The Story of the Human Body

Mismatch disease is when our culture has changed more than our bodies can handle, sickness results.

The story of the human body is a book by Daniel E. Lieberman a Harvard Professor of human evolutionary biology. He has a few books on running, exercise, evolution of head and hundreds of scientific papers.

I found this book really revealing. He talks about evolution NOT for humans bodies but the evolution of human culture. What’s that mean?

My Uncle Joe, who recently passes away at 89 years old, had NO electricity where he lived until age 19. He would come home from school, walking 2.5 miles, then hook up four horses and plow fields until dark. They would pick rocks by hand from the fields, putting them in a sled, towed by horses off the field and make big piles of rocks. No radio, only heat was the fire place, water from a well, the only light was from oil lamps.

89 years ago is not that long, but in his lifetime the changes he saw was stunning. From a one tine plows to tractors with 80 foot tables, to space ships. But also diet, lifestyle, comfort levels all changed radically.

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Below are my notes from the book. Some is a direct copy and some is my interpretation, any errors or omissions are mine. This article/blog is for conversation only and not medical advice or opinion. If you find it interesting I suggest you read his book fully. I got it from the Kelowna Library.

The Story of the Human Body by: Daniel Lieberman

He states we are not evolved to be healthy but to have as many offspring’s as possible under diverse, challenging conditions. We are not evolved to make rational choices about what to eat or how to exercise. We interact between our bodies, environment and the decisions we make set in motion as a feedback loop and that’s bad. We get sick from chronic diseases by doing what we evolved to do but under conditions for which our bodies are poorly adapted, and we can pass that to our kids. To avoid this we go to toughen up to eating better foods that promote health and be more active.

Dobzhansky “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” this can also apply to natural selection but also to cultural evolution. Cultural evolution is now the dominant force of evolutionary change acting on the human body. This is why we get chronic non-infectious ‘mismatch’ diseases.

Example: We get sick from non-infectious mismatch diseases caused by our bodies being poorly or inadequately adapted to the novel environments we have created through culture. We don’t recognize the environment or want to or can not change it. We sometimes can treat the disease, saving us and perpetuate the novel environment. Allowing our kids to be immersed in it and cultural evolution continues.

There are lots of mismatch diseases, but all of them are caused by environmental changes that alter how the body functions. The environmental stimuli are too much, too little, or too new. Eg. For some it’s too much fat, others too little fat and others eating now kinds of fat that the body cannot digest, partially hydrogenated fats.

Migration makes a lot of them, chicken pox to the Mayan people. Cold to the central latitudes, or heat to the northern latitudes. Rice to some groups, and diet changes to Hawaiian people and many others.

Westin Price did a lot cataloging diet changes and disease.

He had a whole list of mismatch diseases. Cavities are one. And pre 500 years ago there were few cavities. So we have a negative feedback loop. We know we get cavities, but we can not revert back to a time without them. We can not cure them or seem to generally prevent them. That is a mismatch disease, if we consumed sugar at levels 500 years ago, cavities would likely diminish. But our bodies are designed to crave sweets.

Most of history people have struggles to get enough fat and weight on their bodies. Not anymore, in ‘modern’ cultures we have a excess of fat and calories with much of the world.

Fat comes from fat-rich foods, but our bodies can also make fat from carbohydrates (sugar). Which is why fat-free foods can still make you fat.

He makes a point that ‘what’ we think about health, longevity et al is wildly influenced by Western Science. As if you look at all the journals, very few entries are from non-industrialized nations or about non-industrialized people.

Hunter gatherers (H/G)

H/G normally always had food. While farm families if they had a bad crop year could be without food. They also had LOTS of illnesses by living with animals, ie pandemics. But H/G’s lived too far apart to have that.

Brain and guts each consume about 15% or the body’s basal metabolic cost. Similar amounts of blood supply. Guts have about 100 million nerves, more than the spinal cord or your entire peripheral nervous system. Empty the guts and brain weigh about the same. Vs animals we have big brains and small guts.

Modern food is lower in nutrition and higher in calories. Industrial revolution started 12 generations ago (1760-1840). About 800 million people are still hungry and 1.6 billion are overweight to obese.

HG’s slept in the day and often wakes at night for a couple of hours. Modern people sleep 10% less than historically normal. Lack of sleep rarely kills you, but chronic slack of sleep prevents your brain from working properly and that diminishes your health. The hormone system kicks in to help, but that only last for a short while. Then your body starts to make too much cortisol the fun (sarcasm) begins. Chronic cortisol depresses several immune functions.

Chronic lack of sleep screws with Leptin (feeling full) and Ghrelin (felling hungry) less leptin and more ghrelin equals desire to eat more, generally resulting in weight gain.

Wealthy people get better sleep, odd. But they ‘think’ rich folks are less stressed.

40,000 years ago we were 5’6” then French people (the study group) in 1800 were 5’3” and in 1950 got to 5’6” and now are 5’8”. Since 1900 the BMI went from 23 to 27. BMI – below 18.5 – you’re in the underweight range. between 18.5 and 24.9 – you’re in the healthy weight range. between 25 and 29.9 – you’re in the overweight range. 30 or over – you’re in the obese range.

He states a girl born in Zimbabwe in 2010 can expect to live to 55 but born in Japan 86. This reflects the disparities of health care, nutrition and sanitation.

Roosevelt signed the social security act in 1935, for people to retire at 65, at the time in the USA mortality for men was 61 and women 64!

Mortality vs Morbidity – death vs sick. We die later, we live with sick sooner and longer. Mostly from Mis-match diseases. Top three, accounting for 50% are: overweight, smoking and lack of exercise.

Cortisol inhibits insulin production in an attempt to prevent glucose from being stored, favoring its immediate use. If you’re being attacked by a bear you need all the energy you can get. But constant cortisol will mess up most systems in the body. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

Breast feeding mothers require 20-25% more calories a day to produce the milk.

Women wanting fertility take a hit (lower their chances of fertility) with even one pound weight loss. I think the book suggests that for most of history there was no way to overeat long term. As there just was not that much food around to eat.

Here is an odd personal story. I have an Uncle that was in charge of running an island north of Australia. They would get food delivered for all the islanders once a month. He would take his share then let the islanders take the rest, which they totally consumed on the spot over the next few days. He said they just plumped up and then they’d not eat again till next month. This was in 1971-1972 he was there. The point is, there were no refrigerators and still aren’t in many parts of the world. You needed to eat it before it went bad. I think the ability of people to gain weight was/is a survival mechanism.

Eating de-fibred foods is bad. As the sugar hits you faster and your body has to release hormones to counteract that. Generally de-fibred foods eg an apple vs apple fruit leather. There is a lot more sugar and more fructose sugar in the fruit leather than the actual apple. The fiber slows down how fast the sugar hits your blood. Without it there is a lot more hormones released.

Eg eat the fruit roll. Your pancreas pushes out insulin. But how much? The rise in sugar is fast, so the pancreas figures it’s a lot and pushes out a lot of insulin. But it’s just the concentrated nature of the fruit roll. So there is too much insulin and your blood sugar levels crash. Causing hunger and you eat and it can yo-yo quite a bit.

Historically most fruits were as sweet as a carrot! But with selective growing they are vastly sweeter. I remember as a kid eating blueberries with cream and a teaspoon of sugar on top as the berries were so bitter. Not anymore, they are super sweet.

In the book several examples of eating too much sweet to fast, with too little fibre, fat or protein. The liver can get jammed up with the sugar and insulin and it dumps it back into the arteries, which gets more insulin and it jams into fat cells. Which congest the body and the liver.

Fat mass and obesity associated (FTO) was the first gene found to be associated with obesity in three independent genome-wide association studies. It has been shown, that presence of one mutant allele of rs9939609 (gene FTO) and rs4994 (gene ADRB3) leads to statistically significant association with obesity.

His comment to the FTO genetic disposed obesity gene is, people have always had it. Why obesity now? Cultural evolution/environmental factors, ie how and what we eat and what we are doing to food.

-one cause, we test more stressed (cortisol) and we sleep less (more Ghrelin and less leptin)

Cortisol does not make you stressed. It is released when you are stressed. Causing your liver and fat cells to release glucose into the bloodstream, raise heart rate, BP, raises alertness and inhibits sleep. Increases cravings for calorie rich foods.

He had some math showing light exercise won’t do much and may cause weight gain. You don’t burn enough calories to make enough difference vs the appetite you build by doing it. Says not key for losing weight but can help keep weight stable.

Evolutionarily we are not built to want to be hungry. If so we get lethargy, ie no desire to exercise or diet. I think it’s important to keep in mind, food was harder to get 200-200000 years ago.

Many people can be “fat” and live normally. More likely people that store abdominal fat will do worse. Physical exercise is important. But we lose what we don’t use. There is a metabolic cost to everything so the body assigns resources to what is being ‘stressed’ or used. Don’t use your leg muscles for a month, they will shrink. Don’t use your brain, it will atrophy.

Osteoporosis. Ask what age of menstruation. Historically HG girls were 16+, giving more time to grow. Estrogen, calcium, vit D and weight bearing all play a role in Osteo.

A little dirt never hurt. Don’t sterilize everything.

Hidden dangers of novelty and comfort: we think so many things are ‘normal’ but really they aren’t.  Tally up the everyday things you wear, or use that are novel and might lead to mismatch disease or injuries when used in excess. Eg: mattress, most people sleep on hard flat surfaces. Lightbulbs, antimicrobial soap, earbuds for listening, escalators, elevators, suitcases with wheels, shopping carts, automatic can openers.

Smoking toxic cigarettes. Toxic exhaust fumes. Glyphosate and the thousands of other chemicals in food, clothing, furniture, skin products.

   Others are more ubiquitous like artificial light, heating/cooling, shoes. Even sitting and reading is a new thing for humans.

We often mistake comfort for wellbeing, we value short term comfort over long term wellbeing. Taking the elevator vs stairs. Eating quick, easy to digest foods. Room temp always controlled. We get soft, we get sick.

70% of diseases (this page says 40%) (this page says 80%) in the USA are preventable with less calories in, more physical strain and other novel environmental conditions corrected. (eg get rid of poison sprays).

He states ‘all diseases are from gene-environment interactions‘. We cannot change our genes, so reengineer our environments.’

Historically the environment was such, that ‘healthy’ choices were the only choice. Simple food, work (exercise), small groups of people (no pandemics), rise and fall with the sun, lack of sugar et al.

HG’s only source of something sweet was honey. I saw a tv show saying a leading cause of death of HG’s after 70 is falling out of trees getting honey.

Our cultural evolution will not allow us to transcend our biology. As a result billions of people suffer from diseases of affluence, novelty and disuse that used to be rare. We treat symptoms of the disease because it is easier, more profitable and more urgent than treating their causes. That promotes dysevolution between culture and biology.

It is not likely doctors of the future will cure diseases of cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes. The better way is to study how we got that way and back out of it.

It even seems too much reading burns out the eyes requiring glasses. It makes the eyeball ‘longer’. The close focusing squeezes the lenses and that can deform the eye causing Myopia. He suggests more time outside looking medium and far distance. Especially for the young as their eyes are not fully formed and the pressures of near focusing can more easily deform their shape.

Notes: So much of “science” is what questions were asked and how the answers were categorized. The German quote loosely translated “never trust a study you did not alter the numbers on yourself.”

However after 27 years in clinic, I did not just spend hours reading and making notes about this book because I think he’s wrong on the major points. We let big companies label foods in ways that hide what’s in them. We let companies put poison’s in and on almost everything. We defund exercise in schools. In my opinion most food guides are terrible. We regulate the sale of alcohol to minors but not soda-pop. You think alcohol is worse? It is but not by much.

Metabolic syndrome is on the rise. It’s a big deal and it’s not evolution in that we are changing, it’s evolution on what we are doing and being done to us. Our bodies are just not that fast in keeping up to it.

The solution is very complicated at a societal level. At a personal level it’s simple but simple does not mean easy to do. Get regular daily exercise where you raise your heart rate. Eat a lot more properly grown vegetables, eat radically less sugars in all forms. Research the products you are using and eliminate all the chemicals you can. Be nice to yourself and others.

Be Well,
Ward Willison
Kelowna Acupuncture & Other Natural Therapies

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