Friday, January 29, 2010

Primal Music - Native American Flute

People all over the planet have used wood or bamboo to make flutes.  I enjoy wooden and bamboo flute music and am learning to play a bamboo flute.  Enjoy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Path to Primal Feet

Primal people who had only simple or no footwear had feet that look like this (thanks to Tim Ferris at The Four Hour Work Week for the first three images in this post):

The toes have interspaces, the ball is wide, the basic shape is almost triangular, and you can draw a straight line through the big toe to the opposite corner of the heel, making this a very stable foundation for posture.  Modern people who wear toe-squeezing footwear have feet like this:

Obviously the latter provides a much less stable foundation for movement, and this transmits up the legs and thighs to the torso.  Dysfunctional (non-primal) feet form a foundation for ankle, knee, hip, lumbar, and neck dysfunction.

Moreover, the use of elevated heels forces the body to compensate by exaggerating lordosis (lumbar curve) and kyphosis (upper back curve), which again causes lumbar and neck pain and dysfunction:

My father has feet similar to those depicted in the second image above, deformed by wearing shoes too small when a child, so my parents made sure I had “roomy” shoes.  Nevertheless, my feet look like this:

 Not quite as wide and stable as primal feet, but not as deformed as feet forced to conform to shoes too narrow or small. 

To move in the direction of primal feet, I use gel toe spreaders:

After just half an hour of wearing the toe spreaders, my feet look like this:

The more I wear them the better it gets.

So I aim to wear them for an hour or more every day when at home.  I also wear Vibram Five Fingers KSO Treks all day long at my office:

  And after a day of wearing this my feet look like this:

Which is a little better than the first photo of my feet above, which was taken after some time in regular shoes.  So it looks like a consistent use of the toe spreaders and Five Fingers shoes will help me get primal feet.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Potential Thyroid Toxins in Cookware, Clothing, and Carpets

The primal perspective rests on the discordance hypothesis, that modern diseases arise from a discord between our modern environments and our stone age biology. Thus, it predicts that any chemical product of modern technology absent from the paleo environment would likely cause disease.

In efforts to make life "convenient," short-sighted "scientists" have developed and introduced into the environment a whole host of chemicals containing halogens such as chlorine, bromine, iodine, and fluorine. These chemicals never occurred in the primal environment, so the human body lacks the ability to detoxify them, and does not have adaptation to an environment contaminated with them.

Since the human thyroid requires iodide for production of thyroid hormone, and all halogens share similar electrochemical and physical properties, a primal philosopher like myself can predict that synthetic halogen-containing chemicals could have harmful effects on thyroid function.

So I felt no surprise to learn today that British researchers have found that people having high blood levels of perfluorinated chemicals found in food wrappings, non-stick pans, carpets, and fabrics report an elevated risk of thyroid disease.

After analyzing blood serum levels of two types of perfluorinated chemicals in nearly 4,000 U.S. adult men and women, they found that women having blood levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the highest quartile reported thyroid disease more than twice as frequently those in the lowest two quartiles. They found a similar but not statistically significant in men.

Among men, those who had high levels of perfluoroctane sulphonate (PFOS) in their blood had greater incidence of reported thyroid disease, but the same association was not found in women.

This study only detected an association, and did not establish causation. However, the published study refers to previous animal studies thath have shown that these chemicals may affect the thyroid adversely.

So where do people get exposed to these chemicals?

“Perfluorinated chemicals are pervasive in industrial and consumer products, including food packaging, flame-resistant and waterproof clothing, chemical-resistant tubing and stain-resistant coatings for carpets. The chemicals are chosen for their ability to repel heat, water, grease and stains…..”

And the main source?

“The main source of human exposure to PFOA and PFOS is unknown, but it's believed to be through diet, such as from greaseproof food wrappings, researchers said. People may also inhale household dust that contained PFOA or PFOS from fireproof or waterproof coatings on fabrics or carpeting.”

The half-life in the human body of PFOA is 3.8 years and that of and PFOS is 5.4 years. Toxicologists have found PFOA and PFOS in water, air and soil, even in remote areas of the globe. The blood of birds, fish and polar bears also contain PFOA and PFOS.

On the bright side:

“Because of concerns about toxicity, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got commitments from eight manufacturers of PFOA to reduce emissions and usage of PFOA and related chemicals by 95 percent this year, and to move toward eliminating usage of the chemicals completely by 2015.”

Have you ever wondered why we do this? Why do we (humans) create toxic materials and poison ourselves with them? I mean, I think most people can appreciate that a rational approach would entail the precautionary principle, first do no harm. Yet it seems that our “scientists” rarely if ever question their omniscience, omnibenevolence, and omnipotence with regard to altering the furniture of nature. Why?

I believe that the people (“scientists”) who do this type of thing are both effects and victims of a diseased world-view. The fundamental disease is called dualism, a world-view that envisions the human mind/species as “made in the image” of an omniscient, omnipotent supernatural Big Boss of the Universe, and thus envisions the human mind as the divinely ordained, omniscient, supernatural, omnibenevolent Boss of “dumb” nature.

Entranced by the idea that human intelligence is a stranger in a strange land, our “scientists” labor the delusion that the conscious mind “knows” more than the system (nature) out of which it arose, and of which is it a very weak and small part. They view themselves as smart and the world (including the body) as stupid. Plus, they consider themselves as the elite divine priesthood and the common people as mere fodder for nuclear, chemical, biological (genetic engineering), psychical, and social experimentation.

In reality, they operate like adolescents who can’t believe that their elders have anything useful to say. They have pubescent knowledge, but no primal wisdom.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good Calories, Bad Calories Notes Available

Toban Wiebe has made available in PDF form extensive notes of the main points in Gary Taubes's Good Calories Bad Calories. Get your copy here. Great as an introduction to or review of the book.

Thanks to Toban for the great work. If you haven't read this book yet, put it on your list. Have the notes handy as well, they'll help you remember the main points. Read the notes for each chapter, then the chapter, then the notes again. Soon you will know more about the topics than most physicians!

Music From the Homeland

An ensemble of traditional African drums made from hardwood and goatskins. Mamady Keita is among the best of traditional djembe players. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Masai Use of Herbs

When a carnivorous diet is not

I have seen some bloggers cite the Masai as an example of a people who consume a diet high in saturated fats from animal products, eating no plant foods, yet have a very low average serum cholesterol (approximately 150 mg/dl) and little or no cardiovascular diseases.

Some have suggest that the Masai provide “proof” that humans don’t need plant products to maintain good health.

Do the Masai “prove” that humans thrive on a plant-free diet? No, not because they don’t thrive, but because they don’t eat a plant-free diet.

I recently read Wild Health, by biologist Cindy Engel, Ph.D. , who specializes in studying the health maintenance behavior of wild animals. Wild Health presents a lot of evidence indicating that wild animals deliberately engage in “non-nutritive ingestive behaviors” that appear to have medicinal functions. In other words, they go out of their way to consume items that have little or no nutritive value (clay, various herbs). I plan to write more about this in the future.

In the last chapter of this book, Engel discusses paleo diet and the deficiencies of agricultural diets. She notes that paleo people had higher intakes of phytonutrients even if they ate a meat-based diet:

“Agriculturalists select and domesticate plants for ease of cultivation and palatability. Over time they have chosen plants with fewer bitter-tasting or astringent secondary compounds, and these plants are inevitably more susceptible to disease. Modern crops, therefore, need more chemical intervention than wild plants, which retain their own defensive pesticides. Consuming modern crops is consequently very different from consuming wild plants, and when we eat the meat of domesticated animals fed on these domesticated plants, our total intake of beneficial plant compounds is far lower than if we had eaten wild game.”

Many people tell me they dislike the “gamey” flavor of wild game or, as Joel Salatin calls it, “salad bar” beef from 100% grass-fed animals. That “gamey” flavor disappears when we feed animals corn (witness corn-fed bison), because that flavor comes from the fat-soluble secondary plant compounds present in the green leafy vegetation eaten by wild or grass-fed animals. So a real hunter-gatherer would get a daily dose of “greens” via the phytonutrients in his meat, even if s/he didn’t eat a lick of leaves directly. (This is one reason I recommend regular consumption of green leafy vegetables, unless you eat only grass-fed meat and do so every day.)

Engel refers to the some papers by Timothy Johns, a nutritionist who has studied the use of herbs in the Masai diet. I got a hold of a couple of papers that Johns wrote:

Phytochemicals as Evolutionary Mediators of Human Nutritional Physiology, Int J Pharmacognosy 1996, 34:5:327-34.

The Chemical Ecology of Human Ingestive Behaviors, Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 1999, 28:27-50.

In these papers, Johns presents the following hypothesis:

1. Human evolution involved gains in brain and body size; increased ingestion of long-chain (omega-3) polyunsaturated fats, cholesterol, and total fat and calories; heating of fatty food; and greater longevity, all of which increase cumulative oxidative stress.
2. Meanwhile, increased reliance on meat and reduced reliance on plants decreased ingestion of exogenous antioxidants.
3. These two trends led to selection for “nonnutritive ingestive behaviors” as a compensatory mechanism for increasing intake of antioxidants, including the development of herbal medicine. In other words, they favored the development of the use of herbs as both dietary components and medicines, to compensate for the loss of plant secondary compounds due to the reduced direct reliance on plant food.

To illustrate, Johns points to the Masai (Maasai). According to Johns, Maasai usually consume meat with or as soup, using 28 different herbs to make the soups, using the herbs in levels that make the food bitter. They also add a dozen plants to milk to prepare a tea-like beverage called orkiowa. Such use of herbs occurs universally.

Screening of 12 of the Masai food additives found that 82 percent contained potentially hypocholesterolemic saponins and/or phenolics. The Masai, when questioned, state that a person would not maintain health without using these additives. They recognize the most widely used of additives, okiloriti (Acacia nilotica) as a digestive aid, flavoring, and nervous system stimulant (in high doses). The Masai’s appreciation of the digestive effects of these herbs likely relates to their ability to stimulate bile flow to emulsify fats in their high fat diet, lack of which would lead to diarrhea.

Plug “Acacia nilotica” into a PubMed search window, and you will find that this herb has strong free radical scavenging compounds, and displays anticancer, antimutagenic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal, anthelminthic (kills worms), antidiarrheal, and antiplatelet-aggregation activities.

Johns also points out that chewing of plant gums, resins, and latexes occurs universally. The Maasai use 25 different gums, and adults chew gum an average of 3 days per week, with a third of the people chewing daily. Of gums and resins used by the Masai, Commiphora africana (A.Rich) Engl., of the genus that includes myrrh, is the most important. Some research indicates that phytosterols in Commiphora mukul Hook. ex Stock have

hypocholesterolemic effects

hypolipidemic and hypoglycemic effects


thyroid-stimulating effects.

It may also inhibit oxidation of LDL.

So, to eat like the Masai you have to use the full complement of herbal additives that the Masai use. They do not eat a purely carnivorous diet composed only of meat and milk, and the herbs that they consume may actually be essential to the success of their dietary regime from both an ecological adaptation standpoint and a health standpoint. If you eat milk and meat but avoid bitter herbs, you can't expect that you will have the same lipid profile or good health as the Masai, because you aren't eating like the Masai.

Since it appears that wild humans naturally and continuously ingested many plant secondary compounds, both directly from plants and herbs, and indirectly from wild game meat, and did so for millions of years, it seems very likely that human physiology adapted in specific ways to these components and now requires them to maintain normal functions. I find the hypothesis put forward by Johns fairly compelling as an explanation for the universal human use of herbs as food additives and medicines.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Old Way: Plant foods in the !Kung Diet

Some advocates of ancestral diets promote very low or no intake of plant produce, preferring to model their diet plans after some circumpolar tribes like Inuit (Eskimos) and Chukchi who eat almost nothing but meat.

I disagree with this approach because I don't think these circumpolar tribal diets represent the norm for humans in evolutionary time or among recorded hunter-gatherers. Humans originated in Africa, in an equatorial climate, where the environment provided plenty of edible plant products along with wild game.

When we look at observed equatorial hunter-gatherer diets, we find that the people get a significant portion of their energy (calories) from plant foods, particularly roots and tubers.

In the film Journey of Man (PBS, 2003), Dr. Spencer Wells, Ph.D. presents the story of his discovery of the genetic evidence that all modern humans have descended from a group of people who were ancestors of the people of the present-day Ju/wasi (aka !Kung or Bushman) tribe. Given this, the diet of contemporary Ju/wasi can probably give us important insight into ancient human diets.

In The Old Way (Sarah Crichton Books, 2006), Elizabeth Marshall Thomas describes the life of the Ju/wasi from her first-hand experience living with them. Regarding their diet, Thomas reports:

"The meat of big game, large harvests of nuts, and large, delicious windfalls such as palm hearts were profoundly welcomed by all concerned, but months could pass before the people obtained these kinds of foods, foods that required sharing. Most of the time, people ate the berries, roots, and slow game obtained by ordinary, everyday gathering, usually but not necessarily done by women..." (p. 108)

"By far the most important staple foods of the Ju/wasi were roots––the twenty-five kinds of bulbs, rhizomes, corms, and tubers. The other foods were either small, such as berries, or scarce, such as truffles, or seasonal, such as certain fruits or the spinachlike leaves. Roots were the everyday meal, and even in some cases were sources of water...For the Ju/wasi as for the people of the past, roots were excellent nutrition, and best of all, unlike fruits or berries, could be noted in one season and gathered in another, as few other creatures were competing for them." (p. 110)

I want to emphasize that meat played an important role in the Ju/wasi diet. They highly valued meat. How much? I'll let Ms. Thomas speak again:

"Meat united people. A meal of life-giving meat was meant for all. On the day that Short/Kwi came home dragging the heart-shot ostrich that had charged him, the women in the camp stood up and started dancing, just from the joy of seeing the eat and from having a man like Short/Kwi living among them, bringing a bounty of life-giving food to share with his people. My mother wrote: 'Women bring most of the daily food that sustains the life of the people, but the roots and berries of the Nyae Nyae Ju/wasi are apt to be tasteles and harsh and not very satisfying. People crave meat. Furthermore, there is only drudgery in digging roots, picking berries, and trudging back to the encampment with the heavy loads and babies sagging in the pouches of the leather capes; there is no splendid excitement and triumph in returning with vegetables. The return of a hunter from a successful hunt is vastly different. The intense craving for meat, the uncertainty and anxiety that attend the hunt, the deep excitement of the kill, and finally, the eating and the satisfaction engage powerful emotions in the people.'"

The Ju/wasi diet may give us important insight into the ancestral diet of humanity prior to the exodus from Africa about 50,000 years ago. Although I have no doubt it contained plenty of meat and fat, it probably had much more plant food than the Inuit diet. In Africa, our ancestors most likely would have found enough plant foods to make them a significant portion of their diets, just as did the Ju/wasi described by Thomas.

The Old Way gives the reader a first hand, nearly insider account of hunter-gatherer life. I highly recommend it to students of paleo diet.