… I come across something that makes my eyes open wide, makes me sit up and REALLY pay attention, gets my juices flowing, and makes me realize that my life might soon dramatically change. I think I am in the midst of one of those instances right now.
Last week I was sorting through emails and happened to click on a link back to my friend Shelly’s blog: On Being Mindful
There, in one of her posts she had posted a link to another blog entitled: Evolutionary Psychiatry
Being a psychiatrist, my first question was, “what in the heck is ‘evolutionary psychiatry’?!!?” Images of a bushy-haired, disheveled shrink leading a distraught patient through exercises in personal “evolving”, from simian to java to neanderthal to cro magnon to homo sapien, and finally to transcendental “sidha” states, popped into my mind! On first visiting I then saw that the author was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, and so then I was fully betting on some kind of quackery. After all, we ALL know how those nerdy eggheads at Harvard are, right?!!? 😉
Well, I can tell you that after reading a couple of posts from this psychiatrist, Dr. Emily Deans, I could not stop reading. I did everything listed above … sat up in my chair, felt my adrenaline begin to churn, my eyes opened wide, anxious to learn more. I scrolled back to the earliest posts she had written in June, 2010, and have spent the majority of my reading time over the last 5 days reading her posts, and reading materials from other websites she has linked to.
Basically, this incredibly sharp physician (my most humble and heartfelt apologies to her and to Harvard doctors everywhere!) focuses most of her own curiosity and study on the whole supposition that, over thousands (she and other “paleo” followers would say ‘millions’, but I like my views better) of years, we humans have adapted best to a set of nutritional and lifestyle guidelines. And, we would be most healthy and happy if we continued to follow those patterns. Their belief is that over the past two centuries we have gotten away from those “hunter/gatherer” principles, most especially in our eating, but also in our activity levels and our culture in general, and as a result we have created many disease states that have become premature killers of human life (coronary artery disease, diabetes, depression, stroke, etc.), and numerous other diseases that are highly disabling (obesity, arthritis of various sorts, anxiety disorders of many types, and almost all of the autoimmune diseases, etc.). What we eat is the big culprit, the area in which we have changed the most.
Now, there are literally uncountable tons of written material out there about our diets, what we eat and how we eat it, and how we ought to change this, and change that, eat this and not that, etc. You know the routine. There seems to be no way to have any clue about who’s “right”, and which way is most healthful. Most of us tend to give up and buy and eat what we want, having given up on sorting stuff out.
Well, Dr. Deans and her friends have compiled an incredible amount of research and factual data that seems to solidly undergird their beliefs about making basic food changes. In fact, the mound of data is immense, and growing. This flows out of a movement which I noted above has entitled themselves, the “paleo” lifestyle, a title which I presume refers back to the Paleolithic Age of earth’s history. In that age, humans seem to have existed largely on diets of various wild game meats, fish, and fowl, and wild-grown vegetables and fruits. There was very little “dairy” (milk and all of its derivatives), and virtually no grain. And, of course, there were NO refined sugars, no bleached flours, no synthetic fats and oils, no chemical additives, no artificial sweeteners. All of these are gifts we have given ourselves in the past 150 years.
More coming below …
Speaking of learning new, potentially revolutionary stuff that could turn your whole belief system upside down, what would you think if you learned that some people out there are actually trying to get bats to move BACK INTO belfries?!!?
I mean, come on! Here we are over here, trying to exorcise all the bats we can from our mental belfries, and here is a group of folks trying to dream up ways of coaxing bats to roost once more in bell towers!!
Turns out that past efforts within the Anglican Church to clear bats out of belfries, where they were causing much damage, had an unexpected result: the bats began finding ways to get into the sanctuaries, and have been hanging from the ceilings in there, thus leading to a lot of uneasy worship services, and a lot of guano piling up on the floors and pews.
Well, in England bats of all species are protected, and they can’t just exterminate them … so these churches are now reversing course. They are now opening bell towers back up, and trying to better seal off the sanctuaries, in hopes that these thousands and thousands of bats will return to their thousands of belfries, which, while not the optimal nesting ground, is better than messing up the interiors of the halls of worship. Here’s the story:
Anyway, just goes to show that some things we THINK will make a positive difference in the world aren’t always the best idea …
… such as chasing bats from a bell tower, or adding wheat and sugar to our food array!
In short, it appears – though I do plan to continue to investigate more sources and more information – that I might have been missing the boat on what real nutrition is all about, when it comes to how to best match up our metabolic machinery, our immune systems, and our real energy needs. It may well be that I need to put a few big bats back inside my own belfry.
Actually, the concept of matching our diet to the foods we humans are best equipped to handle, I had first seen in the writings of Dr. Robert Atkins, the guy for whom the famous “Atkins Diet” was named. His main premise was that we were primarily designed to have the solid majority of our energy intake in the form of protein and natural fats, NOT carbohydrates or synthetic fats. By changing the primary focus of our “healthy nutrition” message to encouraging low fat, lean protein, and plenty of bread and pasta, we succeeded in arousing the sleeping (but wicked) giant: insulin. And insulin, now flowing wildly and frequently, in response to all of the sharp spikes in blood sugars brought on by our sugar, starch, and grain-centered diets, is the main culprit in the emergence of many of the diseases I listed above.
So, while I will continue seeking to learn more, I’m already beginning to try out some changes: like trying to eliminate all kinds of sugar and sweeteners from my diet, to keep breads and grains to a bare minimum, and to stick to only olive and some canola oil in terms of oils. I also want to try out some different forms of exercise. But beyond personal change, I want to see if perhaps I can actually do more good for some of my patients by prescribing major diet changes than I can by carefully prescribing medicines. I’m very curious …
Two books I am looking to read soon are: The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson, and It Starts With Food, by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.
I’ll let you know if either or both lead to any more of those “every once in a while” moments!
Craig Meek, M.D.