Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stupidity: Ignoring the Ladder of Health

Aside from the great variability in individual genetics, I find that the biggest confounder in understanding which practices are healthy or not in a given person is that actual physiology and optimal "inputs" (dietary etc) is a result of present and past stress exposure and related dysregulation/damage in the body.

A radical example is that walking barefoot (or with minimalistic shoes) is quite likely the best health promoting option in terms of footwear for a person who is reasonably healthy to begin with, however a Chinese woman who got her feet bound and deformed from childhood should obviously not be advised to join a barefoot runners club. (She might need extensive surgery first, if restoration of normal function is possible at all.)

Another example is periodic fasting, which may be very beneficial in a healthy person (improving insulin sensitivity and triggering cellular repair processes), but quite detrimental for someone with exhausted hormone production. (Hence hormone issues need to be addressed before fasting will lead to benefits rather than aggravated problems.)

Formal studies don't tend to take this sort of variability into account, as they are either performed on people at the very functional/healthy end of the spectrum ("healthy young men") or on people who have diagnosed diseases ("half-dead diabetics").

In other words, what sustains, promotes and enhances health in an overall healthy person is often very different from what a sick person needs to regain health or what a person under stress needs to do to support the body's fight against stress. (Incidentally, most people are quite sick and stressed these days - any kind of persistent symptom of any magnitude is a sign of a degenerative process somewhere in the body.)

One could say that there is a ladder of health to climb. At the bottom is mere day-to-day survival and at the top is supreme physical/mental function and longevity. At each step along the ladder between the top and the bottom, what is appropriate to do for one's health may be different from what is appropriate at the steps below and above.

For this reason, one should be cautious when using other people (such as gurus with "six-pack" abs etc) as templates for what to do for one's own health. (The same applies to using findings from scientific studies as gospel without careful consideration.)

One must know where one is on the ladder of health and what one's particular set of physiological weaknesses and strengths are.

So how does one figure this out in practice? Aside from careful self-experimentation, a good assessment is a "Functional Adrenal Stress Profile", which is a salivary test of important steroid hormones. This will let you know in a big-picture way your body's state in terms of external- and internal stress and how well it copes with stress. For instance, if your cortisol to DHEA ratio is elevated or crashed, fasting may not give you six-pack abs, but rather contribute to belly fat.

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