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Why Our Ancestors Health Was Better Than Ours. We Can Regain It!

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Part I: How Physical Activity Can Help Us Regain Our Ancestral Health 

Modern society has blessed us in many ways. Amazing technological advances have made us comfortable beyond the dreams of past generations. Paradoxically, we suffer from chronic, degenerative diseases virtually unknown a few generations ago. Rather than providing robust health, we see an onslaught of diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, allergies, asthma, and  so on. A vast amount of money is spent on a health care system that is overwhelmed with illnesses. Even the young are now nearly one-third over-weight and obese. (1)  Something is seriously wrong.

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Why Is This So? 

To answer this question we need to look at the human body and discover what is making it turn against itself in a time of plenty. The human body evolved over millennia. It grew and changed within very specific environments very different than our own. Is modern society thwarting what nature designed? In his seminal book The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, Daniel Lieberman, professor of Biological Sciences at Harvard University, put it this way:

 “The fundamental answer to why so many humans are now getting sick from previously rare illnesses is that many of the body’s features were adaptive in the environments for which we evolved but have become maladaptive in the modern environments we have now created.” (2) (loc. 344)

Can this explain why we now see a surge in degenerative diseases such as Type II Diabetes?  Lieberman asserts that “diabetes is a growing problem because human bodies…were adapted primarily for very different conditions that render us inadequately adapted to cope with modern diets and physical inactivity.” (2) (loc. 343) The society we have created, especially since the Industrial Revolution, is an environment that makes available to us vast amounts of high glycemic industrial foods and a radically sedentary lifestyle. Instead of working to grow our own food we can order it from McDonald’s. The human body did not evolve to metabolize large amounts of sugars and vegetable oils or to be inactive. Our sedentary lifestyles are diametrically opposed to how we were designed to live. It could be said that our culture, or civilization itself, is killing us. iStock_000003169464XSmall

Mismatched Diseases

In the field of evolutionary medicine, the idea of mismatched diseases plays an important role in our understanding of the deadly explosion of “lifestyle diseases.”  Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson, in their thoughtful work Mismatch, ask about our efforts to improve society:

“Could it be that in trying to make things better, we have become increasingly mismatched to our environment” (3) (p. 123).  There are limits to our ability to genetically adapt to the modern world.  Gluckman and Hanson call this the “Mismatch Paradigm.”

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From an evolutionary perspective “We have to recognize that much of the environment we inhabit is increasingly out of the range for which our body’s internal control systems were designed by the processes of evolution.” (3) (p. 195) The result: we suffer from diseases and conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and myopia that are produced by this mismatch of environment and genes.  

Addressing the Mismatch

What can we do to address the mismatch?  Short of society restructuring itself, it comes down to your personal decision to increase daily activity. The benefits of exercise and activity are evident from a vast amount of scientific research. Exercise helps us deal with stress, it elevates our moods, increases cognitive function and replenishes our energy levels. It reduces our chances of suffering from all the degenerative diseases that plague us.  This is accomplished by allowing our bodies to act in ways for which they were intended. Our ancestors were physically fit because they had to be.  There were none of the labor saving devices we have grown accustomed to.  Since few of us are going to relinquish our cars, washing machines, TV remotes, electric power tools, etc., we need to find ways to integrate activity into our daily lives. There are a variety of fitness methods of exceptional value that enable us to overcome the activity limitations placed on us by society. Mark Sissons, (4) a well-known fitness author, suggests two things that address these limitations and are reminiscent of how our ancestors lived: 1 – Move frequently at a slow pace 2 – Lift heavy things and sprint occasionally The first relates to simply increasing the amount of activity we perform during our personal and work lives.  The second is a more intense metabolic exercise regimen for our workouts.

Daily Activity/Walking

Walking mimics what our ancestors did every day.  But being active throughout the day is a challenge.  Here are some easy ways to overcome a sedentary lifestyle:

  • Stop sitting as much as you do.  If you are sitting at your desk or couch, get up every twenty minutes and walk around, stretch, do isometrics.
  • Park at the farthest point in the parking lot from your office or store.
  • Stand when you are talking on the phone.
  • Walk the stairs rather than take the elevator.
  • Try to walk as much as possible during the day.  Look into the 10,000 steps plan.  You can read about it at The Walking Site (5). Think of it as a goal.
  • Take up dancing.
  • Participate in a sport.

The idea is to be as active as possible during your everyday life. Set your mind to being as active as you can each day. A sedentary lifestyle is a killer.

Metabolic Resistance Training (MRT)

shutterstock_62619541 Our ancestors very often had to exert short bursts of energy while hunting, foraging, and fighting.  They needed both muscular and cardiovascular power to do this.   MRT, for those of you who already exercise, can be very helpful. (6) Specifically, MRT can be described as any assortment of intense aerobic and anaerobic training techniques that have a direct cardiovascular and muscular effect.  It is a form of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Current research has validated the effectiveness of this approach. It is generally for those with a reasonable level of fitness. It can be done with free weights, body weight, exercise-bands or combined with aerobic activities. MRT is:

  • Of short duration.  A session can be as short as 15 minutes, three times a week.
  • Performed in circuits with little rest between exercises.
  • Done with all-out effort.
  • Raises EPOC (excess post-workout oxygen consumption).  You burn fat long after your workout is over.

MRT burns fat and builds muscle simultaneously and in a fraction of the time of traditional fitness systems. It helps keep bones strong, reduces the effects of sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) and builds a high level of fitness. One of the keys to why MRT is so effective is that is uses both the muscle and cardiovascular systems in a complementary manner. Gone are the days of long, tedious cardio workouts. To see what an MRT session would look like, see my article at Senior Exercise Central (7) and international fitness expert Brad Schoenfeld’s article on the basics of MRT (8). By employing these two approaches, a high level of fitness can be attained and the inertia of our modern lifestyles overcome. Part II will deal with the important role nutrition plays in helping us regain our ancestral health.

Dr. Robert M. Oliva

References:

  1. www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm
  2. Lieberman, D.  The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease. (2013). Pantheon Books.
  3. Gluckman, P. Hanson, M.  Mismatch. (2006). Oxford University Press.
  4. Mark Sissons: www.marksdailyapple.com
  5. www.thewalkingsite.com/10000steps.html
  6. Braith, R.W. Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine, Resistance Exercise Training. (2014) Circulation, July, 2642-2650.
  7. Metabolic Resistance Training: www.senior-exercise-central.com/metabolic-resistance-training-for-seniors.html
  8. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/metabolic-resistance-training-build-muscle-torch-fat.html

 

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Brain Scans Reveal Structural Differences In People With “Smart Phone Addiction”

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    A new study recently published by German researchers from Heidelberg University show differences in brain structure between people with 'smart phone addition' compared to people without it.

  • Reflect On:

    Is your child constantly on their smartphone? Are they addicted?

Children entering into the world today are being birthed into a sea of technology that their parents never grew up with. As a result, we don’t really know the long-term consequences these technologies could have on these generations as they age. Preliminary research, however, is already showing significant cause for concern, and one of the latest examples comes from a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviours via German researchers.

The researchers examined 48 participants using MRI imaging, and 22 of the participants had smartphone addiction (SPA), and 26 of them were non-addicts. The main findings were that individuals with SPA  showed “significant lower” grey matter volume (GMA) in the insula and in certain regions of the temporal cortex compared to the individuals without smartphone addiction, known as the controls. Secondly, right anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activity was “significantly lower” in individuals with SPA compared to controls. Third, the researchers found associations between the smartphone addiction inventory  (SPAI) scores and GMV as well as  amplitude of low frequency fluctuations (ALFF), converged on the ACC.

The authors wrote that:

The present study provides first evidence for common neural underpinning mechanisms of behavioral addiction in individuals with SPA. This study clearly needs replication as much as extension in larger cohorts, including longitudinal assessments, ecological momentary assessment and task-based functional MRI. Yet, at the same time, this study provides important data and preliminary evidence, suggesting addiction-related differences in neural processes in the context of smartphone use, particularly with respect to the salience network. Given the widespread use and increasing popularity of smartphones, the present study challenges assumptions towards the harmlessness of smartphones, at least in individuals that may be at increased risk for developing addictive behaviors.

It should be concerning that there are actual structural changes in the brain that correlate with smartphone use in individuals who have an addiction compared to the brains of those who don’t.

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The study goes into what each brain region is associated with in regards to behaviour, intelligence, etc.

In China, for example, teenagers are becoming hooked on electronic screens. Whether it be with their phone, computer, or video games, many young people are spending countless hours in front of a screen without bothering to eat or sleep, sometimes even withholding their urge to use the bathroom.

According to a blog report published by the New York Times“many have come to view the real world as fake.” (source)

In China, this phenomenon is actually considered a clinical disorder, and as a result a number of rehabilitation centres have been established where young people addicted to screens are completely isolated from all media. Although the success of these treatment centres is still unknown, it paints a dark picture of the technological age in which we live, and does not seem to bode well for our future.

Studies in China show that people who spend more than 6 hours on the internet for something other than work or study are likely to become addicted. Below is a trailer for the documentary “Web Junkies,” shedding light on this troubling aspect of modern life:

It’s not just China, this type of thing is seen all around the world:

“While Internet addiction is not yet considered a clinical diagnosis here, there’s no question that American youths are plugged in and tuned out of ‘live’ action for many more hours of the day than experts consider healthy for normal development. And it starts early, often with preverbal toddlers handed their parents’ cellphones and tablets to entertain themselves when they should be observing the world around them and interacting with their caregivers.” (source)

As we continue to move forward, this type of addiction and behaviour becomes more disturbing. The power that some multinational corporations have, alongside their clever marketing tactics – basically making whatever product or idea they choose to be desirable to the human mind – is worrisome.  A few years ago, the American Academy of Paediatrics found that the average 8-10 year old spends almost eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children/teenagers spend even more, up to 11 hours. (source)

A study conducted by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, which included over 20,000 children/teens between grades 3 and 12, concluded that approximately 20% of grade 3 students already owned a cell phone. The numbers steadily rose from that point forward to approximately 25% in grade 4, 39% in grade 5, and 83% in middle school. You can read that entire study HERE.

With all of these electronics, it’s important to be aware of the impact of the radiation they give out and their documented harms. To learn more about that and access the science now available, please visit the Environmental Health Trust. It’s a great place to start your research.

The Takeaway

We are in the beginning stages of what could potentially be a big problem. We have yet to see the smartphone generation reach adulthood, therefore we can’t fully measure the potential consequences, but again, numerous studies like this one have already shown great cause for concern and render the idea that smartphones are completely harmless as completely false.

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Awareness

Frankincense Shows The Ability To Alleviate Symptoms Of Anxiety & Depression

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Studies have proven the psychoactive effects the scent of frankincense has on the brain, alleviating symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  • Reflect On:

    With all the man-made chemical pharmaceutical drugs out there, perhaps solutions to what ails us are more simple than we may realize.

Gold and frankincense and myrrh… sound familiar? These were the gifts that were allegedly brought by the three kings when Jesus Christ was born. We all know that gold is valuable, but what about the others? Frankincense has long been touted as a magical, mystical medicine and has been regarded as such for millennia within many ancient cultures of the world. The same goes for myrrh, but for the purpose of this article we are going to stick to the medicinal properties of frankincense.

Frankincense starts out as a type of resinous sap that is found inside a special family of trees called Boswellia, which grow almost exclusively in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. When it is harvested at specific times of the year, the trees are cut carefully with special knives and the sap seeps out. This special sap is then dried in the sun until it is ready for use. More commonly, frankincense is burned simply as sweet smelling incense, but it has many other uses as well including the following…

Historical Uses Of Frankincense

  • As a part of ritual or religious ceremonies
  • Was used extensively during burial rituals as an embalming material to help mask the odor of the deceased body
  • Smoke from burnt incense can effectively drive away mosquitoes and other pests

Frankincense has also been used medicinally, treating various ailments such as arthritis (it has strong anti-inflammatory properties), gut disorders (like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), asthma, and maintenance of oral health.

And perhaps the most intriguing quality for our westernized modern culture is the psychoactive effects of this special resin, as studies have shown that burning frankincense can trigger an effect that can aid and even alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The Research

One study in particular, conducted by a team of researchers form John Hopkins University and Hebrew University in Jerusalem, explains how burning the resin from the Boswellia plant (frankincense) activates certain previously misunderstood ion channels in the brain in order to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. This might explain why Roman emperor Nero once burned an entire year’s harvest of frankincense at his favorite mistress’ funeral.

“In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity,” said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study’s co-authors. “We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning.”

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The researchers administered incensole acetate to mice in order to determine its psychoactive effects. This compound they found drastically impacted the parts of the brain that generate emotions and the nerve circuits that have responded positively to current drugs used for depression and anxiety. The incensole that was administered activated a protein called TRPV3, which is connected to the ability to perceive warmth of the skin.

“Perhaps Marx wasn’t too wrong when he called religion the opium of the people: morphine comes from poppies, cannabinoids from marijuana, and LSD from mushrooms; each of these has been used in one or another religious ceremony,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Studies of how those psychoactive drugs work have helped us understand modern neurobiology. The discovery of how incensole acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system. This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion–burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over!”

Can This Work For You?

Sure, this study was conducted using mice, which certainly aren’t the same as humans. However, many religious texts claim that this special resin had uplifting effects on the brain. So, the good thing is that if used appropriately, it really can’t hurt to try. You can typically buy the resin at health food stores and more commonly at stores that sell incense, crystals, sage and those sorts of spiritual ceremonial tools. It can also be found as an essential oil. I like to diffuse it in a diffuser, and sometimes I’ll burn the resin on charcoal pucks as well.

At the very least, you’ll get a nice and pleasant smelling aroma, and at best it can help turn that frown upside down, increase your mood, reduce your anxiety and maybe even put a smile on your face. Perhaps those three wise men were as wise as they’ve been made out to be, and frankincense really is as special as it’s been believed to be for millennia.

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Binge Watching Is Associated With a 12 Percent Increased Risk of Inflammatory-Related Death

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    An Australian study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise looked at more than 8,900 adults and found that each additional hour of TV viewing was associated with a 12% increased risk of inflammatory-related death.

  • Reflect On:

    How much TV do you watch? How active is your lifestyle?

I’m sure that you hesitated before choosing to read this article, as most of us have been sucked into a binge watching marathon on more than one occasion (myself included). While it may seem like we’re buckling down to give ourselves a break, we may actually be hurting ourselves far more than we realize. Sitting for prolonged periods of time has proven to be harmful to our bodies, especially for adults over 50, and when you match lounging with television, you create a deadly combo.

In an Australian study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers examined more than 8,900 adults and found that each additional hour of TV viewing was associated with a 12% increased risk of inflammatory-related death, and those who spent more than four hours a day watching TV were at an even higher risk. This includes  diabetes, respiratory, cognitive, and kidney diseases. (source)

In general, watching television has proven to negatively impact mental health; it alters your brain, lowers your attention span, and has the potential to make you more aggressive. You don’t need to experience the “trance-like” state television can put us in, but I’m sure you’ve witnessed it before. This trance occurs roughly 30 seconds after you start watching TV. Your brain begins by producing alpha waves, leading to a light hypnotic state that makes the viewer less aware of their environment and more open to subtle messages — aka programming.

In the 1990s. Dr. Teresa Belton, a visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia, studied the effects that television has on the imagination of 10-12 year old children, ultimately concluding that television negatively impacts their development: “The ubiquity and ease of access to television and videos perhaps robs today’s children of the need to pursue their own thoughts and devise their own occupations, distracting them from inner processes and constantly demanding responses to external agendas, and suggests that this may have implications for the development of imaginative capacity.”

And these physical affects are becoming increasingly apparent. Not only does it eventually lead to immobility as you age, but with the risk of creating inflammation in the body, you are susceptible to a host of diseases including kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and even depression.

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Dr. Megan Grace is the lead investigator at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne. Between 1999 and 2000, her team quizzed adult participants about their viewing habits via a questionnaire. Again, this was before we had access to popular streaming websites like Netflix. The participants were separated into three groups based on their TV viewing habits: less than two hours per day, greater than two hours but less than four hours, and more than four hours.

“TV time was associated with increased risk of inflammatory-related mortality. This is consistent with the hypothesis that high TV viewing may be associated with a chronic inflammatory state,” the authors wrote.

They followed up with their participants 12 years later and found, of 909 deaths, 130 were inflammatory-related. Of the inflammatory-related deaths, 21 were from diseases of the respiratory system and 18 of the nervous system, and those who watched between two to four hours of TV a day showed a 54% higher risk of inflammatory-related death. Additionally, people who watched more than four hours of TV a day doubled their risk of dying from an inflammatory disease compared to those who watched two hours.

In addition to cutting down the amount of time you spend sitting in front of the TV and sitting or lying down, you can help combat inflammation with a number of foods like avocados, berries, sweet potato, onions, and watermelon, and herbs like, cloves, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric.

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