A formula for changing your life
G is unchangeable, is a constant
E is variable
So if you want to change Y, you have to change E.
Changing E is the way to change your life, your health, and even the health of others.
Let me clarify the formula a bit:
G stands for genes
E stands for environment
Y stands for you, as an organism
So, if you want to change ‘you’, than you have to change your ‘environment’. That seems to make sense, doesn’t it? It may even seem obvious, but it has a wide range of implications.
We are hunter-gatherers. We do not descend from hunter-gatherers, we are hunter-gatherers, biologically speaking.* We have the same genetic make-up, we are the same species as our ancestors from 40.000 years ago, we are the same species as the Koori Aboriginals, Kung Bushman, Mbuti Pygmees, Hadza, and other contemporary foragers.
They live(d) in E1. We live in E2.
Note that E1 is a set of different Es. There is no one E1. Same thing for E2. And there definitely is an overlap between E1 and E2. But there are some major differences between E1 and E2, which explain the differences between our health and the health of foragers.
In E1 there seems to be near total absence of non communicable diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmunity, depression, … But hunter-gatherers certainly do have health problems and hazards: some infectious diseases**, trauma, early childhood death, dangerous animals.
E2 has a lot of the non communicable diseases. They are also called diseases of civilisation, diseases of affluence, even diseases of comfort. Those names give away that people know the causes of these pathologies. In E2, luckily, we have found ways to prevent or treat the major health hazards of E1: childhood survival is high, traumata do not lead to death as much as in the paleolithic, many infectious diseases are prevented or treatable, very few people get killed by animals, …
By the way, do you know what the reason for the biggest increase in health and longevity since the origins of agriculture is? Sanitation! Simple hygiene and sewerage! People living together in big groups and together with animals have got waste problems. Sewerage is actually mimicking the ancestral environment: minimal contact with or isolation of waste of animals, human or other.
And this is what I think we should try to do: mimic the good properties of our ancestral environment, get inspiration from the lifestyles of hunter-gatherers, construct hypothesis based on evolutionary reasoning and test them scientifically. This does not mean we have to live in grass huts or caves. We don’t have to mimic everything, although I think that for quite a few things, we need a rather big step in the direction of E1…
I propose we go for E3: a modern environment that combines the benefits of E1 and E2 and avoids the negative consequences of E1 and E2. E3 will not always be comfortable. We need certain stressors to be fit, healthy, and fully alive. Think of exercise, cold exposure and fasting as frequently cited examples. The wise Frank Forencich from Exuberant Animal (read his books and blog!) has a nice essay on exposure. Go and read it.
A simple formula, with far reaching implications. We’ll explore some of them in the future.
Thanks for reading,
*I’m not saying that since the start of agriculture, evolution has stopped, not at all, but we still are hunter gatherers. If you’d have a time-travelling machine, it would be easy to prove this. 😉
** Most of our modern infectious diseases actually are the result of living close to animals like cattle, pigs, chicken, … and thus the result of agriculture. See Jared Diamond for convincing arguments.