Click Here to Read Part 1
I am currently writing this newsletter in the middle of March 2021. We just endured a brutal winter, that was made worse by a virus with the subsequent lockdown and curfew. The temperature has slowly warmed and daylight has extended into the afternoon.
I went for a Lindy walk earlier this afternoon, in the golden hour - and I could feel that winter was receding deep in my bones. The seasons have a strong overall effect on my spirit, mood and body.
This is no surprise. The seasons are important. Periodic seasonal changes have influenced all life forms, as exemplified by seasonal physiology and behaviors across plant and animal species.
How much we are influenced by seasons? That’s been obscured because we sort of live “outside of nature” these days, while maintaining a consistent lifestyle no matter the season outside. But that’s not how we work. Our genes literally change depending on the season.
Certain genes are expressed depending on if it’s summer or winter.
A recent study found one-fifth of all genes in blood cells undergo seasonal changes in expression depending on the season. In the winter your blood contains a denser blend of immune responders, while summer veins swim with fat-burning, body-building, water-retaining hormones.
Your immune system ramps up in the winter, inflammation is the body’s response to harm, and in the winter we are more susceptible to harm. But in the summer--an aggressive inflammatory system can be a liability, as it puts you more at risk for cardiovascular and autoimmune disorders.
The Seasons change and so do I.
The seasons cycle cold weather and warm weather. Exposure to these temperature changes is beneficial. Up to a point.
It does us little good to spend our entire lives in a thermoneutral zone. Our genes didn’t evolve for a life of pampered comfort. A little stress to induce hormesis once in a while goes a lone way. Stress comes from cycling.
The baths, an ancient Roman tradition, essentially was about cycling your body in heat and cold.
These baths weren't just tubs, as we might think about them today, but instead consisted of a complex progression of open-air swimming pools, and rooms of varying temperature, progressing from cold to super-heated, for steaming and sweating. The Frigidarium for cold and the Caldarium for a hot plunge.
One of the successors to the Roman baths is the modern Sauna. Temporary heat exposure. There was a study that followed a large group of Finns for 20 years who went to regular sauna for 20 years. The people who went to sauna up to 7 times a week had an up to two fold drop in heart disease, fatal heart attacks and all cause mortality events over those who only heat bathed once per week.
The benefits of episodic cold exposure are mainstream now. With cold showers and cryotherapy chambers everywhere. Personally, I find it difficult to do cold showers. I work a job for a living and the warm shower is an extremely enjoyable part of my day. I do not want to give that up. When you work for a living you are constantly pushing yourself to perform, long time readers who have read my work know about the consistency space.
However, I know there are benefits to cold exposure. The best way to activate mitochondria in your brown fat is by being a bit cold. Sometimes I do a brisk walk outside wearing shirt on a winter day. This is enough to turbocharge the creation of brown adipose tissue.
Exposure to cold activates longevity genes. Sirtuins are switched on by cold, which in turn activates protective brown fat in our back and shoulders. Animals with abundant brown fat have much more of the mitochondrial, UCP-boosting sirtuin and experience significantly reduced rates of diabetes, obesity and Alzheimers.
If you choose to expose yourself to the cold, moderation will be key. The greatest benefits come for those who get close to, but not beyond the edge. Hypothermia is not good for our health. Neither is exercise in cold weather below -15F.
It turns out exercising vigorously in the cold messes up with your lungs. You can give yourself asthma.
A study on cold-weather exercise looked at the effects of running a five-kilometre race outdoors in cold weather. All the participants exercised regularly in the cold, whether it was running outside, cross-country skiing or ski mountaineering. Participants reported symptoms of bronchoconstriction, or narrowing of the airways, consistent with levels that would be considered exercise-induced asthma.
If you fight the seasons too much, you’re going to hurt yourself. You’re fighting the cycle. It’s too cold to be doing a marathon. You do it anyway because of some crazy athletic brainwashing regime you live under. Propaganda from Nike or Adidas has infected your head. You’re a confused beast.
Historical Dietary Habits
We’ve already established that cycling temperature is good for us. Let’s move on to diet. Let’s do a quick history lesson on how we ate.
For most of our history we were hunter-gathers, or rather hunter-foragers. Close observers of hunter-gatherers have been struck by how their life was punctuated by bursts of intense activity over short periods of time. The activity is enormously varied, hunting and collecting, fishing, picking, making traps - and designed in one way or another to take best advantage of the natural tempo of food availability. Tempo is the key word here. The lives of hunter-gatherers are orchestrated by natural rhythms of which they must be keen observers: the movements of herds of game (deer, gazelle, antelope, pigs); the seasonal migrations of birds; the runs of desirable fish upstream or downstream; the cycles of ripening of fruits and nuts, which must be collected before other competitors arrive or before they spoil; and appearances of game, fish, turtles and mushrooms, which must be exploited quickly.
The activities of the earliest village in the Mesopotamian alluvium, span several food webs - wetlands, forest, savanna, and arid - each which its own distinct seasonality. We came from an environment where we must take advantage of the scattered and episodic bounty nature may bring our way.
Hunter gatherers were aware to the distinct metronome of a great diversity of natural rhythms.
However, after we shifted to agriculture this diversity narrowed. Farmers, especially fixed-field, cereal-grain farmers, are largely confirmed to a single food web, and their routines are geared to its particular tempo. When we transitioned to agriculture, Homo sapiens entered an austere monastery whose taskmaster consists mostly of the demanding genetic clockwork of a few plants. Mostly wheat and barley.
Seasonality and cycling are key themes of ancestral dietary patterns. The turn to agriculture narrowed the scope of our diversity and seasonal patterns.
What do we know about meat? Well, meat doesn’t conserve. It spoils quickly. We also know there were days when there was no meat. Hunter gatherers didn’t eat meat everyday. Hunting is a tough business. But when they did eat it they ate a lot of it.
Religious festivals tended to have meat. When you see something in many religions, that’s a signal. Christian easter has lamb. The end of Ramadan has meat. Carnival has meat. And not only a little bit, but a lot. There is excessive indulgence in meat during those days. Thereby mimicking the end of a successful hunt.
We humans are omnivorous, compared to more specialized animals such as elephants (who eat salads) and lions (who eat prey). The ability to be omnivorous had to come in response to more variegated environments with unplanned, haphazard, and serial cycling availability of sources.
We are generalists. Not specialists. Specialization is the response to a stable habitat free of abrupt changes. Our excess of pathways is a response to a more diverse habitat. The human diversification of function had to be in response to variety.
A variety of a certain structure.
The cow and other herbivores are subjected to much less randomness than the lion in their food intake; they eat steadily but need to work extremely hard in order to metabolize all these nutrients, spending several hours a day just eating. The lion succeeds in a small percentage of kills, but when it eats, its get all these nutrients.
So take the following principles derived from the random structure of the environment: when we are herbivores, we eat steadily; but when we are predators we eat more randomly. Hence, our proteins need to be consumed randomly.
There is a big difference between getting our nutrition together at every meal, with steak, salad, followed by fresh fruits, or eating them cyclically.
Deprivation is a stressor. Reactions to stressors are important throughout nature
and we know what stressors do when allowed adequate recovery. They make us healthier, stronger and heal our issues.
Convexity effects at work here again: getting three times the daily dose of protein in one day and nothing the next two is not biologically equivalent to “steady” moderate consumption if our metabolic reactions are nonlinear. All at once and then the stressor cycling will have benefits the “steady” does not.
We are antifragile to randomness in food delivery and composition, at least over a certain range, or number of days.
IF you eat meat, you need to eat it INFREQUENTLY. Even within the day Romans ate one meal. You can starve between meals (lions) or eat salads (humans are omnivore for a reason).
Eating the same thing every day is an insult to the variation of nature. An insult to the universal law of Seasons and Cycling. And you will pay the price for going against nature.
Cycling food groups maybe benefit from hormesis by eating a portfolio of a small amount each of a wide variety of plants. To take another example, maybe not eating enough meat informs cells to perform autophagy.
It doesn’t matter if we don’t yet know what the precise mechanisms are: the point is that variety may have hidden benefits
Diets, no matter what may have hidden downsides due to the steadiness. We may not know what though. Until it’s too late.
Our bodies respond to changes in input, or information from the outside. Our ancestors went through variation in what they ate, and how they moved.
We may thrive slightly more eating meat only as carnivores instead of cycling omnivores, but the hidden downside could be catastrophic. You’re risking ruin to the system.
Picking up pennies in front of the steamroller.
Standard American Diet
We saw what happened in the 20th century with the Standard American Diet.
3 (or more) meals a day, snacking, and no cycling.
Obesity, cancer, heart disease and crying.
People take pharmaceuticals to stop the terrible from happening. It was a science experiment and it ended terribly. So now we’re back to square one with new diets.
Hidden Downsides and Second Order Effects
It’s difficult to see what the hidden downside of certain things are. It’s even tougher to see the second order effects. With keto or meat only diet it may be kidney problems or cancer.
Maybe it’s weakening of Bones.
Bones are important.
We’re beginning to see they are much more than a structure. They are alive. and linked to memory, fertility, and many other areas.
There’s even studies linking low sperm count in Vegeterians and vegans.
Maybe it’s the second order effects. Many Vegans supplement with vitamin b12. However, We know high b12 circulation through supplementation increases lung cancer risk.
I guess we’ll find out soon.
Cycling Food Groups
Do we have any studies on diets that cycle food groups? Some, yes. Remember the Mediterranean diet fad that became popular? People looked at longevity of Cretans, catalogued what they ate and inferred they lived longer because of feta cheese or fish.
But wasn’t looked at was the variations in intake. The Greek Orthodox church has almost 200 hundred days of fasting per year. In fact, I am in the middle of eating vegan for 40 days. During the Christian season I was a pescatarian for 40 days.
Essentially, I am going through protein deprivation. The compensation for the absence of some nutrients from my daily diet will take place in lumps. I will make up my deprivation of protein with fish on days when it is allowed, and then at Easter I will eat a lot of Lamb. And then I will eat fatty red meat for a long while thereafter.
During this time of cycling my body will respond to deprivation and stressors. Essentially healing itself and getting stronger.
When the holiday arrives (the hunt) the meat will taste amazing, because there is this antifragility to the stressor of the fast. The deprivation and then the subsequent feasting produces euphoria in one’s system.
Luckily, we have a control group: The Monks in the Monastery.
These monks adhere to a cycling diet of vegan/fasting/meat eating throughout the year.
The studies done on them have been positive:
The Modern Environment
I think people underestimate how strange the modern environment is. We take it for granted a little bit that we live 12 months out of the year in a climate controlled indoor environment. We take ourselves out of the natural cycles of the season. People complain about Seasonal Affective Disorder. Yeah it isn’t fun to get a little blue in the winter. But that’s probably normal. There’s a deprivation and stressor there. Sure, if you’re going to jump off the roof of the building, you should get help. But if you’re just feeling regular sadness, that is something that comes with the cycling of the seasons.
Christmas lights look so beautiful in the winter.
Maybe we should be cycling more than just our diets. Maybe we should be doing different sports depending on the season. Maybe we should have different habits during the seasons. This is a topic that maybe I will explore in a different newsletter.
Abundance and Seed Oils
I don’t think we are really equipped to handle living in this world of abundance. The options are limitless. The food everywhere is delicious. You have to really try hard to diet. That’s one issue. And I think the modern diets get around this by creating a culture around it or by creating extended ethical issues. You’re making the world a better place by eating like x. The other side of this argument is optimization of the individual. If you eat like x you are optimized for perfection.
The second issue is the hidden harms of modernity. Seed oils are found everywhere. And the increase in consumption of them in the 20th century has lead to a big increase in heart disease.
Thirdly, the complete breakdown of authority of nutrition. In the 20th century the government sponsored a food pyramid and other dietary education studies. It was a disaster. Most people feel like they are on their own when it comes to dietary advice.
Finally, big Pharma is working on releasing miracle wonder drugs to deal with the problems of obesity. We are admitting that the human is so separated from his environment that he now has to engage with pharma to fix the issues.