animal provides adequate protein, when it comes to fat and overall calories, any person would be feeling pretty darn hungry after a while on such a dietary regimen.  Aside from that, there's also the reality of just how many successful traps one can set in a day and just how many animals such traps can provide.  Let's say we want a minimum of about 1500 calories per day, give or take.  That would require roughly:
  • 56 adult mice (avg. 20 grams each)
  • 2 gray squirrels (avg. 1.1 lbs each)
  • 1/3 of an eviscerated domestic rabbit (avg. 9 lbs each)*
  • 1/2 of an eviscerated black-tailed jackrabbit (avg. 8 lbs. each)
  • 6 Japanese quail (avg. 1/3 lb each)**
*Wild cottontail rabbits, for comparison, weigh an average of 2.3 lbs
**Similar in weight to Gambel's Quail of the Sonoran Desert

If we want to have enough calories to maintain body mass and even build muscle in primitive living, it would require twice those numbers.  Realistically, no person is going to be able to procure the amount of mice it requires to sustain a person in this way.  I certainly wouldn't be up for setting the number of traps that it would take, considering the fact that one whole mouse is only one bite and down the hatch!  However, when we look at some of the larger animals, surviving comfortably in the wild becomes more than a pipe dream.  Catch a few squirrels, maybe some mice and quail, and a rabbit or two per day and you have the makings of a successful primitive living experience!  The question of fat, however, is inescapable, and may require the taking of some animals soley for the fatty parts, which would add on a few more squirrels or one more rabbit to account for this need (if we are to achieve an ideal 60/40 or, best, 80/20 ratio of protein to fat).

Of course, not all of the animal can be eaten in most cases (aside from the very tiny ones) so we are left with the question of just how much of each animal can, in fact, be digested and utilized for nutrients.  In the next post, we'll discuss cooking small game in primitive living.

Note: I realize I'm leaving out the addition of plant foods to the primitive diet and their caloric contribution.  Seasonal variation and environmental degradation, not to mention the extensive processing many wild edibles require, makes them a questionable food source for practicing abos in many parts of the world.  If they're abundant, though, definitely eat 'em!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Small Game in Primitive Living, Sidebar: Awareness

Our pre-neolithic ancestors were able to achieve the feat of thriving in the wild -- seemingly impossible in the eyes of modern folks -- without a hitch. Why they were able to do this is simple: they knew the patterns; they knew where the food was; and they knew the ingenious methods to put a roast on the spit. In short: they knew the land.

So, before we get into the specifics of attaining adequate food in the wild -- calories and nutrients -- let's first acknowledge a very important primitive living skill that any modern-day abo should have in his or her repertoire: awareness. This means awareness of, not only skills, but also the place where these skills are being practiced. It goes without saying that knowledge of plants, animals, and seasonal variations in any given environment is a huge advantage in primitive living. Where's the water? Where's the food? Where's the hazards? Knowing these things is important. In addition to these things, an abo would be wise to have a keen sense of personal needs. This means asking questions, such as: What does true hunger feel like? When am I strongest? When am I weakest? Am I thirsty? Am I tired? It sounds easy enough, but, in my experience, this self-awareness was sorely lacking until I had plenty of "dirt-time."

To sum it up, awareness in primitive living can be thought of as a sense of one's own needs and how to meet them with the resources available. When we observe indigenous people in their environment -- their element -- it's readily apparent that they are very comfortable and content. They know themselves. They know their place. They are satisfied. With practice, we moderns can achieve a similar comfort and satisfaction in primitive living. In the world of health and nutrition, we cannot go back to the vibrancy in physical being of our ancestors. Similarly, in primitive living, we'll never be as skilled as Ishi, Last of the Yahi, but we can come close. I've met many people who have attained awareness, skills, and, most telling of all, comfort in the wilds. It can be done.

For a great resource on increasing your own personal awareness and nature skills, I highly recommend the Kamana Naturalist Training Program created by Wilderness Awareness School. For absolutely amazing dirt-time experience, check out the Boulder Outdoor Survival School. Also, primitive living skills can be learned hands-on at an affordable price at any of a number of skills gatherings across the country, the big two being Wintercount and Rabbitstick.  By combining awareness and skills, primitive living enthusiasts can become "whole" in nature and truly feel at home.

Small Game in Primitive Living, Part 2 -- in which I'll delve into the calories and nutrients of whole animals and cooking methods to get the most out of your small game quarry -- is coming soon ...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Video Footage of Weston A. Price

I'm currently working on crunching some numbers to put together part two of the "Small Game in Primitive Living" series and will hopefully finish it soon.  Until then, I thought I'd post this video I came across on YouTube the other day.  It's a segment from an odd, somewhat dated television show -- public access, I'm guessing -- called "Homekeepers."  The host is interviewing a woman -- a "Certified Nutritional Consultant" -- who describes the findings of Weston Price.  I'm not sure who this woman is or what she's all about (besides the fact that she's very politically correct when it comes to nutrition) but I'm very grateful that she dug up some fascinating video footage of Price.  If you want to skip the interview (which I would recommend) and go straight to the press release footage of Price, fast-forward to 3:26.