Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Muscle Mass for Health and Longevity

A new study fresh off the press as of March 4, 2010:

"The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease" by Robert R Wolfe.

This is a good scientific overview in regard to the utmost importance of maintaining muscle mass for health and well being, particularly as we age.

Some points made in this study are not particularly revolutionary for paleo folks, but I think that it is an important step forward that this type of material is entering the scientific mainstream, especially since it also ties into the debate about diets. Eating according to the USDA's pyramid is almost as "catabolic" (muscle atrophying) as a diet can get, whereas a paleo diet combined with high intensity resistance training can help even skinny nerds (like myself) to put on muscle.

Here are some key points from the article according to my reading. (My own conjectures are between parentheses) :

- The availability of muscle protein (and its amino acid constituents) is the number one limiting factor in whole-body metabolism and maintenance. Essentially: When one has lost enough muscle mass, vital processes in the body cannot be maintained. For this reason, muscle mass is strongly positively correlated with survival of severe trauma and disease, and the recovery after such events.

- Muscle mass is strongly correlated with bone strength and bone mass. (The implication being that loading the bones through muscle contractions of sufficient intensity will strengthen the bones.)

- Sarcopenia, that is loss of muscle mass in old age, has a devastating effect on survival and quality of life - a quite obvious point. Further, it is much more difficult to adequately recover lost muscle mass in old age than it is to mitigate the harm through acquiring muscle mass while still young - a less obvious, but IMPORTANT point. ("Muscle is metabolic currency, so go to the gym and make a deposit today!’" as Carl Lanore, host of "Superhuman Radio", puts it succinctly.)

- Muscle, even when idle, helps to burn fat and excess calories. (Also, intense exercise has been shown to facilitate the body's adaptation to fat burning. Of course, this doesn't work well in the presence of insulin elevated by a high carbohydrate diet.)

- One's dietary intake of protein must be adequate to fuel muscle repair and growth. (Duh! But tell this to the whole grains crowd. Fortunately, the article's author goes on to criticize current dietary dogmas that recommend against foods, such as meat, that are particularly good sources of complete protein.)

In addition to these points, the article also provides a somewhat difficult discusion of how impaired metabolic function in muscle tissue is an important factor in type 2 diabetes, and it hints that such metabolic impairments may be due to lack of physical activity. A paleo-ish macro perspective on this is that, of course, physical activity of a certain intensity and frequency is what our genes "expect" in order to express the healthy bodies that our genetic blueprints were designed to deliver. I'm expecting tons of research to come out that will confirm this. (This important paper provides an intellectual framework for this revolution.)

In summary, we can add Robert R Wolfe's article to the growing pile of compelling arguments submitted by Doug McGuff, Arthur De Vany and others in regard to the importance of acquiring and maintaining muscle mass for overall health and longevity.

[Editor's note: Yes, this info applies to women too. Women need to get off the tread mill (a proven tool for becoming skinny-fat and a metabolic basket case by 40, especially if combined with a grain laden diet), and add to their 24/7 fat-burning reserves of muscle. A bit of definition on a woman in an evening gown looks good too.]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why the Paleolithic? (Or "Why Can't We Just Eat Like the First Cell?")

Ari on the OEvolve list asked:
Paleo people themselves had ancestors. If our goal is to eat like the Paleos ate, should Paleos have eaten as their ancestors ate (for optimal health)? Moreover, how do we know that any particular food that a Paleo person ate was optimal for that person's biology? Maybe the Paleo diet was partly or largely non-optimal.

Let's pose the question in an even broader way: How do we know that the Paleolithic era (roughly 2.5 Ma to 100 ka) should be the template for our diet when our ancestors have evolved for 3.8 billion years since the first life on earth? Why can't we just eat like the first cell?

I think that the general answer to this is that it was during the Paleolithic era that Homo Sapiens' most significant distinguishing traits (large brain + consciousness + upright posture) evolved. It was during the Paleolithic era (2.5 Ma to, say, 100 ka) that Man became Man (as different from an ape) in the sense that the environment in which our ancestors lived then (Africa) provided the bulk of the environmental selection pressures that molded our species' specific characteristics.

The challenge of calorically supporting the energy requirements of a uniquely large brain in a highly mobile animal's body (a lot of muscle combined with a relatively down-sized digestive system) required specific alterations to our herbivorous ancestors' metabolisms and feeding patterns; in particular it required the utilization of the particularly dense sources of nutrients that were the large animals of the Paleolithic eco-system in Africa.

Now, neither our Homo Sapiens body, nor its dietary requirements appeared in one sudden transformation. Our earliest 100% herbivorous genetic ancestor is an African gorilla-type primate from around 7 million years ago. The evolution of such a gorilla into Homo Sapiens took about 250000 to 300000 generations of small incremental modifications to the gorilla-specific physiology, metabolism, and behavior.

Each step on this evolutionary path slightly altered what one could at any given time call "the optimal gorilla/hominid diet". With glacial speed the physiologically optimal dietary ranges for macro- and micro nutrients changed in accordance with corresponding changes in the genome, which in turn changed through selection pressures. Thus an early hominid's "evolutionary correct" diet from 2.5 Ma would differ from both the original gorilla diet (7 Ma) and what would become Homo Sapiens' diet (100 ka).

The characteristics of our physiology and metabolism can thus be viewed as the result of a series of more or less significant modifications on top of our gorilla ancestor's "architecture", and many (if not most) gorilla traits are retained (such as the ability to digest relatively starchy vegetables) as are a broad range of important traits that we share with other organisms ranging from higher animals to single cells.

To summarize a few conclusions that I think follow from (or at least are implied by) this discussion:

1.) It is an understatement to say that pre-paleolithic evolution matters enormously to who we are (for example, we breathe oxygen, and we can digest some plant matter), but a granular look at our distinctive features compared to other animals, including our immediate genetic ancestors (such as gorillas), must particularly examine the Paleolithic era and environment. This is because our species simply did not exist before the Paleolithic era.

2.) Man's genetic evolution did not suddenly stop around 100K years ago, and our species' ancestral lineages that proliferated geographically (or in terms of ways of life) since Paleolithic times have undergone further genetic evolution. For one thing, the differentiation in skin color between individuals is an apparent sign of this, as is perhaps the variations in regard to such things as toleration of dairy or alcohol.

3.) However, genetic evolution is a stupendously slow process, and the dietary requirements for a given species thus evolve in an equally slow manner. The design of our bodies has evolved over millions of years prior to the last 100K years, and thus recent selection pressures account for relatively little when it comes to what our diet should be. This is especially true when making a distinction between what we can tolerate vs. what is optimal. What a "paleo diet" attempts to address is our species' unique capacity to volitionally frontrun genetic evolution by consuming foods that our bodies may not (yet) be adapted to handle optimally.

[Editor's note: The above point should be read over, and over, and over again by people who argue that the paleo diet is wrong because evolution obviously continued beyond the introduction of agriculture.]

Even with all of the above said, I don't want to imply that a look at our Paleolithic ancestors' existence and diet is the final word about how our diets should be. Knowledge about our ancestors (as far as such knowledge can be reliably obtained) must be integrated into a total picture verified by appropriate observations and experimentation.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Few Words From the Moderator


My name is Christian. (An admittedly awkward name for an Objectivist. I'm also from Sweden, which neatly completes the irony!)

In my early twenties I was quite puzzled by most peoples' stoic acceptance of living 50% of their lives in a state of rapidly progressing disability and disease, plunging "downhill" from around the age of 30 if not earlier. This apparent "unavoidable" feature of human life particularly didn't fit well with my observations of the relentless progress in technology that would, for instance, double a computer's processing capability every two years.

I thought generally that if the human mind could accomplish such a feat as figuring out how to put a man on the moon, then that same mind should also be able to understand why we get sick and why we age, as well as find ways to extend our disease free years and perhaps our ultimate life spans.

Thus I embarked on a quest for knowledge that I have pursued with varying degrees of intensity for almost two decades while striving to apply what I have learned to my own life and routines.

A transformative event that took my knowledge and applications to an entirely new level was discovering the work of Art De Vany in the summer of 2008. (For those of you who are new to the "paleo-sphere", De Vany is a scientist who has developed a distinct approach to diet and fitness through his refinement of concepts related to evolutionary thinking about the human body.)

Shortly thereafter, I also read the groundbreaking book "Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine" by Randolph M. Nesse and George C. Williams. This book convinced me that without an evolutionary perspective on health and medicine, it is very difficult to even begin to ask the right questions about the subject matters.

Most importantly, Nesse and Williams show a way out of the ridiculous atomism and myopic lack of conceptual integration that is plaguing modern health sciences. They do so by providing a perspective on the human body as an adaptive, self-regulating organism whose genetic blueprints have been shaped by Darwinian evolution.

I believe that this perspective is going to completely transform the health sciences. Not only will it put the final nail in the coffin of the fraudulent diet-heart hypothesis, but it will help to restore medicine's proud lineage back to Aristotle and Hippocrates (more on this perhaps in future posts). It is indeed exciting to be one of the first beneficiaries and early adopters of the intellectual products of this trend.

The cool thing about true theories is that they actually work in practice. This has certainly proven to be the case with the evolutionary take on a healthy lifestyle. Not just for myself, but for numerous people reporting astounding results. (We are going to have some exciting reports from Objectivists on that on this blog.)

I would also like to add that Objectivism and paleo concepts go incredibly well together. If Objectivism provides the ethical "user's guide" to how to live a happy, human existence, a modern paleo approach is indeed the "user's guide" to the human body.


PS. Incidentally, the Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff, who is a contemporary defender of integration in philosophy and all sciences, has apparently taken an interest in resistance training according to the concepts developed by Doug McGuff, author of "Body by Science". (Hat tip to Kevin Smith.) Doug McGuff is indeed one of the true integrators in the field of exercise science.

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